Ask Sam Mailbag: Questions about LaMelo Ball, Deni Avdija, Obi Toppin, and more

Sam Smith answers your questions as the NBA Draft is under two weeks away.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
Draft 2020 | AT&T Bulls Draft Coverage

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John Jenkins:

So... if Charlotte drafts LaMelo Ball, does that mean that the LaVar vs. Michael one-on-one game would be on?

Sam Smith:

I might favor LaVar after having seen Michael lately at about what looks like 260. Can you dribble with a cigar? I forgot when media still were quoting LaVar—how's that for media restraint and responsibility? Nothing should prove more the respect media deserves for ignoring that guy—that he did get Michael to respond to his claim he'd beat Jordan one-on-one. "You got to understand the source," Jordan said then. " I think he played college, maybe? He averaged 2.2 points a game. Really? It doesn't deserve a response, but I'll give it to you because you asked the question. I don't think he could beat me if I was one-legged." Michael remains a trash talking GOAT, has moved on to billionaire and the Big Baller Brand hasn't done quite as well. But Charlotte at No. 3 may be where the draft starts.

After two more weeks of reckless speculation—of which I intend to participate—I can see Anthony Edwards No. 1 and James Wiseman No. 2. LaMelo to Charlotte? He'd be supposedly the next best talent as much as that changes. But would the Hornets take a risk on his boom/bust possibilities? It's not that daring a community. That roster needs help. But it also needs a star. And they have lots of guards and needs size. Worth the risk? Mitch Kupchak is now making the decisions as it sounds like Jordan is much less hands on. Except his driver and putter. Mitch had a good draft history with the Lakers, and one of his best picks was the surprise of seven footer Andrew Bynum at No. 10. He became an All-Star before injuries. Kupchak also went for Julius Randle and conventional talents like D'Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram. Charlotte lacks anyone who looks like an All-Star, but can that small market absorb the brand?

There have been reports Charlotte wants a big man like Wiseman or Okongwu. So if Ball slips through to the Bulls at No. 4? Arturas Karnisovas has emphasized best talent. Ball would fit that definition at No. 4. If he cannot go to favored New York, the family seems all for Chicago. I'd be scared; very scared.


Deni Avdija

Yuriy Germanovich:

Bulls will be lucky if Deni Avdija drops to them. He has a similar skill set to Tatum, except Tatum is more of a scorer and Avdija is more of a playmaker. Avdija will fit into any team because of his intelligence, unselfishness, and grit. I believe he will be the best player out of the top 4 taken.

Sam Smith:

He's been the Bulls' mock draft consensus, for whatever that's worth. So if Ball is there, do you skip over the player many say potentially is the most talented in this draft? Avdija seems like a safe, sure pick to me, someone perhaps not immediately ready, but ready to slide in during the post-Otto Porter era. I wrote this week he's my most likely choice at No. 4, though I have Ball being unavailable by then. I prefer Wiseman for the Bulls given his unique status in this draft as an athletic and skilled big man. I can't see him getting past Charlotte. I also like Okongwu for the Bulls for defense and being that scary guy in the middle.


Obi Toppin

Kirk Landers:

Your selection of top choices for the Bulls at #4 had a few surprises for me. One of them was Obi Toppin, though I suppose his NBA potential should be obvious. Along with the knocks on his defense, the other objection to Toppin I've seen is that 22-year-old lottery picks never have worthy careers. Two questions: do you buy that, and, if so, why would a couple of years make such a difference?

Sam Smith:

Let me check with Tim Duncan and Larry Bird. You always hear these days about these "older" players, who of course are the age of Patrick Ewing when he was drafted. The notion is if they're really talented they would have been drafted younger. Another big flaw of scouting and the scouting herd mentality. I look at it this way: They learned how to develop and improve. Isn't that what so many fans keep asking for? You know, like Jimmy Butler who came into the NBA at 22. Toppin is a few down on my list, but I see him as one of the more ready NBA players (I like ready) who can score and push Markkanen. Don't coaches always say competition is good? If he pushes Markkanen back to All-Star possibility, as we once believed, he'd be worth it. Toppin is a late bloomer, but I like to think of myself that way after having recalled my high school English grades. Players (and people) get it at different times. Defense in the NBA is so scheme oriented with all the switching that I always believe players like Toppin who have made themselves better can improve. And he really gets to the basket. I like that.


Deni Avdija

Bill Kopta:

The upcoming NBA Draft has been the main place for my mind to escape to to avoid thinking about that other thing going on. Isn't your pick Avdija's bad shooting history and terrible free throw history major red flags that Deni Avdija could be a No. 4 pick bust?

