TrueHoop: Richard Hamilton
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesTom Thibodeau: The defense-first drill sergeant.
Name: Tom Thibodeau
Birthdate: Jan. 17, 1958
Is he an emotional leader or a tactician?
Thibodeau’s obsessive, workaholic personality has an unmistakable presence on the sideline of every game and throughout the Bulls’ organization, but his greatest value is as a defensive tactician. No coach in the NBA understands how a team works as one to close down driving angles and to deny the offense’s preferred move better than Thibodeau. Playing the kind of defense that Thibodeau teaches demands an extreme work ethic from his players, so differentiating between strategy and emotional commitment is tough. However, his most significant contribution to any team will be the X’s and O’s.
Is he intense or a "go along, get along" type?
Thibodeau is one of the most intense men in the NBA. His defensive system is built on hard and fast rules, and there’s no negotiating. Thibodeau won’t coddle anyone, not even a star like Derrick Rose, and needs players who have the mental toughness to get on board with both the style of play and style of communication that Thibodeau brings.
Practices are run with military precision, and Thibodeau is known to work through Saturday nights in the offseason. He's a no-nonsense coach, but his personal authenticity and the success of his strategies endear him to his players.
Does he rely on systems, or does he coach ad hoc to his personnel?
He relies on systems, especially on defense.
Though similar, Thibodeau’s defensive system in Chicago is a bit different than the one he installed as a defensive assistant in Boston. Instead of using a hard show on pick-and-rolls -- something no big man did better than Kevin Garnett when Thibodeau coached him from 2007 to 2010 -- the Bulls almost uniformly “down” pick-and-rolls. This means the big man hangs back a bit more while the guard directs the ball handler to him and toward the baseline. One effect of this modification, which allows the Bulls bigs to remain closer to the paint, is that Chicago has been a top-10 defensive rebounding team since Thibodeau took over in 2010.
More generally, Thibodeau is not an especially creative in-game coach. Though he is inventive in his meticulous pregame preparation, his adjustments during games are just OK, especially on the offensive end. With all his success, it’s sometimes hard to remember 2012-13 is Thibodeau’s third season as an NBA head coach. This is one skill that could really evolve as he gains experience.
Does he share decision-making with star players, or is he The Decider?
The Decider. Thibodeau communicates well with his players but, especially during games, expects his players to follow his directives, not discuss them.
Does he prefer the explosive scorer or the lockdown defender?
Explosive scorer. This is a controversial distinction for Thibodeau, who, despite being a defensive ace, has a tendency to give big minutes to players like Carlos Boozer and Rip Hamilton, two guys who contribute real value only on the offensive end. For example, facing Miami in the 2011 playoffs, Thibodeau struggled to decide whether to lean on Boozer or defensive stopper Taj Gibson. When he left Boozer in for crunch time, the Heat successfully and repeatedly attacked him in pick-and-rolls.
Does he prefer a set rotation, or is he more likely to use his personnel situationally?
Thibodeau prefers a set rotation, but he will make quick substitutions, especially when it comes to playing Luol Deng and Joakim Noah abnormally long minutes.
Will he trust young players in big spots, or is he more inclined to use grizzled veterans?
Thibodeau has a clear affinity for veterans, even when it may benefit the team in the long term to give younger players more minutes early in the regular season.
Are there any unique strategies that he particularly likes?
Thibodeau’s defensive system is the pinnacle of team defensive strategy in the NBA. He is often credited with being the first coach to fully leverage the abolition of illegal defense by loading up the strong side box while having the weakside defenders zone the back side of the defense. In effect, Thibodeau's defenses force ball handlers -- whether in isolation or in side pick-and-rolls -- to the baseline and then send a second defender from the weakside over to the strong side block to cut off dribble penetration.
He is especially detail-oriented when it comes to pick-and-roll defense, getting down to the specific angles that each defender’s feet should be pointing. Thibodeau wants to send everything away from the middle of the court and force lob passes or bounce passes out to the perimeter, allowing defenders more time to get back to their men.
