Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 04.13.12
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I feel compelled to implore you to please stop encouraging Rose isolations at the end of close games. We have several players that can make plays and shots under pressure: Korver, Deng, Watson, Brewer, Hamilton, Noah, etc. If Thibs and Rose are influenced by all those other commentators and fans who yearn for Jordan-era buzzer beaters (which, by the looks of it, they are) I can't help but fear that we'll end up losing to Heat in the playoffs the same way we did last year, with a tired Rose trying to split a double team or forcing up shots over a former MVP who's twice his size (the so-called "King" whose name I dare not speak). I think your argument about taking Rose over anyone when the game is on the line functions as double curse: it puts too much pressure on Rose and it undermines all of Thibs' efforts to build the confidence of other players. What's more, it contradicts your commendable praise for our uniquely dangerous "versatility" in articles like the one you posted today. At the risk of romanticizing the novelty of Thibs' Bulls, I think I speak for a lot of fans in calling for a concerted effort to move beyond the Jordan-era philosophy of give-the-last-shot-to-the-MVP-no-matter-what. As your posts during the current Rose-less period have indicated, we've entered the Thibs-Deng-Rose-unselfish-teamwork era. Our strength lies in our depth, not only in the playmaking ability of one or two All-Stars. Our role players have proven themselves over and over. We have too many weapons to revert to the isolate-for-the-MVP strategy. Let the Heat try (and fail) with that endgame. The time has come for us to rise above the NBA's anti-team, isolation fray.
Sam: I don't influence anything, though, of course, I should. And, yes, the Bulls won a wonderful game Thursday over Miami with Rose not only one of 13, but sitting out the overtime and only playing in the fourth quarter to give C.J. Watson a rest. I know. I’ve never seen anything like that, either. But I expect Rose again to be the fulcrum for the Bulls, and if he cannot be I do not expect great things. I still want my best player in that position and I have no problem with it being Rose and not because I need to celebrate buzzer beaters. I don't quite understand this romance with giving a last shot to Ronnie Brewer or C.J. Watson or this notion now that Rose is some problem because he is not playing team ball. If you believe that you are not paying attention. He is by far the best passer among the guards and is the ultimate team player. No offense, but the other point guards are not as good even with C.J.’s great finish Thursday. I don’t want them in that position. I want my most talented player who also has the ability to get a foul call and whose job that is. It’s not the job of everyone. Not because Rose is highest paid. There is a pecking order of sorts in sports. Why isn’t a halfback making the final pass on a drive instead of Peyton Manning to confuse the defense? You go with your greatest talent. They become that because they are skilled in performing at that time. Who ever thought a few weeks before the playoffs I’d be spending so much time having to defend playing Derrick Rose? Thibodeau has done a terrific job in creating a system of play that employs many players in various situations. But then when he needs the game won where does he go? Who does he have on the floor? He’s been around great players and big, title games and he wants Rose in that position. Miami doesn’t win as much as they should because James runs from that responsibility. The Lakers won titles because Kobe didn’t. After the Lakers lost in the Finals, they came back the next year because Magic took the big shots. Not Worthy or Byron Scott. There were famous times when Michael gave up the final shot to John Paxson or Steve Kerr, but the Bulls never get there if Michael wasn’t taking them. Shoot, Derrick, shoot. As a post script, I should add Rose doesn’t feel pressure. Don’t worry about him. That’s the difference between not us and them but them and their teammates. The truly great ones, which is how they get there, embrace those moments and feel empty if they cannot get those shots. Very few pro athletes really want that responsibility. A select few live for it and also want to shield others from it. They like the task and challenge and feel comfortable. When you hear talk of the game slowing down it’s in those moments. That’s why the best ones are so good. Jordan missed plenty, but the fun for him was trying the next. Rose is like that. When you have someone like that it’s rare and you don’t cheat those moments. But above all else, Rose is about winning as much as anyone I’ve been around. It’s not about him. And the Bulls do score more when Rose plays than when he doesn’t. He remains the answer, not an issue.
Just wondering if you remember another time two championship contenders played each other and the home team’s fans were begging for the backups to get in the game?
Sam: That is the strength of the Bulls we’ve talked about for two years and why I felt even last season they could beat Miami, the depth and size up front. Last season as it turned out the Miami mystique was too much. That’s now gone. But let’s not get too carried away. I’m getting all sorts of mail now that Rose has to change his game, that Watson and Brewer have to play more. No, that’s exactly not the point. The reserves should be a support group and not asked to do more than they are capable. It is huge for the team that guys like Watson or Asik can come in big moments and not be overwhelmed. But I don’t want to rely on them. I want to rely on my starters because they have gotten the best record over two years. And that guys can step in off the bench and produce at a high level is a bonus, not a substitute.
