Fred Hoiberg has plenty of experience in the NBA after a 10-year playing career and a stint in the Timberwolves front office, so it’s no surprise he’s adjusted quickly to on-court adjustments and managing egos on a 15-man roster in his first season as Bulls head coach.
It didn’t take Hoiberg long to realize he had to balance out his rotation to get a mix of offensive and defensive oriented players among his starters and 2nd unit. So, after experimenting with a frontcourt of Pau Gasol, Niko Mirotic and Doug McDermott, Hoiberg put Tony Snell back into the starting line-up to give the Bulls a better defensive unit at the start of games. The result has been fast starts in wins over Indiana and Phoenix, with McDermott able to maximize his scoring ability against the other team’s reserves. Hoiberg says his starting lineup and rotation will change throughout the season, which only makes good sense given the depth on the Bulls’ roster.
Equally important has been the increased minutes given to front court veterans Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. We all know Noah is the heart and soul of this Bulls’ team with his on-court intensity and competitive spirit. Similarly, Gibson can also provide a spark with his shot-blocking ability and low-post scoring touch. The two vets complement each other’s games, and genuinely enjoy playing together. Hoiberg has increasingly used the tandem late in games for crucial defensive stops, and you can expect they’ll get even more time as the season progresses. The Bulls also have talented 6-11 rookie Bobby Portis in reserve if frontcourt injuries occur.
Hoiberg also discovered early on that veteran backup point guard Aaron Brooks isn’t ideally suited to run his pace and space offense. Brooks is a scoring point guard who fit well in Tom Thibodeau’s scheme, but doesn’t always push the ball up-court and look for open shooters in transition. So, as soon as veteran Kirk Hinrich was ready to return from a toe injury, Hoiberg elevated Hinrich to the number one point guard back-up behind Derrick Rose. Hinrich may not be as athletic as he used to be, but he’s still very coachable, and he’s done an excellent job so far of directing the offense at a fast tempo, while showing the ability to hit open shots from 3-point range. Brooks will either have to adjust his game to fit the system, or watch his playing time disappear.
Hoiberg also has made good use of veteran guard E’Twaun Moore, who barely played under Thibodeau. At 6-4, Moore has the size and athletic ability to play both guard spots, and he’s also showed a nice touch from the outside. The Bulls have gone with 3-guard line-ups on multiple occasions late in games to get their best defensive players on the floor. Another sign that Hoiberg is a quick study in maximizing the talent on his roster.
Granted, we’re less than a month into the marathon regular season, and injuries will alter how Hoiberg and his staff allocate minutes, but the early returns are encouraging.
COULD WARRIORS BREAK BULLS RECORD OF 72 WINS?
Outside of Kevin Durant’s upcoming free agency, this is probably the number one discussion topic in NBA circles. Given the strength of the top teams in the Western Conference, it seems pretty unlikely, but as long as Golden State keeps reeling off wins to start the season, the possibility of the Warriors getting to 70 or more victories can’t be dismissed.
But remember, the Bulls started off the 72-win season with a 41-3 record, so until Golden State can match or get close to that record, the odds are still very much against them. The West may not be quite as formidable as it was a year ago, but multiple games against the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Mavericks, Rockets and Grizzlies are bound to produce some losses, and a team that’s so reliant on 3-point shooting is bound to go through a slump at some point during the long regular season grind.
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Golden State really doesn’t have a low post scoring option, but they’re still able to rack up points in the paint thanks to the penetrating skills of their All-Star backcourt and versatile forwards Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala. This is a deep team that’s also very underrated on the defensive end. My guess is they’ll come close to last season’s total of 67 regular season wins, but unless they can stay completely injury-free and escape with a few lucky wins like the one they got against Brooklyn last week, 72 is probably out of the question.
The Bulls handed Golden State one of its two home court losses last season, and they’d like nothing better than to knock off the Warriors at Oracle Arena Friday night.