Every week, ESPNChicago.com Bulls writer Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.
1. How much of an impact will Jimmer Fredette have on the Bulls this season?
Nick Friedell: Not much of one in the next few weeks, but he could find some time in the playoffs. Tom Thibodeau is confident in the rotation he has right now and he doesn't want to shake things up too much. Plus, he still wants to be able to teach Fredette the schemes and see where he's at defensively. As Thibodeau has said many times already though, Fredette does one thing better -- shoot -- than almost anyone in the NBA. If he shows he can start playing a little defense, and knocks down some shots, Thibodeau will find some time for Fredette as the Bulls head into the playoffs because he can space the floor.
Jon Greenberg: The Bulls didn't sign Fredette to play major minutes, but I could see him affecting a handful of games, maybe more if he starts with a few good performances. The problem is there just aren't minutes for him. D.J. Augustin has to play about 30 minutes and Thibodeau needs Kirk Hinrich to play 25-30. And you know if Jimmy Butler's playing, he's playing 40-45 minutes. The only way Fredette gets major minutes is if the guards ahead of him get injured, which isn't an optimal situation for the Bulls. But hey, all it takes sometimes is a few shots to swing a game and if Fredette could win even one game with a 3, he was worth the move. If Fredette is smart, he'll be soaking everything in, taking notes (mental or otherwise) and spending every minute of his free time working with Thibodeau and his assistant coaches on his game.
Scoop Jackson: "Will" is a much different word than "could." Jimmer could if given the opportunity in the playoffs and/or down the stretch run for a 3-seed be the guy who turns a simple 10 points per game into victories. It's all about how Thibs plays him and how much confidence is instilled in him by not only Thibs, but Joakim Noah and Mike Dunleavy. We'll see. The Bulls need a pressure releaser, someone at the 2 position who can knock down shots from 20 feet and out to make defenses respect the little bit of offensive swag they carry. Jimmer's the dude -- the only dude -- on the current roster who can do that. It's just a matter of confidence and opportunity.
2. Is it crazy if Joakim Noah receives MVP votes this season?
Friedell: No. Noah is the most important player on one of the most surprising teams in the NBA. He is playing the best basketball of his career and has been dominant at times on both ends of the floor. He sets a tone in the locker room that the rest of his teammates follow. Noah has made it his mission to make people remember his team this season, and he's taken this group to another level because of that determination.
Greenberg: No, but let's chill a bit on this topic. Sure, I'd give him a third- or fourth-place vote, but he's so far from the top two, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, it would be like calling me the third best-looking person in a room with Kate Upton and Chrissy Teigen. Noah deserves the love, though, and should be the first-team All-NBA center, which seems unfathomable considering where he started. Give credit to Noah for providing energy, especially after the Luol Deng trade, and mostly for mastering the point-center role he learned, in part, from Brad Miller, while crashing the boards and hitting the occasional jumper. It's not wrong to say Noah is more popular than Derrick Rose in Chicago right now, and his national image has morphed from goofball to aspirational NBA player. That's worth more than MVP votes.
Jackson: Read my last entry here.
3. Is this Thibodeau's best coaching job in his four seasons in Chicago?
Friedell: Yes. This team could have easily collapsed after the Rose injury or the Deng deal. They could have mailed in the rest of the season and slid into the lottery, but Thibodeau wouldn't let it happen. He got players to buy into playing hard every night despite the fact that the odds were stacked against them. He got them to believe in themselves and the team again. Most of all, he got them to continue to trust in him and the schemes he puts together. The Bulls wouldn't be where they are without the production of Noah and Taj Gibson or the resurgence of Augustin, but it's Thibodeau who finds a way to get the most out of almost every player he coaches. He's the biggest reason the Bulls continue to pile up wins, and he's doing so without Rose and Deng. He didn't have time to plan for those absences like he did two summers ago, when he knew Rose wasn't coming back. He did it all on the fly. I think he'll get strong consideration for his second coach of the year award in four years.
Greenberg: I'd have to say yes. Last season, the team fought during the regular season with the belief that Rose would be back. And while it took seven games, it wasn't a shock that the Bulls beat the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs, even if they had to do it without Hinrich and Deng. This season was a different story. The Bulls understandably collapsed after Rose's knee injury in Portland. Who could blame them after everything the core guys had been through? But with the front office's savvy pickup of Augustin and Thibodeau's expansion of the Noah point-center system we saw last season, the Bulls were able to rise above the Deng salary dump. Thibodeau could get coach of the year pretty much every season, because he's so unyielding and so prepared. Thibodeau set the tone his rookie season, when he won the actual award, and that foundation has created the Bulls culture we see today.
The two coaching "problems" people have nitpicked at have been his somewhat unimaginative offensive sets and his over-reliance on certain players. While the Bulls are still last in scoring in the NBA, the Noah center looks have been inspiring. And even with a shorter bench, and a propensity for playing starters in blowouts "just in case," Thibodeau has spaced out the minutes pretty well. Butler leads the team with 37 minutes a game and Noah's at 34.2. The rest of the regulars hover around 30. Yes, even Thibs can get better with repetition.
Jackson: Probably so. But unlike his first year here -- when he gave full and undisputed notice of how gifted/talented he was as a head coach -- he won't get and doesn't deserve the coach of the year this season. Jeff Hornacek in Phoenix, Dwane Casey in Toronto, Terry Stotts in Portland have done jobs this season to overshadow what Thibs has done. We may never see another coach adjust and succeed the way Thibs has been able to this season with everything that unexpectedly happened to this team. Which makes it debatable about whether this has been his best season coaching the Bulls. But if we look at his track record as a head coach here, this should be no surprise. Thibs simply proved this season that this right here is what he does.