Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 1.01.2016
Sam Smith of Bulls.com opens his mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers for the last time of the summer
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
By Sam Smith | 1.01.2016 | 2:55 p.m. CT
Is it possible that the Chicago Bulls can hire back Tom Thibodeau, but as assistant couch strictly for defensive purposes? Because the Bulls offence have gotten better, thanks to Fred Hoiberg, but the Bulls have lose its defensive side a bit. It is always said that defense win games, and if you stop the other team from scoring the less you have to score. I believe bringing Tom Thibodeau back on board will make the Bulls more well rounded and allow them to win more games.
Sam: Happy New Year! It's great to start 2016 with a joke. No joke? I get this one occasionally and sometimes it’s a joke, but surprisingly not that often. I won’t much get into the dynamics, though it would make an interesting season absolutely hysterical. But this is more the case of don’t believe what you see, believe what I tell you; don’t bother me with the facts when I’ve got a good theory going. Hey, I read it on line. It has to be true. The Bulls are actually one of the best defensive teams in the NBA this season. They lead in opponent field goal percentage, perhaps the best model, and by a lot. They are top five in opponent three-point shooting percentage. The Bulls are fourth in overall defensive efficiency, points per 100 possessions. They are one of the more dominant defensive teams in the NBA this season. It’s not to take anything away from Thibodeau, but they’ve done it also playing several players who didn’t play before because they’d supposedly upset the defense. It’s a credit to the players; it’s a credit to the ways learned under Thibodeau, the smooth transition of the new coaching staff much underrated for its defensive teachings and making it unnecessary to add another defensive assistant named Thibodeau for now.
I know there are many people who think this is "Butler's team" per say, who think that Butler is the best player on the team and needs to be the leader. I just don't think that is the case still. Rose still has some blurry vision and is finally stringing games together, and I still think that Rose is this team's best player and he is, like always, the best chance the Bulls have at putting together a strong playoff run. In other words, they won't go far without a healthy and consistent threat from D-Rose. I'm not trying to criticize Butler, but I just don't think he makes other players on his team that much better on the offensive end like Rose does. Derrick creates so much more space for everyone else as well as giving bigs like Noah and Gibson opportunities for tip-ins much more often than Butler. I just think Rose makes it easier for everyone else, while Jimmy is just better at those 1 on 1 moments where the Bulls need a score and doesn't involve his teammates as much. They each have their strengths, I just think Rose's is more important.
Sam: Like your children, if you have any, you really can’t choose. Or shouldn’t. They all have their strengths. This debate/discussion on whose team it is and who’s the best doesn’t work for this Bulls team. It only really applies for a few teams. It did previously because Rose was so superior and there truly was no real second option. Only when you have a true MVP player can you make that case. Are the Rockets James Harden’s team? So what. Are the Pacers Paul George’s team? OK, but where’s that get you? The larger point is it doesn’t much matter unless you are an All-Star talent capable of elevating your team to multiple playoff rounds, like LeBron James. Could Stephen Curry do that without Klay Thompson and Draymond Green? Probably not, though the case can be made for this “his team” discussion. Heck, Kobe couldn’t without Shaq until Pau showed up. Rose isn’t that player now. Maybe he will be close again. Maybe not. The point is no one really is close enough to that level talent. So they cannot afford this my team, go to guy, you’re the man mentality. They need one another and a third and fourth to go anywhere. I think as some suggested Jimmy is feeling a bit of the pressure of not only his comments about coach Fred Hoiberg but this ersatz leadership mantle. He hung around talking to media following the Pacers’ game longer than he ever does and seemed morose about circumstances and his moods. I only listened to some of it as he kept getting quieter and more somber. But give Jimmy a break. He’s trying somewhat to live up to a big contract, which they all dismiss but once you receive everyone expects more from you even when you are the same person. It’s what made Michael Jordan so special and unique, or guys like Bird or Magic. You have to do it every day, every game. There are no off days for bad moods or bothersome relatives. The spotlight is on you. Greatness demands you match it. Few can. There’s really no one among these Bulls players with that ability these days. But there may be a compendium of talents that is capable of being greater than their sum and some others’ parts.
