Ask Sam Mailbag: 10.05.18
Sam Smith answers readers' questions about the Bulls and the NBA
I found several bright spots in the Bulls debacle with the Bucks Wednesday night.
First, and possibly most important, by the second quarter I'd lost all appetite for a snack, which is a considerable boon to my latest diet. So the blowout was good for my heart--literally. Second, it was easy to do many other things during the game without missing any important action, so it was a productive night for me.
And third, we got to witness a supreme act of humanitarianism on the part of the Bucks who could have won by 50 points but for a wave of sympathy...and maybe a serious case of the giggles as they ducked the caroming bricks the Bulls launched in the general direction of the basket. Oh well, every team has a stinker of a game in them. Maybe our Bulls got theirs out of the way early. Let's hope.
Sam: Hey, I thought I was in charge of sarcasm! Unfortunately, I suspect we'll see some more of those. Remember, just Year 2. Part of everyone's script, especially in preseason is experimenting with different lineups. It wasn't so much being run out and embarrassed, it was some fears realized. It was a bad early sign when Jabari Parker said going back to Milwaukee was no big deal, and then looked everyone off the first three possessions, in which the Bulls made a total of two passes to more than a dozen for Milwaukee, and Parker shot the first three times he touched the ball. Then after two straight misses, LaVine took a quick shot on an inbounds pass with no ball or player movement, and mostly mid range shots.
Meanwhile, the Bucks were wheeling the ball around for nice looks. It's the issue facing these Bulls players. They are talented, but can they play together? Do they want to? They seem to like one another. The locker room patter is comfortable and convivial. They all came in weeks before to work together, every one. That never happened once when the Bulls were winning titles. It wasn't so much that Parker missed 12 consecutive shots, a streak that extends to Game 3 Monday in Charlotte, but so many were isolation efforts. The Bulls did get a little bit going early with some nice two-man game with LaVine and Kris Dunn, and Dunn was the most impressive among the starters in Game 2. He seemed much improved as a finisher and probably should shoot more. Which you wouldn't have said last season. LaVine may be the closest, but the Bulls don't have a reliable go-to guy yet like the Bucks do with Antetokounmpo, someone who can make plays to freeze the defense.
I like that Hoiberg has them trying to penetrate with the dribble more this season instead of the dribble weave that led to more isolations. But Hoiberg was hamstrung previously as players like Rose, Butler and Wade preferred to play that way. The problem now is the two best percentage three-point shooters from last season, Markkanen and Valentine, are out injured. So defenses are not exactly opening up to chase players off the three-point line. Thus the inside gets more congested and too many of those shots are forced. The transition looks good, but it's more difficult when you're not preventing many baskets. With positions changing, experimentation and essentially a starting five beginning all over again, it's difficult to create that trust from ball movement. Of course, they only have played two practice games. We'll give them, what, three more?
I'm watching the game against the Bucks, and Hoiberg has just taken another time out to start the third quarter. Bulls are completely nonchalant on defense, Fred has been taking time outs every time someone gets blown by on D, so it's obvious he is getting annoyed. I won't pretend to be a coach, but when I watched this last time out, Fred spent the first half of the time out chatting amongst the coaching staff before addressing the team. I don't know if it's just me, but what on Earth is there to talk to the coaches about? It's not a strategy issue, it's an effort and attitude issue. To me, that is when you go straight to the team and address the issue directly - strike when the iron is hot. Don't let it diffuse, and let the players think they've gotten away with it. He has to own the team, not the players. No one expects this team to contend for anything, even though some are saying there's a chance at an 8th seed in a weak East. But we want to see effort, especially with the season just starting, and this being a young team. I get that Fred has a calm coaching style, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't be able to address issues directly with the team when they come up - the head coach has to be able to do and say the tough things when they have to.
Sam: Let's not confuse yelling at someone for coaching, though many fans, I know, see it that way. I always wonder if at work being screamed at in front of your coworkers helps you do a better job. Anyway, did I mention it's preseason? Yes, you did, also. Actually, it's common for coaches to huddle among themselves before the head coach addresses the team. Heck, LeBron's coaches often don't even get to talk to the team in the huddle until he's done. If you'll recall, Phil Jackson always spoke with Bach and Winter before turning to talk to the team. The theory, he always explained, was to let them think about it a little first, perhaps talk to one another, and then be ready to digest what he had to say. It seemed to work reasonably well, though I think Fred would have looked better if Jordan and Pippen were walking off the court. From everything I've heard from camp, Fred has been particularly direct and demanding. His biggest issue, which probably cannot be resolved in two tryout games, has been to merge players who never have played together. Without one of your most important starters. From what I could gather, he told them to make more shots. They seem to have ignored that, however, I will agree.