Looking at the current standings, it seems as though the first seed might have a tougher road to the Conference Finals than the second seed would. As the #1 seed, the Bulls would face Carmelo, Amare, (and possibly Lin) and the Knicks in the first round, followed by the winner of Boston/Atlanta in the 2nd. Meanwhile, the #2 seeded Miami would face the starless 76'ers in the opening round, followed by the winner of Indiana/Orlando. I see a potential sweep to the Conference Finals for the Heat if the brackets remain the same.
Sam: I feel if you want to be a champion and believe you can be it should not matter who you play. This can all change, of course, so you just try to win as many games as you can, which I’m sure we won’t have to worry about with Tom Thibodeau. There are no shortcuts to a title. And these things generally are viewed in reverse. If you had the toughest matchups and won, then it toughened you up. If you had the easier road and lost them you weren’t tested enough. With the way the NBA is with seven game series and eliminations along the way the deserving team wins. But I don’t see any great teams beyond Miami, and if you can’t beat teams of that level you are hardly championship material.
I know that Tom Thibodeau threw himself on the sword for the OKC loss. However, even though we have had some horrific games on the defensive end of the game and some key mistakes that caught up with us I think that a major issue is that when Rose is playing the team tends to stand around and watch him! I am wondering why Coach Thibs has not jumped down their throats about this yet. You remember when they did it with MJ but the good part about that is both teams where standing around watching MJ. Why is it that no one has corrected this issue of standing around waiting for Rose to bail the team out instead of playing like they did last night?
Marshall E. Shelley
Sam: Because I don’t think that’s true. Even on that last possession in overtime when Rose stumbled there was a weave on top. Guys are moving, there is weak side action. I’ve gotten an increased number of these sorts of questions with the notion that the offense is crisper without Rose. In my view, that’s ridiculous. Actually, the offense is worse without Rose since neither Watson nor Lucas are distribution type point guards and tend to overdribble. Not their fault. They play that way. Rose, yes, is a scoring point guard to a large extent, though more out of necessity. He makes great passes right in position to score. He is often trapped, which puts the Bulls in good position with a big man like Noah to pass and attack. He does not dominate the ball anywhere near the way Jordan did, and the Bulls' offense wasn't bad in that era in any case.
If the Bulls win it all this year will it put Rip Hamilton in the Basketball Hall of Fame?
Sam: First you laugh, and then you think, well, maybe. If the Bulls win with Hamilton he will have been that final piece and that would mean two championship teams. He is a multiple All-Star, a career 20-point playoff scorer in more than 100 playoff games, has an NCAA title and was outstanding player in the tournament after a great college career. Given it is a Basketball Hall of Fame and not just NBA he’d certainly be a legitimate candidate.
I have to question [Derrick] Rose's toughness. I saw the game in NY and he never appeared hurt at any time, not even a limp so for him to have a "bad ankle" is not believable. Ever since he signed that big deal he became soft, MJ would have been out there. I say since the [Bulls] can win without him, trade him.
Sam: Ah, the price of stardom. It wasn’t too long ago the Bulls actually needed Rose and we actually were glad he was MVP.
I'm 38 and might trip trying to jump over a sheet of notebook paper so I'm not one to question athleticism but if Derrick Rose's injuries affect his athleticism what else does he have to rely on?
Sam: I’m fairly sure the Bulls could get O.J. Mayo or Courtney Lee for him. It’s too bad Rose has had some injuries, but I don’t see any reason to believe any of them have anything to do with his future. Jason Kidd couldn’t shoot as well and his game was all about speed, and then he had microfracture surgery, which is a real injury, eight years ago. He's made All-Star games since and helped lead a team to a title. If you think Rose has only been a jumper, you aren’t watching at all.
Well if there were any doubters about Rose's importance, the last few games have proved it (Houston and Oklahoma City). Both backups have played poorly. Regarding the playoffs, I'd rather see JLIII as the 8-10 minute point backup. Against Boston Watson played a little less worse than he has lately, but still had 6 turnovers, and 5-16 shooting. I also realize you can’t go strictly by the numbers, but going into the game, his +/- was the worst on the team with a +9, despite playing all the minutes he has on the team with the best record.
