Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls

Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 11.20.2015

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

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By Sam Smith | 11.13.2015 | 9:00 a.m.

Wow, I would not have predicted Kevin McHale being the first coach fired this season. I thought he did a pretty good job considering you never know if Daryl Morey will trade half of the team. Of course, it's easier to blame the coach then the slumping superstar. I can't see McHale wanting to go to a rebuilding team. Maybe if the Raptors, Wizards, or Heat under perform, there is a coaching vacancy, or he stays in Texas if Popovich retires. Do you think he goes back to commentary or continues coaching? Oh and I would hope, no way he coaches Sacramento. I don't wish that Boogie monster on anyone.

--Michael Kolodziej

Sam: Sometimes it’s hard to read Kevin. In a name drop here I happened to be out with Barkley and McHale — stuff I rarely do, by the way, mostly because I simply never get invited as Barkley says my saddle shoes make him nauseous — when McHale got the Houston offer. Barkley counseled him not to take it given internal dysfunction there. They’ve got plenty with Harden and Howard.

Kevin’s a good basketball guy and perhaps too good a guy, basically non confrontational and professional. Harden ran over him and the rest of the team wth his individual style of play. It wasn’t exactly a failure as Harden is a fabulous talent and legitimate MVP contender. And while they’ll never say anything in Oklahoma City, Durant and Westbrook weren’t big fans, which is the untold part of that trade. The Houston organization simply voted for Harden; it happens all the time in sports.

That it came so soon seemed an overreaction, though Mike Brown got five games to start a season in L.A. It’s also why all the coaching hand wringing is laughable; it’s part of the package: You come in knowing after three years you could go anytime. I suspect Kevin eventually gets back into doing some TV. He’s a very knowledgeable basketball guy and teacher; but you need high character people with him.

I'm sure you're getting this email a lot. So: Thibs & Rockets? What do you think? Would he want that? Would he be good for them? If Thibs got Boozer to play defense, he can get Harden to do it, I'm sure.

--Alejandro Yegros

Sam: Yes, there is that. I actually think Thibs would help them a lot; he’d get them, as the coaches like to say, organized. He’d drill on his methods of defense, and while Thibs really isn’t confrontational with players — which was a reason McHale had problems with Harden — Thibs will call out the group. He didn’t single out individual players but went over and over and over his drills.

I believe Thibs would leap for it, especially now that he’s lost weight and jumps better. You can tell he’s getting very bored showing up for bad college games with no team to scout for. Who watches those games if the don’t have to? One issue is on what terms he left there as he was an assistant under Van Gundy with Houston.

Though the sense you get as they’re paying off McHale three years so they don’t want to hire another coach now and owe him $5 million also. They probably go through the season with Bickerstaff junior, but the owner does like big names and Thibs is one of the bigger ones out there. Though I’d love to see Thibs try to get Dwight Howard to pay attention to basketball and not smear jelly from the donuts on the balls in practice. But as Howard can opt out and become a free agent after this season, that’s another issue: He’ll be involved in choosing, what, his about 12th coach? Is he a Thibs-o-file?

After a promising start to the season, Niko has gone ice cold from the field. He was billed as a stretch 4 that would help us spread the floor for Rose and Butler when he came over from Europe. However, he shot just 31.6% from deep last season and has dipped to 34% this season after a hot start. His shooting has closer resembled Antoine Walker than Dirk Nowitzki so far.

All that said, he's shown flashes of brilliance that leave us feeling like he's eventually going to develop into a very good NBA player. It occurs to me that he seemed to play with much more confidence during that streak last March when Butler and Rose were hurt and he became a primary scoring option.

I think he might be best served as a guy who puts the ball on the floor instead of a spot-up 3pt shooter. Of course the opportunities to do this are limited when he plays with the 1st unit featuring Rose, Butler, and Gasol. Do you think that putting Niko more with the 2nd unit and asking him to attack the basket might help him snap out of this cold spell?

