Tom Thibodeau, Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson

Tom Thibodeau won’t talk to players about their performances without rehearsing conversation first


Tom Thibodeau rides his players hard. He plays his starters a ton of minutes, asks everyone to defend physically and doesn’t tolerate loafing.

In many ways, Thibodeau seems more like a college-style coach than an NBA coach.

Of course, Thibodeau is an NBA coach with NBA players, some of whom have more power in the Bulls organization than Thibodeau. It’s an organizational structure full of landmines, especially with a potentially grating coach like Thibodeau.

How does he make it work?

Bobcats coach Steve Clifford, who worked with Thibodeau on Jeff Van Gundy’s Knicks staff, sheds some light. Clifford, via Aggrey Sam of CSN Chicago:

“The big thing he taught me was about being what he called an effective assistant. A lot of guys can play coach. But he spent a lot of time talking to me about learning the NBA animal and trying to learn how to deal with players in a way that they will actually listen to what you’re saying so you can actually coach them instead of passing them the ball and giving them tips on their shot,” Clifford said. “One of the biggest things he always told me was don’t get into a conversation with an NBA player about a performance of their individual game unless you’ve rehearsed what you want to get accomplished in the conversation. And it’s really true, particularly with older guys who are proven and have played for a lot of different coaches. You have to be careful, for instance, the first time you work out a player. Look at our guys, the guys they’ve played for. A guy like [Bobcats veteran forward] Anthony Tolliver has played for five or six really good NBA coaches, plus a really good college coach. So if you think you’re going to walk on the floor and start throwing out things to them if you haven’t studied their game and have a clear plan of what you want to get accomplished in your time with them, then you’re not going to be effective.”

I can just imagine Thibodeau talking to himself in a mirror before addressing Carlos Boozer.

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Veterans like Boozer are different than young players, and Thibodeau has a different approach for rookies. Taj Gibson, via Sam:

“If you’re not tough-minded and ready to play for a guy that’s hard-nosed, it’s going to be rough at first. I was always just playing for tough-minded coaches and I was ready—Tim Floyd [the former Bulls head coach was Gibson’s college coach at USC]. Vinny [Del Negro, Gibson’s coach during his rookie campaign with the Bulls] was good. He was like a good teacher, but the first day I met Thibs, I knew it was going to be crazy because kind of like the whole first year, I didn’t know how to talk to him. He was always yelling at me. It was bad, but as time went on—he yells at me a lot, but I know he’s got a lot of trust in me and it works. But you’ve got to be strong-minded to be coached by a guy like Thibs,” told “It’s tough because the whole roster, these guys are tough-minded players and they respect him. You look at his career, look at players that he’s coached, you’ve got no choice to respect what he says and do the job or else you’re not going to play, and guys understand that going in and it’s been all right so far.”

At this point, Gibson would be within his rights to petition Thibodeau for a starting spot – if the big man hasn’t already. And if he has, he could certainly inquire again.

When that moment comes, don’t expect Thibodeau just to intimidate Gibson like he once could. Instead, Thibodeau will likely address Gibson’s concerns – only after he’s rehearsed his response, though.

Charles Barkley: Klay Thompson is a better player than Kevin Durant

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You know the NBA season is back when Charles Barkley is just talking out his… er, saying ridiculous things.

On Inside the NBA before the tip off of San Antonio thrashing Golden State, Barkley said then tried to defend the idea that Klay Thompson is a better all-around player than Kevin Durant. It was vintage Barkley — and it’s what makes the barbershop feel of Inside the NBA must-watch television every week.

The flaw in Barkley’s argument is that he tries to use the “two-way player” argument to try and balance out Durant’s and Thompson’s offensive contributions. Is Thompson a better defender than Durant? Yes. Even though people underestimate Durant’s defense a little, I will stipulate Thompson is a better defender. But does that defense make up for how much more offensive versatility and shot creation Durant brings to the table compared to Thompson? No. Again, Thompson is an excellent offensive player and probably the second best shooter in the game, but he does not create shots or force a defense to adjust the way Durant does. KD’s amazing offense tips the scales more than Thompson’s defense. KD is the better overall player.

And The Jet is way too quick to dismiss Kawhi Leonard as maybe the second best player in the league. But Leonard made his case just after these comments.

Watch Jonathan Simmons posterize JaVale McGee

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This was the exclamation point on the Spurs thrashing of the Warriors on opening night.

Jonathan Simmons — who was a beast in the first half and finished the night with 20 points off the bench — was pounding the ball out top, then as the clock wound down blew by rookie Patrick McCaw, got into the lane looking for the two-handed slam. When JaVale McGee slid over to contest Simmons switched to the one-hander and finished over the big man.

That’s the way to start an NBA season.