Off the ball, every defender in the Thibodeau system will have his hands up and active, with arms stretched as wide as possible. The goal isn’t actually to get deflections, though that happens. The real objective is to take away the first passing option of the offense -- to make the ball handler hesitate and throw a slow pass rather than whipping a chest pass to an open shooter. This gives the defense more time to recover from screens and cuts and often forces the ball away from the offense’s primary option on a given play.
Thibodeau knows he can't ask his defenders to do everything, rather he teaches them to take away certain high-percentage options for the offense. When everyone does their jobs, the odds tilt heavily in the defense's favor.
Most of Thibodeau’s offensive sets are not rudimentary, but he tends to keep things basic in big moments. It’s not uncommon to see some brilliant flex-based sets early in the game devolve into a steady diet of standard pick-and-rolls and pin-downs by the fourth quarter. He makes solid adjustments from game to game. For instance, he used Noah in the middle of the court to unlock Miami’s pick-and-roll defense in their 2011 playoff series, but Thibodeau is not known for drawing up brilliant offensive game plans on the fly.
What were his characteristics as a player?
Thibodeau’s playing career ended with his last game for the Division III Salem State University Vikings. His team won its league in his junior and senior seasons, and Thibodeau captained the team in his final year. An odd note: According to Salem State’s records, Thibodeau shot just 48.9 percent from the free throw line as a senior.
Which coaches did he play for?
Art Fiste (Salem State).
What is his coaching pedigree?
In the NBA alone, Thibodeau has worked with Bill Musselman, Jerry Tarkanian, Rex Hughes, John Lucas, Jeff Van Gundy and Doc Rivers. He was a longtime assistant to Van Gundy in New York and Houston before joining Rivers in Boston.
If basketball didn't exist, what might he be doing?
Running an ultra-high-end personal security company.
The spirit of the 1984 Bill James Baseball Abstract was summoned for this project.
Can the Mavericks repeat?
With the departure of Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson, the Dallas Mavericks will be the first defending champion since the 1998-99 Bulls to lose three of its top seven in minutes played from the previous season’s NBA Finals.
Added to the mix are Lamar Odom and Vince Carter. In Odom, the Mavericks added an incredibly efficient half-court scorer according to our video-tracking friends at Synergy Sports. Among all qualified forwards, he ranked third in the NBA in points per play in the half court, trailing only Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki.
Carter is also a good fit. Last season, only five teams scored more points on spot-up shots. In 2010-11 Carter ranked in the Top 25 in the NBA in field goal attempts per game, field goal percentage and points per game on spot-up shots.
How does Chris Paul improve the Clippers?
As a pick-and-roll ball handler last season, Chris Paul ranked sixth in the NBA in points per play among the 103 players with at least 100 pick-and-roll plays. As a team the Los Angeles Clippers ranked 17th in pick-and-roll efficiency while Paul’s old team in New Orleans ranked seventh.
While the loss of Eric Gordon hurts, consider this: accounting for three-pointers, Gordon had a 48.5 adjusted FG pct on jump shots... worse than both Paul (49.8) and Chauncey Billups (52.7).
Will youth be served in Oklahoma City?
While James Harden and Serge Ibaka continue to improve, the main focus is on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Durant is looking to become the first player since Michael Jordan in 1997-98 to lead the league in scoring three straight seasons. Westbrook meanwhile is coming off a 2010-11 season in which he emerged as one of the league’s best finishers at the rim, ranking sixth in points scored within three feet.
Perhaps the biggest concern with the Thunder is the potential for an alpha-dog dispute. Durant was the unquestioned go-to guy down the stretch during the regular season, an assumption which was then challenged by Westbrook during the postseason (see chart).
Regardless of who takes the big shots, an improvement on their combined 3-26 effort would surely bring OKC closer to a title.
Bigger impact on the East: Richard Hamilton or Tyson Chandler?
While many presume we won’t know anything new about the Miami Heat until the playoffs, the same can’t be said for the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks who added major pieces in Richard Hamilton and Tyson Chandler.
