Tom Thibodeau went all Phil Jackson on us, and it worked

Tom Thibodeau went all Phil Jackson on us, and it worked

Remember the start of the season when Carlos Boozer was out, and many of us were simply hoping not to get annihilated on the western conference road trip?    Tom Thibodeau kept going deep to his bench, and everytime the bench unit came out, the Bulls were destroyed.

I remember writing article after article about trimming the rotation, not playing the bench so heavily, and finding a way to stop relying on these guys.   Tom Thibodeau has done the exact opposite of that.   And it worked.

In Phil Jackson's books, he discusses at great length how he always used his bench,  played them in important minutes, and never let anyone go too long without getting some playing time.   The idea was that the bench is built in the regular season, and then they'll be ready in post season if needed.

Tom Thibodeau has turned a weakness into the strength.   Who feels cared when the Bulls bring in their bench now?   The bench is more likely to lead a charge than it is to give up a big lead.   The bench brings a ton of energy and defense.  

Everyone hated C.J. Watson early, and looking at Watson's stats, it looks like he's having a poor year.   However, watching Watson play, his defense has improved radically from his Golden State days.  His shot selection has gotten much better.   He does a nice job of running the offense and finding looks for his teammates when on the floor.  

The Bulls have really only unleashed Watson as a scorer once this season.  The Denver game when Derrick Rose was out.   They typically have him just run the offense, but that explosive scoring ability is lurking underneath the surface if the Bulls need it.

Ronnie Brewer has been exactly who we thought he was, but perhaps, with a better mid range jumpshot.   Sure, it's cringeworthy when he shoots it, but his mid range jumper usually goes in.    He makes smart basket cuts when opponents try to leave him open on the perimeter, and his defense.    Well, his defense has been spectacular in the best of times.

Brewer is the first disruptional perimeter defender the Bulls have had in a long time.  Guys like Deng and Hinrich have been very good defenders, but they're more functional.  They play the scheme, force their man baseline, don't get beat in the wrong way, force tough shots.   

Ronnie Brewer is disruptional.  He denies players the ball, forces turnovers, tips away passes before they get there.  He disrupts the opposition from doing what they want to do before they can get a shot off.    Both types of defenders are crucial to a solid defense, and it's great to finally have a disruptional perimeter defender.

I'd still love Kyle Korver to start.   He plays his best with Derrick Rose in the game.  It's hard to appreciate what an asset Korver is without breaking down game film.   However, DVR the next Bulls game and just pick any 10 plays with Korver in the lineup and any 10 plays without him in the lineup and watch how many people leap out at Derrick Rose when he attempts to drive.

Without even taking a shot, Korver has a tremendous impact on the game.   What's surprised me most is his defense though.   No, Korver is not a lock down defender, but he plays a very reasonable functional defense.   The biggest issues with Korver are fouling and boxing out, but given his reputation, I expected much, much worse.

Taj Gibson always comes in with a ton of energy.   He'll knock down his mid range shot, rotates extremely well to provide help defense, alters/blocks shots at the rim, and frequently gives the Bulls a big boost.

We've seen what Gibson can do when counted on as well.    When the Bulls need him to go 30 minutes, Taj steps up and delivers.    He's the perfect insurance policy to Carlos Boozer.

Kurt Thomas has simply been amazing for his age.   Here's a guy I was just begging not to play.   He's probably 20-30lbs overweight, 6'8, has no vertical, no speed, and plays center.   Yet, he's shown incredibly quick hands for stripping the ball.   Incredible toughness in forcing guys off the block, and has really done an outstanding job of disrupting opposing centers.

I thought the Bulls were nuts for signing him, but he's had an incredible impact on the season so far, and if the Bulls need him at any point, I'm comfortable with him stepping up and playing well.

Finally, the real hidden gem of the group, Omer Asik.   Who knew, outside of Magilla Gorilla (for you realgm fans), that Omer would play like this?   I watched this guy play in Europe, and while I liked his defense, his offense was hopeless even there.   I thought coming to the NBA where the players are so much bigger, more physical, and more athletic, that his defense wouldn't translate.

Wrong.   His offense is clearly a work in progress, but his defense has been eye opening.   The best thing Asik has going for him is that he'll never need to buy a dog.    Dwight Howard coming at him?    He's not a afraid.   He's not afraid of anyone on the basketball court.   He's aggressive, smart, quick for his size.   He always makes the right rotation, has great defensive footwork, and finds himself in position to help.

