Ask Sam Mailbag: Questions about Patrick Williams, Coby White, Pippen, and more

Sam Smith answers your questions as the Bulls round out their preseason on Friday night
by ssmith
Remind Me Later
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Matt Cooney:

My crystal ball isn't reliable enough to win money in Vegas, but it's a worthwhile distraction. After the grueling west coast trip and some thanksgiving turkey, Bulls will be 12-8. Record alone may not indicate it, but Bulls will be on track for the fifth seed. Can I borrow $20?

Sam Smith:

Maybe I'll keep the money and play the over. I'm trying to remain dispassionate about all this because I have been deceived by these Bulls before, but this time….This time does seem different. For one thing for the first time in a long time, Coby White notwithstanding, the Bulls are coming into the season one of the few teams healthy and without issues. Every season during the rebuild from serious injuries to serious consequences, the Bulls were far from whole. Which is counterintuitive because it was the young players always breaking down. And now that they are veteran dominated, the team has been more robust. I know they're all NBA players and all that, but two of the first four are against the Pistons. I'm not sure they can win 20 games. Then New Orleans without Zion for weeks and resetting Toronto. Then before going west a pair with the 76ers and who knows with Ben Simmons, and the Celtics, who are suspending guys. Then west and Clippers without Kawhi, Denver without Murray, and have you seen Lakers? I'm having my doubts on Russ running and LeBron wondering where he's going. How about 15-5 and on to the 50 range?

Coby White and Patrick Williams

Art Alenik:

I hope Williams does get to play Friday. He needs at least one warm-up game before the opener. I'd also like to see how he looks out there with the new starters. I hope he's ready to run and play with as much energy as Javonte & Alize. I warned you that Coby wouldn't be ready as soon as they said. It's been just over 4 months since surgery, and shoulders heal slowly. Expect to see him on the court in early to mid-December, assuming no set-backs in his rehab. It'll be interesting to see how he fits with Caruso (and DeMar & Lonzo, at times). After seeing how well (and cleverly) Caruso passes, I could see Coby putting up some nice numbers.

Sam Smith:

I'll admit I was surprised with Donovan's revelation that White remains about a month away from being reconsidered. Of course, the "surprise" only comes from an optimistic early diagnosis. It's probably hurts White, for now, more than it does the team for his chance to work in with all the new players. The frustrating part was he was about the only guy who never was getting hurt the last two years. He seemed the most indestructible, and then just playing pickup back home. He was going to lose his starting spot he regained the last two months, but it seemed ideal for him after they tried to shoehorn him into the point guard role since he arrived. He's a natural scorer and seemed like he'd fit precisely with Caruso. Of course, things change over a season and players come and go with injuries and personal absences. So he'll get his chance once he recovers. But we've seen for years players coming back from long injuries having an initial burst and then needing weeks to regain a consistent level. Maybe Coby will be that guy who is like the midseason trade the team needs for an addition of energy.

Alize Johnson

Kieron Smith:

Alize Johnson at center. The guy's only 6'7" and he's only 212 lbs, (centers are at least 6'9" & up... so how can a guy who's 2 inches shorter than this even be allowed to play such a position?). Plus, he's underweight (seriously), I mean he's not even 230 lbs & they're using him in roles although he is? Alize Johnson as a center seems more like a joke, than anything fans would take serious & that's no joke. Two things Alize Johnson would need to do before he's center material: 1) Gain more weight 2) Somehow get taller. leave the C position for guys like Vucevic, Bradley, & Simonovic.

Sam Smith:

I know everyone has to look for weaknesses, and even the most optimistic among us is not predicting the Bulls into the conference finals. So defense and size have been mentioned as the Bulls issues. Defense has become less mentioned with the addition of Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso and the early play of LaVine and DeRozan. They seem competitive, though the way the NBA is played these days defense doesn't become much of a demand until the playoffs. During the regular season, now back to 82 games, there's so much load management and rest days and back to back holidays (and who knows with virus), and many of the best defenders who have more responsibilities, like LeBron James and Jimmy Butler, rest on defense for much of the game by defending the weakness offensive players. Plus with all the switching it's often almost a zone setup. My belief is it's offense in the regular season, defense in the playoffs. The Bulls can worry about that then after missing the last four years and five of the last six. As for height, I'm also not particularly concerned now that there's a core of 6-5 to 6-7 guys for that switching. It was one thing when Ryan Arcidiacono and Shaq Harrison were involved in the switching. There's the three pointers and long rebounds factor, but more so big men no longer are post players who score. Even with an All-Star like Rudy Gobert, the Jazz isn't running the offense through him like offenses went through Ewing, Hakeem or Shaq. Ever see Gobert try to shoot? Sure, there are exceptions like Embiid. But the Bulls have a seven footer with bulk in Vucevic to hold off players like that, and it hardly seems to me many teams are playing to their second team big men. I like the way the Bulls are funneling in a core of 6-6 guys who are active and hustle and jump and box out like Johnson inside. He reminds me some of Paul Millsap, whom pro scouts said was too small to rebound. No offense, but then you get a seven footer like Markkanen. And as the cliche goes, it's not always the size but the size of the heart and desire. Not to extrapolate or project for Alize, but Rodman often did OK as a 6-7, 220 pound center.


