Chicago Bulls: Has Jim Boylen been improving as a coach?

(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /

Chicago Bulls head coach Jim Boylen got off to a rough start in his head coaching career. Has he shown any signs of improvement lately?

Chicago Bulls head coach Jim Boylen was heavily scrutinized at the beginning of his head coaching tenure – and rightfully so. He took over the job mid-season and didn’t do it gracefully. He’s showing signs of improvement, though, as this season goes on.

Was Fred Hoiberg the right guy for the Bulls’ job? We’ll never know. He was dealt a bad hand, but he didn’t do much with the hand he was dealt. If the Bulls weren’t plagued by injuries, maybe he would’ve been able to prove himself. But like I said, we’ll probably never know.

Once Jim Boylen took over on December 3, though, it definitely seemed like he wasn’t the right guy for the job.

From running an archaic offensive system to making the players practice ridiculously hard, it was pretty clear that Boylen didn’t understand how today’s NBA works. It’s the era of player empowerment (this is a good thing, by the way). Finding a good head coach is just as much about how the players react to his/her personality as it is about the Xs and Os.

You could be the most brilliant head coach in basketball, but if the players don’t like you, you won’t last long. Likewise, you could be the most player-friendly head coach ever, but if you don’t understand effective pick-and-roll coverage and how to make adjustments mid-game, then you’re career won’t last long.

Boylen initially seemed like the type of head coach that wasn’t brilliant with the Xs and Os and also didn’t have the respect of the players. He’s slowly been proving me wrong, though. He’s actually made some decent adjustments and changed his philosophy.

Should Jabari Parker have been playing more before he got traded? Absolutely. That’s one of the biggest blemishes on Boylen’s short head coaching resume. But take away Boylen’s relationship with Jabari and a few blowout losses, and the Bulls have had some moments where they looked like a competent NBA team.

I know “competent” shouldn’t be something to be excited about, but unfortunately, that’s where we are as Bulls fans. Competent is a good thing. That’s the current state of this franchise.

After acquiring Otto Porter Jr. in a trade, the Bulls had a lot more opportunities to be unique and creative with lineup combinations. “Unique and creative” aren’t how I would normally describe Jim Boylen’s offensive style, though, so I wasn’t sure he’d do anything too cool with Otto.

I was wrong, though. It’s only been two games, but Boylen seems to have found a nice small-ball lineup that finally fits the current style of basketball being played in the NBA.

Boylen’s small-ball lineup consists of Kris Dunn (or Ryan Arcidiacono), Zach LaVine, Wayne Selden Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and Lauri Markkanen. That’s by far the most versatile and athletic five-man lineup the Bulls have had in a long time. It’s been an absolute treat to watch.

The small-ball lineup (with Dunn, not Arch) has an unbelievable offensive rating of 132.4. It’s important to note the small sample size (only 14 minutes), but this lineup has shown Bulls fans enough to at least give them some hope.

What’s even more encouraging is how well Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr. have played together. In their 61 minutes of shared floor time, they have a 127.4 offensive rating. That’s incredibly good. The defense hasn’t been great (or even good) for the majority of those 61 minutes, but that will come. The net rating was positive (8.0), so that’s all that really matters.

Jim Boylen wasn’t doing anything extraordinary by experimenting with a small-ball lineup – most coaches in today’s NBA do that – but he still deserves some credit for branching out of his comfort zone and trying something new.

And hey, it worked!

Let’s be clear, though: Boylen has a ton of things he still needs to get better at. One of the most frustrating things he does is consistently burn timeouts too early. I know coaching a young team can be frustrating, but he has to learn how to manage his timeouts better. The Bulls are consistently stuck in late-game scenarios with only one timeout – they need to have two.

Next. 3 buyout options worth pursuing. dark

Yes, Boylen still has a lot to work on before he can be considered a good head coach. Heck, he has a lot to work on before I can be convinced that he should spend another season on the Bulls’ coaching staff. But if he can continue to learn from his mistakes and adjust to the modern style of basketball, he might just have a future with this team.