He’s The Mayor here in Ames, but as the coach of the Bulls he’s a rookie who needs to prove himself to the seasoned professionals he’s there to lead. When Jimmy Butler, who has emerged this season as the team’s best player and No. 1 option, called out Fred Hoiberg in the media last week saying that the team may need to be “coached a lot harder at times,” he put the rookie in a potentially hazardous position. The last thing a new coach needs is the perception among players that he’s not the final word in the locker room or that the players aren’t buying into the “laid back” (to use Butler’s phrase) approach that Fred embraces in his communication.
But instead, Fred’s response to the public flap showed respect for Jimmy and also a willingness to approach challenges head-on and embrace them. Hoiberg called Jimmy to his office where they had a long discussion on leadership. Both Jimmy and Fred spoke to the media afterward and expressed respect for the other, with both taking responsibility for working harder and playing better. But the real proof of having embraced the challenge isn’t their statements, it’s the six game winning streak they are on now.
Plus, the win streak has come right as the Bulls are showing signs of really running Fred’s system of up-tempo play that seeks to put players into transition and let them make plays on the fly, rather than deliberately going into sets and running lots of pick and rolls all the time. Rose has gotten some of his legs back and has been able to run. That’s been giving Jimmy and Pau easy transition buckets, according to plan. The fact that players are buying into Fred’s system is the strongest indicator that he negotiated his first major coaching test effectively and did not lose the locker room at all.
Indeed, Jimmy was wise to assert himself as the voice of the team — even if his manner of doing so was a bit awkward, as evidenced by the dust-up — because with Rose struggling in his comeback year and Joakim Noah coming (grudgingly) off the bench, there is a distinct leadership vacuum on the team. Now it’s up to Jimmy, as team leader, and Fred, as coach, to work together to maintain a consistent, attacking style of play and keep winning games.
HARRISON BARNES RETURNS TO WARRIORS’ LINEUP
By resting Barnes for nearly a month after his high ankle sprain, the Warriors showed that they are going to be willing to rest players as needed this season rather than rushing them back to try to vie for a 72 win season or other historic goals. Yet, even in Barnes’ absence the Warriors won all but one of their games. Remember that Barnes is an integral part of their starting lineup; he stretches the floor with his ability to make threes and is a member of the famed “Lineup of Death” that the Warriors have employed this season to close games. He returned against the Hornets on Monday and had a solid game, contributing to their win with a fourth quarter bucket that put the Warriors up by ten and put the lead out of reach. I’ve noticed this year in general that Barnes often comes up big in the fourth quarter. He has a way of hitting dagger threes that put the game away or that put the Warriors back within striking distance.
HORNACEK’S LEADERSHIP UNDER SCRUTINY AS SUNS SKID (AND LOSE TO LAKERS)
The Suns are one of the more surprising disappointments this year because the acquisition of veteran and champion Tyson Chandler and the rapidly improving play of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight seemed to be a formula for at least a run at a playoff spot. Instead, they are one of the worst teams in the NBA and play with a total lack of focus and effort lately. A lot has been made of a bizarre episode in which the publicly disgruntled Markieff Morris (whose twin, Marcus, was traded, which made him sad) threw a towel at Suns coach (and Iowa State legend) Jeff Hornacek, apparently out of frustration. A few days later, two of the Suns’ assistant coaches were fired and then the team’s owner Robert Sarver made some much-laughed-at comments attributing the team’s issues to “millennial culture.” It is widely perceived that Hornacek’s job is in jeopardy and that the players are not listening to him. First step, though, is to trade Markieff Morris. Both sides want it and it will immediately take a major chilling factor out of the locker room.
DOUG McDERMOTT CONTINUES TO SHOOT WELL, DEFENSE STILL A QUESTION
Ames hero Dougie McBuckets (as his name often appears on Twitter next to emojis of fire) is often shooting the ball pretty accurately (44 percent) and is getting minutes in every game. This is what he was born for: He’s a weapon, a skill player. He’s being brought into the game to do one thing only: shoot a three when he gets a look. Rose, Gasol, and Butler all regularly go to him. I love that he gets so fired up and screams when he’s got the hot hand.
That being said, he plays defense like a rookie still, doesn’t have a strong stance, gets blown by all the time, and regularly falls for pump fakes and commits unnecessary fouls. He’s turning into a coveted three-and-D type of player but if that’s what he wants then he needs to step up the D part.
Dustin Hogue plays against Georgios in Greece: Former Cyclone fan-favorites (and teammates) Dustin Hogue and Georgios Tsalmpouris played against each other in the Greece league this week. Hogue posted a photo of them with arms around each other on Twitter afterward.
Ejim getting good minutes in Canada: Melvin Ejim, a native of Canada, is having a nice year playing in the D-League with the Erie Bayhawks. He had a huge jam last week, showing off his athleticism. He was one of the better-jumping guards ISU has had in recent years.
Kyle Korver’s shooting has cooled a bit this season: Kyle Korver, who lived in Pella as a teen, had a career year last season and made his first All Star Game appearance on the strength of his three point shooting. He’s not shooting the ball as well this season so far, averaging just under 10 points a game and with a relatively low Player Efficiency Rating of 9.6. Efficiency is key for 3-point specialists in particular: if you are making few shots then defenders will not respect you as much and give you more room, which clogs up the lane and prevents your guards from being able to drive to the basket. This is especially important for the Hawks since their point guard Jeff Teague is one of the best players for finishing or creating for others in the paint.
Editor’s note: This article was written Jan. 6.