Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls
A good start for Fred Hoiberg
Hoiberg didn't receive the NBA's Coach of the Month Award, but Sam Smith believes that maybe he should have
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By Sam Smith | 12.22.2015 | 9:40 a.m.
Welcome to the NBA, Fred Hoiberg. Maybe the league office didn’t know your name.
David Blatt, Eastern Conference Coach of the Month? C’mon, really?
The NBA Monday announced its coaches for the month of November as the Cavs’ Blatt and the Warriors Luke Walton.
Yes, I get it with Walton in the Western Conference as their Coach of the Month. The Warriors have been the story of the league thus far with their historic, record setting 19 consecutive wins to open the season. And that with Steve Kerr unable to return to the team yet after complications following offseason back surgery. Substitute teacher isn’t an easy job; not if you expect the kids to do their homework and not shower you with spit balls.
It’s obviously a credit to the character of the players on the Warriors, the system of play Kerr established, the profundity of the assistant coaches and the culture that famously is mentioned with every change. But for Walton to fit in so seamlessly is one of the more impressive elements in this early season run.
That Kerr still is being credited with the victories, as the NBA decreed, is curious, though he is technically still the head coach. So Walton gets an award despite not having one coaching win to his credit. So we can’t get all that excited about the award. But, hey, America likes award celebrations.
The precedent is Jack McKinney was coach of the Lakers in 1979-80. A month or so into the season he suffered a severe head injury in a bicycle accident. His assistant, Paul Westhead, replaced him as interim coach. The Lakers went on to win the title and after the season the interim title was lifted and McKinney was fired. Westhead was then second in the voting for NBA coach of the year to Bill Fitch for 1979-80.
Well, it is their league and they can make up the rules as they go.
Same for Coach of the Month. After all, it is people sitting around an office in Manhattan on Monday going, “Who ordered the pepperoni? Anyone for plain cheese? So who has the best record? Must be the best coach.”
Yes, the Cavs had the best record in the Eastern Conference at the end of November at 13-4. The Bulls were two games behind at 10-5.
I’m sure Blatt did fine things and despite the occasional furor in Cleveland Blatt seems to be a good coach. And best record does mean something. Like winning. But Blatt did have a healthy LeBron James and Kevin Love for every game. And a relatively weak schedule. The Cavs already have played the 76ers twice and more than half of their games have been against teams with losing records. And their best wins? Decent, but only over Memphis, Miami and Indiana.
What happened to head to head competition?
If this were college football, the Bulls would be in that final four and the Cavs out.
The Bulls not only defeated the Cavaliers, but they defeated the team with the league’s second best record, the Spurs, and took a narrow loss (three-point game in the last two minutes on the road) from the league’s best team, the Warriors, whom the Cavaliers haven’t played. Plus, the Bulls defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder, regarded as superior to any of the teams on the Cavs schedule thus far. And the Bulls split with the Pacers.
So how does a team playing inferior competition losing head to head and with the conference’s best player playing at a high level deserve such credit for his coach? How, for instance, does it compare with the coaching in Chicago this season?
Yes, this sounds like the home team argument. Guilty.
Still, I have several other worthy candidates in the conference for pure coaching, which in one definition is using the talent you have to perhaps perform better than maybe even they would expect. You’d have to look at Scott Skiles, who has the Magic over .500 after being one of the league’s poorest teams and with basically no roster changes. Or Boston, a game out of the division lead with no one close to the level of James or Love. Yet, they’ve defeated Houston, Atlanta, Oklahoma City and Miami. And the Pacers, who lost basically their entire front court and remade their team on the fly to a fast paced, open court team with impressive results.
OK, it’s not like the Bulls are scaring anyone in the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls are 15th in point differential, a key measuring stick for a team’s strength. They’re 25th in shooting and 19th in scoring, though second in field goal defense. It’s made all the difference along with Jimmy Butler averaging 20 points and Nikola Mirotic adapting to a starting position.
And while a team like the Cavs has come back essentially in tact, although star guard Kyrie Irving is out, the Bulls have gone through an internal roster shakeup with a new coach who never had coached in the NBA before.
Joakim Noah became a reserve for the first time in his career and Tony Snell a starter. And occasionally Doug McDermott. Derrick Rose suffered an orbital fracture the first day of training camp and basically missed all of the preseason and then two games in season with an sprained ankle after being on minutes limitations to start the season because of the preseason injury.
Rose’s primary backup, Kirk Hinrich has missed eight of the 15 games with injuries and his backup, Aaron Brooks, has missed five games with injury. This while the new coach and basically entirely new assistant coaching staff has endeavored to change the style of play and playing philosophy. And then there’s been the delicate balancing act of attempting to get everyone pulling in the same direction despite occasional concerns about who will play and when and for how long. Especially with a veteran roster.
Isn’t that what coaching truly is about?
Sure, coaches can get overlooked when they have successful teams. They still can do a good job. By all accounts, Blatt has. It’s not easy to sustain success.
But for the Bulls to be 10-5 after winning two of three on their Western Conference trip with victories over elite teams despite a revolving roster and rotation is a heck of a start to the season.
It’s been a good first month for Fred Hoiberg. Perhaps not award winning in the eyes of the NBA. But not undeserving.