--Dan Michler

Sam: There’s a little of this and that in there for me. One of his problems, I feel, has been he tries to do too much. He’s a scorer. So when opportunities don’t present themselves he’ll take it on himself and ends up forcing things. It’s really a good sign and you wish Tony Snell had more of that in him. It shows Mirotic has the mentality to be a good player because he’s not afraid to fail, is willing to take chances and has excellent skills.

Though we should remember he’s barely played a full season in the NBA with basically not playing that much the first half of last season and then being sat down for the playoffs. For now I’d tell him he’s a catch-and-shoot player. If he doesn’t have the shot, move the ball and move yourself into open space.

The problem he faces is he’s not always playing with guys penetrating to pass. Rose is best at that; Jimmy is more a face up player on the perimeter, not driving and kicking as much, not as much pick and roll. Plus, the offense still isn’t flowing as Hoiberg would like with the sort of half court movement that would give Mirotic more shot opportunities. I’d ask him to do less for now, be a shooter and rebounder.

I feel bad for Anthony Davis and Alvin Gentry. And those ‘Blazers have come back to earth real quick. I like how Melo is not letting his ego get in the way with Porzingis like he let it with Lin.

--Bob Ding

Sam: Falling 10 games under .500 and with Davis hurt again, it’s ridiculous to say and contrary to my philosophy (which I suspect doesn’t enter into their discussions), but it might serve the Pelicans to give up. Especially with this kid from LSU Ben Simmons the likely No. 1 pick. He and Davis going forward would revive New Orleans basketball for the next decade.

We always hear the next this and that, and I’ve heard it in many drafts, like with Andrew Wiggins, who actually is showing some great stuff now. But GMs are absolutely raving about Simmons as a sure franchise star. He’s probably also the 76ers’ last chance before the NBA folds the franchise. I’ve never thought Carmelo Anthony a bad guy; just not the player he was supposed to be. His play in the Olympics when he was sixth man was who he is, a star complementary player, if there is such a thing, who also can lead the team in scoring.

But who needs the protection of great players. Lin isn’t that, and his deification in New York probably overwhelmed Anthony. Now, he can see Porzingas is a real player who can help him; Lin never really was despite the media celebration. New York is about building and destroying stars; not analyzing who they are and what they can do. I think Anthony sees Porzingis as the real thing, a player who can help and make a long term impact, which Lin wasn’t.

Yes, the ‘Blazers were that “surprise” team we pointed to the first week of the season when so many judgments are made. But you lose four starters and it’s going to catch up. Especially once you can begin scheming for their scorers. Dallas is our surprise now for a week or so.

Is there a simple explanation of why there is seemingly no concerted effort to exploit the talents of the leagues best three point shooter? It is pretty obvious that an inside contested two point attempt at 45 % is not as effective as a 57% three that is wide open because they will not look outside.

--Jim Hunter

Sam: Calling Doug McDermott? You saw in the win over the Suns that McDermott played basically the entire fourth quarter. Hoiberg has acknowledged basically from the day he was hired the shooting proficiency of McDermott. But Hoiberg also has been trying to balance that with the need to present a strong defensive face, and some matchups work badly for McDermott, who isn’t very fast. Hoiberg’s finding a consistent role for him and I suspect we’ll see McDermott playing more.

Here's my point: Rose is now playing the way I've always wanted him to (and to be fair, the way he's always wanted to). For years - even when he was MVP - I'd written to you that I didn't want him to be Steve Francis - a spectacular scoring point on a losing team. Not his fault, I know. The team needed scoring desperately, and Thibs forced Rose into that role. I've always felt that was a detriment to Rose's game & his development.

Thibs' lack-of-motion offense also ensured that when Rose was doubled & trapped, he'd have to force passes and would turn the ball over a lot. If you look at Rose's stats right now, they don't look so great... but you can see it coming. And there are some very good signs, like best assist/TO ratio since his rookie year, and better D than he's ever played before. (Improved last season, but much better this year!) The goal now is consistency.

