Ask Sam Mailbag: the Zach and Coby duo, coaching thoughts and draft scenarios

Sam Smith has a full mailbag with questions ranging on possible coaching candidates and draft strategies.
by Sam Smith
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James Wallace:

There's this article I read on NBA coaches and adjusting (or not) during the playoffs. Not sure what author would think of old Packer teams where Lombardi thought other teams couldn't beat them if they executed their game plan. I think an interesting question is how difficult is it to get a team to buy into a coach's philosophy. Most players have short careers with a small window for big bucks. If they get into the wrong situation or the wrong system, it can cost them. The NBA might be a player's league, but they have the most to win or lose in the checkbook. The incentives for coaches and players might not always align perfectly. Once had a boss tell me you aren't as smart as you think you are when things are going well, but you are rarely as stupid as you feel when things are going bad. Sometimes you are just in the right place at the right time, sometimes you aren't.

Sam Smith:

And such is life. That advice from your former employer, who fired you I assume, is the revelation of the fatal flaw of hubris. It's not about you. Being in the right place at the right time is much smarter. Or getting the No. 1 draft pick when it's LeBron James and not Anthony Bennett.

Coaching, in my view, often is a much overrated by fans and media. Part of that is because that's who is always left to explain to us why something happened or didn't work. In these playoffs, former genius Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer now is being much condemned (the ambivalence of the job) because he wasn't making those treasured adjustments that everyone loves to credit for altering a series outcome. Though since analysts generally work in reverse and see who won first before determining who was correct, it's a difficult case for the loser. Lombardi became famous for that famous sweep play that led to multiple Super Bowl wins. It also had its chicken or egg element. Did Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston (obscure references for those under 65) and Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor make the Hall of Fame because it worked? Or did it work because they made the Hall of Fame? Not to dismiss the relevance of coaches because somebody has to yell, "Go" from the sidelines, but it is about talent.

Budenholzer followed the Lombardi model of having the best team (or record), so we'll keep doing that since that's what got us here. You may remember here in Chicago, it also was Tom Thibodeau's philosophy. Which didn't work as well after Derrick Rose was injured. Thibs rarely made significant playoff changes, which got him a Coach of the Year award and affirmation until it didn't work and he was fired for also not making playoff adjustments. Generally these revered adjustments amount to little more than changing the defender or a double team. Maybe going into a zone like Boston did for the last play in Game 3 against Toronto. Ooops.

I would like to see some adjustments in these playoffs, like shooting from mid range or the teams that have the tall players actually having them get the ball closer to the basket. Budenholzer didn't do that much, either. It didn't work out for the Bucks. Perhaps there's a threat from the analytics departments to strike and shut down the rest of the playoffs if every team doesn't run at least 80 high screens and shoot 50 threes per game. So what really can a coach do?


Billy Donovan

Mike Sutera:

The Chicago Bulls according to reports are expected to have an interest in considering Billy Donovan for the franchise's head coaching job.

Sam Smith:

I'll admit I was surprised about the Donovan departure, and not only because I made the case last week for why the Thunder would retain Donovan despite four consecutive first round playoff eliminations. I also figured his life was so much better now with Westbrook gone. Former college coach, young players with plenty of draft picks coming once they again try to trade Chris Paul and seemingly very close relationship with management. Seemed a fit. Never mind about that.

And about life and basketball, you never know about other people unless you live with them. And then not always. Even with the truncated season, it's been surprising to see how many coaches could not survive a playoff loss: Donovan, Brett Brown, Jacque Vaughn, Nate McMillan. Not much longevity in that job, but good severance. Could Budenholzer be in trouble after losing with the league's best team? Is he A to B and not B to C? Mike D'Antoni with his more than 700 career wins? Nick Nurse if the Raptors can't get back to at least the conference finals? Probably not him, but Phil Jackson often would joke about his luck of not getting the Coach of the Year award because guys often were fired within the next two years. Dwane Casey was fired right afterward. There was a run in the early 2000s with Byron Scott, Mike Brown, Avery Johnson and Sam Mitchell all not making more than two years after their awards. Mike Schuler and Don Cheney got quick outs after winning when Phil was moving into the Bulls job. It's not security. No one but Popovich has it. But it is becoming a potentially impressive coaching recruiting class.


