The Bulls kicked off a three game road trip with an easy win last evening in Atlanta, but that was hardly the biggest Bulls storyline of this week.
In one week, we saw Zach Lavine score 18 points in just 20 minutes in his second game of the season, Kris Dunn get concussed and the Bulls put up 66 points in a half against the defending champs. Yet it was the comments made throughout the week from the Warriors head coach Steve Kerr that generated the most buzz in Chicago.
“I think we share a lot of the same vision for the game: spacing and ball movement and everybody touching the ball, feeling part of it. He knows his stuff,” Kerr said of Hoiberg. “In this league it takes talent and it takes the right fit and I feel like it’s happening for them now. I know it’s taken a couple of years to get to this point, but in this league fit is everything.”
According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, Kerr’s respect of Hoiberg is not new.
Kerr inherited a pretty good situation in Golden State. The Warriors were coming off of back to back playoff appearances win and they had Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green under team control for several years.
The coach he replaced, current ESPN broadcaster Mark Jackson, was well liked by both fans and his players. That didn’t stop management from making a decision to move on to a more forward thinking coach.
In 2014, Jackson’s last season as head coach, the Warriors were 12th in the league in Offensive rating and averaged 24 threes a game. In Kerr’s first three years, Golden State has led the NBA in Offensive rating and averages just about 30 threes a game.
The Bulls had excellent regular season success under Tom Thibodeau during his five year tenure, but the damaged reputation between him and the Bulls front office was well documented, and a driving force of that friction was Thibodeau’s general stubbornness and refusal to change. In his last season as Bulls head coach, the Bulls were 21st in the league in PACE and shot just 22.3 threes a game, good for 16th in the league. Hoiberg was brought in to change that.
Hoiberg’s first two seasons did not provide the fun, fast paced offense Bulls fans were promised. However, it’s looking more and more clear that the slow, stagnant isolation style of basketball that Jimmy Butler, Dwanye Wade and Derrick Rose preferred to play is more to blame for the Bulls disappointing offensive results the past two years than Hoiberg’s lack of creativity.
“I think in Fred’s case, he had a team last year that was really difficult to create offense for because there was no spacing and very few shooters. I thought he did an amazing job getting them into position to even win a first-round playoff series,” Kerr said of Hoiberg. “They had some talent, but it didn’t feel like the puzzle fit together to me. This year, the puzzle fits beautifully. They’re starting to build a roster that fits Fred’s offense and his vision. You can see it’s starting to click.”
“Is Fred that much better of a coach now than he was a year ago? No, he has different personnel. I know this is going come as a surprise, but if I didn’t have (Kevin) Durant, (Stephen) Curry and (Klay) Thompson, people wouldn’t say, ‘Man, you run a great offense.’ They would say, ‘Why can’t you coach?’ We’re all beholden to our talent.”
Now that the Bulls have a younger, less selfish core of players, Hoiberg’s message seems to be getting across more clearly. Last season the Bulls averaged just 22.3 three’s a game, the same as they did in Thibodeau’s last season, which finished second to last in the league. They were also 20th in the league in PACE, which was worse than Thibodeau’s 2015 Bulls. This season, the Bulls are 8th in the league in three point attempts with 30.5, 12th in the league in PACE and 4th in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio.
I don’t want to sound like I’m getting ahead of myself, the Bulls are far from finished. They still rank all the way down at 28th in offensive rating (although they’ve been much better in that category since Mirotic returned) and the roster is likely to be stripped down a bit at the trade deadline, which will make the team’s offensive numbers look worse by years end.
But, the Bulls appear to have three legitimate pieces in place in Dunn, Lavine and Markkanen (whom Steph Curry couldn’t stop gushing about), plenty of cap space and are set to have another top 10 pick. For all of the negative attention and criticism this organization receives, both locally and nationally, the Bulls are in a better place than any of us imagined they would be just a few short months ago. For that, Fred Hoiberg is deserving of all of the credit that people such as Steve Kerr are giving him.