Jan 4, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau reacts during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

An Open Letter to Tom Thibodeau on the Subject of Malcolm Thomas

In light of the Chicago Bulls’ recent injury woes and the subsequent reshuffling of their rotation, there have been some disturbing developments. Most notably, the utter lack of playing time for one Malcolm Thomas, and the over-reliance on one Vladimir Radmanovic. This is a plea to change that.

Mar 13, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors power forward Malcolm Thomas (22) lines up during a free throw against the Detroit Pistons during the fourth quarter at Oracle Arena. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Detroit Pistons 105-97. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Dear Tom Thibodeau,

Thibbsy — may I call you Thibbsy? Actually, that sounds too much like something Mark Hamill’s Joker would say. Never mind. We’ll keep things formal.

Mr. Thibodeau, I very much respect your work as head coach of the Chicago Bulls. Your record speaks for itself in that regard. I do not wish to insinuate that I think you are doing a poor job overall. What I would like, however, is to discuss one particular aspect of your rotation — and tangentially a tenet of your coaching philosophy — that has concerned me of late.

I attended last night’s game against the Detroit Pistons. I sat in the crowd and watched as your Bulls struggled to even hang with a clearly inferior team. Now, to be sure, these things happen even to the best teams. My quibble is not that you lost, it is how. And how you arrived at your decision to play one Vladimir Radmanovic for 15 minutes and Malcolm Thomas but one minute.

Now, I know why you did that: You did it because Thomas, as a relatively young player and recent addition, is less familiar with your complex defensive system — and to a lesser extent, your offensive playbook — and because Radmanovic is theoretically a better offensive player.

But let’s examine those statements. We’ll start with the latter, since I’m not even sure it plays that big a role in your decision-making process anyway and it’s fairly easy to debunk either way. Radmanovic’s offensive value lies in his shooting, something your team is undoubtedly in desperate need of. Two problems: One, that’s literally the only thing he provides, as his rebounding and passing are below-average at best. And two, he can’t make anything this year. He’s shooting 31 percent from the floor and 20.8 percent from three on the season. He was 1/5 from the field last night, and that one make came on a tip-in after he bricked an uncontested layup. He finished with four points. Coincidentally, Mr. Thomas also scored four points, and he did so in 14 fewer minutes and on four fewer shot attempts.

The issue of defense, however, is one I fully understand and therefore appreciate your reluctance to cede time to Mr. Thomas for this reason. You  have shown, in your two years in Chicago, an extreme reluctance to play younger players who are less familiar with the intricacies of your system. Jimmy Butler barely got off the pine last year, and he was a quality one-on-one defender from day one. Marquis Teague has similarly lacked for floor time this season, except when absolutely necessary, and it’s not hard to figure out why — his struggles defensively are readily apparent to even the casual observer.

Having said all that, let us examine Mr. Thomas himself. Malcolm Thomas is slightly undersized, but long and athletic. He strikes me as a homeless man’s Taj Gibson in this respect. I, of course, am not saying that Mr. Thomas is anywhere near Taj’s level at this point — that would be absurd. What I am saying, however, is that Mr. Thomas makes Mr. Radmanovic look like the old, slow white dude he is. VladRad is, undoubtedly, significantly more familiar with the rules and subtleties of your excellent defense. He is also undoubtedly a terrible defensive player. I realize you’re short on options in your frontcourt, between Gibson’s absence and the restrictions in place for Joakim Noah, but I don’t see how you could possibly have thought a VladRad-Carlos Boozer pairing would end in anything but disaster. Can I guarantee putting Thomas in VladRad’s place would have gone better? No, but I don’t see how it could possibly be any worse.

Here’s my point: I know Thomas’s lack of experience in your system gives you pause, but I also know that Vladimir Radmanovic is in no way even a replacement-level NBA player in 2013. Please, for the love of all that is holy, grant us a reprieve from Radmanovic and give Malcolm Thomas a chance.


Caleb Nordgren
Editor, Pippen Ain’t Easy

P.S. Would you tell Jimmy to keep being awesome, please? Appreciate it.

P.P.S. Tell Malcolm I appreciate the shoutout.

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Tags: Chicago Bulls Malcolm Thomas Taj Gibson Tom Thibodeau

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