He's physical, he'll mix it up with guys much bigger and stronger than he is as well.   When the Bulls get to work with him for a couple off seasons to bulk him up, he might get scary defensively.   

If he actually learns a few simple post moves and can just catch the ball up high and dunk and get his free throw percentage up to 67% or so then watch out.    Asik looks like a starting caliber center in two years, and no one will ever again question why the Bulls gave up three second rounders and waited two years for him.   A price that seemed so high at the time, but now looks laughably cheap.

This Bulls team isn't a perfect team, but Tom Thibodeau has worked hard to make it the best team it can be, and he's succeeded.   He's been patient.   He's let guys play through mistakes.  He's let the second unit grow together.    He's taken a team that initially looked shallow and made them the deepest team in the NBA.

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  • I mostly agree but a couple of things:

    Thibs DID make a lineup adjustment to fix the bench. The bench only looked bad while Scal and JJ were playing. As soon as Thibs shortened his rotation by leaving Scal & JJ out of it things improved.

    Also the bench looked very good even coming in, even if we got nothing at all from Asik. Not sure how you can say it looked shallow. In Bogans (since Brewer projected to be the starter), Korver, Gibson & Thomas we had guys who had played significant minutes on playoff teams last year, CJ Watson had played 27 a game, and even Scal & JJ were 10 minute a game guys last year, not victory cigars.

    It was pretty clear that some guys were going to be playing fewer minutes than they were capable of because the Bulls had such a deep team.

    The way Thibs has the second unit playing as a defense is ultra impressive though, it's really a tribute to him that the bench is so good when Watson/Brewer/Gibson are all shooting so poorly by their career standards.

  • In reply to DontLetsStart:

    Fair points on JJ and Scal, I don't think the bench necessarily looked deep or shallow in the off-season.

    A month into the season it looked very shallow to me.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Gibson was in the starting lineup and Brewer wasn't 100% to start the season, which is really the difference I think. Watson/Korver/Asik are playing basically the same (Asik getting more minutes now though, and he is slightly better offensively but that's not saying much ...).

    I wonder if Thibs had gone with the Noah/Thomas front court with Boozer out the first time whether we'd ever have had any bench worries.

  • In reply to DontLetsStart:

    Early in the season it also seemed like Thibs was doing hockey-style line changes and subbing out the whole starting 5 for 5 bench guys. That was scary at times, then he started leaving Deng or Boozer (when he came back) in with the bench guys and it seemed to be a better balance.

    I have to say, I love it when a guy sticks to his plan no matter how much he's criticized by the media and fans and then succeeds.

  • In reply to DontLetsStart:

    I hope CJ Watson gets to play more SG on the second team. If John Lucas can run the team for 6/7 minutes, CJ can just look for his shot and maybe can get a few open shots. Can Lucas penetrate the defense and distribute against the backups/bench of the other teams?

  • In reply to DontLetsStart:

    Asik has been a great find. I thought, too, he might be a bit timid against some of the NBA monsters, but nope! Of course, Turks aren't known for their timidity, but that's a generalization, of course. Great to see his agility, that's what surprises me the most. great, great pick up.

  • In reply to DontLetsStart:

    Unless there's a VDN inside joke I'm missing, I think you mean "disruptive." Would let it slide, but I couldn't read "disruptional" three times and not mention it.

    Otherwise, I totally agree. I was just thinking to myself how I used to cringe every time the second unit came on. Not anymore.

  • In reply to DontLetsStart:

    Given the depth of our bench and the strength of the 2nd unit's defence, it'll be interesting to see what Thibs will do in the playoff - normally the rotation is tightened up in the playoffs, but with the 2nd units defence being the strongest in the league ...

    Also, GREAT to finally hear someone discuss Korver's defence. Yes he's slow and not a great individual defender, BUT it's not due to lack of effort ... man, he really works his butt off on the defence side.

    I think that's the reason I get so damn frustated watching Boozer, you compare him to Korver - Korver puts in the effort, Boozer stands there watching

  • In reply to anasemaj:

    Korver, does work hard, but he is still a big liability. He's looked better recently because the bulls have played crappy teams. But against the good teams, Thibs was forced to only play him 12-15 minutes. And starting Korver is still a fantasy.

    I've given up hope on Boozer turning any sort of corner defensively.

  • In reply to anasemaj:

    Nice read Doug.

    Beyond having a just bench he could trust, Phil Jackson always had bench players primed for the playoffs to do specific tasks that his starts might not exceed in. Remember the Jud Beuchler types who really just contributed minimally during the season, but during the playoffs made a couple key plays here or there that changed momentum or put us in a place to win?