Jeff Lichtenstein:

Will Patrick Williams be able to bang the boards and be an asset? Or do they really need to acquire someone at the power forward position. How much time will the Bulls give him as this team is ready to win now?

Sam Smith:

Oh yeah, Williams. I'm not suggesting they don't need some size and bulk up front, and I believe that's the place for Williams. Though much was made last season about how he defended Giannis, Durant and Kawhi, I didn't think he did it very well. No fault of his because they are the best scorers in the game and most difficult to control. But I thought Williams was best playing inside. His highlight, a block of a dunk, came against a center, DeAndre Ayton. The Bulls didn't have a good perimeter defensive alternative then, but now they have some possibilities; not that anyone truly stops those players. I feel like at about 6-8 and 225 (and growing potentially) Williams is ideal at power forward in this era when you are looking at players like the various Morrises, John Collins, Julius Randle, Domantas Sabonis, Aaron Gordon and Draymond Green. Williams is best on offense now for squaring up as a spot up corner or wing shooter instead of playing off the dribble. And now with all the additions he can concentrate on a supporting role he seems most comfortable in instead of the offense everyone was urging him to be involved in last season. Welcome home to power forward, Patrick Williams.

Alex Caruso

Jake Henry:

In your mailbag you talk about Caruso not being fast. He plays defense very similarly to Kirk Hinrich. Maybe not as tough, but definitely faster as he will extend out near half court and shut elite players down at times from ever getting to the three point line. At least he did with Anthony Davis patrolling the back line. At 6-5 he is extremely athletic. Speed, jumping, lateral quickness. He may not look fast because he plays a very controlled style of play on the offensive end. He is not elite at anything except on ball defense and making the right play at any given moment. What a relief after watching years of project offense only players. He really has no weaknesses other than he's probably not the guy you want creating his own shot in crunchtime. But we already have two guys like that. Perfect player for this team. I saw may people say his contract was an overpay. Seems about right or an underpay. The Lakers made a mistake. Hoping DeRozan has his first year in 9 years where the team is better with him on the floor than off. Crazy stat I saw.

Sam Smith:

I believe what I wrote is I didn't think he was as fast as Lonzo Ball; neither are a lot of other fast guys. Though thanks for getting that far into the Ask Sam. I'm still not sure what to fully make of Caruso given it's three whole exhibition games. But it also surprises me the Lakers let him go given his contract actually was just average for the NBA these days and he was such a fan favorite and supposedly a LeBron favorite. I mentioned being surprised about the passing, but that's understandable playing with LeBron because LeBron controls the ball so much and you have to spot up. And then also support Anthony Davis. I did think the Westbrook acquisition was OK given I expect LeBron to take off a fair amount and the Lakers need a backup lead guard. But the mix with he and LeBron with Davis doesn't look very good. I have my doubts if the Lakers are a top four team in the West given the potential frailty of Davis and LeBron, though the West is down this season and the East is far better and tougher. Just the Bulls luck, eh, when they finally get back to competitiveness? Yes, I've seen that stat regarding DeRozan, though I'm still one with analytics seeing it more being about the guy who drowned in a lake where the water averaged three feet deep. But not where he stepped in. I'm still on board with the DeRozan addition being the big one of the summer. For depth, for experience and IQ and for credibility. While we have mentioned often that Zach hasn't played with much talent—and the Raptors were a good team—this is more talent than DeRozan ever has played with. Guys always say that on media day, but it's true. Certainly the last few years in San Antonio there wasn't much around him. And even when the Raptors went to the conference finals in 2016 (how, I don't have much idea), it basically was he and Kyle Lowry, and Lowry isn't the big time offensive player type. Now with LaVine and Vucevic, DeRozan for the first time in his career is playing with better scorers and can be a second or third option. Don't tread on him.

Wendell Carter Jr. and Nikola Vucevic

Tam Vito:

We all know you write for the Bulls and are supposed to support or defend the decisions of the management. However, are there major roster change in the AKME era that you don't like that much deep down? For me, trading for Vucevic (and Theis), which directly / indirectly pushed Lauri, Wendell and Gafford out of the door is clearly a mistake.

