Ask Sam Mailbag: Patrick Williams' playoff chances, Bulls' contender status and more

Sam answers your questions about Patrick Williams, the NBA trade market and more.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
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Sam Coggins:

Such a real big shame at what happened to Caruso by a real dirty player, guess the kid needs to grow up more from playing at Duke. So I am asking, how will the team fare in the standings now without two of our best defensive players in Lonzo Ball and Caruso down for both up to 8 weeks with their injuries.

I see the Bulls falling into the lower half of the playoff staings, I'm simply hoping we can at least stay in the top 6. I want no part of that play-in again.

Sam Smith:

To quote Aaron Rodgers—not so great anymore—relax. I have the Bulls, especially with the continuing mysteries of the Nets and 76ers and malaise of the Bucks, still battling for the top of the East.

As Donovan prayed the other day, sort of God willing no more injuries and illness. As we neither expect nor predict injuries, the Bulls go forward with three All-Star level players and two certainly (Zach will be a reserve) on this year's All-Star team.

That's more than most have, and while the absence of Ball and Caruso will make things more difficult and a lot of games closer than you might like to see, this Bulls still looks like a contending team.

It seems like it's going to be close with the Bulls right in the midst.


Zach LaVine dunk

Zach LaVine throws down a dunk against the Pistons.

Ben Arrieta:

Zach LaVine has an expiring contract this year and has injuries in the past and who knows how long will he stay healthy with his aggressive, ‘kamikaze' dunk shots which makes him prone to injury again. It is a "Queen's Gambit" to sacrifice a queen for a queen to gain a positional advantage in terms of future possible recurrence of injuries.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander does not have that record and is a more cautious player. Another player to consider is Caris LeVert who is a smart, versatile and a good playmaker. Right now, this is a calculated risk and only time will tell if the decision made paid off by luck or God's grace.

What about LaVine for Ja Morant, is it wishing for the moon and the stars?

Sam Smith:

I thought maybe we finally were done with trading Zach. In the All-Star voting revealed Thursday night, Zach was selected as a starter by the players. Fan and media voting dropped him to third (I didn't have a vote). So now that most everyone finally acknowledges what many of us have seen for a few years now, it's time to trade him? Obviously, as good as Gilgeous-Alexander is that makes even less sense for OKC given they are in year three of probably eight playing for draft picks.

I look at it the other way: At 26, Zach is just now entering his prime and imagine how much better he can get and then how much the Bulls can do.

Though I recently threw out there after his knee tweak the possibility of a no dunk zone, he's generally responsible. I just worry for him. But I give him the OK. Now Morant you say? Tempting and obviously he's LeBron and KD to Memphis, but he'd be special to have. Just as every GM before his draft told me they'd rather have Morant but know their owner would make them take Zion.

We've stuck with Zach, so it's time to ride it out with him and see him become one of the greatest in franchise history


Patrick Williams

Patrick Williams.

Randall Sanders:

Do you see Patrick Williams being available at the start of the playoffs ?

Sam Smith:

Following the disclaimer that I am not a doctor though that was my college nickname (complicated explanation), I expect him to play. The Bulls haven't said anything, and they never do to me. But his timeline of four to six months which averaged to five has him ready in April.

They'd bring him along slowly, but given he missed the entire season I can see him in the playoffs coming off the bench for spot reserve duty in sort of a late season buyout defensive player role. Nice addition, nonetheless.


Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu and DeMar DeRozan

Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu and DeMar DeRozan.

Mark Kollar:

I still think 40 wins puts us in the playoffs and only winning 10 more games would actually be unexpected and really disappointing. It seems since that fateful day during the Philadelphia playoff game when Derrick went down the Bulls have been injury cursed.

Has management considered animal sacrifice? It worked for Moses.

Anyway, this is a great opportunity for Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White. Even when Ayo goes back to the bench the two of them should be battle tested and more ready for post season.

Are wrist injuries easier to come back from - just from a conditioning standpoint? Knee injuries keep you from running and agility training I expect.

What's the common wisdom on that? My guess is Caruso and Williams will be OK but maybe not LB.

Sam Smith:

Well, he didn't get into the Holy Land. Oh, you mean Moses Malone. Right, I always was confused about that fo, fo fo. Foxes, frogs and ferrets to be sacrificed for this title? Again, only a doctor, though undergraduate.

It's a 50-win season.

Just feels like it even with the baby backcourt. There are going to be some difficult decisions for Donovan because they cannot push the ball and play as fast as Ball does, and teams are going to pressure them more the way they're seeing it's working. Though the absences all over the league could actually help.

