Ask Sam Mailbag: Coby White's Value To The Bulls, Patrick Williams' status and more

Sam answers your questions about possible tweaks to the Bulls rotation and more.
by Sam Smith
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Damien Power:

The trade of Wendell Carter Jr. plus picks for Vuc, the signings of Lonzo, AC, DJJ and DeMar, the drafting of Ayo and allowing Lauri to depart in free agency so we can sign Zach LaVine to a max contract have all been total masterstrokes by AK and Eversley. However, there remains one negative legacy of the previous management group and that is Coby White. So I was wondering if you think that Coby's days in Chicago are almost over? I know he is a streaky scorer and can get hot but against the Hawks he got totally scorched by Trae Young.

In comparison in the second quarter Ayo Dosunmu played some point guard and he almost completely shut down Trae Young. Why are management giving Coby so many minutes and cutting into Ayo's development time?

Do you think they are giving Coby more playing time to raise his trade value so we can trade him plus another player or two or a draft pick so we can get another defensive-minded stretch power forward like Robert Covington or Maxi Kleber who can help us go really deep in the playoffs?

Sam Smith:

I know there's always someone to dislike, and Coby came in for a bunch after that first Hawks game (which the Bulls won easily, by the way), though he had more assists and fewer turnovers than Young the next game. Of course, the Hawks were like a game of HORSE with just an H; a lot was still missing. I know this latest narrative is popular of celebrating Dosunmu at White's expense, though as you guess if it's for trade value it wasn't a good idea to make him look bad against Young.

So would DeRozan, but he didn't get put there. Credit to both Dosunmu and Green for their defense, though Young did score a lot despite playing with about two other regular NBA players. I believe the mistake many are making with White, which I don't believe management is making, is that when the Bulls get to the playoffs—and we pretty much can say when now—White is likely to be more valuable than the other reserves.

Because he can do what none of the others can, and which can steal you a playoff game. Defense is vital, but if the Bulls have Caruso and Ball playing they won't need another defensive guard. What they will need is a quick, fill-it-up shooter/scorer who can get you 10 or 12 points in a short span when your main players are slumping or being shadowed. I don't see anyone else on the roster who can do that.

That's what can make the difference in a playoff game, and one loss turned into a win often changes a series. I won't go with the excuses for White of surgery and COVID absence, which are legitimate. But more that despite those dozen assists he's not a point guard. No big deal, the Bulls have those now. He's Lou Williams or Jamal Crawford or Eric Gordon or John Starks or Jason Terry, point guard-sized shooting guards. A lot of teams didn't get Williams for a long while. Because you have a job doesn't always mean you are good at it. How often do they get those top draft picks correct?

Doug Collins figured it out first, as he often did when coaching, that Williams wasn't a point guard though he measured like one. But he was valuable, and those points scored in the second quarter off of the bench count, also. All the great teams have players like that who can make an offensive difference in segments, if not necessarily in total. White took the hit against Trae because he was asked to.

Substitute coach Fleming figured it out quickly, and White excelled in the rematch. Those other guys are helping hustling around in the regular season; you need someone in the playoffs off the bench like White. Remember, this is a guy even as a rookie who went nine games averaging 26 points with more than 100 points in three consecutive games.

Hardly anyone else coming off the bench has even had one 20-point scoring game in their career. Let's not forget the big picture.


Damian Lillard

Brent Finger:

The Bulls currently have Portland's 2022 lottery protected draft pick. If Portland receives a lottery selection in this draft, which appears likely, will the Bulls get Portland's next non-lottery draft pick or will that pick eventually go away?

Sam Smith:

It's still an excellent trade even if it may not do anything to help the Bulls this season. I get a lot of trade suggestions that include the Portland first, which as you note is lottery protected, which means 15 to 30. Like back to Portland for maybe Covington or Nance, the latter whom the Trailblazers desired for the pick and their playoff run. Never mind. Maybe things change some when C.J. McCollum returns, but Nance has been a disappointment, the franchise is in confusion with the dismissal of the GM, the new coach has been questioned and Damian Lillard's name always is in trade speculation.

They're currently out of the top 10, and seem unlikely to win a play-in spot. Which for the Bulls' future is OK as the protected pick rolls over year by year until 2028 when it becomes a second. Unless they hire the Kings organization, they should make a playoff series before then.

Though if they trade Lillard...It doesn't look like the bounty will, at least, help the Bulls much this season.


Vooch and Joker

Tom Roberts:

Nikola Vucevic played an extraordinary game against the Hawks: 24 pts, 17 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 blocks, and 4 threes (and followed that with 16 pts and 20 rebs). Out of curiosity I compared his performance to another Nikola (Jokic) who is also from what was once Yugoslavia, and I was impressed by what I found.

