New Orleans Pelicans Head Coach Tournament: Tom Thibodeau vs. Scott Brooks

Published: May 21, 2015

The Case for Tom Thibodeau

By: Ryan Schwan

Thibodeau has caught a lot of flack the past couple years.  The Bulls, once a serious contender out east, have slid towards mediocrity from a crazy high back at the start of the decade.  Mostly, that is due to injury issues and a slow erosion of his team’s supporting staff. (Until this year, when Boozer went away and gave them some flexability again)  There is a narrative, however, that Thibodeau is the ultimate source of all the Bulls woes.  That his grinding, shouting, relentless personality and long minutes has bit by bit turned his players to hamburger, their ACLs to mush, and their mental faculties to pudding.  The theory has been popularized that he forces his team to play 100% all season long, and they have no more percentages to expend in the playoffs – while the coaches of other teams excrete percentage points from their posteriors and make the Bulls look silly.

That’s a theory.

Or there’s reality – which shows that Thibodeau gives big minutes to one player a season – and the rest of his rotations usually sit at 30-32 minutes, which is normal.  And that both times he’s coached a monster contender – he either had a major injury in the playoffs or ran into LeBron James and the Heat in the conference finals – hardly a disgrace.

But really, I don’t even want to focus on that.  I want to focus on one thing.  The Pelicans are slightly above average team.  They need to make the leap from average to great. 

And Thibodeau has already proven he could do that.

Thibodeau took over a 41-41 Bulls team and was gifted with new additions Carlos Boozer and rookie Omer Asik.  The result? The team went from the 27th ranked offense and 11th ranked defense to the 11th ranked offense and top defense in the league.  They went from a negative point differential to a +7.3.   He took ordinary and made it exceptional and he’s maintained much of it as the team has dealth with real turmoil.

He’s been an assistant coach or head coach on a top 10 defense in this league 15 times.  He’s been a coach for premier organizations – The Spurs, Rockets, Celtics, Chicago, and Team USA.  He’s respected around the league, and there’s an entire premier defensive system credited to him and him alone.

The guys a monster, and he’s already proven he can take a middle of the road team and make it matter, while greatly improving what is this team’s biggest weakness.  I don’t think there could be a more obvious choice for this squad than Thibodeau.  Don’t you?

The Case for Scott Brooks

By: Michael McNamara

Brooks was in the ultimate lose-lose situation in Oklahoma City, and he eventually became a punching bag for criticism when the Thunder didn’t break through. But, didn’t he help develop 3 of the top 6 NBA players in the world? Didn’t he help Serge Ibaka go from a raw piece of clay into one of the best defensive players on the planet, and an underrated offensive weapon? Didn’t Enes Kanter go from frustrating solid big man to a Norse God in his 3 months there? And isn’t it possible that we can be talking about Scott Brooks as a multiple time champion if not for some terrible injury luck these last few years?

Brooks, like most coaches who have been in such a high profile position, is not as flawed as some would have you believe. He is given the brunt of the criticism when something goes wrong, and when something goes well, all the praise is heaped on his players. Supposedly, he is flawed when it comes to X’s and O’s, and he can’t get the most out of his players, but with a roster that was no better than middle of the pack at best when KD and Ibaka went down, his team put up 109.9 points per game after the All-Star break, so he has to know a little bit about offense.

And the two years prior to this one, with a relatively healthy squad, produced a defense that was 4th in the league over that span. With regard to individual defenders, Ibaka was elite and Sefolosha was very good, but it is not like his teams were stacked personnel wise on that side of the ball, yet Brooks got them to be ultra effective. The bulk of the criticism seems to come from playing Kendrick Perkins too much, starting with the 2012 Finals against Miami. The analytical data says that the Thunder were much worse with him on the floor, and while Miami was on the floor, they should have probably played Nick Collison more. And maybe they should have, but sometimes coaches need to learn too and Brooks eventually did, though it was too late in that Miami series.

From then on, he played Perkins less and les, dropping his minutes from 26 in his first two years down to 19 in his final two seasons. The Thunder got him more athletic and skilled centers in Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, and both have taken off in the Thunder’s system. Remember, Adams was considered a project who hadn’t produced at all in college when OKC took him. Banter, meanwhile, had averaged 9.3 points per game in Utah; He put up 18.7 ppg in 26 games with the Thunder.

Now we can heap all the praise on the players, and only mention Brooks when it is time to look for a scapegoat, but there are just too many players who are developing in OKC to think it is a coincidence. He has gotten buy in from his stars on both sides of the ball, and won at a tremendous clip. Not to put down Thibodeau in any way, but when people cite him as the guy who the Pelicans need to target because of his track record, I can’t help but wonder why Brooks isn’t in the same conversation.

Thibodeau has a slightly higher regular season winning percentage (.647 to .620), but there is a huge gap in playoff win percentage in favor of Brooks (.534 to .451). And let’s not forget, only one of these guys coached in a real NBA conference. In fact, if you look at Thibodeau’s win percentage against the West (.550), it isn’t nearly as impressive. And in the last three years (.455), it has been downright horrible. So, if you actually want to make the argument that the Pelicans should go after the guy. Brooks teams have consistently won against Western Conference teams and playoff teams. Thibodeau has done neither of those things. Heck, Brooks won against Western Conference teams IN the playoffs.

Look, I don’t know if either of these guys tickle your fancy, but I don’t know how Thibodeau is considered this coach with an impressive resume, when Brooks has a better one on paper. You can argue that Brooks has had more talent, and he probably has up until this season, but he has had major injury issues too. He won a playoff series without Russell Westbrook – again, in the real conference. And this year, he had far less talent than Thibodeau, yet probably did a better job all things considered. He has made mistakes, but he seems to have learned from them, and has a track record for developing guys and being able to produce successful units on both ends of the floor.

Finally, he is found and seems to get the love from his players. He doesn’t wear on them mentally and run them into the ground physically. If you want to give a guy who has had success another shot, give it to Brooks.

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