Westerlund: 5 Thoughts From Fred Hoiberg’s Introduction

By Cody Westerlund–

(CBS) The Bulls hired Fred Hoiberg as the 19th coach in franchise history Tuesday in a move that was both expected and one that will provide a drastic culture change after the Tom Thibodeau era.

Here are a few observations after Hoiberg’s introductory press conference and what to expect moving forward.

1. Hoiberg downplayed the extent to which he utilizes analytics a bit during his introduction, but make no mistake. He’s a new-age thinker who will rely heavily on advanced statistics, a guy who loves the corner 3-pointer and disdains the mid-range jumper. At his core, Hoiberg wants layups and 3-pointers to carry his team.

It’s part of his belief system, and he’ll formulate game plans with an eye toward where his players are most effective on the floor.

Hoiberg was known for that at Iowa State, and if you listen to how easily he cited some statistics during his press conference, you can get a sense of his all-encompassing grasp around analytics.

“We absolutely look at analytics,” Hoiberg said. “I think you have to, but it’s not the be all, end all for us. We look at it as a piece. One thing that we did try to do is, I think in our last 75 games, we outscored 61 of those in the paint and again, that’s with small lineups. We also always led the Big 12 in 3-point shooting. We led the nation a couple seasons ago in 3-pointers made and attempted.

“We have tried to eliminate that mid-range shot, but there are certain players that are elite mid-range shooters. So you have to look at the type of player. But nobody on our roster took more than 12 percent of their shots in the mid-range. That’s something we look at very closely.”

The Bulls utilized analytics under Thibodeau as well, but it wasn’t to the extent Hoiberg will go. A highlight of Thibodeau’s reliance on analytics had to do with the practice of his defense running 3-point shooters off the arc, which proved beneficial.

Hoiberg’s reliance will be more detailed, especially offensively.

2. It was a brief comment but one that spoke to Hoiberg’s belief that he can help build a winner in Chicago. Unsolicited, he brought up the NBA’s salary cap, which is expected to jump from $67.1 million in 2015-’16 to around $89 million in 2016-’17 when a mega TV deal kicks in.

That leap will give virtually every big-market team money to sign max-level players.

“I like where the cap is headed,” Hoiberg said. “You go from where it is this year, and it’s going to go up significantly. And I know Chicago’s a great town – hopefully will attract some free agents.”

The Bulls have swung and missed on their prized free-agent targets in recent years, including LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in 2010 and Carmelo Anthony 2014. Perhaps continued success and Hoiberg’s reputation could help the Bulls lure a big-name free agent still in his prime.

3. Hoiberg retired from the NBA in 2006, about a year after he underwent successful heart surgery to correct an enlarged aortic valve. This April, he underwent successful open heart surgery to replace his aortic valve and has recovered well since.

Hoiberg admitted there was danger while coaching Iowa State in the 2014-’15 season, before he had his aortic valve replaced in April, but that recent procedure is considered a long-term fix.

Soon to embark on the rigors of an 82-game schedule again, Hoiberg has been assured his health is fine.

“If there was a danger in me doing this, I wouldn’t have taken this job,” Hoiberg said. “And I said the same thing the first time I got into coaching at Iowa State because of the pressures of any coaching job at any level.

“I’ve got a new, nice mechanical valve. My kids can hear it beat across the room, can hear the clicking. It almost sounds like a cricket chirping in my chest.”

The other scare for Hoiberg was near the end of his NBA career when played with the heart condition, he said, before the diseased tissue was removed. Hoiberg anticipated continuing his playing career after that, but an irregular heartbeat led to a pacemaker being inserted, and he decided at that point that any small risk wasn’t even worth it.

4. No two players on the Bulls roster should be happier with the hiring of Hoiberg than power forward Nikola Mirotic and wing Doug McDermott.

That’s not just because they were rookies last season and Hoiberg is more likely to give the youngsters opportunities than Thibodeau was. Their shared best skill – shooting that can stretch the floor – is an ideal fit for a new coach whose entire offensive system in predicated on spacing the floor.

Hoiberg had already met with Mirotic by the time he was introduced Tuesday, and he and McDermott go way back from their shared connection as Ames natives. McDermott attended the Tuesday press conference.

Because the Bulls will be above the salary cap and pushing the luxury tax line if they re-sign Jimmy Butler in restricted agency as they intend to, their roster will look much the same in 2015-’16.

“A lot of it will be growth within, and that will be a big part of Fred’s job this summer,” Bulls general manager Gar Forman said.

5. Personnel-wise, the biggest conundrum for Hoiberg figures to be how to best utilize Bulls big men Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, who didn’t mesh well last season as Noah played out of position at power forward.

The Gasol-Noah pairing had a +2.8 rating in 2014-’15, which was lower than the pairings of Noah-Mirotic (+4.8), Taj Gibson-Mirotic (+4.8), Gasol-Mirotic (+4.4) and Gasol-Gibson (+3.5). The Noah-Gibson pairing had a -7.4 net rating.

Hoiberg often used small lineups at Iowa State, and he hinted he could do the same in Chicago.

“With this roster, you can have a lot of versatility,” Hoiberg told the Boers and Bernstein Show. “You can play bigger lineups, like the one the Bulls started and try to punish people on the inside.

“Noah, one thing I like most about him is his ability to make plays and Pau has the ability to score from all over the floor. Again, you can play small. You look at the Houston-Golden State series just a couple weeks ago, you had a matchup at the five spot of Draymond Green vs. Terrence Jones. The league’s going to that a little bit, where you play a little bit smaller. Again, I always like to have shooting on the floor, where you have a post-up opportunity, a guy’s not double-teamed or if people collapse down, you can make shots with spacing on the back side of the floor.

“It is something when I go back and watch all the games, which I’m going to start doing (Wednesday) — not only the playoffs, but all 82 of them — and see how we can put these guys on the floor to best utilize their skills sets. And there is a lot of skill with these players. It’s one of the reasons this job was so exciting.”

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.

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