The Bulls winning ways aren’t likely to continue much longer, even with Nikola Mirotic becoming MVP frontrunner (in our hearts) there’s been a lot of team-wide luck in terms of shooting and schedule.
But while some season-long stats are awful for Fred Hoiberg’s Bulls, you can’t take away the wins (even if you want to come lottery time) and it has led some to a re-evaluation of the coach’s job performance.
Mark Karantzoulis at Bulls HQ has pointed to the on-court integration of Nikola Mirotic as a definite positive.
The development of Markkanen is arguably the most important priority the Bulls have this season. Even after Portis and Mirotic returned, Hoiberg correctly kept the rookie forward at starting power forward. That doesn’t look like it will change. To their credit, Portis and Mirotic have accepted bench roles, something Hoiberg also deserves praise for.
How he’s deployed both in his rotation has also been a positive. At times, each have split minutes at power forward and center. Depending on who has the hot hand, that is the player Hoiberg has relied on in end-of-game situations, often with Markkanen by their side.
Indeed, while it’s meant a banishment for a Cristiano Felicio, that was undoubtedly the right move by Hoiberg and not a simple decision.
And in terms of off-court and the locker room, Hoiberg’s decision to pretty much do nothing when it came to Portis and Niko (and that attitude leading to the altercation in the first place) was laughed at in these parts...but it’s worked! They’re playing well together, which matters a lot more than their interpersonal relationship.
The shooting threat that rotating Portis, Niko, and Lauri Markkanen together provides is obvious, but it was also obviously going to be a challenge defensively. Stephen Noh at The Athletic credits coaching for making it work on that end too:
The Bulls started the year with a center rotation of Robin Lopez, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio. They used an ultra-aggressive blitzing strategy with Portis and Felicio, which was fairly disastrous. The young players behind them weren't good enough to rotate over quickly enough, and the Bulls gave up a horrendous 1.12 points per possession when trying to trap ball handlers.
The Bulls have glued Felicio to the bench, stopped having Portis blitz as much, and started using much more switching from positions 1 through 4. The insertion of Mirotic into the lineup along with guys like Justin Holiday, Kris Dunn and David Nwaba (or occasionally Paul Zipser) gives the team four reasonably smart defenders that are capable of switching interchangeably between each other.
This is how some of the best defenses are formed.
David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune makes the less-convincing case of crediting Hoiberg for the great locker room harmony. I think it’s actually quite easy for a coach to have a bunch of guys eager for an NBA job to ‘buy in’, and even Hoiberg himself in the past didn’t want to claim credit for ‘coaching effort’. And in general I think the young Bulls confident attitude can be counterproductive when it comes to development. But results have been mixed in that department, which is a lot better than outright terrible. Some of the young Bulls have regressed or remained stagnant, but the confident Bobby Portis and Kris Dunn have improved.
As recently as 2 weeks ago I figured Hoiberg should just get the hell out of here before doing any more damage, and have the Bulls give the reigns to associate head coach Jim Boylen (acknowledging they’re too cheap to pay for another one). It’s the return of Mirotic (who proved to the young confident Bulls that you don’t need to be in the building, right?) and David Nwaba that’s producing results more than Hoiberg. But the win streak is at least showing that Hoiberg may not be actively harmful - keeping in mind that around this time last year his big fix to a floundering team was to DNP Mirotic - as long as he has a bad/young team.