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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 10.10.2014
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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Obviously it is very early but in your opinion who is more likely to see rotation minutes this year between McDermott and Mirotic? My initial reaction after two preseason games would be McDermott. I say this because he appears to understand Thibs’ defensive philosophies pretty well and although he has to work extremely hard to execute, at least mentally he is on the right page. Mirotic seems to be adjusting to the speed of the NBA game but is probably a better athlete and a little smoother on the court. But McDermott seems like he worked all summer with his coach dad to understand when to show on a pick and roll, how to rotate defensively and to stick pretty close to shooters in the corner.
Sam: This rotation issue has been the most frequent question I have received, which is good in the sense that most fans do seem to accept, at least for now, that Derrick Rose looks sound. I tend to agree with your observation. After Mirotic’s strong opening game, or at least fourth quarter, there was much talk and excitement in the classic backup quarterback and September baseball call up of the next big thing. Listening to Thibs in training camp, it seems obvious to me he intends to go no deeper—without injuries—than a nine player rotation. It’s not unusual. Some coaches use more, especially early in the season; some very successful ones like Pat Riley do not and generally play eight players under the philosophy that you use your best players and they need the work toward developing the teamwork necessary to be a successful playoff team. Yes, I know, Popovich doesn’t subscribe to that, but he has lost in the first or second round several times, also. Thibs has made it pretty clear, it seems to me, he’s not playing two rookies, at least regularly. It seems most obvious the greatest need is wing player, where neither Jimmy Butler nor Mike Dunleavy is the classic starter at their position. With Noah, Gasol and Gibson, there doesn’t seem more minutes up front. And with 12 road games in the first 17, I don’t see Thibodeau doing much experimenting and risk losing the momentum from a good start with Rose, who will be the most vital player to get into playing mode. I think that’s why Thibodeau pushed during the preseason in 2013, and I don’t see him experimenting with Rose and depth he wouldn’t be using in the playoffs too often.
From my experience at Creighton, whenever Doug had a mediocre or bad game, my friends and I got really excited because we knew he was going to put on a show the following game (typical of all players who are gym rats). I am very excited to see this next preseason game against Milwaukee.
Sam: Yes, McDermott shot three of 12 against the Pistons Tuesday. But even if his shooting hasn’t been great five for 16—enough with the McBuckets thing until he at least gets to 33 percent—it’s been impressive the way he has gotten to the free throw line. He’s had five attempts in each of the games, which is very good and somewhat unusual for a rookie. It shows unlike a lot of those great shooters, McDermott isn’t a standstill guy and faster than many said. He should be a regular for the team and I still believe he has the game and maturity to be a starter at some point during the season.
It looks like the Bulls should be shopping Snell as he seems to be getting limited time early, is it better to shop him now with a good summer league or wait and see? I was hoping he could develop as a quality back up to Butler but that seems not in the cards so let’s get some value when you can.
Sam: He hasn’t played that many minutes thus far, though he did have a good finish against the Pistons. He doesn’t appear to be targeted for a regular spot in the rotation, but based on the Bulls experience of injuries and that he’s barely got more than the experience of a rookie it’s much too soon to be making a final judgment. Plus, management remains very high on Snell and given the spread between his value, which is low not having played much, and management’s view of his potential, which is high, I see him as one of the few untouchables on the team at this point.
While everyone talks about the Bulls depth, which they do have, what happens if they are playing a team with a top tier small forward and Butler is unavailable or in foul trouble? Taking the first two games as an example, Hinrich is obviously too small to guard James or Anthony and Dunleavy too slow. Certainly playing McDermott in his early rookie year would be like throwing a wounded deer in front of a wolf… so what then? Seems the only player with the size and speed (assuming Gibson can't cover in that situation for more than a play or two) is Snell. While he had trouble last year, he's put on muscle and has a year under his belt. With this in mind, do you see a bigger role for Snell given this situation or how will Thibs defend elite small forwards too big for Hinrich, should Butler be in foul trouble or pull up with an injury?
Sam: Well, there goes 82-0. There are no perfect teams and you adjust (coach) to the circumstances. There certainly will be occasions for Snell to play in a situation like that as Thibs has always done stuff like that. I think Marquis Teague played in that seventh game in Brooklyn. Of course, as we know, Jimmy rarely leaves games, so it may never be an issue. Plus, team defense and matchups takes into consideration the circumstances. The Bulls covered for Boozer for four years and if Butler is out for 10 minutes they should be able to figure a way to adjust.
