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20 in 20: What must Thibodeau do for success?

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20 in 20: What must Thibodeau do for success?

Friday, Sept. 10, 2010
2:22 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

A historic summer for the NBA has passed and for the Bulls, while they didn't acquire quite the star power many expected andor hoped for, optimism runs high, both within the organization and throughout the team's fan base. With the offseason coming to an end, the time to fully delve into the upcoming NBA season is here. Instead of a traditional season preview, issues both throughout the league and in Chicago will be probed daily here on CSNChicago.com up until the squad officially convenes for training camp toward the end of September.
3. What does Tom Thibodeau need to do to turn the Bulls into a contender?
There's no baseline for how Thibodeau, in his first head-coaching job since he was at Salem State in Massachusetts -- back before star player Derrick Rose was even born -- will fare. However, it's fair to assume the Bulls will have more of an identity than they did during the last two seasons.

That's not a shot at former Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro (who should be better at game management -- for various reasons, most notably having some experience under his belt -- among other aspects of coaching, with the Clippers), but as management referred to during both the hiring process and Thibodeau's introduction to Chicago, he's basically a basketball junkie, who, after years of being an understudy, has formed an idea of what he'd like to with his own squad. And of course, there's the defensive mindset everybody mentions when describing "Thibs," who is regarded as the architect of the current Boston Celtics' stout defense and has been closely involved with the defensive stylings of Jeff Van Gundy's teams in the past. In short, this is a very serious man who will put his nose to the grindstone and instill the same type of mentality in his players.

At the same time, he's basically a novice. The Bulls, as currently constructed, aren't a team composed of authority-challenging knuckleheads, but after experiencing at least a modicum of success -- whether in Chicago or in previous stops -- the players are conscious of what they feel constitutes the characteristics of a successful team. For the most part, they are a group that shares a strong work ethic, a single-minded devotion to winning and an ambition to be taken seriously as a true NBA contender.

In Rose, the face of the franchise and a hometown product, Thibodeau will have a prodigious and remarkably humble star to work with. One of the primary criteria he'll be judged upon is whether he can help develop Rose's game -- the mental aspect superseding the physical, as his gifts and weaknesses are so clearly evident and only his personal aspirations can control what he's capable of doing on the floor -- and take him from a youngster with vast potential to a league-wide, transcendent superstar.

Depending on whom you ask, Rose was either not given enough direction or was kept on a leash far too short during his first two NBA seasons. Regardless of whether he was put in the right situations most of the time, his game evolved to the point where he can be considered a legit go-to guy (remember when there was a "debate" last season about whether he could and should take over games?) and at the very least, a leader by example.

Now, his maturation process must continue with him developing from a point guard by nature of his position into a true floor general, who controls the game even when he's not putting up gaudy numbers. One would assume playing alongside the likes of Chauncey Billups for USA Basketball this summer will help speed up that growth, but it's one thing to sublimate your game when playing with a team of stars and quite another to do so for 82 games with your actual team. Thibodeau will share that burden, especially on the defensive end, an often-overlooked shortcoming that should probably be focused on as much as his outside shooting, particularly when one considers Rose's physical tools to be a strong defender.

While Rose's progress will be examined closely -- as mentioned, his natural skill development will take care of some things on its own -- perhaps more important, with Thibodeau's defensive background, is Joakim Noah's role. When evaluating the Celtics, point guard Rajon Rondo's quickness and ball pressure get the lion's share of individual attention, but the gambles he takes wouldn't be possible if it weren't for having the likes of Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins in the paint to erase some of his mistakes.

Like the Boston duo, Noah isn't necessarily a Dwight Howard-style shot-blocker, but his length, presence in the paint and adept help defense certainly anchored the Bulls' defense the past two seasons. As lauded as the now-departed Kirk Hinrich was for his defensive effort on the perimeter, Noah was Chicago's most important defender, as was evident during the Bulls' skid in his absence.

Noah won't have to be sold on defense -- or rebounding, for that matter -- but as a young player, he can still be further molded into more of a force, the type Chicago hasn't seen since the Dennis Rodman days. Conversely, his continued offensive development will be key.

While new addition Carlos Boozer is a pretty well-rounded offensive player, Noah -- an underrated passer, even without being a major scoring threat -- is likely to be Chicago's best interior passer, something made even more important with Brad Miller gone. Rose racks up assists by virtue of his outstanding dribble penetration and Boozer is sure to draw at least the occasional double team, but Noah's court vision and ability to find teammates out of the high post will open things up for slashers like Luol Deng and Ronnie Brewer, post players Boozer and Taj Gibson and shooters like Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson. Thibodeau's ability to take the team's vocal leader's game to the next level -- especially if Noah comes back with more refined post moves and is able to knock down the elbow jumper (don't worry about how pretty it looks; by the end of last season, he was able to be a threat from 15 feet out) on a more consistent basis -- will make his debut season in Chicago much easier.

