Will Thibs Become the next Mike D'Antoni?

Let me first start off by saying I am a huge Thibs fan. I think that coaching is extremely underrated in the NBA and the gap between great coaches and mediocre coaches is probably a difference of at least 10 wins a season. Thibs has been a great coach for the Chicago Bulls. But could he turn into the next Mike D'Antoni?

People forget how amazing Mike D'Antoni was in Phoenix/Italy. His philosophies basically reshaped the game of basketball as we know it. He took over a team midseason that won 29 games and for the next 7 straight years, turned it into either a 1st or 2nd place team in a stacked division. Consider that 25 years ago, 3's represented 1 out of every 18 shots. In 2013, they were 1 out of every 4. This shift was hugely created by Mike D'Antoni.

D'Antoni's teams were so effective because they utilized principles that almost all NBA teams use now. His seven seconds or less offense dictated that his team space the floor with shooters and take a lot of 3's or layups. D'Antoni was way ahead of the curve in terms of recognizing the value of the 3 and the way new handcheck rules would affect spacing on the court. However, teams began imitating his offense and the advantage he created for his teams is now gone since the offense is so widespread.

There are two reasons that D'Antoni failed as a coach later on in his career:

1) The majority of NBA teams copied his offense, making it less effective, and

2) He started with great personnel for his system and later was expected to take pieces that didn't fit (an iso-heavy Melo, Gasol/Howard clogging the lane) and make it work.

How does this relate to Thibs?

Thibs' biggest strength as a coach is his system for PnR defense. Zach Lowe covered Thibs' scheme beautifully in a Grantland article last year, if you are curious to how it works

Thibs is already falling to principle #1. Teams around the league are copying his PnR defense. The Bulls have still ranked at or near the top of the league in most defensive metrics, but might this change as teams begin mastering the ability to copycat Thibs' defensive schemes? Thibs is clearly a great teacher of the defense, and he is also amazing at getting maximum effort out of his players, so I think that he is less at risk than D'Antoni in this aspect but I also do believe that the edge the Bulls have on defense will diminish as teams start getting better at copying and players begin to tune Thibs out.

As for principle #2, like D'Antoni, Thibs has great personnel for his scheme right now. He also may lose this personnel and be expected to make it fit with players that are really not great fits for his scheme. Butler's ability to stunt, Hinrich's ability to fight over screens, and Noah/Taj's agility are huge components of the Bulls' system, as Zach Lowe illustrates. We may very well lose 2-3 of these players in the offseason and replace them with players who are poor defensively.

I don't want this to be construed as a sky is falling post or that Tom Thibodeau is going to suck in the future, but I do think it will be very interesting to see if Thibs can maintain his effectiveness as an elite coach while battling copycats and changing personnel. Hopefully, he can adjust to these forces better than D'Antoni did.

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