Tom Thibodeau turns in coach of the year performance but will it translate to the playoffs?

If we were just going to go off the regular season results, Tom Thibodeau again deserves some credit in the coach of the year polls. Just remember that Vinny Del Negro won 41 games with the Bulls twice... with Derrick Rose.

45 wins on a team where the best shot creator in the group is Nate Robinson is a scary good accomplishment. The fact that the Bulls collectively missed another full season from starting players on top of Rose makes the accomplishment even more meaningful, and they missed the games largely from the guys they could afford to miss the least.

Through it all, Tom Thibodeau has stuck with his mantras of "having more than enough to win" and "next man steps up". It's cliche, but Tom Thibodeau doesn't allow anyone to believe its a bunch of crap. This team plays like they know it's true. They snapped a Miami Heat win streak without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

There was no doubts about how badly the Heat wanted that game, but they weren't coming into Chicago and taking it even with a banged up Bulls team that was likely a 10 point underdog. They snapped the Knicks win streak while missing half the roster [though in fairness, NY was missing half its roster too], and overall they're 10-6 against the top four seeds in the East.

Tom Thibodeau has shown that he can get his guys up for a game against the best competition in the conference and win in the regular season.

Now can he do it in the playoffs?

The Bulls are 2-2 in playoff series under Thibodeau, and when you look at the results of those series, you're probably not too impressed.

The Bulls beat Indiana and Atlanta while losing to Miami and Philadelphia. The Pacers lost 4-1, but the Bulls were fortunate to not end up in a six or seven game fight with an Indiana team that seemed woefully undermanned against the Bulls. I doubt anyone left that series thinking the Bulls were really stepping up.

Chicago got lucky in round two and faced an Atlanta team that upset the Magic. A Hawks team with a ton of inconsistent players and pedestrian defenders that's prone to bad shots and poor play. The Hawks still hung tough through four games and had the series knotted up at two a piece before dropping games five and six when Derrick Rose finally MVP'd their ass.

However, the Bulls ball movement and team play didn't necessarily translate in either series. The games seemed to come down to whether Derrick Rose could bail them out or not. Chicago played much the same way in the Heat series, but once they relied on Derrick to bail them out against Miami they fell woefully short.

The Heat trounced the Bulls 4-1, and Bulls fans watched the Bulls struggle to figure out what to do once Derrick Rose was triple teamed. How is a team not prepared to take advantage of that?

Against the 76ers, the Bulls went 1-4 without Rose in the lineup. It's hard to judge much of the series given the emotional devastation involved of having your superstar player taken out like that quickly followed up by Joakim Noah having to leave the playoffs with a severe ankle sprain. That said, the Bulls definitely didn't respond against a pedestrian 76ers team.

Chicago's playoff experience under Thibodeau hasn't been scary bad. There weren't any experts who picked the Bulls against the Heat, and no one will blame the Bulls for falling to the 76ers after the injuries. That said, it hasn't particularly been all that encouraging either. The very strengths that made the Bulls a great regular season team frequently seemed to disappear into a bunch of hero ball in the playoffs.

Chicago enters these playoffs with a different mindset though. If they're playing hero ball, it will be Nate Robinson playing the hero, and no disrespect to Mr. Robinson [perhaps my favorite Bull this season], but that's not a winning playoff formula.

Am I crazy for thinking the Bulls have enough to win? That this is a true 50/50 scenario? I'd like to say a great coach should push his team over the top in a 50/50, but maybe it's only a 50/50 because the Bulls have a great coach.

Tom Thibodeau has an amazing reputation as a head coach. He'll be a fixture here for quite some time, and I doubt the Bulls could do better if they let him go. That said, fair or not, if the Bulls fail to get out of the first round, I think we'll have questions about his ability to coach in the playoffs heading into next season.

Filed under: Coaching

Tags: chicago bulls, nba, tom thibodeau



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  • He's a coach, not a magician. If the Bulls fall it'll be because of personnel (both injuries and self inflicted harm through cheapness).

    Players are what matters in the most part, and the Bulls have one of the few coaches who actually buys you a few wins on top of that, it's silly to complain if they fall short in this playoffs missing Rose and with Noah seemingly not much better than missing.

  • In reply to Shakes:

    I agree with shakes on paper you would have to favor the Nets roster to the Bulls. They just simply have more healthy talent than the Bulls do right now.

    I thought this team would struggle to get above .500 and I thought those who were thinking they could get mid 40s in the win column where a bunch of crazy homers. Coach Thibs is the man that is a great accomplishment to pull these guys together like they did.

