Ask Sam Mailbag: 10.04.2019

Richard Meagher

Given the Bulls roster and youth, are the Bulls stuck in that area where they are just good enough to be competitive, but not good enough to be Championship contenders ? If so, how do they make the quantum leap to Championship Contender Status ? Bulls still need a better backcourt and a top drawer PG. In today's NBA a top PG is a necessity.

Sam Smith:

Bulls coach Jim Boylen, I know, mentioned on media day Monday about making the playoffs, which became the early theme of training camp. Also in probably all the camps of teams that didn't make it last season. Except the Knicks? Still, I agreed compared with the last two media days. The Bulls should be in the playoff mix. I know some then say, if the playoffs are the goal, why trade Butler when you could have continued to finish seventh or eighth? Of course, the answer is with players like Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen and perhaps now the renewal of Kris Dunn the ceiling is higher. Though never assured. Some rebuilding plans lead to titles. And with some you remain the Sacramento Kings. I do get a lot of breathless questions about can they make the playoffs? And yours of can they win a title? Which are all goals, of course, but how about some patience. Not patience with losing. Patience with the season.

The reason I still love to do this is because of the regular season. The playoffs are like the wedding party and honeymoon suite. Fireworks! The season is like the courtship with all the thrills and disappointments, the chance to really get to know someone. I see the season like a great novel. Even a great mystery. It's not necessarily about just the last page. Because if it were you would not spend all that time. It's about the journey, as Phil Jackson always emphasized, what these men become and how they arrive there, the obstacles in their path and the euphoria when they conquer them. There are many great seasons. Only a rare few conclude with a victory. It's surely the goal of everyone, the Bulls as well. But there's so much depth and mystery to the six months. Sports is about the moment, when someone makes a big play, hits the shot. The projections come from there. But it's also about the strands of the season stretching deep within the fabric of the game until an eventual revelation. With so many chapters along the way. So relax and enjoy. This should be a compelling season.

Jim Hecimovich

Just glancing at NBA predictions from FiveThirtyEight.com. They rank teams, players, outcomes of games, etc. Now, since they predicted a big win for Hilary, I always take this stuff with a grain of salt (or maybe a lot of pinches).

But how have you used these new statistical analyses? Have you? If so, what do you use them for? If not, why not? I don't believe I've seen a column of yours about this issue. By the way, they predict the Bulls chances of making the playoffs at 54 percent, right behind Indiana and in front of Detroit. Zach Lavine is "average"; Otto Porter is "borderline all-start"; and Wendell Carter and Lauri Markannen are "up and coming." I may go back and look at some more.

Sam Smith:

This will be dismissed because of my senior citizen membership, but I don't pay much attention to those sites, especially that one. I know it became popular for hitting on the 2008 election. Mostly it seems to me to be a gambling site. I understand this era is different because of the demand for immediate changing information. But there doesn't seem much more useless than this unending series of percentages of a team winning or losing that change after anything occurs. I understand trends and historic averages. A team has a 90 percent chance of winning with three minutes left? Then the opponent scores 10 straight and the percentage drops to 10. What, you need to check a web site for that? I assume it's being set up so people can gamble on individual plays or shots or anything immediate and further the income gap. The team that wins Game 1 of a series has won 73 percent of the time. So? I was in basic training and the drill sergeant said I had a one percent chance of being hit on the range during night fire. But what if the bullet didn't know that?

We had statistics when I was young, also, and we argued about them and analyzed them as well. It was fun. And we bet, too. So I get the attraction. Though we analyzed more by instinct. And we could concentrate more because there were no phones, so our parents never knew where we were. But if someone went right most of the time, we pushed him left. It is interesting to see that formalized and categorized. Still, it merely tells you tendencies. Which is how they've taken the ball out of baseball. It's come to rely so much on positioning and production based on what occurred historically, it's left less opportunity for spontaneous actions. Which is what sports really is about. C'mon, steal, sacrifice, play for a run, advance a runner. What's to debate if it's all home run or strikeout. I really believe chicks dug Maury Wills, Lou Brock and Ricky Henderson. Hey, if I know teams are forcing me left, I work on my left hand and score that way. The stats are wonderful for telling you what already happened. Not what will happen. Which is why it's actually more fun to watch the games instead of spread sheets.

Harshil Bhagwakar

What are the expectations for the big man rotation this year and how many minutes are expected for new guys like Thad, Gafford, and Kornet. Lauri-Kornet has the potential create immense floor spacing for slashers. Boylen and front office have stated they'd like to see Markkanen play some minutes at the 5 spot. Likely pairing with Thad in the front court but I would like to see how Porter or Hutchison at the 4 would play out.

Sam Smith:

It's another tough stretch for Hutchison with Boylen mentioning this week he might not be ready until after the season starts. If you're LeBron you can catch up quickly; not so much if you've missed as much time as Hutchison. Though that should give Denzel Valentine a bigger opportunity. Media doesn't see practice, so we won't know until the games start. But I see Boylen using some sort of 10 or 11-player rotation. To me it would/could/may be

Starters: Satoransky, LaVine, Porter, Markkanen, Carter
Reserves: Dunn, Harrison, Valentine, Hutchison, Thad Young. Maybe.

When Carter went out with a twisted ankle earlier this week, Markkanen went to center with a guard heavy lineup and LaVine to small forward. Kornet also hasn't worked in regularly because of turf toe. So it's difficult to project him, also. Gafford because of his inexperience also is uncertain like Coby White. For now, it's looking like smaller lineups at times like Golden State has used with Draymond Green at five. But that's a big part of the interest and intrigue about this season because there are many versatile players, but not exactly a lot of guys you'd say are naturals for their positions. It should be an interesting challenge for Boylen to continue to mix and matchup those lineups.

