As each games passes, it’s becoming harder to defend Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg.
Last season, one could point to Hoiberg’s inexperience as coach, as well as an ageing and ill-fitting roster as the cause of many concerns. Any communication issues that existed between coach and player could easily be justified as a rookie mentor still learning to adjust to life in the pros. Tailoring messages, personnel decisions and offensive schemes was always going to take time, but as it has passed, so too has the legitimacy of many of the defenses used in favor of Hoiberg.
Now, well into his second year as head coach and showing limited sign of improvement, previously tolerated imperfections are now being interpreted as irreversible faults.
As was the case in year one of the Hoiberg era, he has unfairly been given a roster that meets the demands of modern NBA basketball. Management haven’t provided Hoiberg with an adequate solution at point guard, too few shooting options on the perimeter, and a bench full of young, inexperienced projects that have failed to meet their draft hype.
Though this is true, it doesn’t excuse any odd decisions made by Hoiberg with his rotation, nor does it begin to explain the rising frequency of these peculiar choices.
The best example of Hoiberg’s indecisive nature has been is handling of Bulls’ point guard dilemma.
Jerian Grant is now the starting point guard for the Bulls. Prior to his promotion, he was rooted to the end of the bench, collecting DNPs and playing spot minutes in blowouts. Grant, for some reason, has now traded in his third-string role with Michael Carter-Williams, the team’s previous starter, leaving Rajon Rondo as the backup point guard.
In isolation, this rotation shake up may not seem abnormal — after all, changes to roles are bound to occur. However, given Carter-Williams had usurped Rondo as the team’s starting point guard only a month earlier, what triggered such a dramatic shift in Hoiberg’s mind to move Carter-Williams into the starting unit, only to have him cast aside completely 12 games later?
More pertinently, what has Grant shown to the coaching staff in his limited minutes that has propelled him deep from the bench, to ahead of Carter-Williams and Rondo?
Nothing, is the answer. Grant wasn’t playing for a reason: he’s isn’t very good. The same could easily be argued of Rondo and Carter-Williams. But at some point, Hoiberg has to establish a hierarchy at point guard instead of a revolving door, even if his options are less than satisfactory. To date, he hasn’t done that.
While the Bulls’ poor point guard rotation may be the catalyst for Hoiberg’s hesitancy in settling for a long-term solution, rashly shuffling every guard through starting and backup roles — and at times, not playing them at all — creates an uncertain dynamic for players.
Making matters worse, the players affected by Hoiberg’s impulsive adjustments were unaware their roles were likely to change. Carter-Williams didn’t see his demotion coming. Rondo didn’t receive an adequate explanation for his time in the coaching doghouse. The players were not told — or didn’t understand — why changes were necessary, which is damning, given Hoiberg was sold as a natural leader and great communicator.
Coaching indecision and poor communication has made a weak position even more susceptible to opposition punishment. Grant starting at point guard may ultimately be the correct decision, but the process employed in getting to this point has been comical.
As have the rotational changes in the frontcourt.
Bobby Portis went from playing out of position and ahead of Cristiano Felicio as the team’s backup center, to not playing at all, to starting at power forward for the injured Taj Gibson.
Paul Zipser had played 57 career minutes prior to being named a starter against the New York Knicks, playing 34 minutes and guarding Carmelo Anthony for the majority of the game. Zipser has since remained in the rotation, leaping in front of former first-round pick Doug McDermott as the team’s first player off the bench.
McDermott’s changing role has seen his minutes reduced while spending more time at shooting guard, forcing rookie Denzel Valentine into the Bulls’ D-League affiliate, the Windy City Bulls.
Clearly, Hoiberg has become a coach desperate for a solution. In hope of finding it, he is ultimately only adding to the list of growing problems the Bulls face. For every wise decision made, several stranges ones follow. He has been his own counter, defeating himself with odd lineups that have been concocted on the fly.
While defending his actions has become difficult, I do empathize with Hoiberg. He didn’t sign up for this roster. He wasn’t brought here to coach a team incapable of producing a median-level offense. He isn’t responsible for the macro issues surrounding the Bulls.
He is, however, responsible for game-to-game matters. That is his domain, and he’s continually making it worse.