Saw in the New York media speculation about Brandon Jennings to the Knicks. Also I saw one of the big basketball web sites said the Bulls were interested in Kevin Martin.
Sam: Jennings is back from that Achilles injury and the Pistons are beginning their showcasing, though I assume Stan Van Gundy wrote those stories. Just what the Knicks need, a point guard when he was healthy who was the worst shooting point guard in the league and a serial ball stopper. They have Carmelo for that. The Pistons having signed up Reggie Jackson long term and have little use for Jennings just as a backup, and he’s not likely to be quiet in that role long. He looks actually very good after such a severe injury and will only add to the fun in what should be a very entertaining trade rumor season starting seriously in a few weeks. As for Martin, his name comes up with the Bulls every few weeks in the guessing department: Bulls need more outside shooting, preferably from a shooting guard. Who are the shooting guards that might be traded? OK, let’s see. But Martin’s going on 33 with another year on his contract at about $7.4 million. He’s also working on near career low shooting and scoring numbers, suggesting not only they’re playing their young players but shooting guards at that age with 12 years in the league begin to lose their legs and shot. It was one thing to take a chance on Richard Hamilton without giving up anything. Giving up players or draft picks to match salary for an aging guard on the downside? What do you think?
Tony had a big game against the raptors and I was really happy for him. Do you believe that he will ever go to the next level as a player because I believe there is a good player in there. Against Toronto, what impressed me was that he put the ball on the floor and made some really good plays.
It wouldn't surprise me if he has a stinker the next game but why do you think he struggles for consistency? is it a lack of confidence or is he just passive by nature, because I believe he can become another playmaker and good shooter that can help the team.
Sam: If it doesn’t surprise you then why would you expect a great change? It was two points in 27 minutes for Snell in the overtime win over Indiana, much overlooked with all that went on. They’ve always said in the NBA that you are what you are in your third season. The tough thing with a player like Snell is when he shows you all that he has. He still defends and tries, but it’s probably time not to expect too much offensively. His nature is to be a good teammate, which is a curse in some sense in that you don’t make trouble and accept the demotions when they come. There’s a line with the guys who won’t: Do they disrupt chemistry or is that what takes them to that so called next level, that they won’t accept less and the more you think they have the more they say they can give. Tony won’t hurt the team; the question for him is how much he can help.
Why is ET out of the rotation? He was the new coach's fave at the beginning of the season. He used to get quality minutes in the crunch time of the game over the other back up guards. I understand DRose was out and there were more minutes for the guards, but he is completely out of the rotation. He used to be the first backup point guard off the bench. It seems that, like with Thibs, Cap'n Kirk is Hoiborg's favorite regardless what shows up on the stat sheet and Brooks can fill up the stat sheet with points if nothing else.
Sam: Again, you can’t play everyone, which Hoiberg has battled all season as the basic response after every loss is why didn’t you play (fill in the blank) instead. It’s a guard heavy rotation as well as front court. Hinrich has been fine this season in limited minutes, shooting well and playing as the cliché goes within himself. He’s only got 32 attempts, but Hinrich has the team’s best shooting percentage on threes. So enough getting on him. He’s been a positive this season. Brooks sat for awhile as Hoiberg has appropriately tested out rotations and lineups as he should. That’s what the first part of the season was for despite the community and media uproar of not winning every game but having condemned Thibodeau for trying to do so without considering his depth and resting for later in the season. E’Twaun is a good 10th or 11th or 12th man, and they don’t always play. Like with Kurt Thomas, they may sit 10 games and play. Just be ready. E’Twaun has shown as a good teammate you want him on your team for such situations.
I saw Tony Wroten was waived by the 76ers on Christmas Eve. Personally, I'm a huge fan of his game; specifically his versatility. I could envision him starting at the 1 or the 2 (mostly the 2 given he's not as adept a passer as Derrick) and Jimmy at the 3 depending on the matchup. Do you think the Bulls have any interest? It seems like such a no brainer to me because of his ability to play the 1 or 2 with Rose, let Jimmy play the 3 with McDermott and Dun Dun out, and would be cost effective and seemingly low risk.
