What would the Heat have done with Tom Thibodeau as coach for the past three seasons?

So I was reading some random piece about how the Heat won’t win 72 games this year, to which I thought, of course they won’t. They’re not a regular season team. However, what if Miami was coached by Tom Thibodeau? What if they had a coach that would push them in the regular season?

I thought Coldfish from realgm made one of the better points on winning 72 games that I’ve read that helps shift your perspective to appreciate how difficult it is for teams that come somewhat close.

People look at the win total. What is tough is the loss total. 72 wins might only be 10 more wins and 10 less losses than 62 but look at that more closely. A 62 win team loses 20 times in a season. A 72 win team loses 10 times. That means that a 72 win team has HALF as many off nights as a 62 win team.

Going further, when people talk about winning more than 72, you are really cutting down on losses. A 77 win team loses HALF as many games as a 72 win team. The degree of perfection required is mind boggling.

Its going to be hard for any team to ever match the 72. Injuries, hot shooting opponents, ref errors, whatever are going to make it real hard to have 10 or less bad nights.

When looking at going from 66 to 73 wins (to break the record), you think it’s only a 11% increase in wins, but when viewed as a 43% reduction in losses the task suddenly becomes clear on why it’s so difficult. The Heat will also go up against a tougher Eastern conference this year with Rose back and the Nets looking like a legit team.

My final thought on that topic is simply that Miami is looking to threepete not break the all time winningest season record, and they’re probably better off focusing on that goal, particularly with Wade looking like he’s starting to break down and how close last year’s playoffs were.

That said, it got me to wondering what if Thibodeau had been coaching the team for the past three seasons. Tom Thibodeau drove the Bulls hard in the regular season. He’s clearly a better schematic coach than Spoelstra, and he places far more demands on his players.

There are perhaps two weaknesses the Bulls have had under Thibodeau, the first is offensive execution when team offense struggles to make a shot, and the second is health. With the Heat’s cast the first wouldn’t be so much of a weakness anymore. With multiple options who can create a decent bailout look, the Heat’s talent would overwhelm what has been one of the Bulls big weaknesses.

The Heat have had more athletic perimeter defenders than Chicago as well and LeBron James would be a terror in Thibodeau’s defensive scheme even more so than Spoelstra’s. I also think Thibodeau would have gone with LeBron at PF more quickly and frequently than Spoelstra did to put more optimal lineups on the floor.

That said, Thibodeau’s present defensive scheme really requires heady and energetic play from the big men to help on the guards. According to Sports VU (via some old ESPN Insider article), Joakim Noah actually logged the most physical miles run per game in the NBA last season. That means he covered the most ground on a nightly basis [Luol Deng was second if memory serves me correctly].

It shows how much Thibodeau really relies on his players to work. When the Bulls outwork teams, they’re [i]really[/i] outworking teams.

When I look at what he’d have done in Miami with a similar philosophy, I think they would have broken 72 wins or completely broken down. Now maybe Thibs would have changed his style, but it sure doesn’t look like it. He appeared to play Noah too much when returning from plantar fasciitis, and many other Bulls returned from injury to play significant minutes right away.

He’s never eased anyone back, and Bulls players tended to come back early from injury as well. Chicago’s had a shocking amount of guys aggravate injuries when returning which isn’t entirely unusual, but they definitely haven’t been on the conservative side with the way they treat health.

The indestructible LeBron James would probably have fared quite well under Thibodeau, however Dwyane Wade might already be thinking about retirement. I think with Thibs, Miami wins the first two titles, breaks the 72 win record once, but then completely falls apart healthwise chasing the third championship and loses.

Maybe it doesn’t go down in that order, but in at least one season, Thibodeau’s overzealousness to play players who need rest and inability to let a regular season game go would cost his team a title that they might have won otherwise. That said, the improvement in coaching probably wins them that title against the Mavs that Spoelstra let go.

Miami + Thibodeau would be completely unstoppable if they stayed healthy with a lower chance of staying healthy instead of the heavy favorite if they stay healthy with a greater shot at health.

The comparison is interesting, because over a five year span with a team that has dynasty level talent, the squad is likely better off with Spoelstra. The odds of Thibodeau really hurting someone with his ways go up and up with each year he runs guys into the ground. However, with a team that has a puncher’s chance at a title, they’re clearly better off with Thibodeau.

Spoelstra’s mistakes would undercut an underdog team and likely stop them from ever getting all that close to a title while Thibodeau has a shot to coach his team past a superior team in the one season where everyone is able to stay on the court at 100%.

