Ask Sam Mailbag: 12.22.16

Sam Smith opens his mailbag to answer reader questions

By Sam
Smith

Man oh man is this team frustrating to figure out. A lot of
inconsistency in the east we can be thankful too, for keeping us around
the 8th seed. Still what I find the most frustrating is that the Bulls
just don't seem to take care of business on their home court and in
front of their fans. We have often spoken about how hard it is on the
road to win and teams are happy to walk away with with a few wins on a
road trip. Heck we were all pumping fists on our circus road trip after
we won more than 50% of the games played. Yet teams come to Chicago and
seem to walk all over us. Bad teams too like Washington today, the
Lakers etc etc. If we want to be a good team, I think the basis of that
has to start at home. Set the high standard 'that nobody beats us on our
floor'. I'll go and read all the cliche comments now from various sites
on the players after thoughts like 'we'll be alight, just need to watch
some tape, get back in the gym, get back to work' or 'x player hitting 3
x 3 pointers in the 3rd quarter, that wasn't in the scouting report!'.

Andrew Brown

Sam: I have a feeling this isn’t going to be a How the bells, sweet
silver bells All seem to say; Throw cares away’ Christmas is here,
bringing good cheer kind of Ask Sam. It’s been a disappointing month,
for sure, after the encouraging November and last circus road trip after
which many around the NBA were calling the Bulls the surprise of the
NBA. It’s also how quickly things can change. Actually, there was the
first of dropping the clichés after the Wizards loss when Wade talked
about a lack of imagination in the offense. So is that play calling or
players trying to do it on their own? Wade sort of cut it down the
middle there saying it was both. Which is somewhat the issue. We all
knew it was a flawed team coming into the season. After all, the
consensus national predictions were 37, 38 wins. But the way Wade played
and led and his pride and professionalism and the development of
Butler’s game offered promise of better things, which also was not
unreasonable. But things have to go well in a lot of places. The top
reserves McDermott and Carter-Williams, got hurt, Mirotic struggled and
lost his place in the lineup for awhile, defenses began collapsing on
Butler and Wade, the fast break got taken away as players tired some
with the flush of games, the dog ate my homework! I have hay fever! I
got hurt bowling! Yes, excuses, excuses. For all the issues that come up
in losses, the Bulls don’t seem that far away from remaining competitive
amidst that East log jam. Even with the horrors of the loss to
Washington and all the post game gnashing, it still was just a few late
shots. Yes, the fourth quarter blues; we have heard it. So lately it’s
play the shooters for spacing, which they weren’t doing because the
shooters for spacing were giving up too many points. The Bulls have
shown there’s a blend there. Hey, it’s still just 2016.


The Bulls are a decent team that could potentially be very good, if they
had lineups conducive to closing games in the modern NBA. The staple for
most teams is a bread and butter pick and roll with a versatile wing and
a big man that can step out and hit a jumper, while having a weak side
shooter to relieve the pressure, a slasher and someone to pound the
glass. Bulls do not have a lineup that fits that mold and even if they
do, they have not figured out how to use it. The team simply lacks
complete players. Ideally, I would close with: Wade Butler McDermott
Mirotic Taj That lineup would be a nightmare on defense but at least
offensively (on paper) addresses the ability to create open shots.

Sundeep Shah


Sam: Yes, I got a lot of this one after the Washington loss, and it has
been a team trend of low scoring fourth quarters. OK, last in the league
or next isn’t that good. So the eternal question. Do you win if you
score more or the other team scores less? All we hear around the Bulls
is that when they win it’s the defense, defense wins championships,
d-fence is needed to keep the horses from running away. OK, forget that
one. I love this one with the offensive lineup, the spacing, Wade
guarding who, exactly? John Wall? Bradley Beal? Playing into his 40th
minute and then having the lift and energy to start the coming three
games in four nights in Charlotte Friday? The Bulls already are pushing
Wade probably harder than they wanted to. He is at 31 minutes, which is
about what he averaged last season, but his stats generally have been
down later in games and later in three in four sets.