Jokic is averaging 25.9 pts, 13.8 rebounds, and 7.2 assists. His Player Efficiency Rating is 32.83, and only Giannis is anywhere close to him at 30.91. Jokic was a deserving winner of last year's MVP award, and the two Nikolas are likely to continue competing for it in the years ahead. The Nuggets success without Jamal Murray, who should be back before end of regular season, is a factor in Jokic's candidacy, but he's a consistent and remarkably effective player.

Who else beats out Giannis and Jokic for MVP? Curry?

Sam Smith:

Zach LaVine? Though Vooch appreciates your support, he's probably not in the MVP conversation given his teammates. But the way he's going lately—18.6 points, 14.2 rebounds, two blocks, 1.2 steals and 40 percent on threes the last five games—he might nudge his way into the All-Star conversation again. As impressive as his stats are, Jokic doesn't get in the MVP discussion, either. MVP is not a statistics-based award, except in historic cases like Westbrook's triple double run for a bad team. They might have been better if he wasn't doing that, but that's another answer. The MVP is a blend award, a rough combination of best player with best team. It's not always the best player and not always the best team, but basically an elite scorer and/or facilitator with a home court level playoff team. I don't hold out much hope for Murray to be what he was later this season as that first season back is getting yourself ready for that real first season back next season. Now Jokic has to be mostly a stat producer for perhaps a playoff team. Similarly with LeBron. Maybe Anthony Davis comes back and changes things, but as great as LeBron has been, especially lately, it continues to trend to losses. My top five MVP would be: Durant, Curry, Giannis, LaVine and Donovan Mitchell. I know DeMar DeRozan has gotten more national attention—are they already taking Zach for granted?—because so many had dismissed his effect. It's often how these votes go. So called experts can't be wrong. So the player (or coach) must have done something unexpected. But it's LaVine who has grown into one of the top three or four offensive players in the NBA. Perhaps only Curry is a better tough shot maker. The Bulls put a 26-point scorer next to him. And he shrugs and still puts up 26, shooting better than Curry. LaVine is probably as difficult as anyone in the league to stay in front of, and just the seven footers like Giannis and Durant can get shots off on anyone like him. I figure Jokic has to be looking at Zach and wondering how he makes those shots.


Adam Silver

Parker Lerdal:

So what happens to the games that have been postponed because of the NBA protocols for 2021-22 NBA 75th Anniversary season?

Sam Smith:

An extended All-Star break to make up some games? It seems apparent as long as the NBA doesn't pause the season, which they seem not inclined to do and with which I agree, there'll be enough teams that play 82 games. Not always feeling good about it, as the Hawks justifiably weren't this week against the Bulls. I know there was some moaning about how unfair it was when the Bulls lost to the Cavs with more than a half dozen players with virus. But the Bulls still had LaVine, Vucevic, Ball, Dosunmu, Bradley and Jones.

The Hawks' fourth player was a two-way G-league guy. So life isn't always fair. Hey, remember that call they missed...Anyway, it seems like the NBA is going to have to squeeze in those games, and so far it's three for the Bulls including an extra trip to Canada. That could make the schedule daunting later on, so it's good to be piling up those wins now.

Everybody has a bad situation this season. Better to just keep playing and figure it out in the playoffs, which the Bulls should be able to do well this season.


Patrick Williams

Kieron Smith:

Is Patrick Williams really is out until March or April? Could Alfonzo McKinnie be a starting PF?

Sam Smith:

There apparently was a report this week that the Bulls were denied a disabled player exception. Acting coach Fleming was asked about it and said he couldn't comment on the accuracy. The exception means that the team believes the player is out for the season and requests an ability to spend money on another player. A rejection means the league thinks the player still can play this season. It seems unlikely being out all season Williams would reclaim his starting spot if he returns. But he could work into valuable defensive role for short minutes.

As well as the Bulls have played unless they were to add an All-Star type player in trade, I don't see Javonte Green being dropped from the starting lineup. At 6-4 he's unusually small for that position. But the way Bulls coach Billy Donovan generally chooses to play with speed and activity to dislodge the ball and the way he likes to put smaller players on bigger players, like Alex Caruso to perhaps force turnovers at the expense of a few lost offensive rebounds or shots over a smaller player, I see the Bulls staying with Green. But Donovan also has been quick to make substitutions at times, so starting doesn't always necessarily mean 30 minutes playing time or finishing a game.


Javonte Green

Guy Danilowitz:

I'm sure you were thinking the same thing we all were when Javonte appeared to injure his shoulder Wednesday: Oh no! Because as long as Javonte stays healthy the Bulls will be ok! Seriously: what a move by AK and Billy - fake everyone out by playing Daniel Theis a bunch and not Green and then sign the better player. Seems like a great year for Javonte to get a Slam Dunk contest invite. Shouldn't the Bulls be pushing that?

