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Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau uses stats but trusts trained eye

Joakim Noah Luis Scola

Joakim Noah, Luis Scola

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Updated: December 19, 2012 12:28PM

PHOENIX — There’s never an easy answer for a coach or manager these days when the topic of sabermetrics or — in the case of the NBA — advanced metrics is brought up.

Lean on them too heavily, and you’re too “Moneyball,’’ you’re geeking up the franchise. Ignore them, and all of a sudden the coach is a Neanderthal, stuck in the days of underhand free throws and John Stockton’s tight shorts.

The safe answer is a happy medium, and despite coming from a pedigree that has been stat-heavy, coach Tom Thibodeau walked that happy medium Wednesday when the topic came up.

“Stats are important,’’ Thibodeau said when discussing the idea of having shooting guard Richard Hamilton and point guard Kirk Hinrich on a minutes watch for the early part of the season.

“We’ve always used stats; they just weren’t called advanced metrics as far back as the ’90s. Now it’s taken on a whole different meaning. I think stats are important, but I also think the trained eye is more important, and usually the numbers will confirm what you’re thinking or make you look at something a little differently.’’

In his days with the New York Knicks, Thibodeau was under coach Jeff Van Gundy.

“When I was in New York,’’ Thibodeau said, ‘‘Jeff Van Gundy was there, and he had been under Pat Riley. He always believed in stats. I’ve always thought it was an important part of the game.’’

The Boston Celtics embraced advanced metrics when ownership changed hands in 2002, as Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca took over, and they raised a banner by 2008 with Thibodeau as an assistant coach.

Thibodeau wouldn’t go into detail about the minutes watch. Instead, he explained it away as just a way to keep both of his starting guards healthy for the second half of the season.

“I just want to make sure it remains that way,’’ Thibodeau said.

Giving it a go

Hinrich went through the morning shootaround in Phoenix with no setbacks to his strained right hip, so he was given the nod after missing the game Monday against the Celtics.

“He just has to play to his strengths, do exactly what he’s been doing, run the team,’’ Thibodeau said of what he expects from Hinrich. “The team functions well when he’s on the floor; that’s all we want him to do.’’

Still searching

Thibodeau isn’t the only one expecting to see better offensive execution in the fourth quarter.

“We’re playing great ‘D’ in the fourth, but we seem to be forcing it a bit on offense as far as taking our looks,’’ forward Taj Gibson said. “But this is a learning process. I would rather go through this now than later on.’’

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