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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.

Options if the Bulls trade down: Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura

Options if the Bulls trade down: Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura

On draft night, there is a decent possibility that the Bulls front office looks at their draft board and collectively decide that they can get a player with No. 7 pick value later in the first round. They could be inclined to feel this way more than in most years due to the 2019 draft class being such a toss up after the top three picks. If the Bulls traded down in the draft, I am assuming they would be netting a valuable future first-round pick, likely with some minimal protections. In this series, we will be looking at prospects the Bulls could take should they trade down in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Rui Hachimura per The Stepien:

71 percent at the rim

44.2 percent on short midrange

47.6 percent on long midrange

52.1 percent on NBA 3s (12/23)

Boylen talked a ton this season about “toughness” being a key tenet of the new Bulls culture moving forward. The idea of that “toughness” didn’t translate on the court heavily, though the Bulls did improve slightly in rebound rate under Boylen.

From the time for Boylen took over, the Bulls ranked 14th in defensive rebound rate and 25th in total rebound rate, up from 16th and 28th respectively under Hoiberg. Those numbers are a bit of smoke-and-mirrors with all the factors at play this past (weird) Bulls season.

But Boylen did have a much heavier focus on generating points inside first, with the team ranking third in the league in points in the paint per game during his tenure. Rui Hachimura fits in extremely well with the idea of the Bulls punishing teams inside with low-post scoring depth, resulting in open looks on the perimeter.

Hachimura stands 6-feet-8-inches tall, 230 lbs., with a 7-foot-2-inch wingspan. He is a very physical player and utilizes his wingspan incredibly well in traffic. Hachimura posted a 17.4 percent defensive rebound rate over his three-years at Gonzaga. I mentioned above how Hachimura embraces contact and his career average of 7.5 free throw attempts per 40 minutes helps showcase his ability to be a wrecking ball in the paint.

He has the potential to excel as a small-ball center with the right personnel surrounding him. The fact that he can grab a defensive board and initiate the fastbreak makes him an even more valuable prospect. But when you consider that lineups with he and Markkanen as the two bigs on the floor would have five capable ball-handlers, the idea of Rui in Chicago becomes even more enticing.

Overall, Hachimura is a great prospect with a solid skill set that should allow him to be a decent scorer from day one, it all just depends on how much of an opportunity he gets.

The Bulls--as John Paxson has reiterated many, many times now--feel comfortable with the starters they have at the two, three, four and five positions, with point guard being their main area of weakness. While the Bulls don’t necessarily need another big, they do need to add productive players who are young. With Boylen’s emphasis on having multiple ball-handlers, driving the ball and points in the paint, Hachimura would be a logical selection, though No. 7 overall could be a bit of a reach for the 21-year old big.

His defense definitely has a long way to go--as with most NBA draft prospects--but Hachimura’s situation is unique since he literally had a language barrier to overcome when he first got to Gonzaga in 2017. The belief right now is that Hachimura is in a comfortable spot right now in terms of both speaking and understanding English, as reporting from Sam Vecine of the The Athletic (LINK is behind a paywall) and others has backed up.

With that being said, the Japanese forward still makes too many mistakes on the defensive end of the floor to be a surefire top 10 pick.

He is at his core an offensive-minded player, and as a result has not exactly developed much in the way of defensive intensity over the years. Hachimura averaged 0.6 steals per game and 0.5 blocks per game for his NCAA career.

For comparison’s sake, his steal and block rates are almost identical to Marvin Bagley III during his time at Duke. Bagley had a highly productive rookie season with the Kings--landing a spot on the NBA All-Rookie First-Team--but the Kings defense was still four points worse when he was on the floor per cleaningtheglass.com ($).

Despite having similar measurements to Bagley, I don’t believe that Hachimura posses quite the level of athleticism that Bagley does, making his path to becoming an above average defender that much harder.

Ultimately, if Hachimura’s awesome shooting numbers from NBA 3-point range (41.7 percent) on a small sample size (36 attempts) aren’t smoke-and-mirrors, he will greatly outplay his draft position. Hachimura shot 52.1 percent on his NBA range 3-pointers and also has a career 74.6 percent free throw percentage. Whether he was diving to the rim on pick-and-rolls with Lauri spacing the floor, or playing in a high/low offense with another big on the bench unit, there is a clear path to Hachimura being effective in Chicago. It would just take a ton of patience from the Bulls new-look coaching staff.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: The Bulls need a point guard. The Bears Top 100 list continues

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: The Bulls need a point guard. The Bears Top 100 list continues

0:00- Will Perdue drops by to talk hoops. What will the Bulls do this summer to address their point guard need?

7:00- The Bulls need a point guard. Derrick Rose is a free agent. Should they bring him back home?

11:30- Carman says the Bulls should consider trading for Lonzo Ball. Kap yells at him.

16:30- Will talks about this year's playoffs and if anybody will be the Warriors?

20:00- The Bears Top 100 list continues to dominate discussion. Chris makes the case for Jay Cutler to be higher. He gets yelled at.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: