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Aussies in NBA: Has Hoiberg's hiring helped Bairstow?
Former Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was known, amongst other things, as a guy who wasn’t particularly fond of digging deep into his bench. It didn’t matter if the game was a blowout or one of his star players was on a minutes restriction, he played his best players as much as he possibly could.
Getting drafted to a team with a coach like Thibs probably wasn’t the best scenario for Aussie Cameron Bairstow. Not from a getting-into-the-game point of view at least, especially when the Bulls had such a loaded front court. There was much talk by Aussie hoops fans around whether a change of coach might be the best way for Bairstow to actually see some court time.
Enter new Bulls head coach, Fred Hoiberg.
Hoiberg, a former college coach, was hired out of Iowa State, a Big 12 school with tremendous recent success. He had never coached in the NBA before, but the Bulls front office were confident that he’d be able to give the team the absolute best opportunity to go deep into the playoffs without wearing out their star players.
Even though Hoiberg was the coach of Iowa State during Bairstow’s four-year stint at New Mexico, the two had never crossed paths. Even so, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that Hoiberg was keeping tabs on Bairstow during his tremendous senior campaign in which he was one of the best players in the nation. Now, coach Hoiberg watches Cam every day in the gym and has seen what he is capable of.
In his second year in the NBA, Bairstow continues to struggle for minutes. In saying that, he has managed 29 minutes of playing time over the past three games, including a 19-minute performance against the Charlotte Hornets earlier today.
We’re now at fifty-one games in the season which begs the question; have we actually seen any change in the amount of minutes Cam Bairstow is getting? Has he been given more of an opportunity to prove his worth now that a new coach is in town?
Last year, Cam Bairstow appeared in 18 games and started 1. He averaged 3.6 minutes per game; a total of 64 minutes over the course of the season. Fifty-one games into that season, he had played 58 minutes in 12 games. If you compare that to his numbers from this season, there isn’t much difference.
So far this year, Bairstow has appeared in 13 games and started 1. He has been averaging 4.3 minutes per game, which is up on last season and, including today's 19 minutes against the Hornets, his total minutes this season sits at 71 - 13 more than last season. That difference is relatively inconsequential, but what if we look at how Bairstow is utilized in those minutes when he is on the floor?
Bairstow’s usage rate last season, as per Basketball-Reference, was 13.5%. He predominantly played in a unit that featured Kirk Hinrich running the point with Jimmy Butler at the two spot, Mike Dunleavy on the wing and either Pau Gasol or Joakim Noah at center. This lineup allowed Bairstow to play outside of the paint and restrict the amount of time he had to play back-to-the-basket.
However, as per vorped.com, while Bairstow shot 1 from 6 during the season on shots inside the paint, he also shot 2 for 6 on long twos. Neither of these clips are going to force the coach to run plays for you, especially when Bairstow is playing in a unit where Gasol (52% from inside the paint & 45% on long twos) or Noah (46% from inside the paint & 33% on long twos) are sharing the court.
This season, Bairstow’s usage rate is up almost 7% on last year and now sits at 20%. Rather than playing the four spot alongside one of Gasol or Noah like he did last season, the Bulls have tried to play him more at the five, alongside Bobby Portis, one of either Gibson, McDermott or Mirotic and Tony Snell with E’Twaun Moore or Aaron Brooks running the point.
Once again though, Bairstow’s field goal percentage close to the basket is nothing to be desired, with the big man going 25% from inside the paint. The good news is that Bairstow is hitting a greater percentage on two point shots that fall outside of the paint. Granted it’s a small sample size, but his 4 from 8 for the season on those shots, including today's game, is certainly an improvement on last season.
So, even though it’s not a tremendous rise, Bairstow has played in more games and been on the court for more total minutes than this time last season. However, until Bairstow develops a little bit more confidence playing closer to the basket, and can manage to consistently knock down those longer twos, we are probably resigned to the fact that the former Lobo will continue finding the floor only when the Bulls are hit with injuries or during junk time.
Coach Hoiberg may have opened up the rotation more than Thibs ever did, but it doesn’t make much of a difference when you’re the last man coming off the bench.