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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 1.02.2015
Sam Smith of Bulls.com opens his Ask Sam mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers
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By Sam Smith | 1.02.2015 | 10:35 a.m. CT
Why don't Gar/Pax get more credit for the rosters they construct year after year? I was thinking about how they are always finding great replacements and even upgrading in most cases. For example, after we lost Korver they found Belinelli, when Belinelli left they got Dunleavy which I could not be happier with. Also the way we always have a great backup to Rose along with a 3rd guard that can come in at anytime and light it up. We had C.J. Watson, little known at the time, with John Lucas III. Then C.J. left and they brought back Hinrich and signed Nate Robinson who nobody wanted at that time. When Nate left they found D.J. Augustin who had been released by Toronto for being a disappointment, and now that he left they signed the best little guard of them all in Aaron Brooks. Not to mention the draft picks that have come in and contributed.
Sam: You forgot the best of all, the Pau Gasol signing, though they did pursue Carmelo Anthony at the exclusion of everyone else and with Anthony now maybe close to shutting it down for the season with knee problems that may have proven a disaster. So the Bulls should be the favorites for executive of the year this season. LeBron, sure, was the big signing, but he chose the Cavs. The Cavs basically did nothing and would they have hired David Blatt if they knew LeBron was coming? Once they traded for Kevin Love it seemed they had the 2015 award, but the best laid plans can turn up a rat. Portland also continues to do a nice job quietly upgrading the bench and the Wizards’ recouping with Paul Pierce looks good. But Forman and Paxson should be favorites this season, though they do get plenty of credit as the Bulls got the executive of the year award a few seasons back. There’s obviously a lot of luck involved in these things as the community was pretty much unanimous they had to get Anthony or the summer would be a failure. They didn’t and now the Spurs depth model is the one to follow instead of the Heat’s star model. You have to keep track of the trends. The Bulls front office isn’t bold in the trade market, but it is meticulous and exacting in understanding the makeup of a good team, which has enabled it to find the right people with good character who are professional and responsible. It sometimes results in condemnation when things aren’t going well. But the best thing about them has been sticking to their philosophy, which has produced consistent success with annual playoff appearances, which is the best measure of success in sports. Then you need good health and luck, which comes and goes.
As a former military marksman we learned to squeeze the trigger and not jerk the trigger. Anticipating the recoil would cause your bullet to stray. I also spent years as a shooting coach in several camps at several levels and Derrick has a hitch at the top of his shot that seems to keep him from being a consistent shooter. Has anyone else mentioned or noticed this? It's almost as if he is popping his shoulder into alignment just before the release. The hitch is not nearly as profuse on free throws. This jerk is at the exact improper spot to release a shot. By comparison, people used to wonder why Jamaal Wilkes was a good shooter and it was simply because it did not matter what he did in the wind up as long as the release was smooth and consistent. This is also why, as terrible as his form is and shot looks, Joakim is fairly consistent. He has a smooth release although unorthodox. Just wondering has this been discussed or mentioned and if anyone has suggested that Derrick go to more of a set shot or a shot with significantly less elevation (Steph Curry, Larry Bird, etc...)
Sam: I tend not to get into the mechanics of the game as much as after all every team has anywhere from four to eight assistants, most of whom have either had long NBA playing careers or who have been in the NBA for decades. Plus, in this era there is so much film, tape, whatever recordings viewed of games and every sequence to the point they are now charting how far you run in a game—geez, where would we be without knowing that?—that it’s inconceivable to me every movement of Rose’s and everyone else’s shot has not been analyzed dozens of times. Remember, Rose came into the NBA with the reputation as a poor shooter. You could see immediately he wasn’t bad with his stroke. He’s generally shot around 33 percent from threes the last few years, so he’s capable of being at least average. He’s remarkably strong minded and strong willed, but if you are asked about your shooting 16 different ways by reporters nearly every day it’s got to have an effect. Many shooters don’t like to even know where they are. John Paxson always used to get mad at me when I’d tell him where he was in the league rankings in shooting. Yes, even when he was near the top, which he often was. Similarly Kyle Korver doesn’t like to know his numbers. Derrick works on his shooting as much as anyone. It is possible he’s just missing now, which happens to everyone. But his fourth quarter Thursday over the Nuggets making five of his last nine at the biggest time shows he can be counted upon and as he says needs to keep shooting.
