Ask Sam Mailbag: DeRozan and LaVine chemistry, early success, and more

Sam answers your questions and thoughts following the Bulls' 6-2 start
by Sam Smith
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Brodie Larsh:

Would you say Zach [LaVine] and DeMar [DeRozan] have been the best wing Duo in the NBA so far? Statistically, overall, they're right there with Harden/KD and Tatum/Brown. Higher scoring and win % than either pair too.

Sam Smith:

Maybe we could ask Marcus Smart. We were trying to make the Zach/Coby case before with some hope and fantasy, but once DeRozan became a reality they became a reality. It's unfortunate that LaVine has that thumb injury, which obviously has had an impact. They clearly respect and like one another and have been anxious to play together. It helps that there's no Kawhi with Paul George, no Kyrie with Durant and Harden isn't flopping into calls anymore, LeBron is aging and Klay [Thompson] isn't back yet. But they are both top 10 in scoring, the only such team duo in the NBA, and Zach has done plenty to help DeMar, scoring at his most in five years. Even on that last play Wednesday that was challenged and became the Embiid block, and even with Zach's thumb issue.

The 76ers and a smart coach made sure their best defender, [Matisse] Thybulle, stayed with and didn't leave Zach on the screen. Which gave DeRozan that open lane to the basket. DeRozan's mid range game is so efficient and I believe in the long run he'll do for the Bulls what Chris Paul did for last year's Suns, making big shots down the stretch from mid range because that's what wins games. It's actually all we saw in the Finals with Middleton more mid range-oriented for the Bucks and Giannis obviously not shooting threes. Zach can score so easily and occupies so much defensive attention that DeRozan could have the best season of his career.


Joel Embiid and Andre Drummond pregame

Art Alenik:

Joel Embiid, Geez, he's a very large person (7-feet tall, 280 lb. – I looked it up). Vucevic is not exactly small, but Embiid looks so much bigger. Basically, he looks like Shaq without the baby-fat. I thought he fouled DeMar on that last block (on the body, before the actual block), but it was close. I don't blame Billy for accepting that call and not getting fined over it. That is not what lost the game for us. It was that 0-15 run in the 2nd qtr. Even on TV you can see how big he is and how ‘normally' he moves for a guy that size. Even scarier if he could stay healthy. Even with Embiid on board, I still don't like ‘the process'. They suffered for years before getting Embiid, and still haven't built a great team around him.

Sam Smith:

Not that teams didn't do that before...after all, the lottery came about in 1985 because so many teams—including the Bulls—were dumping games to try to get the No. 1 draft pick, then Hakeem Olajuwon. I know all the great players come from the draft, but as the Bulls experienced and why the Thunder, Magic, Pistons, Pelicans, Rockets and others probably are doomed for years to come is that when you build with draft picks instead of just filing in with them you usually become the history of the Sacramento Kings. Sure, the 76ers got lucky with Embiid after basically blowing about five drafts with No. 1s for Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Markelle Fultz and it seems now Ben Simmons as well. Embiid saved them after, by the way, sitting out about two years, so they were even lucky with him. But who still sees them as a likely finalist? And Embiid doesn't have a long shelf life. That's why it's a relief to see what the Bulls did, moving a bunch of those picks for adults. Like Tex Winter always told Jerry Krause, "You win with men."

You didn't find many No. 1 picks with the championship Bulls. Sure, if you can get LeBron. But even Anthony Davis—top 75, not on my list—could barely get the Pelicans to the playoffs for years. Look at the Raptors nice early run now. Sure, Scottie Barnes looks like he could be Rookie of the Year. But it's not a training ground as much as working in some young players with veterans and not so much talking about the future than trying to enhance the present. GMs might persuade their bosses it's good to have future draft picks, but they're not that interesting for fans to watch.


Vucevic and LaVine high five

Samuel Coggins:

I love the season so far, love the new players. But what is up with all the ball hogging between Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan? Also how hurt is Zach? And will he heal that thumb properly while playing 38 minutes a game; come on Billy downsize his minutes a little bit. The last two games there is no ball movement and lots of "hero ball" from our two stars and not enough shots for big Vooch, like seven shots against the 76ers?! Come on. I hope we pick it up or the rest of this big test against good teams is going to kill us.

