Ask Sam Mailbag: 11.01.19

Sam opens his mailbag and answers your questions about the first 5 games of the Bulls 2019-20 season
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

Jon Kueper:

Please tell me it is going to get better. Only 5 games in and this does not feel good. I know, it's enjoying the journey and it is only 5 games! That's all I keep telling myself. Otto and Zach will only get better right? Markkanen will start shooting the ball well and Satoransky will be more consistent. I like how Carter Jr. has been playing, although he seems confused with every foul called on him, kind of like that kid that thinks he never commits a foul and rolls his eyes at authority figures, worries me a little bit, just play big guy. So far, seems like Young has been the most consistent in his role, no surprise with the Vet. Coby has been fun to watch and can't complain about a rookie this early. I just really thought the easy schedule should have led to a solid start, maybe it would have been better to play the good teams early since this Bulls team is searching to figure it out anyway! I want to enjoy this season but it already is looking rough, please tell me why I should still be as excited as I was 2 weeks ago!

Sam Smith:

Have I posted those breathing exercises yet? Nadi Shodhana, everyone.


Chris Granner:

Well there's this: the sooner you fall behind, the longer you have to catch up!

Sam Smith:

There you go. That's the sort of positivity we need now. Though I was hoping it would be longer than the first week before we got to the gallows humor. I wrote the other day about the '04-'05 Bulls who started 0-9 and won 47 games. Not so much to compare the players and staff, but that it's too soon to make too many judgments. By the way, I'm suggesting the White Sox and Cubs start 19-31 next season. It happens. I know this has been a horribly discouraging start to the season, especially because the start of the season, less for eventual result than initial impression, often carries extra weight in community optimism and pessimism. Especially for a team like the Bulls, coming off a pair of rebuilding/draft choice seasons. Like with the Minnesota Timberwolves starting 3-0. It's not that the Timberwolves are a playoff team. Just that all of a sudden they're in the national power rankings and being talked about and earning some credibility. Starting the season with four of five teams not playoff caliber combined with adding veterans who seemed serious and a fit, the elements seemed there for the Bulls to get a head start into the season and a little bit of that early momentum and community good feelings. A 1-4 start doesn't wreck the season. But it leads to an unneeded defensiveness that doesn't help the defense on the court.


Jay Carlson:

After seeing the outcome of last night's (Cleveland) game, all I can say is that I hope the Reinsdorfs can quickly modify John Paxson's office to be explosion proof because the lives of innocent bystanders may be at risk. This was supposed to be a playoff team, but it's obvious they are headed back into the lottery.

Sam Smith:

Is it too soon to go with the, "At least we're better than the Warriors" thing?


Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen

John Petersen:

The reference to team growth prevails as echoed by post game comments. Apparently the Bulls are now claiming to be a team growth or melding mode. It is fair to note that this coach had most of the players for most of last year and obviously knew them well as an assistant coach. It's difficult for this fan to identify progress or a continuation of a successful implementation of a scheme for either offense or defense. In contrast the Cleveland coach does not have any prior team or pro experience but yet seems to have identified a workable direction amid significant challenges for the Cavs.

Granted it's early in the season but Lauri and LaVine seem like different players and rebounding is a disaster. Do you see any positives?

Sam Smith:

Certainly we judge ultimately, which is wins and losses. So one in five is not a positive so far. There were physical concerns with this team regarding size with Wendell Carter Jr. at 6-9 playing center. Though more than anyone, he's been the most consistent and doing what was expected of him perhaps more than anyone else. Maybe Thaddeus Young, also. The larger issues are the play of LaVine and Markkanen because they are the sink-or-swim players. If they don't rise to All-Star status, anyone know CPR?

Markkanen hasn't always been the most aggressive player, but you can't be who you're not. He can score in a variety of ways and get 20 and 10 with ease. He's not going to be Garnett and get 25 and 13 and defend your best inside player, though little remembered about Garnett in the haze of history is that he was known on offense as a player who didn't like contact, who preferred to pull up for the 15 footer. That was often masked by the growl and the talk, which isn't Markkanen. He'll shoot better because he is a natural shooter, though he suffers for now from an uncertainty on offense of who will deliver the ball, where and when.

This thing with multiple ball handlers is fine if you're rebounding and pushing and playing fast often. The Bulls have not been able to do that given the lack of size. But they've yet to select the point guard who is going to make plays, so Markkanen seems to have been left untethered too often. It seems to be there also has been a deemphasis regarding LaVine, who this time last year was averaging 30 points. Since the Bulls are adopting the modern NBA of threes and layups, the modern NBA also is about featuring your star and allowing him to dominate. The Bulls have not done that often enough with LaVine. The Bulls do have a lot of good supporting talent. LaVine is the best individual talent. Free Zach LaVine! Free Zach LaVine!


