Ask Sam Mailbag: Reactions from the Season Opener

Sam Smith reacts to your thoughts about the Bulls Season Opening loss against Atlanta and more
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

Matthew Chilewich:

Wow - game one was a hot can of garbage. My gosh. AK can say whatever he wants, but by failing to bring in a point guard his actions matter of fact say one of two things:
1) We believe Coby White is a point guard - and if that's the case, I'm already highly skeptical.
2) We are totally tanking for a draft pick so be patient because we're doing a Philly Special without admitting it. I'm not sure there is a player not named Patrick Williams who is worth keeping.

These were questions I had before Game 1:
1) Do you think the Bulls will trade Zach? I think he's proven to be a very hardworking guy, an elite scorer and with some coaching from Billy we might even see an uptick in his defense. But I think Zach wants to be a playoff performer; this team is going to hold him back and I would imagine he and AK/ME come to agreement that all parties would be best served by trading Zach for picks or a rotation player plus a 1st round pick. I don't like the Bulls fans who criticize Lavine. He's a good kid, he stays out of trouble, he does all the right things, works hard in offseason and he is a remarkable scorer. He's not Michael Jordan - so what? I'd love to see us build around Zach, Coby and Patrick Williams but I just don't think it will happen.
2) I do not think Coby White will turn into a real point guard. I know that one talent evaluator or former Bulls player mentioned that he kind of makes up his mind on whether to shoot or pass each time down the floor as opposed to just reacting. He's a really interesting player. But he's probably not a true PG. So if the Bulls trade Zach, do you think Coby is a starting shooting guard for the Bulls to build around? Or do you see him more as a 6th man as I do.

This could really be a long painful season.

Sam Smith:

I realIy was rooting for that first win. I feared writing this feature coming after a game like this. Though I never imagined it would be like that! My email has I'll say had a lot of varied expressions of disappointment. And no Boylen to blame. The Coby/point guard discussion will go on all season, it appears, and we all have known after watching all last season that he's not a point guard in the traditional definition. I've rationalized and believe that as permissible because point guards aren't what point guards were—as Billy Donovan says, he doesn't expect him to be Chris Paul—and this is a scoring guard league now, anyway. In which point guards don't have to be the offensive general. John Paxson, B.J. Armstrong and Ron Harper weren't for championship Bulls teams. Plenty of NBA teams now are run by non point guards, like the best teams in L.A. (LeBron and Kawhi) and Luka. Great if you have Paul or Trae Young or Ja Morant. It's OK if you don't because you don't have to make him the decision maker. Coby doesn't need to be. Plus in this NBA, and especially with the talent the Bulls have, it may be more about outscoring your opponent. We all love to talk about defense, but if you don't have those players you can't square peg/round hole. The Bulls are a scoring team; so score. I agree you need an organizer. Maybe Otto. Maybe Denzel; he did that in college. Maybe Zach. He played point in Minnesota before Thibodeau. As for Zach, perhaps you have a point. I've been a supporter of Zach's in recognizing he's under appreciated here because the team hasn't been successful. You get the credit when you win and the blame and all that. So he's blamed. He is such a remarkable scorer I'd hate to see him go (not as easy to replace as some believe), but he can leave on his own after next season. So a potential extension will be an intriguing discussion. As for tanking for a pick, I do believe they'll play much better this weekend. But with Atlanta looking much better, the East may just be too deep for now to have to try to maneuver for a lottery pick. We keep hearing it's a good draft, and as you say Williams looks like a good one.


Lauri Markkanen

Jon Kueper:

It's only one game, it's only one game, it's only one game! So they didn't stop the 3 or the fast break, poor effort for sure. When the Bulls weren't turning the ball over or missing a 3 pointer the offense was fine really, but yeah can't excuse the sloppy play. I'm already excited about Patrick Williams and at least Lauri made shots. Just a little embarrassing for Billy D. to start that way but it's only one game!

Sam Smith:

Keep repeating for now, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and it's just one of 72. Yes, Lauri made some shots. Williams was very good for a very young rookie, and no surprise after seeing him in preseason with so much confidence and maturity. But I was most impressed with Markkanen. Though he did have a great first game last season, too. But that was in October. LaVine would easily have had 30 if not for the fouls—sorry, not a good idea to play him against Young. Zach's better on defense, we can see, but LeBron doesn't guard Young. Can't risk your best scorer like that, though as Donovan said he's learning these guys. But Markkanen was perhaps the most pleasant surprise. He said not getting the contract extension wouldn't bother him and would motivate him, and he at least played like that. He didn't hesitate on his shot as he was much of last season. It went in, which helped, but he looked for it early and fault of his teammates not to look for him more. Though the Bulls are hoping, Coby just doesn't see those things naturally. Maybe he will; he doesn't yet. But Markkanen exhibited some very hopeful signs for a better season.


