Ask Sam Mailbag: 11.15.2019

Sam opens his mailbag and answers your questions about Coby White, Lauri Markkanen, the Knicks, and the Bulls
Coby White rebounds
by Sam Smith

Body

Kent Hyun

Fans love Coby, the last time I can recall chants were for D. Rose. I don't call any player in recent history, not even butler.

Sam Smith

I guess there's something to that saying about people loving the little guy. Though it did take him making seven three pointers in one quarter. I hate it when I'm Sad Sam. It probably was the best moment of a season that badly needed one, especially with three of four home losses coming in, and mostly ugly ones. Boy, did they need that; girl, too. White seems like a genuinely decent kid, polite, respectful, serious with a light hearted quality. Not that there's really anything wrong with the pumping-my-chest thing since mostly it's in the interest of entertainment and it's baseball which maintains those unwritten rules. With White you get the sense that both he expects to do well, so he doesn't need to celebrate—you know, act like you've been there before—and there's confidence but respect for his opponent and the difficulty of the task. It's why perhaps there's a generational attraction to him for his philosophy of behavior and hirsute ensemble appearance.


Coby White shoots

Longgiang Le

I'm sure there'll be some down times but White is something to work with. If he keeps working on his shots, that makes his dribble penetration more effective. Can also set up other teammates for open looks. Does Coby start at the point with Zach, Lauri , Wendell and Thad or Porter?

Sam Smith

Well, if the season had started Tuesday he'd he shooting 54 percent on threes instead of 31 percent. But, yes, if he can do what he did against the Knicks, the league's worst offensive team and only 25th poorest on defense, then roll with him. We're still with the he's 19 thing. So teenagers have good days and bad days. But if Satoransky doesn't become more aggressive offensively, the Bulls might have to make some decisions. White isn't really a point guard in the sense of being someone who helps others get points easier. Not that he wouldn't like to because he is a good teammate, but he just doesn't see the game that way. You either are a point guard or not. He's not, though in this era it's not a disqualifier. It was interesting against the Knicks that coach Jim Boylen made a point to point out Zach LaVine's facilitating. Which perhaps is beginning to make the case to load to offense with White, LaVine, Porter when he shows up again (Hutchison?), Markkanen and Carter. To me, the makeup of the roster has been more Houston-like to suggest a team that has to outscore opponents to win. Clearly, the Bulls selected White to eventually be a starter. One issue the team has had—Warning! Warning! It's early, by the way—is with this concept of having multiple players carry the ball forward, there are too many weak decision makers trying to make strong decisions. So the ball can get in the wrong hands at the wrong time in the wrong place. True point guards get the ball to the shooter where he's ready to shoot. When various players are in that position that's less likely to occur. So being "open" becomes more a box score statistic than a basketball reality. We may be seeing the outlines of the athletic team the Bulls are envisioning wit a starting group that includes White, LaVine, Hutchison, Markkanen and Carter and a defensive unit with Dunn, Young, et al. It's clear with rotations changing almost daily with Kornet the latest out for a bit that the team remains unsettled. And let's remember White was about 15 percent on threes the last two weeks before Tuesday. For now the greatest constant is change.


Kris Dunn drives against the Milwaukee Bucks

Brodie Larsh

What lineup changes would you make? I feel like Satoransky should be viewed as a basketball version of a utility player, not a full time starter at any position, but starts whenever there's an injury or a guy needs rest. Otto's hurt? Start Sato. Wendells hurt? Slide Laurie and Otto down and start Sato. Zach needs rest? Start Sato. White should be first off the bench though. Actual rotation should look like this: Dunn, LaVine, Porter, Markkanen, Carter.

Sam Smith

It seems Dunn has found a role, and by the accounts of the coaching staff—and his play—has embraced it as a defensive factor off the bench. He showed against the Knicks some of the offense he had two years ago and packed away while he's labored through this transition, which has to be personally difficult. He went from one of the most sought after guards in college and the draft to virtually out of the league, and now to a solid rotational assignment. His pugnacity may have saved the win against the Knicks before White did. The Bulls were going through the motions to start, and Dunn led a second group that flummoxed and rattled the Knicks, forcing mistake after mistake and giving the Bulls an edge to hand off to White. The offseason fear with Dunn was he'd be a distraction because of the disappointment. Nothing of the sort, but I suspect the eventual starters are White at point and Hutchison at small forward. If things go badly, that might come sooner than anticipated. Or very goodly if White keeps making seven threes a game.


