Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah listens to head coach Tom Thibodeau during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets in Chicago on Thursday, March 13, 2014. The Bulls won 111-87. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) ORG XMIT: OTKNH110
KINGS AT BULLS
The facts: 7 p.m., Ch. 9, 1000-AM.
Updated: April 16, 2014 6:13AM
Numbers don’t lie.
The problem is, the people who use them do.
Numbers can be twisted and manipulated to favor an argument that doesn’t even come close to passing the eye test.
But in the case of coach Tom Thibodeau and the job he’s done this season, no sleight of hand is needed. The numbers back up his elite status, and he passes the eye test with no debate.
Phoenix’s Jeff Hornacek, Portland’s Terry Stotts and San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich all have a case for coach of the year, but the reality is, the contest ended in early January.
After the Bulls traded Luol Deng to Cleveland, the perception was that the Bulls were dead, their season over.
Outsiders even spoke of tanking. One overlooked consideration: Thibodeau.
To him it was just another challenge, another opportunity to show that he can take your tired, your poor, your D.J. Augustin, reinvent the offense on the fly and put a better product on the floor. Lu who?
Thibodeau has coached teams in seven consecutive years (four with the Bulls, three as an assistant in Boston) that have finished in the top five in defensive rating, according to Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com.
Pelton added that if Thibodeau were a player, he would merit a $10 million annual salary (based on wins over a replacement coach and the financial value he brings to the team).
Thibodeau is making less than $5 million. Basically, he’s working on the cheap.
Pelton didn’t even take into account the playoffs, especially last season’s seven-game triumph against Brooklyn. The Bulls were overmatched at almost every position on paper, Deng and Kirk Hinrich were sidelined most of the series and Joakim Noah was playing with an injured foot.
Numbers aside, there’s the eye test.
And more importantly, Bulls players praise the Thibodeau effect.
Taj Gibson has said numerous times that “we do whatever Thibs puts on the board, and when we do that, we’re usually walking out with a ‘W.’ ’’
So even when there is a stinker like the 104-96 no-show against San Antonio on Tuesday, there’s the follow-up, a 111-87 crushing of a hot Houston team Thursday.
“[Thibodeau] just kind of shows [the film] to us, tells us the truth of what happened, and we have great character guys in this locker room,’’ Hinrich said. “We want to do well, we want each other to do well. We’ve just been able to bounce back. That says a lot about our team.’’
It says even more about Thibodeau. Not only about his game preparation, but also his ability to make in-game adjustments. And about the way he can coach up players from other systems, and more impressively, from the unemployment line.
Jimmer Fredette is just the latest reclamation project, and while he still speaks well about his days in Sacramento, there’s no question that there’s been a culture change since signing with the Bulls.
“Here, there is definitely a mentality that we have to throw the first punch right from the get-go,’’ Fredette said. “Coach does a great job of getting our heads in the game, getting us prepared, and making it so there are guys that want to play as hard as they can every minute they’re out there. That’s a big difference.’’
Now, if only those Thibodeau-to-the-Knicks rumors would just crawl in the corner and die.
“I’m not going anywhere,’’ the coach insisted again last month.
No one should be more thankful for that than Bulls’ management.