Sam Smith:

I'm disappointed as well that they've fallen to a 62-win pace. I suspect Donovan will manage the minutes as he's generally done a good job with that. But with two off days coming before another game and coming from a big deficit with a bench that couldn't score much and the chance to continue a good start to the season, I'd have done the same against the 76ers. They seemed confident Zach wouldn't make it worse, and he is a tough shot maker. He did have some turnovers at the end, but we've seen him play through tough defense and make those shots. Can't make them all, as DeMar said when he air-balled that last one against the Knicks. DeRozan did say something after the 76ers game about learning to play together, and while I usually don't go much for that one with veterans, there is something to it as Donovan has pointed out the difficulties of getting offense on the same frequency and three guys accustomed to taking the last/big shots accommodating a support role at more times than usual.

Being 6-2 at this point with wins over the Jazz and Celtics (who Thursday dominated the Heat, which now means the Bulls are better than Miami in today's syllogism) and to the last shot with the Knicks and 76ers and third-best margin in the East seems like a heck of a start. I'm not that concerned yet as much as you may have expected 8-0.


DeMar DeRozan drive on Georges Niang in Philadelphia

Matt Cooney:

We know that sports media are the smartest people in the world. The Bulls were lauded when they picked up Ball and pilloried when they picked up DeRozan. Looking back (after a stretch of eight games), which acquisition was the most important? DeRozan's points usually dominate the highlight reel more than Ball's steals and assists. Ball's acquisition has addressed the glaring lack of a point guard.

Sam Smith:

I usually don't pat myself on the back too much after requiring elbow surgery for doing so. Me, me, pick me; I said DeMar. The contradiction with the DeMar signing was everyone said the Bulls were cheap and then said they spent too much on Lonzo and especially DeMar. I never fully understand that argument; why do you care what they spend? Yes, the logic is they could have gotten someone else, but teams are limited by salary cap and roster rules. Perhaps they spent extravagantly for Ball, but not for them. Value often is in the eye of the beholder. Or who holds it. The Bulls needed a point guard who could defend more than most other teams, so for the Bulls he was worth it and perhaps not as much for the Suns or Lakers. I'm told you have to fear the analytics crowd because they own Twitter and tend to be angry when they are challenged. I wrote many times after the DeRozan signing it was my favorite because of the adult-in-the-room factor. Teams need players who can and know how to play. Perhaps in five years it would have been better off to have signed John Collins or Jarrett Allen, but my favorite season is the next one.

Not only is DeRozan, as most everyone has seen by now, a developed professional and valuable teammate, but he has the kind of game—or developed it—that will endure because he doesn't rely so much on athleticism as much as canny, fundamental play. Maybe you can have too many of those guys, but the Bulls needed more. As valuable as Ball and Alex Caruso were for defense and activity at their younger ages, you need players like DeRozan to succeed. Damn, there goes that elbow again.


Zach LaVine dribbling up the court

Alejandro Yegros:

[Zach] LaVine is playing with one hand. It's really glaring how it affects him when he drives and how he doesn't try to use his left hand other than when he's got the ball. If he gets surgery, how long will he be out? Does this thing have any chance of healing on its own?

Sam Smith:

Zach said after the 76ers game Wednesday it will take awhile and he'll play through it. We always commend players for that toughness of wanting to be out there...until they make a turnover or two and we ask for surgery. Teams keep medical stuff to themselves, so we really never know. It's not hockey where you'd have to see the casket before they'd acknowledge the severity of the injury. We have a vague idea from watching. To me, Zach has played remarkably well with something that he's obviously going to feel all the time. Walk around with a pebble in your shoe all day and tell me how often you don't think about it. This is a bit worse. Surgery, at least from my experience, is never a good thing and always to be avoided if you can. You know, minor on someone else, major on me. These things usually require surgery at some point, so I don't know if it fully heals during the season. Though it could improve, I suppose. I suspect he plays with it for as long as he can, perhaps takes a game or two here or there if it worsens and is relieved he didn't have to drive in an era before cars had directional signals.


Ayo Dosunmu corner 3 against the Sixers in Philadelphia

Ted Poulos:

With the emergence of Ayo [Dosunmu], should the Bulls look to trade Coby White? He's finished in the bottom 10 in FG% two years in a row. He plays at a very small 6-foot-five inches, can't play point, has trouble finishing at the basket, and plays poor D. Ayo does all those things. The only edge Coby may have is 3-point shooting. And Ayo is just learning.

