This is not Fred Hoiberg’s mess.
Actually, on the blame-game scale, Hoiberg falls a comfortable fourth behind front office, ownership, and players.
Unfortunately for the first-year Bulls coach it’s his clean-up job.
Forget the ugly 27-25 record that stares out from Hoiberg’s resume so far. The once very defensive-minded Bulls entered the All-Star Break tied for 10th in defensive efficiency, and even more unsettling, were 26th in offensive efficiency.
Considering the front office publicly – and unfairly – questioned the offensive aptitude of former coach Tom Thibodeau, all but guaranteeing improvements in that department, it’s a bad look for everyone involved right about now.
Coincidentally, in Thibodeau’s final season in the coaching chair, the Bulls finished 10th in offensive efficiency. But who’s keeping score?
One positive Hoiberg has going for him as the second half starts up is “player confidence’’ isn’t a stat, because this Bulls team would lead the league in hanging heads right about now. Losers of four-straight games, including a 5-13 record over their last 18 games, as well as allowing 100-points or more in seven-straight games, let’s all agree that there’s not a lot of momentum coming out of the Break.
It doesn’t help that they open up Thursday in Cleveland and then come home to play a back-to-back against Toronto the next night.
Oh and by the way, no Jimmy Butler (left knee) for at least a few more weeks, a big who knows surrounding Nikola Mirotic’s return from two surgeries (appendicitis and hematoma), and Joakim Noah out for the season following shoulder surgery.
Go get ‘em boys!
In other words, Hoiberg’s coaching chops are going to be tested.
“It’s been difficult,’’ Hoiberg said of all the injuries to hit the roster this season. “Nobody feels sorry for us. And we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. You do that and teams pounce all over you. And it gets ugly.
“When you’re struggling a little bit, it is human nature when you get off to a slow start is to put your head down. We can’t afford to do that.’’
Getting healthy and getting some swag back is a good starting point for this fixer-upper, but by no means a catapult to Eastern Conference dominance.
It all has to start on the defensive end for this team, and buying back into that DNA that was passed from Thibodeau, even showing up frequently earlier this season.
The pick-and-roll defense, especially when it’s Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose, has never been stellar, but it’s been flat-out atrocious recently.
That’s will and physicality just as much as the strategy of going over the screen, under the screen and hedging.
If it continues to be a problem, especially late in games, Hoiberg has to be more willing to sit Gasol and take at least one of the problems out of the equation.
This won’t solve all the defensive liabilities hitting this team lately, but it’s a big one.
Offensively, Hoiberg has admittedly dummy-downed the playbook this season, stressing pace and spacing. The problem, however, is the two best offensive weapons in Butler and Rose are both isolation players, and want to sink back into that mentality late in games.
Hoiberg discussed it last week, and while he knows isolation is what fuels Rose and Butler, neither needs to let the shot clock tick down to seven or less before attacking. There’s no rule against going iso with 12 seconds left, allowing a kick-out pass for an open three with time to spare.
If Hoiberg can fix those major flaws, who knows? But it’s definitely his to have to fix.