Sam Smith:

That's the great part of being a fan (or media). If a guy doesn't work out you can do the I-told-you-sos and if he does, well, OK I was wrong. And then move on. No so fast for the team. Hello, Mitch Trubisky.

Whomever the Bulls select in this draft should produce a surfeit of likes and thumbs down. Previous drafts are filled with international prospects selected in the top five or six who failed miserably: Hello, Darko Milicic, Yi Jianlian, Jan Vesely, Nikoloz Tskitishvili. I think Avdija, who seems like a serious worker, will improve his shot. He's barely 20, his shooting improved considerably when his league came back from initial Covid stoppage (which suggests development) and his form looks good. Let's say at worst yellow flags for now.


Torrey Craig

Nicholas Hill:

I'm sure you've gotten a lot of questions about the draft (including from me). So, I wanted to switch gears a bit to free agency and one player in particular. Think we could get Anthony Davis for the mid level exception? Me neither. Seriously though, I'm surprised I'm not hearing more about Torrey Craig to the Bulls. For the Nuggets, Jerami Grant is looking for a pay raise, Paul Millsap probably wants to come back, MPJ is pushing for more playing time and Will Barton will be healthy next season. Craig is restricted but only making 3 million currently. The Nuggets probably don't match if the Bulls offer the part or all of the mid-level. The link with AK is there as well. He'd be who I'd target as he'd definitely add wing depth, defense and can hit a 3 every once in a while. I remember you mentioned the Morris twins before. Any other free agents that you could see with the Bulls next season?

Sam Smith:

All Nuggets all the time? Craig certainly would fit the Bulls exception availability assuming the Nuggets don't want to match. I don't see a Paul Millsap return there after Grant's excellent role in the playoffs. Craig as a poor offensive bench player (the Bulls have several of those) probably doesn't move the needle enough for the Bulls.

I do like a Morris, as I've said, for some of the edge that's been missing, though you have to put up with some odd decisions at times. I assume the Bulls exception is around a starting salary of $8 million, which isn't about stars. Would Millsap go for that kind of cut in pay? You'd want him at that rate. Evan Turner to come home? Or Bobby Portis/Taj Gibson (if he opts out)? Illinois' Meyers Leonard says he wants a bigger role on a playoff team. The Bulls? More E'twaun? I've always been curious about what happened to Josh Jackson. Former top five pick. Another run at Justin Holiday? Rondo as player/assistant coach? Maybe Carmelo after all those regrets about passing on the Bulls last time? Nah.

But there should be some good choices if the Bulls have roster space after two more draft picks. Of course, no one in management or the new coaching staff has given any indications of how they want to play and a particular philosophy. That should narrow it more and dictate the need.


Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler

Fred Robinson:

Looking at the current Chicago Bulls roster am I the only one reminded of the 2010-15 rosters. Those rosters routinely utilized the bench nightly to alter the course of events or extend leads. This is significant because the coach, Tom Thibodeau, had a history of playing starters career threatening minutes. However he played the likes of Ron Brewer, CJ Watson, Jimmy Butler, Omer Asik, John Lucas lll, Taj Gibson, Kurt Thomas, James Johnson and Kyle Korver consistent minutes off the bench. That formula landed the Bulls in the playoffs every year from 2009 to 2015.

Which brings me to the current roster and its potential. One could argue that Kris Dunn, Shaq Harrison and Ryan Arcidiacono are today's defensive equivalent to Brewer, Watson and Lucas lll. In fact, Dunn when healthy is a capable starting point guard. Additionally Daniel Gafford certainly offers a more athletic version of Asik. His ability to finish around the basket is a case in point. There is a two way player on this current roster who resembles Kyle Korver and that is Max Strus. Denzel Valentine figures in that conversation also. His basketball IQ has been underappreciated and underutilized. Thaddeus Young offers the veteran leadership and physicality that Gibson and Thomas brought to the table.

Finding an equivalent Butler is a little more problematic. However Chandler Hutchison plays with reckless abandon, almost to his detriment. I submit he has many of Butler's attributes. This observation is not meant to diminish Butler's contribution. But a healthy Hutchison shows gazelle-like offensive talent. An improving outside shot makes that comparison more realistic. Furthermore his tenacious will to defend lends credence to that juxtaposition.

The proposed starters offer some similarities as well. Derrick Rose and Zach LaVine represent the team alpha dogs. Neither of them could be identified as stellar defensively. Athletically Wendell Carter Jr. shows promise of potentially duplicating the contribution of Joakim Noah offensively. The disconnect shows up in basketball IQ where Noah was superior. Carlos Boozer was a double/double machine. Folks forget he was a two time All Star in Utah and potentially HOF mentionable. Richard Hamilton's time with the Bull's was "forgettable". Coby White clearly stands a chance to more productivity.

