Does this tandem belong on the list of all-time defensive players at their positions?
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Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 12.12.2014

Sam Smith of opens his Ask Sam mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers

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By Sam Smith | 12.12.2014 | 9:07 a.m. CT

Jamal Crawford is shooting better and scoring more than he ever has. This guy was drafted by the Bulls... in 2000! The Marcus Fizers and Chris Mihms and Kenyon Martins drafted before him are long gone, and Mike Miller is barely able to walk. Jamal, a player that relies on quickness, looks better than ever. Do you have any secrets on his unusual and prolongedly-successful career arc?

Alejandro Yegros

Sam: I’m pleased for Jamal, who is one of the most genuine people around the NBA. He’s always got time for everyone; I’ve never heard him utter a harsh word, refuse an interview or not respect someone around the arena no matter the job. Great guy. He got ejected from a game for the first time in his career this week and I assume he said aw shucks. The greater test was I don’t think the New York reporters even had bad things to say about him. Jamal had ACL surgery with the Bulls, but he’s got a unique, flexible body and has worked hard to retain that. He deserves having a good career.

It was nice seeing Ron Adams back on an NBA bench this week. Why can't guys like him ever get a head coaching jobs? For that matter, even guys like Patrick Ewing are still assistant coaching, yet Steve Kerr, Derrick Fisher and Jason Kidd were hired without having any experience. Why is that? It can't just be the theory that PG's are like coaches on the floor. Otherwise, all ex PG's would coach.

Ateeq Ahmed

Sam: Ron has had chances to be a head coach and rejected them. He likes being an assistant where he can work more hands on with players as he enjoys the teaching part the most. I’d like to see Patrick get a head job as he’s worked at it and done everything you can. He’s a smart guy with a good personality; I suspect one thing working against him was his public persona in New York when he so often was under assault by the local media. He closed down a lot and some believe that’s who he is; but he’s not. It is true big men have not always gotten the same coaching chances, though the best ever was a big man, Phil Jackson. Life isn’t always fair and many don’t get the jobs they are qualified for. But Patrick is staying in the game and that’s good for the game.

Thabo has been a great pickup for the Hawks. Looks so much more comfortable than I have ever seen him.

Mike Sutera

Sam: His numbers aren’t great, but he’s a terrific team player with one of those teams that has become greater than the sum of its parts. You can see Thabo has relaxed as he gets to play now. No offense to Westbrook and Durant or Scott Brooks, but the Oklahoma City game was so limited that Thabo just stood in the corner and basically never touched the ball. Sure, they won and he isn’t a disruptive guy. But you lose something becoming a bystander. Perhaps that changes now with the Thunder given how long Westbrook and Durant were out and they’ll trust other players to join their game. The Hawks have been one of the best early season stories and Thabo has been a terrific addition.

I'm interested in your take on the Cavs at the quarter-mark of the season. We now have a decent enough sample size to judge how these players fit together. They are surging of late against some weakened Eastern Conf opponents. But, looking at the numbers of their 'Big Three', it does beg a few questions. LeBron - He's at 48% this season. Did playing with Wade and Bosh make LeBron a much better player? Was it the influence of Pat Riley or Eric Spoelstra. Irving - His efficiency has spiked this season with his overall FG% up 5% and his effective FG% up 6%. Perhaps playing with LeBron has helped. Love - His shooting efficiency is static compared to last season. The big change? He's taking 30% less shots and grabbing about 50% fewer offensive rebounds. Is he sitting out on the 3pt line and being ignored as Chris Bosh predicted?

Dan Michler

Sam: I think they are really good, if not unbeatable, about the way I felt about them when the season began. They were on a good run until LeBron sat out Thursday—it’s so sad that the few potentially good regular season matchups you get someone always seems to be out—and as long as they are playing in the East most of the opponents will not be that tough. With those three guys they have a tremendous ability to score and come back on teams. They are flawed in size and perhaps bench, though they’ll look to add players as their owner is on the hook for LeBron and spending now. I still see them as the team to beat in the East, though three or four teams can beat them. The interesting question is LeBron sitting out Thursday. He plays so much it’s no issue by itself. But perhaps it suggests some physical issues no one has much known about, though there’s been questions about him this season looking less aggressive and sometimes not as committed in games. Could there be something more wrong with his knee? It will be an ongoing question and, of course, resting with it the results of the franchise.

