Tom Thibodeau's majestic coaching performance has me talking to myself

 The NBA is a players’ game. This much is a hardly a secret. In the college ranks, the right coach can recruit enough talent to make his style or philosophy look brilliant, but as history bears out, that same coaching svengali invariably ends up eating shit in the NBA unless he’s handed a ready-to-win roster.

As far as the pro’s go, I’ve always thought that all but the elite coaches are a dime-a-dozen. Some will do better with their type of players, but most are going to win some and lose some if you give them average talent to work with. For a franchise like the Bulls, a team cursed by the premature dismantling of the Jordan dynasty in 1998, they’ve been almost completely luckless since.

That is, they were until the day they won the lottery for Derrick Rose. Building a team in the NBA isn’t without it’s challenges, but it gets quite a bit easier if you have luck into a top 5 player with a ferocious competitive streak.

When you are blessed enought to have an elite coach fall in your lap just two years later, shit gets real in a hurry.

Yep, I’m a pretty big fan of Tom Thibodeau and what he’s done here, and  I’ll do my best to explain my affection for what he’s made happen in such a short period of time. I’ll also do what I can to make sure this sucker isn’t 10,000 words long.

What can i say, I think Thibs is that good. So good in fact, that i actually interviewed myself about it.

No shit. Look.

How many times have you seen a marginally talented NBA team post the best record for two consecutive seasons?

None in my memory, and I’ve been watching this game for a long, long time. Fact is, the Bulls were a surprise to me (and most others) last year when they won 62 games with a rookie coach and Derrick Rose came out of nowhere to snag the NBA MVP award.

As neat a trick as that was, it turned out to be just a warm-up for this year.

This time around, Chicago stands alone at 45-14 despite being without the services of said MVP for more than a third of the season. Even crazier, they’ve gone 17-6 in those games, which is still a better record than any other team, percentage-wise.

I mean, tell me that isn’t crazy? Go ahead. I’d like to see you try.

Threatening Johnny's status as "greatest bench ever"

How on earth does this happen?

Hard to explain, really. Not only is this kind of result beyond even the most hardcore Bulls fans’ wildest dreams, it simply has no precedent. You can go through the pages of with a magnifying glass and a police dog and you won’t find a similar recent example. Yeah, you might unearth a squad that kept on winning 75% of their games without their star player, but it won’t be one possessed of the type of meager talent featured on this Bulls team.

Forget what’s happened the last two years and answer this hypothetical: What record would you have projected for a team featuring a rookie coach, a starting lineup of Rose, Keith Bogans ,Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah and a bench of Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, Kurt Thomas and C.J. Watson?

45 wins? Maybe 50, if everything broke just right.

Fact is, the Bulls won 41 game apiece in 2009 and ’10, and the only changes of note from hose teams to 2011 were the additions of Boozer and Thibodeau. Pretty sure no sane person would claim Boozer is responsible for the 21 extra wins.

We know that chemistry and effort can be worth a few wins per season in the NBA. It’s been borne out over the years. If you have a devoted, hard-working superstar that can set that kind of example, all the better. Also, watching a Rose make the leap from future superstar to franchise savior is worth a few more.

Still, that doesn’t explain what’s happening here. In this case, it took a cutting-edge defensive mastermind and a roster full of guys that were buying what he was selling for this team to reach the elite level.

Just how many wins is Thibodeau worth?

On this team, I’d say at least 15.

Not that I love hypotheticals by any means, but Mike D’ Antoni was being courted hard by the Bulls prior to the 2009 season. Of course, he eventally took the Knicks job. Now, as big a fan as I am of the D’ Antoni way, it’s hard to imagine he could have done any better than 107-34, (Thibodeau’s record in Chicago) even though Rose would have been a perfect fit for the “seven second or less” offense.

Obviously, the roster would look different if they had hired an offense-first guy, and just as obviously, the style of play would as well. Still, as exciting as they may have been playing at a breakneck tempo, I can’t imagine they would have matched their current success, considering the fact that the ownership is determined not to exceed the luxury tax. It’s one thing to dominate the regular season with modest talent. It’s a whole other trick to do it with a payroll that doesn’t even crack the league’s top 10.

How are they managing that?

They hired the perfect coach and let him do his thing. The rest has been easy. By bringing in a defensive innovator and giving him carte blanche, they were able to squeeze every last ounce of talent and potential out of what they had. Just as importantly, the bench has a sense of purpose, and a calling card: nobody scores on the bench mob.

On the wrong team, one lacking in direction and motivation, a unit of Asik, Watson, Gibson, Korver and Brewer wouldn’t scare anybody. In Chicago, they are the reason this team is great, instead of merely very good.

Is Thibodeau Coach of the year?

Honestly, they should even waste their time voting on this one. If the criteria is “which coach is exceeding expectations with his team”, it’s hard to fathom voting for anyone else, this year, last year, or pretty much every year for the foreseeable future as long as Tom is still here and their still winning like crazy.

Can this dude walk on water or what?

Check back with me in a about two months. By then, we’ll know the extent of his miracle-working. Similar to the LeBron-led Cavs, this Bulls team, as great as they’ve been, feel like their built more for the regular season than the playoffs. If it’s true that you need more than one superstar to win titles in the NBA, then it’s going to take something resembling devine intervention for Chicago to go all the way.

With that said, it feels like at least a 50/50 proposition this year in light of what we’ve seen from the Chicago/Miami games this season. Barring a major upset, these two teams will be meeting for a trip to the finals and even more than last year, this year it’s really going to come down to who can hit shots when it matters. Guess all you want, but this one is pretty much impossible to predict with any certainty.

Win or lose, the hiring of Thibodeau has worked out pretty well. We’ll see just how well in the next six weeks or so.

-John Hathwell


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