Even after giving rookie swingman Tony Snell’s temporary two-game stint as starting shooting guard a review after the fact, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was pleased with the results.
Now, as exacting as the coach can be, he didn’t say the rookie’s performance—nine points in Monday’s loss at Utah and a career-high 13 in Wednesday’s win over Detroit—was perfect. But Thibodeau acknowledged that the New Mexico product has the characteristics he values in his players.
“He goes in, he does his job, he knows what he’s supposed to do. He concentrates, he’s been a great worker from Day One, so he can help us in all areas. His job is to help the team function well, and the first part is the attitude and approach, which he’s been terrific at. He studies, he prepares himself well, he’s very serious, so we’re expecting a lot from him,” Thibodeau said after Friday’s practice at the Berto Center.
“He’s very good in a lot of areas. He can shoot, he can pass, he can make plays. I still think he can do more and there’s obviously a lot of areas he can improve upon, and I think as he continues to go around the league and he understands personnel better—he’s put a lot of time into studying—he’ll get more and more comfortable.”
Jimmy Butler, the player Snell is replacing for the time being—due to the third-year player’s ongoing recovery from a turf toe injury—was also impressed with Snell while watching the rookie back in Chicago.
“Oh, he’s been playing great,” said Butler, who Snell cited as an on-court mentor. “He’s getting comfortable. Just like myself, whenever I was in the position, the more reps you get, the more time you get out there, the more comfortable you get, the more that you think you belong and I just think he’s taking all the right shots, and he’s doing what Tony’s always done.”
Struggling Cavs still have talent
Cleveland is in the midst of underachieving to open the regular season, as team meetings, reported verbal or physical altercations between players, a perceived regressing in All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving’s game, rookie forward Anthony Bennett reaching historical lows for a No. 1 overall draft pick and trade rumors surrounding second-year shooting guard Dion Waiters—the Bulls were a team the Cavaliers supposedly reached out to, purportedly in exchange for All-Star small forward Luol Deng—in head coach Mike Brown’s return.
But Thibodeau believes the talent-laden squad—the likes of Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark were acquired via free agency to join the young nucleus of the team, which includes Irving, Waiters, power forward Tristan Thompson and center Tyler Zeller—can turn it around.
“They’re a lot better than their record indicates and if you dig deeper into their schedule, they’ve had a very tough schedule. A lot of road games, they’ve had San Antonio and Miami at home,” Thibodeau said. “They’re tough off the dribble. When you’re dealing with Irving, Jack, Waiters. Then, you have Bynum inside. Their bigs are really active, Thompson, [Anderson] Varejao. They’re playing Earl Clark, who can spread you out. So we know how tough they are.”
How valid Thibodeau’s argument is will be seen firsthand Saturday night in Cleveland, when his Bulls take on the Cavs.
Gibson’s career game a product of hard work
Taj Gibson notched a career-high scoring effort of 23 points—on efficient 11-for-13 shooting, to go along with a season-high eight rebounds—building upon a solid campaign that dates back to the preseason. According to Thibodeau, the seeds were sown in the offseason, when the backup big man polished his post moves and improved the consistency of his mid-range jumpers, as well as adding strength and arriving to training camp in prime condition.
[RELATED: Butler making progress on turf toe injury]
“I think he’s been healthy. He’s put a lot of work in with [Bulls assistant coach] Mike Wilhelm this summer and in the fall, and he’s done a really good job of getting deep post position, so we need him to continue to do that,” Thibodeau said. “He’s comfortable also facing the basket from 15 feet. If you come up on him, he’s got the quickness to go by you. He’s improved as a pick-and-roll player, but him giving us a post presence has been huge for our second team.”
Thibodeau not shocked by Kidd’s act
Brooklyn’s Jason Kidd, in only his first year as an NBA head coach, was fined $50,000 by the league for having Nets point guard Tyshawn Taylor run into him and spill his drink on the sidelines—causing a delay and earning a de facto timeout, which was thusly interrupted by members of the opposition—in Wednesday’s loss to the Lakers.
Thibodeau wasn’t impressed and claimed that he’s seen the maneuver used by coaches in the past.
“That’s not anything new. That’s been going on for a long time,” he said. “I think you probably saw it more—well, you probably didn’t see it more because games weren’t televised—but people have always kicked water over.
“Jason, he’s going to be terrific,” Thibodeau continued. “I’ve known him a long time and he’s pretty clever. He always was as a player, but the league, they usually clean that stuff up pretty good.”
When it was noted how much Kidd’s ploy cost him, Thibodeau quipped, “Yeah, I see that. That’s why I stay away from it myself.”