What do you think about the frontline situation? Is there any chance that Thibs switches out one of our player in the starting line up? Either Gibson for Noah or Mirotic for Gasol?

Mario Persico

Sam: I get a variation of this question a lot, which doesn’t make a lot of sense since who exactly do you want playing fewer than 30 minutes: Noah? Pau? Taj? The Bulls have the luxury of three really good front line big men with a variety of skills and a young backup who can provide some different skills but isn’t quite at their level. Mirotic should have an excellent career, but it wouldn’t make sense at this time other than in an emergency to give him big minutes that take away from one of those three. Thibodeau has made it pretty clear for defensive purposes, which we know is his priority, none of them should, could or would play small forward.

With Doug struggling and Snell having limited minutes would it be better for his long term development to have a stint in the D league once Doug is back from the knee injuries?

Kevin Franzen

Sam: It might be worth a stint if only for his confidence and to get a feel for the game not playing much. I think Snell still had a chance to be a useful player and there is no sense the Bulls intend to give up on him. It’s a tough setback for McDermott to be injured, and probably limits him this season. But he’s probably best staying around as once he is healthy enough he can always get a bit of time as a pinch hit shooter.

I have been wondering a lot about who an all time defensive team would have on it. Since I have been watching from the early 80's there have been quite a few defensive stoppers but usually as a specialist and seldom ones who play most of the games as Battier and the guy from Memphis do. My criteria would be the players who had to play both ends of the court and not rest on offense. Without the advantage of seeing players before the 80's my only pick for before then is Russell at center although it would really be a toss up between him and Chamberlain. Power forward is kind of a tough one as Duncan would be my choice but what position does he actually play? If not him I would go with maybe Garnett over Rodman even though Rodman shied away from offense in his later years. At small forward I would go with Pippen not just because of him being a Bull but because he could guard so many positions and players. He might should have consideration as the best defender of all time as well. Jordan to me was the best guard defender I have seen even with Dumars' genius on that end. Gary Payton would be my choice for point guard. Who would your choices be?

Greg Wright

Sam: That’s a pretty good list I wouldn’t change much. You won’t pass Russell and Wilt, but Nate Thurmond was good and as an all around player when healthy Bill Walton was amazing. He might have been the best both ways if he stayed healthy. David Robinson would be up there. He would have been amazing playing with the old Celtics as he was like Russell but about six inches taller. Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier for the old Bulls were a fabulous defensive backcourt, the best in the league then. Walt Frazier was good, but everyone was more scared of Sloan. Dennis Johnson, Michael Cooper and Bobby Jones were among the better wing defenders in their era and Gus Johnson before them as maybe the first modern power forward. Also, Michael Ray Richardson and Alvin Robertson at guard before they had off the court issues. Rodman was too one dimensional for the list and I’d probably have at least a half dozen guards ahead of Payton, who was more talk than action.

Will the ZenMaster becoming Knick General Manager turn out to be a fiasco? 4 - 20 is still early in Phil Jackson's Knick tenure. However the 4 - 20 start raises questions that if proven correct could tarnish an amazing run by Phil. Questions are being raised.

  1. Did Phil over-estimate his ability to influence players to use the triangle offense? Particularly players on a one year contract?
  2. Is Phil too rigid to see he is attempting to force a square peg in a round hole? If so this may be putting players in a situation they cannot succeed, demoralizing the team.
  3. Did Phil underestimate the impact of inheriting an organization that has 1 first round pick in 3 years, 2014 - 2016?
  4. Did he over-value Carmelo Anthony's ability to facilitate changing the culture of this team?
  5. Did he miss the risk that Anthony is not a change agent but a hurdle to implementing the triangle?
  6. Did he miscalculate the risk that the team could implode jeopardizing the Knick's ability to recruit top free agents in the summer of 2015?
  7. Is a red flag that the magic may not be there for Phil as a General Manager?

