(AP) - Chicago Bulls general manager Gar Forman could envision it years ago when he was an assistant coach at Iowa State and Fred Hoiberg was starring for the Cyclones.
He saw a player maximizing every ounce of his ability.
"He was a big-time worker, was a terrific teammate," Forman said. "Probably one of the best, if not the best, teammates that I coached in the 17 years I coached in college. Was always working on his game, very conscientious, had a high basketball IQ. He wasn't the most talented guy, but got the most out of his talents."
These days, it's Hoiberg's job to get the most out of the Bulls, who will continue to search for consistency Saturday night when the New Orleans Pelicans visit United Center.
Chicago hired Hoiberg away from Iowa State in the offseason with an eye on opening the offense and preserving a veteran core that management thought former coach Tom Thibodeau wore out because of his hard-driving approach.
With a 12-8 record, the results have been mixed in the early going this season.
The Bulls are showing a maddening pattern of inconsistency and look more like a run-of-the-mill team than the Eastern Conference contenders they expect to be.
Of course, it still is early.
The offense isn't humming the way they envisioned, be it because of injuries, underperforming players or possibly a system that doesn't quite mesh with the roster. They've struggled down the stretch in games, particularly the past few.
It doesn't help that Derrick Rose suffered an eye injury on the first day of practice and missed almost the entire preseason. The former MVP point guard's vision still is blurred and he's off to his worst start, averaging 13.4 points on 36.3 percent shooting.
"We've got to get more consistent," Hoiberg said. "We show flashes. The biggest thing is consistency with our group as far as getting out and playing with pace. When we do play with pace, we're pretty darn good."
But it's hard to know which team is going to show up on a given night.
Chicago - which is 8-3 at United Center but has lost two of its last three there - has wins over contenders Cleveland, Oklahoma City and San Antonio but has lost to teams that didn't make the playoffs last season such as Phoenix and the improved Charlotte Hornets.
A recent three-game skid that saw the Bulls get outscored a combined 102-70 in the fourth quarter left Hoiberg and players questioning the team's killer instinct. That slide ended Thursday with an 83-80 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, a game where they made just enough plays down the stretch after blowing a 16-point lead in the second half.
The laid-back Hoiberg seems on the surface to be the polar opposite of Thibodeau, whose firing after a clash with management ended one of the most successful five-year runs in franchise history.
The Bulls made the playoffs in each of those seasons even though Rose was injured for much of that time. There's no guarantee they will get back there in the tight Eastern Conference, where they're one of 10 teams with winning records.
"It's huge when you lose a coach like Thibs," Rose said. "Coach Fred, he has all our respect. We're trying to play as best as we can for him and give him nothing but respect. He's been great."
New Orleans (6-16) would like to carry the momentum from a successful homestand into its five-game trip. The Pelicans are 1-10 away from home, including three straight losses.
They will search for their second winning streak of the season, though, after closing a 2-1 homestand Friday with a 107-105 win over Washington.
The Pelicans made the most 3-pointers in franchise history by finishing 16 of 27 after shooting 30.7 percent from long range in their previous six games.
Tyreke Evans made 5 of 6 3-point attempts on his way to 27 points and Jrue Holiday went 5 of 7 and scored 19.
"Well, we did need every one of them," coach Alvin Gentry said. "If we have good ball movement, then the 3 is available to us because we drive and kick and that gives us an opportunity to get the spacing."
The Bulls have won 11 of the last 14 in this series, including five of seven at home.