Ask Sam Mailbag 1.10.20

Greg Bowcock:

You personally believed that the additions of Sato and Thad Young would take the Bulls to the postseason. I realize that the moves were lauded by Paxson and the media, alike, but just because management says something doesn't make it true.

Sam Smith:

Wow, do I hate doing these on a losing streak. I may have been mistaken, as rare as that seems. But you are correct. I really did believe those were the right moves; not that many others truly were available. I had been high on a trade for Mike Conley given the point guard situation, and that hasn't worked out for Utah with his injuries. Though they've overcome it well. Falling more than 10 games below .500 at nearly the midpoint of the season is a disappointment, and more so a surprise to me. I'm convinced the Bulls talent even with Porter hurt and Young's role often in flux rivals teams like, at least, the Nets and Magic, who have the last two playoff spots. It's not a culmination, but an indication of improvement, which the team hasn't shown despite reasonably good talent. The postseason isn't an impossibility yet because they have much better talent than the record. Yes, I know, you are what you record states. Satoransky has been close to what I expected, though Young's often ambiguous role has been a mystery. It will increase now with Wendell Carter out. A lot of us—locally and nationally—thought the acquisitions made a lot of sense. It is much easier to be correct if you wait for the results.

Oliver Doc:

After the Pelicans loss, I had to go on YouTube to watch the 2010-2015 Bulls. I miss the grit. I miss the fight. I miss Joakim terrorizing the paint on d and being a swiss army knife on O. I miss Taj Gibson 15 fters and stout defense. I miss Luol doing Luol things and of course, Derrick Rose. It all leads back to one person, Tom Thibodeau. I know it won't happen but, with this roster, if GarPax would just apologize and admit they were wrong, they should bring back Thibs. The talent is there but they're using it all wrong and it's so frustrating to watch. They can clearly draft well, but this need to have "company guy" coaches is ridiculous. It's doubly frustrating for me because I'm also a Cowboys fan.

Sam Smith:

You got your change in Dallas, though I'm not sure Aaron Rodgers thinks it's a good idea. Nostalgia is popular and secure, if also a state of denial. That sounds a bit like the longing for a high school sweetheart. Everyone moves on. I did read recently Thibs would like to coach again, and I expect he'll get one more chance somewhere, though certainly not with the Bulls, as you also know. And not with the Timberwolves, either. I never quite get those people who remarry one another; it doesn't happen in sports. Now, if you can get back Rose, Noah, Deng and Gibson in their primes and make that contingent on hiring Thibodeau, I do think the Bulls would go for that. Remember, they made the Jimmy Butler trade with Thibodeau and Paxson and Thibodeau had friendly conversations during that period. I've seen Thibs laughing with them at Summer League games. And Boylen wasn't a company guy. He was hired by Hoiberg with no past connection to the Bulls at all but recommended by the likes of former bosses Popovich, Rudy Tomjanovich and Tom Izzo. Seemed like a good credential. I get it; you're frustrated and disappointed about this team and wish you were seeing something like the 2011 Bulls. Me, too.

Paul Siekert:

The Wizards have a ton of injuries, are playing players nobody has ever heard of, and are playing well and winning, beating some good teams; no excuses about lack of chemistry, although they have a different lineup every night; isn't it clear that Scott Brooks is a good coach?

Sam Smith:

Though as Boylen probably says about that game last month, "Down 18 in the fourth and we got them in overtime. Take that, Scott!" Unfortunately, right now that's the battle for 11th in the East with the Bulls having a half-game lead on Washington. The Bulls reach the official halfway mark of the season, Game 41, Wednesday in the United Center against the Wizards. With 11th and perhaps 10th at stake, I guess what you're saying is great coaching could make the difference?

Kieron Smith:

I've seen odd lineups, but Bulls in 2019-2020 have taken the cake on this one, now adding Thaddeus Young (who's normally a Power Forward at 6'8"), playing as a Center instead of Lauri Markkanen,(some things are meant to not make sense right?). As tough as Dunn may be, you can't expect him to guard Tatum (6'8") and Doncic (6'7"). Same for Shaq (who still isn't 6'7"). Doncic is long but slow. Try Thad or Hutch on him.

Sam Smith:

Yes, there is that. I would like to have seen Gafford get a start with Carter out, though my guess is Boylen had been trying to get Young more time and a bigger influence and so played him with Markkanen to start. As we know, the rotations change as the game accrues, and Gafford wasn't as exemplary against the Pelicans as we'd seen. Plus, the Pelicans did start a forward as center, Derrick Favors, which happens often these days. So it wasn't a major issue and the score was tied at halftime after the Bulls took the early lead with the starters. Boylen has been asked about playing Dunn against the bigger wings. Though Dunn is the best individual defender and long-armed with quick reflexes in the lane. But, yes, it's often not a wonderful alternative.

