Ask Sam Mailbag: 11.17.17
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to answer readers' questions
I am super jealous of the Sixers. We are kinda ahead of the Sixers. When they started the rebuild they had nothing. We have Lauri and hopefully a healthy Zach Lavine and what could be a top 3 pick. Draft right and make some smart signings and we can be back real fast.
Sam: The Bulls probably like your thinking. No question the 76ers are in great shape now. But they just did what teams without enough talent do; they lose. My objection-and obviously the NBA's because the league changed the lottery system starting in 2019 because the 76ers were making the game look corrupt and unscrupulous with transactions to purposely lose for four years-was the disdain they showed for competition. Compete. When you have less talent you will lose enough. Then you have to get lucky. The 76ers still do with Joel Embiid, who now is playing like an MVP candidate. But he missed two years injured, and like with the Bulls and Derrick Rose, if he gets hurt again the 76ers are back in the lottery. The 76ers had their share of lottery mistakes, like Okafor over Porzingis, Carter-Williams over Steven Adams, Kelly Olynyk, Dennis Schroder and, like everyone else, Antetokounmpo. They flipped Elfrid Payton to trade down to get Saric passing on LaVine; though so did the Bulls. Simmons is terrific and should be Rookie of the Year, but all this "process" stuff is one superstar guy, whom they got with the No. 3 pick after Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. Who had an injury history. He was the default pick in that draft. At No. 3, every fantasy league GM would have picked him. Aaron Gordon went fourth and Dante Exum fifth. Hopefully, Embiid will remain healthy. He's too great to lose for fans of the league. I love watching him. He's a six inches taller version of Hakeem Olajwon with about as much finesse and sophistication. The Bulls are in good shape with their "process." They'll likely get a top three pick. They just need the next Embiid to be there.
As a Knicks critic, these Knicks wins and KPs growth is slowly killing me.
Sam: Phil did it! I know you won't hear that in New York and I'm going to be a bit more supportive than most, but this is Phil's team. And what Phil tried to do for two years, which is trade Carmelo Anthony to enhance Porzingis. You say he tried to trade Portingis after Porzingis blew off the post season meeting? No, he did what all GMs of 30-win teams do: Ask what you can get for your best players. It's your job. There never were serious trade talks. But it's obvious Carmelo's goal was to get Phil out. Sure, Carmelo is personable, so the media sided with him. Phil didn't meet with media. No, it's not about journalistic fairness; certainly not in sports. That's OK; Phil chose that path. He knew the consequences. But he was trying to get Anthony to drop his no-trade the owner gave him and promising Anthony he'd get him anywhere he wanted to be. Anthony said no until he won his little war. But Phil always understood Anthony wasn't about basketball and you could never succeed as a team with a now aging and slowing guy who stopped everything and played for himself. Phil drafted Porzingis and was booed for doing so. He signed Courtney Lee and drafted Frank Ntilikina. He put the pieces in place for the Knicks to grow. I assume he'll also get a ring.
I'm surprised the Thunder aren't doing better with 3 stars and apparently a strong commitment to defense. I guess I have to see them play a good team to have a better understanding.
Sam: the Thunder looked much better than a .500 team against the Bulls. Those were bad losses. It looked like based on the way I've seen them before Westbrook didn't much feel he needed to do much early. He dominates what happens there. When he's more engaged he'll feel he can do everything (or needs to) and takes some of those crazy threes, many of which go in. The guy is remarkable, and gave Kris Dunn quite a lesson in the difference between defense and NBA superstar defense. Westbrook got everything he wanted in that stretch in the second quarter and then pretty much let everyone else play. He doesn't often do that based on how much he had to do last season. I'm still interested to see how Anthony and George deal with that for the long term.
I'm really worried that our point guard play is slowing down the growth of Lauri Markkanen. It's clear that our guards cannot bring the ball to him as often as they should. Which brings me, should we try to acquire or trade for a veteran point guard?
I'm also thinking about Dunn and Grant not really progressing well because they do not have a veteran point guard mentoring them. I really think that Dunn and Grant both have no idea how to control the pace of a team. Aside from them not having tight dribbles.