Now maybe Thibodeau has learned something about resting his players over the past couple seasons. He vowed earlier this year for lower minute totals for the Deng and Noah indicating that perhaps, just perhaps, a year without Rose and a team packed with injuries last season taught him that he’s got to take his foot off the gas.

Thibs is one of the Bulls greatest assets, but like many of the Bulls assets, he has an Achilles Heel. He’s apparently sees the problem, promises changes, and hopefully, the Bulls will flourish. As for Miami with Thibs? In the end, I think both the Heat and Bulls might have the right coach for the situation they’re in.


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  • I'd be stunned if Thibs does not rest guys a bit more. Min per game is not a big deal in my mind - playing 35 minutes per game vs 38 minutes per game will not make much difference. I think Noah gets plantar facciitis regardless of a couple minutes less court time.

    I think giving a player a day off at the first sign of major fatigue or injury would go a long way. Giving key players rest every now and then on back-to-backs, or within difficult stretches when you play 4 games in 5 nights would seem prudent.

    Getting the #1 seed is nice, but I think health is most important. Pretty sure Thibs gets it now. This is Thibs' best title shot of his career to this point.

  • In Spoelstra’s first year, I think you could make the argument that Thibodeau was a better schematic coach. I don’t think you can make that argument anymore. In last year’s finals, having Bosh and Battier (instead of Joel Anthony) match up against Ibaka and Perkins, created the mismatch which helped win that series for Miami. In addition, Spoelstra is the one who pushed to acquire Birdman Anderson, knowing he would thrive in Spoelstra’s smallball system. Spoelstra also played a role in getting Lebron to play more in the paint, something Mike Brown didn’t do. Also, I don’t think Spoelstra gets enough credit for the messaging of egos on his talent laden roster. For example, game 6 hero Ray Allen was not on the floor at the end of game 7. Heat went with Chalmers and hot-hand of Battier. One scheme I do not agree with Spoelstra on is I think Chris Bosh is out on the perimeter too often.

  • In reply to RichG:

    Agreed. Their first season was a feeling-out process which almost overwhelmed him especially with some grumblings from Wade. Once he had them buy in (with Riles' help, I imagine), he installed his small-ball offense and here we are now. So tactically and schematically he is at least Thibs' equal. You can even look at the 2011 ECF as an example. I felt Thibs waited too long to play Kurt Thomas to counter the trapping of the Heat, especially when the bench was in with Rose. If you recall, after game 1 Spo used Udonis Haslem more which had a huge impact on the series from game 2 onwards.

    You can have the best athletes and personnel, but you still need to be a good coach to make it work and thrive. My best example is the pre-Phil Lakers in the late 90s. Del Harris had arguably the most talented teams for at least 2 years, but they were swept out of the playoffs both times by the Jazz. In comes Phil, and the rest is history.

  • In reply to JPesos1230:

    Really good points about the 2011 ECF. Thomas was useful, but it was the last game or two of the series, unfortunately. Haselm was coming off of injury and made HUGE mid range j's in the 1st half to win game 2 for the Heat after getting crushed in game 1. I think the Bulls lost Asik that game - or maybe it was game 5? The biggest question was how the Heat would match up with the Bulls bigs. If the Bulls could have taken that game 2, they could have made the finals because when the Heat are in panic mode they are bad. (except for 4Q of game 6 vs the spurs, obviously!)

  • In reply to Granby:

    Thanks Granby. I think Omer was injured during game 3, then tried to play a bit in game 4 but ultimately couldn't. You're absolutely right about game 2. If the Bulls won that game, they were going to take the series. The Heat were really mentally fragile up to that point and a 2-0 deficit would be a huge seed of doubt for them, even going back to Miami.

    I thought Thibs should've started to play KT more minutes in game 3 after Omer went down and Jo had foul trouble. He was pretty effective as a pressure release with his midrange J in game 5, but at that point it was too late.

  • I respect that Thibs is his own man and own coach, but would it kill him to ask the advice of Gregg Popovich in terms of balancing the regular season vs. the playoffs?

  • I think most focus on Thibs minutes per game by some core players but I think its two things that run down his players. 1. long practices with alot of drills,etc.......something that Kyle Korver said last year in an interview was a "bit too much" compared to what other teams do. and 2. He wants his players to play a physical tough game, winning the battle of the boards and outworking the opposing team. I love the smash mouth basketball that Thibodeau preaches but I do agree it probably causes injuries especially to finesse type players like Deng and Noah. But in the end I will stick with what Nazr Mohammed said, Coach Thibs will win a championship. He needs the front office to give him the correct pieces around Rose but he's close. Dunleavy will be an excellent fit, much better than Korver and Jimmy Butler gives the bulls the athleticism that they lacked in the starting 5. Now if the Bulls could only exchange Deng+Boozer contracts for a legit number 2 next to Rose, they can rival miami, thunder, clippers, pacers or whatever contender is out there.