Wendell Carter Jr. goes up for the big slam

Cameron Watkins:

I understand that it's early in a long season, and what we've seen so far is a relatively small sample size, but it sure looks right now like every player on the Bulls is significantly worse on the offensive end than we thought they were going to be and in many cases have been as recently as last year. Three players on the team have had a total of four good offensive games so far. And that's about it. What gives? I guess in addition to those three you could say Carter is having a good offensive season in that most weren't expecting him to be the team's third leading scorer.

Sam Smith:

That's actually a positive in that "nowhere to go but up" sense, right? I'm going with the darkest before the dawn thing. I agree—though only because that's what we've seen—they haven't played very well. I'm not a big fan of the coach's view about how beautiful the horizon was except for that one little iceberg there. Losing leads and games like that was a bad thing. But the good thing and why I'm still interested is along your lines, that this is not what we've seen. We know Zach has been much, much better. Basically just about every game we've ever seen him play except four of these five. Boylen appears to be doing a lot of experimenting with his multi ball handler thing and the three-point emphasis. It's that modern NBA. Is new always better? I'll only say from my ancient perspective I believe you take the shots that are best for you and the open shots you get and don't spend a lot of time seeking out shots that perhaps aren't ideal. It's a regular debate in the NBA these days, almost like Democrat and Republican. People believe what they want to believe, so they'll continue to do so. Don't bother to argue. But the offense also has suffered from the absence of a true point guard. The theory is sound of having various players push the ball, but they also need to be good decision makers, and that's not something you just tell someone to do. Ask the Bears quarterback.


Bulls bench celebrates after a three

Brock Anderson:

Care to revise your 5th place prediction? I know it's early but based on the sample size against opponents that were winnable, minus Toronto, my revised projection is we are not close to a playoff team. This team is equal to last year's 22 win season at best. I agree this team has talent but the game we are attempting to play is not a winning formula for these Bulls. Reminder, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Time to face facts that we cannot win making 3s at 27% which leads to under sized players not being in position for rebounds. Start Coby and let him learn like many rebuilding teams are doing with their rookie point guard. And, play Gafford who will bring energy and rebounding to a team that is lacking in both. Let's focus on playing good fundamental basketball and put down the kool aid.

Sam Smith:

My preseason prediction, which I'll admit and suggested at the time was optimistic, was more about the others than the one. I believed—and still do—the Bulls should be among those teams competing for the playoffs along with the likes of Detroit, Miami, Orlando, Brooklyn, Boston without Kyrie and Horford, Indiana and Atlanta. Winning somewhere between 37 and 41 games. Hey, how great are they? Someone who we don't think much of is going to finish fourth, like perhaps Detroit or Orlando or Indiana. So why not the Bulls into fifth? What, Brooklyn is so great? Detroit? Miami? I'm not fully sure why the Bulls have had the late collapses they've had that probably cost at least two games, and 3-2 wouldn't have been so horrible. But that we've seen much less of Zach and Lauri than we've seen before suggests there's more and better to be seen. What I do know about this Bulls bunch is it's a good group of people, not jerks looking to collect a check or hit the nightclubs. They appear to care and seem genuinely disappointed and concerned about the start. Trades can go wrong, but like with most things, if you intentions are good you should be able to live with that. Adding veteran players like Young and Satoransky and Porter last season seemed sensible additions, and were generally widely accepted. I still get the sense that given roster makeover with Boylen starting his first full season, it's a team that might do some things by just getting on a bit of a roll.


Head Coach Jim Boylen

Greg Young:

Defense: Why do they insist on doubling the ball handler in pick and rolls? 3 options, fight through, switch or double and they seem to always double. This take a big away from the paint (rebounding issues) and allows the other team 4 on 3 leading to ball swinging and inefficient close outs. I am assuming this is designed but I believe they need to mix up their P & R response.

Offense: Good to see they have caught up to the league in 3 point attempts. Bad to be in the bottom 3-4 in made 3 pointers. Until they get their legs under them, turning down a lay up for a 3 seems to be poor decision.

Otherwise, Mrs. Lincoln is enjoying the play.

