The Chicago Bulls have opened up the season 3-1 without star Derrick Rose. Why? Because they still have the most important Bull with them at every game: head coach Tom Thibodeau.
If you can’t easily identify your team's best offensive player, it’s best to have a defensive-minded coach and a team that can execute his plan.
The Bulls start defensive aces Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, veteran guards Kirk Hinrich and Richard Hamilton, and do-it-all forward Taj Gibson comes off the bench. Any below average defenders that play minutes (Carlos Boozer) fill in the holes and contribute to the team’s defensive schemes which focus on relentless pressure and overloading the strong side. They have a hard working, balanced team on both ends led by one of the league’s best coaches.
Most NBA fans know Thibodeau as the guy that coached with Doc Rivers in Boston on their championship team. But his NBA resume goes back all the way to 1989 as an assistant with the brand new Minnesota Timberwolves. He then coached with the Spurs (doesn’t everyone?) and 76ers before moving to the Knicks bench for 7 years as an assistant to the defensive minded Jeff Van Gundy.
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Van Gundy went to the Rockets and took Tom with him. They had some bad luck there during the T-Mac and Ming years, Van Gundy hasn’t coached since, and Thibodeau went to Boston and became a household name.
Now in his third season in Chicago, he doesn’t rely on excuses to explain the teams strategy and play while Rose is out. On ESPN’s SVP and Russilo radio show last week, Thibodeau said this, “we’re not gonna change our approach at all...the team is focusing in on playing our opponent and improving every day.” Thibodeau went on, answering a question about the expectations of the team. “The same as they would be as if he were here. The focus has to be on daily improvement, we want to improve everyday, do the right things, build championship caliber habits...we still want to remain a five man offensive team and a five man defensive team.”
And that’s the genius of Tom Thibodeau. Building championship caliber habits and balanced five man basketball on both ends. Sounds a lot like what he and Doc Rivers did in Boston. It works, and it can work in Chicago. It can even work this season, although with a healthy Derrick Rose they have a bright future.
The Bulls will be a top 5 defensive team once again this season which always makes it tough for opponents. Who knows how good they will be when Rose rejoins them and gets close to 100%. With Thibodeau at the helm preaching daily improvement through a full 82 games and developing those championship caliber habits, the sky is the limit for the Bulls.