Julius Randle #30 of the New York Knicks drives to the basket against the Chicago Bulls on November 12, 2019

Dimitri Veron

Just read your article regarding the game Coby White won by himself from downtown. Do you think the Knicks had a decent performance overall? I mean it was tied at the beginning of the 4th. I did had a slight hope for beating the Bulls once again, since we managed to beat the Mavs. But hey, your team is far more well built. To me our biggest flaw is Randle, because of his lack of defense. When you guys signed Thad Young, I was jealous because I had been dreaming about this gritty, defense-minded forward to come to the Knicks to prevent us from collapsing defensively.

I do believe Ntilikina, Robinson, Knox and of course Barrett are keepers. Smith Jr. I don't know, his physical potential is huge, but his jump shot suspicious. Taj I always liked, good to have him in the locker room for the young guns. Portis i'm not that much of a fan, but I do like his energy and hustle. I fear that our front office will jump into trade talks as the december 15th will come closer... I am still sore at porzingis' departure, but what can you do when your franchise player tell you there is no way he will re-sign ? hey, we got ourselves two first round picks, so hopefully dallas wins the lottery ! RJ is far more NBA ready that many scouts thought, what's your opinion about him ? let's be patient for once in NYC.

Sam Smith

I see from the email you're in France, so I'll consider discussing the Knicks, my childhood team, and the sympathy you deserve following them in France as if France doesn't have enough issues, too. They're awful! And they're .500 this season with the Bulls. OK, it's early. Basically, the only guys I'd keep is Barrett, Robinson and Bobby P for old time sake, and perhaps Morris for becoming a senior. I don't fully believe in this stuff that when a player gets sad you have to trade him. The basic rule in sports, law enforcement and dating is never to get personally involved. Other teams make that mistake, too, but the Knicks have compounded it with the most mismatched roster in the league. With no shooting and thus no spacing for him, Randle has reverted to his rookie season of having no idea how to play. I understand; they pushed their chips all in for Durant and Kyrie and they went to Brooklyn. Geez; I guess that says enough. I'm surprised how good Barrett is. I like him a lot as an old head kind of player. He is effective without moving too fast. His shot is better than advertised and he's a smart player who makes plays. I kind of see another 10-year drought for the Knicks unless this kid they put on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 15 years old (bad idea) is the real thing and the Knicks get him with their third top three pick in the next three years with their fourth coach in that span.


Kevin Burns

You didn't like Woolly Mamba as a nickname I sent in for Coby White

How ‘bout, "Lightning"?

Sam Smith

I don't find Coby that difficult to pronounce; I'll probably stay with that.


Gorav Raheja

What do you think is Coby White's ceiling? Ben Gordon?

Sam Smith

Better than Ben since he can dribble, though Ben's shot was more pure. I'm still a little uncertain about Coby's shot mechanics. I suspect it is a factor in his streakiness. Though we always have to say, he's just 19.


Taj Gibson #67 of the New York Knicks and Wendell Carter Jr. #34 of the Chicago Bulls fights for position during the game against the New York Knicks on November 12, 2019 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.

Art Alenik

Speaking of Wendell, still only 6' 9", but he's been playing a lot bigger than that. Also using his speed & jump better.

Everything's working except his advertised 3 pt. range. I'm very impressed.

Sam Smith

So he can be Al Horford, who by the way attempted 18 threes his first six years in the NBA. We tend to judge these kids way too soon, which teams also have to do since they want to get paid that big contract before they're 24. Wendell's strength always was going to be his urgency. I've been most impressed this season with his ability to keep balls in play and follow misses as he also makes up for the lack of explosion with fundamental play as most players still believe a box out is the Amazon delivery outside. He'll still have issues with the bigger centers like Drummond and Embiid—as everyone does—but he's proving to be as promised, which often isn't the case.


Michael Staine

WCJ is working hard and overcoming his lack of true center size. However the Bulls need a real center. With the Cavs in tank mode I suggest the Bulls make move for Tristan Thompson. TT is beast at center, he and WCJ a the 4 would be tough presence down low. Also Otto gets muscled too often and doesn't have the game to be a quality scorer. Sending Otto/Gafford to the Grizzlies for Crowder and Iggy would be ideal. Both contracts are ending after this season and both players are ideal leaders and tough vets to mentor Hutch and Valentine.

Sam Smith

So not everyone agrees. Trades already? Patience, patience. Though neither of those make much sense for both sides. I don't see Thompson as a center, either, since he's about the same size as Wendell and I believe Wendell will project to be better. But I'm not convinced the Bulls team we see now will be the one finishing the season. Because so many players changed teams and thus cannot be traded until mid-December, the next month will be vital for all teams to determine who they are and whether whom they have is who they thought they were. Iguodala is angling for a contending team and probably would go home to play golf without that. Plus, can we at least let Gafford play a game or two before we give up?


