That's how many combined games Derrick Rose (14 games), Luol Deng (9 games) and Rip Hamilton (32 games) have missed so far this season. For those keeping track at home, that's the reigning MVP, an All-Star and the Bulls' starting shooting guard all missing significant time.
And yet, despite all these injuries, the Bulls currently sit atop the NBA with a sparkling record of 38-10. The Bulls' success this season is not only a testament to their great depth, but to the job done by coach Tom Thibodeau. After winning Coach of the Year in his first season last year, Thibs has followed that up with a brilliant encore performance that has outshined the main set.
In my world, Thibodeau – who on Monday became the fastest coach to 100 wins in NBA history – should not just be a favorite in this year's Coach of the Year race, but should be a lock to become the first NBA coach ever to be a repeat winner of the award.
Now, there are certainly other good candidates to consider. Gregg Popovich has the Spurs at 29-14 despite Manu Ginobili missing a good portion of the season. Rick Adelman has had a huge hand in resurrecting the Timberwolves from the depths of the NBA cellar. Stan Van Gundy has done a nice job directing the Magic towards the top of the Eastern Conference with all the Dwight Howard hubbub surrounding the team. And Doug Collins has done a great job with a young Sixers squad that does not really have a go-to option on offense. In fact, I had Collins as my Coach of the Year at the halfway point of the year.
But as the Sixers have stumbled somewhat and the Bulls have kept trucking along despite the prolonged absence of multiple key, my vote has swung over to Thibodeau. The way Thibs has gotten his team to keep focus and rally together in this injury-riddled season is simply too impressive to ignore. He has instilled a culture of defense and team ball that takes advantage of many of his players' strengths, and has also allowed afterthoughts like John Lucas III and Mike James to make contributions. If you're willing to play hard and embrace the team concept, you can succeed in "Thibs-ball."
Lets take a quick look at some numbers for a second. The Bulls are second in the NBA in points allowed, defensive efficiency and assist rate. They are tops in the league in offensive rebound rate and total rebound rate. Defense, rebounding and sharing the basketball. That's "Thibs-ball" at its finest.
As great as he's been, Thibodeau is not without his faults. He can be stubborn and his offensive coaching can sometimes leave a lot to be desired. And of course, there's the whole minutes thing and the questionable handling of his top players. That handling, or should I say mishandling, may have actually contributed to some of the games missed by those top guys (humorously enough, this may actually HELP his COY campaign).
But I will say, Thibodeau seems to have learned from many of his mistakes on that front. He appears to be more willing to play it safe with injuries than he was early in the season, when he allowed Rose and Hamilton back in the lineup far earlier than he should have. Who knows whether it was management who said something or if Thibs actually changed his mindset himself, but the fact is, he has changed. And it's been for the better.
The way it's looking right now, the Bulls will finish with over 50 wins and have a great shot at securing the number one overall seed in the playoffs for the second straight year. If that happens, there's simply nobody more deserving than Thibodeau to win Coach of the Year. And even if the Miami Heat somehow eclipse the Bulls in the standings, I still think Thibs should win. He's just been that good.
Tags: C.J. Watson, Chicago, Chicago Bulls, Derrick Rose, Doug Collins, Dwight Howard, Gregg Popovich, Joakim Noah, John Lucas III, Luol Deng, Mike James, NBA, Rip Hamilton, Taj Gibson, Tom Thibodeau
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