Sam: From a pure roster standpoint, I’d say there would be little interest given the Bulls’ backcourt situation with Butler, Rose, Brooks, Moore and Hinrich that they’d add another guard, especially one who is offensive oriented without three-point shooting ability and doesn't pass much. But there’s also going to be the curse of the 76ers for players. If the 76ers cut you, everyone’s first observation will be if you can’t play for them how can you play for us? You probably remember him blowing by the Bulls for 30 points last season. But he’s unfortunately subsequently had an ACL injury and we know how long it takes even a truly great player to return from that. Meanwhile, you can see Mike D’Antoni’s and Jerry Colangelo’s influence on the 76ers already in style of play, spreading the ball around, separating Noel and Okafor. I’ve heard all this talk the last few years of what a good coach Brett Brown is but that he was cursed with no talent. That’s true, but I never saw him do much with what he had. Opposing coaches, who always celebrate the other coach in a sort of self protection that they only could lose to a well coached team, talked all the time about how hard they played. So he must have been a great motivating coach. They played hard because they were in the D-league and wanted to stay in the NBA. You could get guys from the local rec center to play hard. They should have won more games as they were close enough at times and always figured a way to lose. Now you’re seeing them run in better rotations, take advantage of spacing and shooting and matchups. They’re going to beat some teams and it will look worse than it should be because of who they were. Not who they are becoming, finally, with competent leadership.
I think that Doug McDermott, as he gains more experience, will become a really good player. I can already see he has some athletic ability going to the basket – he's not just a deadly spot-up shooter. Give me a comp. Who do you think he may turn into as a comparison to past NBA players.
Sam: Of course the comparison is always Kyle Korver, who really is going through an awful shooting slump this season. Apparently many fewer critics in Atlanta as you don’t hear much and he’s a guy you root for because he’s made himself into a player no one believed he could be. The last three games averaging about two points in 30 minutes Kyle is two for 27 on threes. It’s unimaginable, but people easily overlook the after effects of surgeries as Kyle also has had. Looking good and saying you feel good doesn’t transfer to excellence so easily. The fear with Doug is Jason Kopono, the great shooter from UCLA who never could stay on the floor with defensive issues. I don’t see Doug that way. While he’s not great on that side, he tries, gets himself in good position most of the time and mostly is hurt when the Bulls switch as they often do. Doug’s got good size and is more athletic than Korver. I see his big issue now with the Bulls’ rotations, which remain work in progress. He just doesn’t play often enough with guys who can get him catch and shoot looks, so he’ll take a few tough drives he has trouble finishing, or that anyone would. He’s obviously had some knee issues of late, but he’s the kind of guy with that shooting range whose abilities have barely been tapped thus far. Maybe like a Dennis Scott type player?
Talk about a bad yr, al Jefferson. Suspension and what looks to be a season ending injury. No one is going to sign him to big money. May have to take another 1 yr to reestablish himself.
Sam: The Hornets actually have been better without him, quietly in defense, but they can move the ball around better. I’ve had my doubts about Steve Clifford, but I think he’s evolved really well with quietly going to more an uptempo, man and player movement game, the kind of thing the Bulls have talked about but he’s been able to implement reasonably well. Having a playmaker like Nicholas Batum helps and Jeremy Lin is a legitimate Sixth Man candidate. But they’ve also benefitted from Jefferson’s absence as he’s slow and a ball stopper. That rid them of an issue Fred Hoiberg has had in Chicago of how do you sit All-Stars? You don’t in the NBA without creating internal divisions. It’s why it’s bad to have them at the end of their careers or with physical issues, like Kobe Bryant now shooting his way out of the NBA. They were stars because of the way they played and very few can adjust to a supplementary role. Not necessarily because of ego but because they still think they can do it. That’s what made them stars, that mentality. The David West player is a true rarity. Not to say Jefferson couldn’t or won’t, but with a meniscus injury turning 30 next week after coming to the NBA out of high school it’s been a terrific run. It’s tough to see him a starter anymore. His name as a free agent this summer would suggest a contract. But likely not the circumstances. Can he adjust and accept being a role player? He still can score and help a team. He will be an interesting test of the huge money expected to start going out these next two summers. If he can get a big contract, good for him.
