Ask Sam Mailbag: 11.29.2019

Mark Zylstra:

Can you please rank the Bulls players from best to worst and send it to Boylen? It seems like he is just writing their names on a dart board and throwing randomly when deciding who gets minutes.

Sam Smith:

That's actually a worthwhile exercise in these troubling times. Here's my list:

  • Zach LaVine
  • Zach LaVine
  • He's been good enough for a double mention. And not just a stat stuffer as some suggest since as he's basically done everything he's been asked, including some things not in his nature, like trying to shoot almost all the time for threes. He does try to defend even if he's never going to be very good at it, but he does try.

  • Lauri Markkanen — Two years can't be a mirage.
  • Wendell Carter — Never gives up despite fighting uphill at his size.
  • Tomas Satoransky — Defensive flaws, though he'll make plays.
  • Coby White — Soon to pass Satoransky, but still unaware of the difference between a good and bad shot
  • Otto Porter Jr. - Frequent absences limit reliability.
  • Kris Dunn — Comeback story of the season.
  • Thaddeus Young — Shooting too many threes. Better mixing it up.
  • Valentine — Not a poor enough defender that his shooting should be ignored.
  • Hutchison — Recurrent injury issues.
  • Arcidiacono — Does all the energy things you love, but cannot be overplayed and overused.
  • Daniel Gafford — Shows promise in his activity.
  • Luke Kornet — A three-point shooter than needs to get inside more.
  • Shaquille Harrison — When Arcidiacono isn't ready, but not in tandem.
  • Cristiano Felicio — Can't blame him for this.
  • There's no debate from anyone being honest that these first 19 games for the Bulls have been anything but a huge disappointment given the expectations. Look, I believed as well, and this isn't the A-team. Sometimes a plan doesn't come together. Most of the media locally and nationally agreed that this mix of young players with the added veterans made sense for at least being competitive for the playoffs even if the Bulls did not get there. It's been so much less than expected, though these things can turn. I know, I know, heard it. A little more of Otto Porter and more of Lauri Markkanen, perhaps? I've said I'd rather force-feed LaVine, and especially Markkanen. My guess is Boylen is grasping just trying to get a win, which is understandable considering the circumstances. Sometimes you just need a win or two to change a lot. So he's put development aside no matter what he says, understandably, to eek out a win by trying someone new every time someone has a bad stretch. It is his first full season as a coach, and the expectations were much higher than in previous seasons. I suspect he's felt it coming down on him, so he tries sometimes too hard to get a win with all those different combinations. Though Boylen has probably clashed with Zach more than anyone, he appears to understand how much he needs him. Hopefully, Markkanen starts to get the chance to play through his rough patches.

    Kieron Smith:

    Considering Lauri's not pulling his weight this season, would it make sense trading him for Domantas Sabonis? Would it make sense to try and trade for LaMarcus Aldridge?

    Sam Smith:

    It's not a good idea to sell low. I'm more a believer that Markkanen is the guy we saw the first two seasons than the last five weeks. I'm still riding with him, though you never know what can happen if things don't turn around. Aldridge remains a highly productive and durable player, though he's 34, and the Bulls can't go for the hope-we-have-a-quick-fix method now. Though I could see Aldridge being traded. The Spurs are in a generational decline (for them) and while our attention has been focused on the Bulls, the Spurs have the identical record with arguably the game's best coach and a pair of All-Star level veteran players. So if you think the Bulls are having a bad season…It finally might be time for Spurs to make their changes and begin again. Aldridge with one more year after this on his contract could be a big addition for a contending team, though not so much for a developing team like the Bulls. Sabonis is a really good and intriguing player, tough with a nice midrange shooting touch, which would be a Bulls negative for now. But he just signed an extension which with the poison pill provisions for trade would make such a deal unlikely probably until he starts getting paid his full salary next season.I'd stay with Markkanen because I've seen too much that says he's still going to be worth keeping.

