Ask Sam Mailbag: Bulls thoughts, PG questions, trades and more

Sam Smith answers your questions as we reach the 20-game mark on the NBA season
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
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Brian Tucker:

It's become apparent that we can hang with most any team in the league, except for the top tier teams on most nights. We play a fun style and could win or lose any given night. It also doesn't seem to matter if we are up big or down big at any point in the game. So it's exciting! Still, most prognosticators would have us on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs. Though I feel optimistic about our chances at getting one of the lower seeds, it's still a crapshoot at this point. So many things can change. Are we buyers ready to acquire Lonzo Ball to shore up our point guard issues? Are we going to capitalize on the ascending trade values of Zach/Lauri/Thad, and go deeper into the rebuild? Or are we just staying the course of player development and assessment and just seeing how it goes through the rest of the season? The suspense of not knowing what AK is thinking these days only adds to the intrigue. Which is your preferred direction?

Sam Smith:

Stay the course. Oh right, which one? I believe the Bulls will make the playoffs, which, I know, I have said before, but they really will this season with Zach's more mature game, really good veterans in the right position in Thad and Temple and an attitude that Billy Donovan has instilled of not accepting your fears and frailties. Is the playoffs eight teams? Ten? I guess the way things have gone for these Bulls in recent seasons, just a chance to play a meaningful play-in game would be something. With vaccines coming and perhaps some better weather, the hope is there's less Covid disruption in the March restart. By the way as I wrote last week, All-Star game, seriously? Sounds like a good year to urge people to come to a party in Georgia?

But, hey, there's a lot of stuff I don't understand, like Kareem writing an op ed this week recommending LeBron get the Covid vaccine first. It's not enough he get all the calls? Oh right, the Bulls. It's not going to be easy to get into that bottom tier of the East playoffs, though I see the Bulls with as much or more talent than those teams, like Miami. But Miami and Toronto still aren't at .500 and you assume eventually they will be. I can see the 76ers, Bucks, Celtics, Pacers and Nets top five. I have the Bulls talented with enough veteran experience now to be six through 10 and as good as any of those teams. Then there's luck like fewer injuries and illnesses. So I wouldn't make any moves. I'd play it out, see how everyone fits and what they do because it's still a season of analysis in which the competition level was supposed to increase, which it has. And they've improved a lot from last season. Stay the course; for now.


Zach LaVine and Coby White

Nicholas Hill:

We're now over 20 games into the season if my math is correct and I'm rounding out my opinion of this team. The sentiment around the league is that the Bulls are talented but no one is sure how they fit together. I believe the reason is simple. There's no player to tie them together. They need... wait for dramatic effect... a PG! Not Paul George although he'd be nice too. That's not exactly a mind blowing conclusion but it's definitely obvious at the end of games when Zach or Coby are turning the ball over, Lauri isn't getting the ball in good spots etc. It's honestly not totally their fault. We've seen how great the vets have been for this team. An experienced PG would work wonders for everyone. I'm really hoping that move is coming soon. The first name that comes to mind is Devonte Graham. Restricted free agent with Lamelo Ball poised to take over. He would seem gettable without giving up a boatload in trade or using all of the capspace in free agency. More ambitious but probably not leaving their teams: Kyle Lowry and Mike Conley.

Sam Smith:

I actually was lobbying for Conley two summers ago when they signed Young and Satoransky. But then Conley basically was hurt most of last season, so that might have resulted in me strolling the beach with Gar. As above, I'm sticking with Coby and seeing how it goes. Let's try to remember that he's 20 (for another week or so) and he's started a grand total of about 20 NBA games. So perhaps we don't have all the evidence quite yet. Graham strikes me more like Coby that LaMelo, and though I have to shockingly admit I don't watch Charlotte much, they mostly look like they play a lot of isolation when Ball isn't in the game. I agree Lowry probably resigns there. He's too valuable to them and long one of my favorite players, the Sugar Ray Robinson of the NBA, toughest pound for pound in the league. It's still a process?


Lauri Markkanen

Ryan Brian:

Ah yes, the curious case of Markkanen. Just when you think he's finding his groove, he'll disappear. As for the Knicks loss game, it's amazing how bad we can shoot from 3 and still end the game close. It showed how important it is for us to have at least two star players. Zach has been consistently good (despite 0-7 and showing he's a star in this league. It would be so great if Markannen would be that guy. Right now he seems to be the only other player to show he can be that for us this season, but with the earlier injury and up and down performances, that's not happening right now.