Zach LaVine

Chris Granner:

Our beloved-but-clearly-emasculated Bulls? You can talk about defense-on-a-string, turnovers up from more motion but less traffic-control on offense, a persistent inability to find the hot hand, a frog in Coby's throat. But does this all add up to, or happen because of, a culture of losing? Of thinking "we played them even for 3 quarters" equals "we're 75% of the way there" when we all know the other team eases off after they destroy you by 15 in each of the 1st two quarters? You've been talking about the horrifying effect on the "second-class-eight" not invited to the Orlando bubble; perhaps it's even worse than you thought.

Sam Smith:

I warned them! It's Adam Silver's fault. Of course, perhaps you could say those teams are losing because they were the poorest teams in this Catch-22. The eight teams not invited to keep playing after the March stoppage—the Knicks, Bulls, Warriors, Pistons, Hawks, Cavaliers, Timberwolves and Hornets—all lost their openers or only won by playing another of those teams. I believed leaving those teams out would unlevel the playing field because you lose so much not only because you didn't play but the camaraderie with your team, which obviously has helped the Suns. Plus, habits develop. Winning becomes a habit, as does losing. Which is always what I feared about the rebuilding. I understand the theory about getting that top draft pick, and if it's LeBron or some great quarterback for the NFL it changes a franchise's arc. Though I resented what the 76ers were doing, they understood the habits thing and kept getting rid of their best players until they got the players they wanted. So players like Embiid and Simmons didn't endure so much losing. The Bulls young players have, and you have to wonder how much even as they are really quality, high character people who are motivated to succeed whether it has had a subliminal effect. There must be someone around now who analyzes that stuff.


Wendell Carter Jr

Kevin Loughlin:

Your email says, "asksam", but I'm just going to "tellsam" - that effort on opening night was atrocious. For a team of young players that are still working to establish both a team and personal identity, I am truly appalled at the complete lack of effort and pride in a game. Against the hawks our team showed nothing on defense. We allowed every player on every possession to get to their spot. We let them dribble penetrate into the lane. We didn't identify and stick to shooters. We didn't pick up a man at half court on a team full of bombers. We didn't play any semblance of help defense. We didn't get back in transition. Sorry for the lack of question on my part, but frankly no one needs professional insight to make that assessment. Embarrassing effort all around and the fans deserve more.

Sam Smith:

Billy Donovan in his subtle way, somewhat to my surprise though you have to be listening, does call out his players. His answers are so long you do have to be paying attention, but he did seem to lance Wendell Carter the other day when he emphasized when you are one for 16 shooting on threes you should be in the gym more. He has been urging Coby White to look beyond the rim. I know there were all the technical things we can break down and defense and who is guarding whom and playing a zone and ball movement. And the excuse maybe I can add for blaming the league for not letting the Bulls participate. But you are correct that what most stood out was here was a group of players basically in their first audition for their new bosses who will be determining their fates (and contracts) and then to come out with an opening performance like that. First impressions do matter how much we say it's a long season and all that. I also wonder what the new coach and management really thought. I guess we'll eventually learn based on their decisions. So will the players.


Coby White

Alan Smith:

Coby had seven assists opening night, same number as Trae Young. Coby's passes were crisp. Trae you could see he was going to be a star; doesn't play much defense. Coby is now 20 so this will be his tell year on whether he can be a star. If he is going to start he has to score and put up decent assist numbers; otherwise bench for offense.

Sam Smith:

Which is why you can't be too fooled by statistics. Like the story of the guy who drowned in a lake that averaged three feet deep of water. You know, except the part he stepped in. You can make what you'd like of many statistics. Especially assists since you can get them for standing next to someone who's a really good shooter. It's not so much the "point guard" title and position but the floor leader. Trae is that and while he is a scorer with that 35 foot shooting range, scouts marveled more in college about his passing. I can't say for sure, but I believe in that draft the Bulls would have taken Young ahead of Luka because of that playmaking and leadership. I know everyone now says they'd have taken Luka. But it wasn't that unanimous at the time given Luka's supposed athletic limitations. Plus many didn't see him running a team the way he does. Not every team would give him the ball like the Mavericks has. It makes a big difference. I recall the Bulls then being higher on Young than Luka, but they also were higher on Joe Wolf than Horace Grant before the 1987 draft. The Hawks were much second guessed for that trade with Luka's fabulous play. You'd still favor Dallas from that deal. But Cam Reddish looked terrific against the Bulls and Young and Reddish for Luka still is pretty good for the Hawks. They needn't apologize.


Arturas Karnisovas

Jake Henry:

Has the front office or the coach made anything known about their major goals for this season? Favoring development over wins or vice versa? Going with a development for long term growth? Do you believe who closes games will reveal the strategy if one has not already been laid out?

Sam Smith:

They've mostly talked about internal development, which is what the limited involvement in free agency suggested. Though they only had an exception to work with this time. Next summer they should have enough for a full contract if someone is worth that and depending on what extensions they do with their own players. It's also why I was disappointed in the opening game loss less for the result than for players who know the new bosses are watching and taking notes. It's also why I think Billy Donovan should experiment with changing lineups and rotations even when everyone is available. Challenge players. After all, Billy and the new management are just taking names for now, seeing what they have and how fits with whom. I'm sure they want to be more competitive and at least have a run at that play-in tournament. Though the goal this season seems to be identifying the core and what's missing.


