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Sam: Thibodeau will lead Bulls in the right direction

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Sam: Thibodeau will lead Bulls in the right direction

Friday, June 11, 2010
8:32 PM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

With the NBA Finals currently knotted up at two games apiece after Thursday night's Boston home victory, continued praise has been heaped upon the defensive strategies of the Celtics and their associate head coach Tom Thibodeau, who also happens to be the recently-hired head coach of the Chicago Bulls. Although the hiring has not yet been made official--the decision was made last weekend, but won't be announced until after the conclusion of the Finals--the longtime NBA assistant ascension to head coach has been eagerly anticipated amongst his peers seemingly forever.

While any speculation about how Thibodeau, who reportedly has a three-year contract for 6.5 million, will fare as a first-time head coach in the league is premature, there is some insight as to how he would perform in a return to a role he hasn't had since he was a 26-year-old head coach at his alma mater, Salem State College in Massachusetts.

"There's nobody I can think of in the NBA that deserves this opportunity more than Thibodeau does," Paul Biancardi, a college basketball recruiting analyst for ESPN and Scouts, Inc. and high school basketball television analyst for ESPN told CSNChicago.com. "I don't think you ever question how long the process takes."

"He got the opportunity," continued Biancardi. "Some guys get it too quick, some guys it takes a little longer and it was his time to get it."

"He'll probably tell you he's more prepared for this than he was 10 years ago."

Biancardi was a senior, team captain and the sixth man for Thibodeau's Salem State squad during the 1984-85 season.

"I just knew from day one how much he loved the game of basketball, how dedicated he was and he always tried to make himself a better coach," said Biancardi, a longtime college basketball assistant coach at schools like Boston College and Ohio State, as well as the former head coach at Wright State. "He's one of the main reasons I got into the coaching profession of basketball, because I saw such a passion and a persistence in him and it excited me more about the game."

"I was already excited about the game when I played for him and as a captain of his team in '85, but he got me more involved and more passionate about the game. It became a profession for both of us," said Biancardi, who, at 22, was only a bit younger than his head coach, who moved on to be an assistant at Harvard University the next season before being hired as an assistant for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1989, the first of his many jobs--he went on to be an advanced scout for Seattle, an assistant in San Antonio, a New York Knicks assistant for seven season under Jeff Van Gundy and a Van Gundy assistant in Houston before assuming his current role under Doc Rivers in Boston--around the league.

Biancardi has observed Thibodeau's career arc and believes his former coach will coach will be successful in Chicago.

"Obviously he's been noted and celebrated as an excellent defensive coach," said Biancardi. "He'll get them to play his defensive schemes and there's some talent there, so he'll get that talent to defend."

"He's coached under some great guys--Jeff Van Gundy, he's worked for Doc Rivers--so his offensive philosophy has grown over time," he continued. "I think he'll take the time to invest in and develop the young players. He knows how to invest his time into players, he's committed to making the young players better, he'll understand the veterans that he has and every player on that team will be prepared for their individual matchup and the in-game plan. There won't be a team that will be more prepared and I think that's the difference between him and some of the other coaches in the league."

"Also, his personality has grown over time. He's been an assistant for a long time, but he's been right next to that head coach so I think he'll deal with the players very, very effectively," Biancardi concluded.

Along with his former player's favorable opinion of him, Thibodeau is also well respected by his peers.

"I see Tom being a hands-on coach because he's been a lifelong assistant," Brian James, another longtime NBA assistant, told CSNChicago. "As an assistant coach at his various stops around the league, Thibodeau, always had a series of things his team needs to get done in training camp--different late-game situations, what to do if a team does this. If Tom follows the mold of everything he's been taught and his experience over the last five to 10 years, he's going to be fine."

"He's a protoge of Jeff Van Gundy," said James, who was an assistant under Doug Collins in Detroit and Washington and is expected to join Collins' new staff in Philadelphia, as well as stints in Toronto and Milwaukee, told CSNChicago.com. "He'll have a no-nonsense approach, he lives and dies basketball, that's his passion."

James praised Thibodeau's renowned work ethic ("he devotes 100 percent of his time to the game") and defensive philosophy, but believes Thibodeau's ability to develop players--something key on a young team like the Bulls--is often overlooked.

"I saw the work Tom did with Yao Ming down in Houston. He did a tremendous job with him. Yao had some of the best seasons of his career with Tom there," James, who worked as an advanced scout for Milwaukee this season. "I know tom will work endless hours on his development of players. That's one of Tom's strong suits anyway. He knows how to develop players and push them to their limits."

Still, James acknowledges Thibodeau will certainly have some growing pains in his new role.

"I think anybody under the glaring lights and intensity of Chicago will be analyzed and criticized," said James, who began his coaching career as a high school coach in Illinois, including Glenbrook North High School, where he coached former Duke player and current assistant coach Chris Collins. "It happened with Vinny Del Negro, Doug Collins, you name it, and I think the same goes for Tom."

With Thibodeau's fellow longtime NBA assistant Larry Drew appearing poised to move down one seat on Atlanta's bench as the Hawks' new head coach (in somewhat of a surprise, as most observers expected Dallas assistant Dwane Casey to get the job) and the Hornets' recently hiring of Monty Williams (after Thibodeau reportedly rejected their overtures), an assistant coach in Portland, Thibodeau's hire is not the one of upward mobility. However, New Jersey's hiring of Avery Johnson follows a more typical league trend of recycling previous head coaches, while Cleveland's courting of Michigan State's Tom Izzo (though they are also reportedly considering Johnson's ESPN colleague and former NBA head coach Byron Scott, to an extent) would be a less predictable move of elevating a college coach. That means the last remaining league head-coaching vacancy with no widely-reported front-runner is the Clippers job, and with reports that record executive David Geffen is exploring purchasing a controlling stake of the franchise
from longtime, notoriously tight-fisted owner Donald Sterling, there's at least one organization left where superstar LeBron James can truly pick his coach, as the Clippers have the cap room to sign a max free agent.