Bruce Roberts

Sam: Well, that doesn’t sound good. Though as you note, it is just two months. Of course, that means nothing in New York. I love the old line about a dynasty being a family in China that ruled for 1,000 years or a New York sports team winning three straight games. Everything is much noisier there; and angrier. Yes, it’s been a historically bad start, and as I suggested a few weeks ago this may be why Anthony never was a serious Bulls candidate because he probably knew he might need knee or back surgery and there was no way in five years he was getting a max season and thus would be giving up maybe $30 million wherever he went. Because no new team was giving him $30 million on a new contract five years from now. As for Phil, he was brought in to change things. The owner has backed off, which everyone seemed to want, so that’s been a positive for Phil. He kept his star, which everyone said he had to do. He traded Tyson Chandler, who is playing well. But Chandler wanted out and Phil needed a point guard, and he got a competent one from Dallas. Otherwise, he’s inherited a team of players he likely intends to replace. He has their draft pick and free agency money. So despite the hysteria in New York, there’s no reason to be concerned now. The triangle offense is no mystery other than to New York media who write about it like it’s some lost language. It’s just another offense, a plan, and that’s what you do to create the right environment. What’s the point of being just another guy running 100 pick and rolls? Phil’s bringing a plan and discipline and a goal. It seems to be he’s doing all the right things. It’s got nothing to do with this season and these players. It may not work; free agents may not come, the draft pick could be hurt or maybe it will be a bad draft. And after all, Magic Johnson said he wished the Lakers were more like the Knicks.

The talk of minutes played is already exhausting. The complaints I hear from Bulls fans most... "How could we have played D Rose in that Milwaukee game? D Rose should not be playing more than 28 mpg... Thibs is going to run Jimmy and Pau into the ground come playoff time." The Bulls have overachieved every season under Thibs considering the circumstances they were in. I wish there was more appreciation in Chicago for the job he has done. He works hard and he expects his players to work hard. Why are we more concerned with minutes played than wins and losses or how well the team is playing? Is the fan base simply traumatized by the Rose injuries, hence Thibs and Rose himself have become the scapegoats in spite of all that is logical?

Jan Michler

Sam: You may have hit on something there. I do think the Rose injuries at a time of so much fan hope and expectation has played a part, certainly, in the obsession with micromanaging every move and movement. Or maybe people just have less to do. I will say when I watched basketball in the 60’s and 70’s and 80’s I never knew how many minutes guys played. It was never an issue, in part, because guys didn’t want to come out of games. The money wasn’t great and they needed to play and be in position not only for better contracts but just to return. I do sometimes wonder why fans want to not see the best players. Or less of them. The issue has become fashionable because of the success of the Spurs and the way they have many of their players working part time jobs until April. It’s the exception. You can debate the issue, though there is no science. It seems logical the less you do something the less chance of experiencing misfortune. Of course, the less you do something the less you will be prepared to perform at the right time because you may not have prepared enough. Whatever you may say about Thibodeau, he hasn’t hidden his philosophy or beliefs. He’s been the same guy saying the same things from the day he was hired. The Bulls certainly have been better because of his coaching.

Well it only took 20 games for Byron Scott to bench Boozer for defensive reasons, surprise surprise. Another reason Thibs should get credit as one of the best coaches in the league as we always had a great defense and Boozer started and played consistently. Which brings up my next question, why is Boozer so bad defensively? It is laziness, lack of desire, or something else? I always thought anybody could become a decent defender if they only gave the effort. Yes he's not a big guy and was never a shot-blocker, but I don't think I ever saw him even take a charge. Boozer never seemed to care on that end and that was my only knock on him, but it is a big deal when you see everybody go all out on D except for one player.

Adam Garcia

Sam: Another guy who was consistent. It’s also why Jerry Sloan and Thibodeau were great coaches and Byron Scott is not. It’s not like they didn’t notice, but they did what the best coaches do, which is take from the player what he can give you and work around what he can’t and get it somewhere else. Boozer was a great scorer; not so much anymore. He’s not inclined to play the other end much, but his scoring, and he was a good defensive rebounder, still made him a good if not perfect player. Also working hard defensively can take away from your offense. And offense pays. I’m not saying that was the case with Boozer because when he came into the NBA he was known as a poor defender. There were reasons he went in the second round and well into it. Though it is a very crowded team picture.