Sam: I think you underrate Watson, and he has been very stoic with a bad ankle injury he continues to play with. He’s not the classic point guard, but has filled in well with Rose out and deserves that spot. Thibodeau did plan to play him more with Rose and that would have been good to see, but when Rose went out for so long they couldn’t do that. Overall, Watson has proven a valuable signing.
Are the Bulls still limiting Rip's playing time due to his shoulder injury? Given his performance against the Knicks, seems like Rip should be playing more than just 1st and 3rd quarter. Hopefully Rip's playing time will continue to increase as playoffs gets closer and have similar output like in 3rd quarter against the Knicks!
Sam: This would be the time of the season when Thibodeau doesn’t play guys enough compared to January when he played guys too much. There are times Thibideau’s porridge is too hot and other times too cold, and then there are times at home one chair is too hard and another is too soft. There are just so many problems in life and it’s so difficult to find the perfect situation. But you know Thibodeau isn’t going to fall asleep on this one and I suspect Hamilton will be up to the 30-minute range when the playoffs arrive, which is just right.
After watching both games against the Knicks, it has become pretty clear to me that we don't have enough athletes on our team to win the championship this season, I mean even if we do edge out Miami in the conference (although Boston is looking pretty good as of late) there's no way in my mind we can beat OKC in a seven game series, more so now with D-Rose having all this injuries. With that said, I feel like we missed out on getting a better wing player with an Asik trade, I mean seems like he has regressed an awful lot lately and doesn't have nearly the same trade value he once had. Did management hold on too long to Asik?
Sam: Just who do we like anymore? Omer may not be the most important player — OK, he’s not — but in many respects reflects why the Bulls do have a chance to win a title. I agree the Bulls don’t have quite the athletes of some of the other contenders, but what they do have more than others is size and depth, and that’s where guys like Omer come in. I think he could play more, but it would be hard to see where the Bulls could win any more games than they have. I thought even with him barely grazing the box score against the Knicks Tuesday he was the key to the game with his defensive positioning, defense and offensive screening when the Bulls turned the game around in the second quarter. It’s why it’s difficult for so many to pick the Bulls over teams like Miami. You can see stars and point totals; you can’t always see the so called little things that lead to victory for the Bulls. Omer is great at that and the bigger issue to me is how they will be able to keep him as a restricted free agent and whether they can given he is highly valued around the league.
I know the most likely answer is "He is who he is now", but is there any hope Joakim Noah can develop just one offensive move? I'm a big fan of his, but whenever I see him on the block I get nervous (unless he passes, because he's so good at that as a big man). I'll never expect him to be KG or The Mailman on the offensive end, but just a little more than what he does now?
Sam: Noah has come a long way as he has that little lefty move to the basket. He is a bit stubborn, which you might guess from his free throw style. But he was developing more of an offensive game when he basically missed all last season and that set him back to where he was the previous season and now he’s working back. Basically, he was paid to be an energy player and that’s what the Bulls want. He will work hard on his game and he’ll come up with a bit more, but it’s really remarkable he has come this far with the skills he has not being much of a jumper or great athlete. He’s one of the league’s best centers when he hustles, and I think the Bulls are fine with him that way.
It is not clear to me whether the Bulls, even if they tried, can get another All-Star in the off-season, like Howard or Anthony. Assuming they are stuck with the current team (or maybe a somewhat different team if they amnesty Boozer to try to pick up someone like Allen and/or KG), with only one true superstar, they seem to be facing not very good odds on winning an NBA championship. Dallas somehow found a way miraculously to do it last year after years of trying. Other than that, the only "modern" team I can think of that won with only one superstar was the late 80s Pistons. There are certain analogies, Chicago kid at the point (Isiah and Rose), rich kid at center (Lambeer and Noah), and great team defense (unfortunately, Korver is not quite the Microwave). But there is one big difference, the Pistons had a mean streak I don't see in the Bulls. Boozer at least looks soft and so does Noah, and there clearly is no enforcer. Someone should have been in Chandler's face on Sunday and bated him into a second technical. Can the Bulls really get past Miami, with three big time players, or Oklahoma, with two superstars and some very good role players (like Ibaka and Harden), unless they change their mentality?