Coby White

Keanu Reeves:

Why are mock drafts connecting the bulls with a PG selection? We need a wing like Deni (Avdija). His stats aren't great, but he improved his shooting a lot. Also, I think Coby White is a sleeper. He also was drastically improving before the pandemic. I think Coby and Zach will be a dangerous combo once the season starts again.

Sam Smith:

It sounds like a plan which could be the Bulls'. There's been speculation about the team's need for a point guard, and White isn't exactly the classic definition. But there don't appear to be many anymore, anyway. You watch these playoff games and players like Jimmy Butler, Donovan Mitchell, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden and Jamal Murray, primarily scorers no one ever called a point guard, are running teams. Some are more comfortable facilitators than others, like Leonard and Harden. Oh yeah, that LeBron guy, too. Actually, there are hardly any guys who are primarily passers. Some of those guys, like Chris Paul, are out of the playoffs. So why not take a look at Coby and LaVine for more than the one game they started together last season? My sense is the Bulls direction is going to be offensive even if I hadn't been watching the playoffs and seeing all these big scores, at least for playoff games. Things can change if someone begins winning with size, mid range play and defense, but few seem to be trying. There are questions about all these top picks, but Avdija in theory fits this NBA model which the Celtics have been using effectively. It's having three or four wing players who can score and make plays. Many believe that's the direction the league is heading, and that wing position isn't very strong for the Bulls.


Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray

Nicholas Hill:

The Nuggets Jazz series just concluded and wow! It was great to see Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray compete as hard as they did. Extremely fun to watch. In just goes to show just what playoff experience can do for young players. It also made me wonder what they could do if they were on the same team together since they almost were both drafted by the Nuggets. That makes me think of Zach and Coby. Donovan Mitchell is a very athletic, high scoring 2 guard with sometimes questionable shot selection, decision making and defensive effort that comes and goes, like Zach. Jamal Murray is not an elite athlete but he's adept in the pick and roll, great shooting off the catch and on the move, questionable on defense at times, sometimes take bad shots and is more of a combo than guard than PG, like Coby. However, Zach is bigger and more athletic than Mitchell. Coby is around the same size as Murray but much faster. If Zach and Coby's ceiling is anything close to what we saw from those 2 in the playoffs, this franchise is in good hands. Do you believe that's a reasonable comparison for them?

Sam Smith:

The Nuggets probably don't want to think too much about that, though they seem to be doing well enough. The interesting debate there lately has been with Michael Porter Jr., who can score but doesn't defend much nor seem to understand much how to play. Which is hardly unexpected since he didn't play in college because of injury and probably hasn't played regularly since AAU. You can tell coach Mike Malone doesn't trust him much despite Porters scoring, and continues to start Millsap and Jerami Grant, despite the latter's poor shooting. Though Jokic and Murray dominate the ball and shots. There's some call to start Porter with the Nuggets falling behind 2-1, though Millsap and Grant are superior defenders. And the Clippers are favored. More offense and less defense? The formula? It's not inconceivable the way Zach and Coby can score that we'll begin to see those sorts of impressive numbers, though if Murray and Mitchell played together you would need a much longer game for them to get off all those shots.


Deni Avdija

Tim Flynn:

I only know Avdija from what I read and that pretty much goes for other possible picks. The one thing I do know, however, and one that neither you nor anyone else seems interested in, is that the Bulls absolutely cannot afford another top pick who cannot play defense worth a damn, i.e, Lauri and Cobi.(Zach can but mostly doesn't and Carter is still learning) When you talk about Avdija and Ball, neither are considered good defenders nor are they all that certain to be major contributors as far as scoring the ball. The idea that this team can afford, much less "must have" a great playmaker who is a loss on defense and a question mark on his own scoring prowess simply makes no sense.

Sam Smith:

Well, they have Kris Dunn and it seems uncertain whether they even want to retain him. No one is opposed to defense. In fact, when the Bulls put those chants on the scoreboard it's never for O-fence O-fence. Everyone would like to have good defense, but in the NBA these days you have to keep up with the scoring. There's a distinction that the Bulls have been missing. It's less defense than toughness, which also means finishing strong on offense, playing through contact, getting to the offensive boards. The Bulls have a few too many finesse players and perhaps could use some more thrust in their offensive game, which I can see potentially with Coby White. The draft is primarily comprised of teenagers who are not generally skilled offensively. If the Bulls stay in the top five in the draft, there don't appear to be any potential defenders other than Wiseman, who's a bit on the thin side. Perhaps a trade down for someone like USC's 6-9 Okongwu? But let's give Wendell Carter Jr. a chance. I wouldn't judge Avdija if it turns out to be him for his defense as much as what he can add. Karnisovas has been reasonably consistent about taking about the best player he sees and not the best defender.


