Bulls

Rose, Thibodeau have a special relationship

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Rose, Thibodeau have a special relationship

If the NBA lockout had gone on any longer, a secret meeting between Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau might have been in order. Not to flaunt league regulations, but simply to make sure the pair, winners of awards honoring them as the best in their respective fields last season, didn't go through withdrawal from being apart so long.

Seeing Rose at various times over the offseason, including Monday at his alma mater, Simeon Career Academy, he often asked how Thibodeau specifically was doing, seeming actually concerned about his well-being (such as his summer knee surgery) during the work stoppage. When I told him that I had run into Thibodeau a handful of times -- at a DePaul basketball game last month, for example -- he relaxed, knowing his coach might not be at peace with the labor situation, but at least he was keeping occupied, aside from watching film.

"I heard he's been going crazy. I heard he's been showing up at games, like DePaul games and things like that," Rose said Thursday. "But hopefully he's been coaching somebody."

At that DePaul game, I didn't ask Thibodeau any lockout questions in a casual, off-the-record conversation -- we mostly talked about local high school and college basketball -- and he didn't ask me about any of the Bulls players, but I did take his unsaid hint and voluntarily update him, including Rose, I had been in contact with during the long layoff. You could almost see him chomping at the bit to learn more, but the fact that Rose had basically stayed in the gym all summer -- not that he wasn't concerned about other players -- working out with other NBA players in California, was enough for the time being.

"At the end of last year, we didn't have a lot of time to spend with our players," Thibodeau said Thursday. "But the one thing about Derrick, you know he's going to be in the gym every day, you know he's going to study, watch film, he challenges himself. I expect him to be great this year. He showed last year how great he is and now the challenge is to do it again and to do it better, and I think he will. He's our leader."

Separately from the mutual admiration these two have for each other, best exemplified by their frequent post-practice one-on-one film sessions and late-night text-message exchanges to discuss strategy, is the fact they're constantly on the same page. Both independently uttered the same phrase, "last year is last year" Thursday, without the benefit of prior consultation, an excellent sign for Bulls fans and proof that neither plans on resting on their laurels.

"I'm not worried about it, knowing that Thibs, he's very comfortable with us, knowing he can talk to us any way and really practice any way that we want to," Rose said about the Bulls adjusting to the shortened season. "We have the same guys coming back, kind of veteran guys -- I'm becoming a vet, this being my fourth year -- and hopefully, we can just go out there and forget about last year. This is a whole other year."

"I think that last year, our training camp was pretty hard -- that was his first year coaching, too, being a head coach -- but this year, I think he knows us a little bit better. But you never know with Thibs. He'll probably has us running a lot," he continued. "I know he's going to be hard on us this year."

The thing is, Rose likes that. It might seem strange, but Rose was actually one of Thibodeau's whipping boys last season, something almost unheard of in this era of coddled superstars, but not only does Rose enjoy being treated as just another player, he thrives off the coach continually pushing him to reach new heights.

"I missed everything, man. The Berto, the people that work here, Thibs. Just talking to him every day, just picking his mind, him picking my mind, just everything about Thibs," he said. "Just pushing me as a player, me pushing him as a coach and I know he's going to have us prepared, definitely, when the season starts."

Added Thibodeau: "Can't be the MVP without being great, but the thing that I really admire about him is he's never satisfied; he always wants to do everything better. I think defensively, he made great strides last year. I expect him to make another step this year and then, I think his leadership improved and he has to be the leader of this team this year."

Under Thibodeau's guidance, expect Rose to continue his growth as both a player and a leader; the symmetry will be complete, as Thibodeau, already one of the league's top coaches, should also be even better with his elite point guard leading the way. A perfect pair, back together.

How Coby White is putting it all together over most recent hot stretch

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USA Today

How Coby White is putting it all together over most recent hot stretch

The shots are starting to fall for Coby White. In seven February games, the Bulls freshly-turned 20-year-old is averaging 17.7 points, 4.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting 35.7% from 3-point range (eight attempts per). That’s good news for the Bulls. 

And better is that’s not all that’s going right for White. Yes, consecutive career-high 33-point games — something no rookie reserve has ever done — on cumulative 55% field goal shooting (12-for-22 from deep) will grab eyes, especially on the heels of a frigid stretch between the beginning of February and the All-Star break. But after Sunday’s losing-streak-snapping 126-117 win over Washington, Bulls coach Jim Boylen peeled back the layers of White’s growth.

“I think he's been aggressive in transition, I think his finishing has been terrific, he's had the ball up and out, he's got it out of his stomach, something he's working on,” Boylen said. “I think his work pre-practice, post-practice is paying off.”