Why does Kyle Korver not compete in the all-star three-point contest?
Sam: It’s not a true contest for the best without Korver, but the NBA sometimes holds grudges. Kyle is a devoted family guy and in some past years when the NBA has asked him to compete he’s preferred the break to be ready for the rest of the season. The NBA at times will hold that against a player and after that I know some seasons Korver would have done it he wasn’t invited. I assume now he would be invited the way he’s set shooting records. But it can be a tiring weekend as once there the NBA runs you around to all sorts of events. And it is an even nicer break with your family now as the league has built in about a week off at All-Star game time for everyone. I can understand him still not competing again, however, as an older player not putting yourself through that. It’s also why I keep refusing to participate in the celebrity game even though I’ve yet to be invited. But they must sense that.
I remember when Paul George was being considered one of the games' biggest stars last season and out of curiosity I compared his 13-14 season to Jimmy's current one. I found they're mostly equal in terms of statistics, while both are great defenders and capable of flashy plays and dunks. As Jimmy has been less talked about in national media than Paul was last season, I was wondering - if you had the choice, which one would you pick for your team - 13-14 Paul George or 14-15 Jimmy Butler? What would be your key points in choosing one? In this experiment I'd go with Jimmy as I find him more team oriented, thus less individualist and rather better on the defensive end - both on and off ball.
Sam: I don’t find Jimmy a lot less talked about as there have been MVP and All-Star mentions. While their statistics are similar, though Butler for just a shorter time, George more had to carry his team offensively and was more the focus of the defense compared to Butler. With the Pacers having no true point guard, George basically was making the plays as well, so probably had to do more for his team. But just having Butler in that sentence is impressive. C’mon, MVP candidate from where he came from? Though the issue that resonates to me more is what happened with George last season. For the first two months he was probably the leader in MVP discussion. He averaged 24 points in November and December while playing around 37 minutes per game. You didn’t hear as much about George after the new year as his average slipped to about 21 in January and February (still very good) and 18.7 in March. By the end of the season George wasn’t in the conversation any longer, finishing ninth and well behind Joakim Noah, who mostly had a strong second half. The point is the obvious that it is a long season and much happens and changes as the season goes on. But you have to be an extraordinary player to carry a great season all the way through as the defenses load up against you, as we saw the Nets do to Butler earlier this week, and it’s difficult to sustain playing a lot of minutes early and being asked to do so much for your team, as George was.
I have a query about something especially random. I see the Bulls played an intra-squad scrimmage at Beloit College on Oct. 8 1986. It was Red versus White, coached by Doug Collins and Tex Winter and open to the public. Jordan had 30. Did the Bulls do this annually? Or was this just something Collins did? I'm trying to figure out whether this was a regular thing.
Sam: Though it seems hard to believe, the Bulls still were not a huge attraction in Jordan’s early seasons. Heck, if you read the local media you wouldn’t know the Bulls were even playing the way the Bears dominated the coverage. I remember when I was covering the team for The Tribune back then and in that Bears era one season on opening day the Tribune couldn’t find space on the front of the sports section for a Bulls story. The Tribune was always a cut and paste front page back then with basically the same layout every day and five or six sports stories. And it’s not like the Cubs and Sox were doing much in the fall. The Bulls had one home sellout that season, which was Jordan’s greatest scoring season ever, the first two months and that was to see the Celtics. The Bulls home opener drew about 12,000, which was about two thirds capacity. The only sellouts that season before the All-Star break and until the media and public began to realize, ‘Hey this Jordan guy is pretty good,’ were against Bird’s Celtics, the 76ers with Dr. J., Magic’s Lakers and the Hawks with Dominique. So back then the Bulls were doing all they could to get some attention to, yes, basically letting fans see free practices, which these days they do not allow the media to see and often bar not selected staff.
I know I'm premature as the season is still way too early, but I've decided to wage my Butler for MVP campaign. (Against your previous advice of "you're on your own with that one".) I know, I know, Butler is not the best player in the league, and probably wouldn't crack the top twenty. But in the true essence of the award, his presence right now, with emphasis on "right now", is as valuable to his team as LeBron's is to his. This is not a comparison of the two in totality, but an acknowledgement of both's current play. The NBA will promote the "money players", or household names. I get it. They'll justify Butler's progress with the most improved player award, with the defensive player award going to Davis. It satisfies everyone. Right now he's at least in the conversation.