I realize Fred has been dealing with a revolving cast of players as the Bulls transitioned from an established team to rebuilding mode. Unfortunately for Fred, the rebuild did not start until his third year. I hope the last three years on his contract are enough for Fred to establish his system/culture with the young payers. Coaching continuity has to be at the foundation of any culture/system building enterprise. You can clearly see that GarPax seek to build a culture by drafting high character players since Kirk Hinrich. These are the type of players that will more readily embrace team goals and sacrifice their own individual scoring in the process. I really like how Bobby Portis is embracing his role on the second unit. However nobility and character will only go so far until it comes time for contract negotiation. Then it becomes every man for himself.
Do you think the Bulls can recreate the success that the Atlanta Hawks did a few years ago with that 60 win team? That team seemed to have recreated the magic of team offense and defense (a la San Antonio) but lost it as soon as DeMarre Carroll left in free agency. Carroll provided a crucial defensive element to that team. I think Houston is similarly vulnerable this year due to the defensive losses of Mboute and Ariza. The Bulls seem like they have the potential to put together a good team offense where 30 assists a game is a team goal embraced by everyone. Unfortunately, I do not see all the necessary ingredients on the defensive side. Thibodeau's lack of success on defense with the Timberwolves proves you need good defensive players to pull off good team defense. We need a Kevin Garnett or a Kawhi Leonard type player to lead the defensive charge. Is there even a Kevin Garnett type in the league at present? Draymond Green maybe, but I question his fit with the Bulls. Demarre Carroll is on the last year of his contract ($15 mill annual)with Brooklyn at age 32. Do you see any fit there?
Sam: Ah, the balance. You don't want to say a team is not about winning, but I don't see the Bulls that close to the playoffs to be making the specialist commitment. I still think they are in that developmental place, and given the expenditure for Parker, it suggests they've staked this season's look at him along with their three from the Butler trade. OK, you're trading for say Danny Green, or someone like that for defense, or a bit younger. Who's he playing ahead of for now? Is Parker at $20 million reserve? LaVine? And if you're going for an Avery Bradley, does coming off the bench make that much difference? Your points are well taken, but mostly you are looking at high level conference finals competitive teams. If you'll recall that Hawks team, it was loaded with top defenders like Al Horford, Thabo Sefolosha (before being beaten up by police in New York), Paul Millsap. Plus veterans who knew how to play like Korver and Brand. Budenholzer is good with that sort of talent, and that's one reason why many expect the Bucks to make a jump this season. You saw how unselfish they were to start Wednesday. They've got a nice mix, size, athleticism and a star. I can see them top four in the East. It's too soon for the Bulls to be addressing weaknesses with role players. Let's see if they can find a star or two, or someone close. Did I mention yet it's been just two exhibition games? Though gotta love the passion.
Jamal Crawford to the Bulls? We need some 3 pt shooting. And what about Korver. I know he's not the type to demand out, but he must feel that the Cavs are not where he wants to be at this stage of his career. Will be a hot commodity at the deadline for a contender?
Sam: As I was saying...What the heck, by the way, is going on with Jamal? He gave up a lot of money to get out of Minnesota, and, perhaps it was a mistake with Jimmy apparently heading out the door. But you could see he and Thibs didn't work well. Again, the Bulls probably are not at the the right time to fill a need to get to, what, 38 wins? And if you are having defensive issues, you probably don't need the 38-year-old Jamal. Who still looks 18. He probably would be the best three-point shooter on the current roster. Jamal should be hired by someone, and can probably help a really good team a lot. His legs should be fresh. I assume he'll be back. The 76ers make a lot of sense. And it's where it all began for Korver, too. A pick and a broken down Jerryd Bayless for Kyle?
What is a high grade lateral elbow sprain?
Sam: I'm guessing it's a very good one that prevents you from throwing laterals. I don't get much into the medical jabberwocky. I write about them when they can play again and am grateful at least in the NBA they tell you which body part might be affected compared with other sports that leave you to guess.
Miami needs to clear space for a Jimmy Butler trade. What about trading JJ for Asik? Miami gets tax relief in 2019 and the Bulls get some much needed help at small forward defensively.
