Ask Sam: 12.30.16

Sam Smith answers reader questions in the final mailbag of 2016

By Sam Smith

Rondo might be able to guard 2nd unit guys. MCW will help Jimmy conserve energy with his defense, and help with rebounding. If Rondo becomes sad/mad, oh well.

Matt Ruth

Sam: Can’t agree quite yet. Let’s give Carter-Williams some time; at least until he can shoot as well as Rondo. It’s good to have him back, and Hoiberg had him on the floor to close both games this week. But he’s also one of 11 shooting, his only field goal that driving layup that was the only non-Butler points in the close win against the Nets. Rondo seemed the good teammate after sitting the entire fourth quarter against Indiana. Hoiberg said the two had a good talk afterward. Rondo also then made the big defensive play down the stretch against the Nets, coming off his man, which even Jimmy didn’t do on Lopez’ driving dunk, to help Gibson. Rondo knocked the ball away and then got the steal.

Fans ask me sometimes why Rondo isn’t averaging more assists since he led the league last season. Sometimes you look bad because of the other things going on. I can hear Rondo on the court sometimes yelling for teammates to run with him. The first month they did; they haven’t as much lately. It limits Rondo’s effectiveness and has substantially reduced the Bulls scoring. In the first 16 games through the end of the long road trip, the Bulls scored at least 100 points in 12 of the games. In the next 16 games, the Bulls scored at least 100 points six times, and just barely reached that Wednesday with Jimmy’s last second shot and just barely getting there on Christmas Day due to a meaningless basket late against the Spurs. The Bulls have gone back, like last season, into more of that walk it up, isolation basketball. If you run and no one will run with you, it’s difficult to do your job. Rondo has had ups and downs, but you need him in there to try to get that pace of play moving again. When it does, then you get guys like McDermott and Mirotic better shots running into transition threes. In the half court, it’s more difficult. Carter-Williams seems like he’s getting enough time for now.


The Bulls bigs look to be the culprit on Defense again. Aldridge is a top player - but letting Brook Lopez go off for over 30 pts is a failure for Robin and some of the other low post players - probably mostly Robin.That's where the Bulls need the upgrade. Center and Power Forward especially. Taj needs to be better or perhaps it's a team effort down there.

I do miss Joakim - I don't know if he continues to have injury issues. I heard he did miss games already this year. He is likely to never be the same - so I don't blame the Bulls for trading him.

Too many Chicago media don't appreciate the plan and thinking inside Bulls management. They act like they could do such a better job as GM. If Bulls Management didn't have good plans in the past 10 years, they would not have had a good enough team to at least challenge the Heat, which they did even with a flawed superstar and no other stars. They drafted solid basketball players from strong winning programs: Deng, Hinrich, Joakim, Gordon....yet people act like they know so much better.

LongGiang Le

Sam: So that’s why Robin was traded five times. Well, not completely, and I’d hardly fault him. I think he’s having a solid season, and, frankly, is playing better than I thought he would. Remember, this is a player with career averages of about 8.5 points and 5.5 rebounds. Just because you need him to be more, it’s unfair to say he’s not good enough. Hoiberg has been giving Felicio more time, and Felicio rebounded well against the Nets, though there’s a scoring issue with him for now as he’s not much confident in his shot. He reminds me a bit of Taj in his early years when he feared shooting. It took him awhile. Obviously, no more and he and the team are better for it. Robin is tough, takes up space, protects the rim and challenges shots. That’s a lot of good stuff. He’s not that quick, so teams often put him in pick and roll because he doesn’t hedge out or trap like Felicio does and then get back. But Robin can make that 12 footer with regularity.

The Bulls were losing both Noah and Gasol, and I don’t see how they could have done much better with a solid big man for now. Not a perfect big man. But in this era with a manageable contract that would be in demand in trade. Yes, Brook made five threes. Good. Take em! It was like when Amir Johnson earlier this season made three or four threes in one quarter of a close Boston win. Sometimes it happens; our society is filled with second guessing, arm chair quarterbacks, after the fact draft experts who always make the right choice after the fact. I’m fine with letting big guys who historically don't shot threes well to shoot all they want, get them out of rebounding position and I’ll take my chances. All this analytical stuff in this era is just probabilities with a new name. You can’t win them all, and won’t. I’ll let Brook shoot 30 of those uncontested every game and I’ll win 27 times. Of course, going inside the Nets lose also, so perhaps that’s not the best example. But actually the Bulls interior defense with rebounding has been one of the better things they’ve had going for them this season.

