Ask Sam Mailbag: Questions about Billy Donovan, Draft prospects, and Bulls expectations

Jay Carlson:

I have thought about and even mentioned once in a while that the NBA should consider moving the three point line 1.5 to 2 feet further out, get rid of the "corner three". I am sure this is not a new idea but I think it would return some balance to the game. It would allow more players to take higher percentage two point shots/ I am mentioning this because of Jimmy Butler's triple double. Teams can score a lot of points if they make more baskets and I feel this would help get more players involved. Here's another thought, maybe allow only a certain number of three point shots per team in a game, like 15. Coaches would need to be selective on who shoots a three. Random players would not be able to throw up a prayer whenever they feel like it. With the number of threes taken today the game reminds of the days we'd play ten games at the park and by the time we got to the last game we were so tired the only shots taken were from the modern day three point range. Not a lot fun at that point.

Sam Smith:

I wrote a column las week about Jimmy's 40-point game and hope it's inspiration for perhaps a return to some balance in the game. Some other aged broadcasters offered similar observations. The analytics community was predictably furious. How dare we question spread sheets! They said we missed the point again since they like free throws, too; and layups, so there!

They insisted our usage rate was not a plus but a minus and our true observation percentage was not a win but time for a replacement. Of course this analytics wave has been built around three-point shooting. We all like it some and it's added excitement to close games. But it's perhaps becoming a losing share to some viewers. It seems to me the unusual reliance on the three with many teams has made basketball worse. I'd also like to see the line changed to eliminate that corner three. Coaches and players are smart and always will figure out alternate ways to adjust and score. I think the league believed the three was added to the game as a bonus play and not the foundation for offense. It's been exciting and worked well when some teams practiced it, like the Warriors and some of Mike D'Antoni's teams. But it does often seem to make players look like they are watching golf all afternoon and ready for a nap.

I thought a big part of the reason the Heat beat the Celtics was when the Celtics got behind they devolved into pulling up for three after three as the Lakers did in Game 3 when they got behind. The game always is what it is, as players like to say. But it could be so much more interesting with the three as merely part of an offense and not its main focus. NBA ratings, understandably, have suffered for a variety of reasons as the playoffs come four months late during NFL season and baseball playoffs. Though the Finals have been better, it doesn't help when so many teams rely on merely running arc to arc, running a screen and searching out a long shot. Even if James Harden is excited. It's difficult to see the constant appeal in that. The zone rules combined with the enhanced three early in the 2000s seem to have run its course. It might be time for some new NBA rules changes.

Dennis Gray:

I just listened to an interview with the new coach. He was talking about defense on the team. The funny thing about it is that he mentioned just about everyone except the best defensive player, Dunn. Is that by design to keep Dunn's price down or does that mean he's gone? Either way, it won't sound good to Dunn.

Sam Smith:

I think it's probably more of an oversight as Donovan probably didn't study all the names yet. The interesting element, and I'm also anxious to see how it's worked out, is Donovan had a player in Oklahoma City he seemed to love more than anyone: Andre Roberson, who was a lot like Dunn.

Roberson basically missed the last two years with injuries, and Donovan often seemed to suggest things might have been different if Roberson were healthy. Roberson was a poor shooter who didn't score much. But Donovan always started him and relied upon him for defending the opponent's top player, sort of his Marcus Smart. As we've seen, players like that can be valuable on good teams. It's difficult to read the new management team, but they seem more offensive oriented. Or perhaps that's just because the Bulls have LaVine, Markkanen and White. Because the NBA altered some eligibility dates with the shortened season, Dunn's qualifying offer is more dollars. The date to decide was supposed to be later this month, but the NBA keeps changing all the dates for everything. I'd guess Dunn gets the qualifying offer to become a restricted free agent so the Bulls could match. Would he get an offer from another team? Would the Bulls match? Donovan's history would suggest he'd like to have him around.

Genaro Medel:

With the new front office and new coach and the Bulls heading in a new direction, what's the likelihood of the Bulls bringing some veterans who can score but mentor young players. We have great PG's but they are not what they need to be and i feel like they need a great mentor. Do you think that the Bulls can bring back someone like Derrick Rose to mentor them but also bring even more attention and bring some fan interest back on the Bulls. I know he's not the player he once was but with the experiences he had and obstacles he overcame and him becoming a well rounded talent again like he once was he would be a great mentor and he would be one of those players who would actually care about the Bulls since he is from Chicago.

