Attending the Chicago Bulls vs. Philadelphia 76ers game the other night, I witnessed multiple Fred Hoiberg coaching moments probably not caught on camera. His patient approach is unique in the NBA, but often goes unnoticed, because well, who’s going to put a camera on him reasoning with Cameron Payne calmly?
Who’s going to analyze Hoiberg’s surprisingly deep postgame interview answers, filled with only praise for his players? Or comment on his minor decision to sit Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen, and Zach LaVine for one extra minute while the bench was performing well?
For the most part, not Bulls fans. They have *quietly* accepted Hoiberg as the coach of the rebuild, after months where many called for his firing. It’s almost as if past critics feel bad about trashing him, so now they just ignore him. After all, it’s way more fun to discuss Chicago’s exciting new young core.
So while he may not be a matter of concern for many Bulls fans, Hoiberg is currently contributing a lot towards the rebuild. Through his patience and positivity, the Bulls young players are able to grow confidently, without distraction, and with support.
Hoiberg, unlike a good portion of other coaches, knows what it’s like to be a young NBA player. He also knows what it’s like to manage even younger players, having coached at Iowa State for five years, ending their NCAA tournament drought and posting a stellar .673 winning percentage over his tenure. Clearly, Hoiberg has a lot of experience with young basketball players, both as a player and coach.
Undoubtedly, that experience has shaped him into the coach he is today. It’s probably the reason why he is as calm, patient, and optimistic as he is. Even if you dismiss my explanation for his demeanor, it’s almost impossible to deny that that demeanor best fits a young team.
First, Chicago’s youthful core will require a lot of learning and experience to truly progress, and Hoiberg’s mannerisms foster a good learning environment. A learning environment where you can make mistakes and be coached about them, rather than yelled for them. And God knows the Bulls make a lot of mistakes.
Next, Hoiberg rarely centers on the negatives with his players, an aspect illustrated in his interviews. Leaving the 76ers game, all I could think about was how bad I felt for Bobby Portis, who played amazing, yelled “I’m getting 40,” then proceeded to his miss his last three shots, each of which would have won the game and given him 40 points. When asked about Portis post-game, Hoiberg only mentioned his great play. He didn’t even bring up the last three misses, not even to say something like “I felt bad for the way he ended,” or “he deserved those last two points.”
By avoiding that, Hoiberg sends the message to Portis that he wasn’t even dwelling on Bobby’s poor finish, rather, he only cared about his exciting positives from the night. It may be a small thing, but all the supportive small things Hoiberg does builds an overall optimism that spreads through the team, inspiring confidence.
Moving along, patience with Hoiberg is not just a verbal practice. Often, he’s very flexible with playing time, leaving guys in who are performing well. Portis and David Nwaba, who don’t average a lot of minutes, were Chicago’s two best players against Philadelphia. Can you guess which two players got the most minutes? Portis and Nwaba.
Like I mentioned before, after Dunn, Markkanen, and LaVine all started walking to halfcourt to enter the game in the fourth quarter, Hoiberg ordered them to remain on the bench, as the five on the floor were playing well. Decisions like that give supporting players confidence, knowing their coach will sit his best players to keep others in.
Finally, Hoiberg doesn’t force an identity on his team. Fans came in hearing about his fast-pace offensive style, but that isn’t Chicago’s calling card. After all, the NBA has trended in that direction as a whole. In fact, the Bulls rank fifteenth in fast break points per game.
This allows the maturing roster to find their own identity over the years as the current guys grow and new draftees join the team. Under Tom Thibodeau, it would have been defense or die.
Though I have a lot of praise for Hoiberg in this article, I acknowledge that he wasn’t a very effective coach the past two years. The Bulls underperformed for their talent level, which can usually be attributed to coaching.
However, that was a completely different Bulls squad. There, Hoiberg inherited a much older group trying to make it far in the playoffs.
Now, with two years of experience under his belt, Hoiberg manages a younger, more flexible roster, that fits his coaching style much better. Predicting failure from Hoiberg over these next few years because it happened in the last two is completely unreasonable given the vastly different situations.
Still, after four years of playing and two years of coaching in Chicago, Fred Hoiberg hasn’t made much progress on building a legacy in the Windy City. But that’s ok.
His opportunity starts this year, and he deserves a chance to prove what he can do with a talented young team. Looking at this season to date, Bulls fans have every reason to be confident in that team—and their coach.