Ask Sam Mailbag: Questions about Draft position, superstars, and more

Ateeq Ahmed:

There are 6 games left. How many do you see us winning? I'm going with 4 - Hornets, Pistons, Raptors, one of the Nets games and Bucks (would be a great home win if it's our last game).  Is that enough to get in or too much wishful thinking?

Sam Smith:

It ain’t over ’til it’s….I’d use that fat lady sings thing again that Dick Motta made famous when he coached the Bullets (now Wizards) to a title, but I’m not so sure I can say that anymore. Though maybe I just might have. And by the way, though Motta could be difficult, he should be a Hall of Famer since I think he’d join many other difficult coaches there. Oh yeah, Bulls play-in. Well, maybe not guaranteed, but I do think there’s still a chance in the wake of this Zachless period. But not so much passing the Wizards as the Pacers, against whom the Bulls also do own the tiebreaker (those two play Saturday, by the way). The Pacers have been a full meltdown with major injuries (Myles Turner and T.J. Warren) and losing Victor Oladipo already. And then this week assistant Greg Foster going after Gogo Bitadze, who is a very frustrating player to watch (if he’s on your team). Anyway, when you need one more win for something it’s often difficult to get and I could see the Bulls stealing the 10th spot from them, and then the play-in against Wizards, against whom the Bulls also hold a tiebreaker, and then maybe knocking off Miami with Jimmy missing a lot of games and then the 76ers and we know Vucevic always has given Embiid trouble, and then…..OK, OK, still looking to hold onto 11th from Toronto.

Jeff Lichtenstein:

It looks like the Bulls lottery odds are drafting 7 to 9. Basically a 20-28% chance of finishing top 4. If the lottery falls the Bulls’ way, who do you see the top four picks in the draft as?

Sam Smith:

As you can see from above, I’m still refusing to accept having to watch those college guys’ highlight mix tapes again. I really did believe there was almost no chance the Bulls would get their pick this season. With what’s said to be only top four protection for this year’s pick from the Vucevic trade. Of course, as the way things go the Bulls lately have been hovering around the seventh poorest record. Yes, again! Put a team in Vegas already with the way the Bulls continue to hit seven. If it were to end this way—and I’ve projected or, at least, speculated otherwise—the Bulls would have about a one in three to one in four chance of getting into the top four and retaining their pick for this year. So if the Bulls hit the Vucevic and top four? AK has done it! I haven’t seen much of these college players, though there wasn’t much to see with all the virus postponements and delays. The past draft last year was not regarded highly, but has produced some excellent players thus far with Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball leading the way. All the way down to Immanuel Quickly at 25 for the Knicks as a vital producer for a surprising Knicks team. Plus, Tyrese Haliburton and Cole Anthony have been dynamic surprises. The Bulls Patrick Williams has shown strengths that should endure, but he slowed the last month still averaging almost 30 minutes per game starting and fell out of the top 10 in scoring among rookies. The general consensus has been all season that Oklahoma State wing/guard Cade Cunningham is the most talented. He seems smooth, but the few times I saw him play (small sample so no fair judgments) he seemed to lack much motor. I liked USC center Evan Mobley, but the Bulls now have their big man with Vucevic. The Bulls seem to need a point guard, and Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs is generally ranked top three to five. But he just seemed OK in the tournament and with players like Zach LaVine and Vucevic, I doubt you want a just turned 20-year-old point guard. Then there are some guys who went straight to the G-league who I never saw, mostly shooting guard and wing players, which seems the strength of this draft. I project Williams as a four, so I feel like the Bulls also can use a wing player who can score. Do I have to start watching all these videos again? I know fans love the draft, but enough already with the babies.

Mike Queensworth:

Can Coby White turn out to have a career like Terry Rozier? Rozier is not a great playmaker. The way Rozier can score and get to the basket with ease and make it look so easy is what I would like to eventually see from White.

Sam Smith:

That’s not a good comparison. Rozier’s a little smaller, but a similar kind of player. I don’t believe White has the instincts to be the kind of point guard the Bulls could use, though I’d want White to be a regular with the team. Preferably as a scoring sixth man, but he could start with the right teammates. I wouldn’t want a non scoring type like Ricky Rubio. The way the NBA is these days, I believe you have to match scoring as the priority because everyone has so much scoring. Especially the way the league has legislated a lot of defense out of the game with the rules against perimeter contact, and the way teams have contributed with the relentless defensive switching schemes that remove personal responsibility. White can be an elite scorer and is unselfish enough to play the position if the Bulls cannot find someone better. In any case, he figures to be part of whatever whole the team eventually becomes.