Sam: I won’t argue that and as I noted after the Pacers game ESPN promoted a statistics box with Butler matched against the top MVP candidates. Hey, maybe with LeBron going out a few weeks he will win! Look, none of us expected Rose to be MVP in 2011 after he made that comment at media day of why couldn’t he win to mostly eyes rolled. Jimmy’s obviously having a terrific season, but voters have short memories. If you are not the same guy the second half things can change drastically, and while Jimmy is the overwhelming favorite for Most Improved and seems like he should get the award now, we’re only about a third of the way in.
Is Chris Paul the most overrated player since Tracy McGrady? He is constantly flopping and getting owned by other PGs on a nighty basis it seems.
Sam: I don’t believe Paul is having a very good season, which is one reason the Clippers are not playing as well as projected. But reputation goes a long way in sports. Paul is so often called the best point guard it becomes accepted. This season he’s probably not in the top five. His shooting has fallen off the last month and he tends to hang onto the ball way too much, as he’s always done. The Clippers don’t run as much action with him and he seems to be penetrating less and pulling up outside. The question regarding his legacy has been the playoffs as he’s often made a big mistake at a big time in the playoffs. He is asked to do a lot, but sometimes it’s his fault as he won’t give up the ball. He’s never been beyond the second round of the playoffs, and you can’t keep making the excuse the West is tough. And enough with the Isiah Thomas comparisons. Paul isn’t even in that team picture with Isiah’s group.
I saw George Karl tonight on ESPN criticizing the Cavs. It really sounded like he was angling for the job. Do you think Blatt will make it through the season, and if not, who do you think will get that job? I imagine any coach in the sideline would love that job.
Sam: It’s tough to blame George as he’s so anxious to get back to coaching and has said it publicly fairly often. The pressure will come off a bit now with LeBron out to rest. Yes, even him. George started his career coaching the Cavs and he’d probably love to make a last run there as much as any. He’s probably a Hall of Fame coach, but another run likely would clinch it. I would not be surprised to see them make a change even in Blatt’s first season. After all, he was brought in to coach a developing young team; not LeBron James as the clock ticks down on the prime of his career.
With Amare & Bargnani (among others) coming off the books next summer, it appears the Knicks will have at least a legitimate $30 million to spend. Do you think Phil splurges, or does he wait one more year until Durant is available? He probably can't get Gasol this summer, but guys like Brandon Knight, Dragic, Tobias Harris, Amir Johnson, Reggie Jackson, and Draymond Green are out there. And I can especially see Phil go after Greg Monroe and/or Paul Milsap. (Monroe would be kind of perfect for the Triangle.)
Sam: I think you and Phil are thinking alike. More Zen. Though Phil had Michael when he took over the Bulls, he was instrumental as an assistant in lobbying constantly for the trade for Bill Cartwright. He probably had more persuasive influence over that move than anyone as Doug Collins was close with Michael and they wanted Oakley to stay, though Jerry Krause did appreciate the worth of big guys. Phil’s philosophy of the game always has been about using penetration in the post and it certainly helps with a big man. I know the Knicks are under siege from fans and media, but there was nothing Phil could do in the short term without wrecking the future. It’s the beauty of running a team in New York: Try to win now while breaking it down to build for the future. Phil needed a point guard and knew Tyson Chandler wanted out. So he did the Calderon for Chandler deal, which I’d still do rather than paying Chandler, who is 32 and not a distributor or offensive threat. I assume Phil will first pursue the best big man he can and should have a top five draft pick to go along, though with players coming out so young now we see how little impact most have in their first few years.
It’s obvious that Thibs doesn’t really trust Tony Snell as even E’Twaun Moore has now plays more than him so why don’t the Bulls just send Snell down to the D-League? If that happens then we will need someone to back up Jimmy in case he gets hurt or is in foul trouble why not bring back former Bull Ronnie Brewer? I don’t think he’s currently in the NBA and would be a great fit with this team as he’s already been with the team before and played for Thibs not to mention the Bulls can probably get him cheap.