    Also the Phil Jackson coached teams felt so much pressure from the coaching staff & in practice to perform at the highest level that from top to bottom they had no trouble with the pressure of the playoffs (except maybe Stacey King haha). I think we might have that going on this year as well.

    We see what a student of the game Thibs is, I wonder what little surprises he has in store for the opponent come playoff time?

  • In reply to bentheredengthat:

    "I wonder what little surprises he has in store for the opponent come playoff time"

    Excellent observation. I think one surprise Thibs may have for the playoffs is some kind of zone defense. I've noticed they play primarily man-to-man and do a lot of switching on screens and some infrequent trapping.

    I'll bet they've been working on some variation of a zone defense for teams that play a lot of 1-on-1 like Miami, Charlotte, Atlanta and Indiana. I don't expect them to do it a lot, just enough to throw teams off balance because they're not used to seeing that type of D from the Bulls.

  • In reply to bentheredengthat:

    Nice point about Stacy King!
    The guy was a good college player. I was a big fan of his when he played, I think, at Oklahoma, But to be truthful, he was a STIFF as a pro! He was a pain in the ass to the coaching staff. They tried with him but he could never cut it. He tries on the Bulls broadcast team, but he'd better control himself with his remarks. If I were Kurt Thomas I would draw him aside and tell him to cut out that foolishness of calling a grown man "BIG SEXY." Sounds like calling into question Thomas' manhood. It also makes King sound STUPID!

  • In reply to Normie:

    You sound like "king of crumbs", again its basketball trash talk with Stacey

    calling Thomas Big Sexy. It's a nickname that comes with how smooth and patient he plays his game. He's not questioning Thomas manhood, now that sounds stupid. I take it you don't know anything about some of the players in the league that actually have played street ball growing up... what State is doing is a part of that, basically trash talking.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    Give it a rest, big guy. I pointed out how you were wrong once, it's time you got over it.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    Reesel, you sound just as foolish as Stacy King, maybe you're related to him. I have a question for you. Did Carlos Boozer play street ball growing up? Wasn't he of the opinion that King was questioning Thomas' manhood with that stupid remark about "Big Sexy"? Boozer went public and said it disgusted him to hear King call a grown man BIG SEXY. I guess he never played Street ball and has no idea about TRASH TALKING! You sound like a fool!

  • In reply to bentheredengthat:

    ATTENTION EVERYONE:

    Read this article and then bash the author. This guy is a complete moron!!! He even disrespects Bulls fans in the comments section!

    http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news?slug=ycn-8107190

  • In reply to Jmax:

    what a duecher

  • In reply to Jmax:

    Yeah I have to agree, that fool is pretty assinine. He obviously does not like Rose or the Bulls and if he can't see that Rose is clearly the MVP of the league this year he's not a real basketball fan in any level.

  • In reply to Jmax:

    He goes out of his way to be abrasive but he's fundamentally right: if Rose wins it'll be on the back of the weakest MVP season in a long time. But it's not really his fault that LeBron/Wade/Howard's teams are all under performing expectations and the MVP award requires your team to be better than whatever arbitrary expectations sports writers had for them before the season.

  • In reply to DontLetsStart:

    C'mon, we all know there's more to basketball and the awards then JUST stats. And PER is the ONLY factor he's taking into account in his comments. He doesn't analyze shooting percentage, for god's sake; of course Howard will have a higher percentage than Rose when he lives three feet from the rim! (Hey, how's that free-throw percentage, Superman? How many technicals was that again?) LOTS one can say about any of the candidates, but he doesn't want to work that hard. This is a fluff piece, don't get too worked up about some stats geek who probably hardly ever gets laid!

    FWIW, to me, the most valuable player is the one who does the most to help his team win the most regular season games, isn't that what we're all trying to do? And when you ask who does the most, you then look at the team and the season.. For example, did Howard add more wins to the Magic than Rose did to the Bulls? How good was the rest of the team? How many key injuries? Can you guess where the Miami Bleat would be without ONE of LB or DW? How about the Mavs without Nowitski, etc? I'd LOVE to see that sort of debate - and then, if you like, call on stats to support your case, maybe measure how good or bad the team-mates are... Sorry, ranting, I get so TIRED of over-reliance on statistics!

    BTW, given the Bulls dramatic improvement while losing two key players for 50+ games... I think that's why we are so supportive of Derrick. We see, night after night, what he does. Kobe used to do that too, now he does it less often... Dirk, every night? Dwight? It's hard for LB and DW to stand out under this examination...