I know its preseason. I know Thibs is closing with rookies and giving a lot of players loads of minutes early on and that’s good. BUT(
Sam: Yes, wait ‘til next year. Look, Thibs is trying what I guess is excruciating for him to play a dozen or more players. So there’s not much to expect with Rose not playing second halves and Noah sitting out a game. A coach has to learn his players as well. Thibs can game plan and watch film all summer, which he did. I loved him saying the other day how great USA Basketball was when you can spend every day watching basketball, then go have a good dinner and talk basketball and then watch tape until the early morning hours. Was he kidding us? Anyway, Thibs has a bunch of new players to learn, especially Pau Gasol. Pau’s an unusual big man in that he has offensive talent but likes to move the ball like Noah, who does so out of necessity. Thibs is a routine oriented guy who isn’t some offensive guru like Mike D’Antoni. The Bulls didn’t want that; they wanted a defensive first and foremost guy. That’s what they got. I think Thibs like most coaches in this era calls too much from the sideline, but so do the baseball managers and certainly the control freak football coaches. Let ‘em play! But that’s not the way the games are played now with everyone thinking mathematical formulas can win games. It seems the Oakland A’s sort of invented this—well, maybe 30 years after a fan named Bill James—and the A’s continue to lose because they cannot acquire players to make plays. That’s what wins games. So sports has gotten stuck with these mathematicians masquerading as sporting authorities. And then you give the ball to LeBron or Durant. Yes, I digress again. Thibs runs a conservative game and it was good enough to lead the league in wins every season he coached a healthy or close Rose. Once he begins to get down to close to his regular rotation and substitution pattern, you’ll get a better look at what sort of game the Bulls will play. But given Thibodeau is the coach, it will rely more on defense because that’s where he’s had his most success and that’s why he was hired. And in the Bulls last championship season, the Bulls averaged fewer points than in Thibs’ only season with a healthy Rose.
I’ve been a season ticket holder since the Sloan-Van Lier era and, of course, have seen the “good, bad and ugly”. Of late, I am getting tired of hearing so much about D. Rose. Basketball is a team sport and as Michael Jordan learned, you gotta play with teammates. Hopefully, after two serious injuries, Rose has learned not to try to carry the team. Unless he changes his style of play (aggressive & explosive) he will end up on the bench again watching his. Let’s give some of the “less-paid” players some attention and just maybe they will be motivated to produce.
Sam: The Bulls thank you, I’m sure, and admire your patience, especially from 1976 through 1983 and 1999 until Skiles. There’s an erroneous perception that Rose is a scorer and wants to remain so. It’s sort of a paradox. Rose is often asked now not to do as much but at the same time is being measured against his MVP self as in the line of concern that if he’s not an MVP level player again it’s a problem for the team while at the same time everyone says he must slow down and change his game to remain healthy and accommodate a deeper team. What’s a young man to do? It’s been much discussed, but Rose became an NBA high scorer per force after barely averaging 15 points in college on the way to the title game. He’s been perhaps the most popular teammate during his tenure with the Bulls for his unselfish nature amidst his worldwide stardom. But know this: Unless Rose is functioning at a high level, the Bulls are not a contending team. And after all, every season the Bulls won a title with Jordan he led the league in scoring. I don’t believe Rose ever has done that or ever will. Those playing with him always have gotten plenty of chances.
After two preseason games it's almost impossible to predict the lineup going forward. The top 7 (Rose, Butler, Dunleavy, Gasol, Noah, Gibson, Hinrich) are set and are all playing their roles well. The last two are still wide open. But from what I've seen it seems Thibs is trusting Brooks with a lot of time and that makes sense to me. He's a proven vet who can score with that second units so there isn't any stagnation. I see him being the primary backup 2 as all the other guards are big and guard the stronger opposing guard. So who will Coach slot in that 9th and last spot? McDermott or Mirotic I suppose. We won't know for another month or more. But both are darn good to be your last guy in!
Sam: Thibs likes vets; most coaches like vets. Popovich doesn’t play rookies very often. Neither are the Cavs. It does look like Brooks is working his way into that eighth spot and as I’ve speculated McDermott as well for eight or nine. A veteran coach like Thibs who relies on his veterans also doesn’t like to tell them why they’re not playing. Yes, it is a team with the one for all and all for one stuff. But guys want to play, especially veterans. It’s much easier to sit rookies and young players, who don’t get to complain about minutes if they are not named Dion Waiters.
Forget who starts; it’s who finishes that’s important. Of course a lot depends on match-ups and who’s hot, but generally speaking, who do you see as the finishing five? Do you see Butler moving to the 3 at the end of games to go with Noah & Gibson as three defensive stoppers, then add McDermott & Rose for O? Or can Gibson move to the 3 against many SFs, giving them a finishing five of Noah/Gasol/Gibson/Butler/Rose?
