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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 10.03.2014
Every Friday, 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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Thibs’ attitude towards the rotation worries me a bit. I simply don't understand why he doesn't feel inclined to have a competent full second unit when we have so much depth off the bench: Brooks, Hinrich, Snell, Mirotic and Gibson would be a dynamic bench mob off the bench and has three solid defenders. We also have McDermott and Moore and well as Nazr so Thibs really has no reason not to be able to have a complete second unit. Gasol doesn't need more than 30 minutes a night.
Sam: I guess you have a pretty good team when how many reserves to use is one of the big questions, which it has been this week with the major issue, like Derrick Rose’s health, fading into the background with Rose experiencing no issues. Thibodeau made it pretty clear where he stands the opening week of camp when he basically talked about a nine-player rotation and said maybe, perhaps 10, but not likely. It’s not unusual and frankly rare to see two full units playing. Hubie Brown was most famous for trying it with the Knicks and later briefly with Memphis, but it’s never had great success. Everyone points to the Spurs and their liberal use of reserves, but that is not something Popovich did in his early years. Popovich played Duncan almost 40 minutes per game and his regulars about 30 to 35 and about four bench guys 15 to 18 minutes when the Spurs won their first title. Miami used basically an eight-player rotation last season and that was with Wade sitting out half the time. It’s good to have depth, but not many NBA coaches play more than nine on a regular basis. The Pacers and Thunder basically used eight and sometimes nine last season. Coaches everywhere tend to trust and rely upon their best players and want them out there the most. The Bulls have had plenty of injuries the last few years. I suspect a lot of guys, in some respects, unfortunately, will get a chance to play.
These are exciting times for us! Let's help coach decide his rotations so we can win it all! Rose, Butler, Dunleavy, Gasol, Noah, Hinrich, and Gibson are locks. I predict Brooks and Mirotic get the bulk of the remaining minutes. That leaves Snell and McDermott to duke it out over garbage time. Mohammed is a good midseason ails & injuries replacement.
Sam: The starting five seems set with Rose, Butler, Dunleavy, Gasol and Noah. It’s obvious Thibodeau prefers Gibson and Hinrich as his primary reserves. But it gets interesting after that. I actually think McDermott is the most likely player after that. That’s because the weakest positions are shooting guard, where Butler isn’t a classic unless he improves his shooting, and Dunleavy is more natural as a reserve. Mirotic is a power forward and perhaps even center more than a small forward. So I don’t see where he gets minutes as I don’t see Thibodeau reducing minutes for Noah, Gibson and Gasol unless there are injuries. If Noah’s knee doesn’t respond quickly, his minutes could be reduced early. Then there might be some time. Brooks is behind three guards, Rose, Butler and Hinrich, and again it’s tough to see where those three don’t add up to 96 minutes like with the three front line guys. The Bulls would like to keep Hinrich under 30 minutes, I assume, like they did last season. But say he averages 26. That’s still 70 minutes for Rose and Butler, which doesn’t leave a whole lot as 37 for Jimmy and 33 for Rose isn’t ridiculous. The other issue is schedule. The Bulls, as usual, have a rough start with that circus trip and opening with New York and Cleveland and 12 of the first 17 on the road. Thibodeau doesn’t like to start slowly; so I don’t see him experimenting with a long rotation with so many road games to start. I agree he’d like to play Brooks since he is a veteran, and I suspect one of the rookies. Snell probably remains an injury replacement along with Moore and Mohammed.
With the Bulls as deep as they are, where does that leave big man Cameron Bairstow? After viewing his scouting reel I noticed he plays the same kind of aggressive basketball as Noah does with the ability to shoot the three. I know the team is flush with big men but his kind of aggressive play seem right up Thibs wheelhouse.
Sam: Bairstow figures to get just a bit more playing time than me. That’s OK. He’s a second round pick and a team with a talented big man in Nikola Mirotic whom no one is sure when and where he might play. You need guys to practice with, to cheer and to buy the morning doughnuts.
We know from the past four years that Tom Thibodeau is one of the best, if not the best, at coaching defense in the NBA. But how good is the Bulls coaching staff on offense? Obviously, having good offense players such as Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol (and maybe even Doug McDermott) should make the offense better. But are the offensive fundamentals as well coached as well as the defensive ones? It seems like we force a lot of long twos while on defense but then end up taking a lot of bad shots ourselves.