Sam Smith:

Other than the regular inquiries I've been getting about the draft and the coach, the most emails I receive are like yours regarding Rose. I've been supportive of Rose—I helped Rose with his autobiography, I'll Show You. And as I've learned from Shaq, always promote, so I'll note it's out in paperback next month—but I don't see a connection with the new management team. If there were to be one it more likely would have been with John Paxson, who remained closer with Rose.

Rose tells me he really likes Detroit and has one year left on his contract. Plus, the Pistons seem likely to use him in the Bulls role you suggest as a player and mentor for their No. 1 draft pick, likely to be a point guard. Derrick still harbors dreams of playing for a championship team, and perhaps after next season pursues a role like that as we've seen Rajon Rondo with the Lakers. The Bulls in the previous year hired those veterans, Otto Porter, Tomas Satoransky and Thad Young. I don't see the need for more now. Their guarantees expire after next season, so there'll likely be more change then after Donovan has a season to work with the current roster and determines who fits his and management's philosophy. Derrick probably remains the most popular former Bull not named Jordan. But I expect him to remain that, a former Bull. With a good story to tell. Too much promotion? Perhaps I need some IcyHot to cool down.

Xeryl Velasco:

My crystal ball shows Tyrese Haliburton is going to be the best of the bunch. I would like him to wear #88. James Wiseman will be a force. Ball would end up like his brother shooting wise. Deni Avdija would take time to develop and needs his second contract to show that he is a baller. Anthony Edwards won't be a superstar.

Sam Smith:

I'll pass this along to Arturas and he can take a month off. Haliburton was very impressive in a media session from the Combine last week. Though playing well likely is more important than speaking well. Haliburton does seem like the safest choice among the Big Three point guards, LaMelo Ball, Killian Hayes and Haliburton. Ball is scary because of his questionable shooting and seemingly dysfunctional childhood of big balling. He seems as much performer as player, which actually means a lot in the NBA. Though perhaps not for the Bulls at this time. Hayes also was very impressive meeting media while Wiseman and Edwards blew off media. It may not end their careers. Haliburton seems like he could fit in more quickly than most as a playmaker or scoring guard (he's 6-5). He seems a little bit like betting on place or show at the track. He'll help you win, but perhaps not change your life.

Brodie Larsh:

What do you think should be the goals and objectives for next season? Playoffs or bust? What are some goals some of the players should have? 20 points and 10 rebounds for Lauri? 27, 7, 7 for Zach?

Sam Smith:

After Boylen got beat up all season for saying the Bulls were a playoff team—though I'm not sure what he should have said, "Nah, we're 20 below .500 at best; get real."—I assume no one suggests that this season. You can get a clue from what all the new guys have talked about, like development and improvement. They've all mentioned the talent last season being better than the record, but no one has grabbed a 10-foot pole yet to get closer to talking about the big P. Playoffs! Which the way things have been going in the NBA and the country could be about this time next year again. Well, maybe not October, but maybe ending in August like they were hoping this past March.

I'm going to hold back on too many predictions since I think I projected the Bulls fifth last season. All I can say is I did have Miami top four to balance out my errors. So for the Bulls how many games is better? Consider that if the Bulls next season have a 50 percent improvement they're still not a .500 team. But I do believe they so underachieved with the combination of injuries, they should be in that end of playoff conversation no matter what Charles Barkley says. And since the Bulls weren't on TNT last season, you know Barkley never watched one of their games. If you watch their show, you know he barely watches the games they are showing.

So East playoffs 2020-21 season: Miami, Boston, Toronto, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Brooklyn. Stuff happens, but assuming the Nets heal, those six seem like locks. So then it's Indiana, Orlando, Washington (Wall returns), Detroit... OK, everyone but the Knicks for those last two spots. Could a Thibs team miss the playoffs? Only once in seven seasons before being fired in his eighth.

Pete Zievers:

Billy Donovan gets a big bag of scorers but no one really slippery with the ball. What sort of offense is he going to install? I like the fact that he's got a versatile approach to his job. What you also wonder is how is he mixing his first and second unit to defend the perimeter and protect the rim? These are tough questions for this roster.

Is he a good enough teacher/motivator to get these guys to commit a little more on defense? The ironic thing with this team is that despite all the scoring talent sometimes they struggle to score. Distribution is going to be key, and I wonder how he's going to craft that. His primary ball handlers just don't see the floor very well. Can he pry the ball out of LaVine's hands? I personally think if LaVine worked off the ball and the Bulls had a legit distributor, LaVine's game would go off. We haven't seen it because he's always got the ball, but guys with good burst and decent hands can do a lot of damage on the O-glass which is underappreciated. Off the ball was pretty good to Reggie Miller, and though Miller's game was different than LaVine's I think that LaVine could prosper off the ball too.