Sam Smith:

Why not? Derrick Jones Jr. and Green in the Slam Dunk Contest, Zach, DeMar and Vooch in the All-Star game, alumni Joakim Noah for the Chamber of Commerce. Yes, that's AK's story and he's sticking with it.

What it really shows is he watches the games and listens to his coach. I'd heard that was an issue for coaches in Oklahoma City, that management operated unilaterally. Which certainly is its prerogative. You did hear a lot from Billy last season about how much he appreciates having the input he does. Though he never did say anything untoward about Oklahoma City.

Like a lot of fans and media, who seemed to like Theis a lot, it didn't seem like Donovan liked the mix with Vucevic. Donovan did often say the team was slower last season after the trades, though true to his style not faulting anyone. Just making an observation. It seems apparent management got the message and let go Theis, whom the Rockets don't even use much.

Pretty unclear in a rebuild what they were thinking. And that Billy felt more comfortable playing smaller and quicker; and that's how that partnership is supposed to work. And then if you win you can say it was the plan all along and everyone will believe it.


Mo Cheeks

John Petersen:

Maurice Cheeks has been on Donovan's coaching staffs for many years and different teams. This year the Bulls are dramatically better on defense in part because of Caruso and other vets commitment to overall team ball. It's difficult with the virus press practice restrictions, but what is your view of Cheek's defensive coaching contribution?

Sam Smith:

Mo is one of the more lovely guys around basketball. And I don't use "lovely" often. He's lately been in defensive posture in relations with media. Perhaps virus related as it has been that way for most of the staff and front office this difficult season. Not being defensive, let's say one of the reasons I like the Bulls staff is that someone as composed and experienced as Cheeks is there.


Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan

Joe Tanner:

It's nice to see Nikola Vucevic starting to play better. If he can reach his normal near All-Star level, what is this teams ceiling? The Bulls are quite obviously a good team, but they seem like a second-tier team with Golden State, Utah and Phoenix at another level. But then again, in the fourth quarter, who else has two players that can score from anywhere on the court like the Bulls?

That's pretty valuable come playoff time.

Sam Smith:

That's what I was thinking. It's difficult to assess things at this part of the season with so many unequal games. I doubt we'll truly have an idea about strength—enough with the power ranking already—until this stuff subsides, assuming it does, in a few months.

Many of us here, if not nationally, saw the names on the back of the jerseys more than the recent history of the name on the front of the jersey and believed even before the season began the Bulls were much, much, much, much better than the Vegas projections of 42-43 wins. C'mon, they're degenerate gamblers. What many suspected and became clear quickly is the Bulls could compete with any of these teams because they added veterans and not just talent.

It doesn't mean they will beat them. But I frankly don't see a single team in the NBA that I don't believe the Bulls can beat in a playoff series. For example, Giannis is better than anyone on the Bulls. Middleton and Holiday might not be Bulls starters.


Otto Porter Jr. on the Warriors

Art Alenik:

That Lakers game. Yeah, Otto Porter had moments in Chicago, but only moments. He was slow and fat, and either couldn't or didn't even try to get in shape. I complained about Carlos Boozer's effort level, but he was a dynamo compared to Otto. The other player who "retired" while on the Bulls was Ben Wallace. He went back to Detroit and played 10 times harder.

Sam Smith:

It was painful watching Otto Porter finish that win over the Suns for the Warriors this week. Not that I root against anyone, but rarely have I been around a a guy who seemed to give up so quickly. Much more than Ben Wallace. Wallace—Hall of Fame, seriously?—was a figment of great coaching by Larry Brown and unselfish teammates like Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace and Richard Hamilton. And media voting, to me, often mistakes defending the rim for all around defense. Ben was just more exposed coming to the Bulls, though he's often my fallback for that canard (now apparently over with the DeRozan and Ball additions) that free agents hate Chicago. Wallace, a Hall of Famer as it turns out, was the No. 1 free agent on the market in 2006 after four straight All-Star appearances and a title, and he wanted to come to Chicago.

Just because he got exposed didn't mean Chicago is anathema to free agents. Oh yeah, Otto. It looked like a great deal, Porter for Bobby Portis after failed negotiations and Jabari Parker. Porter was immediately a game changer, averaging 17.5 points and shooting 49 percent on 3-pointers in 15 games. And the Bulls won seven of their first 12 with him, and it looked like maybe the start of something to build on, a real vet with talent. We didn't get why the Wizards seemed so jubilant about the trade.

Then he mysteriously was shut down the last 11 games of the season, and didn't seem much interested thereafter. It was a bad team with a lot of tough stuff going on, but still, to see him now lighter, energetic, productive. I read he's on a one-year contract.

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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