Ask Sam Mailbag: 11.30.18
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to answer readers' questions.
I like how Jabari is starting to get his rhythm with this team. He’s even shown a little more competitiveness in his defense, although, no one was stopping the Greek Freak down low. I’d like to see how he does the rest of the season before judging him and his contract. As Lavine said, it took him over a year to get his athleticism back and game day conditioning. I think he’ll fit in nicely with the second unit and also during crunch time at small forward, facilitating the offense. I think when he gets tunnel visioned, like for a minute or two during second period against the Bucks, he needs to be reigned in, like Hoiberg did. It does show competitiveness though, and I like that. Do you think having come off the bench will effect his mood? Also, I do like the idea of Jabari at small forward as he has overpowered smaller players at the rim.
Sam: Could Jabari actually be the star free agent the Bulls never have been able to get? Or merely an enigma wrapped in a riddle inside a mystery surrounded by a conundrum facing a paradox producing a dilemma? And you thought this Bulls season wasn’t going to be interesting. I remember when Jabari barely could play and might be cut. Was that 10 days ago? He didn’t help the view with his boorish media sessions, but who really cares about that if he can play? Trust me, not even the media does that much. After all, it was less than a year after his return from a second ACL and he pretty much yelled at anyone who suggested his health may have been a complicating factor. OK, you’re 100 percent? Show us! Now, Parker has been very good offensively the last few weeks. Actually really, really good with a reliable shot. He’s never going to defend much, and that’s something of an issue playing with LaVine. Though Dunn may be a top defender and will return and Portis, too. The question, as you note, is where? I don’t see him remaining as a starter when Markkanen returns since Holiday seems to have have earned staying in the small forward spot with his shooting. And Holiday is a better defender and more natural wing player. So it will be up to Parker to accept that role. Will he? Heck, no one will really ever know even if he elaborated in interviews. He clearly doesn’t care to, so we'll all judge on what we see. He’s on a two-year deal at $20 million each with a one year guarantee. Last week, the assumption was he was gone after this season. Yes, things change quickly in the NBA and there’s still almost five months left in the season. If Parker’s $20 million is picked up, the Bulls payroll is about $70 million for next season ($110 million cap) without Portis, who is a restricted free agent. And that’s also without Arcidiacono, Holiday and Lopez. It obviously could limit free agency prospects. Of course, if Parker is a 20-point scorer and playmaker it’s not likely the Bulls do much better. The Bulls could ask him to stay and renegotiate a longer deal at a lower annual, though if he’s deserving he might get more elsewhere. Again, lots of intriguing decisions to come.
Did Jabari just have the yips of playing in his home town? Or has he finally played himself into shape, because the last few games he's looked like the player the Bulls thought they were getting, versus the beginning of the season when he was chucking threes at like a 20% clip and refusing to move. Now he's whipping passes and the 2 man game with Lavine is looking promising.
Sam: The floor game part with Jabari is really where the breakthrough could be. He’s has those games, like against the Bucks Wednesday, where he’s moving and moving the ball. He’s really very good taking the ball off the backboard and pushing up court and making a play. I think that was the vision the Bulls were thinking about when they signed Parker, to have him doing that with LaVine, Markkanen and Dunn, four players capable of attacking and making plays, the sort of movement you see with the Warriors, which negates having to have that big center. Then Carter fits pretty well as he also can pass and pull a big man out. But as you may have heard, there were some injuries, and then it seemed apparent Parker was not in the best shape/health/state of mind and seemed too proud to admit that. So he played a lot of isolation, and it didn’t much work. We’re starting to see glimpses of the guy the Bulls would have been toasting Champagne to get in the draft. How much more we see when the injured players return will determine his future with the Bulls. But he clearly could have one, which most doubted two weeks ago.
Is it just me or has Carter's game fallen off a cliff lately? Yes I know he is only 19 and shown maturity and good moments for his age but he is constantly in foul trouble. Don’t go swiping when you are on 3+ fouls Wendell when in the first half. Pretty simple. Will be interesting to see how his game changes when the others come back and we are full strength. Will it be for better or worse. I’m hoping better as the others will draw attention and he may turn into a dunker around the basket for 10-12pts+ a game.