Bambi Choy:

Please help me understand about the game vs the Mavs. J.J. Barea who's generously listed at 5'10 is their starter and who is he guarding? Satoransky, listed at 6'7 and outweighing Barea by 30 pounds! "Mouse in the house!" as Stacey King would often point out. To my absolute surprise, Boylen sticks with the usual game plan of letting Satoransky roam around in the perimeter for occasional 3s or to find open shooters. I know posting up is not Satoransky's game but heck he's a professional baller who shouldn't have any problem simply backing down the little guy and shoot over him. Even in YMCA pickup games, smaller guys get picked on immediately by the bigger players as significant size differences cannot be concealed. I'm confused.

Sam Smith:

Pssst, so was I. But some of it, I guess, was that they haven't posted Satoransky much, if at all. I really don't know if that's because he can't or doesn't want to—we've seen that with good players; LeBron used to hate doing that when young—or it's not part of what the team sets out to do, so they didn't. I do think sadly for us assuming you are closer to my (old) school than the new school that these days some players and some teams don't think much that way about the natural mismatches. Rick Carlisle the other day did send Doncic at Shaq Harrison when Dunn got in foul trouble, which was interesting given Carlisle's recent declaration that post up play is dead. Here's part of it: The post-up just isn't a good play anymore. It's a low-value situation.

Our numbers are very substantial that when he (Porzingis) spaces beyond the 3-point line, you know, we're a historically good offensive team. And when any of our guys go in there, our effectiveness is diminished exponentially. It's counterintuitive, I understand that, but it's a fact."We don't post anybody up. We post Luka up every once in a while when he has a real small guy on him. But even those situations, the value of those situations has plummeted. We've got to realize that this game has changed. It's changed. It's just a fact. Many of these new offensive systems are designed to lure the opponent into the post to open up the three, which is often what the Bulls do. The Mavs were ahead just a basket or two when Barea went out late in the first quarter, and he didn't play much the rest of the game, anyway. The Bulls seemed to have more problems that game with the taller guy not born in the United States.

Ateeq Ahmed:

What is the status on Wendell? Hated seeing him go down. He's a double-double machine. Gafford should see a lot more playing time now. That tomahawk he threw down in Dallas was amazing and shows how athletic he is.

Sam Smith:

It's a tough break (at least not a break) for the Bulls, and especially Wendell, which again could keep him out of All-Star weekend like last year after his January injury. Is that his cruelest month? Wendell was saying that night in Dallas that it could be the rest of the month with the sprain, though he hadn't been examined back in Chicago yet. Those sorts of ankle sprains are difficult to project and often can take just days or weeks. Or even months. When Joakim Noah sprained his ankle in that ill-fated 76ers series in 2012 when Derrick Rose was hurt. Noah couldn't play for two months.

We sort of knew that but Thibodeau kept saying publicly it was day-to-day, so what can you do? It's a blow to the Bulls because while Wendell doesn't look like Gobert, he is a defensive force for the Bulls with his activity and relentless play with offensive rebounds. The Bulls late Thursday announced Carter will be out four to six weeks. Boylen started Thad Young with Markkanan against the Pelicans. I was hoping to see Gafford for the potential of his rim protection and to provide bigger defensive size and a lob dunker with the starters. Satoransky is adept at that. I suspect it all remains now up for discussion and it will change according to opponent matchups. I can see Young starting against Indiana Friday since they play Myles Turner. Saturday against Drummond?

Andrew Brown:

Drummond for: Sato - wipes the 3 years Thad - wipes the 3 years Carter - only because Lauri is better at the 4 and stretch the floor. Also, this is the most attractive piece for the pistons 2nd rounder

Sam Smith:

Yes, trading season. The latest rumor with Atlanta involved Drummond, who probably will opt-out and be an unrestricted free agent this summer. So especially where the Bulls are this season, it probably doesn't make much sense as a potential rental. Can you persuade him to resign with you (at a maximum, of course) by having him early? Big, big risk. I know, I know, the Bulls need to take some risks. But that one? The Pistons have held off joining the lottery/rebuild madness of recent years, probably because of a new arena and the notion to remain competitive. They haven't been and now with Blake Griffin out for the season with surgery, the Pistons probably take the plunge. It's not a summer of big free agents, which means Giannis is under contract. So there could be a race for Drummond even if he's never led his team anywhere and long has been considered as only marginally interested in basketball. But he sure does put up some amazing numbers. I wouldn't be surprised if you could get him for some contracts and a No. 1 pick. With the contract of Hassan Whiteside expiring, there's been speculation Drummond will go to Portland if he opts out. Or maybe Dallas if they can clear some space or….