Sam Smith:

I'm sure the new management guys are thinking the same thing. I do think there's a lot there, though the real definition of greatness is consistency, the player you can depend on every game. That's become Zach. He doesn't have a partner yet, and those players are difficult to find. Markkanen may not be that guy because when teams focus on him as the Knicks did some, it becomes more difficult. Which doesn't make him worthy of dismissal. Say in baseball you need Nos. 1 and 2 starters. But you still have to put Nos. 4 and 5 out there regularly. And they better be good. Markkanen does a lot of stuff that's difficult to replace or create. I doubt he can average 30; but if he can give that to you once a week or 10 days you'll take that. Not that many can.


Zach LaVine

Ateeq Ahmed:

Getting tired of Zach trade rumors. Please tell me the team won't trade him. Do fans and some media really think the Bulls will get close to equal talent back? That never happens. The guy is a genuine star and is averaging almost 27 points per game on a team where scoring is distributed and one player is not taking 30 shots.

Sam Smith:

It seems like the national media isn't giving up on this one. I think Bulls fans are starting to get the idea that it might not be a great idea since Beal's team, you know, is worse. And he has an All-Star/MVP sidekick. And a teammate named Ish, which no one in the NBA ever has had. Beal according to Elias is the only player in NBA history with a 50-point game during which he said, "Thanks Ish." Elias Koteas, the guy who used to be on the Chicago PD, the police show.


Charles Barkley

Tom Golden:

I was watching the Clippers at Nets, pretty good game by the way—and shocked I just found out that gambling was taking place.

Sam Smith:

It is remarkable—and dare I say hypocritical, dare I?—the way sports has adopted gambling like it never suggested it could compromise the game. Now even the team broadcasts are giving odds about the final result during the game. I'll bet you Pete Rose, as Charles Barkley says, has to be rolling over in his grave. What's the odds?


Thad Young

Art Alenik:

Watching Thad this season has been an ‘education'. I had always liked his game, but I thought of him as a long guy who will run, defend and has a nice touch around the rim if not a lot of beef. I knew that he was a generally smart player, but had no idea how smart. I really do hope he can teach Wendell how to play out of the high-post like he does. I'd like him to teach all the youngsters how to read like that. I don't keep track of contracts, so I had to check. We have Thad for one more season (after this) at $14MM. I guess we'll see if there's a spot for him in 22-23 and what he's worth by then. Good guy to have on your bench though... or as a future coach.

Sam Smith:

I once got mail—actual letters written on parchment, I think—about this Jordan guy dribbling all the time. Everyone loved watching him play and score, but he had the ball all the time, it seemed. How to get it out of his hands? Eventually there was Scottie. Could Thad Young be the Bulls facilitator? He has been at the post and in the pocket, as he likes to say. But could he on those 14-year legs run the team full court, make plays, push the ball? He's smart enough to, talented enough. With enough longevity to continue through March without ruining him through next season? It's a thought.


Julius Randle

Mat Ramseyer:

Should Julius Randle be an All-Star this season? I disagree with your early vote because I think you have to play well for a long time to deserve the ASG. Sexton and Randle are good but they need to prove something. Im not convinced.

Sam Smith:

It's not a lifetime achievement award, but I understand your point. Like a lot of NBA awards, there's no established rules, standard or guideline to be an All-Star. Mine is who is playing the best during that season since it's the All-Star game for that season. Yes, I'm so unimaginative. But it's also an exhibition for the fans to see the best in the game, so there's an expectation LeBron and Harden and Curry and Durant should play no matter what kind of seasons they are having. Then again deferring to the fans perspective, players like Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony get into the fan top 10 voting because they are favorites and fans want to see them. So since the league doesn't establish a particular standard for the game, there's room for disagreement. I believe the best at the time deserve to be rewarded. The best in the long run get rewarded by the Hall of Fame. We're pushing in Chicago for Zach LaVine, who makes it on my standard but perhaps not yours. Which becomes his catch-22 because what if you play well for a long time and don't get recognition. LaVine has averaged more than 20 points per game now combined since the 2016-17 season but never has made an All-Star team. So then you still do not deserve it because you haven't gotten it before because then you weren't around long enough to be deserving? Give peace and Zach a chance.