You sort of wonder what Donovan is going to do with Carter. Carter isn't Adebayo but when you think about it Adebayo isn't Carter either. I haven't paid a lot of attention to Billy Donovan, but I bet he'll know what to do with White. I'll be interested to see the Bulls fifth game then see what they look like at about 25 games.

One thing about injuries. They often happen when a player is less than certain. With all the churn and the various personalities, I can imagine that players felt that hint of unsure. Hopefully with Donovan he'll settle that down and get each guy to play his game...and we won't have to put up with this endless injury merry go round.

Sam Smith:

One thing I hear from coaches all the time seems somewhat ephemeral, like trying to grab a cloud. Or trying to explain what is boxing out. Coaches always talk about getting a team organized. It's mentioned by coaches about the best point guards, too. It's a shorthand for a system of play. The Bulls haven't had much to speak of recently, and while free form and free flow sounds nice, everyone needs some structure to rely upon. In basketball and life. It always was Phil Jackson's point about the triangle offense, which was much understood by media, experts and Jeff Van Gundy. It wasn't just about the principles of the offense championed by Tex Winter. It was about having some structure or form for players to rely on or fall back on when things weren't going well, when shots were missing or the other team had adjusted well. The triangle had basic principles, but it also had isolations and pick and rolls, even if a last resort. The point was mostly having a system of play and rules and reliables so when pressure mounted or the air came out of the arena, players were able to recoup and respond. Bulls players of recent vintage seemed to have trouble with that. So the end game meltdowns. I can see that being Donovan's initial strength, arriving with a system of play he'll both enforce and embrace. Players, I've found, basically want to know how you can help them be better and that you know what you are doing. Donovan's a pro who should check those boxes.

Mike Wayne:

I really believe Precious Achiuwa is going to be the 2nd or 3rd best player in this draft in a few years.

Sam Smith:

Trade down? To me that's the most intriguing part of this draft considering Karnisovas. The immediate presumption with the lottery drawing was the Bulls finally got a break, moving from No. 7 to No. 4. OK, not as great a draft as some of the recent ones, but top five generally is a chance to add real talent. But Karnisovas has made a point when talking about this draft that players some teams see top five other might see 10 to 15, that when adding in future development the top five might not be the same in five years, as it rarely is. And then you combine that with the Nuggets' draft history. Karnsiovas was a top decision maker, if not the ultimate, with Denver in recent seasons when they twice traded down with lottery picks, though not top five. One was with the Bulls in the Doug McDermott draft. Karnisovas received substantial credit from local media about that move. So Achiuwa? He reminds me a little of the Orlando hot prospect, unfortunately now injured again, Jonathan Isaac, a long, athletic, active forward who could be your Pascal Siakam type. Not the great shooter, but a hard working hustler. He's more the project type for now, but that's a big question with this draft, that you might get a future star at the edge of the lottery. Perhaps Achiuwa, maybe Isaac Okoro, Aaron Nesmith, Patrick Williams or Devin Vassell. The Pistons at No, 7 and the Knicks at No. 8 seem most likely to pursue a point guard and want to move up. If there's someone the Bulls really want, trade down? Boston has Nos. 14, 26 and 30. Two picks and a player? It's a difficult draft to figure and a new Bulls management and coach apparently with the mandate to remake it as they see fit. They're not offering many hints.

Dan Crews:

Who makes your Mount Rushmore; both the NBA & Chicago?

Sam Smith:

There's too much arbitrary debate on favorites as reliable as it is for radio and TV discussion. For me, it's Jordan, Ali, Jackie Robinson and Babe Ruth for their impact on and off the field and in society and the world. Sorry, I don't know any soccer players. Though if I wanted anyone to see it, I certainly wouldn't put it in South Dakota, as if we need two Dakotas. Who's idea was that, anyway?

Mike Sutera:

Another ring for LBJ and all hopes for Bulls fans everywhere at thinking they had a legit shot at AD.

Sam Smith:

It's all breaking perfectly for Karnisovas, right? AD gets his championship and with nothing more to accomplish and LeBron slowing, as we've seen with more difficulty than ever shedding defenders like they were eighth graders, AD decides to chase the talent. And, of course, join the Bulls? See, there's a chance, right?