Friday, January 25, 2013
Thibs should be proud of All-Star selections
By Nick Friedell
CHICAGO -- Tom Thibodeau will never take any credit for the fact that Joakim Noah and Luol Deng were named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team Thursday night ... but he should.
Without Thibodeau leading the way and pushing them as hard as he can, neither would be enjoying the success they have earned over the past few seasons.
From the beginning, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau believed Joakim Noah and Luol Deng could become much better players in his system. And he was right; they're both All-Stars now.
People can argue all day whether Thibodeau's methods are good for the Bulls' long-term growth as a team -- his domineering presence definitely rubs people the wrong way sometimes -- but what is inarguable is the effect he has had on the two Bulls players who were named to the All-Star team.
Noah and Deng, along with Derrick Rose, have prospered more than any other Bulls on the roster since Thibodeau's arrival. And one could argue Noah and Deng have taken an even bigger step under Thibodeau than Rose has, as far as personal growth goes.
Yes, Rose became an MVP under Thibodeau's watch, and that is an unbelievable honor. But he earned a rookie of the year award and was named to his first All-Star Game under Vinny Del Negro. Rose's talent was always in plain view. He was so gifted early on that it didn't matter who was barking out orders from the sidelines. Rose had the ability to take over games whenever he wanted; Noah and Deng weren't blessed with quite as much ability.
When Thibodeau arrived as coach after Del Negro was fired in the spring of 2010, Noah and Deng were almost afterthoughts around the league. Noah had developed a reputation as an energy player who didn't have an offensive game, and Deng was viewed as an overpriced, under-performing swingman who couldn't stay healthy.
Around Chicago, plenty of people wondered whether Noah liked to party more than he liked to play, and others wondered whether Deng would ever be able to shed the "soft" label he had been tagged with after missing so many games because of injury.
Noah showed flashes of brilliance in his play, but there also were times when he would disappear on the floor. Deng would have his moments as well, but more often than not in Del Negro's offense, he would be stuck in the corner waiting for a 3-point shot that would never come.
From the beginning, Thibodeau saw something in both players that the rest of the world didn't see. He believed both could become much better in his system, and he was right. In his first news conference, Thibodeau made it a point to single out Deng as one of the secret weapons in the NBA. He praised the veteran forward as someone who could do all the little things a team needed in order to win.
The interesting part is that Thibodeau says a lot of the same things about Noah when describing what he brings to the Bulls. Noah plays with a different type of emotion, but both players badly want to win. They're willing to do anything it takes, including playing more than 40 minutes a night -- a marker both have sped past many times this season.
Most important, both players have completely bought into Thibodeau's system. Along with Rose, Noah and Deng have set the tone for Thibodeau and his success. Without all three thoroughly embracing what the coach wanted to build, the Bulls would not be having the sustained success they have achieved over the first three years of his tenure.
"We definitely have the identity of our coach," Noah said after an early-season win over the Sacramento Kings during Thibodeau's first season. "I think he's probably the hungriest guy I've ever been around, in terms of coaching. I mean, this guy ever since the summer, the guy's in the gym all day. That's an understatement."
Not much has changed nearly three years later. Thibodeau still lives in the gym, and the Bulls still have the identity of their coach.
Much was made about Thibodeau's decision to bench Noah for the second half and overtime of Saturday night's game against the Memphis Grizzlies. The emotional center later admitted that he had mouthed off about coming out of the game and took responsibility for the incident, praising the way Thibodeau handled the situation.
Many wondered whether this was the beginning of some inevitable fraying between a few of the players and the hard-charging coach. That's not the case, though. Noah, and some of his teammates, might not like the way Thibodeau stays on them all the time, but they still respect him.
That was evident Thursday night, when Noah tweeted a thank you to Thibodeau and the coaching staff for coping with his ups and downs. But it's more obvious in the way the Bulls continue to play under Thibodeau. It's also been proved by the way the league’s coaches voted in filling up the rest of the All-Star rosters.
It's not a coincidence that two of Thibodeau's players were named to the team, instead of other deserving candidates. Thibodeau's success and work ethic have generated a lot of respect within the coaching ranks, and that shone through as the All-Stars were announced.
Noah and Deng earned this honor by working hard and giving everything they have to the game. Like their coach, they have earned a reputation as two of the most solid and respected players in the league because of their work ethic. They are headed to Houston because of their accomplishments on the floor, but neither would have been able to reach the heights they've ascended without Thibodeau -- and both men know it.