James Posey is not the most underappreciated addition to the Boston Celtics this year. Nor is Eddie House or Glen "Big Baby" Davis. Instead, that distinction goes to assistant coach Tom Thibodeau.
Thibodeu, a native New Englander who was hired by the C's in late August, has fleshed out a resume as one of the NBA's most effective defensive coaches. When he was an assistant in Houston, the Rockets ranked among the top five in the NBA in fewest points allowed per game and the lowest field goal percentage allowed over the previous four years. And, according to his official team biography, the teams Thibodeau have helped coach have finished in the top ten in team defense fourteen times in his 17 NBA seasons. A critic may chalk those facts as a collection of coincidences, a case of Coach Thibodeau being in the right place at the right time, with the right players. But count this Celtics fan (albeit an admitted bandwagoner) as a believer in Thibodeau's defensive prowess.
Throughout the first half of this season, the Celtics led the NBA in all the important defensive statistics: They allowed the fewest points per game (89.44), the lowest field goal percentage (42.2%), the lowest three-point field goal percentage (31.6%), and the fewest assists per game (18.2). To be sure, the defense instantly became stronger when the Celts added Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Co. to the roster. But Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, for example, didn't exactly have sterling reputations as defensive stalwarts before this year. The fact that they're two key players on the league's best defensive team leads me to believe it is the coaching, and not necessarily the personnel that should be credited with the Celts' drastic improvement in defense.
So next time you're taking in a game at the Stockhouse Restaurant, gather your friends for a toast to Tom Thibodeau, the man who deserves a Tommy Point each time the Celts take the floor. And when your barstool neighbor responds to the toast with a puzzled, "Who?" just respond with: "You know, the most underappreciated addition to the Boston Celtics this year."
Actually, you should probably sex that answer up a bit.
- John C.L. Morgan