Now, in Boozer, Thibodeau faces a different sort of challenge. Offensively, the Alaska native brings everything the Bulls need -- a low-post scoring threat with the ability to play physically, rebound at a high level and even knock down outside jumpers -- to the table in a power forward. Defensively, however, Boozer's willingness to play with the same type of effort has been questioned -- and that was under tough-as-nails Jerry Sloan in Utah.

Thibodeau, though, has seen this kind of situation before. When the Celtics formed their "Big Three," Ray Allen wasn't known as the most committed defender. Now? Maybe he won't make the league's all-defensive team, but his determined effort against some of the league's best shooting guards can't be impugned.

While it would be a stretch to say Boozer's job would be in jeopardy if he wasn't a stout defender here in Chicago, last year's starter at his position -- first team NBA all-rookie team selection Gibson -- has already made a name for himself on that end of the floor. Perhaps that will serve as motivation for Boozer, but Thibodeau's task will be to mold him into, if not a standout, at least a solid defender in the team concept.

In the case of Deng, Thibodeau has to be excited. Maybe some Bulls fans don't appreciate everything the product of Sudan is capable of doing (just a few years ago, many observers considered him one of the league's up-and-coming players at his position and even overall), but the long and versatile small forward has plenty for Thibodeau to work with.

With the presence of Boozer, he'll have less weight on his shoulders as Chicago's third option, so Deng's offense won't be the issue. Neither will his defense, even though quicker small forwards will always give him issues. The problem with Deng -- outside of injuries, which are beyond his control -- has been consistency.

Not to overdo it with Celtics comparisons, but prior to the arrival of the aforementioned Garnett and Allen, Paul Pierce -- while clearly in a higher tier than Deng at their shared position -- was viewed by many as a player who showed up when he felt like it, as evidenced by the Celtics' dismal performance prior to the arrival of his fellow superstars. Say what you want about Pierce now -- and I'm sure most Chicagoans will -- but he comes to play, even on days when his shot isn't falling or he doesn't get the touches he feels he deserves.

If Thibodeau can tutor Deng on how to make an impact every night, even when his scoring isn't impacting the game, watch it coincide with increased team success. Not that Deng doesn't do that on occasion already, but with the additions the team made, it will be even more important for him to grasp that concept now.

As far as the team's reserves and role players, they are already tailor-made for Thibodeau. Mature, defensive-minded veterans like Kurt Thomas and Keith Bogans, active, live bodies like Gibson and Brewer and players with games catered to specific roles like the sharpshooting Korver and backup point guard Watson make it clear that the Bulls are a well-balanced group -- they could probably use another outside shooter and maybe another big man, but that's another story -- pending chemistry.

Chemistry -- that's the one thing that can't be evaluated before the season begins, particularly with so many new players on the team. It can be assumed that while Thibodeau is known for his defensive strategy, after all these years as an assistant, he probably has developed some theories he'd like to try out on the offensive end, especially with his notorious habit of watching tape (it's likely he caught a few Bulls games here and there, even before he got the job) deep into the night, and it's been reported that he's worked with and observed many of his new players in the Berto Center this offseason, so familiarity is building.

In a few weeks, it'll be time to put everything into action for training camp, then the preseason and subsequently, the real thing. Will the Bulls win a championship this upcoming season, as Boozer suggested is possible? It's doubtful. But with the pieces he has at his disposal and a mind that's been chomping at the bit for this very opportunity, it wouldn't be shocking to see the Bulls challenging for the opportunity in the near future.

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.

Ryan Hollins says Golden State Warriors would "run laps" around the '96 Bulls

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Ryan Hollins says Golden State Warriors would "run laps" around the '96 Bulls

Former NBA journeyman Ryan Hollins made waves on Tuesday, stating that Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan couldn’t “fill LeBron’s shoes”. Hollins argues that LeBron James cemented himself as the greatest player of all-time with his impact on multiple franchises and his knocking off of the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals. 

Hollins doubled down on his argument, saying that the Golden State Warriors would “run laps around that Bulls team”. Shaquille O’Neal brings up the valuable point that whichever team has the upper hand would depend a lot on what rules they played on, the more physical 1990s rules or the more finesses-based and offensive-oriented current rule set. Hollins believes that the Warriors would defeat the 90s Bulls regardless of what rules they played under, and O’Neal simply could not believe it.