--Art Alenik

Sam: I agree and think that gets lost in the microanalysis of every shot Rose takes. He liked passing the ball coming into the NBA and had no issues about doing so as a rookie. Sure, everyone loves to score; but I’ve been around him long enough to see that he never it upset when he plays poorly and the team wins. I can’t say that for everyone on the team, and I am ashamed to admit I couldn’t always say that for myself when I played ball as a kid.

The difficult part of the dichotomy is that Rose is by definition in this NBA a scoring point guard, which is the description. So is Tony Parker and Lillard and Westbrook and most of the others. Chris Paul is the exception. They all can pass, and assist totals can be very deceiving as when you hand the ball to the guy next to you and he makes a three. Like some of Rodman’s rebounding numbers when he’d push Longley away to get an uncontested free throw rebound.

I also think Butler knows well he needs that Rose because of the defensive attention Rose still draws because of his threat to get to the basket. Rose’s passing is the team’s best, especially his cross court vision. He needs to move more in the half court, but so does Jimmy as both tend to stand when the other guy has the ball. But this is stuff Hoiberg preaches constantly and habits are tough to break in a few weeks.

Here's how I see it : The Bulls are a fine team. A mixed bunch of veterans and young talent. Pau and Jo aren't getting any younger, and there's always a possibility where a key player could miss significant time. Although there isn't a sense of urgency and Hoiberg is figuring things out, a trade is what's needed. Last night's game against the Pacers makes that evident. The re-insertion of Snell into the line up isn't a matchup issue, but Hoiberg's looking for an answer.

I don't know what the money situation looks like or what will fit, but what can we do to possibly bring in Rudy Gay? The Kings have won 3 straight but implosion is always the possibility for them with Cousins on the team. Butler has guarded the best player each night, but now Paul George is back. Maybe better than ever. This means at least 3 more times this year we have to see him. At least 3 more times we have to see Lebron. You get the picture. Butler stayed in foul trouble which held him to just 17 points last night. Rose went down and we were open for the kill. Gay can help down the stretch in situations like that. Let's fix this.

--Marcus Anderson

Sam: I’ve dismissed the Rudy option before given he has a long contract and short shooting range. Though I get the point: Athletic wing defender. The Bulls obviously were hoping that was Snell, but it’s not working out. The defense has proven adequate enough with Noah and Gibson supporting off the bench. I suspect they’ll settle on just bringing Dunleavy back and working him in with a team defense concept as Hoiberg likes to switch and change up coverages, sort of keep ‘em guessing. I really don’t foresee any significant trades or changes this season.

It’s been 11 games already and it’s very clear that having Mirotic start with Gasol is not working as both are defensive liabilities. Why doesn’t Hoiberg just start Noah back into the starting lineup and have Mirotic come off the bench? I seriously think that is the reason why this team has been so up and down each game in scoring and defense and also not been able to put away teams that have no business beating the Bulls.

--Tom Choi

Sam:We may see some of that. There have been a few games where Hoiberg has been close to doing that, and one time Noah came up with the sore knee. As I’ve written, I don’t see it as a major issue with the team off to better starts of late and the defense strong enough. I actually think Noah even if he probably doesn’t care for the limited playing time is where he should be, coming in with energy and defense and being asked to play less so he can build toward the playoffs. And his rebounding has been terrific as he obviously doesn’t have to save himself for the stretch all the time, as much he wishes he would.

I think one reason things went awry with Thibodeau at times is players didn’t always feel he protected them. Noah is someone who you might need to get mad at you to save him from himself. Perhaps you give up a game here and there; but the team will be better the healthier he is, and he seems now to be used in a reasonable way.

Has Noah been told not to throw the "tornado" out there, unless pressed by the time clock?

--William Kochneff

Sam: Not that I know of. Hoiberg has made it clear if you are open he wants you to shoot. I see Noah working all the time on his shot, but the confidence is not there. It probably didn’t help when he opened the season shooting poorly from the free throw line. I’d tell him: “Hey, with some of the crazy shots your teammates are putting up, let it fly.”