    Bill Tait:

    Have to say its been a disappointing start to the season, but there has been some good moments. Anyway there's a lot of talk of replacing Boylen or possibly trading Lavine or Markkanen. So what happens first trading players or replacing the coach? I feel we should just ride out the season and see what happens; maybe they don't make the playoffs but win 35/38 games; not great but an improvement over last year, if Boylen is fired who would be some of the replacements? I just wouldn't give up on Lavine or Markkanen just yet. Is the bar for this team set at making the playoffs? They only won 27 games last year and would need to win at least 41games based on the 8th seed from last year.

    Sam Smith:

    Actually that was a 22-win season, and this season to the playoffs was the stretch question we mostly were trying to avoid by suggesting they weren't trying as seriously to win last season with the Zion factor. But now they're really serious. You do know the Bulls at 6-13 are on a pace for 26 wins, which would be a four-game improvement. See, it's actually progress. OK, I'm kidding. So I'll drop the playoff push thing for a while. I know we keep looking at games and saying, "OK, Golden State, we've got that one," and then it doesn't go as planned. But there have been several below historical averages performances and say those improve and Porter makes an appearance, and, OK maybe that's a few more wins or fewer blown late leads and the Bulls are heading toward 35 wins? Not so great, but a substantial improvement from last season. I'm not consulted on these things, but at 20 games into the season despite the horrific losses, I suspect the Bull are operating your way for now with the ride it out philosophy as opposed to the majority of those writing me. Who Want Everyone Doing Pushups! Outside in the Rain! And Not Coming Back Again! These things can change in an hour, but if the games don't change much you never know what will occur.

    Ray Markovich:

    The three guard lineup is a disaster because two of the three guards (Dunn and Arch) are offensively challenged. More often than not they're getting outscored when they're on the floor together. I know Boylen is under contract for next few years and paying Hoiberg as well this year. And by the way, can you please stop the Chandler Hutchison Scottie Pippen comparisons. We'll be lucky if he's the next Roland Garrett.

    Sam Smith:

    I'd been hoping more for the three-guard lineup if you had, say, Curry, Thompson and Shaun Livingston. Dunn actually has been one of the positives in the quagmire with his fierce play. I felt going into the season looking at the starters and the expanded three-point philosophy, it was a Bulls team that would have to outscore teams. Sort of like the Wizards have been, around .500 but entertaining in high scoring games. Boylen with the defeats has taken the opposite tack to try to win with defense, and the Bulls have improved significantly with steals and turnovers. But they haven't been able to offset the offensive shortcomings. Three-guard sets have to always include Zach. C'mon, Dick Motta loved Rowland Garrett. Hutchison will be better than Garrett, but I think what we all said was Hutchison resembled Pippen in the open court. I think there's some good stuff there with Hutchison if he can stay on the court. Which also is a skill these days. You're probably right that if he's mentioned in a sentence with Pippen in the future it's probably more like he's no Scottie Pippen.

    Victor Devaldivielso:

    It's been a frustrating season so far. One day I like Boylen. Next day I don't. Markkanen doesn't seem involved in the offense like he should. Do you see starting lineup changes coming soon? I'm hoping Dunn gets a shot.

    Sam Smith:

    A shot to start? Or, you know, a shot? We have seen Dunn shoot better, particularly two years ago. He seems to have lost confidence, but to his credit plays hard. He might be an all-league defense candidate if the team were better. It's tough to claim great defense when you are losing by double digits so often. What, if not for you they'd lose by 18 instead of 12? Lauri, Lauri, Lauri. He's just got to shoot himself out of it, which does require shooting.

    Richard Meagher:

    What do you make of the proposed Changes (78 game schedule) Mid season tournament, reseeding team for the Playoffs and play in games. This looks pretty radical. I don't know if i like this.

    Sam Smith:

    Let's get this straight to start. A lot of this is about the awful load management/cutting class going on in the NBA with teams fearful of antagonizing players and players taking advantage of teams fearful of antagonizing players. It's why my favorite quote of the season was Erik Spoelstra when he said, ‘We're the Miami Heat. We don't do load management," Good for them, and a good reason why they've had a good start to the season with modest talent. This load management nonsense at a time the NBA basically has eliminated the preseason, cut back to backs, extended the season to eliminate four in five days is an existential threat for the NBA. If you don't know if players want to play, why are you watching? The NBA understands despite the fear of making players mad. So the league is looking into some desperate measures. I like some, and change isn't always bad, and it's probably time for some dynamic evolution.