William Blanco

Bulls fans are getting worried about Lauri's performance. I agree up to certain extent. He has regressed a little. But, he is only 22. Big guys take a little longer to reach their potential. Maybe he's putting to much effort to become stronger instead of becoming a better player. He can work very hard on things such as dribbling, coming off a screen to shoot or stay tall when guarded by smaller defenders (he tends to shrink a little during post play).

The strength of his body will come naturally as a result of the work he puts in to develop his skills. He is not ready to be the star of this team. He needs more time. I still have faith.

Sam Smith

I believe the Bulls do, also. It's difficult to get a sense of Markkanen because he remains so detached outside the team framework. He's still averaging about 15 points and 7.5 rebounds with everyone asking what's wrong. So not exactly out of the league yet. He's so skilled he'll be a productive player for a long time. So, OK, maybe not all-NBA. The Bulls have been nudging him a little toward stardom, which probably isn't who he is. He talks about being a good teammate a lot, which is good, but that's not who the stars are. They're the guys who teammates often resent because of their drive and attitude. You have to like Lauri. Many didn't always like MJ, Kobe, Kyrie, Oscar, Isiah, Rick, Russ, Elgin, Russell, Wilt, and, you get the picture. For the immediate analysis, Markkanen seems to be uncertain finding his place in an offense that emphasizes the three-point shot. You'd say, that's Lauri! Then everyone tells him to get to the basket, be tougher! So he's been somewhat hesitant at times because he is the type who wants to please. But he hasn't missed a game, and that's big for him. He may not become Kevin Durant, but I'm not that concerned about Markkanen's long term abilities.


Lauri Markkanen looks

Eric Cohen

We need to be candid about Lauri's season to date. This is more than just a shooting slump, but let's start there. How many consecutive quarters has his offense been a virtual non-factor? Forty? His stroke is so beautiful that unless the added muscle changed his mechanics for the worse (or there's an injury we don't know about), I'll continue to be optimistic. More concerning to me is the rest of the package right now. Uncertain midrange game, absent post game. Penetration, his other supposed tool, has shown lack of agility and a befuddling looseness with the ball. Defense is...adequate? From my living room I'm not seeing emotion, joy or confidence. I can accept the shooting slump, but shouldn't our prized player add something elsewhere in the meantime? I hope I'm not overreacting or making things worse.

Sam Smith

I'm also going with the small sample. After all, we've seen this guy two seasons and didn't feel any of this before. You're right about the on court emotion thing—he is stoic on court, which may be a cultural thing—but I've tried to watch him in the locker room even after poor games, and he hasn't sulked or acted down or desperate. He doesn't like doing interviews in group sessions, but individually chatting with a reporter he's seemed the same, even somewhat light hearted. His personality seems like the difference between a laugh out loud (I think that is the LOL thing which I always thought meant lots of luck) and a wry smirk. He's the wry smirk. He seems still to be the kid in the back of the room with the droll observation.

Obviously, new fan favorite White takes a lot of shots, LOL. Yes, Lot of Looks. If Lauri were Durant, he'd likely tell Coby to pass him the ball and make those passes better, and then be quiet. That's not Markkanen. You've got it going; he's smiling on the inside. This new offense seems to rely on player reactions, which is a longer process than called plays. It seems to me there's less going for Markkanen, and in those sorts of systems sometimes the strongest survive. The Bulls assist numbers are not great this season, and only lately have I seen the ball moving more. I still expect Markkanen to have a breakout stretch like last February when he does a 30 and 15 for a few weeks. But with White and LaVine and the way the Bulls are playing, it does seem his time as the featured No. 1 has passed. Which I doubt bothers him in the least. Markkanen on his college team averaged fewer shots than Alonzo Trier and just barely more than Rawle Alkins and Dusan Ristic. Trier even attempted more threes. I remember scouts saying it was the coach who didn't involve him enough. I'm not so sure about that.


Jim Boylen talks to the team during a timeout

Peter Zievers

Is Boylen a doctrinaire stats guy now? That's a little curious; he struck me as a little more hard boiled.

I tend to agree that basketball players play best to their strength. A lousy shooter from the arc is just going to create more rebounds. If he simply shoots better from midrange, 2 points is better than open floor going the other way.

Sam Smith

Boylen has been something of a paradox this season, so I think everyone is waiting to see how things develop. He came in as this, yes, hard boiled (and nosed), defensive, three yards and a cloud of dust guy. He talked all last season as the replacement coach of scoring inside, physical play, beating your man to the box, wearing football helmets if they'd let him. Then he has his first training camp and seems to adopt most of the philosophy of his predecessor, emphasizing speed, multiple ball handlers to outlet and make a play, pulling up for threes and high paced offense. I suspect some has to do with the coaching staff changes, and, after all, if you don't subscribe to shooting a lot of threes, layups and free throws, the analytics brigade will make you practice baseball infield shifts. I like a mixture of shots and variations. But I was the one who was most excited watching the World Series when the Nationals pulled off a hit and run. Boylen is the one being judged on whether it will work. I'm taking his word for now that this is the NBA and I have to evolve.


