Sam: Thibodeau a perfect fit for Bulls, Chicago

Sam: Thibodeau a perfect fit for Bulls, Chicago

Sunday, May 1, 2011
Posted: 7:05 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

He could have been talking about a number of things.

The opportunity to coach Derrick Rose and the rest of his selfless team. Being in Chicago in general. Being an NBA head coach. Winning the 2011 NBA Coach of the Year award. But he specifically referenced coaching the Bulls.

If it meant 20 years to get this job, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau at Sundays press conference, where he was presented the aforementioned award by Bulls general manager Gar Forman at the Berto Center. It was well worth the wait.

Whatever questions observers had about Thibodeau when he first accepted the position his hard-driving reputation, his emphasis on defense, his lack of head coaching experience they were all answered this season, as he led the Bulls to a league-high 62 wins. More significant, however, was the fact that he was a perfect fit for both the team and the city.

When you look at the numbers this year, its easy to see the impact Tom had on this basketball team, said Bulls general manager Gar Forman, before listing a litany of statistics that indicated the teams success this season. But to me, its about much more than that.

In order for us to continue to build towards becoming a championship-caliber team, this team needed an identity and a base to it, he continued. You see the pace and the flow that we practice with. You see the attention to detail on a daily basis, the accountability each and every day and you see the habits that are formed.

That is a huge reason why weve had the success that weve had up to this point. Tom has created a culture on the floor with this team of professionalism, of work, of unselfishness and teamwork, of communication, of trust and through that, he has laid a foundation that will not only serve this team this year, but will continue to serve this team for years to come.

In a blue-collar city, coaching a blue-collar team, Thibodeaus understated work ethic stands out. Clearly a bit uncomfortable in the spotlight, he eschews praise and like his players, deflects it elsewhere.

"Obviously Im flattered, humbled and honored to receive this award, but I think it represents a lot more than just me. It certainly reflects our team and our entire organization. It starts at the top and of course goes down to our great management team. Im very fortunate to have such a great coaching staff, said Thibodeau, who proceeded to thank his entire coaching staff by name, before singling out the Bulls ownership for giving me a chance, as well as Forman and Bulls vice president John Paxson for assembling the squad that garnered home-court advantage throughout the current postseason.

We have a great management team here in Gar and John, and I think through their careful planning and selection of players, we not only have talented players, we have guys with high character, he continued. Its a lot more than just selecting talent, its building a team and thats what theyve done. So, when I look at the players we have and how hard theyve worked all season, and how committed theyve been from the start of not only playing together, but playing for each other Im just thrilled and honored to have the privilege of coaching this team.

Not only was he thankful for the opportunity to coach the Bulls, but Thibodeau saw early on that the team had a chance to be a special group.

I realized in training camp, the way we were practicing, how hard guys were going and how well they were concentrating, he said. When I saw their approach, I knew it would be good. I didnt know how good, but I knew it would get better as the season went along. We took on some injuries early, we had a tough early schedule and our bench guys came through with flying colors, so I knew we had quality depth. I also liked the veteran leadership that we had at the end of the bench.

We wanted to have a plan going in and we began with the end in mind. We felt very good about the team that we had in place, Thibodeau continued. We didnt know where wed end up and we still dont. We still feel like theres a long way to go.

Added Forman: I knew the first couple weeks that he was here, that we had hit a grand slam. You could just see the way he related to our players, the amount of work he put in, the knowledge that he had.

The most-overlooked aspect of Thibodeau as a coach is the enjoyment he gets out of coaching. Obviously he loves what he does to have invested so much time in his career, but his intense sideline demeanor and droll persona in front of the media often gives the impression that its more of a duty than a pleasure.

Its an honor and a privilege to coach these guys, said Thibodeau, who also referenced the multiple players in attendance. The fun part is the winning for me, but again, its enjoyable knowing that we have a group of guys that have put a lot into something. Every day, they come in, they study, they prepare, they practice hard and that, to me, makes it enjoyable.

Its their willingness to work, their willingness to share and I saw that from the first day. I saw how serious the team was to its approach, how much they put into it, he continued. When you get a team that truly commits and everybody puts everything they have into it every day, then you dont have to worry about anything else. Youve done all you can do and thats how I measure success. Were willing to live with the results. We know if were willing to do the right things every day, good will come.

Or, to put it simply, it was worth the wait.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Being a better defensive team was a prime objective for Fred Hoiberg coming into camp, as the Bulls hope to reclaim some of their defensive identity that disappeared last season.

Reciting a not-so-true stat routinely to reporters in the first few days, that the Bulls were last in forcing turnovers in 2015-16, means he’s likely barking it to the team in practices (they were actually second-to-last behind the New York Knicks).

“Absolutely,” said Hoiberg when asked if being more aggressive defensively is a goal. “We are turning the ball over way too much. After watching film, our defense is responsible for some of that. We have a guy in (Rajon) Rondo that's a high steals guy, got great hands, great instincts, great wingspan. Jimmy (Butler) is always had great anticipation and one of the top steals guy.”