And of White’s defense: “We make a defensive (film) edit on Coby after every game. And him and I watch it together… (Early in the season) he had, of his 14 plays on the tape, you know, seven of them were good and seven of them were bad. Now it's like 10 are good and four are bad. He's climbing in that way.

“What he's finding out is: If you get into the game defensively and you follow your assignment and all that, good things happen for you at the other end. It just does. And I think he's locked in that way.”

White’s restricted area finishing has steadily improved over the season (59.3% in February) — he’s getting to the rim and finishing through contact better than ever before (White’s seven free throw attempts versus the Wizards ties a season-high). In transition, he’s a blur running off live rebounds and steals, which could prove a boon for a Bulls team that lives in the fastbreak. His decision-making and ability to change speeds in the halfcourt stand out. Defensively, though not yet perfect, he’s staying more and more connected off-ball, rotating sharply and hunting loose ball recoveries.

If the jumpers are falling, gravy. But the game slowing down for White, and his confidence growing as a result, should excite the Bulls and their fans the most. White, for his part, has learned over the course of a curious rookie campaign to control what he can control.

“It feels good,” White said of his recent red-hot shooting. “But I think now I look at the game differently than I did at the beginning of the year. Now, I just look at the games like I'm gonna go in and play hard on both ends of the court, that's all I'm gonna do. And then control what I can control — I can't control whether I miss or make shots, so. I'm just going out there and playing hard.”

That comes from Boylen, who White lauded for pushing him to continue improving, especially defensively.

“Coach Boylen was preaching to me, you gotta play defense you gotta play defense, so I took it as a challenge. And I feel like I'm continuing to get better at it. I still can get better at it,” White said. “But he pushes me, he pushes me to be a good player, so I can't knock him for that and that's the type of coach I want.”

None of the above (nor Boylen’s unconditional trust in White) has culminated in his first career start, despite clamoring from some media and fans. But perhaps that’s OK. Boylen has often preached White’s increasing comfortability leading the Bulls’ second unit — even injury-ravaged — and that comfort is starting to show up on the floor and in the stat sheet. It speaks to the labeless approach the Bulls have taken to White’s development.

“We got a second group that's playing pretty good again, and we're also melding Coby into that first group at times in the game,” Boylen said when asked if starting White could be a possibility. “So, coming off two 33-point games, I don't know if it makes sense to [start him].”

To that point: White is still getting his fair share of minutes — he played 34 tonight and is averaging 30.6 in February — and a healthy amount of time on the floor staggered alongside Zach LaVine and Tomas Satoransky. White has also played valuable minutes down the stretch of games recently and his usage rate is up to 24.1% over his last seven games. Opportunity comes in many forms.

“I feel like I'm in a good position,” White said. “This year for me wasn't about starting, it wasn't about being this being that, it was just about me getting better over the season. That's the main thing in this league, you just keep getting better. You don't want to be a guy that just stays the same the whole time.”

White certainly hasn't. The overarching point is that nights like tonight (and Saturday against Phoenix) further emphasize how crucial his continued progression will be down the 25-game stretch of this ill-fated Bulls season — whatever form it takes. Talk of a playoff push has noticeably tempered around the United and Advocate Centers, but White’s been the center of plenty of conversations.

“You see how explosive he is,” said LaVine, who’s been highly complimentary of White all year. “Trying to figure out some nicknames for him. Either like propane or gasoline or something like that. His scoring is special. He can do it in a variety of ways. He's finding his rhythm. Kid's good. He's real good.”

If we land on a pseudonym by mid-April, it’d be a welcome sign.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Coby White drops 33 in 2nd straight game

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Coby White drops 33 in 2nd straight game

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders Podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson and Allana Tachauer discuss Coby White becoming the first Bulls rookie since Michael Jordan to score 30+ points in back-to-back games; LaVine breaking the Bulls record for threes made in a single season; and Dwyane Wade's role in Derrick Jones Jr.'s controversial dunk contest victory.

0:40 - Allana's back and the Bulls losing streak is over

1:10 - White drops 33 points in second straight game

5:30 - Tomas Satoransky records team-high 13 assists

6:45 - Zach LaVine breaks Bulls single-season three-point record

8:35 - Bradley Beal scores 53 points and doesn't get victory

9:45 - Have injuries kept Bulls from reaching their full potential?

11:10 - Should Daniel Gafford start over Wendell Carter Jr.?

14:00 - Pros and cons of playing White and LaVine together

18:25 - Is LaVine in the Bulls long-term future?

20:50 - Injured Bulls look like boy band

22:45 - Did Wade rig dunk contest for Jones Jr.?

25:50 - Does Coby need to start?

Listen here or in the embedded player below.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.