Why don't Durant, Kyrie, Chris Paul and other high level players get grief for all the times they are injured? Especially Kyrie and Paul, who miss a lot of games. Our point guard only gets scrutiny. In fact, Nash was 2 time MVP and he was injured a lot. No one made huge deals every time he was out.

--Ateeq Ahmed

Sam:It’s a valid point as Irving has been hurt every season of his career as has Anthony Davis. But few have reached the MVP heights of Rose. Plus, so unexpectedly as a 6-3 guard who wasn’t a scorer in college. As I’ve noted, Rose’s ACL rehab probably hurt him because he did want to play so badly that he practiced in front of everyone. So that produced a false narrative that he was a malingerer when he just wanted so badly to be around the game and his team.

There are players on the team who are more solitary than Rose, but he ends up carrying that reputation because he doesn’t articulate to everyone’s satisfaction. But good for him and probably growing up where he did he grew a tough shell and gained perspective on what is important and what is not when death surrounds you like it does. We get more upset at the character assassination than he does. He just wants to play.

Who do you think is at risk of losing game time when Mike Dunleavy comes back? Does Dunleavy start or does Doug McDermott keep the starting role?

--Shaun Chalmer

Sam: I’m guessing Dunleavy starts. Snell has had the toughest time of late and should lose minutes, though his plus/minus remains very good, suggesting the team functions well with him. He’ll have to score more to hold his spot. Similarly with Mirotic, he’ll have to be more consistent. The way the game is now you could play Dunleavy at stretch four given Mike is a good rebounder and can space the floor.Heck, if Kris Humphries can be a stretch four, so can Dunleavy.

And, what! No Bobby Portis questions this week? He’s still around; I see sweat all over his jersey after practices. He’s working and I suspect will get a look at some point. But playing 10 regularly as Hoiberg does isn’t even that common. He’s not about to further divide those minutes. I suspect both Snell and Mirotic lose some time until one proves more valuable than the other.

I know Jordan had many stretches much better than this Curry one and I also remember vividly Kobe 05-06. Still, I'm amazed at this Curry run because - apart from Jordan and Kobe - I couldn't recall another guy as unguardable. Maybe McGrady in that horrible Orlando team, but they weren't winning any games. There was Iverson as well, though without the outside shot. Anyways, I'm enjoying the show, most of it because Curry is a likable guy as well. I don't think the Warriors will win 70 games, but boy they're some kinds of unstoppable at the moment.

--Jay Vidal

Sam: It is great stuff, and that’s two good names for when they got going. People forget how McGrady could score. Not Thibodeau though, as Thibs always reminded us about that 13 points in 39 seconds run McGrady had against the Spurs. Hey, it did happen. People also forget because he gave himself up offensively like few have to be part of a champion, but Isiah Thomas could have been a 30-point scorer if he wanted to. He did the things with the ball Curry does and could shoot.

I’m not sure if Pete Maravich would have been more like Magic Johnson with a good team, but his handle was amazing and he could shoot from anywhere before they were shooting threes and with a great stroke. Forget Wilt, obviously, and even Oscar as he’d simply back players in and shoot over with his size and strength. He was the most efficient scorer. Earl Monroe was something to watch, a magician with the ball, the original “magic,” who could score on anyone without the athletic explosion.

George Gervin would give you 50 and you didn’t even feel too badly as it seemed effortless. Of course, Kareem with the sky hook. There’s a good documentary on HBO now and watch that skyhook. Hakeem also with the shake, though it’s different with big men. Shaq just overpowered everyone. But it’s great to see what Curry’s doing and the more fun to watch teams try to respond. The Bulls are next.

It's early in the season, but do people really think the Bulls can win a title this season with our current squad? If so, yikes. I'm seeing lots of issues that cannot be easily resolved even with a new coach.