Bradley Beal

Tim Flynn:

The silliness just continues with stories about trading Zach and trading for Beal. Anyone who believes that even if a straight up LaVine for Beal deal could happen, it would significantly improve the Bulls needs to re-think it. Beal is a two year older clone of Zach - or more properly - the other way around except for the age difference. There is only one reason that Beal leads the NBA in scoring and that is because he takes 4.5 more shots than anyone else. His eight more points than Zach on almost eight more shots merely shows the diminishing return on those extra shots. Zach has better shooting percentages in field goals, threes and free throws.

Sam Smith:

I'm glad you made the point about Beal, though I don't want to diminish him as a player in any way. But Zach is more deserving of being an All-Star this year than Beal is. I initially listed Beal as a starter, but I take that back. I may not have Zach as starter, but Beal even leading the league in scoring has to be considered a marginal All-Star given the criteria that kept Zach off in recent seasons: His team stinks. And Beal plays with a former MVP, Russell Westbrook. Beal has had some remarkable scoring games, but the Wizards have remained one of the league's poorest teams. The Bulls beat them twice in Washington. Beal is attempting shots at an historically high pace, which was held against LaVine trying to elevate his team the last few seasons with little around him given the injuries. Yet as you note there are these endless pleas to trade for Beal even for LaVine and more. Beal isn't a particularly good defender, he's smaller than Zach and older. He's not nearly as athletic. I'll accept Zach isn't Durant or Curry, but if Beal is a certain All-Star—and he's deserving—then Zach is there, too. Get it right this time, panel.


Tyrese Haliburton

Mike Worth:

Had the Knicks taken Haliburton instead of Toppin and then Quickley they could have had their starting backcourt for the next 10 plus yrs. Quickley is already a better offensive player than Coby and a better facilitator. Toppin on the other hand is getting the Dougie McDermott treatment from Thibs (Who didn't see that coming?)

Sam Smith:

Leon Rose? I noticed against the Bulls Thibs started to play Toppin some, but not for long. Not that anyone felt bad because we always wish ill of the Knicks. But Toppin is looking like the biggest mistake of the lottery. We haven't seen much of Killian Hayes yet, and I didn't like what I did see. But Toppin looked awful against the Bulls, Thibs pulling him quickly from games as the Bulls extended leads or cut deficits whenever he played. Not that I ever saw Dayton play, but Toppin sounded like a bully in the scouting reports. I guess in that conference. He's looked weak and indifferent, shooting a few jumpers and without much athleticism. It looks like another disastrous Knicks selection. How about these top 10 picks since 2015: Kristaps Porzingis (traded for lottery pick Dennis Smith Jr., now going to the G-league, and some future picks), Frank Ntilikina (out of rotation), Kevin Knox (out of rotation), R.J. Barrett and Toppin. Tanking hardly guarantees you anything. The Knicks lead the league in lottery picks barely playing. I liked a lot of what I saw from Quickly and I agree he looks more like a point guard than Coby. But Quickly is a long way from knowing what is a good shot or meeting one he didn't want to take. Or forgetting he's not in Rucker Park. It seems clear why Thibs isn't starting him despite some big scoring games. Anyway, thanks for letting me dump on the Knicks a bit. Though as we've seen Thibs is really good. He's the best thing they have going for them now.


Tomas Satoransky

Andrew Brown:

When are the Bulls going to understand that Coby is not a point guard. I wouldn't start him there and I'd actually have him come in as the 6th man off the bench. He has to be the scoring man like a Ben Gordon was off the bench. It's where he played so well last year. Start Satoransky instead who is my traditional pg. you then get better balance with Coby, OBJ, Thad coming in with the second unit. Bad loss to the Knicks yesterday. Just when we think it's coming together and we have depth and starting to get the pieces right, we lose to a team like that who's roster is still a train wreck. I know we came back to 3 after being down by about 18, but cmon it's the Knicks!

Sam Smith:

