Ask Sam Mailbag: Onyeka Okongwu's fit on the Bulls, trade-down opportunities, coach candidates, and more

You asked, Sam Smith answers your wide range of questions in his mailbag.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
Draft 2020 | AT&T Bulls Draft Coverage

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Brodie Larsh:

Based off the draft order, I'd say Ball has the best chance to drop. Edwards seems like a lock to go number one now, and I don't see Wiseman getting by Golden State and Charlotte. Who do you like for the 4th pick if those 3 are off the board? Online consensus would probably have the Bulls choosing between Avdija, Okongwu, and Hayes. Okungwu might be the best fit as a long term defensive stopper between LaVine and Lauri. Avdija and Hayes could step right in and be contributors on offense, especially moving the ball and creating for others. I'd say the best chance for them to trade down may be with the Knicks who pick at 8 and another pick.

Sam Smith:

Okongwu is an interesting name which hasn't been mentioned much in the usual suspects lineup of Edwards, Wiseman, Ball, Toppin and Avdija. I like Okongwu, but I don't think you can play him with Carter. Though we keep hearing that Carter prefers or is a more natural power forward, I don't see it. He seems more like the Adebayo center type. Which has worked well. So you get beat by the occasional Embiid. I see Carter being untethered this season.

But Okongwu is impressive. He's similar in size to Carter and Adebayo, but physical and powerful. Which is a missing element on the Bulls roster. The Bulls have a lot of talented players. Yes, really. Not so much tough players. Not the cliche of being physical. But watch the most successful players in the playoffs, like Doncic, Donovan Mitchell, Jamal Murray. They go hard to the basket, take contact and finish. The Bulls have mostly lacked those types of players at most positions. Okongwu seems like that kind of player, something like a skilled Montrezl Harrell. Maybe you have something there.

Karnisovas says he sees this draft as one in which one team might see a player they like best that others see at 10. The Nuggets, when Karnisovas was there, traded down in the first round in 2014 and 2017 for an extra pick or player. You probably could trade down if the Knicks were interested and get Okongwu at No. 8 and then get another player or the Knicks second first rounder, which is 27. I generally prefer sticking with the most talented player. But with so little competition last season and the age of the top prospects, it's difficult to say who is the most talented. Which is going to louse up those winners/losers in the draft stories done an hour after the picks.


Deni Avdija

Mike Sutera:

Man reading up on the kid (Deni Avdija). Scary stuff and not the good scary. 27% from 3, 55% from the line, 43% from the field in 26 games. Those numbers are scary. There is also this: Mechanics have been tweaked repeatedly to the point that you rarely see him shooting the same way, sometimes kicking his legs out excessively or looking stiff with his release.

Sam Smith:

I'm going with the still young thing. That's also why there's so many questions with the top of this draft that it may not be the same top in five years. Edwards has shot poorly. Wiseman hasn't played pretty much anywhere. Ball also has shot poorly. Karnisovas says the Bulls are going to be about development. This draft should provide considerable opportunity. The free throw percentage for Avdija doesn't make sense since his stroke isn't bad and he's a good athlete. I do recall Karl Malone shooting under 50 percent on free throws when he came to the NBA and eventually 80 percent. Yes, except on Sundays. One encouraging sign to me is after the restart in Europe, Avdija shot 41 percent on threes. Which showed not only that he can improve, but that he'll work. There are no Doncics or Morants in this draft to walk in and take over a team. I still mostly like that I see with Avdija. Especially in Year 3.


Zach LaVine

Buddy Munson:

I know you're probably getting all kinds of advice as to what the Bulls should do this offseason. Keep the #4 pick, trade up, trade down etc. In my mind, what the Bulls do is how they view what exactly Zach Lavine is/will be. He is signed for the next two seasons. So is he a player that can lead a team to a championship with the right cast around him or is he a #2 or 3 option on a championship team? If he's the former, they will keep the pick and add it to what they have going into next year and figure out how much to pay Lavine (is he a max. contract player?). If he's the latter, they may feel the need to sell high on him now and add to their young team.

