Ask Sam Mailbag: 12.1.17
Sam opens his mailbag and answers reader's questions
I’m interested to hear your thoughts on what this off season may look like for the Bulls. Currently we are an 18-22 win team post Lavine and Mirotic returning. However with Lavine, Mirotic and Lauri next season we are really a point guard away from being a 30 win team if the bench can strengthen. I don’t see Dunn as a starting point guard.
Do you see next season as standing firm with the current core and adding a nice draft piece or is there an opportunity to speed up the process if a free agent is available? However we haven’t “hit” on a PG in a very long time.
As much as Payne gets a bad wrap I am interested to see him upon his return. Love a lefty who can get to the paint
Rondo would have been terrific with this team. Serving as a mentor for Dunn. I’m certain that he got Felicio that huge contract due to his ability to make players look better than they are.
Sam: I don’t see the free agency move until the summer of 2019. After all, as you note, LaVine still isn’t back, and assuming he’s back, say by Christmas, I would guess it would be in limited time for awhile. You can start to see a nice core building with LaVine, Markkanen, a top lottery pick — hopefully an athletic big guy — and Dunn. And then maybe another high lottery pick in June of 2019 and then you’ve got the makings of a very talented team and it would seem an impressive appeal to a free agent. Who that free agent would be by then, well, it’s too soon to say.
And on Dunn... I know you wrote this before Thursday’s game in Denver in which Dunn was terrific, making shots, getting to the basket and then even setting up for the final play and making it against one of the best athletic defensive big guys in the league. First impressions, or just impressions, are hard to shake. Like a kid who acts out badly the first day in school takes a long time to change that. So Dunn can’t shoot, we hear. Then that becomes the message, just like a player cannot defend. Most players don’t defend well, but the label only gets stuck on a few. Like Kukoc with the second three peat Bulls. He was an adequate defender, but it became his reputation, so fans and media blamed him when things broke down. Phil Jackson always understood Kukoc could take the label and criticism while others could not. Dunn has started just seven games for the Bulls, now just six straight. He’s shooting 43 percent on threes, averaging 12 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and two steals. This for a guy who was injured and missed most of the preseason and then the start of the season and then came off the bench. It’s really impressive he’s come this quickly. Maybe he’s not a top 10 point guard in the kind we see of Harden, Westbrook, Curry. But he’s a far better defender already than any of them, a player who will get up and pressure, which produces offense you don’t get credit for. Sure, he makes some turnovers. But as long as they are through aggression, it’s not a big deal. He’s cleaning up the lazy ones since he’s constantly reminded of it by media and, of course, coaches. I know the concept of veteran mentors is nice, and Rondo would be excellent in that role. But Rondo wants to play and start. The Bulls need to play these kids and take the losses if they come. Dunn will have his unpleasant moments in basically what is his rookie season; but he looks like a big time keeper.
I can't remember a player like Dunn. He's explosive, big and physical, but does not draw fouls at all. How is that possible? He makes the most casual turnovers I've ever seen of a starting guard. When he plays well he can fill out the box score like a mini-Westbrook. A guy who can have a 22-4-8-4-2 stat line is pretty rare, as is a guy with his atrocious turnover rate. Alejandro Yegros
Sam: I remember a point guard we used to say that about all the time. Oh, that Rose guy. League MVP. Though lately I’ve noticed LeBron is saying he doesn’t get any calls and even got kicked out of a game for emphasizing it. It’s not always easy to become that guy to draw the contact. Dunn is strong, but your natural emphasis is to try to avoid contact to score. Rose was so quick he could do that. But then when you do, you don’t get a foul called. Dunn seems to have an element of that to him. And, again, let’s remember this is just six games (in a row) into his starting career. What’s more unusual in this era is the judgment of players so quickly. Yes, often you can see if a player is destined for stardom early. But it takes time to develop a lot of what you become in the NBA because you are playing against men when you still are a kid. I don’t see Dunn as a high foul guy because he is long and sort of loose limbed and almost like that rubber man cartoon seems to get around players. But I still will reserve final judgment until he starts maybe 10 games in his career.
I know organization often helps former players, sometimes more publicly than others. Wonder if the Bulls will try to help Ben Gordon.