Sam: I think it was a different issue last season with Gibson finishing. Boozer basically did his first three seasons and there was less pressure on Thibs about not finishing with Boozer, who obviously was on the way out. I do think Thibodeau will go by circumstances—if they need defense or scoring, though if you are losing you can say your best chance to get back in is by stopping the other team—but he is a defense first coach. Which doesn’t necessarily mean Noah and Gibson. Pau didn’t come here to sit on the bench, so this isn’t going to be easy for Thibs since he doesn’t see Gibson playing any small forward. With Noah’s knee surgery, I think they’ll use that to limit Noah’s playing time, at least early in the season, though we knew Jo likes to play as well. And, frankly, even as Noah was all-NBA first team last season, his responsibility changes with Rose back and Pau added. In many respects, it makes sense to finish with Pau and Gibson since Pau can score the best and can be a shot blocker. I just think Thibs mixes and matches with no set finishers.
After watching their first preseason game, man, if Kyrie and Love stay healthy they are the 2015 champs.
Sam: Well, they are the favorites as I’ve seen the betting lines (just for entertainment purposes of course, like the NFL as if anyone would actually have a reason to watch Monday night football) and the Cavs are forecast for the most wins. No one wishes ill on anyone else as the Bulls have had more than their share, but Kyrie is out for a few days with an ankle issue, it seems. Not serious, which is good. The Cavs are the favorites and the Bulls have done best as the hunter. It should make for an entertaining season.
I’m sure you noticed this but John Wall did ZIP while Derrick was in the game. He may have had one rebound but no points and no assists. He “feasted” (if you can call 1-for-7 for 8 points feasting) on Brooks and Hinrich just like he did in the playoffs on Hinrich and D.J. I looked up their previous match-ups and Derrick is 4-0 and has statistically destroyed Wall.
Sam: Yes, the Rose guy. He’s good. It’s an interesting dynamic I saw developing when Rose was healthy. Though he doesn’t say much, there’s an intimidation factor he maintained over a lot of the top guards. Being faster than them helps. He’s always made Chris Paul look terrible and was having his best game last season against Lillard when he got hurt. I don’t think Wall ever tried to shoot until Rose left the game. I do think it’s where that lack of sociability, Rose’s arm’s length relationship with opponents, plays a part. Rose has been criticized for it as it somehow prevents top players from coming to the Bulls, which is nonsense as we saw again this summer with all that Carmelo Anthony recruiting. These guys know Rose isn’t their friend and wants to beat them. They don’t like that. It’s the way you should want your best players. Jordan did it a different way, but to the same effect as he’d socialize with some players, but only on his terms and with him the dominant figure.
Who do you think will be the player that replaces Carlos Boozer in all the fake trades from Bulls fans? I actually can’t think of anybody that will be deserving of the Boozer treatment (though to be fair, I didn’t think Boozer was deserving of it either), which I suppose speaks to the way this team has been constructed. A couple of guesses are D Rose (if he shows he is the player he was pre injury) and Dunleavy (people may say that we need a “true” shooting guard so that Butler can move over to the three).
Sam: I think it becomes Mike, though in his last season and with a small salary that can’t bring back any high level player it’s just as ridiculous a notion as all those Boozer trade scenarios I can’t believe I answered. I want those two years of my life back. I’m even retiring my unofficial Monday Morning GM title I received from Jerry Krause after suggesting trades in my NBA notes column. Of course, what was I thinking with those potential dynasties Krause was assembling in the early 2000s? This is your Bulls team for 2014-15 and I don’t believe there will be any serious even consideration of a move until after the season depending on how far the team goes in the playoffs. Now if there’s a veteran shooting guard available for a minimum salary, well, there could be an addition.
I personally like the acquisition of Gasol and am excited to watch him this season. However after seeing the first preseason game, if Mirotic develops, I can’t help but think of what happens next year? There is not enough room with 4 quality starters to give everyone meaningful minutes and Gasol is signed for three years. What happens if Mirotic becomes a budding star? I can’t help but wonder if we would have been better off investing in someone who could play SG like Trevor Ariza or Paul Pierce in free agency. I think Gibson would do excellent in the starting lineup, butler could slide to SF, and that would open up minutes for Mirotic to develop.
Sam: You should have waited until after the second preseason game to write.
What is the yellow tag on the back of the neckline for the Bulls' jersey?
Ian Dela Cruz
Sam: It’s a new addendum to the jersey for teams that have won a championship, though since the Kings can also wear it for Rochester’s 1951 title, which means DeMarcus Cousins is wearing a jersey that designates a champion, it seems to defeat the purpose. Plus, you know what champions look like. If you have to tell someone you defeat the ideal. But you can be sure commercial advertising is coming soon as if you can have that sort of championship “badge” and hardly anyone notices, what’s a swoosh or two here or there.
You seem to be posting a lot more frequently this year, between the World Cup and new-player profiles, and now back to the mailbag. That's all great, but I'm worried that you might break down in the early going, and split an infinitive or dangle a modifier. Should we consider limiting your minutes?
Sam: When Thibs demands we do our jobs it often seems unclear who exactly he is looking for. Uh oh.