NBA Top 5 Coaches: No.3 – Tom Thibodeau

Modified 26 Nov 2012

Derrick Rose: “I’ve never played for a coach who was that focused. There’s nothing else—no kids, no wife, no leisure time to watch TV. I’m dead serious. There’s nothing else going on. I’ve never heard about Thibs being out eating. I never ran into him eating anywhere. I’ve never been around a coach like him.”

That is the coach who is number 3 on our list of Top 5 Coaches in the NBA, Tom Thibodeau. In his first season as a head coach, Tom Thibodeau guided the Bulls to an NBA-best 62-20 (.756) record and earned the top seed in the playoffs. That may seem like beginner’s luck. The truth is far from that. If there was a coach in the NBA who has paid his dues to get to where he is, it’s Tom Thibodeau. Phil Jackson philanders with the owner’s daughter but that’s another story. Tom Thibodeau was an assistant coach in the NBA for over 20 years. And he’s been cementing his reputation with his persistence and hard work since then. In 2010, that bore fruit as he was hired as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls.


Jeff Van Gundy said: “One day I asked him about individual defense, and he started breaking down the stance on the ball, where your hand position should be, how far you should retreat after a jab step. He gave me a doctoral paper on it. He made me feel bad about my own level of knowledge.”

Look up defense in the dictionary. It’ll have a definition of the word defense, but it ought to be accompanied with an illustration of Tom Thibodeau. Want to know how good the defense gets with Thibodeau?

In 2000–01, the Knicks set an NBA shot-clock-era record by holding 33 consecutive opponents to fewer than 100 points. Tom Thibodeau was the assistant coach.

Remember when Chris Bosh set a record for worst shooting percentage in over 38 years by a player with that many attempts going 1 for 18?

That was vs the Bulls.

Remember the meltdown between Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams? When Williams ignored the play called by Sloan because he was frustrated with the defense being played versus him?

That was vs the Bulls again.

Remember when Pacers coach Jim O’Brien was fired a game after his team was held to just 17 points in the fourth quarter?

Bulls. Ditto.

How is Thibodeau’s defense so effective? Ask the White Mamba, Scalabrine: “He figures out what guys do to get themselves going, and then he tries to take that away through adjustments. says. It’s psychological warfare.”

For instance, LeBron James likes to get his teammates involved in games before he gets going himself. So what does Thibodeau do? He looses off of doubling James early in a game so he can’t get his teammates going. How many coaches go to such lengths to rattle their opponents?

When Thibodeau won coach of the year, Chicago had held opponents under their scoring average 59 times, going 52-7 in those games; and to 85 or fewer points an NBA-best 29 times (27-2).

Tom Thibodeau has a Midas touch when it comes to defense. And that is because he gets the players to buy into his system. Players listen to him and pay attention when he directs them. Thibodeau is committed to basketball as much as anything else in his life. And the players follow his example.


Wouldn’t you if your coach was in your face over every missed assignment on defense?


“How often did you watch us this year and think, They didn’t play hard tonight? That’s because of Thibs. We see how much he pours into it.”- Luol Deng.

The best defensive coach in the NBA wasn’t always known for his defense. Ironically, Coach Thibodeau was famously known as a chucker when he used to play basketball. What he has always been known for is his passion for the game. Tom is probably the most obsessive basketball coach in the NBA.

John Galaris, Thibodeau’s boss and the athletic director at Salem State, said Thibodeau told him, “There’s no room in my life for a woman if I’m going to be a basketball coach.”

Thibodeau made a ritual of watching and breaking down game videos and analyzing the clips over and over again. He knows the game inside out and still keeps obsessing over ways to improve his knowledge of the game. So much so that he was often overlooked as someone who is a little dispassionate about life outside basketball. Jeff Van Gundy has said: “It would have been like having a coaching draft and someone with the talent of Anthony Davis going undrafted every year. That’s how good Tom was. This guy is not a drone. This guy is passionate.”

Tales abound of Thibodeau slaving day and night obsessing, perfecting, innovating, learning and doing anything and everything to get better at coaching basketball. And his indomitable will is respected by his players leading them to follow his directions.

When someone who is as passionate about defense as Kevin Garnett endorses you, you know you are legit: “Coach is real animated. He’s real emotional. He’s real energetic,” said Garnett. “That’s what type of defense we try to go out and have. It’s an energetic, consistent defense. It’s a talkative defense, and when you see him on the side, those are the things that he’s put in for us to try to go and carry over to the court.”

Check out an example of the defense of the Bulls vs the Suns:

Every single player is committed to covering his responsibility. The players switch assignments seamlessly and seemingly communicate telepathically. Thibodeau is one of the handful of coaches whose players often practice defense more than offense. Getting NBA players to do that requires you to command tremendous respect. This man does that. In the NBA, the coaches make less than the players and are seen as more transit than the players. In that league, Thibodeau commands respect.

The Bulls are 6-6 right now. Without Derrick Rose, the burden has fallen on the rest of the players and more so on the coach to keep the ship afloat until Rose can make his comeback. With their backs to the wall, the Bulls have to now get the most out of their potential through teamwork and good coaching. Trust Thibodeau to squeeze every last drop out of them.

Here’s a simple and quick analysis into the mindset of Tom Thibodeau:

Check back in two days for who is number two on the list.

Read more on the Top 5 Coaches in NBA here.

Published 26 Nov 2012
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