As for the other part, yes it’s much easier to do personnel after you already know how good the player is or isn’t. That’s in all sports, but more so in basketball because we actually know who the players are compared to the NFL draft, which is pretty funny the little I look at it. In the end, a bunch of guys get picked in the first round who no one has much heard of or ever watched play. And then they hold on every play and sometimes get called for it. I digress. We know the basketball players. The Bulls have been in a difficult spot by being competitive. You just don’t judge the picks 20-30 against the best; judge against the total or average. Pick any NBA draft, look at picks Nos. 20-30, where the Bulls basically have been picking in the Rose/Noah/Deng era because they were competing for a title every year, even if not successful. Few of those 20-30 players are NBA starters or even rotation players. The Bulls for the most part have been in the top 10 in NBA draft reward.

Not only that previous group you mention, but Jimmy Butler rates among the best low first round picks in NBA history and Taj Gibson has been one of the better ones in the first round bottom five. Don’t give me Draymond Green. Everyone passed on him and the Warriors passed on him twice, picking Festus Ezeli ahead of him because his college coach, among other things, was warning teams this guy was out of control and a 6-6 power forward. Credit him for turning himself into an elite player in just the right place for him. That draft is a good example. The Bulls missed with Marquis Teague, but he made sense given his college success and they needed a point guard backup with Rose’s injuries. But look at the non lottery picks ahead of him: Royce White, Andrew Nicholson, Fab Melo, John Jenkins, Jared Cunningham, Tony Wroten, Arnett Moultrie and Perry Jones. And those were by teams like the Heat, Thunder, Hawks, Celtics, Magic and Rockets, all of, I assume, who could use Draymond Green. The talent just isn’t there after the top few picks. It’s somewhere, and it’s generally more luck than skill if you find it.


Is it just me, or are others unimpressed with the victory over the Pacers last night? Sure, there are always good things. Mirotic had his shot going, Rondo moved the ball. The defense looked better. But, the Bulls could just have easily lost as won. It seemed like too many players were trying to make one-on-one moves in the half court, passing out when the lane closed up. That's not ball movement. The Bulls won. So, I guess they impressed you with something, right?

William Kochneff

Sam: They won, so as Wade said after the Nets game, it’s better to learn with a win. Smart guy. But, yes, Hoiberg clearly wanted to mention after the game that not only to celebrate Butler and his shot and play, but to note trailing the Nets at home almost all game was not so good. The ball movement isn’t very good, but is it a chicken or egg? Being chicken? Laying an egg? Does it not move because then it will end up in the hands of someone who either doesn’t want it or can’t do anything with it? And then the other guys take over because they must to save the day? I don’t see guys being selfish and wanting to enhance themselves at the expense of others. But there still seems a lack of trust and flow and acceptance, which probably still has something to do with nine new players, everyone back Wednesday for the first time since October and altered rotations to take a look at different guys in different spots. I love the people who say play the young guys to develop them, but you better win the game, too. I think Hoiberg has been fair. You do well, you play more. You don’t, you sit. Yes, it’s a shorter leash for young players, but that’s how life works. Until you beat out the old guy, he has the job. You have to work twice as hard as he does and be twice as good. Seniority counts everywhere. Show them you are better and they’ll pick you. So far, no one else really has.


What was the reasoning behind RJ Hunter's release? Kid should have stayed in college an extra yr.

