Tom Thibodeau’s 15-minute interview after a light team USA practice delved into many different topics of discussion, but included the idea that his 2010-11 Bulls team was the best in his tenure. Was that the case? Thibodeau made a very intriguing argument:
“We were top-five in offense and defense,” Thibodeau said. “Usually when you have that type of efficiency, you have a chance to win it all. We had a lot of depth. We had toughness. We had guys who could go off the dribble. I think Luol was a far different player then. Joakim kept getting better and better. Derrick as the MVP of the league at 22, that’s a lot. But we also had quality depth.”
That team did have a lot of depth, but was it used correctly? Kyle Korver was the ultimate bench shooter, with Ronnie Brewer providing stout defense with youth in center Omer Asik and C.J. Watson rounding out the bench units.
This was a team that started Keith Bogans – one of the worst starting shooting guards in the league at just 4.4 points per game. The underwhelming defensive ability of Carlos Boozer was also in the starting lineup, which was only possible thanks to the defensive prowess of Joakim Noah and Luol Deng surrounding him. At the time, Rose was a bad defender as he used most of his energy on offense instead.
That team is similar to the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks, catching teams off guard during the regular season but lacking the star power and creativity offensively to make any real threat at a championship. In all honesty, Thibodeau’s team last year might have been even better, despite their inconsistencies.
Thibodeau also defended the minute-load both Butler and Deng had on the wing during his time coaching the Bulls:
“The first two years, we had a deep bench so people weren’t playing a lot of minutes,” he said. “If you look at Jimmy’s minutes, it changed after the Luol trade. We had less perimeter guys so we had to play him more to have a chance to win.”
Butler was never really given a chance during his rookie year – something Thibs would become accustomed to doing with young players. He would grow into one of the best two-way players in the league after Deng was traded, but it was disappointing Thibodeau didn’t ever try a Butler/Deng duo on the perimeter before then.
Overall, it was disappointing that the Thibodeau era never brought the Bulls much more than an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, and injuries played a big part in that. Between Rose’s deflating knee injuries, minor injuries like Noah’s ankle injury and Deng being banged up consistently really hurt the 2010-12 Bulls teams from becoming anything more than regular season successes.
In all, Thibodeau always harps on the wins he accumulated during his tenure, but refuses to change his mentality as a head coach:
“When you look back over five years, just let the record speak for itself,” Thibodeau said. “You always want to keep trying to get better. From that standpoint, I don’t think I’ll change. I thought I learned from each year I was there. I’m looking forward to whatever comes next.”
This is what might hold back Thibodeau from ever being a championship-level coach. His inability to adapt to modern offenses really held back last year’s team. If Thibodeau truly wants to evolve into a better coach, his mindset to adapt to the way the game has changed offensively will have to improve – but there simply haven’t been any encouraging signs that will change anytime soon.