All jokes aside, while James' impending free agency has dominated headlines, reports out of Phoenix that Amar'e Stoudemire is leaning toward returning to the Suns means the destination of fellow free agent Chris Bosh could determine the balance of power in the NBA next season. Translation: if Stoudemire is back in Phoenix, he's no longer the first or second option at power forward for other teams, putting more of a premium on acquiring Bosh, who is widely regarded as the player Chicago and other teams with cap space will try to pair with James.

Getting back to Thibodeau, regardless of whether the Bulls end up with James, Bosh or any other top-tier free agent, fans who expect a championship overnight because of his pedigree may not get their wish immediately, but it appears that despite his lack of head coaching experience, the organization has a leader that fits the direction in which they want to be headed. And maybe--just maybe--with a little bit of patience, the Bulls will have the same type of parade the Blackhawks had today.

Potential top pick in 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter Jr. will likely miss entire freshman season

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USA TODAY

Potential top pick in 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter Jr. will likely miss entire freshman season

The Bulls will be keeping a close eye on the best young talent the loaded 2018 NBA Draft will have to offer. But they likely won't be seeing much of Missouri's Michael Porter Jr.

The school announced Tuesday that their freshman forward, the top recruit in the country, will miss the remainder of his freshman season.

Porter played all of 100 minutes for the Tigers, amassing 2 pioints and 2 rebounds in the Tigers' win over Iowa State.

The injury isn't to say Porter won't declare for the 2018 NBA Draft, or that it will affect his stock at all. He's still considered a legitimate franchise player and certainly someone all teams drafting in the top 5 will have their eye on.

But there will be competition. Players like Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley, DeAndre Ayton and Mo Bamba make up what could be one of the best draft classes in recent memory.

For now the Bulls will have to wait until the spring or summer to see Porter Jr. work out, while doing due diligence on the rest of the class.

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

It'd be a stretch to say that any rookie is having a better or more impactful season than Philadelphia's Ben Simmons. The Sixers are 9-7, and Simmons looks like a 10-year veteran with his decision making, athleticism and all-around feel for the game. He's the frontrunner for MVP, but there are two other rookies vying to catch Simmons and win that title. And they'll face each other tomorrow night in Los Angeles.

Lonzo Ball was the second pick in June's NBA Draft, and fellow Pac-12 freshman standout Lauri Markkanen went five picks later to the Bulls, who had traded up as part of the Jimmy Butler trade. Both players were drafted to rebuilding franchises - the Lakers still working out the kinks in the post-Kobe era, and the Bulls beginning their rebuild after dealing Butler - and were expected to make immediate impacts on their franchises.

Ball's was more pronounced, as the Lakers dealt D'Angelo Russell to the Nets on draft night to free up space at the point for their prized No. 2 pick. Markkanen's came more abruptly, as the 20-year-old was thrust into the starting lineup after Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic's fight put Mirotic in the hospital and Portis on paid leave. However they got there, both players have been impressive in their early NBA careers.

Starting with Markkanen, the Bulls knew the 7-foot stretch forward was a perfect build for the modern NBA. He set freshman 3-point and rebounding records that, since 1992, only some guy named Kevin Durant had reached. After a successful summer in Eurobasket he was set for a large role with the Bulls, and he's succeeded in just about every aspect. His 15.6 points per game are third only to Simmons and the other Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma, and his 8.1 rebounds are second to Simmons. And his 2.6 made 3-pointers per game are most among rookies, and well past No. 2 on the list (Utah's Donovan Mitchell, 1.9 per game).

In fact, Markkanen would become the only rookie in NBA history to average at least 8.0 rebounds and 2.5 3-pointers per game. The 2.5 3-pointers would break a rookie record currently held by Damian Lillard (2.3 per game). The closest a rookie has ever come to reaching those marks was Stephen Curry, who averaged 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 3-pointers per game as a rookie. Allen Iverson also met the 4/2 threshold, but that's a far cry from Markkanen's 8/2.5 mark. Paul Pierce's rookie season saw him average 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 3-pointers.

But that's not all. If he kept those averages up he would be just the fifth player EVER to accomplish those thresholds. The others are James Harden, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Antonie Walker, who naturally did it twice.

So, yeah, Markkanen is having quite a rookie year.

So, too, is Ball. While he's had some real issues with efficiency, slashing .313/.228/.462 and has committed 2.6 turnovers per game, his counting stats have been outstanding. Ball is averaging 8.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists, and that puts him in equally impressive company.

Simmons has reached those numbers this season, too, averaging 18.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists. You may have heard of the other two players, named Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.

The two future Hall of Famers averaged these numbers:

Robertson: 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 9.7 assists (missing averaging a triple-double for the season by 20 assists)

Johnson: 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists

Ball is also averaging 0.9 blocks, and no other rookie guard has ever accomplished that. It might not always look pretty for Markkanen and Ball as they feel their way out in the NBA, but just remember watching these two that they're in the midst of making history in the new era of the NBA.