Fred Hoiberg’s approach to coaching is radically different from Tom Thibodeau

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CHICAGO—As much as the day was a welcoming party for Fred Hoiberg, the Tuesday press conference at the Chicago Bulls’ practice facility had another subtext: it was an opportunity to turn the page on the Tom Thibodeau era that everybody involved was ready to move on from.

“I think Tom Thibodeau is an excellent, excellent basketball coach and I think he instilled a lot of unbelievable qualities in this team that hopefully I can build on,” Hoiberg said. That was just about the last time he was mentioned. But without even bringing up his name, Hoiberg and GM Gar Forman took every opportunity to make it clear how the future would be different from the past.

Thibodeau didn’t believe in minutes limits or rest days. Hoiberg talked at length about their importance.

“That’s very important,” he said. “You want to be playing your best basketball at the right time. That’s something we tried to do at Iowa State, to peak at the right time and I think we’ve done that the last couple of years. Obviously, we had a very difficult loss to end our season, but to win the Big 12 tournament championships we were playing pretty darn good basketball at the right time of year. It is important. I’ve experienced four in five nights as a player. Some of it when I wasn’t playing much, but then there was a time when I actually did play quite a bit and then you understand that. Maybe you have to take a day off after a tough stretch. Maybe you’re going to come down here and go through a difficult practice and you see the guys out here just dragging, then maybe you just go watch film with them and tell them to get their rest. But that is very important as far as getting the guys to play their best basketball at the right time of year and that’s obviously right now.”

Thibodeau’s offensive style was very reminiscent of slower-tempo ’90s basketball. Hoiberg described a system that much more resembles, say, the Houston Rockets:

“We absolutely look at analytics, you have to,” he said. “But it’s not the end all be all, it’s a piece. One thing we tried to do, our last 75 games, we outscored 60 of them in the paint. Again, that’s with small lineups. We led Big 12 with 3-point shooting, we led the nation a couple seasons ago with 3-pointers made. We tried to eliminate that midrange shot but there’s some players who are midrange shooters. Nobody on our roster took more than 12 percent of their shots from midrange. That’s something we look at closely. We shoot a lot of 3’s, but we don’t live and die by it. Again, that shows by our numbers, outscoring teams in the paint. We try to get uncontested 3’s, based on drawing two players to one, which our offense tries to do and have great spacing on the backside.”

Throughout his first meeting with the Chicago media, Hoiberg positioned himself as the opposite of Thibodeau in almost every way. He gave the impression that he’s every bit a player’s coach, much more laid-back than his predecessor. Whether that translates into more success remains to be seen, but it was time the Bulls got a different look, a change of pace. And Hoiberg certainly is that.