Sam Smith:

Boylen had been a big believer in switching on defense under Hoiberg. The feeling seemed to be that helped lead to a lazy defensive effort, so it seems like he became a born again blitz/hedge/double teamer of the pick and roll. That also requires your big man to recover quickly and some timed rotations, which doesn't come quickly. It's why I'm a believer in preseason. I know it's cool to sit out, but working on stuff in practice isn't the same. Your second team knows what's coming and generally doesn't fight it as much. Plus, the league dropped two-a-days in preseason at the union request and now preseason has been cut in half to four or five games, some of which guys won't play. You say other teams…. Sure, but not many have a basically new coach and rotation. And even a new scoreboard. So some of this first week may be like training camp. But you get angrier emails.


Zach LaVine

Al Musavi:

Why don't the Bulls subscribe to the new NBA where you rest your best player, Zach Lavine, who recently had knee surgery, on back-to-backs and other days. It worked out for Toronto last year, and it definitely works for the Warriors and Spurs. I understand the business side, fans and tv. I just personally think that the amount of training these players are doing nowadays, you need to protect them from themselves.

In my humble opinion not only do you reduce the risk of injury, it also helps develop leadership qualities for other players who might not have gotten the chance to take that role. I can understand players wanting to play every minute of everyday, but sometimes more mature experienced people need to speak up and direct.

Sam Smith:

I probably get annoying—yes, I'm told in many ways, especially at home—with my why-aren't-they-playing rants. I'm glad the Bulls don't get into this much. Really, Kawhi Leonard had to rest during the first week on the road against a tough team? I assume Steve Ballmer's now asking him if he can go to the rest room? You did, though, hit on something my unscientific knowledge believes, that all the training (and these guys do look great at the beach) instead of games leads to more injuries. Like with Zion, the bands will eventually break if you keep testing them. The human body has limits and it just seems when you keep building it up to those levels it's too much. LeBron is the exception. There's always some. A big part of my plea to remain patient about the Bulls is about working more together. So I doubt the benefit of not playing. Of course, if guys are hurt, don't play. Make sure you are ready before you do. I'm glad Zach took his time coming back from the ACL and sat out a year and then sat out again after he played a month. He says he's better than ever. And in this modern NBA we all talk about so much guys don't play nearly as much as they once did. Zach's leading the Bulls at about 32 minutes per game. He should be playing more. He's healthy and the Bulls, at least for now, need to start outscoring teams to win.


Mike Burling:

Interesting start to the season, I wouldn't have it any other way. Zach earns under $20 million a season yet is the best player on this team and is asked to carry the load like a max player. Zach may be a bench player on a championship team or the 3rd to 4th best guy on a contender. That's why I think this fan base needs to curb their enthusiasm about the playoffs. We aren't there yet.

Sam Smith:

I'm much more of a Zach-o-phile. Players who are top 15 in scoring, as Zach was last season—yeah, yeah, someone has to score for a losing team, eh?—aren't bench players. Perhaps the Bulls aren't playoff caliber yet, but they could be given the talent in the East. And this is a good season to make a run with Kevin Durant still out. I'm not blind to Zach's flaws, and I don't want him running the offense. But there's a lot of isolation stars in the NBA these days and he's one. He's easily the most athletic, the best at getting to the basket and the best making tough threes. When you have someone scoring 28 points, then it begins to open things for others. I'd like to see much heavier usage, as the current terminology goes, rather than less. He may not be a true No. 1, but I'd bet the Timberwolves would rather have him as No. 2 next to Towns rather than Wiggins.


Kris Dunn dribbles the ball up the court

Brodie Larsh:

Do you think Kris Dunn works his way back into the starting 5? They really need his defense on the perimeter. I feel like he's still the best option on the team. Sato is a great backup for all 3 perimeter positions, and Coby White looks like he'll be a great spark plug, scorer off the bench, but Dunn gives the starting 5 more balance. He also has the potential to be a great drive and kick player, if he can be a more efficient ball handler. He should really try to model his game after the Celtics version of Rajon Rondo.

Sam Smith:

Kris hasn't distinguished himself offensively, but his defense and competitive level has been inspiring. I do believe in lineup changes when you are having problems, and don't it like when teams worry about turning off a player. If your player will quit on you over that instead of showing you that you were wrong by his play, then he's not who we thought he was. It's about a mix, and unless Satoransky starts to exert himself offensively—he is a good shooter who won't shoot—then it might make sense to start Dunn again. The theory was Satoransky as a playmaker who could shoot would open things up for LaVine. But Satoransky won't shoot. He's never scored much, but one issue is Zach isn't a defensive guy. So Satoransky has to defend the point guards, something Bradley Beal could do for him at times in Washington. So many point guards, like in Cleveland, are small and too quick. Dunn can defend those players. And the way he's pressuring, I can see him for the Bulls becoming a version of Patrick Beverley, who can't shoot and is starting for the team most view as the league's best. Check that Clippers closing lineup with two defensive stalwarts who can't shoot in Beverley and Montrezl Harrell. Free Kris Dunn? Free Kris Dunn?