Sam: We have to keep going with the 19 thing. And that Mo Bamba rarely even gets on the court late in games and Bagley comes off the bench and Summer League legend Kevin Knox hardly plays, Trae Young shoots 25 percent on threes and shoots a way lot of them, and the two Bridges guys they almost were taking are occasional players. And Donovan Mitchell isn’t quite ready for Hall of Fame induction, either. Being a young player in a world of professional men isn’t easy. Did anyone mention he’s 19? Yes, that will get old soon. But I think Carter has done terrific; even with some of those weak touch fouls the last few games that, yes, he committed and weren’t bad calls. He’s had some games where he seemed a target, though not lately. The larger issue may be about not being large enough. Also, remember he wasn’t supposed to be starting and playing this much on a depleted roster like this that forces more attention to him. That’s a big factor. A potentially larger one is his position. He’s the man in the middle at games, but I notice on the TV broadcasts when he introduces himself he always says power forward. Remember when the NBA ran centers out of the game? Took them off the All-Star ballot? Well, all of a sudden there’s pretty good giants like Embiid, Drummond, Whiteside, Gobert, Towns, Jokic. And Carter isn’t that tall. He’s tough and determined and serious and skilled, and is going to be a really good player. He’s been playing center because the Bulls have needed him to be that with the future unlikely with Robin Lopez. But Carter may fit better as a power forward in this NBA, especially since you can see he’ll be able to shoot threes and switch defensively. But he’s getting bruised and beaten up almost every game. He’s equally game, and tries really hard. But it would wear out anyone. Yes, Lauri Markkanen is seven feet tall, and he’s supposedly got that extra muscle when we see him. But you probably don’t want him taking that beating, either. Bobby Portis also isn’t quite big enough for those opponents, though that job could fall to him. It’s going to take some sorting out again once the injured players return. Jabari Parker has been doing well at power forward recently, but he’s far more wing player than any of them. We hear it’s a position less game now, but that sounds better than the reality. The Bulls still have a lot of position sorting out to do, which is why it’s even more important to see these guys playing together. It seems like it’s finally just a few weeks away and should be very educational for everyone. And go a long way toward management figuring out what next summer holds. It should be very interesting.
Do you really think Zach intended to shoot a 3 on that last play? Despite what he or anyone said after the game, here’s how that play looked: Zach set up at the top of the arc and waved everybody off. Seems like he wanted to isolate and drive to the hoop (the right play), but Wendell came skipping over to set a screen anyway. Zach waved him off. Wendell reacted slowly, shrugged and finally backed off. By that time, the opportunity was gone and Zach had to bail out with a 3. I believe Zach said what he did afterward to avoid saying, “I wanted to drive, but my teammates didn’t clear out and let me go.” On the other hand, Zach needs to work on his shot. Might be his legs, as many were short.
Sam: That certainly was the play of the week. And you’ve got another of the many theories. Most condemned Zach, but I was fine with that shot because it’s the NBA. Shooting percentage is not as big a thing as it once was because of the three. And by the way, 50s are much easier to get these days because you get there more quickly counting by threes. Yes, that’s another reason there are so many more now. Anyway, shooters were once judged on shooting 50 percent. When Michael Jordan came into the NBA, he was regarded as a poor shooter. He obviously got much better, but even as a rookie he shot 51 percent. This kind of started with Kobe, who was never close to being a 50 percent shooter in any season of his career. But as he increased taking threes, it didn’t matter as much. And now you’re judged a great shooter at 40 percent as long as it’s on threes. Zach is an excellent shooter, so I’m always good with a good shooter taking the shot. Sure, he could have made a drive and play that everyone was screaming about, but I did notice in the Bulls loss to the Bucks Wednesday Holiday, Arcidiacono and Parker all missed late shots with fairly open opportunities. Not to say they couldn’t, but there obviously was no certainty they’d have a better chance than LaVine, and LaVine has made more clutch shots this season than anyone on the team. I remember how mad Jordan used to get when media said Magic Johnson made players better and he didn’t. Jordan noted it was much easier to make Worthy and Kareem better than his teammates. No offense, of course. Your take on the play is different, that Wendell didn’t clear fast enough. Possible. Zach also didn’t blow off the coach, which is fine with me, anyway, because that’s what players are supposed to do. There’s been too much managing from the sideline by people who never played or played as well in all sports. Like baseball managers calling pitches to football coaches with all those plays. I’d rather a player anytime make the call than some MBA funneling the probabilities to the coach. Which you know it’s how it works. Hoiberg didn’t call time out, which was reasonable to not allow a good Spurs coach to set a defense. So Zach basically was on his own. Fans all the time ask me why coaches call for screens which only brings an extra defender. Zach waved it off as Jordan often did. He had a good straight on look. Hardly unreasonable if you’ve been watching the NBA the last few decades.
