Why Bulls Head Coach Fred Hoiberg Is Making Progress Despite Poor Record

    It’s been a rough start to the season for the Bulls, but there are underlying signs of progress despite a 4-13 record entering Thanksgiving week. Although

    November 19, 2018

    It’s been a rough start to the season for the Bulls, but there are underlying signs of progress despite a 4-13 record entering Thanksgiving week.

    Although it may appear Bulls Head Coach Fred Hoiberg is on the hot seat, Chicago’s front office has repeatedly said the coach will be judged on player development as opposed to wins and losses. In a preseason interview with The Chicago Tribune, Bulls President and COO Michael Reinsdorf expressed the same sentiment when talking about Hoiberg’s future.

    “From my perspective, Fred has developed into a really good coach,” Reinsdorf told the Tribune. “He has a five-year deal. This is year four.”

    Recent gut-wrenching losses to the Bucks and Raptors in a back-to-back set won’t provide confidence for Bulls fans, but Chicago’s young players have shown signs of growth during an otherwise lackluster start.

    Zach LaVine has come back to Earth after a strong start shooting the ball, but has maintained his scoring rate. “If I’m not getting 25 or 30 (points), it’s not looking very good,” LaVine told The Chicago Tribune after a recent loss. The Bulls are 3-5 when LaVine scores more than 25 points. They’re 1-8 when he falls below that mark, excluding the game he missed against Toronto.

    “We look tired. I think that we still fought,” LaVine said after watching the contest against Toronto from afar. “It’s tough to go out there shorthanded. We still fought, we’re not giving in. “It might’ve been an ugly game but at the end of the day I know that we’re still competing and going out there to win.”

    LaVine’s defensive rating has improved to 106 in eight November contests from his 117 mark in October, according to basketball-reference.com. He’s been less efficient offensively, but his rebounding and assist numbers are going up. LaVine is developing into more of a creator than just a pure scorer.

    The most promising progressions have come from Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison, Chicago’s two first-round picks from the 2018 draft. Here are their raw splits from October and the first half of November.

    Wendell Carter Jr. Points FG% Rebounds
    October 10.8 43.6 6.3
    November (through Nov. 19) 11.8 49.4 8.4
    Chandler Hutchison Points FG% Rebounds
    October 3.7 41.7 3.6
    November (through Nov. 19) 6.1 43.8 4.3

    Both players have seen their defensive metrics improve as well. Carter’s defensive rating improved by 12 points and Hutchison’s by 13. Hoiberg said he’s seen other positive qualities in Carter, who is the more prized prospect.

    “I think a lot of times those young players – those rookies – come into the league and they don’t want to overstep their bounds, they come in and just try to fall in line. But what I’ve seen out of Wendell is when things need to be said he’s not afraid to step up and do it,” Hoiberg said.

    “When you see a guy like that, a 19-year-old who can come in and not afraid to step up and say something, that’s a great quality to have.”

    The Bulls have had to adjust their style early in the season due to injuries to Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen. As both players appear closer to returning, Chicago can finally evaluate all its parts.

    “The last two years, we haven’t had a full roster,” LaVine said on the difficulty of Hoiberg’s situation. “It’s got to be tough on him [Hoiberg] too.” LaVine appeared in just 24 games last season while recovering from an ACL injury.

    Markkanen’s return in particular should help the Bulls offensively. Chicago is currently 17th in the league in pace after finishing ninth a season ago, despite a small increase in raw possessions per game.

    “He’s such a versatile player and with the added strength and the added size,” Hoiberg said of Markkanen. “Hopefully, he’ll be more effective this year with that added size and bulk.”

    LaVine, Carter and the rest of Chicago’s cast will benefit offensively once Dunn and Markkanen return. His ability to stretch the floor will open up lanes to the basket, something Dunn and LaVine will welcome.

    The Bulls can’t effectively evaluate Hoiberg or any of their core players until the full roster comes together, but small signs of progress from their two prized rookies should provide some confidence. If Hoiberg is truly going to be judged on player development, he’s on his way to doing that well.

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