The Bulls brought in Hamilton to take the place of Keith Bogans, who despite starting all 82 games, averaged just 4.4 PPG which was the fewest among all players with at least 50 starts. With Derrick Rose having the second-highest usage rate in the NBA last season, scoring without the ball is an essential skill for all other Bulls players. Among guards, Hamilton has the fifth-most assisted FG on shots beyond 15 feet over the last three seasons.
Chandler’s most significant responsibility will be to improve a Knicks interior defense which allowed opponents to shoot 45.3 percent on post ups last season (21st in the NBA). On post up plays in which he played single coverage, Chandler held opponents to 41.4 pct shooting. That is at least 5 points better than any of the players who saw minutes at center for the Knicks last season.
Sloan moved into third place on the all-time NBA coaching wins list, passing Pat Riley with his 1,211th victory, a 112-107 triumph for the Utah Jazz over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Somehow, Sloan has accumulated all of those victories without either an NBA title or a Coach of the Year award. He may find himself in contention for the latter this season if the Jazz continue their winning ways. Utah is 21-9, matching its best 30-game start in the last 10 seasons (Utah was 21-9 in 2006-07).
The Jazz survived a night in which Kevin Love scored 25 points and had 19 rebounds. It was Love's 19th game with at least 15 rebounds this season, which according to Basketball-Reference.com, is the most by a player in his first 30 games of the season since Dennis Rodman had 21 in 1992-1993.
Surviving on the road has been big for the Jazz this season. Utah is 10-4 on the road, 4-0 in road games decided by five points or less. If the Jazz can avoid an extended losing streak, Utah can have consecutive seasons with a winning record on the road for the first time since the 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 seasons.
Wins in volume were one of the big themes on this night of NBA action.
• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the San Antonio Spurs became the fourth team in NBA history to have a pair of 10-game win streaks prior to January 1. None of the three previous teams to do so (1973-74 Bucks, 1980-81 76ers, and 2006-07 Mavericks) won an NBA title.
• The Boston Celtics won their 14th straight game, the sixth time in team history they've had a streak of that length. The Celtics are now 94-14 in games played before Christmas over the last four seasons. Via Elias, that is the best such record over any four-season span in NBA history.
• The wins haven't come in high volume for the Detroit Pistons this season, but for one day, Pistons guard Richard Hamilton was able to score at a rate comensurate with past success.
Coming off the bench for only the second time this season, Hamilton had 35 points, the 14th time in an 814-game NBA career that he tallied that many, in a 115-93 win over the Raptors. It was a strong redemption for Hamilton, who was -22 in 18 minutes in his last game, an embarassing 109-88 home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. He flipped that around with a +22 in Wednesday's contest.
• Hamilton might want pass some bounceback karma on to Shawne Williams of the New York Knicks. Williams had the NBA's oddest statistical night in the Knicks 112-98 win over the Thunder. The Knicks were outscored by 21 points in the 18 minutes when Williams was on the floor. With Williams on the bench for 30 minutes, the Knicks outscored the Thunder by 35 points.
- From Basketbawful: "The Nyets are now 30-100 since Devin Harris said 'We knew we were going to be a playoff team' way back on December 9, 2008."
- The average player doesn't have the ball in his hands 80 percent of the time he's on offense. During those instances, where and how he sets up in the half court in relation to his teammates is vital. If you're in a system that relies on good spacing, that's especially true. Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don't Lie: "How many times this year do I have to see Bynum post up eight feet from the hoop on the low left block, only to see Artest think it sane to then post up just below Bynum on the same block three feet from the hoop. It defies logic, spiraling from any template. And yet, the Lakers let him do it, likely thinking that they can put up with not playing their best because of Ron while still managing to win the title."
- At Basketball Reference, Neil Paine has assembled the best NBA playoff teams in history in a bracket. I'm drawn to the 8-9 matchup in Pool C: '95 Rockets vs. '77 Trail Blazers.