Andrew Brown:

Are you able to explain the Bulls draft options for this upcoming year? I don’t understand how the whole top 4 protected works. Is it, if Chicago gets a top 4 selection and the magic don’t, they take our pick? If so, do we get theirs or nothing? Disappointing to even be hoping on the draft again but then again.

Sam Smith:

I don’t believe it’s published anywhere yet, but the belief is the Bulls obtained top four protection for the 2021 draft pick from the Magic in the Vucevic deal that also includes the Bulls 2023 first round pick. You cannot trade consecutive No. 1 picks, the so called Stepien rule when onetime Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien traded away five consecutive No. 1 picks in the early 1980s. Stepien was basketball’s George Steinbrenner but without the success, firing five coaches in three years including future Bulls coach Stan Albeck and Chuck Daly, who seemed to  do well later in Detroit. Though trading top draft picks wasn’t uncommon back then since without a national TV contract, and especially in the smaller and expansion markets like Cleveland, several teams were on the verge of bankruptcy. So they were trading futures (draft picks) for players now to draw fans pretty much game to game. It was how Larry Bird fell to No. 6 in the 1978 draft because teams couldn’t afford to wait a year for their top pick (Bird took a fifth year in college after transferring). So the richer and more successful teams were further expanding the competitive gap as the Lakers also got Magic Johnson through a future draft pick of the then New Orleans Jazz, though that was in “compensation” for New Orleans signing Gail Goodrich. The NBA then was doing all it could to punish teams for signing free agents. Some of those Cavs picks—Sam Perkins, Derek Harper, Detlef Schrempf and Dale Ellis—helped build young teams like the 80s Mavericks. Though it would be sort of a coup for the Bulls to get Vucevic and a top four pick. If the Bulls do, the first round picks supposedly roll over to 2022 and 2024. I believe there may be some protection again for 2022 in a rollover, but it’s still not clear. But I really, really believe the Bulls will be a legitimate playoff team next season with Zach and Vooch for a full season and what the Bulls do this summer, which seems like it could be a lot. Really, I’m serious this time about next season. Really.

Greg Young:

Markkanen, since he appears to be viewed as a rotation guy but not a starter, how aggressive will he be in seeking a restricted offer; what do you think his market is, and will the Bulls have any interest in matching? OK, that’s 3 questions but it is fascinating the twists and turns his young career has taken.

Sam Smith:

We started the season and said Markkanen’s fate and future were the biggest questions, and they still are. I guess one hint is the way his role has increasingly diminished. I’ve often written after seeing those first two seasons that there’s something there. It’s looking more like it will be there rather than here.

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Nicholas Hill:

Luka and Lebron have both sounded off on the whole play in concept recently. True they're both currently on teams in that 7-10 range but their disapproval of the idea is warranted, I believe. If it was to discourage tanking, the new odds were doing that anyway. I had the idea that maybe it was more so geared toward the Western conference where it seems many teams that should make the playoffs don't. Even still, all the tiebreaker rules ensure that the deserving team gets that 8th seed. 1-16 seeding would better solve that even if the travel would be wonky. Over half of the 30 nba teams advance in a normal season. So, if a team didn't advance, they weren't good enough. Plain and simple. I hope this is the last year of this experiment. I'd rather 1-16 seeding with a 2-3-2 format to reduce travel when needed and equal lottery odds for the 14 teams who miss the playoffs. How would you tackle playoff seeding and tanking?

Sam Smith:

It’s obviously amusing that players (and owners) only complain when it’s possible they will be in it and not someone else. Human nature apparently extends to sports, as well. To your point, as Billy Donovan might say, no feeling sorry if you can’t be in at least sixth place. I’d never want 1-16 seeding because that takes out the traditional conference matchups. Plus, it becomes unfair unless you equalize the schedule. And then you have rivals playing one another even less. The conferences with free agency and the draft dividing talent are as balanced as they have to be. I hope they keep the play-in because that’s what seven through 10 should be about, earning your way into the playoffs. I’d actually like to see a four through 10 play-in with perhaps a two of three series. If you’re fifth, again, you hardly have had an elite season. Earn your way in! Plus, the more games that matter the better the product. You see now so many teams resting players and not taking the regular season seriously. I think they’d be more serious if they needed to be top for to avoid the tournament. The problem is you can leave the top teams off too long and then they lose some edge and are more vulnerable in the first round. Still, I believe the NBA has improved things with the play-in. After all, we’d have abandoned the Bulls by now if it were the way it was. Hey, it ain’t over!