Alex Lauder:

Are the Bulls building a list to eventually trade for Anthony Davis? Or do they see Lauri, Wendel/White/Gafford/Zach as the players that are going to bring a championship to Chicago?

Sam Smith:

Davis declined that Lakers contract offer, but that was a formality since he can make much more money as a free agent next summer, and everyone expects it will be with the Lakers. It appears the Lakers are playing for the top of the conference and the Finals with LeBron still playing well, so it seems to make little sense Davis will leave, especially since the Lakers already have started building a statue for him outside the arena. I'm pretty sure the Bulls believe they need some more talent. I believe they have a better base of talent than they've shown in games thus far.

Jason Kuang:

The Bulls seem to have a glut of guards, Satoransky/Dunn/Coby/Harrison/et al. Have you heard anything about their plans with their rotations going forward and if any of those guys would be up for trades? Coby would seem the heir apparent at PG/SG if he ever figures out how to do something other than shoot?

Sam Smith:

I doubt White ever becomes what we think of—or once did—as a point guard. I've noted before this era has plenty of so-called point guards who don't much care to pass the ball. Coby certainly is willing, but at this point, it's not his game. The problem with a point guard, which is the quarterback of the offense—and quarterback, as the Chicago Bears have discovered—is a willingness to play the position doesn't transcend a feel for playing the position. You can't teach the sense of the game. There was a wonderful little book titled A Sense of Where You Are written by John McPhee about Bill Bradley when both were at Princeton. Bradley talked about it as just a feel for anticipating a play, where an opponent might be, the ball. It's a sense the great ones have. Bob Cousy actually talked about seeing things behind him.

That's not learned. It can't be measured in combines, which is why there are so many out of position players in pro sports. Coby's a talent and willing. And very young. So who knows what and how he develops. For now, he's a shooting guard. And if the Bulls want to win games, that's how he should be played. If they want to develop him for the future, that's different. Dunn's future will be something to watch as trade deadline approaches. He's embraced the Patrick Beverley disrupter model well, which could be useful for a playoff team. Do the Bulls want to invest in him? It's a question that will play out leading to the Feb. 6 deadline. There's no question he's become a valuable player again. The way this season has gone there obviously are considerations being made about who is part of the future. I suspect Dunn is the only guard whose certainty is uncertain for now.

Alejandro Yegros:

Lauri's offensive game has bounced back and he is looking like Lauri, but his rebounding game has not. He is rebounding the lowest percentage of shots in his career, and I can't remember the last time he had a double-digit rebounding game. The factors I can think of are: 1.) The scheme is different? 2.) RoLo isn't around anymore to box everybody out and help Lauri pad his numbers with uncontested rebounds 3.) this is who he is, not what he did before. How do you rate these or other factors?

Sam Smith:

I like the Lopez take because it reminds me of Luc Longley with Rodman. I recall Rodman actually asking Longley to clear out and seal so he could get the rebound and the stat. Luc being a true mate and one of the more accommodating teammates had no problem with giving up stats to make Dennis happy. Robin was like that. He liked being a teammate as his current wrestling shows indicate. Plus, Markkanen is playing fewer minutes this season. The bigger thing was that in the transition to Jim Boylen, the Bulls began playing slower and more deliberately last season and Markkanen was often in better position on the defensive boards. The defense is scrambled more now with the aggressive attack on the ballhandler and emphasis on turnovers. Then there's the priority of trying to run shooters off the three-point line. So even at seven feet tall, you can't be everywhere. It's also why the Bulls give up a lot of those dunks because once an offense breaks the show and the backline protects the corner three, the lane opens. Defense, we often hear, is played on a string. The Bulls' still shows some fraying.

Cosimo Sarti:

How big is it for D-Rose to take part in the All-Star Saturday in his hometown after all that he's been through? And it's not just a gift from the league, he's playing like an All-Star PG! He is the only Detroit player that can create shots for himself and others, has the ball in his hands at all times and with him on the court the Pistons have the NBA's best offense despite their personnel. With Kemba, Jimmy, Irving, Trae, and Simmons basically lock-ins for the Sunday game, who do you think gets the last guard spot? Is Derrick in the mix for it?

Sam Smith:

Derrick returning for All-Star weekend to the skills competition, if it becomes official, will actually be one of the weekend highlights. That's the way to sell tickets to that event. I've believed with what he has accomplished thus far in his career-high school, college, pro and international—Rose is a Hall of Famer. If he makes an All-Star team like Hall of Famers Grant Hill and Bernard King did after major injuries, then Rose will eventually be voted in because in his prime he was better and more accomplished than either of those players. Rose is popular with fans as evidenced by being fourth in the All-Star fan voting, well ahead of players having better seasons. Though Rose is having an excellent season and has at least two game-winning shots for a team where that opportunity is rare. The fan voting is blended with media and players for the starters, but Trae Young even with the lowly Hawks and Kemba Walker seem most likely for now.