- Timothy Varner of 48 Minutes of Hell on how Manu Ginobili is solving the Spurs' most intractable problems: "Manu Ginobili is making everyone better, most noticeably the previously pronounced dead on arrival Richard Jefferson. Jefferson is openly campaigning for heavy minutes alongside Manu Ginobili. It’s almost as if Gregg Popovich turned to Manu and said, 'I can’t figure this guy out. Can you fix him for me?' And then Ginobili grabbed Jefferson by the hand, walked into a nearby phone booth, and emerged in Superman garb. Jefferson can be seen just behind Ginobili, with a fistful of cape. Problem solved."
- Skeets and Tas pay homage on St. Patrick's Day to the NBA's prominent Irish contingent -- players like Chris Quinn, Troy Murphy and ... Lamar O'do'm.
- Aaron Brooks longs for the McDonald's Shamrock Shake.
- The Washington Post poses a crucial question for those who like that silky smooth feel on their jumpers:"[I]s there a launch angle that gives the maximum probability of a perfect telegenic swish?"
- In a video interview, Jerry Colangelo tells Bloomberg's Michele Steele, "There could be a seismic switch this summer in terms of power in the NBA and which teams are going to be relevant over the next four or five years."
- Smart column from John Schuhmann looking back at his preseason predictions. Among his miscalculations (shared by many): Eddie Jordan's impact in Philadelphia, the Thunder's stratospheric rise and the Bucks' surprisingly stingy defense.
- Baron Davis' vote for Rookie of the Year.
- ESPN's Stats and Info Department tells us that only two active players have won both an NBA and an NCAA title: Rip Hamilton and Nazr Mohammed.
- There's a limit to what fans with limited expectations can reasonably tolerate. After Minnesota's 152-114 loss in Phoenix on Tuesday night, Canis Hoopus tries to name what Timberwolves fans are experiencing right now and comes up with a neologism called apastration: "It's somewhere in between boredom and apathy, frustration and anger, regret and hope, and all sorts of other polar and not-so-polar dichotomies."
- Why the Most Improved Player award is a misnomer.
- A close look at Ron Artest guarding Tyreke Evans.
- Reggie Evans would like his alma mater to perform a thorough interview process, thank you very much, in its search for a head coach to replace Todd Lickliter.
- Rajon Rondo tells HoopsTV, "I don't care who we play in the Finals."
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
- Ben Golliver of Blazers Edge has assembled an incredible slide show of The Oregonian's special sections published by the paper over the years.
- Eric Musselman, on his Twitter feed, quotes Reggie Theus: "With today's players street credit is important." [Hat Tip: Ziller/The Baseline] Isn't it fair to say that street cred is actually less important than it was 10 years ago?
- NBA fans perpetually want their teams to run more -- but it's really difficult to do so effectively if the team can't rebound the ball effectively. Hoop Numbers looks at the best fast break "triggers" in the league.
- While in Henan Province, China, Shaquille O'Neal makes a side trip to the birthplace of Zen Buddhism: "I've been a lot of places but being at the Shaolin Temple has brought a tear to my eye. Buddha blessed."
- A quarter-by-quarter look at LeBron James' shooting efficiency by shot type.
- The NBA never sleeps, even during the dog days of summer. All Net's list of the five most ridiculous stories of the offseason.
- Part Two of an interview with Anthony Randolph. Does Randolph help a team more as a 3 or a 4? And what do Randolph and Sam Perkins have in common?
- Bruce Bowen's retirement from the Suns' perspective, and a list of Phoenix's most hated opponents.
- Much of the discussion about Bowen's legacy has focused on the likelihood that his jersey will be eventually hang from the rafters at AT&T Center. Zach Lowe takes a comprehensive look at Bowen's career number to see if the defensive and corner-3 specialist is truly worthy of the honor.
- Blake Griffin follows 20 Twitter feeds. Among them, pro skater Rob Dyrdek.
- Mike Wang, lead designer for NBA Live 10, says that the newest version of the game will allow users better off-ball controls: "We felt that off-ball play was an important part of basketball and we needed to focus on that. We added over 150 new animations off-ball alone where guys would be cutting, spotting up, doing V-cuts, and it just makes the whole game look a lot more organic." Does this elevate the game value of guys like Rip Hamilton?