Should the bulls make a push for Washington to give up Dwight Howard? I say it’s a good trade my friend say it’s not...Lopez/Holiday or Felicio and a draft for a few players for Washington...good or bad?
Sam: Very, very, very—I’ll never really run out of verys—-not a good idea. J.R. Smith and ‘Melo not available? Well, actually they are. But what about John Wall? Not for the Bulls, but I noticed the Suns once again released their starting point guard, this time Bulls legend Isaiah Canaan. He got the job from Shaquille Harrison and Tyler Ulis. Hey, the Bulls could have three former Suns starting point guards. Nah. The Suns often have been speculated as the most likely destination for Wall’s millions given the lack of a point guard and how despite about eight or nine years in the lottery with mostly top 10 picks (cautionary Process tale) they’re by far the West’s worst team. They just haven’t lucked into the right draft, though with Ayton and Booker they have a start. Now they just need someone to make plays, and they have young players and picks to spare. The Wizards likely don’t want to trade Bradley Beal, whom most everyone wants. If they’re going to make a major deal, it figures to be Wall, and the Suns with some fodder like Ryan Anderson and under the cap can absorb Wall’s contract. Maybe throw in a Dragan Bender or Josh Jackson? Do the Suns really want yet another teenager in the draft?
Are you of the opinion, if Thibs did not have the belief that Derrick could perform at the level he’s been at for much of this season, and been in a position as a head coach and GM, that Derrick would probably be out of the league?
Sam:Is it possible that Thibs drops coaching and wins Executive of the Year? I know Rose believed he would be playing somewhere after the Cavs traded him and the Jazz dumped him, but it could have been. It’s not like a lot of executives know that much more than the radio stations they listen to. It sounded like Rose was washed up even as Thibodeau repeatedly said if you paid attention in New York and Cleveland, Rose played well when he wasn’t hurt. Right, but always hurt. OK, what if he wasn’t? But sometimes you may not be relevant because no one thinks you are relevant. It happens to the rest of us at work all the time. That seemed almost to be the situation with Rose. You know, he’ll leave the team, he’ll be hurt, can’t shoot, game has passed him by, yadda, yadda. Hey, how do you like me now! No, Rose hasn’t said anything such thing. Instead, he seems genuinely grateful to be playing again, to have that opportunity he always promised would make the difference again and, yes, to be reunited with Thibodeau and just to do his job.
I was looking the top 5 scorers of all time in the NBA, how higher do you think Lebron will finish his career? Kareem, Karl Malone, Kobe, Michael Jordan, LeBron 5th. LeBron is now about 7.000 points behind Kareem and less than 1,000 behind Jordan.
Sam: For me, here comes another round of who’s better Michael or LeBron. LeBron should pass Michael at his current rate of scoring sometime in mid-January. People talk about Wilt having an unfair advantage because he was so much bigger. Actually, he wasn’t because there were many future Hall of Fame centers in his era of similar size like Kareem, Nate Thurmond and Walt Bellamy. LeBron is also a physical force who overmatches his opponents. Who’s diminishing his accomplishments because of that? But I digress. In the first season of his four-year Lakers contract, healthy and scoring more than 2,000 points per season and clearly having expressed a desire to play with his son (that’s really going to tick off LaVar Ball), LeBron is almost certain to close his career the all-time NBA scoring leader and again begin to make his greatest ever case. Many will support it then. Jeanne Buss better get that max deal ready for Junior.
