How Much Does Thibs Love His Former Players?

Tom Thibodeau loves his former players. Since taking over as coach of the TWolves, Thibs (who also serves of president of basketball operations) has acquired the services of no fewer than six players he coached on the Bulls: Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose, Aaron Brooks, John Lucas III, and most recently Luol Deng. Tom Thibodeau loves his former players.

But how extraordinary is this love? Do other coaches surround themselves with their former guys when they move to new teams? To answer, I gathered head coach and roster data for all teams across NBA history and screened for clingy nostalgia player carry-over. Specifically, I ranked coaches on three measures:

  1. The percentage of minutes played on a prior team that the coach brought to a new team
  2. The percentage of minutes played on a new team that the coach brought from a prior team
  3. The harmonic mean of 1) and 2), giving a weighted average of how much roster contribution was carried over from team A to team B

tl;dr: Thibs loves his players. But maybe not more than Stan Albeck!

Figure 1 shows coaches ranked by the proportion of a prior team’s minutes that they carried with them to a new team. Here we see that Thibs takes his expected spot on the throne of personally attached personnel managers. With the addition of Luol Deng, fully 40% of the 2010-11 Bulls minutes will be on this season’s TWolves. What’s incredible about this is that it doesn’t even include Jimmy Butler, who joined the Bulls in 2011-12, or John Lucas III, who was on that Bulls team and played for Thibs in Minnesota but is now retired as a player. But the combined toils of Deng, Rose, and Gibson are still enough to elevate this roster combination to first place. The prior first place combination is Thib’s 2014 Bulls to 2017 TWolves, featuring Bulter, Rose, Gibson, and Aaron Brooks.

Coaches ranked by the percentage of old minutes they take to new team

Figure 1: Coaches ranked by the percentage of old minutes they take to new team

We can measure clinginess through percentage of old minutes that a coach brings with him, but we can also measure it through the percentage of new minutes that a coach gets from old players. Figure 2 does this. Here, Thibs comes in at a barely wistful 4th. In first is the aforementioned Stan Albeck, who took with him from his old gig in San Antonio George ‘Iceman’ Gervin, Dave Corzine, Gene Banks, and Ron ‘Ronnie’s Dad’ Brewer (whose son incidentally played under Thibs on the 2010-11 Bulls).

Coaches ranked by the percentage of old minutes they take to new team

Figure 2: Coaches ranked by the percentage of old minutes they take to new team

We’ve looked at minutes brought from an old team and minutes played on a new team, but it perhaps makes most sense to look at both simultaneously. To get a measure of what coach transplanted the greatest share of his roster contributions from one team to another, I took the harmonic mean of proportion of minutes played on both the original and new teams, shown in Figure 3.

Coaches ranked by the percentage of old minutes they take to new team

Figure 3: Coaches ranked by the percentage of old minutes they take to new team

On this measure, we see that Thibs and Albeck stand apart from the crowd, but that it’s actually Albeck who, with Gervin and the rest of his personified security blankets, takes the crown of most player-attached coach. But who knows, with rumors of Butler wanting out of Minnesota, Thibs might stick Deng in the starting line-up, trade for Noah, coax Boozer out of retirement, and gain his rightful spot with the 2010 Bulls.