Three things we learned Tuesday: Kawhi’s Spurs are not to be trifled with

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 25:  Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles the ball up court against the Golden State Warriors during the third quarter in an NBA basketball game at ORACLE Arena on October 25, 2016 Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The NBA season has returned, and we are back with our morning recap of what you need to know from the night before around the NBA — three things we learned. So if you were busy watching the Cubs bats go cold, here is what you missed.

1) The Spurs are Kawhi Leonard’s team — and they are magnificent. Every year we give lip service to the “don’t sleep on the Spurs” idea, and then we get wrapped up talking about some other bright, shiny new object. Like say a move from Oklahoma City to the Bay Area. We do exactly what we said we weren’t going to do.

Then San Antonio reminds us they are fierce competitors and contenders. Tuesday night the Spurs went into Oracle Arena and slapped Kevin Durant and the Warriors around. This was an old-school beatdown. In a game where the Warriors had the winners of the last three MVP awards, Kawhi Leonard was the best player on the court — a career-high 35 points on 21 shots, he got to the line 15 times, and he had five steals. Tim Duncan is gone and this is now Leonard’s team, without question. He was simply unfair, just torturing the Warriors on both ends and leading a physical Spurs team that dominated the glass — the Spurs had 24 second chance points to the Warriors 4.

Leonard didn’t do it alone, LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points and 14 boards, Jonathan Simmons came off the bench for 20 and had a highlight chasedown block on Stephen Curry. But make no mistake, this was Leonard’s team and night.

Games in October are incredibly poor predictors of the outcome of a May playoff series. Both of these teams will evolve over the course of the season, and the Warriors will get things figured out. But we learned on opening night there is no doubt the Spurs are Kawhi’s team — and they are not to be trifled with.

2) Golden State’s defense needs some work. It was easy to see the rough spots in the Warriors offense the team still needs to be smoothed out — the passes to teammates who had already vacated the spot, the threes not being in rhythm (7-of-33 from deep, a number of those looks uncontested), and all those stars playing next to each other rather than with each other. It was to be expected.

However, offense wasn’t the Warriors’ big problem — their defense was atrocious. The Spurs scored at a ridiculous 125.9 points per 100 possessions pace, because literally half of their shot attempts were uncontested (according to the player tracking stats). San Antonio had an eFG% of 54.1, and the Spurs grabbed the offensive rebound on 41.2 percent of their shots when they did miss. Leonard had a career-high 35 points, Aldridge 26, and the Spurs time after time got the shot they wanted — and they had 24 fast break points, the Warriors did not get back in transition defense. The Warriors missed Andrew Bogut inside, both as a rim protector and on the glass (this was not Zaza Pachulia’s best night).

The past two years, the Warriors had a top five NBA defense, and that as much as their vaunted shooting was the reason they went to back-to-back Finals. No doubt they made the right move adding Durant to the roster — they are going to figure this all out. This was the first game of 82, and we knew there would be some bumps at the start. But more than the offense, Steve Kerr and his staff need to get the Warriors back to being a defensive force.

3) Damian Lillard’s brilliant offense overcame his defense. Again. Damian Lillard came into this season saying he wanted to be MVP, and on opening night he put up those kinds of numbers — 39 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and he led his team to an opening night win against Utah. Portland did a great job of setting their high picks especially high, then letting Lillard go downhill fast off them right at Rudy Gobert — and Lillard finished around and over the big man all night.

Portland had an eight-point lead at the half and led by double digits for chunks of the second quarter, but in the third Utah took the lead because they exposed Lillard on the other end. Utah started running a George Hill/Joe Johnson pick-and-roll (1/3 action) and when Lillard switched it they got the ball to Johnson and he just overpowered Lillard on his way to 29 points. Johnson shot 6-of-7 in the paint and scored at will all night.

Lillard came back and had 16 of his points in the fourth quarter to help Portland get the win, he was nothing short of brilliant on offense. The Blazers got enough stops to rack up the victory at home. But their small backcourt of Lillard and C.J. McCollum is going to be a defensive challenge all season long.

Opening night bonus note: LeBron James was having fun at the expense of the Knicks’ defense. The Cavaliers cruised to a win over New York, and LeBron James had a triple-double and did whatever he wished. And what he wished was to dunk. A lot.

Watch Jonathan Simmons’ chasedown block on Stephen Curry


Jonathan Simmons did his best LeBron James impression on opening night.

While the Spurs were running the Warriors out of Oracle Arena — a 129-100 Spurs win — Simmons had a fantastic chasedown block on Stephen Curry. It was one of the plays of the game (most of the rest came from Kawhi Leonard).

Simmons had 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting off the bench for the Spurs in the win, which included a poster dunk on JaVale McGee late. Just to put some icing on the win.