Although it now rings of fattening up sheep for slaughter, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was very complimentary of the Bulls prior to Tuesday night’s game at the United Center.
The current dean of NBA coaches spoke highly of Bulls counterpart Tom Thibodeau, particularly how he’s managed to keep the team afloat in back-to-back seasons for the most part without the services of superstar Derrick Rose. While San Antonio has certainly endured stretches of injuries to core players like future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, All-Star point guard Tony Parker and sixth man Manu Ginobili during Popovich’s tenure, he hasn’t had a prolonged absence like Rose’s.
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“Well, I was stunned the other day — I didn’t realize it — I think it was the Miami game. When I was watching Miami and the Bulls, someone said that he had coached more games without Derrick than he had with him. That just threw me back in my chair. I couldn’t believe it.” Popovich explained. “I can’t imagine coaching more games without Tony and Tim and Manu [than with them]. But he’s sustained it. He’s a competitor of the highest degree. He demands it and he wins the battle with players. He’s consistent in what he’s going to do and practice week to week, and what he’s going to have as standards. That’s where it begins and then he’s fortunate to have character guys like I do, that allowed themselves to be coached and try to do what’s instilled each day.”
Popovich also praised Bulls’ All-Star center Joakim Noah. The coach believes Noah is a legitimate candidate for both league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year.
“When you look at MVP, I think most people that vote, they just look at points and that’s a valid entity, I guess. But with defensive players, I think for big guys, they usually just look at blocks, whether somebody blocked a shot or not. Some guys that block shots and can’t play a lick of defense get credit for blocking shots. When I look at the bigs, I look at somebody like Joakim. He can guard ones, twos, threes, fours and fives, and he can switch on to people and people can’t go by him,” Popvich said. “I mean, I watched him guard LeBron the other day. My gosh, it was pretty impressive. So a defender to me is somebody who can defend the ball, get rebounds and can react weak side to strong side, whether he’s small or whether he’s big, and so I think defensively, there are other aspects people can look to pick Defensive Players of the Year, [All-Defensive] first team or second team.”
Noah’s fiery on-court persona is different from that of Duncan, who is usually cool, calm and collected on the floor, but Popovich believes Noah would also fit in with the Spurs because of the consistency of his effort on a nightly basis.
“I think so because he is a highly emotional guy, but he brings it every night and it’s something that infuses the whole team. He sets a standard on the court for the team and because he brings it every night, I think it’s great and each of us is different,” the coach explained. “He’s like the opposite of ‘Timmy’ probably, in that respect. Timmy’s the most introspective and non-emotional guy on the court, but the fire’s burning, just in a different way. So Joakim’s just burns in a different way and as long as it’s directed for the good of the team, which it obviously is, 100 percent, I think it’s great.”