The coaches selecting the reserves usually lean toward players from winning teams, which will hurt Rose and the Bulls Zach LaVine. Zach is fifth in fan voting ahead of Kyle Lowry, Jaylen Brown and Ben Simmons. This shows fans do appreciate how good LaVine has played and that perhaps he's even respected more outside Chicago. The Bulls' record sliding could hurt LaVine, though he has performed well enough to be an All-Star. I wouldn't hesitate to say he's had a much bigger impact than players like Simmons and Brown on winning. But with LaVine's it's probably been more with keeping the Bulls from having maybe five wins instead of 13. When you are still more than 10 games below .500 the coaches hold that against you. Same with Rose. This is where the NBA steps in. Those ballots for the reserves are secret and who really is going to complain about not seeing Lowry or Brown as an All-Star when the community could see LaVine or Rose? The commissioner makes injury replacements, so that could be anyone. How great a story would that be for the NBA in Chicago: Ryan Arcidiacono NBA All-Star?

Matt Parker:

Luka Doncic with a leather ball. Like Coltrane with a sax, Belushi in a sketch comedy, Jerry Garcia soloing on a ballad. Athletics as fine art. A Beautiful thing.

Sam Smith:

We are all witnesses

Art Alenik:

Regarding LaVine, I don't remember anyone being injured in the dunk contest, but it could happen. Should the Bulls even want him to be in it? And the dunk contest itself hasn't been interesting since Vince Carter. All gimmicks now... and retries. In fact, the 3-pt. contest is the only part of All-Star weekend I actually enjoy.

Sam Smith:

Zach talked about both contests earlier this week in Dallas and seemed to indicate he'd prefer the three-point contest, but, of course, he most wants to play in the Sunday game. I'm not sure how that really works behind the scenes as the NBA manipulates a lot regarding All-Star weekend since it's not a real conspiracy. It's a show. If Zach agrees to the dunk contest do they wink him into the Sunday game as a reserve? It's just an exhibition, after all. They can put on whoever they want, really. Zach, as I've suggested before, has played well enough to be in the game. He clearly wants to be involved in the weekend.

If it comes down to the contests, I would hope it's the three-point. After all, he won the dunk twice. Why compete against yourself? I don't see how it can help him physically to strain himself for dunks for a half-hour against basically backups for other teams. It was one thing when the stars, like Jordan and Dominique, went at it. Hamidou Diallo won last year. Really, do you know who he plays for? Or even if he's still in the NBA? Dennis Smith, John Collins and Miles Bridges were the others. No wonder I watched a CSI rerun. I'd rather see LaVine in the skills challenge against Rose than risk anything in the dunk. I don't believe anyone ever has tried the contest after an ACL in the pros. I agree the three is more fun. At least you know the score instead of waiting for Dee Brown and Candace Parker to tell you what they think.

Mitch Tobin:

With Valentine's Day about a month away, I'm wondering when Coach Boylen will decide to send some love Denzel Valentine's way and start playing him again. It's not as if the Bulls are some unstoppable juggernaut that is destroying the opposition. Yes, the Bulls have often played better recently, but they're still losing. I realize Valentine has his flaws, but he's solid and seems poised in pressure situations. I can't see the logic in keeping him on the bench. Valentine has been patient and professional, but he must be very frustrated.

Sam Smith:

Boylen was questioned about his longer rotation, so he shortened it and the Bulls improved for a bit and Valentine again disappeared after a few good games and then a few not so good. Injuries are mounting again and Chandler Hutchison has struggled in his return. Boylen says the time out has set back Hutchison. So I expect Valentine gets another look at some point. He's also someone to watch with trade deadline coming up if the Bulls get into needing a player in a package. When Valentine has played he's shown shooting and passing skills that could interest teams.

Kevin Newquist:

At what point was traveling renamed Euro Step? Why should some of the best athletes in sport need to take another step to complete a play?

Sam Smith:

Technically it was about 10 years ago, about when everyone had to be reassured with a hand slap every time they missed a free throw. But I digress. It was common in Europe where three steps were generally allowed even though they called it two and then imported once the European players started coming, like Sarunas Marciulionis and then with Manu Ginobili, another known practitioner. The players seemed to like it because it made it easier when they palmed the ball trying to make a crossover dribble. So the NBA actually rewrote the rule to mention two steps instead of one and as a fan of the old Jackie Gleason show I got into it because I like to yell, "And away we go."