Remember when the Pistons were the toast of the town? In 2003-2004, they added Larry Brown and Rasheed Wallace and won the title. But the seeds of that team were really planted when the Pistons acquired some players with shaky reputations around the league.
By signing Ben Gordon to big dollars, Joe Dumars has run the same play again.
But there's a difference this time around.
In 2000, the team got Ben Wallace as a throw-in, after Grant Hill agreed to sign with the Magic, and the Pistons participated in one of those lopsided "you got us" trades instead of losing the player for nothing.
The summer of 2002 is when GM Joe Dumars really earned his money. That's when he drafted Tayshaun Prince 23rd overall, and acquired Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups -- neither of whom was seen, then, as likely to contribute to a title team.
Of course, the pieces fit together tremendously well.
Later, working on a story for a magazine, I asked Dumars why he had decided those were the two guards who would make the most sense for his team.
Dumars' answer was very clear, and represented a real philosophy: Those were two guards who could help the team without needing possession of the ball.
The Pistons were going to be a team of ball movement and they were not ball-stoppers.
Hamilton could run around a thousand screens and force the defense to chase, hedge, and help all over the place. Such movement has the potential to get easy buckets for any and all Pistons, from the guy setting the pick to the guy spotting up behind the 3-point line.
Billups, meanwhile, is a good enough shooter to keep a defender near. The team could run its offense with Billups at the top of the circle. Now and again the ball would be kicked out to him, and he had the skill and mentality to drain the shot if he was open, or swing the ball to the opposite side if he wasn't.
Ben Gordon represents a different approach.
I have never seen good statistics determining which players are the most opposite of what Dumars described. As in, players who can't do jack for you unless they have the ball.
But by reputation, Ben Gordon would be on that list.
So, does this mean Joe Dumars has changed his tune? That he is desperate?
Maybe none of the above. Perhaps it just means that the Pistons have a different roster now, with different needs.
And more likely, it could be a story about hand-checking. The rule changed in 2001, but the following strategic shift is still unfolding. The ball-stopper, time-consuming thing Gordon does -- creating scoring opportunities for himself off the dribble -- may well be more valuable than it was. That's because such play now comes with frequent trips to the free throw line, which is the home of the easiest and most efficient points in the NBA.
(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Mavs look like they'll avoid the dreaded 8-hole in the West, but the Pistons succumb to the Bulls and will have a weekend date in Cleveland. Meanwhile, the Sixers and Hornets have tough decisions to make about a couple of struggling shooters.
Rob Mahoney of Two Man Game: "What a game, what a game, what a game. In recent weeks, we've seen the 'Race for 8′ transform into a 'Race to Avoid 8′, and, by definition, a race to avoid the Lakers. The Utah Jazz, who sit just one full game behind the Mavs, were nursing a huge lead against the Clippers, and with two minutes and thirty seconds remaining, the Mavs were down five points to the Timberwolves. Heavy stuff. But from that point on, the Mavs committed few mistakes. They got exactly the offensive looks they wanted, and capitalized on most of them. They locked down defensively, and ceded a single basket due to unfortunate circumstance alone. Two and a half minutes, a 9-2 run, and nearly flawless execution. In the biggest moments of this game and possibly of the season, the Mavs did not disappoint. Shot after shot, stop after stop, all culminating in a defensive stop by Dirk [Nowitzki]/Erick Dampier and a huge go-ahead bucket by Jason Terry with 0.2 seconds remaining."
Ryan Schwan of Hornets247: "There is much made about the idea that Peja [Stojakovic] isn't having plays run for him, that he's being mis-used, that he should be sent in motion. So I kept track of plays where Peja was moving his feet, clearly having had a play called for him. There were twelve in the game. One, [Chris] Paul saw an opening and short-circuited the play, diving to the basket and scoring. Twice Peja got free off a single pick as [Shane] Battier got momentarily lost, and got two nice open shots. Three times, Peja ran off a set of three staggered picks, resulting in a nice open shot, a hurried deep three, and Paul being unable to get the pass to him because he was covered too well. Six times, he ran off a pair of picks and couldn't get open at all. For those of you keeping score, that's 12 plays for three open shots and an opening for Paul. If that's the return, I'm not sure it's worth the investment. And if the investment continues to be made, he needs to do better than 0-4 shooting (1-7 for the game, including shots off plays that weren't designed for him as a primary option)."