  • In reply to petert23:

    (Meant as a general comment, not specifically to Shakes)

  • In reply to Jmax:

    He

  • In reply to Jmax:

    In both of Steve Nash's MVP seasons he put up a worse PER than Rose currently has.

    Steve Nash
    04-05 22.04
    05-06 23.29

    By comparison, Kobe's PER rating during those years was:
    04-05 23.33
    05-06 28.11

    PER is NOT a good measure of MVP winners. It's also important to note that Steve Nash was the last point guard to win the award.

    Also, PER doesn't favor point guards, because they shoot low-percentage shots and handle the ball more which makes them more prone to turnovers.

  • In reply to Jmax:

    *Correction
    Rose's PER is currently at 23.02 so he didn't beat out Nash both years but WTF cares. Here's to hoping Rose wins MVP and that a** hat of a writer has to eat his words.

  • In reply to Jmax:

    Dave Cowens had a 18.1 PER the year he won MVP. He also says that anyone with a 25 PER is not even in the MVP conversation. The avg PER of the MVP winners is 25.7, that guy is a tool.

  • In reply to anasemaj:

    Sam Smith has an interesting explanation for the Pargo and Lucas signings

  • In reply to anasemaj:

    Sam Smith has an interesting explanation for the Pargo and Lucas signings

  • In reply to Edward:

    Yeah, I just saw that article too, and thought it very interesting. Most people saw those signings as head scratchers and dismissed them to the "why bother?" category. But if the new CBA forces teams to shed salary, it could prove to be a VERY VERY shrewd maneuver. Unlike some arm-chair GMs out there, that's why I give GarPax some credit. I think they've done an excellent job of building a good (maybe great?) team, as well as setting themselves up to improve in the future.

  • In reply to zentastic:

    Yes, Bulls may be able to draft a SG (Klay Thompson as Road Warrior suggests), and also trade the 3 non-guaranteed contracts for a $5 million dollar player.

    Suddenly, there is an infusion of talent after a deep playoff run even while being over the cap and with a new restrictive CBA that eliminates the MLE.
    And they still keep the Charlotte pick.

    It

  • In reply to zentastic:

    Terrific post, Doug. I think our bench is one of the most underrated aspects of our team. When you look at our bench I feel we have it all in terms of ballhandling (C.J.), shooting (C.J. & Kyle), athleticism (Brewer & Taj), rebounding (Thomas, Omer, Taj), and toughness (Thomas & Omer). I also feel our bench has players on it with the potential to grow in Taj and Omer.

    Omer reminds be so much of a young Gortat in the things we are asking him to do at this stage of his career. I feel over time he will develop the 15-17 foot jump shot and solid post moves. Just like Gortat, I feel the Bulls better be prepared to pay a good bit once his extension comes up.

    Pargo, Scal, and Lucas III don't factor into my analysis and hopefully never will. GO BULLS!!!

  • In reply to zentastic:

    no team has the talented youth + future flexibility, maybe only the Thunder come close

  • In reply to zentastic:

    Very excited about this game tonight, with 3 1/2 weeks left on the season, its time to hit the stretch run & really hit our stride. 14 games left, 7 home, 7 away. I think at the least we go 12-2. Making it impossible for Miami to catch us, & improbable for Boston to stay with us. Home game tonight, then a tough road game in Atlanta tomorrow. One more tough roadie after that, @ Orlando.

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    12-2 would be awesome. I certainly think they're capable of doing it, but I can just see the comments after those 2 losses. It'll be the typical "the sky is falling", and that they're doomed to flame out in the playoffs, but of course, in the big picture, it's a great record. Makes me roll my eyes. How about some perspective, people.

  • In reply to zentastic:

    no kidding. I guess when people come to expect perfection though, that usually means something good

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    True, people tend to overreact. Have the Bulls even lost 3 all year? I guess ill check after typing this.

  • In reply to KingOfCrumbs:

    nope

  • In reply to zentastic:

    Some James Johnson love:

    James Johnson had 12 points and six rebounds in Sunday's Raptors win in Oklahoma City. It was just the third time in 12 games with Toronto, but coach Jay Triano lauded him for other aspects of his game. "When you're guarding the best player in the game (Kevin Durant) maybe and you hold him to 6-for-21 and 1-for-11 in the second half and you're physical with him and you're aggressive with (him) and you still contribute offensively ... James was outstanding."

    also from Sam Smith:

    So what

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    That's good news for JJ. Early this season I wanted Bulls to give Bogans

  • In reply to Edward:

    yup, thats the way I felt. He looks capable of growing into a more athletic less heady Deng type of role, when even if he's not scoring, he can still contribute.