“Whoever’s paying him to say all this stuff, I will pay you double to stop it,” said a bewildered Shaq. He knows a thing or two about playing against the 90s Bulls, as he was a key member of the Orlando Magic team that knocked off MJ’s Bulls in six games in the 1994-95 Eastern Conference Semifinals.

With All-NBA level talent Anthony Davis now headed to LeBron’s team, we could be seeing James back in the NBA title picture sooner than later. A return to the NBA Finals stage would add even more layers to the already complex, never-ending back-and-forth over who the true GOAT is in NBA history.

NBA Buzz: Expect a lot of movement at the start of Thursday's NBA Draft

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

NBA Buzz: Expect a lot of movement at the start of Thursday's NBA Draft

As we get closer to the New Orleans Pelicans going on the clock with the 1st pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, rumors are flying all over the basketball universe. All of a sudden, it seems like a handful of teams are trying to trade up to draft Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland, even though he only played five games as a freshman before season-ending meniscus injury. Remember, Kyrie Irving only played 11 games at Duke because of injury and still wound up being the No. 1 overall pick by Cleveland back in 2011.

The Knicks are planning to work out Garland on Wednesday, but it’s not believed they would take him over high-scoring Duke swingman R.J. Barrett with the 3rd overall pick. Apparently, the Knicks are just doing their due diligence in case they get an overwhelming offer to trade down. With that said, don’t be surprised if we see at least a couple trades involving the top 10 picks on draft night.

Here’s my final mock draft looking at what could happen in the lottery on Thursday.

  1. PELICANS-Zion Williamson, F, Duke.  No surprises here. New Orleans gets its franchise player to start a new era under Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin. Griffin is an extremely bright executive who made an excellent trade with the Lakers over the weekend, getting maximum value for unhappy star Anthony Davis.

  2. GRIZZLIES-Ja Morant, PG, Murray St.  Memphis also in rebuild mode after dealing Marc Gasol to Toronto at the deadline, with Mike Conley also likely to be traded this summer. Morant is the perfect player to build around with his play-making ability and charisma.

  3. KNICKS-R.J. Barrett, SG-SF, Duke.   The Knicks are holding a last-minute workout with Darius Garland, but that could just be to try to drive up better trade offers. Barrett’s scoring ability is a perfect fit for a team that desperately needs more scoring at the wing spots.

  4. HAWKS (trade w/New Orleans) -Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech. Armed with 3 first round picks, the Hawks cash in No. 8 and No. 10 to acquire a perfect backcourt complement for last season’s rookie sensation Trae Young. If New Orleans decides to keep the pick, I still think Culver goes here.

  5. BULLS   (from Cavs)-Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt.  Bulls trade the 7th pick and a top 5 protected 2020 1st rounder to Cavs to acquire their point guard of the future. According to multiple reports, the Bulls have traveled to Los Angeles to watch Garland in a private workout, and they’ve been high on his potential since early in the college season. John Paxson is looking to make the team playoff relevant again, and acquiring Garland gives the Bulls a dynamic, young starting line-up with the chance to add a couple of quality veterans to strengthen the bench and the locker room in free agency.

  6. SUNS-Coby White, PG, North Carolina.  Phoenix also in desperate need of a point guard to run their young team. White’s speed and scoring ability should open things up for shooting star Devin Booker, and also set up screen and roll opportunities with last year’s No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton.

  7. CAVS-Cam Reddish, F, Duke.   Since the Cavs just drafted point guard Collin Sexton last season, moving down 2 spots to get the player they want anyway is a perfect trade scenario. Some scouts believe Reddish has the most star potential outside of the top 3, and he can step right into the starting small forward spot once held by Northeast Ohio’s favorite son LeBron James.

  8. PELICANS-Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas.  After trading Davis to Lakers, New Orleans has a major need to solidify the post position. Hayes is only 19 with excellent potential as a rim runner and shot blocker, ala Houston’s Clint Capela. The Pelicans will have to be patient with Hayes’ development, but he could eventually be a good fit playing alongside Zion and Brandon Ingram.

  9. WIZARDS-De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia.  Washington will be thrilled to see Hunter fall this far. The Wizards are likely to lose both Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker in free agency, so they’ll need some reinforcements on the frontline. Hunter shot 52 percent from the field and 44 percent from the college 3-point line in leading Virginia to the national championship this past season. He should start immediately on a Washington team that will likely be without star guard John Wall for most of the 2019-20 season while he rehabs from an Achilles injury.