Thad Young floats one over Kevin Knox

Sunny Shah:

Everyone is going to panic and overreact to Thad playing over Lauri. Bulls are off to a bad start and are losing winnable games due to inexperience, poor coaching and odd lineup decisions, there is a silver lining:

The rest of the East still stinks outside of the 5 sure things: Bucks, 76ers, Celtics, Raptors, Heat. Kyrie Irving is doing his alpha sabotage routine. Indiana is still figuring it out, Pistons have injuries and everyone else is equivalent to the Bulls.

The team is still very new and learning how to win and close games, which will eventually lead to White, Lavine, Porter, Young and Markannen as the closing group on Offense with Wendell making offense/defense appearances or playing instead of Otto or Thad on good nights.

The 2 biggest issues late game are shot selection and an inability to rebound, which also boils down to coaching and positional basketball. Also, keep in mind the Bulls are shooting an unsustainable low % on offense, they will get better, might only need 39 more wins to make the East playoffs.

Sam Smith:

That's a Sunny outlook.


Coby White

Jeff Lichtenstein:

One thing I feel must happen now is that Coby White needs to be in at the end of the game and stretch run. He doesn't need to start but we need that swagger and play at the end. He might miss some but he will go down swinging and not play tepid. You need players with that cold as ice in their veins no fear mentality to close out games. Pippen was great but not with 1.8 remaining. We know Coby has that no fear gift and needs to be in. The attitude will spread to some other players to an extent. I think Kerr and Pax thrived and got more clutch playing with MJ for example.

Sam Smith:

It's a theory, and his first two games were impressive. But other teams have cable and quickly started to take away that little step back to the left he does to clear space and get a lot of shots. If he's the answer at 19, then perhaps I shouldn't be optimistic. I would like to see more of Gafford, and expect we will with the rebounding deficits. But White is third behind LaVine and Markkanen in field goal attempts, which is a lot for someone shooting 40 percent overall and 30 percent on threes. And per 36 minutes he's barely behind LaVine for most shots per game, which is actually a bit too much for now. He needs to make more shots before he gets more time.


Marcus Nikokiris:

I'm pretty sure that a significant part of your mail bag this week, will be people talking about Coby White starting. It makes sense. Every time he has been on the floor, he has seemed polished beyond his years and clearly the best PG on this roster.

Sam Smith:

More emails overall venting and about smashing things, like a team, actually. I'm sure the Bulls' hope is it comes to that at some point. I guess he and Zach would take a lot of shots, but now with the defense aching, if there's a change, even temporary, it probably ought to be defensive at the point of attack.


Tomas Satoransky dribbles on the court

Alessandro Ceck:

I see a lot of people being already critic on Satoranski, but they have to remember that he played a great World Cup this summer, so it's human that at this point of the season he can't be at his best shape physically and mentally. What do you think?

Sam Smith:

I hope that's not the case, and I haven't heard that from Satoransky, though his shooting is down. Which perhaps is being a good teammate, which he's known for, by not wanting to embarrass the other guys scoring too much as the new guy. But the Bulls are his job and not the national team, which is always the worry teams have about players in the summer. The NBA doesn't allows teams to hold out their players, but it's also the player's responsibility to be able to play for his national team and then be at full strength for the team paying him $10 million. If a player cannot do that he has no business playing for the national team. I'm assuming with Satoransky it's more the adjustment with new teammates, a new coach, a new system and various stopgap changes during the first week to try to stem the losing.


Bobby Portis vs. the Bulls

Tony Reed:

In my Sam Smith voice: "Be patient. It's only Game 3."

As much as I try to adhere to your advice, that Knicks game was a very tough pill to swallow - especially watching Portis just demoralize us. He is exactly what we need - some interior toughness. (Lauri did all that weight training, but he still gets moved around too much. I like Wendell, but I'm still having nightmares of Charlotte's big guy Zeller cutting down the middle for another monster dunk. And what's your thoughts on switching Coby and Otto Porter in the lineup? I really had high hopes for this season.

