Turns out, Thibodeau’s most effective big man might not have even been on that list. Rookie Nikola Mirotic provided a necessary dose of floor spacing.
That depth could have been a good problem to have.
Instead, Thibodeau started Noah and Gasol and leaned heavily on the pairing. They were far from awful, but with better alternatives buried on the bench, the decision might have contributed to Thibodeau’s firing.
So, will replacement Fred Hoiberg break up Noah and Gasol in the starting lineup?
Noah hopes he has a chance to prove otherwise.
“I think we should give it an honest evaluation while I’m healthy,” Noah said. “Last year, I wasn’t healthy. Let’s see how it goes and then coaches can make a decision from there.”
Noah was very clearly not fully healthy last year, and that limited his effectiveness. If he can move better, he could cover for Gasol defensively and help space the floor offensively with his passing. But I’m not ready to assume a 30-year-old Noah got spryer after just one summer. He’ll have to prove it.
Even then, starting Mirotic might still be a better choice.
Here’s the offensive rating/defensive rating/net rating for each Bulls big-man combination last season:
- Noah-Gasol: 103.2/100.4/+2.8 in 1258 minutes
- Gibson-Gasol: 106.1/102.6/+3.5 in 870 minutes
- Mirotic-Gibson: 103.7/98.9/+4.8 in 666 minutes
- Mirotic-Gasol: 103.7/99.3/+4.4 in 653 minutes
- Mirotic-Noah: 104.7/99.9/+4.8 in 579 minutes
- Gibson-Noah: 97.3/104.8/-7.4 in 421 minutes
The clear lesson: Mirotic helps. He’s involved in the best three pairings.
But if Gibson-Noah is as bad a combination as it looked last year – though I don’t think it is – starting Mirotic and Gasol could sink Chicago’s bench. What about starting Mirotic and Noah and bringing Gasol and Gibson off the bench? Gasol says he expects his minutes to come down. That could be a way.
Thibodeau faced a difficult choice, and many think he botched it. It’s not any easier for Hoiberg – especially if Noah is healthy.
Hoiberg ought to take Noah’s advice and consider all options, including leaving the starting lineup untouched.