Shaun Chalmer


Sam: Marquis Teague, also. I see the NBA didn’t so anything about the one-and-done in the new labor deal, and I understand the argument of the right to try to work. I never fully understand why the players association continues to agree to younger players coming in like that. Yes, players always will come in, so jobs will go. But the younger they are, the less chance they’ll be mature enough to help teams for awhile. I understand the desire for money of the kids, the financial need, and the dislike for school compared with basketball. But my guess is many more kids have shorter NBA careers because they weren’t ready, and the NBA isn’t about training, as we can see with the Bulls. If you can help, you can play; if you can’t, there’s another draft coming and maybe someone else can. The Bulls took a look at Hunter; no risk. He didn’t play much, but I saw him in the D-league and his shot didn’t look very good. It’s an awkward kind of arcing shot and actually didn’t look as good as J.J. Avila’s. He didn’t shoot it that well, and if you don’t in Hoffman Estates you’re not about to get a chance on Madison Street. He’ll need to go somewhere to get regular time and get that stroke down. Nice kid with a good sense of humor and smart; hope it works out for him.


I hate to bring it up, but the Derek Carr injury feels eerily similar to the Derrick Rose injury. A young, up and coming star injured right before a big playoff run as a contender. Both were also in games that were seemingly won. What do you think?

Victor Wisel

Sam: My medical opinions are probably not that expert since I passed out in freshman biology when they began dissecting the frog. But it seems to me Carr’s injury is much less severe than Rose’s was. Of course, given it didn’t happen to me it’s much easier to say. We’ve discussed and debated this over the years, and as I explained above sports is basically about seeing who won and then knowing only they did the right thing. I cannot prove the Bulls would have won the title that year in 2012 if Rose wasn’t hurt. But I was convinced. As much as LeBron had beaten the Bulls, it was their time. It was clear to me that season—as clear as things in the future can be—the way Miami reacted to the Bulls. They lost the games early, as they did in the regular season, and then when they tried to win a late game and did they had to resort to dirty play and cheap shots. It’s the stuff a favored team might do if frustrated. I think they knew, especially with the Bulls dominance in size with Asik, Noah and Boozer, with Korver, Butler to take a turn in LeBron, the Bulls had too much. But why Derrick’s injury was so sad and different was we knew at that moment he’d never be able to do what he did before. Because no one ever did what he did before, though perhaps Westbrook now, and not even Westbrook as his explosion at the rim doesn’t match what Derrick had then.

It looks like Rose still can have a productive career, but even he has said he knows he’ll never be what he was. I assume the quarterback can. It’s too bad for the Raiders, who have been so bad, though as an old AFL fan good for them as they were the dirtiest team in the league for years. Not good for Carr, so too bad. I don’t watch much football, so I couldn’t say how good he is. But you do root for underdogs and after missing the playoffs for a decade you do feel badly for their fans now. Except the ones dressed up in the front rows. You do wish he were healthy because it hurts the playoffs and thus the fans when the best teams are not what they were and produce a phony champion, like the 2011 Heat. Joel Anthony at center. C’mon. Shane Battier, Juwan Howard, Ronny Turiaf, Norris Cole, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, James Jones. Here’s the saddest part, yes, Eddy Curry has a championship ring.


Any truth to this from the Enstars entertainment and celebrity site: “Rumors have it that the Chicago Bulls are interested in acquiring John Wall from the Washington Wizards before the trade deadline that will give a big boost on their campaign.” Also after watching the Spurs I realized we need role players. I say the Bulls promote McKinnie who was on the USA 3x3 team.

Ryan Carpel


Sam: Well, I’ll deal with the Wall part first since he’s on a great run, averaging 25 points and 11 assists in December, probably playing as well as any East guard. Yes, the Bulls are interested. So are about 24 other teams. No, he’s not going anywhere and I suspect with the new labor deal the Wizards will be giving him a big extension as soon as they can. I hadn’t heard the Bulls season called a campaign before, but I admit I usually don’t check that site for trade rumors.

I’m glad you mentioned McKinnie. I wrote a story about him this week for the Windy City Bulls web site. He’s an interesting guy who I think has better basketball in him since he transferred and was injured in college. Great jumper and hard worker and team guy. Reminds me a little of Malcolm Thomas, the Bulls summer league sensation of a few years back who kicked around the NBA a few seasons. And McKinnie has a better shot. He had some interesting stuff to say regarding how difficult it is to come back from knee injuries even as critics say you are ready to play. A story of his I loved—hated, really—was how his family was relieved he got a job playing basketball in Mexico so he wouldn’t have to be back home on the West Side in summer and face the violence. Yes, his family was glad he was going to Mexico for safety.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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