Alan Smith

What do you attribute Coby's low shooting percentage in the Las Vegas Summer League? Yes, he is 6'5", which is tall for a point guard, but his standing reach and vertical jump are considered below average for the NBA, ie, he is more like a 6' guard when you take these into consideration. So, despite his quickness and great speed, do you think that this is going to be a problem for him going forward? Also, if his shot was not a swish, they seemed to just bounce off the rim instead of bouncing around and circling the rim before going in like you see with the great shooters.

Sam Smith:

Low humidity? You know what we say, it's just Summer League. I was pleased to see the Bulls actually let their rookies play unlike most of the rest of the NBA. Good for them. And since White was up against a lot of future non-NBA players, the shooting light was green. White shot 35 percent on threes in college, so it's not like his shot is broken. But what you learn when you play against NBA type competition is the other guys are the quickest you've seen. White is faster horizontally than vertically, so he'll have to adjust his shot. He shot from lower down, which he presumably is working to change. I miss former Bulls assistant Johnny Bach for many reasons, but one is he was the best teacher I've ever come across in shooting. Not so much form and style, but when to shoot and why. Johnny had his seven rules of a good shot, which were less about being squared up and elbow in, but are your teammates in position to get an offensive rebound? To get back in transition defense? Do they expect the shot? It was a big reason why the triangle offense was so effective and the Bulls 90s defense so good. The players weren't all great shooters as much as always aware of when to shoot and what was a good shot and how offense blended with defense. We all miss Johnny's lessons; Coby would have benefitted considerably.

Tom Golden

Bulls are going to be a 5 or 6 seed, minimum, Double their wins from last year. Carter is going to be the difference. The Vets will be huge, setting up Lauri and Zach...Everything is going according to my design. Hysteria fades into Queens "We will Rock you."

Sam Smith:

Not yet We are the Champions, my friend? Yup, they've had enough sand kicked in their faces.

Tom Plonowski

What are the Knicks doing with all these power forwards on their roster? Randle, Portis, Gibson, Morris. All of these players are on short term two year deals. Do you see the Knicks making a move on one of these players or more for another 1st round pick ?

Sam Smith:

True, some rebuilding plans don't work out as well as others.

Mark Schweins

There is something I don't get - if a team is re-building and adjusting payroll for future flexibility - why aren't there more contracts that are "forward spending" structured. It makes sense to pay a player big upfront with smaller future payments if you are not planning on being competitive. Instead of paying player A $10 million each of 3 years, offer $25 in year one and $2.5 for the following two years.

Sam Smith:

Why didn't anyone else think about that? Oh right, because you can't do it. Because they thought in the collective bargaining agreement that would be unfair and skew the playing field and lead to teams trying to lose (OK, even more teams). So you can't increase or decrease a salary by more than eight percent annually with rare exceptions. A guy named Larry Coon does a good job answering salary cap questions on his site Salary Cap Frequently Asked Questions.

Shep Gould

Kris Dunn starting? If Kris Dunn is the starting point guard (particularly if we're looking for a quick start), then we're not a playoff team. I was a Dunn fan from the start. I liked his attitude then but it has now grown tiresome because he simply isn't as good as he thinks he is. There will be soft passes into a crowded lane. He can't finish. He can't shoot from distance to keep defenses honest. Still hoping for playoffs, but not because of Dunn. And Carter better turn into Unseld.

Sam Smith:

Dunn's better than that, but with some minor injuries to Carter—maybe the Unseld comparison is better than Horford, though he would have to work on his full court outlet—there hasn't been that much of the point guard competition with Dunn and Satoransky. They've been sharing the backcourt at times. I see Satoransky as a better starting fit with LaVine. But the coaches and staff have been thrilled with Dunn's attitude and approach this season. And for the Bulls to really be good (or better), I believe a reserve role for Dunn would be appropriate and effective. Which isn't a demotion or embarrassment. Lou Williams and Jamal Crawford seem well respected. Actually, I think the Bulls could put together a unique, defensive-oriented second unit to complement the offensive-minded first unit to give opponents problems. I've already got the t-shirt: The Dawg Pound. With Markkanen and Porter at forwards, free agent Thad Young figures to come off the bench. If he can after starting almost 700 games, Dunn can. Young's a disruptive defender who specializes in steals and charges. So you put him on a unit with the long armed Dunn and hustling guards like Shaq Harrison and Ryan Arcidiacono. Then balance Wendell Carter's minutes so he comes out early, Markkanen goes to center, and Carter comes back in with the dawgs. You can envision a Chicago Bears-like factor in which perhaps they don't score much, but neither does the opponent. You transition from an offensive group with LaVine, Markkanen and Porter to a defensive unit with Dunn, Young and perhaps Harrison. Then you fit in guys like Valentine and Hutchison depending on matchups and circumstances. Defensive sixth man Bobby Jones just got into the Basketball Hall of Fame. In the last 300 games he played, he made 50 starts. Toni Kukoc's career is going to eventually land him in the Hall of Fame. He also did pretty well off the bench.

Rob Yolles

Amazing. I had not thought of Jeff Platt (Superfan from last week's Ask Sam) in ages. Growing up we had season tickets I think starting in 72 73 and Jeff spoke with us a lot. Nancy played the organ court side and was also approachable. Back then I was able to get autographs from players while they sat on the bench during the game. I never bugged the Bulls mid-game, but I still have Moses Malone's autograph and recall his "what is this kid doing" amazement. The Stadium was a heck of a ride.

Sam Smith:

Indeed, there appear to have been some changes at NBA games since then.