I'd say they're not that bad, but I did just make fun of them. They're not that bad, really, you know other than the drafting part. Though we know Thibs doesn't like draft picks, right? I think the Bulls probably sense that about Coby, but many have long said he's not a point guard; he just has to play one for these Bulls and let's see what happens. And a lot of post guards mostly shoot. I've recommended Coby do that. Coby's a really good kid, so he wouldn't do what I would do, which is just worry about shooting and mention I'm Coby White and they aren't. It looks like he really tries to be the player the Bulls want him to be, which is the missing point guard. You can see that as much as Donovan may admire Arcidiacono, he knows he's not a big part of the team's future of regulars (an aside about Arcidiacono. No one stands and roots more. I'm not in the arena this season, but more than anyone else he's up on that bench and into it; Scalabrine would be proud). The New York game was a tough one for Coby because of Thibs, who learned a lot from Belichick. You take away what they do best and go after their vulnerabilities. Thibs attacked Coby's dribble, thus forcing Donovan to put the ball in Zach's hands more. The Bulls didn't have many turnovers, but then it takes Zach out of a lot of stuff. I recall Karnisovas acknowledging before the draft the need for a point guard, but Williams obviously was too appealing. And overall despite a recent enigmatic stretch, Williams could become one of the best picks of this draft. The Bulls strength this season in many respects has been the bench. Thad has accepted the role gracefully and willingly; Coby could be a huge addition off the bench as they still add up all the points. Donovan also does a good job mixing lineups once the game starts. So starting shouldn't even be a big issue with this Bulls team. The problem is with the two long Covid absences Satoransky hasn't been back to his level yet. I'd still run with White and would prefer to see him look more at the basket.


Victor Oladipo

Jeffrey Pierce:

Why did the Pacers get rid of Oladipo? He clearly is really good. Now I read the Rockets want to trade him. Not sure if that is true. What about trading white for Oladipo? You need some kind of assurance he will resign though. Of course you need some money fillers. Having a team of all young players never works. You need young players and vets. A lineup of Oladipo, LaVine, Williams, Lauri, and Wendell will certainly get you in the playoffs. Plus Oladipo is only 28. Is there still health concerns for Oladipo?

Sam Smith:

The Pacers are one of the best organizations, and it sounds to me like he told them he wasn't going to resign and the rumors have been he's likely going to try to sign with Miami. So I don't think it's health concerns as much as he's not giving anyone an assurance he'll stay there, so obviously it makes no sense for the Bulls. An aside about the Pacers, by the way it's a remarkable season they are having considering they traded Oladipo for Caris LeVert, who had cancer surgery (they say he'll recover well), and lost T.J. Warren to surgery when it looked like he was becoming one of the best scorers in the league. I remember when many fans were writing me saying the Bulls should go for Malcolm Brogdon and I was dismissing it because I said there was no way the Bucks would let him go. Ooops, big mistake there. But everyone makes them. It is much easier to judge after you know what occurred. But good for the Pacers. A smart organization.


Ben Simmons

Mike Arndt:

76ers - Zach LaVine , Lonzo Ball, Bulls 2021 Protected
Bulls - Ben Simmons, Pelicans 2022 Protected
Pelicans - Lauri Markanen

Sam Smith:

So you're not convinced about Zach, either? I thought we were mostly done with that. For 76ers, good deal; Pelicans, good deal. And I really think a lot of Simmons, though you seem to think he's LeBron or Magic. Let me see if I have this straight: Bulls players averaging about 45 per game for a guy who can't make a 10 footer. And Bulls add a No. 1 for a later No. 1? So you're a 76ers fan, right? I get the notion the Bulls could use an All-Star point guard. Then Coby becomes the shooting guard, Hutchison at three, Williams at four and Carter at five? Simmons is really good playing with MVP contender Embiid. But with White, Williams and Hutchison would he have the same impact? Young? Valentine? C'mon, let's keep Zach until at least he becomes the first Bulls All-Star since Jimmy Butler.


Gar Forman

Matt Cooney:

Is it too early or too late for a revisit to the GarPax era? In summary: some amazing talent that fell a Lebron block and a torn meniscus and ACL away from multiple title contention (maybe some Rose colored glasses there); a long journey into mediocrity led by Hoiberg (underrated and subject to tank-athon) and Boylen (I never got interested in him – nor did his players). So now, a 95% GarPax team is exciting and interesting, with loads of potential. Billy Donovan is a huge part of that, and AKME are generating buzz – which probably helped land Donovan. But the Donovan hiring reminds me of so much of the NBA (and life) built around good luck and good timing.

Sam Smith:

You do know it's dangerous to insert logic for the emotion of sports. These Bulls aren't title contenders, but as with the Knicks (and teams like the Magic) top 10 lottery picks don't even always make you better. LaVine's an All-Star talent. Markkanen's a serious starter for a good team. At least White and Wendell Carter could be high level reserves if not better. Hutchison, Gafford? Heck, if the fans and media didn't run Cameron Payne out watch out Bucks and 76ers. And the Nets even like Luwawu-Cabarret. C'mon out Gar; I think it's safe.

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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