  • The posters here have convinced me that after losing Asik, I should never root for the Bulls again. I'll root for the Knicks here in NYC, they are a much better organization that never makes mistakes.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    Like signing stoudamire to that huge contract knowing his knees was no good!!! Knicks make bulls look like they got a steal with Carlos boozers contract!! Lol

  • In reply to bullzfan:

    I'm being half-sarcastic because if you look beyond the Lakers and Heat, the Bulls are actually one of the top organizations in the NBA, owner, FO and all. Living in NJ area, the Knicks, Nets and Sixers would kill to have the Bulls' problems. If you read here, they're one of the worst organizations in the NBA, if not the worst. Bigway has outright stated that he'd be a better GM than GarPax in between

    At the same time, it's only half-sarcasm because the comments have beaten me down to thinking it's totally hopeless to root for the Bulls until their cheapskate owner gets the league to buy into a hard cap. I mean for every post Doug makes, there are at least 5 comments about what a cheapness-driven mistake it was to let Asik go and how that's totally dashed the Bulls' championship hopes.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    I don't think bulls are cheap. They have high salary payroll. What I question is being competent on signing players on their worth. Boozer and deng are overpaid. I love deng would not trade him for any other SF besides the obvious James, Durant, Melo. Jus his lack of being not able to create his own shot limits him. Also They dont know how to get trades done that will better the team. I think those things is hurting team the most. Can't really say bulls are cheap.

  • In reply to bullzfan:

    You're the only one who says they aren't cheap and that cheapness isn't what stands in the way of the Bulls winning.

    I have stated time and again that they don't know how to swing the big deal. That, and they don't take enough risks.

    I have to think that determining value is the hardest part of the GM job, and I actually think the Bulls are good at it. Deng might be slightly overpaid, but only slightly. They certainly made the right choice between him and Ben Gordon. Wrong choice, it appears, between Asik and Taj.

    Then you have people complaining that they didn't draft Will Barton. Maybe they missed there, but is there a team better at finding value late in the first round than the Bulls?

  • It was interesting listening to Zach Lowe talk about the coach of the year nominees. When the topic turned to Mike D'Antoni, he mentioned that one of the most basic rules of being a good coach is that you "cannot run your players into the ground", and how Popavich (who many, myself included, rate as the best coach in the NBA) seems to understand this better than anyone. I couldn't help thinking about how Thibs seems to grasp this notion less than any other coach in the league. The fact that he wasn't actively resting guys in the last game of the season, a game in which it result didn't truly matter, is kind of insane. Especially when you consider how many players the Bulls carry with histories of fatigue based injuries.

    Thibs is a brilliant coach, no doubt, but his "every game is a game 7" mentality is a large and baffling blind spot.

  • In reply to Greddy:

    You make some good points and I agree overall that Thibs needs to learn to take his foot off the gas, the way his old boss Doc Rivers does.

    However, I'll defend him playing guys the last 2 games. Guys have been out with injuries and the Bulls needed games to integrate them back into the team, flow and rotation. He kept them on minutes limits. You don't want to go into the playoffs with a rotation you haven't used in weeks or months. Not saying Thibs was necessarily right, just that I can see the value in playing the guys the way he did.

  • Bill Simmons absolutely eviscerates the Bulls org on his podcast with Joe House Friday at around the 15 minute mark.

  • In reply to Hunter:

    Here's the URL for Bill Simmons podcast:

  • In reply to Hunter:

    That makes you happy, doesn't it?

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    For me, I think Thibs may have done the best coaching job of his career this year. Just to re-cap; In his first year he takes the team to the best record in the regular season and all the way the Eastern Conference Championship against the Drama Queens in Miami. The Bull lose when the Heat figure out that triple-teaming Rose can shut down the rest of the Bulls. Season 2. Again takes the team to the best record in the NBA despite the team being riddled with injuries including the abscence of Rose, Hamilton, Boozer, Noah, and Deng for most of the season, and then with devestating losses of Rose and Noah in the playoffs, they lose in the first round. Season 3. Rose is out for the whole season. Noah playing injured, the Bench Mob gone, Hamilton out again, Gibson injured and the load being place on Boozer's big shoulders, a completely depleted team still mamnages to make the playoffs. But...Jimmy Butler emerges. The upside to Butler is incredible.

    How Thibs has managed to continue to keep this team competitive is remarkable. I would love to see how the Heat would function without James for the whole season, or having their team depleated to this extent.

    I'm wondering just what this team will look like when they are all healthy and ready to play. The pieces are all there, if Thibs can ever get them all on the floor at the same time. The Bulls swept the Knicks and stopped their streak. They beat the Heat and stopped a 27 game winning streak an they did both things with most of their team gone including their Superstar. What would a completely healthy team look like going into the playoffs. If they are healthy, the Chicago Bulls are a Championship caliber team. Right now, they are just a shell of what they could be. Give Thibs a complete team to work with, and they add another banner in Chicago.

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