Admittedly, Luol Deng clearly gets the nod over the current starting small forward contingent. Yet when healthy Otto Porter Jr. and Tomas Satoransky bring playoff experience to the position. That experience could be invaluable to this young nucleus.

I offer this comparison/evaluation to illustrate that this current roster is not void of talent and measures up favorably to the 2009-15 Playoff teams.

Sam Smith:

Watch out Giannis? By the way, I'm sure Max really thanks you. Thanks for the optimism, and this sort of is how we were thinking last season, that this team couldn't possibly be one of the worst in the league. And then everyone lost their jobs. Having a prepared, organized, successful NBA coach, like Thibodeau, should make a big difference with Billy Donovan. It's why among the few things the new management guys have said is that it is a more talented roster than its record suggests. Sure, there were the injuries, and while easy to dismiss as an excuse, basically the front court—Markkanen, Carter and Porter—missed an average of 30 games each, basically half last season. It's likely the starting front court for 20-21. Can they all finally make it through a season for the first time since they've been together? The Bulls don't project yet as a playoff team because of the uncertainties and the improvement in the East with Durant and Irving back, the Heat coming fast, John Wall back and looking good already (dunking in a recent pickup game) and perhaps five other locked in teams. But it does sound like with the success of the Orlando play-in that the NBA will give chances to ninth and 10th place teams to get into the playoffs. It's not a high bar, but the Bulls certainly should be there. I know; I've said that before. But this time I really mean it, right?


Gordon Hayward

Sergio Kalet:

Otto Porter Jr. and Denzel Valentine for Gordon Hayward?

Sam Smith:

Done. I'm in. As for Boston... I get this one along with Andrew Wiggins the most. Which surprised me some with no Jrue Holiday suggestions. There have been rumors about Holiday moving on, which makes sense even as the Pelicans have demurred. They're not quite ready for their playoff standings move and have all those young guys. Though Stan Van Gundy might have other ideas. But Holiday's impact has been lessened. So he's really underrated now as a true two-way player who plays both guard spots and defends both. He is 30 with some injury past, and the Bulls aren't exactly ready to make that run, either. But he'd be a heck of a roster upgrade as a class person and All-Star talent and mentor. He has two years at about $25 million each, and perhaps the Pelicans need to get off some money. The Bulls have a couple of useful veterans with just one more year guaranteed and No. 4. It certainly would elevate the Bulls immediately. That's where I'd be looking if there really is anything to it.


Arturas Karnisovas

Martin Skelly:

Wondering what chances the Bulls would have in getting Cade Cunningham in next year's draft? Just if this draft wont give us the 'star' we need and he seems to fill a lot of the needs within the team? Would something like trading Markkanen to the Knicks for their first round pick next year not work? Then whoever ends up with the No. 1 pick we could hopefully trade 2 first round picks for their pick? Or does that sound completely ridiculous?

Sam Smith:

Can I go with ridiculous, if not yet completely? Though ridiculous doesn't need emphasis. It's not a good offseason to get value for many Bulls, as unfair as that might be given no one has played since March because of the NBA (OK, their play, too), and certainly not Markkanen's season, his poorest of the three. I didn't hear much talk of trading him when he made about eight threes in Madison Share Garden and dominated Porzingis. You made me look. Cunningham, who is in high school and not on any magazine covers, is the mock draft No. 1 for 2021. We still can't figure out No. 1 for 2020. Get back to me in about 10 months.


Daniel Gafford

Randall Sanders:

What players you feel may slip and be available with the 2nd round (44th) selection or what you think the Bulls would do with that pick? a home run with Daniel Gafford last year.

Sam Smith:

We'll see with Gafford, who has shown some impressive glimpses. But where does he play and get much time if the guys get healthy? I know, heard that one before. There's still a lot of roster to be hashed out with Dunn, Valentine and Harrison. But without those guys the Bulls have 12 guaranteed spots. They'll certainly add a first round pick and perhaps a free agent. It's getting crowded. There are exceptions, but second round picks usually don't make the NBA. And even more rare are the major contributors from 31 to 60. Given the new management's international expertise, I'd like to see them take a reach on someone who'll continue to play overseas. No need for a 15th man, and I'm not counting the two-way G-league guys, either.