Sam: Tony’s hot with three threes against the Nets, which amazingly were his first points in a month. The Bulls worry about emergencies and injuries and how many minutes and like to have players around. But I would like to see him play in the D-league for a while as you have to lose your confidence rarely playing in games. Snell could go down to the D-league with the open and wild play there and score 40. I think that might help him gain some of the aggression he lacks that I think keeps Thibodeau from using him more.
I just read a report on the early all-star voting and was flabbergasted how Rose's name was left out, and to some extent, Butler's. Rose's jersey has always been one of the best sellers, affirming his popularity. On top of that, he's playing phenomenally well, all the skills and athleticism of the old Rose. He's putting up impressive numbers despite the minute restriction and having to find himself again. Does the public have such a short memory? Has his popularity suffered due to the agonizingly bad luck he's had with injuries? To think he's trailing Wall (who he decimated last week) is insulting. How do you think the all-star voting will all play out? It may be hard for one team to field four all-stars, but who misses out? Honestly, if Gasol, Noah, Butler and Rose aren't all all-stars this year any one of them should feel short-changed.
Sam: Yes, it’s going to be difficult for the Bulls who likely won’t have the East’s best record at the end of January to get four All-Stars. It looks like Pau will be voted in and Jimmy seems a lock with his strong first two months. Not that Derrick isn’t popular, but he took a hit nationally in media and on radio shows with his comments that were construed to mean he didn’t care. It’s obviously not the case with everything he’s gone through, but it’s often easier to believe what you are told than taking the time to figure it out for yourself. Derrick’s play has been excellent in spots, and at under 30 minutes per game, more than 10 fewer than Butler, averaging about 17 points and 5 assists is good. But people also are judged against who and what they were, and Rose is still on the comeback from missing two years and always talks about being much better later in the season. The team is on board with that considering the priority for the playoffs, so Rose is being asked not to push so hard for now. It could mean he doesn’t make the All-Star team, though coaches know his value and the scouting report still starts with him for opponents.
Shooters run hot and cold. And on a team of shooters it's contagious too. It's why the Bulls defense is so important. Folks in a way glamorize defense and rebounding, but there's a definite point that gets lost in the P.R.: you play tough defense to get the ball back increasing your number of shots. When you shoot lousy, you need more shots to get enough points to have more than the other guy. You win when time has run out and you have more points than the other guy. Simple. LBJ Heat teams flipped that around. They didn't rebound especially well, so they fixed it in a way that fewer shots were required. Same equation. Bulls should have learned something against Indiana, and that's the lovely end of a regular season game on a dark late December night. Stacey King was howling about feeding the post. You know, this is an interesting point. It falls on Rose to really understand and implement this but the Bulls have so many distributors on this team, they all have to get this in front of themselves... make sure to stay attentive to post touches. I think that with the severely limited offensive game Bulls have suffered for years now they got into an intellectual rut. These days there might be a tendency to give it to Brooks then go to sleep. Last year they did that with Augustin, and before him Nate. Can't do that. It would have broken Indiana sooner if there had been a basket or two in that 20-0 run. Bulls would not have had to work as hard for the win. Probably the game would have floated around an 8pt lead to the end. No doubt about it, nice run by Indiana, but.
Sam: The not as great defense has been a point this season, though on the surface it can’t quite be as it was because you have more offense and more pace, so you are not in position to defend in transition as you were before. The Bulls still run way too many possessions down to the end of the 24-second clock, but not as many as before. And thus you are not in position now to defend getting back as much as you were. The larger point to me is adding three average defenders to the heart of the rotation with Gasol, Brooks and Mirotic. You can say the Bulls always have had one of these small, non defensive oriented guards under Thibodeau. And Boozer not exactly being all-defense. But it’s the combination of three of them and new to the system. Plus you don’t have Noah and Gibson playing together quite as often, which was their best defensive big man tandem. This group doesn’t stunt and recover as well, a big part of the Bulls defense in the past. Still, their field goal defense is fifth in the league and with players like Noah, Gibson and Butler, Gasol’s rim protection and Rose able to make athletic plays like a block on a 6-11 guy Thursday and a couple of late steals, the Bulls will always have enough defense with this group.