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NBA PM: Why Fred Hoiberg for Bulls?

Chicago reportedly has Fred Hoiberg tagged as their next head coach, who is in some ways an upgrade over Thibodeau…

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Why Fred Hoiberg for the Chicago Bulls?

For months, rumors have swirled that the Chicago Bulls would hire current Iowa State University head coach Fred Hoiberg the moment that Tom Thibodeau was either fired or traded. But now that Thibs has officially packed his things and moved on from the Bulls, the reality of Hoiberg becoming the next head coach of the Bulls really has started to set in.

Obviously Hoiberg hasn’t officially been hired yet, and there is a possibility with his recent heart issues that he could decide the rigors of the NBA aren’t for him (especially considering how cushy his Iowa State gig is), but despite all of that there is a strong belief that he’ll end up manning the sidelines for Chicago next season. Adam Zagoria even suggests that ISU recruits were told from the get-go that The Mayor might not be around for the upcoming NCAA season.

So let’s just assume Hoiberg does get the Bulls’ coaching job. What does he bring to the table, and how is he an upgrade over Thibodeau?

While Hoiberg does present a different set of skills than Thibodeau, namely offensive strengths rather than defensive ones, the biggest reason he makes so much sense as the organization’s next hire, at least in the eyes of the front office, is the likelihood that he’ll work much more symbiotically with team president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman than Thibodeau did.

Hoiberg, after all, has had positive relationships with those guys, dating back to his experience as a player at Iowa State in the ‘90s. At that time, Forman was a member of Tim Floyd’s coaching staff and thus worked closely with Hoiberg as a player on a daily basis. Hoiberg also played for the Chicago Bulls from 1999-2003, a time during which Paxson was announcing Bulls games on radio and TV. Hoiberg is familiar and friendly with both men helming Chicago’s front office, and after clashing so much with Thibodeau, that is one immediate and important culture change. All the kids are happier when Mommy and Daddy aren’t fighting anymore.

This doesn’t mean that Hoiberg is going to be a puppet to the whims of the front office, but he should be considerably more receptive to things like minute limits, which reportedly was a major point of contention between Thibodeau and the front office.

As a coach, Hoiberg is definitely a more easy-going, approachable and personable guy than Thibodeau, which is likely to be a stark change for current Bulls players still on the roster next season. Thibs is a master tactician, especially defensively, but he and his players weren’t all that close on a personal level. They respected the hell out of him professionally, but Joakim Noah is famous for once having said, “If we weren’t winning games, I’d really, really hate you.” That’s not something Hoiberg’s players at Iowa State have ever said about him.

More importantly, though, is the fact that Hoiberg should drastically improve the team’s offense, which was a problem almost the entire time Thibodeau was coach of the team (though, for the record, that arguably was more due to Derrick Rose’s absence than anything Thibodeau was doing as a coach). Hoiberg’s Iowa State teams have been known for getting out in transition and running, which is where Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler have played some of their best basketball together. Hoiberg loves to shoot a lot of threes, which is not only important in today’s NBA, but also plays well for Butler, Tony Snell, Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and Mike Dunleavy, Jr., if he returns. Hoiberg has had a lot of success with small ball and is considered by many to be an extremely bright offensive coach. Considering all that, it certainly seems like his offensive philosophies would transfer well to the NBA.

As far as what happens to Chicago’s defense, it’s hard to see them dropping completely off the map, especially considering the coaching and player personnel. Keeping lead assistant Adrian Griffin in the fold, for example, should help immeasurably. Girffin knows Thibodeau’s defensive rotations and how to enforce them, and assuming he returns to the staff next year (he is still under contract), that could help smooth the transition and help keep Chicago relevant and competitive defensively.

In fact, if Hoiberg does ultimately decline a hypothetical offer for the job, Griffin is a prime candidate to take over head coaching duties, though for now Hoiberg remains the target. However unfair Thibodeau’s firing may have been, there aren’t many people who aren’t sure that this particular new head coaching candidate would be a breath of fresh air for players who frankly might be ready for a new skipper.

Ready or not, they’re about to get one, and for now it sure does seem like that guy will be Fred Hoiberg.

Free-Throws Most Disparaging Difference Between Towns and Okafor

When the Minnesota Timberwolves make their first overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft next month, they will most likely choose between Duke big man Jahlil Okafor and Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns. While there is a laundry list of reasons why a team would select one over the other, Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated recently took a look at both players’ free-throw shooting and was able to point out one of the most glaring differences between the two.

It’s not that either’s charity stripe shooting is a big mystery; Towns shot 81.3 percent from the free-throw line last season, undeniably a strong number for a center, while Okafor shot only 51 percent, which is practically Shaquille O’Neal-like.

What Winn figured out is that among all players 6’11 or taller to have been drafted with the first or second pick since the lottery system was integrated, Towns shows the highest free-throw percentage during his age-19 college season. Okafor, meanwhile, shot the lowest free-throw percentage among those players, and that’s including a 19-year-old Shaquille O’Neal (52.8%) and Hasheem Thabeet (51.3%).

The list then compares that college shooting percentage to career free-throw numbers, and while most players showed some improvement, (only two failed to do so, and O’Neal was one of them), it rarely has been drastic improvement. Only one player who shot under 60 percent during his 19-year-old college season shot over 60 percent as a pro (Marcus Camby), suggesting that if Okafor is bad at free-throws now, he probably always will be.

It’s not unusual that a big man is a sub-par free-throw shooter. Nobody would ever have passed on Tim Duncan just because he shot 68.7 percent from the free-throw line as a college freshman. What’s worth considering here is that no player on the list shot 80 percent or higher in college or the pros, making Towns a unique free-throw shooter among big men and giving him a commanding edge in at least one category as we creep up on the draft in just under a month.

No one is drafting a player just because he nails his free-throws, but 7’0 true big men with a touch are rare. Consider it one more point for those in the camp that believe Towns should be this year’s top overall pick.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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