I was reading an article about trade ideas to get the #1 pick from Minnesota. The trade was Zach Lavine, Lauri Markkanen, and the #44 pick in this years draft for #1 draft pick, #17 draft pick (via Brooklyn), Jarrett Culver, & James Johnson. This trade gave me pause as the Bulls would have 3 picks in the first round to go with all of their other young players and adding another lottery pick in Culver to the mix. On top of that, at the end of next season, with Porter, Johnson, & Felicio coming off the books it would free up a bunch of money to add a free agent. How do you view Zach LaVine? Is this trade idea a feasible one?

Sam Smith:

I wondered where James Johnson was. You do know the Timberwolves had Zach. And could have had Lauri. It's not a top heavy draft with a superstar, or so we think, so you figure all picks are in play. But rarely is the No. 1 traded (except by LeBron), and Edwards seems according to most a top talent while Minnesota with Towns and Russell has a need for a strong scoring guard. I assume you'd want Wiseman with No. 1, though he hardly seems, especially in this era, your player to lead a team to a title.

There are hardly any players like that. Is Harden? Doesn't seem so. Westbrook? Definitely not. Chris Paul? No. But they're all players you'd want to have. Is Donovan Mitchell? I doubt it, but he looks good. The conventional wisdom about Zach is he's not that No. 1 guy. But no one is until they are. What if the Raptors repeat? Is Siakam? Jayson Tatum if Boston wins? There's a lot of ambivalence among Bulls fans about Zach. You know, athletic, can score a lot, good shooter, cam handle the ball, but, you know, there's something missing. Until there isn't. For my name drop here, my basketball (and sometimes political) friend David Axelrod makes a good comparison. He sees Zach like Reggie Theus, who was an All-Star several times. And then the Bulls rarely made the playoffs. Even with Artis Gilmore. You know, missing that IT factor. I'm not ready to move on from Zach because teams will try to steal him now coming off no playoff appearances. Jamal Murray didn't seem like that kind of guy. Though lately he does. I'm anxious to see Zach in a more stable Bulls environment.


Arturas Karnisovas

Jeff Lichtenstein:

If the Bulls trade down, opposite of the McDermott trade that looked so good for the Bulls at the time, what picks could they get for 4?

Sam Smith:

Though Denver with Karnisovas had that history of trading down for multiple picks or a pick and players, the Bulls don't actually need more young guys. The team that mostly figures to trade out of the first round, at least in part, is Boston with Nos. 14, 26 and 30. You probably could have all three for No. 4. Maybe two picks and someone like Enes Kanter, an offensive minded big man they don't use that much? This could be a very interesting draft night.


Nate McMillan

Ryan Carpel:

Should the Chicago pursue Nate McMillan. McMillan would be a huge upgrade.

Sam Smith:

I think they should; though I don't believe they will. Most of the speculation about the Bulls next coach has concerned assistants who never have been NBA head coaches. You can hit big that way, sure: Steve Kerr, Nick Nurse. Heck, that was Phil Jackson, also. The Bulls have gone that route often and it's often resulted in a season on training wheels. Time for an experienced coach? That's one of the decisions we're waiting for with the new management team.

Nate isn't a particularly dynamic person, though knowledgeable, savvy and successful. His Pacers teams routinely have been big overachievers, especially after trading Paul George. That's a plus. He checks another big box as a coach who has been excellent with development. Victor Oladipo grew into a star with McMillan after two stops not doing much. So did Domantas Sabonis, also in the George trade. McMillan had a good run with Portland and made the playoffs all four seasons with the Pacers, though the team seemed to use against him being swept in the playoffs three times. I think it was more his playing style, which I think will work against him with the Bulls. I get the sense the new Bulls group wants to emphasize offense the same as the Pacers, who are already rumored to be interested in Mike D'Antoni, who is in his final contract season. McMillan's Pacers routinely shot among the fewest threes in the league with McMillan noted more for half court offense. McMillan's teams were generally among the best defensively, which has been a Bulls talking point for many years. And would get Thad Young to smile again. So whether they pursue McMillan should also be a sign of how the new management team envisions the Bulls playing style.


Coby White.

Russell Hammer:

I am surprised there is not more serious discussion about running Coby at lead guard on am ongoing basis. He's a smart kid, has good vision, and the right amount of confidence.

Sam Smith:

Actually I think there is. Yes, there's a lot of point guard talk from this draft, Ball, Haliburton, Killian Hayes. All are projected top 10 picks, considered point guards who could lead a team and potential Bulls selections. Maybe even Nico Mannion, Cole Anthony or Theo Maledon if they trade down. But I expect whenever the 2020-21 season begins probably in 2021 to see Coby as the starting "point" guard. One who probably is shoot first, which hasn't hurt Kyrie and Dame.