    I most like the play-in tournament for the extra playoff spots both as a further disincentive to tanking—which is fading now with the lower odds and the last draft when the better bad teams got the best picks—and to provide some interest for the bottom of the playoff standings. I prefer to keep Eastern and Western conferences despite the recent disparity. I don't see how reseeding is any big deal. When you get to a final four anyone can have a hot week or two and win like the Raptors did last season. The big one is the mid-season tournament, which would be a joke. Say you're the Lakers with LeBron and Davis. You're making the playoffs. Why extend yourself in December for a tournament? The NBA is a great league pretty much as it is. It just needs its players to play. The answer is fairly simple. You want a day off to rest? OK, it's without pay.

    Tipani Kivinio:

    I do not agree all your polite comments about the team and coach. So here are my observations. Sorry about my poor english, but basketball is a team game. Like in last world chanpion games USA team was kicked off of the podium. Not because they are not good enough, but because they do not play for the team. Like in Bulls games the Player of the game is normally the player who scores the most. That is not true. It could be the best rebounder, best assist or best defender. I hope that these would be evaluated as well when nominating the best players of the team.

    At first it looks that Bulls have no real strategy how to make team offence. Boylen just hope that someone (normally Lavine, or ) will have a great night, but in too many games he tries to attack just like he is only man in the team. If he would pass more and look better shooting positions he would make same scores, but with better shooting procent. He just is not a Harden or LeBaron. In way too many offensive games 3 players are just standing in 3p rim and do nothing, propably because they know that they will never get a ball. Satoransky is the only real team player, who could build smart moves. Why player like Kornet ever shoot 3P. He has poor shot and he is out of the paint there is nobody to try to get rebounds. They have no clear roles.
Too many times those shortest players will dribble to the paint and they will get blocked too many times. They will also make it impossible for Markkanen, Kornet or taller players to make screens and go there to wait easy passes. Lavine is the only who really can do damage there. Coby is just too weak and short if there are several taller defenders, like there are in many cases. Markkanen still have one of the best shots, if he has the possibility to get in the mode. In some of the earlier games Boylen took him of the court just after Markkanen made his 3P shot. I hope if Boylen will stay in charge they will sell Markkanen to another team, before he loose all his confidence. There are few other smaller issues, but these are some most important findings.

    Sam Smith:

    Those are good observations, and you are correct that the Bulls too often appear stagnant. Now we're not sure why this is because Boylen often will come out afterward and say the team was too stagnant and needed more movement, and then there are the players talking about the offense directed at continually repositioning back to the three-point line to increase the three-point attempts, so how can they move more? We've mostly believed in the U.S. that talent can transcend teamwork, that teamwork is good but talent will rule. Perhaps this past summer demonstrated otherwise. The point was the Bulls this summer seemed to have recognized that and signed team-oriented players like Satoransky and Thad Young to go with Porter. Can we still go with the adjusting to one another thing?

    Carlos Ramos:

    Has management instructed Jim Boylen to manage players minutes and forced him to limit individuals playing time to a certain number for each game?

    Sam Smith:

    Not that I have heard. Boylen seems more impatient doing the trial and error to get something going. The team probably does try to limit playing time some for medical "safety" reasons, especially in light of the concerns when Tom Thibodeau was coach. But Boylen perhaps has been a bit too cautious at times. It is a balance that looks worse when they lose. If you win, it's smart player management.

    Simon Mabille:

    Greetings from Belgium. I kind of share your view on Zach and Lauri this season, or the overall state of the Bulls, which is that we need to be patient and let them grow, although it hurts. However, after now almost 20 games, what I started to notice last season is starting to show more and more consistently this year: LaVine and Markkanen are simply not compatible. It has shown that every time one of them puts on an All-Star level performance (take both Charlotte games as example), the other is almost a non-existent factor. Do you see any reason why they seem unable to perform very well at the same time?