Sam Smith:

Bobby obviously stole one from the Bulls, and that's what players enjoy doing to former teams. But let's remember a few things. Bobby, I believe, really wanted to stay with the Bulls. The Bulls offered Bobby more than he signed for with the Knicks after the Wizards let him go. Bobby felt he was worth more, and that's his right. But the Bulls offered a substantial deal for longer than he signed for. Plus, Bobby was averaging six points before that game against the Bulls, his team's fourth, and hadn't made a three yet. If Bobby could play 70 games like that sure, but we saw he didn't, and it's unfair to suggest he would. The trade for Porter made sense because the Bulls had enough power forwards, but they needed a small forward. The problem for now is the way Porter has started the season so indifferently. He's finally showing some signs of life the last game or two. Some players take longer to get going, and perhaps Otto is one.


Erik Fenton:

Wow just wow. You really gotta feel for this organization, they had just won over a majority of the fans and national media with the offseason moves to only start 1-4 playing against bad teams. You thought they might finally turn the corner but now they're gonna get destroyed by everyone.

Sam Smith:

Which is partly the point because the Bulls had seemed to basically everyone to have done the right things, attempted to fill the holes that existed and added veteran players with playoff experience who were highly regarded by teammates. Every good deed, eh? So maybe give them six games.


Alejandro Yegros:

The Bulls are shooting poorly from three, but even beyond that, I notice that they don't get the type of attempts other teams are getting against them. All opponents have gotten many threes where the ball is whipped around the perimeter multiple times, or threes on the break. Bulls aren't getting nearly as many of those. Why do you think that is?

Sam Smith:

There has been some stagnation in the offense, which probably also is a product of the rebounding issues. You can't run without the ball, usually. Especially with Markkanen and LaVine quieter and the Bulls hoping for a more varied offense—I understand the theory in that it makes it more difficult to defend you—the notion has been to spread around the options. The Bulls have difficulty scoring easy baskets without the classic distributor, so they'd hoped to do so more in transition and with speed. They've ended more in half court and then it's seemed like they've been merely choosing someone to take a shot without a flow to the game. I think Dunn's done a good job forcing some steals to get into transition on defense, but the team seems uncertain when to play him because he doesn't shoot threes. And they've wanted to maximize three-point shooting. Yup, still working stuff out.


Iman Shumpert playing for the Houston Rockets

Robert Custer:

What about getting Iman Shumpert?

Sam Smith:

I've been pleased to not get many trade requests, and with so many free agents and their trade limitations until into December, there's not likely to be any deals until then. And the Bulls have some players they haven't tried yet. I assume Hutchison plays Friday against the Pistons. Valentine should get a look the way things have gone. Plus, Schumpert doesn't shoot threes well, and there's been enough of that for now.


Lauri Markkanen

Stephen Fulton:

Basically had control of 3 games and only came out on top once. I understand the philosophy of shooting 3's, makes sense in the current NBA. However some people need to be banned from taking them! Markkanen should not be jacking up so many 3's when he's the tallest guy on the floor! He needs to be a little more self aware! Maybe try to score closer to the basket!

Our two best shooters so far are LaVine and White, the jury is out on everyone else. I'm assuming White got hurt against the Knicks otherwise it makes no sense why he didn't play more considering his shooting could have been used late in the game. The Bulls are not overmatched in spite of the rebounding disadvantage; they have a chance of creeping back to respectability with a little common sense.

Sam Smith:

Markkanen's three-point shooting certainly has been an aberration, and he has shown at times more interior determination. So those positives are there. The fourth quarter benching against the Cavs was interesting, and good in a sense that it's a message. But if it is, it needs to be applied toward others who are more veteran. Everyone knows Markkanen is a wonderful person who has a first class attitude and will do whatever anyone asks without holding a grudge. It's easier to bench those guys. It was a good idea to play Thad Young late because he is there for those times of the game. Markkanen's three is a big weapon for him; not something to ignore even though he's shot a career low. Which suggests he will get much better. And he's still averaging 17.4 points. The Bulls do have some guys who should not be seeking out those long shots, or more so eschewing the 15 footer. The champion Warriors, especially Kevin Durant, shot them all the time. You can't become a prisoner of your philosophy. Markkanen and LaVine perhaps need to be force-fed more to get them going. There's plenty of room for them to return to average.


LaMelo Ball

David Hay:

Who is your early favourite for the Bulls to pick with the number 7 pick in the 2020 draft?

Sam Smith:

LaMelo Ball?

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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