Thibodeau, Bulls balance O-boards, transition defense

Thibodeau, Bulls balance O-boards, transition defense
February 21, 2014, 3:15 pm
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Mark Strotman

The new wave of NBA offenses has emphasized up-tempo, run-and-gun tactics that have more than half the league averaging 100 or more points per game, up from 11 teams that did so in 2012-13 and just three teams that reached the mark in 2011-12.

And in an effort to slow down offenses, Tom Thibodaeu said defenses are putting an added emphasis on transition defense which, in turn, has meant fewer offensive rebounds.

Last season six teams finished with an offensive rebounding rate – the percentage of missed shots that an offense corrals to retain possession – better than 29 percent.  In 2013-14, only one team – Denver – has reached that mark.

“Sometimes it’s personnel-driven to how many guys are you sending back on the raise of the shot, and are you willing to sacrifice some offensive rebounding to have good floor balance to take (away) the transition, the layups and transition 3’s?” Thibodeau said at this afternoon’s shootaround at the United Center. “There’s so much more of an emphasis on that now, so I think teams are making that commitment.”

But for the Bulls, in classic Thibodeau fashion, it’s been a best of both worlds.

The Bulls are third in offensive rebound rate and eighth in fast-break points allowed per game this season. They’re one of just three teams ranked in the top-10 in both categories (New Orleans, Toronto), thanks in large part to his team’s effort and commitment to both.

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Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson have been Thibodaeu’s two biggest assets. Noah should be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year honors by season’s end, and Gibson will, at worst, receive votes for the NBA All-Defensive team.

In the same light, they’re also crashing the boards well. Noah ranks fifth in the NBA in offensive rebounds per game (3.7), while Gibson has corralled 2.2 offensive boards per game, 41st in the NBA – in eight starts he’s averaging 3.0 offensive rebounds per game, which would rank 16th in the league.

“I think you can do both,” said Thibodeau, referring to offensive rebounding and transition defense. “We have guys that – Jo makes great effort on the boards and to get back, as does Taj. So sometimes I think it’s your willingness to commit to doing it and then it’s also the discipline – your defensive transition is tied to your entire team.”

Noah’s and Gibson’s efforts on the offensive glass – even Carlos Boozer is averaging 2.0 offensive boards per game – has allowed the Bulls’ perimeter players to get back in transition. That combination, Thibodeau said, is at the core of the Bulls’ stellar marks in transition defense, forcing teams to go to secondary options or pull the ball out and start up in halfcourt sets.

“Your perimeter players, they can’t wait to see what happens when the ball’s being shot. They’ve got to be on their way back, they’ve got to already be there,” he said. “Now if your opponent gets possession of the ball you should, at worst, be sending (the opponent) into a secondary action to take away the quick-strike scores.

“And when you see it as the season goes on, the teams that are committed to being well balanced, the first thing they’re doing is taking the transition baskets away.”

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Thibodeau also referenced his teams in Boston. As an assistant, the Celtics ranked 12th and 14th, respectively, in 2008 and 2009 in offensive rebounding rate while allowing the fewest number of transition points per game in 2008 and 2010, and the fifth fewest in 2009.

“In Boston, Rondo, because of his penetration, was always on the baseline so we let him go to the boards, and (Kevin) Garnett was at the top of the key so he got back, so it was inverted,” Thibodeau said. “But it was very, very effective. So we let guys play to their strengths and Garnett was great at protecting the basket.”

The Bulls will have their work cut out for them tonight against the Nuggets. Denver ranks 11th in fast break points per game – fifth most on the road – and plays at the fourth fastest pace in the league, per ESPN.com’s Hollinger statistics.

For Thibodeau, everything the Bulls stress go back to scoring the easiest baskets they can and, subsequently, not allowing those same scores on the other end.

“You’re trying to get as many easy baskets as you can, and that’s another way to get an easy basket is the second chance points,” he said. “Everyone thinks when you say easy baskets you’re talking about fast-break layups, but it’s not only fast-break layups; it’s your paint catches, your offensive rebounds, things of that nature as well.”