    I understand that when one has the hot hand, the other will give up shots, but the way LaVine has (under)performed when Markkanen had solid games, and even more the other way around, is quite concerning to me. Also, and I'm probably overthinking here, I don't see much chemistry between them, which I understand might be related to their more introvert personalities, but for example I find that Wendell and Coby have already built a much better chemistry and willingness to play off each other in only a few weeks, compared to Zach and Lauri being on the roster for more than 2 years now. I know that they should spend more time together on the court, but the issue seems deeper than that to me. I personally believe that they could be deadly playing pick and roll.

    Sam Smith:

    Despite the unrest in so many places, it's still clear the world is most worried about the Bulls. I've heard this theory many times—it used to be more with Zach and Dunn—but I don't think it's the issue. Are Harden and Westbrook that compatible? Were Wall and Beal? Actually, you are correct in that they should be running more pick and roll with one another since both can pop and Zach certainly is a finisher, if not the Finnisher (I can't resist that one). You play your best players most often, which still seems to be a work in progress. Perhaps staggering them a bit more, though Boylen has done that at times. Zach can get his own shot; that's not Lauri's game. Zach will look for him and has. But it's been the flaw with Boylen's multi-ballhandler thing, that not everyone is comfortable making decisions or making good ones. And while Coby will be a great scorer, he's not making it much easier for anyone else. Lauri needs more time with perhaps Satoransky. I'd also like to see the Bulls go more to something when it's working. And even with a few misses, don't go away from something with Markkanen if they were good shots.

    Alan Smith:

    Don't you think that Lauri is still playing hurt? He's only 22 years old and a budding superstar after his first two years and now doesn't look like the same player. Sore oblique muscle? He does not want to make excuses. Does he have a disc injury?

    Sam Smith:

    Lauri always says no, that he feels fine, so you have to take him at his word. I dislike the way teams aren't very open about injuries, which perhaps will change when the big-time gambling comes in. Those guys don't accept the nonanswers we do. I believe if you are hurt you shouldn't play. You don't need to apologize. If you are playing hurt it's some credit to you with load management and all the stuff going on. But if you are playing then you are not hurt, and that's the message we get from Lauri.

    Greg Young:

    My premise with Markkanen is either play him, scheme for him or trade him. Regression can be real but it is the job of the coach to put their players in a position to succeed. Perhaps a bit pollyannish in todays world but that is the job. The coaching seems to be doubling down on this equal distribution and only shooting 3's or layups, neither one of which they seem to be particularly adept at. It almost seems like an experiment in basketball socialism, which may work in a society but not in the NBA. This season continues to be interesting, just not for the reasons I had originally expected.

    Sam Smith:

    Basketball socialism! No wonder the European guys push that so much with all those social democracies. I like the latter point; it is an interesting season. Not fulfilling, and perhaps not as entertaining for many since that goes along with success. Not that anyone—OK, some—is rooting for Bulls failure. But it has been interesting to watch. Not necessarily slowing down too watch the car wreck interesting, but it is interesting to see how everyone deals with a season like this in the wake of the expectations and who, if anyone, will emerge to make a difference. And what, if anything, is done about it. It makes for some interesting discussion and debate, at least.

    Farhan Arshad:

    Who has replaced Tommy Edwards as the new PA Announcer? Also has Ray Clay completely retired from the business or is there a chance we could see him back behind the microphone?

    Sam Smith:

    I believe the Bulls are considering applications. Ray has done some fill-in games between his work in recent years with the WNBA Sky. I'd heard he retired from his regular teaching job, so I'd suspect he's also doing the grandkids thing like Tommy. The Windy City Bulls public address announcer, Nick Mitrovich, has been doing the p.a. work since Tommy left on an interim basis. He's very good, but I don't believe he wants the fulltime work. He's from Park Ridge and has been a longtime media producer in Chicago with WGN and now Fox. He'd previously done announcing with the local soccer teams