When Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg was in the early stages of his head-coaching career, he sought out advice from anywhere he could. The 10-year NBA veteran, whose career was cut short by a heart condition, had spent a handful of years in the Timberwolves front office before accepting the head coaching job at Iowa State University, his alma mater in 2010.
While on recruiting trips Hoiberg would stop in at NBA camps from time to time to pick the brains of NBA personnel. Hoiberg went to Milwaukee Bucks training camp and met with then-head coach Scott Skiles. Two years ago he stopped by training camp in Cleveland and met with then-head coach David Blatt. And during one recruiting trip, Hoiberg made his way to Chicago and met with Tom Thibodeau, who he’ll face tonight when the Bulls host the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“I came to Chicago and had a great opportunity to sit with Tom and talk a lot just about different philosophies he had,” Hoiberg said at Tuesday’s shootaround. And then you put your plan together and how you’re going to go out and play, and stick to those philosophies. I was fortunate to have the connections that I had in the league and to be able to help me mold my coaching career early on.”
While injuries and a locker room that at times appeared turbulent made for a rocky first season, Hoiberg’s Bulls in Year 2 are 13-10 and sit fifth in the Eastern Conference – and just 4.5 games behind the East-leading Cavs – through the season’s first quarter. They’ll carry some momentum in Tuesday night’s matchup, having won back-to-back games for the first time since Nov. 15 and 17, and their next five games come against teams with a .500 or worse record – four of those are at home.
The stretch begins against a Timberwolves team that, despite their 6-18 record – tied for worst in the NBA, has been competitive against some of the premier teams in the league. Minnesota led the Warriors by 10 entering the fourth quarter on Sunday, only to watch that lead disappear in an eventual eight-point loss. Hoiberg noted that the Timberwolves have held double-digit leads in seven games this season, and fast starts have been the main factor behind it.
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They have the league’s fifth-best net rating in the first quarter (+8.0) and fourth-best net rating in the second quarter (+7.1). The second half has been a different story for the young Timberwolves, so slowing down Minnesota’s early runs will be key.
“So it’s a team that is playing very well, especially early on in games, getting off to great starts,” Hoiberg said. “We know they’re going to come out and play hard like they always do, and we’ve got to be ready early on in the game to withstand the runs they’ve been starting.”
A young three-headed attack of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine lead the way. The trio of 21-year-olds each average more than 20 points per game, and along with point guard Ricky Rubio and center Gorgui Dieng have formed the NBA’s 10th most efficient offense. Hoiberg called the trio “franchise-type players,” and forward Doug McDermott agreed with the assessment.
“They’re an elite young talent. They’re all three very impressive. It’s good to see,” he said. “I think they’ve got a bright future, obviously, in Minnesota, and Thibs will coach them up and they’re going to mature and grow up and it’s going to be fun to watch.”
They’ll do so under the guidance of Thibodeau, who also coached McDermott in his rookie season. And while McDermott had four years of college experience when he entered the league – McDermott was older when he entered the league than any of the Timberwolves’ trio are currently – he said he was grateful for the guidance Thibodeau gave him in their one year together, especially on the defensive end.
“He just really laid the foundations, the principles. He’s got a brilliant defensive mind,” McDermott said of his former coach. “So I definitely learned a lot from him, especially being in the right spots, the terminology that’s used around the NBA. I thank him for that, but at the end of the day we want to beat them.”