The problem is they need him on the floor so much because of his threat and ability to lead
and score. Hoiberg has taken to playing another starter or two with him
when he plays with the reserves, but he played almost 11 minutes in the
fourth against the Wizards. There’s always one player who gets more
blame, like Boozer a few years back, Rose more recently. So now it’s
going toward Rondo as he’s never going to have great shooting
statistics. But with Carter-Williams basically out since the Bulls got
him, there is no other point guard. You can’t walk the ball up in the
fourth and then score a lot, also. Rondo, as Hoiberg noted, is the
fastest and going to distribute. I agree. It would be nice to have five
offensive players for scoring, but then if you get 35, maybe they get
45. Hoiberg has balanced the minutes well this season, and Jimmy and
Wade are best when they are in isolation. You need some movement as a
result and Rondo is going to be best with that. Look, Wade and Butler
aren’t going to be 13 for 40 often. It happens. The Minnesota/Milwaukee
week was bad, agreed. This Bulls team is great rebounding and crashing
the boards. It bit them a bit against the Wizards as Washington got some
rebounds on long shots and ran out. There may have been a few too many
long ones taken in that fourth quarter, actually, because that’s when
it’s hardest to protect back. It’s still a puzzle, but there’s a fit
there somewhere.


Is the experiment of Dougie at the power forward position over? I know
that is our biggest logjam with Taj succeeding, and Bobby and Niko both
having up-and-down years. The rest of the rotation is pretty well locked
up by now but Doug was and is so promising I'd like to see him resume a
Ryan Anderson role. Rondo/MCW Wade/Canaan Butler Gibson Lopez/Felicio PS
Its so great that you never need to talk about Robin Lopez, so quietly
consistent and reliable!

Matthew Mikulice


Sam: I’m not sure they ever did that too much, and I do think McDermott
might be better there because I think he’s a better defender than
Mirotic and might find more of those corner threes open. But you can see
the difficulty as they’ve tried to get Portis some time and center was a
problem with his size, and Gibson has played so well, and they really
need Mirotic. For his flaws, Mirotic is that three-point threat; teams
will guard him. And he’s a good defensive rebounder. When the Bulls
tried him at small forward he struggled; that’s the toughest position to
defend, and much more so if defense is not your specialty. I actually
think it will help more when Carter-Williams returns on the defensive
end since then Jimmy won’t have to keep jumping back and forth to the
hot guy on almost every other possession. But then do you put another
non shooter on the floor in the fourth quarter? Yes, there’s plenty more
second guessing to come. Which to digress, I understand how it works.
It’s much easier to suggest, say, the coach should have had more
shooters on the floor in the fourth quarter when you score just 20
points. Or more defenders when they score 40. But he has to make the
decision before knowing the result. It’s much more difficult that way
when you can make your suggestion after you know whether the shot went
in or not.


I've also been surprised at how much McDermott has been used recently,
especially in the 4th quarter, when he has proven time and time again
that he cannot make an open shot. Mirotic isn't shooting the ball well
either, and it's forcing guys like Butler and Wade to shoot more from
the arc with mixed results. So far I prefer Butler taking threes to
either of those guys, which doesn't bode well for this season. I'm not
sure how Hoiberg is going to be able to influence this team without at
least one shooter to space the floor effectively. It's to the point
where I wish they would start playing Zipser just to see if he is
capable of making an open three once in a while. At least then, Stacey
King would be able to make a corny Christmas joke about Zipser also
being the name of one of Santa's reindeer.

Marcus Nikokiris

Sam: Stacey may use that. But there’s my second guessing point. When the
shots didn’t go in late everyone was calling for the spacers, except
when they don’t make their shots. Doug will. Look, the two concussions
isn’t easy. He still calls me K.C. OK, sorry, concussions aren’t funny.
But I’d as soon have him shooting as anyone. Hoiberg is a
coach who allows the players to do more, doesn’t call everything in
walking it up, which the team had tired of. They can get back to that
push with their rebounding. They just need to. But not without a guard
who can push the ball.


Taj Gibson seems to be playing at an all-star level these days. On the
list of most valuable Bulls on this years' team, where do you rank him?

William Kochneff


Sam: Taj has been great; great team guy, locker room guy and I can be
that, but he has been a terrific player also. It took a while, but he
really developed an offensive game, is confident in his shot and a
threat. He’s done pretty much all he can averaging 12.4 points and 7.4
rebounds in 28 minutes. He’s a big reason the team has been among the
league’s best all season on the boards and second chance points. But
he’s a free agent after the season. So good for him. But what do you do
if you are the Bulls? Get something, anything, in February, though
there’s not much to get for short term rentals? I’ve been a believer in
riding it out rather than another maybe low first round draft pick.
There are plenty of decisions to come next summer, so I hope that
becomes another for both sides. Taj certainly seems good enough to have
going forward with whatever direction the Bulls take. He’ll be 32 next
summer. That’s not old for a big guy, and he’s never played that many
minutes.