I'm thinking Leandro barbosa or Sergio Rodriguez.
Sam: No time to panic. Though it has looked pretty bad. But let's remember Dunn just got back from missing most of training camp and the early season. Neither of those guys are point guards and actually may be retired. Yes, it's looked bad, but as the Bulls made clear this is a tryout, prove yourself season. So if that's the plan. Let them try.
I hope that Fred gives Dunn a good long look, and doesn't demote him again as soon as he has a bad game or two. To be honest, I think we have no choice but to put the ball in his hands and try to develop him into the player we hoped he would be. No other Bull even has a chance to become a real live starting #1... and we need one. If nothing else, it'll tell us how hard we want to pursue someone else in the draft.
Sam: Hey, don't forget about Cameron Payne. I agree, the Bulls have to try to ride this out with Dunn and see not only if he's a point guard, but if he projects as a high quality NBA player. So far he's struggled to find any position with poor shooting and ball handling. It seems his best chance is to be a physical, penetrating point guard; less in the image of a Wall or Irving as a penetrator and scorer. Perhaps a version of that. The Bulls have played too much offense cutting without purpose of scoring. It seems almost just sliding to get a three. Dunn is physical and needs to begin to draw contact and get to the line and some easy points. He seems more like a rookie after a confidence robbing season in Minneapolis. Let's give him this season. Grant as well.
What a steal with Blakeney. Guy even looks better than Dunn or Grant.
Sam: There's your good news/bad news thing. Good pickup, but if he beats out your first round draft picks...It's a bit soon for that since Blakeney has played one game. And scored after most of the Thunder players had left for early dinners.
Apparently Niko is insisting that he will not play on the same team as Portis. When Niko is medically approved for contact, can the bulls just have him play for the Windy City team to demonstrate he is able to play?
Sam: That should go over well. No, with a third year player you need his permission to play in the G-league.
This can really alter Lebron's legacy if (unlike Jordan's late 30s with the Bulls), Lebron finds himself playing 2nd-fiddle in his own conference to a team led by a guy who openly wanted to leave Lebron. This can stir up years of intriguing debate on Lebron's place in NBA History. Perhaps I have been right in the past year as I've been arguing with people that Lebron is not the leader/competitor/ or winner that belongs in the top 5 players of all time. His Finals record is one piece of evidence
I honestly would not choose him in the top 5 of NBA legends: Kareem, Wilt, Russell, Jordan, Bird, Magic... then you might want to throw in Baylor and the big O, plus Jerry West. All are more savvy competitors who pose a daunting task to have to face them. When Lebron has the ball in his hands at the end of a game, he does not command the same respect as the top 5 I just mentioned. When the game is on the line, Lebron has not worked hard to a) develop a go-to set of moves that give him a high % signature shot and b) to develop his free throw shooting into a dependable rock imparting fear in defenders. Kyrie has already hit a game-winning game 7 shot. Let's see if he can build on his arsenal and game-winning skillset.
Sam: Well, that top five/10 thing is fairly arbitrary. LeBron's a great one, and perhaps as some people have said over the years more of a super charged Scottie Pippen (with a lot more game winning shots) than a Jordan. The interesting part is whether the Celts with Irving can upend him in the playoffs, and the oh what a summer it will be of LeBron speculation; if it wasn't going to be already. I'm not ready to dismiss the Cavs, but they have a difficult season ahead with trying to work in so many non shooting regulars like Rose and Wade with Isaiah Thomas coming back and very mad at Boston. The East is going to be a lot more interesting than we believed.
Now that the Bulls will host the All Star game. Lavine can wait until then to participate in the dunk contest one last time. He's gotta be excited about that. He can focus on getting healthy now and not feel pressured about the dunk contest for a couple seasons.
Sam: Good idea. I hadn't thought about that, but it would be a heck of a reintroduction and follow up to Jordan's famous 1988 dunk contest. And just in case the Bulls don't have an All-Star...
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