AUBURN HILLS, Mich.—Just like every team his squad faces, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau had high praise for the Pistons, who the Bulls play Wednesday night.
“Well, Detroit’s very good and they added Josh Smith. They’ve got some different pieces, they’ve got a new coach, so they’ve gotten better as the season has gone along,” the coach said before the Bulls’ morning shootaround, launching into a roster breakdown of Detroit. “They’re dynamic off the dribble. [Brandon] Jennings is a load. If he gets going early it could be a long night, and you’ve got [Rodney] Stuckey and [Will] Bynum playing very well. [Charlie] Villanueva’s added some shooting to them, [Andre] Drummond’s off to a good start, [Greg] Monroe’s a tough matchup.
"So we know that they’re tough and their size up front, you've got to be ready to get in the fight to rebound the ball. The penetration leads to second shots, so we have to be ready from the start of the game and we have to play for 48 minutes.”
The Pistons got off to a tough start, some of which can be pinned on integrating so many new pieces—most significantly, Jennings and Smith—into their lineup. Detroit’s new coach, Chicago native Maurice Cheeks, is someone Thibodeau is familiar with, as they were both assistant coaches together in Philadelphia under John Lucas from 1994 to 1996.
Prior to the Bulls’ preseason win over the Pistons at the United Center last month, Cheeks talked about his connection to Thibodeau.
“He’s been very good, to say the least. But we have a friendship from when we worked together in Philly and we just kind of bonded after that. We stayed in touch over the years,” said the former All-Star floor general. “I knew he’d be a good head coach. He was always very focused in what he did and he was always very detail-oriented, so what he’s doing doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Known as one of the league’s premier ball-hawks during his playing days, Cheeks also defended Thibodeau’s reputation of not having any outside interests beyond basketball, resulting in his notorious around-the-clock personal film sessions.
“Well, I’m sure he’s the only one that knows that. No one can say he doesn’t have any interests,” explained the DuSable High School graduate. “This is our job and he does it at a very high level, and if you’re going to be a head coach, you have to be committed to it and he is as committed as anyone.”
Cheeks is new to Motown, but it isn’t his first go-around as an NBA head coach, as he had previous stints in both Portland and Philadelphia, where he starred with the Sixers as a player. With the Pistons’ athleticism, Cheeks believes his team has versatility, but will emphasize its size, hopefully living up to preseason predictions that Detroit, which is off to a 6-8 start, will be a playoff team.
“Well, we can play two ways. We can play post-up basketball and we can play fast basketball. So we try and create turnovers in the open court, and half-court defense, our half-court defense has to be sound. We have big guys down low and try to create turnovers in the open court, and get out and play. But we can also play a slow-down game with Josh and Monroe, and sometimes Drummond, so we play two styles of basketball,” said the coach, who was an assistant in Oklahoma City when he landed the job.
“Years ago, when you had those big guys, perimeter wasn’t that big like it is now. Three-point shooting is a big part of NBA basketball now, so now that you have a big frontline like we have, it’s not normal right now. But we’re going to try to utilize it and talking about style of play, we’re going to put the ball down low, utilize our big guys because a lot of people use a five and then they use a stretch four. So if it’s going to be beneficial to us, we have to be able to post the ball and get something out of it.”