It’s hard to call it rebuilding given the starting five. The helpful
return of MDW will be welcomed but there have been few signs of growth
and development in the young players. The future of the Bulls?

John Petersen

Sam: This season wasn’t it, obviously. There’s nothing the Bulls didn’t
do last summer they still cannot do. Plus, there are plenty of changes
coming in the NBA with the new labor agreement and free agency and
salary cap room and no one really knows the effect and impact. So it
wasn’t a bad idea not to commit too fast last summer and to see where
it’s headed. With basically a roster of players with short term
contracts other than Butler and Lopez, the Bulls remain in position to
go in many ways. They needed to see what they had with young players, so
they are seeing some of that, and it’s still two thirds of the season to
go. Adding Dwyane Wade clearly was a signal that this season wasn’t the
future. But that a star with the reputation of Wade’s would come to the
Bulls and embrace the franchise has to be a positive going forward in
potentially attracting players and having a condusive environment to
success and a leader. I expect Wade to return to finish his contract,
and he’s the kind of player and person players want to be around.


Wow The Bulls are struggling now. Why not make trade now? How about
Demarcus Cousins for Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson.

Ryan Carpel


Sam: I rail about Cousins and his mindless game from time to time,
though this was quite the week for him with his fine for the media
issue, kicked out of a game while scoring 55 points and then brought
back in, the most talked about NBA player of the week, which makes it a
bad week for the NBA. It’s rare in the history of the NBA when we’ve
seen someone so talented, an unusual ability for a seven footer to
handle the ball, shoot and pass, who has such selfish basketball habits
and instincts, who has such a terrifying and overwhelming personality
that he paralyzes an entire organization. In five of Cousins’ six
seasons, the Kings failed to win 30 games. Last season’s 33 was his high
water mark as a player. Sure, it’s a dysfunctional franchise with
erratic ownership and management and frequent coaching changes, but NBA
media members always miss the point on Cousins. He’s not a great player.
He’s a great talent. You cannot be a great player if your team routinely
finishes last in the conference and has lost 65 percent of the games
you’ve played in. And are headed to another 30-win season and why
there’s so much talk now of Cousins finally being traded with his
contract expiring after next season. I actually watch the Kings a lot
because in a perverse way I love watching Cousins. Nobody in the NBA
plays basketball so stupidly and selfishly. Dave Joerger is the latest
coach too intimidated to say anything. The broadcasters recite a version
of Orson Wells’ fake war of the worlds, a fictional version of what is
occurring. His teammates stand around in a mixture of awe and confusion
in the combination of being ignored, except at his interest, and seeing
behavior that would be condemned everywhere else they’ve ever played.

Cousins can basically score on anyone with a combination of a rare
three-point shooting touch and power that might match Shaq or Wilt. But
he’ll routinely take the inbounds pass and dribble around for 20
seconds, stand outside and shoot 28 footers while the guards are inside.
Cousins passes with a soft touch, but not according to any actual plan.
He throws himself at the basket and complains every single time. Then he
rarely runs back on defense as a result. He broods, then unleashes fury
at some official or teammate or opponent. It’s no coincidence the Kings
have been the league’s most underachieving team since he’s been there.
And he’s had good teammates. Rudy Gay has had success often; USA
Basketball loved him. He’s played with Isaiah Thomas, Tyreke Evans,
Hassan Whiteside (no wonder he had trouble as a rookie), Jason Thompson,
Marco Belinelli, Darren Collison, Patrick Patrterson, Chuck Hayes, Carl
Landry, most long time NBA starters and pros and some All-Stars . Now,
someone will take a chance. Benoit Benjamin played for nine NBA teams.
Teams always do on talent. It might be someone desperate who can’t seem
to make that last big step. It will be big news, and that city’s fans
will be excited, and then everyone will regret it and the Kings will be
the biggest beneficiaries and most relieved. I think it would be a
breathless team to write about with Cousins instead of Butler; though
sort of like writing about a burning building or an avalanche swamping a
group of skiers. There’s only the mourning to come.


Our Bulls have beaten the Cavs and the Spurs while losing to lowly teams
like the Nuggets, Lakers, Mavs, Wolves and the Bucks (back to back
massacre). Are we now the most feared team in the playoffs, that is if
we make it?

Bambi Choy

Sam: See, that’s the kind of optimism and confidence that will get you
through a Chicago winter. I know you are smiling for the holidays. Let’s
all. There’s a lot of fun (OK, disappointment, too), drama, adventure
and entertainment to come, also. Hey, that’s life.