  10. ROCKETS (from Pelicans) -Rui Hachimura, PF, Gonzaga. Griffin probably doesn’t want to make three top 10 picks in a shallow draft, so he’ll send this selection to Houston for a future first-round selection. Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey is desperate to re-tool his roster after coming up short against the Warriors for the second straight season. Hachimura is a highly skilled power forward who will give Houston some needed scoring punch on the frontline.

  11. TIMBERWOLVES-Sekou Doumbouya, F, France.  Minnesota needs some frontline help with the likelihood of losing former Bull Taj Gibson in free agency. Doumbouya came on strong late in his European season and scouts like his potential as a 6-foot-9  athlete with a smooth stroke from 3-point range.

  12. HORNETS-Kevin Porter, Jr., SG, USC.   With the possibility of high-scoring Kemba Walker and shooting guard Jeremy Lamb leaving in free agency, the Hornets need some help in the backcourt. Porter is a dynamic athlete who could develop into a go-to scorer at the NBA level.

  13. HEAT-Keldon Johnson, SG-SF, Kentucky.  Johnson is moving up draft boards with strong showings in individual team workouts. Miami will be looking to replace the wing scoring they lost with Dwyane Wade’s retirement, and they’re also looking to trade oft-injured shooting guard Dion Waiters.

  14. CELTICS (from Sacramento)-Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana.  With the likely departure of All-Star guard Kyrie Irving in free agency, Boston will need to add some backcourt scoring to go along with young wing players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Langford shot poorly in his one season at Indiana, but he played most of the year with a torn ligament in his right thumb. He began the college season as a likely top 10 pick.

Purdue Carsen Edwards hoping to crack the first round 

The Bulls also currently hold the No. 38 overall pick, which they acquired from Memphis in the Justin Holiday trade. Don’t be surprised if the Bulls trade the pick or use it on a European prospect who might not come to the league for a couple of years like forwards Luka Samanic or Deividas Sirvydis. They also could take a chance on Missouri big man Jontay Porter (Michael Porter’s brother), who might not play next season after suffering a second ACL tear. Another possibility is a first round talent falling into the second round like Purdue’s high-scoring guard Carsen Edwards.

Edwards led the Boilermakers to the NCAA’s Elite 8, putting up a pair of 42-point games against Villanova and eventual national champion Virginia. "Every game we won I enjoyed it, you know, moving on. I was just happy to be able to play the next game. Kind of enjoying it, staying in the moment, but then also getting ready for the next game. I enjoyed it with my teammates because it wasn't just me who won all those games and got us on the run that we had. I feel that we enjoyed it and for the most part we did it as a collective team."

For the season, the 6-foot-1 guard averaged 24.3 points per game, reminding some scouts of former Bull Ben Gordon with his quick-strike scoring ability. His size would suggest playing point guard in the NBA, but like Gordon, Edwards is really an undersized shooting guard. Still, he’s willing to shift to a facilitator role if needed. "I just want to do whatever a team needs from me. They want me to prove that, which I'm working hard just to be able to be ready for that. But at the same time, Coach (Matt) Painter didn't tell me that's the role I need to play, so it's hard for me to prove that when I need to score the ball for my team to win. At the end of the day, I was trying to do what's best for my team. If they want me to be a point guard and run the offense, then that's what I'm prepared to do."

Until his scoring explosion in the NCAA tournament, Edwards was projected to be a second-round pick in this draft, but given the success of smaller scoring guards in the league like Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, and Damian Lillard, he could hear his name called somewhere in the 20s on Thursday. Still, Edwards isn’t wasting any time focusing on mock drafts.

"We'll see. There's a strategy we have for it, but for the most part, I'm trying not to focus on that. Honestly, I truly try not to look at those things. I just try to stay motivated by myself and do what I need to do. My agency has a strategy for me, and I just kind of work and follow after that."

Would the Bulls consider Edwards if he falls to 38? A lot depends on who they select in the first round and which players they plan to target when the free agent market opens at 5 p.m. on June 30. But the NBA has become a perimeter-based league--with 3-point shooting at a premium--so a player like Edwards figures to have a lot of value. Matter of fact, don’t be surprised if the Golden State Warriors pick him at 28 after losing Klay Thompson for most or all of next season due to an ACL injury.

The Big Ten won’t be getting a lot of attention in this year’s draft with only Romeo Langford and possibly Edwards expected to go in Round 1, but the Purdue star isn’t lacking confidence. After leading the Boilermakers within an overtime loss of reaching the Final 4, he plans of earning rotation minutes as a rookie for whichever team drafts him Thursday night.