What Tom Thibodeau's Hiring Means for Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah
Deciphering what kind of offense Thibodeau will run is a bit like reading tea leaves. With no prior head coaching experience (a popular element of discussion), Thibodeau is an open book for offense. But examining his defense is something we could do for days.
The Bulls were a good defensive squad to begin with, clocking in at a 105.3 defensive efficiency mark under Vinny Del Negro, good for 11th in the league. Of course, Thibodeau's Celtics club was even better with a 103.8 mark, good for fifth best in the league (and that's with 90% of the roster not giving a crap for three months). Thibodeau's impact is likely to mean the most for Chicago's two star players, Rose and Noah.
Derrick Rose isn't Rajon Rondo, in any way. His skill set is diagonally opposed to Rondo on any sort of scale. Not as long as Rondo, with a better jump shot, and more reliant on quickness, he can match Rondo in top speed. Where Thibodeau could really help Rose is from a help defense perspective. Rose's physical abilities keep him in a good position in most man situations, but there are times when Rose suffers in recovering to provide help and is unaware of the defensive set outside of his assignment. Thibodeau's knowledge base could help him in those areas.
From a personality and motivational standpoint, you have to think Thibodeau is exactly what the doctor ordered for Rose. Thibs is notorious for his rants and hollering on the sideline. Rose, who often seems too quiet and reserved, could use someone like Thibodeau to challenge him. Because in the moments when we've really seen him angered and motivated, he's responded with a ferocity that leaves you begging for more. Versus Vinny Del Negro's calm, relaxed, almost zen like approach that many said the Bulls tuned out, Thibodeau is likely to get up in his star player's chest, having coached Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Kendrick Perkins. Thibodeau won't be afraid of any glares from Rose, and could push him to commit to the game like he hasn't before. And that's a terrifying thought for the Bulls' opponents.
Noah, on the other hand, is quite the mixed bag. From an Xs and Os standpoint, he's largely the polar opposite of Rose. Thibodeau's best impact on Noah is likely to be in the man set. Noah is a terrific, savvy, hard working player, but is physically limited due to his frame and occasionally gets stung 1-on-1. He's a terrific help defender, but can suffer when overmatched. Thibodeau has been coaching Perkins to a level of limiting the best big men in the league for the past three years, turning Perkins into a bigger, more effective version of Chuck Hayes, using positioning and strength to combat physical advantages in players like Dwight Howard and Shaquille O'Neal. The idea of a significant improvement for Noah at the defensive end is eye-opening.
The personality standpoint is concerning. Noah is an emotional player, fiery and prone to combustion. Thibodeau is similar. And as Phyllis in "The Office" said, "When two people like that get together, it can be explosive." It's possible Thibodeau could get through to Noah, who has already proven to be coachable, bond with him, and push him to greater heights. It's also possible Noah could lash back at Thibodeau's emotion, struggling with the intensity that isn't borne from within. It's a delicate situation, and one that could garner terrific success or end in disaster. It's not like we haven't seen similar situations before.
The other players on the Bulls are all question marks in regards to whether they'll be around next season. If a sign-and-trade is configured, Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng, the next two best players on the Bulls could be gone. You'd imagine Taj Gibson's rookie double-double could be used as a filler piece, and the rest of the Bulls roster is largely scrap metal outside of Flip Murray.
Hinrich would be terrifying under Thibodeau. He 's already a fantastic defender that can eliminate space on-ball and hang with the best players in the league, and an efficient veteran that knows how to help and recover. No one serves to benefit more from Thibodeau's arrival than Hinrich, whose greatest years of success were under notorious hard-nose defensive coach Scott Skiles. With Thibodeau bringing a system bent on communication, a Hinrich strongpoint, his defensive ceiling could be raised, even if he is still drastically overpaid.
Deng, on the other hand, could suffer tremendously. With the level of competitor and talent Thibodeau's been dealing with on the wings, Deng could prove incredibly frustrating. While Deng has a high basketball IQ and has proven coachable, he's also full of considerable holes. And if LeBron heads into town, Deng is the first name on the ditch list. If the Bulls do strike out on a player that would require a sign-and-trade for Deng's contract, there's going to be a lot of pressure on him to evolve immediately into a top flight player. Of course, if that happens, the United Center is likely to melt to the ground anyway, and not from the July heat.
Again, James serves as the lynchpin for all of this and he'll have the greatest impact on what kind of team Thibodeau will be coaching next season. But with Thibodeau's defensive prowess and a potential lineup of Rose-Hinrich-James-Bosh-Noah, well, that's enough to bring a tear to the eye of many a Bulls fan. How Thibodeau handles the personalities will be a test of everything he's learned from working with the Big Three in Boston. But how he manages the continued development of Rose and Noah may be what determines whether the Bulls return to championship contention.