Sam Smith:

Let's start here; if Ayo doesn't make the All-Star team Chicago is going to have something to say! And as a starter. I got a bunch of these this week after Dosunmu had 14 points against the Celtics. Who, no fault of his, were just about the worst defensive team in the league the first few weeks BTM (before team meeting). The 76ers are one of the better ones, and with them closing out he got run off his shot quite a bit. Maybe Coby wouldn't have and taken some bad shots and missed, but you sometimes have to. That's why the Bulls really need Coby for that second unit, more so than Dosunmu. Not him specifically. But that group as much as they can is able to will the team back in games with energy, defense and transition. But it isn't a scoring (or shooting, especially) group. I'd hate to not see Coby have a chance with that group, who I believe really needs his play.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like this month. I also wouldn't rush Ayo like the Bears are rushing their rookie quarterback in the NFL. There's plenty of time. I believe Dosunmu will be a valuable player for the Bulls, but they need Coby in there more than they need Dosunmu. I like what Derrick Jones has done and had been a little bit surprised it's taken this long for him to get in there. I know, a whole six games! I thought when Williams was out it would be Jones starting at power forward. But Green has done well. I'm not sure what Troy Brown did to get dropped, but he provides some offense. And as I alluded to in writing after the 76ers game, that Matt Thomas guy who ever he is, looks like he's a good shooter. Maybe give him a shot, which he seems to already have.


Coby White posing with a basketball

Peter Coquillard:

Finally a fun season is afoot. I always love a good Lech Walesa quote. Solidarity! I really hope they keep Coby White. I've found it rather hard to get emotionally attached to the teams of the last few years the way I was with the Derrick, Jo, Taj, Kirk, Luol, etc. I found them all to be decent guys and some good players but Coby and maybe David Nwaba were the only ones that I felt I had vested interest in beyond rooting for the players on my team. Ayo has been punching above his weight so far, which I love. I really hope Coby doesn't come back in a shooting slump or your inbox will be bursting with crazy trade proposals.

Sam Smith:

Well, I did get one trade proposal for Jakob Poeltl. Some for Christian Wood, though that required Patrick Williams in another of those "what have you done for me lately" proposals. Lots of Thad Young suggestions, though by NBA rules he could not play for the Bulls again until after this season. And as Austria was once part of Poland before the partitions about the time of the American Revolution (there was other stuff going on), it’s always a good time for a quote from Lech.


Nikola Vucevic blocking Tyrese Maxey in Philadelphia

Jeff Lichtenstein:

What do you hear about making a trade at the power forward position? Do the Bulls really want to see what they have at first? If they do try to trade, who are the most likely targets? And is that realistically closer to Feb. 10th? If healthy come trade deadline, I'm dealing for a PF that fits. Early returns on Ayo make it palatable to package Coby and a first round draft pick. DeRozan is 32 and at SF that doesn't last long term. The time is now.

Sam Smith:

And there goes Coby again, though I'm not sure the Bulls have first round picks anymore. There is that understandable point of view since the future perhaps is now with DeMar 32 and Vucevic 31 years old. I always believe in now, and yes there will be times, presumably in a slower, more half court-oriented playoff game when size matters a bit more. I actually like Billy's smaller, pressure-playing game and am not convinced it won't work in the playoffs. I don't recall Andrew Bogut getting the MVP for Golden State. Though the offense has to be more coordinated. There seem to be enough games for that. Plus, I don't know that late season pickups make that much difference. Theis was the kind of power forward you perhaps are suggesting, and I don't believe at that time that sort of player would make that much of a difference. I don't see without the draft picks that the Bulls have enough to acquire another elite star-type player at that position. I believe it can be managed and have liked what Tony Bradley has been doing. Though with his lack of offense you can't play him that much. It's why Vucevic is so important to the team.


Sacramento Kings PF Marvin Bagley

Jeffrey Pierce:

What do you know of the [Marvin] Bagely situation. That's unheard of to not play your No. 2 pick in the draft. Clearly he is talented. Is he a problem? Would you trade for him?

Sam Smith:

Maybe a power forward like that who can score? He'd be worth a risk, sure, but there's always a pretty good reason we don't know about when a talented player isn't playing at all for a not very good team. With the seemingly convivial locker room group the Bulls have now you'd certainly want to do a lot of your due diligence. The controversy-free Bulls seem like a very happy place to be for now. Even without reporters in the locker rooms anymore, you certainly don't need a lot of questions. But if the cost weren't much...


Derrick Rose driving on the Pacers

Andrew Killion:

The [Joakim] Noah night was fantastic, especially as a season ticket holder throughout the entire era; does it give you hope they will honor Derrick [Rose] in the right way and retire his jersey?