Sam: The offensive coaching has been a lot better when Rose played. Yes, with the addition of Gasol it should get even better. One thing to watch is pace of play. The Bulls’ has been slow the last few years for obvious reasons as most opponents had better offenses and the Bulls didn’t want to get into shootouts without much ammunition. Thibodeau talks all the time about playing fast to get easy baskets and says he wants to. The test will be more so now as he has the players to do it. Thibodeau calls a lot of plays from the sidelines, which is not that uncommon in sports these days with baseball managers calling pitches (make them stop to speed the game) and football coaches calling every play, which is why you root for the Eagles and Denver, who want to play fast and trust their quarterbacks. I’d like to see more of that in basketball, as well; and as most of the coaches weren’t players, I’d rather see the point guards calling the offense than the coaches. I like John Wooden’s old practice when players would turn to the bench during games. He’d tell them not to look at him, that he’d instructed them enough in practice. The Bulls coaches know offense. They and a lot of others just need to trust the players more to allow them to play it. The coaches own practice; the players should own the games.
Josh Smith small forward? That was the dumbest thing, I've ever seen last season for that team. Guy's a power forward, not a small forward, (would love to see him going up against Gasol though).
Sam: There are other teams besides the Bulls and Cavs, unfortunately. The Bulls see the one who embarrassed them in the playoffs Monday and the return of Stan Van Gundy Tuesday. The East isn’t going to be so easy as easy wins last season over the Pistons, Knicks, Cleveland (of course) and Milwaukee may not be that easy. You can see what Van Gundy, a really good coach, is up to in trying to recreate the Magic with a lousy free throw shooting big man and shooters all around. His issues are the crazy shots of Smith and Brandon Jennings. Smith does need to go back to power forward, where he once was impressive as a defensive force. They probably could have traded Greg Monroe now if his agent hadn’t scared off everyone asking for a max deal. But they’ll continue to try to move him to get back to a reasonable rotation. Van Gundy will make it interesting. I have them a possible playoff team.
What’s the Bulls cap situation both this year and long-term? I think the Lu trade last year pushed them under the cap but were they over it the previous year? If they’re over it again this year, is there a worse penalty? I’m asking because I saw a “rumor” (probably more like one person’s suggestion) of a trade with the Wolves that would send them Snell and Dunleavy and bring back Kevin Martin to make room for their new franchise player in Andrew Wiggins. The article indicated the Wolves would do this deal in a second because they owe Martin $21 million over the next 3 years but since it would add more salary for the Bulls, they wouldn’t go for it especially given that Jimmy may sign an extension this month and Joakim’s contract is done after 2016.
Sam: I got a lot of mail about that Martin item, which I never saw. There’s nothing to it. Yes, the ‘wolves do want to be rid of him. Not that the Warriors were giving up Klay Thompson, but one of the reasons it never got close for Love was Minnesota wanted them to take Martin. Martin’s on the downside of his career with a really bad contract, not much of a defender and having played indifferently the last few years. There never was even any talk about it other than Minnesota dropping hints he was in demand. The Bulls have done a good job with their cap and still have room this season to sign a shooting guard with the initials R.A. They’re well under the luxury tax for next season and the talk around the NBA is the cap growing exponentially with new TV deals. The Bulls most interesting negotiation may be Noah after next season with the accomplishments of a max player but going on 32 and from New York and a player a team with cap room might love to have. But can you leave a place that’s been so great for you and there’s two years to become that champion. And if you are there or close do you then want to leave? But that’s a long, long way away.
Avery Johnson just said on TV that he puts the Heat in the 2nd position in the Eastern Conf. ranks behind Cleveland. Do you think the Bulls have too much size for the Heat to overcome? The Heat have McRoberts and Deng now - and some say Wade will be a new player (without LeBron to defer to) but Bosh will be anchoring a frontline that would have to handle the Bull's Gasol, Noah, Gibson not to mention whatever Mirotic can bring.
Long Giang Le
Sam: Avery Who? I initially wondered if Miami would make the playoffs. I don’t think it’s a good situation for Deng as they have basically no one who passes the ball and Wade and Bosh will be feeling they have to make up for LeBron’s points. I know many condemned the Bosh deal, but there’s not much they could do. It never was a free agent destination until LeBron showed up with an indifferent fan base (you would be as well with that winter weather). And now Deng has to be playing for a new deal. They could have gone the 76ers’ way, but Pat Riley has too much dignity and respect for the game to do that. They’re saying, in effect, we can get to three if we are lucky and then one injury puts us in the conference finals. Like about six other teams. I have the Heat somewhere in that four through eight for now, though it would help if we could actually see someone play a game.