Asked recently how he thought he had played this preseason, Tyrus Thomas turned the tables.
"You be the judge," he said, making eye contact and smiling. "What do you think?"
That Thomas said this good-naturedly, not to mention with exhibition season averages of 10.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in his hip pocket, speaks volumes about the progress the third-year forward is making on and off the court.
Sure, there's also the 36.8 percent shooting, the average of nearly four fouls per game and the two disqualifications. And, yes, Thomas still can break out a T-shirt that reads: "I'm Multi-Talented: I Can Talk and [Upset You] at the Same Time."
But Thomas also can be seen going out of his way to say hello and offer a pat on the back to longtime official scorer Bob Rosenberg in a United Center hallway. Or stopping to sign autographs for 10 minutes before a recent road game. Or grimacing and punching his thigh in frustration after blowing an assignment on the court — because of his desire to improve.
For all this, the 6-foot-9-inch, 215-pound Thomas credits two things: his off-season workouts at IMG Academy in Florida and the simple art of communication.
The importance of Thomas' three weeks working with trainer David Thorpe and his staff on on-court skills and off-court maturity has been documented. In a recent interview, Thomas also opened up about how much the Bulls' new coaching staff's approach has helped him.
Thomas praised the entire staff, including holdovers Pete Myers and Mike Wilhelm. But several people have said assistant Bernie Bickerstaff and Thomas have developed a strong relationship that could pay dividends for the athletic forward out of LSU.
"Bernie might talk to me more during games, but all the coaches have been talking to me," said Thomas, 22. "It's a good feeling because you're not scared to talk to coaches. If there's something you don't understand, you can talk to them.
"They've done an excellent job of communicating with me, letting me know when I'm right and when I'm wrong. They've been supportive and vocal. I'm the kind of guy that if you don't say anything to me, I won't say anything to you. By them talking to me openly and willingly, it makes me express myself to them better. They know what's going on with me."
Nobody knew what was going on when Thomas skipped a practice in premeditated fashion last season, which drew a two-game team suspension. And it's not like Scott Skiles and his staff last season didn't try to talk to Thomas.
It's just that different personalities mesh in different ways. And at least for now, Vinny Del Negro's approach is working better for Thomas.
"The first thing Vinny said to me when he got hired was, 'What do you need from me as a coach?' " Thomas said. "I told him, 'You don't have to like me, just be fair with me.' He's done a good job with that. He actually likes me, so that helps too."
Pressed on his definition of fair, Thomas pointed to playing time.
"You can't produce consistently if you don't play consistent minutes," he said. "It's impossible, regardless what people say. You play me five minutes and then say I'm inconsistent? That's crazy.
"You won't be consistent playing 30 minutes a game for three games and then five minutes a game for the next six. It's not going to happen. I know what I can do. If I play consistent minutes, I'll produce consistently."
Time will tell whether Thomas' prediction holds true — and whether he can avoid foul trouble to allow the theory to be tested. With an unconventional roster featuring a paucity of traditional big men, it's no stretch to say Thomas' production is critical.
"I don't want to put undue pressure on Tyrus, but this is a big, big year for him," general manager John Paxson said. "All of us were pleased at the commitment he made this summer. He spent time in the gym. He still has a long way to go. But we need him to be productive."
That's communicated loud and clear.