Sam Smith:

Maybe in [Scottie] Pippen's spot? Seriously, with the response that Rose got again that night with a standing ovation—though I believe the Bulls are behind on some retirements like Chet Walker, Norm Van Lier and Horace Grant—the community would be thrilled with that. And as I've argued—and even when I wasn't his co author—he's deserving to be in the Basketball Hall of Fame, especially like he said recently if he "Tom Bradys this thing."


Ayo Dosunmu and Tony Bradley

Bill Kopta:

With the Bulls not having a 1st round pick, I didn't follow the draft that closely this year. And I don't follow college basketball. Watching Ayo Dosunmu play this season I'm amazed he fell to the Bulls in the second round. What caused him to drop so far in the draft?

Sam Smith:

It is encouraging on the level that I always say you, too, can be an NBA GM. After all, if you have a degree, you have one more than is required to be a top NBA executive. On-the-job training and networking helps. It's gotten more difficult with players in school so much less and thus those players playing against players so much less talented and experienced. So you often really don't know until they are playing for you. NBA teams talk about valuing experience, but then you get lower rated in the draft the longer you stay in college under this ridiculous theory that your ceiling isn't higher. Scouts generally evaluate based on "ceiling" and athletic ability. Ayo isn't a fabulous athlete, and as a junior didn't even shoot 30 percent on threes. Threes is a big measuring stick now. He was on many lists as a low first round pick because they couldn't figure out why his team won so much.

What scouts aren't good at is measuring the NBA. After all, they watch college. Ayo plays with a nice pace, plays confidently and for all the stupid 40-yard dash stuff they do, that's not part of the NBA game. Anyone can get a fastbreak layup cherry picking. They failed to recognize that Dosunmu knows how to play in an NBA game and having been the guy in college, is a confident player. Plus, the Big 10 isn't a very good basketball conference, so their players suffer as well.


John Mengelt

Robert Learner:

Does Alex Caruso remind you a bit of John ‘Crash’ Mengelt? If I recall correctly, Caruso is long and probably more athletic, but Mengelt had a softer jumper. Both seem to be all over and on the floor.

Sam Smith:

A little, which at least gives me an opportunity to recall a favorite in John. There are some similarities, though Caruso is bigger and more athletic. Not quite as jut-jawed. It actually was Norm Van Lier who gave Mengelt that nickname for all the times playing for the Pistons Mengelt was crashing into Norm, both leaving with stitches. I used to see John at Bulls games a lot, though not so much in recent years and of course not the last few until recently when no one was there. John was a bit of a better scorer and also a good shooter like Caruso. Mengelt had a knee injury in Detroit before he came to the Bulls, so we didn't see quite all his damage on a regular basis. But it's a good comparison.


Ayo and Zach looking at each other

John Petersen:

Months ago I wrote that I did not want the Bulls to use the second pick on Ayo as I believed he lacked a dominant skill to quickly create/fill at the very best a rotation role. It's still the infancy of the season but not too early to state that I was wrong, big time. We now learned that he excelled in preseason games and is both a teachable, knowledge sponge and film-dedicated student. Ayo has broken the second round rookie mold and earned the accolades, respect and growing trust of teammates and especially Donovan. Humble pie never tasted so good.

Sam Smith:

So you were the one. I'm not so sure it wasn't a sentimental pick at first and the Bulls did not realize what they had until they saw his maturity as a player. Don't be too hard on yourself. Teams probably get more wrong than you do. And never are as honest.


Robin Lopez

Mike Sutera:

Robin Lopez seems done in Orlando already. Last night a DNP after the previous game only playing five minutes. It's understandable with Mo Bamba playing his best basketball. If he is bought out/cut I wonder if the Bulls would be interested.

Sam Smith:

Not playing for a bad team that will only get worse. Now that's an idea if only for the pregame mimic wrestling battles. Few seem to make being around the game more fun. He'd be welcome; certainly by me and media colleagues.


Lonzo and Javonte high five

Mark Kollar:

Nothing succeeds like success. I think the team expects to win now. I think that is an essential intangible for a team that in fact has very good players who are well-coached. Winning makes it easier to experiment with rookies and rotations, makes it easier to relax and take the right shot or make the right pass. If we split with Philly and go .500 on the upcoming road swing we are well on the way to a playoff berth - maybe even a home court advantage in the first round. 50 wins puts us solidly in the playoffs. Play .500 on the road and win 30 home games. Now if we lose the next 10 in a row then what I wrote above is nonsense and we, of course, should have known that this team would come down to earth and we're injury prone, we overpaid DeRozan and the bench is weak...