Andrew Wiggins

Jason Kouns:

Why is it that everyone is so hard on Andrew Wiggins? He is not a superstar, but is or can be a good player. If the Bulls got him from Golden State to move up or as part of a deal for the 2nd pick, that's not bad. Otto seems to be gone next year and Wiggins is a good starter at the SF spot. His age fits with the rebuild and he could grow under the new head coach. Chicago is unfortunately not a place big name free agents want to go currently. Would we have to give up Zach in a package for Wiggins and 2nd pick? Would a package of Carter or Lauri, Hutchison, Young and Satoransky get it done?

Sam Smith:

Like I mentioned, Wiggins for cheap is one of my most frequent fan proposals. He's been labeled "soft," which is difficult to escape once it's accepted even if not necessarily the case. His max contract is the negative, but I'd rather pay for a chance at talent than trying Joe Alexander or Jimmer Fredette in the lottery. I think Golden State realizes he has some untapped potential and doubt you could get him for less than someone like Zach. I've also made the free agent argument many times, if equally ignored. Like with being called "soft," the facts don't always matter. The Bulls have won top free agent recruitments several times, Ben Wallace when the likely future Hall of Famer was the top guy, Pau Gasol when the Spurs and Thunder courted him, Boozer after being an All-Star and Oympian. They just happened not to be named LeBron. Did the Lakers lure LeBron, or Hollywood and Los Angeles? All those big time free agents who have gone to New York? Philadelphia? Denver? Dallas? San Antonio? There's a Paul George here and a Russell Westbrook there, a LaMarcus Aldridge. No titles that I can remember. Mostly we're talking David West, Trevor Ariza and Andre Iguodala. The Bulls have done fine. They just never got LeBron, which changed the landscape for the Cavs, Heat and Lakers.


Nerlens Noel

Jay Carlson:

I love the period of time leading up to a draft because we all become experts in talent evaluation. Are the Bulls going to trade up? trade down? This draft is wide open and no one can be certain of any draftee's potential. So that being said, the Bulls should keep the number four pick and take the best player available, who I believe will be Killian Hayes or Tyrese Halliburton. Yes another PG.

If I were GM I would make changes to the roster, some not so popular but I would trust my gut. I would try to lure Nerlens Noel away from OKC or Meyers Leonard from Miami. They are both big men that run the floor, dunk well and play a little defense. Felicio would be bought out, Harrison let go and Young traded for future draft picks. I know people would scream and yell because Coby would not be starting at point guard and Dunn is still on the team. But I believe White is more of a shooting guard and Dunn still has some untapped potential.

Sam Smith:

You figure a lot of this upcoming season is going to be about rescuing Markkanen, getting Carter, Hutchison and Porter upright. Dunn's fate remains perhaps the first question as I can't envision a scenario short of a major trade in which LaVine/White isn't the staring backcourt, especially with a short training camp and if it's the December season start. New coach Billy Donovan's teams, while never one offensive style because of differing stars, generally were good defensively. Donovan embraced relatively unproductive offensive players like Andre Roberson and Steven Adams. Kris Dunn seems to fit that philosophy, though perhaps not the roster with his potential free agency status, injuries and absence from the Chicago mini-bubble. Not a fan of Noel, by the way, for his awful offense. Though Billy did put up with Adams' klutzy moves around the basket.


Patrick Williams

Tim. Flynn:

Given your comment last week about how difficult it is going to be on many young draft picks this year with the quick turn around to next season, I'd like to see the Bulls do a trade down which does not involve any of their following players: Zach, Lauri, Wendell, Cobi and Otto. Then, hen pick Patrick Williams.

My thinking is Porter Jr. will hopefully be healthy and productive this year and would be a good mentor for Williams as a guy who could be a very good SF/PF for the future. Being just 19 years old for most of his first NBA season, he could really benefit from the lack of pressure and he is someone who could truly be a quality two way player. Being a born and raised Chicagoan and Bulls fan for their entire existence and a Zephyrs and Packers fan before them, I'd really like to see them back as valid contenders in my last few years, with a somewhat silly dream of a Bulls/Nuggets Finals in the next two or three years.

Sam Smith:

Never has Denver been such a model for Chicago; and I never got what they saw in John Fox. Who didn't even seem more effective to me than the Jim Fox you'll remember from the barely-after-Zephyrs era. There's so much talk in this draft about trading down, which isn't a good sign. I don't believe many opportunities are going to present themselves for trading down. It's not like those teams have much to offer. Or they wouldn't be so anxious to trade up. And given who they are, they're not likely to give up future potential lottery picks. I've heard a lot of interesting things about Williams. One scout likened him to Kawhi in college, a kid projected at the end of the lottery who has two-way possibilities and room to grow. Of course they always make the comparisons to stars. Very few next Scott Mays. I still say take No. 4 and move on.

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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