  • The only guy the Heat have who is prone to wear and tear is Wade. Bosh and LeBron are horses. I think Thibs would have had them playing manic defense and they would have blown threw every playoffs in which they were healthy. A roster with that athleticism and offensive talent plus Thibs would have been insane. Plus you just know LeBron would totally buy in to his defense which means the whole team would buy in.

    Even minus Wade I could see the Heat grinding out boat loads of wins just by playing hard D every minute of every game. LeBron would be playing like 45 minutes every night as he becomes the super Loul Deng and sets career highs in every category. Thibs style would fit that roster to a T.

    I don't think his grinding style would result in the meltdown you suggest. LeBron is a unbreakable beast and Bosh doesn't have injury history as long as those two are healthy they would be a top end team. If Thibs can coach last years Bulls squad made up of mostly second stringers into a dangerous group I would say they would be fine minus Wade or Bosh or even both for stretches.

    Thibs could out coach Spoelstra in his sleep. No contest.

  • The '95-'96 Bulls had more than 10 off nights though. MJ pulled a rabbit out of his hat on many occasions that season to get wins the Bulls had no business winning and even in games the Bulls were getting blown out of, MJ made it his business to come back and make a game of it...Michael was trying to go 82-0. I think this fact strengthens your argument, no one player today has that drive and talent combo (Kobe HAD it but he's too old now) to push his team THAT hard to get to 73.

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    The Heat would've won 70 games and broke down in the playoffs with multiple injuries to key overworked players. The one thing the Heat does well is preserve it's key personal for the playoffs. while Thibs plays every regular season game like it's game 7. Hopefully, we'll see Snell, and Teague on the court this season. In hindsight we see what a waste of talent sitting Jimmy Butler for the year, and if Teague saw more playing time how much better of a pro player he would be had Thibs inserted him into the lineup, instead overplaying Hinrich. The Heat allowed Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers to develop on the court w/ its' Superstars. If Thibs were coach Miami would see those players riding the bench like season ticket holders.

  • In reply to Michael Cunningham:

    And Thibs wouldn't even have developed Butler as much during his 2nd season if Deng wasn't forced to sit with injury, forcing Thibs to finally play Butler. In other words, Thibs was/is unwilling or incapable of managing substitutions and balancing player's minutes with the need to develop young talent. With Thibs It's just:
    - grind the starters into dust, then
    - Next Man Up, Do Your Job!

    Oh, the glory of the regular season.

  • If Miami loses this year, as they should have, but we're let off the hook, then Spo(ooge)'s name is doo doo. Make that unemployed doo doo.

    Thib's would get limits from Riley in the form of "suggestions" on player minutes in the regular season. And he would listen. A healthy Miami team even with a limited Wade under Thib's genius D, are you kidding me? Look what he did with an aging Boston squad they shackled a HOF multiple champion in Kobe. I mean shackled his ass. nearly taking a second championship from a much more offensively talented Lakers team. You put Thibs on Miami the last two years in the playoffs and they would WHOOP PEOPLE'S ASS. Period. No contest.

  • In reply to RoadWarrior:

    i'll believe it when I see it.
    That is - Thibs managing minutes wisely, proactively giving key players significant rest including days off, and getting Bulls to the playoffs healthy.

    I don't think Thibs has the ability to change. His stubbornness is hardwired into his personality, imo. If given the choice between losing a regular season game vs. winning while having a player suffer an injury, Thibs would have a difficult internal struggle with preserving the player's health. "Next Man Up! Do Your Job", Thibs would say. As he has many times his 3 seasons in Chicago.

    In Boston in 2010, Thibs lobbied hard to play the aging vets extended minutes to end the regular season and gain better playoff seeding. Doc Rivers wisely overruled Thibs, held vets out of regular season games and lost, and went to Game 7 of the Finals with a healthy and well-rested playoff roster. Did Thibs learn anything from that experience? NO! His 3 seasons as Bulls head coach tell us absolutely not!

    So again, I'll believe it when I see it.

  • Here's a different fantasy question I'd prefer to pose:

    What would Bulls have done during the Derrick Rose era with Pat Riley as GM and Micky Arison as owner?

  • In reply to Edward:

    Won. Won with passion. Competitive and blistering winning. Live and in color ass whooping. Like it's supposed to be.

  • In reply to mummuhwalde:


  • Haven't they done well enough without having to create a hypothetical?

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    If by "they" you mean the Miami Heat, I would agree.

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