Lauri Markkanen

Jim Dahlin:

How about trying to make Markkanen a sixth man of the year candidate? I think you and I agree that Coby White is the obvious choice but I don't think that is going to happen. I think White deserves a shot to start. Run the offense through Markkanen a la Joakim Noah with the second unit. Imagine if Joakim could shoot like Markkanen. Might fit his personality a little better. Get the ball in his hands and get him tons of touches. Not enough ball to go around with the starters. Especially now that Carter thinks he's Brad Miller. Also how important do you think a sixth man is? Lou Williams comes to mind and I wonder is he more important than your 4th or 5th starter?

Sam Smith:

I've mentioned I like Markkanen the way the NBA game is these days and the way the Bulls roster is set up as a "stretch five" center. Maybe with rookie Williams at four and Porter or maybe Hutchison at three; maybe Valentine. I'd rather see an offensive group with more ball handlers starting and including Coby.


Tomas Satoransky

Mike Queensworth:

We missed Sato bad out there. Weird to type that. And what's with Hutch finishing right at the rim?

Sam Smith:

I really like Satoransky, as a person as well. He's so convivial, forthright and welcoming. He disappointed a bit last season amidst the issues around the team, but he's stayed committed and never did miss practices or games until that silly contact tracing absence. I understand the league Covid precautions, but that seemed ludicrous since he never tested positive, had zero symptoms and wasn't Vonleh in a game? Wasn't he next to everyone? Why single out Satoransky? Coby shot himself into Sato's starting job last season by public and media acclaim after Coby's post-All Star scoring run, which was understandable. It will be good to have Satoransky back Saturday, and I expect him to shoot better this season. I also thought Hutchison played well against the Hawks, was hustling and defending despite all around him, but was overlooked because the ball rolled off a few times. Maybe dunk it, but he could be a surprise contributor this season.


Adam Mokoka

John Petersen:

Last season two-way players like Adam Mokoka were limited, as I recall, in the number of games they could play for the Bulls. Has there been any changes with the virus? Didn't Houston have two-way players to avoid the shut down? Do the 2021 Windy City Bulls exist yet?

Sam Smith:

Are we there already? Can Adam Mokoka save us? With the assumption more players will be in quarantine and rosters would have to be expanded, the NBA extended the amount of days a two-way player can be with the "parent" team. Rather than being limited to spending 45 days with their NBA teams, two-way players will be eligible to be active for up to 50 of their team's 72 NBA games. And instead of having their salaries by how many days they spend in the NBA, they'll receive flat salaries of $449,155. The G-league isn't going to play a travel schedule this season. There will be a "bubble" in Atlanta with games beginning in February and playoffs in March. The Bulls may opt not to participate. I believe so far there are 17 teams involved with a team of high schoolers who skipped to the G-league instead of college. That team includes prospects Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, and Daishen Nix. Green and Kuminga are considered top 10 draft prospects for the 2021 draft.


Cam Payne

Guy Danilowitz:

Adding insult to injury, Cam Payne looked great playing 20 min off the bench for Phoenix last night.

Sam Smith:

Now that is a cheap shot.


James Harden

Mike Sutera:

Have you ever seen a stock so low for a guy of his caliber like Harden?

Sam Smith:

Thanks. Let's take a look at some real team problems. We accept these days, though I'm fully sure why, a player is unhappy so he has to be traded. What about fulfilling your obligation you agreed to? I know, I am so old. But Harden is a tough buy, especially if the Rockets want to get "value." Teams acquired huge bounties of players and picks for star players like Anthony Davis and Paul George, in part, because they are complementary stars. They support the start you have. Harden doesn't do that. He'll want to come in and take the ball. And while he can do amazing things with it, it changes the roles of your stars. Denver and Portland have been the latest speculated possibilities, but then Lillard and certainly the breaking out Jamal Murray become Eric Gordon. That's a lot to change and a lot of culture, as teams like to say, to adapt. Harden is the kind of headline trade the Knicks used to make. Maybe they'll be desperate again in a few weeks. And they once did it with Earl Monroe and everybody said Earl would tale over the team, but he fit masterfully and unselfishly. Somehow no one expects that with Harden. And flaunting the Covid regulations like he has, pouting with his $41 million salary and getting on TMZ frequently doesn't enhance your trade value.


Coby White

Ian Rosenthal:

First game back to reality, I guess. Yeesh, brutal way to start the season. Bulls looked like they were playing at an entirely different speed (too slow for the NBA.) They're certainly young and it is just the first game truly back after so long, so obviously not time to panic. What do you think Coach Cheeks is telling White after this game? Some flashbacks to last season when Coby looked lost trying to be the playmaker? Wish they'd start him off looking to score a bit more as once he starts seeing the ball go in he seems to settle down and facilitate a little more evenly. Still excited for this year!

Sam Smith:

That's the spirit. And as Stacey King likes to say, Coby doing Coby things. Coby's thing is scoring, and that's also what I feel we need to see. Anyone mention it's just one game?

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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