Toronto was an example Wednesday. Coming off a back-to-back and with a depleted roster, they couldn't pressure until late in the game for a few minutes. The Thunder seemed to be doing the same, though not sure why with them since they usually aren't playing to win, anyway. But in trying to get through this difficult season, it seems many teams are pacing themselves through games.

My thing with injuries is I never pay attention when they are out and expect a certain date return. When they return, I expect them to play at their previous level. If you can't play, stay out. If you can play, you have a responsibility to your team to play.

Not a common belief around the NBA these days, I know, but let me have my dreams.


Isiah Thomas

Two-time NBA Champion and Chicago-native Isiah Thomas.

John Leichenko:

Stockton is in the news. Damn fool. I know Michael and Scottie, maybe others, didn't want Isiah on the dream team, but Isiah was twice the player stockton was. Am I wrong?

Sam Smith:

I believe Isiah was, though you'd still get some veterans around the NBA who'd take Stockton for his team mindset. Certainly Isiah was a greater talent.

His Dream Team snub was an embarrassment given it was a barnstorming exhibition team and hardly the greatest ever. Magic was retired with HIV, Bird had retired with a back injury, but stayed for the per diem. Laettner was somebody's practical joke.

The only two healthy players who'd been on a championship team were Jordan and Pippen. Most were guys who didn't get past the second round of the playoffs. Isiah maybe is finally having the last laugh because you figure now those guys would be scared to death to be around Stockton.


Coby White

Coby White shots a jump shot over Obi Toppin.

John Peterson:

You have suggested that for the playoffs the Bulls really need a sub off the bench with energy to hit 3-pointers and score quickly in bunches. That indeed would be very desirable but sadly Coby is demonstrating that he is not that player.

Last week in an interview he still referred to himself as a point guard so apparently he either has not been told or rejects reality. Even with the injuries his minutes are starting to decrease as his impact has become minimal. Perhaps he can regain his shooting touch but his recent trajectory is not good. While he is still very young this is his third year in the league and he has played a lot of significant minutes.

It's disappointing for everyone and perhaps Coby needs a new situation and opportunity.

Sam Smith:

Well, he is in a bit of a shooting slump at three of 27 on 3-pointers over his last four games. Very close to 12 percent, though. Hey, it happens. No, he's not the Lou Williams/Jamal Crawford/Eddie Johnson off the bench sharpshooter in his prime. But so neither is anyone else on the roster. He's as close as the Bulls have for now. And streaky, as we've seen. He's not a point guard, though at times for him it's aways been a mixed message.

Until the recent injuries, he wasn't being used that way. The point I was making is not that a guy like Coby has to carry you through a playoff series, but a player like that can get hot and make seven threes and steal a game you might otherwise have lost. Playoff series often turn on the game you let slip away or steal.

I still like Coby for that.

I assume if they could do better that will, but it's not easy to find.


Grayson Allen

Grayson Allen.

James Phoenix:

The Grayson Allen hit on Caruso was clearly intentional. There are fouls and unfortunate situations that lead to injury, but this does not appear like that situation. The Bucks also are naively protecting Allen too. The one game suspension makes the NBA look bad in regards to care for their players.

Allen should have been suspended for a large amount of time in my opinion. The fact it fractured Caruso's wrist warrants a significant suspension. It would have been a great example for the league to make here, yet they did not.

Isaiah Stewart got a harsher punishment for his foolishness which did not lead to anyone getting hurt. What sort of message do you think the league is sending here?

Sam Smith:

That things happen. It's certainly unfortunate Caruso suffered that injury, but there was a difference, to me, in that kind of play. By the way, there was no message to be sent that it's some open season on players now. Have you seen any different behavior since? Never has the NBA suspended players to match injuries. That won't happen.

I thought Allen's actions clearly were unnecessary, but I didn't see them as overtly intentional with the intent to injure. I saw that among many Pistons years ago, and several Knicks. I know what that looks like. Perhaps this was reckless. He obviously made a play for the ball first, which could have resulted in something like the injury Patrick Williams suffered on a flagrant foul against New York.

That Allen swung back was unnecessary, but why I suspect the NBA went just one game because it could be interpreted as still trying to prevent the score.

The lack of remorse or apparent concern was doubly frustrating, but some people are jerks.

Dunking always makes you more vulnerable, especially with certain people. I'm not blaming the victim. There are attempts to injure someone, but they generally don't involve someone trying to make a defensive play first.

Allen deserved punishment; it's just that Caruso didn't deserve injury. And the league doesn't need retaliation.

You can be sure before the teams play again in March both coaches and all the players will be warned that week and again that day, and you will see a very quiet game, except from the stands.


