The Tom Thibodeau era is officially over and the Fred Hoiberg era has begun for the Chicago Bulls. Whatever your feelings are about that transition at this point is moot. The Bulls’ future is in the hands of their new coach. So, which players stand to benefit and which ones stand to be hurt the most by the change in coaching?
During his introductory press conference, he addressed that one of the things that attracted him to the Bulls was how well the current roster could be utilized by him, declaring:
I love this roster, I absolutely love this roster, I love the versatility of the players and the different lineups that we are going to be able to play. You can play small and you can play big. You have lineups that I really think can get out and play with pace. You have a great group of veteran players that know how to play.
A lot of coaches don’t walk into this roster, which is a roster with championship potential.
I’m really excited (about Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler). I obviously think those are two of the elite guards in this league right now, and I think those guys going out there, playing off of each other is very exciting for me. I try to have enough things on my plate where we can go out there and take advantage of a mismatch whether you’re a one, two, three, four or five.
In other words, Hoiberg recognizes that he has to adapt his system to his players. If you have one of the best backcourts in the league, you don’t ignore it or subdue it.
He elaborated, first on Rose:
Derrick’s obviously a guy who’s at his best when he’s playing downhill. If we can get the wings out running, you get that first big running to the rim, and you give Derrick space on the fast break, that’s going to create a lot of opportunities. We run a lot of simple drag screens in transition with the floor spaced with shooters, where he can get in the paint and make plays. And that’s where I think he’s as good as anyone in the world at being that guy.
Then on Butler:
I’m excited about Jimmy, obviously getting out and running on the wings. Jimmy’s an attack player. If you can get him the ball on the run, on the move, and attacking the basket with pace, I think it’s an ideal system for him.
They’re running an offense predicated on speed and people are wondering if he can make one of the fastest, if not the fastest, backcourt in the league work with it?
Expect the Bulls to be much more up-tempo this year with lots more fast breaks and transition baskets—many of which will be coming from the duo of Butler and Rose.
Hoiberg also mentioned the “young group” of players which included Butler (as a current All-Star) and also the guys who were less utilized under Thibodeau such as Tony Snell, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic:
When I look at this young group, players have not only had great seasons as rookies and younger players but also a group that has great potential to be excellent players in this league. You have former All-Stars, you have current All-Stars. You have players that I think could eventually become all stars. I understand this league, playing 10 years and working in the front office for four. I know what this league’s all about and that’s the guys. I’m here to do everything I can to support them, work with them and hopefully bring this group to where we’re competing for a world championship.
When he’s talking about the wings running the court with Rose, Butler is one, but it’s easy to see the other being McDermott and/or Snell as the other. When the defense cuts off the break, expect one of the other wings (or Mirotic) to be there to drain the transition three.
Hoiberg runs a lot of side pick-and-roll action where the 4 rolls out to the three-point line. It’s easy to see Mirotic benefitting from that.
In short, it seems like one of the big reasons that Thibodeau lost his job and that Hoiberg got it in his place is a willingness to play the younger players. Expect much bigger minutes from the young group.
That doesn’t mean that the other veterans will be swept aside for the new regime. Hoiberg praised Joakim Noah’s abilities as a passer and playmaker. I think Noah’s assist numbers could go up. Hoiberg likes to create space. Watch some of his coaching clinics on YouTube. He’s constantly drilling that into his players’ heads.
Hoiberg implements a lot of off-ball screens and action to open up shooters, but none of it is wasted. Everything is purposeful and intended to give a shooter an open look.
That can mean a lot for Noah, whose passing is best when he’s out on the elbow and surrounded by shooters.
Hoiberg remarked how Taj Gibson’s athleticism could be used at the rim, and how effective his mid-range shooting is. He likes to use his bigs in what he calls their “room,” which is the area just along the baseline and outside of the paint.
The springier ones can get to the glass for rebounds, alley-oops or hit the short jumpers. All of those are strengths of Gibson. What we’ll see less of is Gibson trying to use eleventy-seven post-up moves and then get his shot blocked. Hoiberg would much rather see him pass out of that to one of the three-point shooters.
He referenced Pau Gasol’s ability to seal his defender in the post. Of the Bulls, I see mostly round pegs destined for round holes. Even though Gibson and Mirotic are different types of players, Hoiberg does different things with his power forwards that can maximize both of them. But all the things he does with them require more athleticism and quickness than Gasol has at this point in his career.
While Gibson’s name has been floated about quite a bit because of his friendly contract and apparent bitterness over the Thibodeau firing, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were Gasol and not Gibson traded before the season started, simply because he fits the least well with Hoiberg’s system and he’s certainly not worth keeping around for his defense.
There’s one player Hoiberg didn’t mention at all: Kirk Hinrich. Here’s hoping he gave us all his thoughts on the subject.