Sam: Who exactly is the tough guy on Miami? Bosh? Heck, they were crying in the locker room when they lost. That’s a very overrated thing, and the Bulls happen to be a very tough team. They have some of the tougher guys coming off the bench in Gibson, Asik and Brewer. Watch the pounding those guys take and give back without whining to the officials. Compare that with, say, Wade, who always is looking for official help, or even Kendrick Perkins, who has the great mad face. Garnett runs from contact. That’s why he’s such a good fadeaway jump shooter. Though some of your fellow fans from my questions above think perhaps the problem is the Bulls have one too many superstars and if they had more Korvers, Watsons, and Noahs it would be a more idyllic game. I need to put you in touch with them.
D-Rose had no restriction in his first game back after 12 games off. He was overplayed and I read today that he tweeked his ankle. There was no reason that D-Rose should have been out there pretty much the whole 2nd half. D-R was tired and it showed when he missed the 2 free throws at the end of 4th quarter. This is why I [would] wait to sign Thibodeau to an extension, no matter how good he is with the x and o's, he needs to learn how to play his players. He overplays Deng and it is showing in his defense, he is getting beat more than he did in the beginning of the season. If Thibodeau keeps playing D-Rose the way he did in his first game back the Bulls will not make it out of the first round.
Sam: That is the endless debate this season, which also suggests, as I’ve said, how well things have gone. Though we don’t agree on everything, I’m good with the way Thibs has handled things. After all, Rose has had plenty of rest now. And every time we think Deng has played too much he’s the most hustling guy on the court, like against the Knicks Tuesday. He really thrives on the work, and if he does there’s nothing wrong with giving it to him. The ankle thing was a fluke and even with the time there was no issue with the original injury, the groin. And this isn’t Thibs alone as he consults with management and the doctors. If the Bulls lose it will be a failure of talent, which is always possible.
The consensus that I have heard and read from the various media outlets seems to be that the Coach of the Year is between Thibodeau and Greg Popovich. Being that the COTY is regular season award, I don’t see how Popovich can get it when he has tanked some games by taking guys out of the lineup. One should not win COTY when you potential wins are left on the table like that. I think Popovich is the best coach in the NBA today, and I understand his concern is the playoffs. Looking at it from the Spurs perspective I agree with his strategy but I struggle with it as fan believing in the integrity of the game. I am not one of these folks that thinks a Bull should win every award, in fact I would have no problem with Kevin McHale winning the COTY this year, as the Rockets clearly have overachieved. Who do you see winning the COTY and what do think of the Spurs resting players as far as the integrity of the game goes? That Spurs vs. Jazz game had playoff implications for teams trying to get in.
Sam: It’s a good question and I find myself torn as I think Popovich probably has done the best overall job this season given expectations factored in as well. Except when I think Thibodeau has. I do have issues with giving up games like that because I am an integrity of the game guy. Especially on the road. People are playing a lot of money for those tickets and deserve to see the best possible game every time. After all, you do when you go to the theater, and the NBA is sports theater. So in that respect I agree with you regarding Thibodeau. But this is an unusual time given the shortened schedule with an excess of additional games scrunched together. Perhaps Popovich is the one handling it the right way, and the only other time there was a post-lockout season his team won. But his players didn’t take games off that season. And, yes, there are playoff implications for other teams, but Bulls fans this season have been screaming all year to give up games to rest guys for the playoffs, at least early in the season. Do you owe your team? Your opponents? The league? The paying fans? Maybe just give it to Doc Rivers, who has dealt with more issues than perhaps any coach in the league from age to injury to serious illness to having most of his team in trade talks. And having all the while to fly to Duke to watch his son play.
Now I'll admit that last year I was a boozer hater, not on his game but because he was living up to his reputation of being injury prone. This year I have actually been able to appreciate his game and actually become one of his biggest fans. I'm such a big fan of his game (offensive game that is because his defense is offensive), that I honestly think he is the most skilled big man in the game. What other big man has better foot work, the ability to finish with their off hand just as good as their strong hand, and has a reliable mid range jumper?
Sam: I suppose that’s better than pushing for amnesty, which was what many fans were earlier. No, the Bulls have no plans to do so and won’t next year or even after that. It is somewhat ironic Boozer has been the ironman and only starter to play every game. As I’ve written, he was oversold some and fans wanted him to be more than he was. There are several you’d rather have, like Pau, Aldridge, Griffin, Love and probably Bosh. But at his position, I think he’s 10th or 11th highest paid and certainly in that group in talent. If the Bulls do not ultimately succeed, it will not be because of his signing. And, by the way, against Miami Thursday Boozer had 11 rebounds. No one on Miami had more than eight. Boozer had two offensive rebounds and no Miami starter had more than one. It was a big regular season game.
