Hoiberg deserves some credit for getting Bulls this far
One problem with trying to assess a coaching performance, in any sport, is it's easy to surmise how someone else could do a better job, but impossible to prove the theory.
Teams can make a coaching change in midseason, but you'll never be able to place a different coach into the exact same circumstances.
As the Bulls attempt their final sprint for a playoff spot, there's a chance to assess the performance of second-year coach Fred Hoiberg. The Bulls have basically been neck-and-neck with Indiana and Miami for the past few weeks.
Indiana is a good comparison. The Pacers moved one game ahead of the Bulls in the standings on Saturday. They are led by all-star forward Paul George, who has similar numbers to the Bulls' Jimmy Butler.
There's a big difference in the supporting cast, however. Of the Pacers' eight leading scorers this season, seven have been in the league at least seven years. The one exception is second-year center Myles Turner, the No. 11 pick of the 2015 draft.
Even going beyond the top eight, Indiana has more veterans in the rotation, such as Aaron Brooks, Kevin Seraphin and Lavoy Allen. The only other young player who sees time with the Pacers is third-year forward Glen Robinson III, currently out with a calf injury.
The Bulls' roster is a little different. Since the trade deadline, they've used just four veterans regularly -- Butler, Dwyane Wade, Robin Lopez and Rajon Rondo. Filling out the top eight scorers are Nikola Mirotic (third year), Michael Carter-Williams (fourth year), Bobby Portis (second year) and Jerian Grant (second year). Beyond that, the Bulls' other contributors are essentially first- or second-year guys, except for Anthony Morrow and Isaiah Canaan.
Hoiberg and Butler deserve credit for taking the Bulls this far. The Pacers have surrounded George with guys like Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young, C.J. Miles and Monta Ellis. The Bulls have used Grant, Portis and Paul Zipser in the starting lineup.
Most teams with rosters as young as the Bulls are battling for lottery balls. Former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau didn't come close to the playoffs with Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota. Phoenix has enjoyed the rise of Devin Booker, but the Suns are 23-57.
Miami is an example of the new wave in NBA rebuilding -- wait for some of these one-and-dones to go to "graduate school" with some other team, then snap them up when they're finally ready to improve.
Ex-Bull James Johnson and former Thunder shooting guard Dion Waiters have been vital to the Heat's in-season improvement. The Heat's best players, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside, started with other teams.
A couple common traits of the Bulls' younger players are defensive mistakes and wildly inconsistent performances. When the Bulls have played well, they've followed Hoiberg's preferred style of using a fast pace, good ball movement and plenty of 3-pointers. The Bulls are second in the league in 3-point percentage over the last 11 games.
This week, the Bulls will try to claim one of the final playoff spots in the East. It's a modest achievement, but considering the age of the roster and preseason expectations -- a Las Vegas projected win total of 38.5 -- Hoiberg deserves some credit for what the Bulls have accomplished. And with a young roster, they could conceivably trend upward next year.
By beating Orlando and Brooklyn this week at the United Center, the Bulls will clinch a playoff spot. They'd need Indiana to lose to get up to the No. 7 seed. The Bulls would win a tiebreaker with Miami, so as long as they stay even with the Heat, they're in.
"I think everybody knows where we stand," Butler said after Saturday's loss in Brooklyn, according to bulls.com. "Everybody is a grown man in here and I feel like they know that we must win these games if we want to find ourselves in the postseason. Ain't too much to say. We're in this together and that's all."
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Bulls game dayBulls vs. Orlando Magic at the United Center, 7 p.m. Monday
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: WLS 890-AM
Outlook: The task seems simple enough -- win home games against two of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference and the Bulls are in the playoffs. But taking care of business hasn't always been easy for the Bulls this season. They lost in Orlando 98-91 on Mar. 8 after winning the first two meetings. SG Evan Fournier is the Magic's top scorer at 17.3 ppg, followed by C Nikola Vucevic (14.6) and ex-Toronto SF Terrence Ross (13.4). PG Elfrid Payton has 5 triple-doubles in the past month, including one against the Bulls. As of Sunday morning, Orlando (28-52) was tied with Philadelphia for the league's fourth-worst record.
Next: Brooklyn Nets at the United Center on Wednesday, 7 p.m.
-- Mike McGraw