Marc Eversley and Arturas Karnisovas

Jay Hearfield:

If the Bulls lose out on getting Edwards/Ball/Wiseman, do you think they should trade down? The quality seems equal for the next 1/2 dozen or so. I know you picked Avidijs, what do you think of some of the other wings? Patrick Williams, Aaron Nesmith, Devin Vassell?

Sam Smith:

So how would the fan base react if after years of being stuck or falling to No. 7, the Bulls get lucky and move up to No. 4 and then trade down to No. 7? I don't know if that's part of Karnisovas/Eversley thinking. Karnisovas in his few media video sessions expanded the utility of this draft farther than most "expert" views. So it does lead me to believe there's a good chance, especially because Denver traded down twice in three years during Karnisovas' tenure. Then the question is how far.

If the Bulls with multiple needs for star talent aren't so excited about No. 4, why would someone else be? Boston with three first rounders has been mentioned, though the first at No. 14 seems too low. The others are 26 and 30. What's more likely the way Denver (and the Bulls) have done those deals in the past is for a pick and a player. I think Enes Kanter has been underutilized in Boston and would be an interesting short term addition. The Knicks supposedly desperate for a point guard always are mentioned at No. 8, which is appealing. Could you get Mitchell Robinson or take a crack at falling-through-the-cracks Kevin Knox? The Suns at No. 10 and another chance to resurrect local favorite Frank Kaminsky? If Kelly Olynyk can be productive in Miami why not? Hey, would the Suns agree also not to resign Cameron Payne? Karnisovas has a reputation for being creative. We'll see. As for those guys, the one I hear from scout friends to watch for is Patrick Williams.


Andrew Wiggins

Brodie Larsh:

An idea popped into my head. Say we offered Otto Porter and the 4th to GSW for Andrew Wiggins and the 2nd. Warriors get a more win now veteran, cap relief, and probably Toppin if they want, or trade down again...

Sam Smith:

Pop it out. The general consensus, as much as there is one, is the Warriors most likely will trade down to try to get a player to help them now in their Curry/Thompson/Green title window and still have a good pick. I doubt Otto Porter Jr. with his two years of injuries with the Bulls has such appeal. The Warriors with an ownership that does have a high opinion of itself—and I guess why not with its recent success—probably are one of those teams with Giannis dreams. You know, come to us and win like Durant did and then go where you want. Plus we have really cool views.

I like Wiggins even with his big contract, though I suspect the Warriors will hold him out for contract matching in case the Bucks feel they have to trade Giannis to get something if he doesn't sign the supermax deal this summer. If I'm the Bucks, I ride it out even if I can't sign him hoping I can get to a Finals in a moderately talented East and change his mind. Or maybe Giannis signs to get the money and if it doesn't go well asks for a trade. Then the Bucks get something and Giannis has his money. That actually seems to make the most sense and what I'd do if I were Giannis. He hasn't asked for advice yet, however.


Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen

Matt Galvin:

Next Bulls coach: Scottie Pippen? Horace Grant? BJ Armstrong? Luc Longley?

Sam Smith:

Alas, none of the above. If we're looking at former Bulls, who by the way have a rich coaching history with Jerry Sloan, Bob Weiss, Matt Guokas, Rick Adelman and later Reggie Theus, Bill Cartwright and Sam Vincent and sundry assistants like Pete Myers, Jannero Pargo and Randy Brown, I'd say perhaps Stacey King, who was a CBA coach and as we know from the broadcast games knowledgeable and excellent with matchup anticipation. I can see players like Brent Barry and Mike Dunleavy as possibles along with Chris Duhon, Roger Mason Jr., Brad Sellers and Bill Wennington. It sounds like to me so far none are among those being interviewed. Forgot to mention former G-league coach Ron (Metta Sandiford) Artest.

Got a question for Sam?

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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.

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