Historically speaking, another Doug Collins coaching masterpiece is going to vanish into the back of many sports fans minds over the next few months. People will remember ’10-11 (it still feels weird to type that like ’96-97) now for its riveting postseason, which has probably killed two dynasties — Lakers, Spurs — possibly started a new one — Grizzlies — and for the official coming out party of Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls.
The fast facts on Rose are mind blowing. The youngest MVP ever at 22 years of age. Rose increased his scoring by five points per game, his assists by 1.7 and his three point shooting by seven percent. In 21 of the 81 games Rose played, he scored over 30 points, dominating the paint with his unstoppable shiftiness to the basket. A full blown superstar hasn’t elevated his game this quickly…well maybe ever.
Much to everyone’s surprise, Chicago outlasted both Miami and Boston for the number one seed out in the east. In addition to Rose’s MVP, rookie coach Tom Thibodeau collected coach of the coach of the year honors, leading the Bulls to the best record in the NBA. This is Thibodeau’s first head coaching gig since a stint with the D-III Salem State team in the mid 1980’s. Chicago’s successes are undeniable, but did Thibodeau actually out-coach Doug Collins this season?
How much impact did Thibodeau really have on Derrick Rose though? Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski details Rose’s change in attitude and work ethic. I am the same exact age as Derrick Rose. Remember being 22 for just a second. Twenty-two is an age of realization, where you come to terms with adulthood. You put more pressure on yourself, more expectations to live up to the person you want to become. Who is to say that Rose wouldn’t have blossomed like this under another coach? Something tells me it wasn’t Thibodeau that finally made D-Rose click. It was Derrick himself.
The Bulls played in the worst division in the NBA, where not one other team finished above .500. The Bulls were a combined 15-1 against Indiana, Milwaukee, Detroit and Cleveland. For such a good team, the Bulls play some of the uglier basketball in the League. Offensively, without Rose on top of his game, Chicago is a mess, as you’ve seen them already struggle in the playoffs against the Pacers and Hawks. When Rose is on his game, Kyle Korver and Luol Deng are constantly left wide open on the wing. That’s a luxury the Sixers couldn’t even fathom.
Thibodeau’s team strengths (a superstar closer, athletic big men) are the two gaping problems Doug Collins had to camouflage all season. He had to conduct experiments with all different kinds late game offensive strategies, juggling between Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams and occasionally Jrue Holiday. When Collins is hired to coach an NBA team, he just does the right things. How did Thaddeus Young and Jodie Meeksgo from sketchy bench players to solid contributors on a playoff team? Collins gave them confidence through his communication skills, and even grasping of ‘new’ technology.
Supporters of coach Thibodeauwill rally up the response that his philosophies on defense are what really put the Bulls back in the limelight. And again, I’m puzzled with this statement. Even going back to his days as the defensive guru for the Celtics, Thibodeau had the best front-court tandem in Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins, Paul Pierce who could mark most superstars and pesky little Rajon Rondo’s ball hawking habits. In Chicago, he has the some of the most athletic and long defenders in the league. Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Kurt Thomas (who played out of his mind this year), Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer. As opposed to the Sixers entourage of Spencer Hawes, Tony Battie, M0 Speights, Thad Young (defense is his weakness) and the undersized Elton Brand.
Here’s kind of a funny point: Elton Brand, who I think overall was the Sixers most important player this year, is a poor man’s version of Carlos Boozer, the Bulls third best player.
The position I’m hammering home is not just that Collins had much less talent to work with than Thibs. It’s his unblemished way of carving out roles and getting players to buy in. Andre Iguodalaknew that when Collins requested he become a defensive specialist and a passer that even if the Sixers made the playoffs, most fans in Philly still wouldn’t appreciate him. Collins had to completely tear down and rebuild Evan Turner’s confidence as a player by riding the bench for a big chunk of the season. By season’s end, Turner was playing crunch time minutes and taking big boy shots.
The Sixers could’ve quit on Collins after the 3-13 start. They could’ve gone into the mode of ‘this old geezer doesn’t know what he’s doing anymore.’ But they didn’t, because Collins wouldn’t let them quit. They kept listening. They kept practicing perimeter defense. But above all else, the kept communicating. Clear communication on everything from team goals, to individual playing time is just a life skill Collins brings that most coaches don’t.
Thibodeau got players to buy in too, but that’s much easier when you have the current NBA MVP (some would argue the best player in the League as well) and your franchise wasn’t a lottery team the season before.