--Matt Ruth

Sam: You’re right; they’re not the favorites. But I still believe they should finish the season. Even at their best before everyone was hurt, the Bulls were not favorites and didn’t win the title. What I never understand is the attitude that if you don’t believe the team can win what’s the point. It’s why I also love the regular season because it’s like a new movie playing out every day without knowing the ending.

Sure, the Cavs should win the East. But they are hardly invincible; forget even if LeBron were hurt. Even healthy it’s an odd mix of players without a lot of coordination. The great stories are when you are counted out; the 2004 Pistons weren’t supposed to do anything, and we’re still not sure they did. Same with the 2011 Mavs; I watched their first round playoff series and said no way they get to the second round. That’s the great element of sports, that as much as we believe we know we really don’t. Mostly you don’t win, as in life and business. But you try because you may. To paraphrase Michael Jordan, which I generally am loath to do, I succeeded because I failed so many times,

After watching Nicolas Batum have a big game against the Bulls on Friday night it occurred to me that another player Jimmy Butler has been guarding had a pretty big game. It made me wonder if maybe his defense has not been at quite the same level as it has been in past seasons. The players that Jimmy has mostly guarded have combined to average about 23 pts, 7 rbs & 3 ast while shooting nearly 47%.

But then you look at the players he has to guard (LeBron, Durrant, Wiggins, Johnson) you realize that considering he is still averaging 20/5/3 and is now in a system that is no longer focused on defense as it was under Thibs – you have to appreciate that he has one of the toughest jobs in the NBA! And was it just me or did Jimmy Butler do to the Suns what Brian Roberts did to the Bulls a while back, which Jimmy made a point of: The Bulls up 7, 14 seconds or so left in the game, 3 on none runout pass from Hinrich………run out the clock or take it for a dunk?

--Andrew Robson

Sam: It’s a criticism Deng faced trying to deal with the same roster of stars. It’s obvious Butler is the team’s best individual defender, though you’re also seeing Gibson out there in more fourth quarters for his defense as Hoiberg likes to defeat the pick and roll in various ways instead of one coverage for all occasions, like the Bulls practiced previously. So there’ll be times with Jimmy and Taj they’ll switch more often, which obviously you cannot do with a lot of other players, which limits a player like McDermott at times with minutes.

Under Thibodeau, the Bulls played identical rotations with identical strategy for each team. Hoiberg changes regularly, and that not only takes some getting used to but can necessitate varied playing time. And some guys get hot and make shots; that’s why they are so good. But Jimmy has been consistent in making them work, which is his main job as a top defender.

I really didn’t take much note of that last shot with the game effectively over. The Bulls led by seven with about 13 seconds left when Hinrich rebounded. Actually, the way the Suns play and with threes and the way the Bulls shot free throws lately it really wasn’t over. So play it out. That’s one of those bad, unwritten rules like they have in baseball that are routinely ridiculous. So it is in the NBA that you have to dribble out the clock and not try to score? As if these guys will be embarrassed. I think Jimmy was just looking for a motivating point as I was in Charlotte and don’t recall much talk about that shot.

Plus, if you don’t like someone shooting at the end of the game, guard them. These are guys who often don’t get to play. If they want to try to play the game, good for them. They should. How is it an insult to you if you decide not to play defense. It’s gamesmanship, like in golf matchplay when you give putts. I never give a putt. Of course, I almost always lose. Putt it out. If you are afraid to make it then you’ll miss it when it matters.

Games should be contested to the conclusion no matter the score. Do you really think you are being a sportsman by trying not to score? I’ve always viewed it more as an insult when a team dribbles out the clock rather than trying to score, as if saying it’s too easy. I hate that and I hate always congratulating guys at the free throw line with hand shakes and bumps when they miss. As I recall when Bulls players missed, Jordan said something like, “Make that (bleepin) shot!” It’s like giving trophies for fifth place. You need to be reassured when you miss a free throw? C’mon, quit the crap and make it!