Sam Smith:

Ouch, that hurt. Yes, I write on the Bulls website, and it's apparent I'm not going to demand the team be sold. But the Bulls are a more sophisticated organization than most, in part I believe, because of ownership's connection with baseball. When MLB set up its website, which Jerry Reinsdorf was one of the principal advocates, it did so seeking out independent voices so it wouldn't look like team press releases. I've never been an advocate of the teardown processes (or tanking) that fans often embrace and I have often condemned them. Still, fans also want to read about those players; not that we ever projected great success. I did one time after the acquisitions of Thad Young and Tomas Satoransky predict a much better season. Though I didn't expect, much like Young, that he'd be asked to transform into Klay Thompson without the shooting range. Anyway, this is the direction I like. I saw something in Markkanen, though had that gnawing concern I even raised to him at his first media conference about his physical commitment. He has wonderful skills, Carter has physical possibilities and Gafford is a brilliant athlete. Combine all three and you have a star; left individual, none has NBA All-Star talent. And then you have no chance.

Scottie Pippen

Tom Plonowski:

When the Bulls traded Pippen, why didn't they ask for more in return? Roy Rogers and a second-round pick? The Rockets had just drafted Michael Dickerson and Cuttino Mobley. The Rockets also had young talent in Bryce Drew and Othella Harrington, both of whom went on to become Bulls in the future. Why did the Bulls not want at least a couple of these players in return? Those moves would've made the Bulls a little more exciting and fun to watch, more of a mixture of those championship veterans with young talent instead of a group of undrafted players they fielded in guys like Charles Jones, Kornel David, etc.

Sam Smith:

It was a period of etc, true. Everyone wants a plan, and the Bulls had one then. And it wasn't much different than teams pursued in recent years, like the 76ers and Miami Heat, or really that much different from what the Bulls did in 1985. Except, of course, they had Michael Jordan then to start. Pippen had become estranged by then, as you might have seen from the Last Dance documentary, and virtually quit the team that last season. So with Jordan retiring, the point was play for a title or try to get pieces to do so again. It wasn't about just being interesting. And not that the Bulls would say, but there was so much capital built up from the title years when it was so difficult to get a seat that fans were going to come for a few seasons just to see where it all took place. And they even got the No. 1 overall pick, but in a modest draft with Elton Brand the best player from those top picks. They made the right choice. But he was no Jordan. The plan was to mine draft picks for a few years, bottom out the payroll to have salary cap room to acquire stars—Tim Duncan, Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill and Eddie Jones were free agents and targets—and hire a successful college coach who could relate to these young players. But Tim Floyd came to the NBA because he was sick of kids and recruiting, those were some of the poorest talent drafts in NBA history, the free agents didn't see it as such a great destination given those factors and there was genuine fear about being the guy to try to replace Jordan. John Paxson saved it when he replaced Jerry Krause in 2003. As for Pippen, the Bulls despite his anger did him a huge favor. As a free agent, the most he could have gotten on the market then was a contract worth about $40 million. By accepting the sign and trade of players they had no interest in, the Rockets could pay Pippen about $75 million. And free agents still said no to that Bulls generosity?

Kyrie Irving

Bradley Hergott:

I'm a little worried that the Nets and Sixers will swap Kyrie for Simmons. It would make the Nets much better, I think, and I don't really worry about the Sixers anyway (whose fans would probably strongly dislike Kyrie). What do you think? Likely? How would you rate the trade for each team?

Sam Smith:

I'd worry for the 76ers, too, and surely now the Nets would love such a deal that, obviously, has no chance. Irving clearly has many personal issues he's put on display before many times that included not speaking with his teammates before going to Boston, running away from LeBron and blowing up a championship team, upsetting Bostonians more than the Boston Massacre. (add here this sentence: You're correct in that 76ers chief Daryl Morey is the kind of GM who would make such a deal since he seems to enjoy trading and taking big chances. But I suspect Irving will) return to the Nets at some point, all will be papered over, and everyone will say individualism is what America is about and they'll go back to being title favorites. Until the next Kyrie uprising. But being paid $35 million (perhaps) this season with a player option and desire for a long extension, Irving with his erratic behavior over several years is as toxic as a great player can be. The model for many teams that cannot attract talent is to take a chance on a disgruntled star player who has issues with his team. Someone might, but it's a heck of a risk with Irving going on 30 this season and rarely coming close to playing near a full season more than once in his 10-year career. Yes, and wanting that max extension. But these personnel issues seem like they are going to hang over those top contenders at least to start the season, which could give teams like the Bulls a chance to gain some early momentum and fast starts. Like the first inning in baseball, getting ahead can carry a team a long way.

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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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