Sam Smith:

A hedge is always a good idea, except when you ride your bicycle into it. Winning small can feel a lot lot better than not losing big. Though momentum is frequently used and often misplaced or misunderstood, I tend to call it habits. I believe there is something to expectations, whether wins or losses. What it does is helps with confidence; you don't become as uncertain, which you often see when teams go on runs and get caught. Sure those 90s Bulls had Jordan, but you could almost see the inevitably of defeat on the faces of opponents when the Bulls were in layup lines (they did that). So having a player like DeMar with Zach and Vucevic once he gets going matters because they can make plays and have made them. Again, while young talent is exciting, we rarely see them in the final four games of the season that matter.


Jalen Rose on the Bulls

Tom Polonowski:

Seeing Brad Miller in the stands on Noah's night reminds me of the summer of 2000, when he and Ron Mercer were the two big free agent signings for the Bulls that offseason. Why did the Bulls choose to make the trade for Jalen Rose? I personally was a fan of the move. The Bulls brought in a 29 year old point forward in the peak of his career with skill sets similar to Pippen, offensively. However, I only viewed it being a good fit if the Bulls could've surrounded him with veteran talent. The Bulls certainly give up a lot. Artest and Miller being the two main pieces. Was Artest showing signs of troublesome behavior at the time and why did they feel like they would part ways with a player with so much potential as a starting high-caliber defender. Miller, of course, went on to become an All-Star. I do think that eventually Miller would've produced similar stats on the Bulls had they played him and not Curry. The Bulls may have been better off keeping a core of Curry-Chandler-Artest-Mercer-Crawford with Fizer and Miller off the bench. Ultimately, Jalen Rose didn't bring out the best out of those young guys and himself was moved to Toronto.

Sam Smith:

That's a trade close to my heart because I lobbied for it for months in the newspaper and behind the scenes. It's perhaps also why I have some sympathy for executives when things don't work because they should or could have. It was the right thing to do at the time. This argument that they should know because they have the job is just media laziness. Artest was showing very troubling signs, though we never quite saw the attack on the fans. That was part of my equation. He was going to implode and take someone with him. I never figured an entire franchise. Plus, the Bulls were absolutely committed to Curry and Chandler more than anyone on the roster. Krause's whole future for the team was built around those two, so Miller made no sense going forward. He wasn't going to play ahead of either, and though he made a career for himself he wasn't even drafted. So you didn't know for sure and he had to be in the right situation to succeed. Perhaps it didn't work for the Bulls, but, and I felt badly for that, it almost destroyed the Pacers franchise after a brief success afterward. Jalen was the right guy in talent, if not mentality. Which you never know until he's living in your house. He did have Pippen-like skills and was a better shooter and a guy ready for his own team.

My idea was with Curry and Chandler, the Bulls needed a veteran (Jalen had played well in the playoffs, including a 40-point game, and the Finals), Jalen was 28 and in the prime of his career. And he did have a 50-pointer with the Bulls. But the Bulls infrastructure at the time was a mess with Tim Floyd. Rose saw him as an incompetent head coach and saw the players as unable to compete and basically just decided to get his, averaging about 23 points in almost two seasons and throwing the kid overboard. He isn't a bad character person as we can generally see from TV, and was always generous with the community and media and remains philanthropic. He just didn't want to sacrifice for the Bulls. We discovered he didn't want to play for that Bulls team once he saw what it was like after coming from a Finals team with classy veterans like Reggie Miller and the Davises and playing for Larry Bird. You can't completely blame him, but while I believed it made sense for the Bulls, it unfortunately didn't make sense for Jalen. The problem, as it often is in the world, is people. You never know. Or even what's best for them.


NBA 75th Anniversary logo

Paul Socks:

Why do coaches and players talk about "going downhill" so much? The court is flat and a horizontal plane, and NBA regulations prohibit teams from sloping it on one end for players to go downhill. Has anyone ever decided to go uphill?

Sam Smith:

This is a very astute observation as it's clear that you, and not only the players, are high IQ people. You must be someone from Downtown who isn't careful with your money and is Dropping Dimes. Perhaps you need to Put on a Clinic and Make it Rain. It's a Money Game because the Bank is Open, a place where you could find Bricks or a Goat. It no longer being summer it's no time for a Heat Check or Splash, though a Prayer is often appropriate. Perhaps if you're not looking good you could Thread the Needle, but don't waste a Teardrop. That should Handle it.

Got a question for Sam?

Submit your question to Sam at asksam@bulls.com

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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