Frank Vogel

Elijah Humble:

With the coaching carousel firing up again, I don't see how it's possible that Jason Kidd isn't angling for Frank Vogel's job. If the Lakers don't win it all it or make it to the Finals it won't take more than a dirty look from LeBron to get rid of Vogel. Seems that he's been quiet but I'd be very surprised if his name didn't start coming up if things go sour. And the Lakers have a pretty flawed roster outside of LeBron and Davis; you almost have to wonder if Rondo could be a difference-maker if he's able to come back. That's gotta be an interesting locker room. But stakes are high to get past the Clips, who seem much deeper with more weapons and their own MVP quality guy in Leonard. While I thought Vogel did a great job with the Pacers, which had some good, tough series with the Bulls and made the conference finals a couple times, he seemed like an odd fit for the Lakers.

Sam Smith:

Maybe that's why Karnisovas is waiting; many more to come. I'm with you. I didn't see Vogel as a fit with the Lakers, though in some sense he is because he's very non confrontational. Lets the players run the show, which was why the Pacers opted for the tougher, control oriented McMillan despite Vogel's good record there. There was a lot of eye rolling when Kidd was hired. Though top assistants aren't always the head coach's first choice, as I don't believe Jim Boylen was with Fred Hoiberg. Phil Jackson wasn't Doug Collins' hire. The interesting one is Clippers assistant Tyronn Lue, LeBron's former title coach in Cleveland who seems the top candidate for about four jobs. If the Lakers don't win the title, most assume LeBron will have some suggestions.


Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal

Jimmy Ryan:

When was the last time the Eastern Conference was the better conference? I do not think there has been a season this century thus far where the Eastern Conference was clearly the better conference. Even in the 1990's, there might have been seasons where the Eastern Conference had the two best teams (Knicks/Bulls in '93) and (Magic/Bulls in '96), but the Western Conference appeared to be deeper that decade. Do you have to go as far back as '89 when Jordan's Bulls were 5th in their own division? Also, if Patrick Ewing left Georgetown after his junior season and entered the 1984 NBA Draft, how do you think it would play out? Does Olajuwaon still go #1? Does Ewing agree to go to Portland I think I remember reading that he only wanted to play in a big city. Do the Bulls draft Sam Bowie (Yikes!)?

Sam Smith:

C'mon, the East isn't that bad. Perhaps not as deep, though Durant and Kyrie are coming. And if the Knicks ever... Actually, the 90's still was a strong East since the Shaq/Penny Magic was a great team that should have done much more.

I know the 2000s haven't been kind to the East, but I'm not one to advocate a one-through-16 playoffs or getting rid of the conferences. The East basically dominated in the 60s, which was easy because there basically was no West. Russell, Wilt, Oscar all in the East with then the Knicks coming hard, Unseld and Hayes into the 70s, and the 80s all East when the NBA was eight Eastern contenders for the title and the Lakers. So the East had a nice 40-year run. It's the West's time. It reminds me of baseball when the American League for decades dominated and won just about every All-Star game until the racist owners in New York and Boston, especially, were outmaneuvered by the National League guys who recognized these guys of color were pretty darned good.

I believe Olajuwon would still have been No. 1, but perhaps just barely and not unanimously. Ewing was one of the most feared forces in college, and though great, much less so as a pro as he fell in love with the fallaway jumper. I thought he'd be a muscled, physical, seven-foot Bill Russell. In any case, the Trailblazers would have been smiling a lot more than they did and perhaps cut short that Bulls run after one title. Bowie falls to about No. 9. He was a vision for the Trailblazers because they were set at just about every position but center. Which is an historic big mistake of the draft. Never ask a player to be who you need instead of who he is.


Shaq Harrison.

Pete Ferro:

What would you think of a Bulls bench mob playing together made up of Mokoka, Shaq Harrison, Dunn, Thad Young, and Okongwu? Norm Van Lier would be proud... 10-12 minutes of "Intensity!" Or would this be "pointless"?

Sam Smith:

Definitely pointless. Well, maybe not pointless, but it might be tough for them to get into double figures.

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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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