After taking another embarrassing L (to the lowly Brooklyn Nets) last night, the Chicago Bulls sit 6th in the Eastern Conference (15-11) and are struggling to establish a true identity on the floor.
Over the past week, losses to the Pistons, Knicks and Nets were bookended by Jimmy Butler calling out Fred Hoiberg’s “laid-back” coaching style, Tony Snell losing a spot in the rotation, and a sprained left shoulder for Joakim Noah that’ll keep him out at least 2 weeks.
Noah’s injury could not have come at a worse time for Chicago, whose lacking a true leader and failing to come together on the court.
Jimmy B.’s criticism of Fred Hoiberg may have been warranted, though the comments should have been kept in house. Hoiberg is the most relaxed coach you’ll EVER see on the sidelines – the epitome of “never too high, never too low.” Chicago, on the other hand, is an extremely talented bunch who usually needs a fire lit underneath them to sustain a high level of play.
In previous years, that person was Tom Thibdoeau. Sure, he had a reputation of being a “hard-ass” but opponents always prepared for a maximum effort from the Bulls each night. And while the defense has maintained it’s stinginess, Hoiberg’s new offensive has been a disaster so far.
Currently, the Bulls rank 27th in efficiency, 24th in FT rate but they play at the 7th fastest pace in the league. So in a nutshell, Chicago plays fast but doesn’t score a lot of points and certainly doesn’t get many easy baskets.
That was supposed to be Coach Hoiberg’s appeal, right? A fresh, innovative voice, with new schemes, to unleash untapped offensive potential.
It’s only about two months into the season, meaning there’s plenty of time for the Bulls to turn the ship around. But with their emotional leader, Joakim Noah, scheduled to miss a few weeks, who is the best option to step up to the plate and lead?
Let’s take a look.
Fred Hoiberg – After Tom Thibodeau’s “my way or the highway attitude,” was the decision to hire Fred Hoiberg simply made so the front office could regain control? Hoiberg is more of a leader by example but on a veteran team, someone must be tasked with keeping everything in line. Perhaps Fred is just not fully adjusted to those responsibilities yet.
Pau Gasol – Pau’s a beast but throughout his career, he’s never been the most boisterous guy in the locker room. A true vet with quiet leadership, Pau imparts wisdom but is not exactly the ideal person to pour energy into a dormant squad.
Derrick Rose – Now, Derrick Rose’s case is the most iffy, if you will. On one hand, Derrick’s one of the elder statesmen on the team, with the weight of a city on his shoulders and unrealistic expectations for him to return to an MVP level. On the other, Rose JUST stopped seeing double vision after an injury in training camp, Jimmy Butler’s aggression is taking the ball out of his hands and he is learning how to trust his body again.
A quiet, unassuming leader already, there’s WAY too many variables for Derrick to take charge at this stage.
Jimmy Butler – Being a new $95 million man, bonafide All-Star and bulldog on both sides of the ball, it’s natural to believe Jimmy should lead Chicago into the future. However, there’s a couple of things he needs to improve before that’s truly the case:
- Vocal Leadership: Despite his comments about Fred the other day, Jimmy is not known as a “problem” or “diva” in the locker room. However, he’s also not known as someone who’ll give the team a pep talk either. Buying into the role of franchise player is brand new for Butler, who’s learning the hard way how to handle it.
- More Engagement: Frequently, when someone misses a defensive rotation, Jimmy lets a teammate hear it. It’s not in a malicious manner or anything but signals a sort of disconnect instead of encouragement. Not saying Jimmy must have personalized handshakes with everyone or go nuts after a nice play but making unselfish plays and giving positive reinforcement will go a long way.
Jimmy B. is the most “qualified” candidate at this stage but has a couple of flaws to work on.
One overlooked aspect in the midst of Chicago’s struggles is that they don’t really care or appear to have fun playing with each other. You rarely see overt displays of support, emotion after a game-changing shot, or even a sideline spat signaling fire and passion.
The Bulls seem to be going through the motions and in December, that’s not a good sign.
That said, Chicago has all of the tools to breakthrough if a leader can step up to the plate. The best teams often thrive once they fully buy into someone who’s not afraid to be critiqued and steps up when it matters most.
It remains to be seen if Jimmy Butler is that guy. If he’s not, this situation will worsen and doom a gifted bunch with lofty championship expectations.