Williams Blanco:

I think that Patrick will be a nice NBA player. A superstar?  Not really. Bulls fans (and some TV commentators) should temper their expectations. He seems more inclined to become a Harrison Barnes rather than a Kawhi Leopard, which it is fine. At his age, he has the Lebron James body type (when he was 19) but unfortunately for the Bulls he has the Tony Snell mentality. The “excuse me Sir, didn’t want to offend you” type of mentality. But he is not alone. There are a lot NBA players that have all the necessary tools to become superstars in this league but their mental aspect never matches the physical one. For Patrick, it is not good sign to have players and coaches begging you to be aggressive. Is there anyone asking Coby to be aggressive? I wish Patrick proves me wrong.

Sam Smith:

We’re all being patient because of that 19-year-old thing. And thinking of many of us when we were 19, our aggression wasn’t that well placed. Perhaps Williams is better off. I made a Williams potential comparison to George McGinnis the other day with his size and shooting tendencies (we prefer comparing guys to Hall of Famers rather than, say, Rodney McCray). His demeanor at times can be concerning. He demonstrates maturity, and Donovan credits him for that make the right play stuff. But sometimes you want to see kids not so mature, perhaps a little over exuberant and making some mistakes, but also trying to do a lot more to show you what they have. And prove themselves. Because of this unusual season with no summer league and basically no training camp, it’s too soon to decide too much about Williams. But he didn’t complain about being a high school star and then not starting in college. That wasn’t great to maybe everyone but Leonard Hamilton. Heck, Michael Jordan wouldn’t let Dean Smith forget for 30 years not including him with the starters on the Sports Illustrated cover picture. So Williams is no Jordan, and no one else is. What’s both tantalizing and frustrating about Williams is the peeks and hints he shows you, and then mostly keeps hidden. I agree about tempering expectations for awhile. I always say you never know anyone until you live with them. The Bulls had no idea who he was when they drafted him. They’re just now beginning to find out.

Michael Shea:

Nuggets have been winning since Murray went down. Does that point to Jokic getting the MVP? Seems like no clear front runner and a down yr. for the case for MVP case? 

Sam Smith:

Jokic, actually, seems to be the certain front runner, and talk about your who figured that five years ago. With Denver now sure to hang onto top four he seems a lock. Embiid is often mentioned second because the 76ers look like the East winner, but he’s missed too many games and sometimes doesn’t show up, like recently against the Bulls. Though the NBA had the 76ers traveling all over the place at the time. Giannis can’t get three without ever having been to the Finals. It’s a regular season award, but memories matter. I’d have Chris Paul second.

Brodie Larsh:

Whose your picks for the All NBA teams? Picking the guards seems especially difficult this year?

Sam Smith:

I picked Zach preseason as third team all-NBA and was mocked (well, maybe disagreed with) until, well, it did look like he had a chance until, well, 11 virus absences. But if he does still get on a run. After all, he should still get more than 60 games. That should be the cutoff. So a lot of this season’s awards will be all about who was the most healthy even if it wasn’t always their fault with Covid. So what’s with all the ankles? Wonder if they can figure out how to strengthen them. Sorry, LeBron, AD, Jimmy, pretty much everyone on the Nets and Clippers, Donovan Mitchell. But there’s still a good group of guards probably led by Chris Paul, one of my MVP choices, Steph Curry and Damian Lillard. Easy choices there. Is Doncic a guard? That’s part of the issue in awards these days since these small forward “wing” players in the Scottie Pippen/Mickey Johnson mold (the latter Bull was the first point forward) play like point guards in this era. Then maybe Jokic is a point guard. This is getting confusing.  I’m including Zach after all. He’s had a great season. So maybe also Bradley Beal and Devin Booker or Trae Young. If Donovan Mitchell returns maybe he bumps Zach. Sorry, no Westbrook. He’s still stealing free throw rebounds. There’s a lot of talent there.