I think the Pistons and Knicks are underachieving much more than anyone really hoped. I thought the new coaches would really help the teams, but maybe that'll come further down the line. I see both need to fix their rosters quite a bit. I would like to see a trade between the 2 teams. I'd like to see a swap between Drummond and Shumpert or Monroe and JR. It would seem to solve quite a few problems. There are other scenarios that may work better between the two teams. What do you think about the possible trade scenarios?

Adam Gottlieb

Sam: It’s almost trade rumor season. But, yes, you look where it becomes hopeless and that’s two pretty good places. Though at this point there may be little point to get much better. But it is the East, as we’ll say for a few more months to keep even those teams involved. The intriguing part is it seems Monroe wants out of Detroit and will become an unrestricted free agent. The three big man thing remains an issue for the Pistons. Teams can talk themselves into anything when things are going bad and use “chemistry” and “culture” as an explanation for anything. I assume they are hanging onto Drummond.

Why is Taj getting credit for that block on Deron Williams going baseline when Rose clearly was the one who blocked the shot? Rose got beat initially but blocked the shot from behind. Taj was going up to try to block the shot as well but only ended up grabbing the rebound.

Brandon Revering

Sam: I think the official scoring had something to do with Rose not attacking on the offensive end so it seemed obvious he couldn’t attack defensively. Yes, I noticed that as well, but since the six blocks tied a career high for Taj let’s let him have it as he clearly scared the crap out the Nets.

I guess I'm not the only one criticizing Rose. I didn't criticize him for not doing too much, it's the kind of things he's doing. Launching threes early in the shot clock when you are not the guy the team wants taking those shots hurts in a lot of ways. First of all, it doesn't allow "touching the ball" by the rest of the team which is important to get the team into the rhythm of the game. I can't imagine how I'd feel if I ran the length of the court just to see my teammate, who is not a good percentage three shooter, throw one up, just to have to run back the other way and set up again for defense. Rose is playing just over half the game. Notice that his threes started going down against Brooklyn when he took them later in the shot clock and in the rhythm of the game. And, the team was better off for it. Rose is going to set the tone for the team when he's in the game. He doesn't have to drive to the hoop every time he's got the ball in his hands. He just has to make sure the ball moves and his teammates are getting the touches they need to keep in rhythm.

William Kochneff

Sam: Criticizing Rose actually now is part of the controversial school Common Core curriculum which may or may not be national and universal. Too many threes, too slow, sideways passes, needs to trim his mustache. As I’ve written this week, I like the way Rose has come along. I know the latest narrative is this attack the basket thing. This is generally the demand other than if it results in an injury and then as we know he played too many minutes too early in the season and should not have been attacking. I like Rose’s progress because he’s exploring all elements of the game, passing, which is does better than anyone on the team, extending his range with shooting and monitoring the game to see when a few head long dashes are required. Instead of some form of non stop thrust. Maybe we’ll never see that Rose again, which is fine. As long as Rose can play at least at the level he’s at now—and he should be much better after really just playing all of six straight games—he’ll be a threat, a help and make the Bulls much better. I think shooting the three is important as it’s become a valuable weapon for all the great players, and I have no issue when Rose shoots. Too often, in fact, the Bulls end up with forced late shots as the clock is running out. If you think none of the great players shoot as they bring up the ball you never watched Durant and Westbrook. Rose’s shots have been good shots, for the most part. But I liked most what he said after Wednesday’s win over Brooklyn. He said he’s not perfect, that there won’t be a good game all the time, that he’s trying his best and working at it and knows he’ll get better. But it won’t come immediately and he’ll have to be patient as well as he’s already waited two years. He seems to be coming along great.

Is flu now euphemism for "no way in hell I´m playing Jimmy twice in 10 days?"

Paulo Ferreira

Sam: Jimmy the new Karl Malone? I remember when Derrick Coleman used to check himself into hospitals on the way to Utah. Jimmy-itis