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    That's why it is a little bit unfortunate for the Bulls that Thibs couldn't do anything with JJ. I understand Thibs's point of view and why he didn't play JJ. But a championship team needs to stash a couple of promising rookies who can contribute in the future. I guess JJ was so bad that he was screwing up Thibs's practices that made GarPax trade him.
    Hopefully we get some rookies next year that can grow with the team and satisfy Thibs's demands.

  • In reply to schaumburgfan:

    Thibs gave JJ a chance at the stat of the season and he sucked. The Bulls aren't a lottery team that has the luxury of playing bad players because hey if they lose at least it helps their draft pick. JJ needs a situation like the Raptors where he can play high minutes through mistakes and a good team is not the place where he's going to get that.

    Thibs has played Asik every single game so it's not a case of him hating young players, it's a case of him wanting to play players who help the team. JJ wasn't that sort of player this year (and lets be honest, may never be).

  • In reply to Edward:

    Very crafty Gar Paxdorf. I was wondering what the hell this was done for, but now I get it. Nicely done.

  • In reply to Edward:

    This of use non-guaranteed contracts to create a newfangled trade asset is very shrewd and creative. It

  • In reply to Edward:

    That Gar is as crafty as is hair is slingblade-esque bad. Nice. Bulls set up to wheel & deal. I love that they have a future plan in place, to go along with their core & their win now ability.

  • In reply to Edward:

    That's why I didn't sweat the criticism at the trade deadline. Gar said afterwards that it's not making a trade just to make one, but to make the RIGHT trade. It's why all those short-sighted, instant gratification fans are just that...fans.

    Oh, as a side note. It was also funny in Sam's article about the Melo trade and how there's some rather vocal buyer's remorse now. Denver seems rather satisfied with Melo gone, and NJ said it's sometimes the trade that you DON'T make that is more important. Ouch. Have fun in NY not living up to expectations Melo, you overrated me-first egomaniac.

  • In reply to zentastic:

    While Bulls are creating The New CBA Asset

  • In reply to Edward:

    Joe Johnson not the NBA's most overpaid player? He was robbed!

  • In reply to Edward:

    Expiring contracts became the creative asset of the current CBA.
    Non-guaranteed contracts are the creative asset of the new CBA!
    Particularly during the first couple years of when teams may need to shed salary.

    It

  • In reply to anasemaj:

    Irwin Mandel links:
    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1998-03-01/features/9803010425_1_salary-cap-bulls-free-agent-jerry-krause

    http://hoopedia.nba.com/index.php?title=Irwin_Mandel

  • In reply to anasemaj:

    GREAT post Doug. It's so easy to forget how things were early in the season (before I got on the 'eastern conference finals or bust' train). Begrudgingly, CJ has had a very solid couple of months.

  • In reply to anasemaj:

    Thibs has enough experience to know how player rotations/time management works. It's just that some of his players can't shoot/30's FG%. Even with volume threes that's lousy. Sam Smith points out that the Bulls offense/scoring ranks 20th. No team but Detroit has won the championship below 18th.

    I figured getting too absolute clunks like Pargo and Lucas had some ulterior/end game purpose for trades or cap space as Sam Smith suggests.

  • In reply to DontLetsStart:

    "En b

  • In reply to rkraneis:

    We better sign Asik to an extension ASAP.

    Might we see more Asik and Noah lineups in crunch time that gives us our best defensive unit, put them out there with Rose, Deng and Korver for offense.

  • In reply to DontLetsStart:

    I don't know if anyone remembers...but I said this near the start of the season (and a couple of time since) in comparisons between Jackson and Thibs. It's all about building confidence, continuity, and preparedness in the lineup.

  • In reply to DontLetsStart:

    "They typically have him just run the offense, but that explosive scoring ability is lurking underneath the surface if the Bulls need it."

    Gerat stuff about CJ right there. I totally agree. I think there is a better player hidden under there, but he's been such a good soldier in terms of trying to fit into Thibs' system, that he rarely shows it. Still, he's a rugged defender, and a tough competitor who will take a big shot if needed(Making it is another story, lol). His problem has been misuse by the coaching staff than anything he's done wrong. (He should see more time with Derrick when he's got it going)

    Also, I think you're dead on with Korver. Between the Boozer bashers, and the Korver bashers, I don't know which ones make me more angry. Sure they have their shortcomings, but they've also been HUGE parts of our success.

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