Rockets: Van Gundy credits Thibodeau with Yao’s development

Jeff Van Gundy (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Jeff Van Gundy (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Former Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy credits Tom Thibodeau for Yao Ming’s development.

Former Houston Rockets assistant coach Tom Thibodeau is viewed as a tough-minded coach, which makes him the epitome of an old-school coach. Thibodeau cringes at the current load management trend across the NBA, as he’s proven to put players through the most rigorous and strenuous workouts.

Thibodeau has developed into a stellar head coach, however, as he nabbed the Coach of the Year award during the 2010-11 season, as his Chicago Bulls finished with the best record in the NBA. Thibodeau led the Bulls to a 62-20 record, which was a 21-win improvement over the 41-41 record the team had during the 2009-10 season.

But Thibodeau’s hard-nosed coaching style was on display during his tenure in the Space City, as he put Rockets legend Yao Ming through some of the toughest workouts known to man. But depending on who you ask, this was viewed as a good thing, as former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy explained how this had a positive impact on Yao.

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Rockets’ Van Gundy credits Thibodeau for Yao’s development

“Yao was the greatest worker I believe that ever existed in the NBA. I don’t think anybody could ever have done more to put themselves in a position to be as good as they could be,” Van Gundy said. “But Tom was tremendous in developing a routine that Yao could follow—a blueprint to take him from being good to being great.”

Thibodeau was an assistant on Van Gundy’s staff from 2003-2007, and Yao Ming’s scoring numbers improved in each of those seasons, as outlined below:

  • 2003-04: 17.5 points per game
  • 2004-05: 18.3 points per game
  • 2005-06: 22.3 points per game
  • 2006-07: 25 points per game

Thibodeau left the Rockets ahead of the 2007-08 season to join Doc Rivers’ staff with the Boston Celtics, where he became a champion. Thibs stayed with the C’s for two more seasons, coming within a Game Seven loss of winning another title in Boston.

Thibs left the Celtics to join the Bulls, where he achieved monumental success, as previously noted. Thibodeau spent five years in the Windy City, and won 64.7 percent of his games, which ranks second in Bulls history to only Phil Jackson.

But then-Bulls star Derrick Rose ran into consistent injuries, which arguably prevented Thibodeau from lasting longer in Chi-Town. Thibs eventually landed with the Minnesota Timberwolves ahead of the 2016-17 season, who went 29-53 before hiring the former Houston Rockets assistant.

By Thibodeau’s second season in Minnesota, he ended the Wolves’ 13-year playoff drought, as the Wolves went 47-35 and landed a first round matchup against the Houston Rockets, who went 65-17 during the 2017-18 season.

Thibodeau lasted 40 games into the 2018-19 season, as the Wolves struggled with Jimmy Butler’s trade demands, which became Thibodeau’s responsibility, as he was the President of Basketball Operations in Minnesota. But Thibodeau recently emerged as a potential candidate for the Houston Rockets’ coaching job, as Mike D’Antoni has yet to reach an extension with the franchise.

But the Rockets don’t fit the mold of a Thibodeau-built team, as they’re one of the oldest teams in the league, which is why his hard-nosed coaching style would prove to be ineffective.

The latest reports on Thibodeau have him penned as the eventual head coach of the New York Knicks, who went 21-45 before the NBA suspended play in March. The Knicks could be a good destination for Thibodeau, as he’s proven the ability to turn a lottery team into a playoff team.

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It’ll also allow him to impose his “blueprint”, in the words of Van Gundy.