Butler is one of the best two-way players, along with San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Indiana’s Paul George, but even he admitted his defense slipped last year as the Bulls fell to a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of advanced defensive rankings (15th).

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Rondo was once one of the league’s best defensive point guards before tearing up his knee his last full season in Boston, and averaged two steals last year in Sacramento, but gave up a career-high 107 points per 100 possessions, according to basketball-reference.com.

Whether Rondo was a function of a bad defense overall for the Kings or a player who no longer fully commits himself to that end remains to be seen, but it’s clear Hoiberg wants a more hands-y defense. Too many times last year, the Bulls defense had leaks from the top down, resulting in compromised drives to the basket and breakdowns all around.

More than anything, the Bulls defense was one of indifference, especially after the first 30 games or so.

“Like all staffs we watched a ton of film and tried to figure out with this group how to create more turnovers, how to impact the ball better,” Hoiberg said. “Every day it's been a big emphasis in our defense and we get out and force turnovers and make sure the help is there behind the trap and being aggressive on the ball.”

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

The common refrain among coaches in the first days of training camp is “this guy had an incredible summer”, a phrase Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has said so much that even he had to laugh when asked who didn’t have a banner summer period.

Of course, that’s before fans and media get to see anyone play, so we can only speculate who’ll win certain position battles, like the starting power forward spot or how deep Hoiberg’s rotation will go.

So in the spirit of speculation, Bulls rookie Denzel Valentine’s versatility makes him a candidate for the backup point guard position, a spot that is filled with different options for Hoiberg to choose from.

“He’s such an instinctive player. He does a great job,” Hoiberg said. “We talk about making simple plays. You’ve done your job when you beat your man, draw the second defender and make the easy, simple play. Denzel is great at that. That’s not a gift that everybody has. That’s not an instinct that all players have. But Denzel certainly has it.”

One wonders if Valentine could find himself on the outside looking in at the start of the season, like Bobby Portis did last year before all the injuries hit the Bulls and forced him into action.

It’s a different vision than when Valentine was drafted as a late lottery pick after a seasoned career at Michigan State. The Bulls hadn’t signed Dwyane Wade or Rajon Rondo in free agency, and had traded Derrick Rose 24 hours before the draft, so the thought was Valentine could be an instant contributor.

Even still, Valentine can likely play anything from point guard to small forward, but hasn’t gotten extensive reps at the point, yet.

“I’ve played on the wing so far. A little bit of point,” Valentine said. “I got a couple reps on the point, but like 70-30. Seventy on the wing, 30 on the point.”

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He got an early jump on the Hoiberg terminology at summer league, so the language isn’t a big adjustment, but having to learn multiple positions along with the tendencies of new teammates can mean a steeper learning curve.

“Yeah, I just got to continue learning sets and learning guys’ strengths so that I can use that to their best advantage,” Valentine said. “Play-make as best I can when I’m at the point guard spot. Just learning the system, learning guys’ strengths, and then I’ll be better at it.”

The presence of Wade and Jimmy Butler, one of whom will likely anchor the second unit as Hoiberg will probably stagger minutes so each can have the requisite time and space, means even if Valentine were on the floor, he wouldn’t have to be a natural point guard.

Hoiberg does, however, crave having multiple playmakers who can initiate offense or create shots off penetration or pick and roll action, meaning Valentine can work it to his advantage.

“I think he can. Jimmy played with the ball in his hands a lot last year,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy rebounds the ball and if Dwyane rebounds the ball, they’re bringing it. Rajon if he’s out there knows to fill one of the lanes. Denzel is an excellent passer. He’s got such good basketball instincts. So if you can get guys out there who can make plays, that’s what it’s all about. I think you’re very difficult to guard in this league when you have multiple ballmakers.”

Other notes:

Dwyane Wade won’t be taking walk-up triples for the Bulls, despite his call that Hoiberg wants him being more comfortable from behind the long line. Hoiberg does want him being willing and able to take corner threes, likely off guard penetration from Rondo or Jimmy Butler.

When Wade played with LeBron James in Miami, cutting from the corners became a staple, so putting him there could be an old wrinkle Hoiberg is adding to his scheme.

Wade took seven of his 44 3-pointers from the corner last season, hitting two from the right side, according to vorped.com.

“When he’s open, especially in the corners, that’s a shot we want him taking. It’s a thing we worked on yesterday, making sure he stays on balance,” Hoiberg said. “He’s got a natural lean on his shot, which has been very effective, being on the elite mid range shooters in our game. That’s allowed him to get shots over bigger defenders. When you get out further from the basket, especially by the line, you need to get momentum going in, work on your body position and work on finishing that shot. He’s got good mechanics, it’s a matter of finishing the shot.”