Why isn't Thibs running more plays for Boozer? He rarely posts these days as most of his points are from jumpshots. Knicks had Carmelo playing the PF position yesterday yet Thibs really did not run any post plays for Boozer. Is it up to Boozer to create his own offense or does Thibs have to call the plays for him?
Sam: Now this is progress, from why can’t they cut him to why can’t they use him more. Actually, there are a lot of times I think they can. But, after all, they do have the league’s best record so they can’t be doing that much wrong.
I've been watching a lot of dunk highlights recently and have seen a lot of "posterizing" contact dunks. One of the big things I noticed is that the dunker has their off hand down when they make contact. Blake Griffin however seems to differ from the norm as he seems to physically stiff arm other players and drop elbows into Pau Gasol's head. Shouldn't this be an offensive foul? Do the refs simply not call it because of his popularity and it would be bad for the team's revenue?
Sam: I’ll put you among the serious conspiracy theorists. Yes, I saw that Griffin dunk and it did appear to be an offensive foul. They don’t get them all right, as we know. And it did come after the dunk, which means only Hue Hollins calls those. Though there are many who continue to insist the 1998 Final be played over because Jordan supposedly pushed off on that last shot.
What are some other options for the Bulls at shooting guard around the league and in this upcoming draft? Any prospects you like or upcoming free agents that are intriguing?
Sam: They have one named Richard Hamilton. He is under contract for next season. I no longer think that is a priority.
As a Bulls fan I have to say that I'm beginning to dread these words more than any other, this season at least: "It's a day game." It feels like whenever we play a day game, on the weekend or on a holiday, we get blown out, or just play discombobulated from the opening whistle. Is this something you've been noticing too? And are you worried about this trend continuing in the playoffs?
Sam: It’s not like they haven’t been told. Thibs did express some dismay in New York Sunday that so many of these are on the road. So blame the Blackhawks, who have the arena on Sundays. Nah, that’s not uncommon around the league as several teams share arenas. The larger point is no matter what the issue is you have to win on the road, you have to win early, you have to win late and you have to win even if Shaq is doing the commentary. There are no shortcuts to being champion.
I worry that the Bulls are among the worst teams in free throw percentage, we have seen have failure in the final seconds to secure important shots in a game. I wonder if this is a problem in the mechanics of our guys shot or simply [that they can't] shoot with more consistency and this will be a failure that will have throughout your career, or perhaps be some psychological problem? A doctor could help relieve some kind of emotional pressure in these circumstances the game.
Sam: They’ve missed some free throws lately, we know, and have not been great this season. But they haven’t been a great free throwing shooting team. The guys who missed them against the Knicks, Rose and Deng, are among their best shooters. I’ve seen both make pressure free throws to win games. The misses stand out. Jordan did it as well. I recall a pair of missed free throws that could have wrapped up the Cavs series in 1989 that forced Game 5 that the Bulls almost lost. It happens, but I’ll take my chances with both those guys again. I love all these guys posing as pressure doctors, which is a big thing on the pro golf tour. Like Stuart Smalley once said, You’re good enough, you’re smart enough and doggone it people like you.” I don’t reject that people need help and it is very legitimate. But I think sometimes it’s overdone for athletes. I admit I am more existential in being responsible for your own actions and decisions, but part of sports I always feel is embracing that responsibility and enjoying it. Which is why the greatest thing was when Bubba Watson won the Masters after doing well in the President’s Cup. He just plays. If you need psychological help to make a free throw you already may have thought too much about it. I’m glad the Bulls don’t.
I was looking at the Boston-Miami box score from Tuesday night and trying to figure out how Miami got 16 more shots than Boston (87-71) when they got out-rebounded 40-34 and had only a small edge in turnovers (Miami-7, Boston-12). I'm guessing there was a big edge to Miami in "Team Rebounds" which didn't appear on the SI box score. I have always assumed 'team rebounds' are rebounds that involve more than one player touching the ball, like when Noah tips the ball out to a guard. What is a team rebound?
Sam: There are team and individual rebounds. Individual is obvious as when a player gets a rebound. There are several kinds of team rebounds, but basically they are in a change of possession when there is not an individual rebound. See it all has to fit together. Some examples are a ball going out of bounds, an airballed free throw, an airball when the shot clock expires. Now for your homework...