What's with Hoiberg's fascination with Justin Holiday? He's getting so much playing time as if he's a part of the future of this team. Is he?
Sam: Hey, you never know with this team. Holiday wasn’t generally considered a part of the future, but despite what I detect as your lack of confidence Holiday earned his way into this role. Certainly it’s been in some part because of injuries. And though I doubt Hoiberg would admit it, my sense coming into the season was that Holiday wasn’t even in the rotation. After all, Hoiberg began by saying Parker despite not being an ideal perimeter wing player would be starting small forward. To me that meant he didn’t believe he had one. Immediately there were issues. Small forward was the team’s weakest position with rookie Chandler Hutchison basically considered a G-league participant for a lot of the early part of the season before injuries kept him around. Holiday has earned his minutes. He’s a competent defender—which is a higher level than many of his teammates—but it’s been on offense where he’s been much improved. He’s averaging career highs in every major category and shooting 40 percent on threes with the best stroke I’ve seen from him in his career. He’s an unrestricted free agent, but he seems to have demonstrated that he could be a valuable reserve player in this era considering his shooting. Heck, I’ve even seen him score on a few pull up drives this season!
Do you see the Bulls trying to go after Fultz? Considering his current low value and the need for shooting in Philly, a trade for Holiday who is not in the Bulls future plans might work for everybody. Fultz could use a change of scenery and given the uncertainty around Dunn's health, I think it's worth the try.
Sam: He is the trade target of the week now that the Otto Porter excitement has waned. I can see a team like the 76ers interested in Holiday with his veteran shooting, but as you can see with the Kyle Korver trade to Utah, it’s going to take a lot more to get Fultz. The 76ers with the trade for Butler don’t have to be in any hurry to trade Fultz. It’s why Kris Dunn’s return will be so important to Kris Dunn. He’s going to have to demonstrate he can stay healthy after a second season of injuries, however much it’s not his fault, and that he can be the point guard leader the team needs. Most teams now are trying to steal Fultz, and though he doesn’t fit with the 76ers in the future, he was a No. 1 overall pick, he was injured, obviously had some confidence issues, but is very young and could be very good. I expect you’re going to have to trade the 76ers at least a low lottery pick, a relatively high lottery pick on your roster or a very good veteran who can potentially start for them.
Are we seeing encouraging signs with the depleted Bulls and Fred’s coaching?
Sam: There actually have been encouraging signs, if not consistent, based on an unusual number of one and two-point losses for a team basically picked by oddsmakers to lose all their games but one, Cleveland. I agree they don’t count, but losing like that to the Bucks, Pacers and Nuggets—I don’t think the Spurs are very good and not what we now consider a quality loss—shows a team that despite the obstacles has competed consistently and not given in. Plus, players continue to improve, some beyond our greatest expectations, like Arcidiacono, who was a Hoiberg project in the summer. No one gets much credit a dozen games under .500, but despite the circumstances and despite some horrible losses, you see this team without half their top players continue to come back from the most devastating defeats with concern, enthusiasm and energy. It could be a lot worse.
It’s funny saying this but, the best thing that could have happened to the Bulls these past two seasons are the injuries. The Portis/Mirotic last year produced an all-Star in the Making in Markennen. The Portis/Dunn Injuries this season have allowed Wendell Carter to develop & learn. Ryan Arcidiacono is turning out to be a very nice back-up. Will the Bulls Re-Build will be much Faster than the “Trust the Process” In Philly?
Sam: No one’s laughing. At least from what I can see the last time I was around the front office. As for the 76ers, if they didn’t get Embiid, Jimmy would be throwing cheese steaks at them. If someone on the Bulls reaches Embiid’s level, I’ll let you know. They do have some who could come close. But that’s the NBA. You usually can’t begin to break through until you have someone who does.
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