Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau praised Jimmy Butler’s play as of late, saying he needs to keep doing what he has been doing. He also noted that in addition to the defense he’s grown accustomed to seeing from the third-year swingman, rebounding is an integral part of his game that can help his team.
“The last 10 games have been very good,” Thibodeau said. “His defense has been great all year. Now, I think his offense is starting to get in rhythm. I think he’s starting to feel a lot better. He’s got to keep doing what he’s doing…[His rebounding is] huge. We need that. He’s great at it, particularly late. He has an ability to rebound in traffic, not just [grab] the ones in his area, he’ll go get it.”
Butler wasn’t the only player on the Bulls roster receiving praise from their head coach. All-Star Joakim Noah is known for his defense, passing and screening, but it has been his scoring that had his coach saying that Noah has “gone to a completely different level" in recent games.
Thibodeau impressed with Raptors' play, praises Kyle Lowry
Coming into Wednesday night’s game, the Toronto Raptors hold a 1½ game lead over the Bulls for the third spot in the Eastern Conference after a victory in Washington on Tuesday night. Thibodeau was watching that game and had praise for the Raptors roster general manager Masai Ujiri has compiled in his first year at the helm in Toronto.
“They have quality depth up front," Thibodeau said. "They’re sharing the ball well. I think that trade was big for them. They’ve gotten quality depth and that’s a premium in this league. When you go to the bench, those guys are capable of starting in the league, and have started in the league. There’s no drop off. It keeps coming at you. [Jonas] Valanciunas has gotten better and better. That gives them size at the rim.”
While Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan represented the team at the All-Star Game in New Orleans last weekend, he wasn’t the player Thibodeau singled out from their roster. Instead, it was point guard Kyle Lowry to get Thibodeau’s stamp of approval, and likely, his vote for All-Star reserve.
“[Lowry] didn’t make the All-Star team, but he is an All-Star,” Thibodeau said. “He’s having an All-Star type season.”
D.J. Augustin returns to Toronto
Point guard D.J. Augustin came to the Bulls in December after being waived by the Raptors in the wake of the trade that sent Rudy Gay to Sacramento. Augustin struggled to find time in Toronto and was the odd man out after Greivis Vasquez was sent to the Raptors in the Gay deal.
Since signing with Chicago, Augustin has been a stalwart stand-in as backup point guard, proving the importance of opportunity and fit in a player’s road path to success.
“That’s how the NBA is,” Augustin said. “Sometimes it’s just being in the right situation, the right team that fits your style of play and you can really play well in those situations. I think coming here [to Chicago], they play the same way I like to play, pick and roll and just running and pushing the ball has been working well for me."
Thibodeau credited Augustin’s professionalism in staying ready to play despite being out of the rotation in Toronto.
“I think the fact that he’d been in the league for five years and he had experienced good, bad, times where he played a lot, times when he didn’t play as much, but you knew he had the capability because he had already done it,” Thibodeau said. “It’s a credit to him. He stayed ready when he wasn’t playing a lot and we had a need, he had a need and it’s worked out well for us.”
Health trumping talent
Weathering injury after injury over the past two seasons, the Bulls know better than anyone the importance of health when it comes to championship ambitions. With the NBA trade deadline looming 24 hours away, there is plenty of talk about the needs of every team. Thibodeau isn’t concerned with pundits and public opinions about the roster he is responsible for coaching.
“I think every team, unless you win it, every team is lacking something in many people's eyes,” Thibodeau. “The challenge for everyone is to play to your strengths and cover up your weaknesses. If you’re in this league, you’re a great player so you have a potential to be a great team. It’s your willingness to sacrifice and play together, play to your strengths. Some teams are built more around say one or two superstars and maybe they don't have the same depth. Other teams are built with more depth.”
As important as the talent, chemistry and depth of any given roster, is the roster being healthy at the right time.
“The teams that go into the playoffs that are the healthiest and playing the best, those teams have the best chance,” Thibodeau said. There’s not a big difference between one and eight [seeds]. Every team in this league is capable of beating you. You have to be ready every night. You have to be healthy and you have to be playing well. If you’re fortunate enough to get to the playoffs that’s a different animal.”
As for how a team can build a championship-level roster, in addition to good health, there is often a bit of luck involved.
“You look at, OK, how did these teams get these guys? And sometimes it’s just good fortune,” Thibodeau said. “Someone’s going into a rebuild, really, that’s how we got [Kevin] Garnett in Boston. That’s how the Lakers got [Pau] Gasol. It’s just sometimes that’s the way it works out, but whatever way you get there, that’s how you get there.
"The challenge is to make the best of whatever your circumstances are, not to say hey we need this or we need that. Nah, we got enough. Let’s find a way to get it done with what we have, and then we go from there.”