Ateeq Ahmed

I have been reading a lot of opinions about how the Bulls lose double digit leads and blow games they should win, with the Knicks, Cavs, and Lakers games as examples.

While I agree that those may have been winnable games, I don't think the point disparity was actually that great. If you look at quarter by quarter scoring, they were a lot closer than people's memories. In some cases, we either won or lost quarters by only a few points.

They always say the NBA is a make or miss league. Couldn't some of our losses be attributed to the other teams making adjustments and themselves start hitting shots?

Sam Smith

Most NBA games are decided by a few points, so you never want to suggest you are close to winning when you don't. All the games are about making crucial plays; when you lose, you didn't. And it's not a make or miss league. I hate when coaches haul that mendacity around. If it were a make or miss league, then who needs you? It isn't a make or miss league because two things are important, talent and the ability to put players in the right places to make those shots and plays. It's a league about making plays on both ends, and the teams which do that are the ones that succeed; not just the ones standing around hoping shots go in.


Steven Gledhill

I know you hate this, because it sounds like tanking, but the losing is still the best thing for these Bulls. I like that these kids usually are competitive, but they do not have enough size or athleticism collectively to be good enough to win consistently. What they are able to do is beat the teams that have the same disadvantages they have; the teams that are young and also not as seasoned and are vulnerable like the Bulls are.

There is little doubt that Coby White is the real deal. Everyone (including myself) who was disappointed the Bulls didn't land Darius Garland (8.8 pts, 33% FG pct) in the last draft can relax now that it appears the Bulls have the better talent in Coby.

How did the 76ers get so good? Enough top picks in the draft until two of them became legit studs in the league in Joel Embid and Ben Simmons. But they apparently missed on Okafor, Noel, and Fultz). How did the Celtics get good? Enough top picks in the draft that they were able to hit on a few.

So while no one wants the Bulls to "tank", staying in the lottery until they finally get their true NBA star player is how they'll need to go about it. We can be critical of Pax and Gar's picks in the draft but seriously, who else would they have taken? Is John Collins better than Lauri Markkanen? Should they have known that late pick Pascal Siakam would be a superb NBA star when he was drafted back in 2016? Who knew? It's great that these young Bulls are usually competitive. But to me, it's good that that they will win 28-32 games or so and be back in the lottery again in 2020. Maybe, they get into the top 3 and get lucky drafting their Joel- or Zion-type. That would change everything.

Sam Smith

Geez, already! Let's lose again? And it's just a step or two from tanking. Obviously, you're logic isn't analytically based, and if it's not you could be in trouble if you are on social media. They're out there! You're in essence suggesting the Bulls remain mediocre/bad and then defy the odds like the Pelicans did—or the 2008 Bulls—and get the top three pick by moving up from eighth. The Celtics cleverly parlayed their former team into Russian overreach for a rebuild. The Russians have moved on to the elections from sports. The Suns and Kings have tried this plan. For 10 years, though the Suns finally seem to be breaking out of it. But that seems more with some good acquisitions. The Bulls believed they could pursue the same route with a core of talented young players with Markkanen, LaVine and now White, who are talented. So Satoransky, Young and Porter. Porter's been out, so it's been a stumbling start. I still believe the Bulls have a chance to push out of this start with roles, skills and a system better defined and determined. But imagine how bad it would be if the Bulls had Zion instead Coby.


Tony Reed

I was watching NBA Today last week and saw Isiah Thomas. He made a very salient, poignant point about today's game and analytics. He's predicting that players will eventually revolt and revert back to the "natural" way they are used to playing. Basically saying the mid-range and "good shots" will prevail over step-back 3s and layups being forfeited for 3-point attempts.

Sam Smith

Revolution! I hope we don't have to get into that tree of liberty thing. There's obviously a divide with many of us not being raised on three-point basketball, noting they scored 120 points without threes. But kids playing today grow up shooting threes, and they seem to love it. I'll stop at parks sometimes to watch games, and usually the best kid who is dominant and can blow by everyone every time stands outside firing away with threes when he cannot get a breakaway dunk. I wouldn't mind more balance and diversity, but I don't expect it. Though my larger issue is why we've essentially changed the game to reward jump shooters and give them an extra point. Why don't we give an extra run or points for longer home runs or touchdown passes? How about extra points for charges and Arcidiacono gets to lead the league in scoring.

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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