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Bulls Thu Mar 03 2011

Should Thibodeau Win NBA Coach of the Year?

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Tom Thibodeau at work / Tribune photo: Scott Strazzante

You didn't see much evidence of it last night in Atlanta, but the Bulls have been pretty good this season. That means plenty of MVP buzz for Derrick Rose, but it also means Tom Thibodeau is a top candidate for the NBA's Coach of the Year award.

Under their first-year head coach, the Bulls have already reached last year's win total at 41-18, currently good for third in the Eastern Conference, three games behind first-place Boston.

That record should certainly get you invited to the dance as far as COY. But this year certainly brings some good competition, such as San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, whose blend of new and old Spurs have the league's best record, and Scott Brooks, another coach who has taken a young cast in the form of the Oklahoma City Thunder and steered them into fourth in the West.

The Bulls were good defensively last year in Vinny Del Negro's final season, allowing 105.3 points per 100 possessions, which ranked 11th in the NBA. But this year, under Thibodeau, that defensive rating is 100.2, second only to the Celtics. Opponents are shooting 42.9 percent this year against Chicago, compared to 44.5 last year.

But hey, that's what Thibodeau, a noted "defensive guru," was expected to do. Right?

Until you consider that he's faced half a season without a) his prized offseason acquisition, Carlos Boozer, because of two injuries; and b) the heart, soul and defensive fulcrum of his team, Joakim Noah, because of a hand injury. Playing without one or both of them for most of the season, Thibodeau has made this team one of the best in the NBA.

In fact, if there's one thing I think that might keep the award away from Thibodeau, it's Rose winning the MVP. It's a simple argument for the uninformed: Surely the only reason the Bulls have been successful is because of his amazing play. Did Rose put in his work this offseason? Sure, of course he did. But I'm sure he did it knowing the role he expected to play for his new coach, and under the guidance of a coach who knows how to coach defense--often Rose's most-criticized area.

Thibodeau was recognized for his work in January when he won Coach of the Month with a 12-4 record, including a win against the Celtics. Despite the media's best efforts (ourselves included), MVP is certainly much more a current topic than Coach of the Year, and perhaps it is a bit premature. But certainly, the improvement is there, and the Bulls have had big wins against fellow contenders such as Boston, Miami and San Antonio.

It's not easy to come into a new team, and while the table was certainly set for some success, nobody expected them to do quite this well. Couple that with two critical injuries and Thibodeau's poise and results stand a whole lot taller. But unlike the hype that precedes the MVP pick, Coach of the Year seems to rest a lot more on cut-and-dried results. Let's see where we stand when the regular season ends in six weeks.

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