How Tom Thibodeau Makes (Winning) Bulls Basketball Nearly Unwatchable

He is short, chubby, balding, middle-aged and white. He’s never dunked on somebody’s head. He has no mid-range game to speak of, no teardrop of note. He doesn’t have a line of shoes. He hasn’t successfully re-branded the world’s most famous flower. But for all of his shortcomings, the argument can easily be made that 54-year-old Tom Thibodeau is the most valuable Chicago Bull. And therein lies the problem. Because as great a coach as Tom Thibodeau is, watching his Derrick Rose-less team play is about as much fun as ordering fish at Gene & Georgetti.

Ask the 21,430 fans who attended last night’s game at the United Center, a 97-58 win for the Bulls in which the Atlanta Hawks made only 24 of their 82 attempted field goals. That wasn’t a basketball game; it was a two-hour-and-15-minute suffocation.

With the win, the Bulls are 20-15, just a game and a half behind Indiana in the Central division. No, seriously. The Bulls are in contention to win the division with Kirk Hinrich, Rip Hamilton, Marco Belinelli, Jimmy Butler, and Nate Robinson playing key roles. You couldn’t win the Big Ten this year with those guys. So how does he do it? How does Thibs get a group of aging, moderately talented NBA players to win a bunch of regular season games? Simple. He makes them play boring. His style of hard-nosed, in your face basketball is less entertaining than half of the shows on cable. And according to a recent Crain’s Chicago Business report, Chicagoans agree. Through the first 32 games of the season, ratings on Comcast SportsNet Chicago were down 49 percent from last season’s regular season average.

Tangent: Bulls Games vs. Popular TV shows

Bulls vs. The Walking Dead — Zombies eating human flesh beats Carlos Boozer’s zombie-like defense.

Bulls vs. Mad Men — Joan Harris’ breasts are far more attractive than Marco Belinelli’s hairy, sagging man boobs.

Bulls vs. Modern Family — Two gay men that make you laugh or two straight men (Hinrich and Rip) that make you cry because they’re just so damn old?

Bulls vs. Breaking Bad – If Vladimir Radmanovic was importing meth from Serbia and selling it to assistant coaches around the league to maintain his NBA lifestyle, maybe we’d have something worth watching.

Bulls vs. Family Guy — You can see every joke coming from a mile away. Kinda like watching the Bulls’ half-court offensive sets.

We now return to your regularly scheduled programming…

Defense Don’t Lie

“The Chicago Bulls play haaaard,” says TNT analyst Charles Barkley. The statement is as much an indictment of the rest of the league as it is an endorsement of Thibs and his obsession for life without the ball.

Looking at the Bulls defensive statistics is like having an honors kid at Whitney Young that’s never kissed a boy or tried a ‘marijuana cigarette.’ It’s almost too good to be true. The team is at the top of virtually every defensive category. Chicago is second in the league in three-pointers allowed, giving up only 203 so far this year, third in the NBA in points allowed at 91.4, and sixth in the league in opposing field goal percentage at .434. More often than not if a Chicago Bull is guarding you, you’re not getting a good look at the bucket.

But who pays $150 a ticket and $12 for a hot dog to watch great defense? The American people want offense! We want more up-and-down, less slow it down. Lob City is trending. Celtic pride is waning. We want rim rattling dunks, crazy crossovers and ridiculous 3-point range. Unfortunately, the Bulls are about as adept on offense as Kanye and Kim are at discretion. The team is 26th in the league in scoring at 93.49 ppg, ranking slightly ahead of such powerhouses as the Philadelphia 76ers, New Orleans Hornets, and Washington Wizards. Chicago is 19th in field goal percentage at .440 and dead last in the NBA in three-pointers made, averaging just 4.7 per game.

Can Thibs Change?

So where does that leave us? Right now, the Chicago Bulls are arguably the worst bang for your entertainment buck you can get in the city of Chicago. Watching Kirk Hinrich manage a game is like working for an old, crusty Fortune 500 company with a manager who’s constantly looking over your shoulder to see if you’re on Facebook. Luol Deng is the woman you marry because no one else would marry you because you’re kinda fat and kinda ugly and your career plateaued two years after high school. Taj Gibson is in his first year of post-extension retirement. The list goes on.

In Thibs’ defense, there’s not much the greatest offensive mind could do with the Bulls’ current roster. Better ball movement and more penetration can only go as far as the players doing the moving and the penetrating. It’s not like Thibs could completely revamp his offensive system and hope for better results. Unfortunately, the best coach in the NBA is doing exactly what he should be doing to keep the Bulls in the running until the messiah returns: making the game so ugly, we can barely stand to watch.

STORY ART: Main image made with photo by Keith Allison/cc.

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