Dan Feldman of Piston Powered: "With a 91-88 loss to Chicago, Detroit will have the eighth seed and a first-round matchup with Cleveland ... [I]t's a shame that's Detroit's fate. In their biggest game of the season, the Pistons played the best they have in a while. Detroit and Chicago were evenly matched. They fought from start to finish, dove all over the court, played physical - and most importantly, played well. The game looked like a four-five matchup in the first round.
The Bulls are playing their best basketball of the season. They've won five in a row, nine of 11 and 12 of 15. And the Pistons are still 8-5 when Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace both play and Allen Iverson doesn't. That clip would give the Pistons 50 wins over the course of a full season and put them comfortably in fourth place in the East. To make matters more impressive, eight of those games were against playoff teams (including two wins over Orlando and one over Boston). And most of those games were on the road."
(Photos by Glenn James, Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz
Steve Francis to the Grizzlies. There's some poetic symmetry to it, isn't there? For a refresher on why this trade closes a circle, check out this Washington Post column by Michael Wilbon published just hours after the 1999 NBA Draft.
Wilbon spends most of his column inches evaluating the hometown Wizards' selection of a spindly kid from UConn named Richard Hamilton. But there are some great little morsels in here, including "tears of joy" from a young Ron Artest:
Teams have been charting upsides and risk, begging kids who aren't even adults to come and workout, come and take a physical. Odom didn't want to leave college after one year, which is the right instinct. And Steve Francis, who was obviously disappointed in not being selected first, showed poor judgment by sulking after being drafted by Vancouver. Son, you've overcome too much to whine about getting $3 million a year to live in one of the most beautiful cities in North America. Get a clue...
I bet the Vancouver Grizzlies thought the same thing when they took Francis with the second pick. What they got was a one-year wonder who looked very selfish and completely ungrateful from the moment David Stern announced his name. "Hopefully, when I wake up tomorrow," he said, "I'll be happy." Francis wanted to go No. 1, which is why he talked about the "risk" the Bulls took in selecting Elton Brand. Francis's coach at Maryland, Gary Williams, provided some much needed perspective, saying, "It's great he's the second pick in the draft. . . . you don't get to pick your team." Maybe it's just me, but it's a risk taking a guy who hasn't done anything anywhere for longer than one year. Last I checked, Brand took his team further in the NCAA tournament than Francis took his. The Grizzles, or whichever team winds up with Francis, better know it won't be investing in a rookie with any humility.
Luckily, there was a wonderful juxtaposition that took place about an hour after Francis slumped and pouted his way to the lectern, St. John's forward Ron Artest reacted to being selected by the Chicago Bulls by crying. Bawled right out in the open, tears streaming down his face. "Tears of joy," he said. "All joy."
Like any kid about to become an instant millionaire (even more so for a kid from New York), Artest had everybody in the world sucking up to him, tugging at him, phoning constantly. In recent days though, Artest didn't return any of those calls. "To all the people I didn't speak to, I was too busy taking care of business," he said. "I'm really grateful."
The Bulls might have been the big winners because they got Brand and Artest, to team with Toni Kukoc and Brent Barry, with tons of money to spend in free agency.
The rest is history: The front line of Elton Brand, Ron Artest, and Brad Miller led the 2003-04 Chicago Bulls to within one game of an NBA title.
It's time for me to get going. One thing I will not be called is late for dinner.
One thing I'm thankful for this year: TrueHoop readers.
Smart, funny, and on the ball, your comments and e-mails make me happy every day. Thanks.
Have a great Thanksgiving.
(Photo taken by Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images at Wednesday's Rip City Foundation event, in which Hamilton and others fed 150 people at Grace Centers of Hope in Pontiac, Michigan.)