Gasol is a rim protector, but he can't guard against a small lineup. Noah has had health issues. Noah plays faster and is five years younger. Portis, Gibson, Mirotic, and Noah seems like a better group
Sam: But the Bulls never would have completed that lob to beat the Pacers. No one in the NBA but Gasol probably throws that pass given his shooting ability to bring out the defense and his amazing touch. I get mail about Pau’s defense, Noah’s offense, Mirotic’s defense, McDermott’s defense, Brooks’, Gibson’s offense. You make the mistake of condemning someone for what they can’t do and what you want them to do, like being perfect. I wonder why the local broadcast guys who condemn players don’t sound like Marv Albert or why I can’t write like Hemingway. Fred Hemingway. Anyway, that’s why we’re in Chicago instead of Paris. Great coaches and teachers take what a player can do and uses that and tries to keep them in positions where their weaknesses are not exposed as much. We all have them. If you find yourself blaming players for what they can’t or won’t do, that’s your problem. Pau is an amazing scorer and the Bulls would be stretched thin offensively without him. Similarly with Noah with rebounding, motivation and leadership. Don’t give Gibson the ball all the time in the post, but get him out there on the boards and with his ability to guard all over the floor. You make a team in whatever business with disparate parts. Anyone can sit on the bench and put a team of well rounded all stars on the floor. The job pays so well because there aren’t any teams like that.
After the big win against the Thunder, it appears this team is going to continually need top competition to bring out its best. If this holds true that means it will be a very dangerous playoff team but probably under achieve during the long season. This is a tradeoff I can live with. It is also the opposite of how the team played under Thibs. Presumably by the time the playoffs arrive Derrick's double vision is gone. Hopefully Noah will also be at full speed too and Dunleavy can play. I guess its time to be a little patient with these guys and believe they will deliver when it counts the most.
Sam: Yes, and if only they could play the ’96 Bulls, ’86 Celtics, and ’67 76ers every night. Watch out 73-9.
John Wall was right about the ballot results. Irving has just played 3 games this season and is at the top of the votes. And Irving is an overrated point guard. John Wall deserves it. He's probably the best pg in the east right now. Of course, I still have Rose over Wall. But we all know Rose hasn't played at an allstar level yet. Wall definitely deserves it. Is the allstar a joke?
Sam: I’m on board with the fan voting. If you are truly deserving you’ll get selected as the coaches have seven picks. It’s an exhibition and it’s for the fans and TV public. Sure Andre Drummond has had an All-Star year, but who wants to see him in an All-Star game? Kobe will be there given the early voting as he’s had about double anyone else. But I would have picked him if he wasn’t and tough if someone missed getting on the All-Star team like Wall or Kyle Lowry. It’s a great honor, but if you’re 12th, do better next time. If the fans want to see Irving, that’s OK with me. I’ve found the fan vote basically representative and rarely out of line with the way the starters should be. Hey, the players voted James Harden MVP over Curry. I love that and can’t let that one go. The players because many pay little attention to who is doing what and have their own likes and dislikes will mess up the vote as much or more than the fans and media. Plus you don’t rate yourself. The Cavs are going to be leading the East and Blatt probably will be coach. And Kevin Love is no lock to be picked by the coaches, so they probably should get at least two All-Stars.
If I'm Gar Forman right now my big decision is how far can Jimmy take me over the next 5 years? He doesn't dominate games. He affects them, but he's maybe a #2 option on a championship team at his best, but even that is pushing it. His value is through the roof now though, so I'd swing for the fences. I bet we could get a top 1 pick protection on it in this draft. The window for this particular team isn't quite closed, but it's likely that moving Butler this year at the deadline will have this team better off than they are right now 5 years from now. Crowder/Bradley, Thomas and top 2 protection and a late 1st/early second? Or Covington, Noel and top 2 this year plus one of the late first rounders?
Sam: Did you steal Sam Hinkie’s Bulls rebuilding plan? Championship teams, by the way, do pretty well with second options. It’s not a bad job. Ask Pau, Scottie Pippen and Klay Thompson.