Sam: If only. Chris Bosh comes off their cap after this season, which probably is one reason why they're so much into trading for Jimmy. They really don't have that go-to guy, and not that Jimmy is ideal in that role for a contending team, but he's pretty good and better all around than they have. Jimmy has made it clear he'd like to play there, and he'd like them to have his Bird rights for a big deal in trade. They'll have to give the Timberwolves someone—maybe Olynyk?—who would match some salary. So I don't think payroll is an issue for the Heat. Johnson has reinvented himself to be a productive player, though as we know the Bulls had him, and he duplicates a lot of what the Bulls have as a mid range shooting slasher. Certainly more useable than Asik, of course, who actually may have some physical problems, has rarely played for almost three years, and is unlikely to draw much interest even as a salary dump. The amazing part is this three-way Minnesota stare down with Thibs trying to retain Jimmy, ownership done with him and the Heat likely trying to lowball the Timberwolves into a desperation move. Maybe flip them Wade so Wade can finish his career playing with fellow Chicagoan Derrick Rose in Minneapolis? How cool would that be?
Is it obvious that Jabari is pretty out of shape? He was a guy who was very mobile and explosive for his size. I didn't see him get up once, and he looks slow.
Sam: Well, there is the two ACL surgeries. I know we don't have patience with injuries, but he had two and just came back eight months ago. So even though he says he's fine and seems generally insulted every time you ask him about his health, I don't believe we're seeing him yet as the player he hopes and expects he will be. The thing with him is he really was never explosive. Talented, smart, efficient, sure. He was never really the blow-by-you and why-haven't-they-called-me-for-the-dunk contest guy. I think he can run the floor, but I don't think he can finish in traffic yet. We probably need to give him some time. One issue is playing that wing, small forward. He's not a quickness guy, but he was working there until Markkanen was hurt and now spending time figuring out how both forward positions work with guys he's never played with before. Perhaps we can't judge quite yet. Maybe after Monday's game.
I disagree with the decision to start Jabari as power forward. Basically they will waste eight weeks of real basketball competition that can allow Jabari to get used to the small forward position. When Lauri comes back, it will be close to starting from scratch. It doesn't make sense unless they think that Jabari is not ready.
Sam: It's a reasonable point and has been raised to Hoiberg several times. Part of the point is, well, if you start Portis that changes the role for the reserves, where he will play. Same with Carter Jr. The Bulls probably also have Markannen slated to play some center in lineups, and probably not playing more that 36 minutes, anyway. Plus, Parker is going to have more trouble at small forward. I think they are trying to ease his transition and get him in position where he can gain some confidence, which he's more likely to do early playing a more comfortable power forward position. Heck, it's tough enough in this small ball NBA to defend fours.
Do the Bulls actually practice throwing up bricks?
Sam: Anyone seen Markkanen? Or Valentine? That's 11-59 on threes so far in the two preseason games. Keep repeating, it's just preseason. Who knew when they said they were rebuilding it would mean providing the bricks for a building? Is that what you meant?
This is gonna be a fun year to watch the Bulls, especially when Lauri gets back.
Sam: Yes, if only I was reading the mail from after the first game.
Here's my East:
- Toronto Raptors
- Boston Celtics
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Washington Wizards
- Indiana Pacers
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Detroit Pistons
- Miami Heat
- New York Knicks
- Chicago Bulls
- Charlotte Hornets
- Orlando Magic
- Brooklyn Nets
- Atlanta Hawks
Raptor additions will fit the team nicely, and they will come out running on all cylinders to start the season though they will not win the NBA title. Celtics will take time to find their grove given log jam with Hayward coming back. The Pacers will be good but I think the Wizards will have a make or break season with former All-Star Howard who can still put up big numbers to join Porter-Beal-Wall. The Cavaliers will be good with their veteran lineup and should make the playoffs. Sexton I expect to be a big contributor. The Pistons will make the playoffs with their big men combo. The Heat fall out as they get older with the likes of Wade and Dragic both in their thirties. Good veteran team. I think the Knicks have a chance to be better than the Bulls. Kanter-Kristaps-Knox-Hardaway-Frank N. The Bulls will struggle to find their identity, I think, specifically in the back court. Remember that the draft lottery odds will work on a different level in favor to Chicago.
Sam: Lottery talk already? Well, it does look like a great draft with most of the good players at Duke. No one much sees the Bulls as a playoff team. Some did after the Pelicans game; not as many now. It's not impossible, and the Bulls have some real talent, but pretty much everyone has said it would be an upset. Markannen out two months is devastating. He looked perhaps the closest to being that bail out scorer, which also would make it easier on LaVine to become one. I'm not as high on the Knicks, and Miami now could have Jimmy, which would presumably change things for them, and make it that much more difficult for another East team to make the playoffs this season. The Cavs, I agree, may not be as bad as some suggest without LeBron. Some good veterans in Hill, Hood and Love and non-LeBron favorites guys like Clarkson and Nance who should reemerge. The East is better than often credited, and the top four or five look pretty good. But at least you can begin to make a case for the Bulls. That's an improvement from last season. Baby steps?
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