Ayo Dosunmu dribbling

Ayo Dosunmu dribbling against the Celtics

Bill Kopta:

A number of times, particularly early in the season, I heard people say Ayo Dosunmu is not athletic, or that his limited athleticism lowers his ceiling. To my eye Ayo looks fluid and quick. He makes running leaping blocks.

Why do people say Ayo is not athletic?

Sam Smith:

Well, Chris Paul isn't particularly "athletic." It means he's not Ja Morant. And he's not.

Scouting and personnel analysis are subjective fields.

When they talk about athletic, they usually mean quick twitch, high jump; you know, unlike DeMar DeRozan. It takes all kinds. He knows how to play; it's a good start.


Kendall Gill

Fightin' Illini legend Kendall Gill during his time with Chicago Bulls.

Ateeq Ahmed:

I was watching last night's game with my wife, and after watching Ayo score a few times, she asked me how many players from U of I played for the Bulls. Admittedly I had to look it up. There were a few from the 60's and prior, but the only ones that really stood out were Kendall Gill (which was at the very end of his career) and now Ayo.

Frank Williams played here for a hot minute but he didn't have much of an NBA career. Those two were the only notable players I noticed.

I know you don't watch college basketball but it is always surprising to me how many great native Chicagoans didn't go to U of I.

I used to say it was bad recruiting by U of I when I was younger. The older me realizes U of I didn't have an appealing program or deep pockets like the big schools. I can't blame the players for choosing elsewhere.

Sam Smith:

Unfortunately, it's not a particularly glorious tradition. I'd say Red Kerr probably was the best, the only one to be a major part of a championship team, a multiple time All-Star (I believe Deron Williams was the only other one who even made an NBA All-Star team in recent NBA history) and borderline Hall of Famer.

I believe he is overlooked for the Hall, but no one else. Kendall Gill had more game than his career produced, Eddie Johnson was a Sixth Man Hall of Fame-type, Derek Harper, Nick Weatherspoon, Ken Norman, Nick Anderson. Donnie Freeman was hard to figure, an ABA shooting guard who was an All-Star five times in that league for five different teams.

The ABA requires some explanation. There was some great basketball, though. Don Ohl made a few All-Stars teams in the 60s and don't forget Illinois' Dike Eddelman from to 40s. It may be the weather because the cultural scene is said to be non-pareil.


Donovan Mitchell

Donovan Mitchell.

Mike Sutera:

Reports are the Miami Heat and New York Knicks are believed to be Donovan Mitchell's top two choices if he were to ever ask out of Utah.

Supposedly he was crying about how the small market in Utah is why he is not a top vote getter in the ballots.

Sam Smith:

Where's there's smoke. This one has been a little under the radar, but it's sounding like the NBA kind of act now that he got his security. You know, let the team make the commitment; I'll worry about me.

You get the sense the Jazz has peaked and with the aging Mike Conley their little mini-run is petering out.

Is that the Ben Simmons destination deal?

Mitchell is that All-Star the 76ers talk about. There was the Mitchell stuff with Rudy Gobert, they're on the verge of slipping out of the top four, management and ownership changes; you can see some sort of a reshuffling going on there, especially it seems with Dwyane Wade having an increasing voice.


Nikola Vucevic

Nikola Vucevic dunks against the Pacers.

Jon Kueper:

Guessing you have a lot of Nikola Vucevic emails. I'm not too down on him yet, but was curious what you thought about the play with 25 seconds left in the Milwaukee game?

DeRozan was obviously trying to feed Vucevic as he gave it to him twice and you can see why. Vooch had a smaller player on him from what I remember, and DeMar was thinking "make a move and get your shot!" But Vooch kept sending it back to DeRozan.

DeRozan was put in a tough spot when he didn't need to be, and he had the right idea to get it inside.

Did anyone question this, I am guessing it was a confidence level that Vooch didn't have so hope that changes since it may happen again when DeRozan or Zach LaVine get doubled.

Sam Smith:

So they traded places against Toronto and Nikola Vucevic responded. I know the play you mean, but it wasn't a great angle for Vucevic and the defender—I forgot who it was—was getting into his legs. It's a tactic Rodman used when he defended Shaq well or Karl Malone. Sometimes you can get into big man's legs and it makes for a tougher shot and the size and mismatch are irrelevant. I thought Vucevic made the right play given how far out he was and the pressure being applied (the more he dribbled they also could have sent someone else late) and, after all, it was the guy who made two of the most ridiculous game winners. Why would you not throw him the ball for the last shot? But when DeRozan did against Toronto, Vucevic was ready and set and went. Thanks for not being too down on him yet.

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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