Sam: Ben had a fairly contentious parting with the Bulls, and it was the Pistons who paid him his biggest contract of his career. Not that the Bulls turn their backs on former players as many work in the organization But it’s the players association that needs to come to Ben’s aid if he asks. And I assume they have as they will do those things quietly; at least I hope they have. It’s been shocking to watch this collapse of a guy who always seemed so grounded and unexceptional off the court. But as we know, you never know people unless you live with them, and even then not always as we learn from some of the most publicized acts of violence these days.
Markkanen needs to get easy buckets. Like Robin López gets all the time. Why it is not happening? Why he is always so far from the basket. I mean, eleven 3's? I don't believe Curry takes that many 3's. There is something wrong with this hoiball offense and after 19 games it hasn't been fixed. The kid is good, but needs some help from is coach. His "open shots" are 28 feet away.
Sam: Well, you saw Markkanen at the end of the Denver game get into the post along the baseline for that short shot that looked like a potential winner and some other inside attempts. Hoiberg puts him in a lot of situations where he can get the ball, but I think you can see the fatigue to some extent given his 12-month basketball year with the draft, the summer for Finland and right back to start camp and then playing the minutes of Portis and Mirotic. That should change some once Mirotic returns with Portis having worked his way back. I believe it’s been more Markkanen settling for more of those shots lately because it’s much tougher to work inside (other guys hit you, and bigger ones). I’ve seen a few situations: One is sometimes I see some of the guards look off Markkanen, perhaps because he’s not making that cut to get inside. But a word about Hoiberg as well. I checked, which I don’t do with arcane stats a lot, and the Bulls are fourth in manufacturing open three pointers. That means Markkanen is getting a lot, lot of good shots. He’s just missing them. Other guys are, too, like that wide corner three Valentine got with 1:47 left Thursday that would have saved Holiday a lot of embarrassment after a great drive and pass by Dunn. Guys miss shots. It’s OK; part of the game. Hoiberg’s offense does work. He’s getting the Bulls players more good shots than almost every team. The coach’s job is to help players get better shots, put players in position to succeed. You can’t make the shots for them. The Rockets, which I know will surprise many, have better shooters than the Bulls. Look who’s shooting the Bulls threes: Holiday is 34 percent career, Markkanen is a rookie, Portis is 32 percent career, Grant is 30 percent career, Valentine was 35 percent last season. The best career three-point shooters on the roster, LaVine and Mirotic, haven’t played yet. I know, get better shooters. That’s the point of this rebuild, but its a little over a month into it. But also look at this group. They’re overmatched just about every game, and yes they’ve had some duds. But they come back each time and compete; they care and they always appear eager to learn. They don’t complain, take responsibility and are trying to improve. One of the reasons the Bulls rebuilding of the early 2000s went so badly is the Bulls brought in a young, college coach who said the right things but then didn’t want to work with young players. He complained all the time to get veterans to have a chance to win now. That’s not the point, and why Hoiberg is the right fit for these guys. He’s willing to work with young players to try to help them along, patient and with offensive concepts that have been working. Is it bad coaching if a guy misses a good shot and good coaching when a great player makes a tough play? The Bulls made clear starting this season not to judge in the short term. They are not skipping steps now, which we have long heard is the only way to succeed. They’re taking the baby steps now the right way. We all know it takes a long time to learn how to walk with a lot of falls and false starts along the way. And don’t make me get into the potty training allusions.
LBJ to Philly? And Do you you think the 76ers messed up drafting Fultz?
Plus Kanter is playing great for the Knicks. He and Oladipo seem happy to be away from Russ.
Sam: That’s the great thing about the NBA as we all know, the drama. And it never stops. First those 76ers. I thought Fultz looked really good the one game he played in summer league, which, admittedly, is a very small sample. So I don’t think it’s quite time yet to call him a bust even though I know fans’ patience rarely lasts until a guy is 20 years old. Injuries happen; the only question I’d have is if they knew they were making Ben Simmons the point guard why did they pick another point guard and trade up to get him? I know you can do stuff off the ball with multiple ball handlers the way the NBA is these days. But as ball dominant as Simmons is and as weak as the 76ers are basically everywhere else but Embiid, Fultz might have been a stretch. Healthy I believe he’ll be very good. Yes, you hear about LeBron to Philly because they are the hot young team now with Embiid. It’s, of course, only in fan and media speculation and makes little sense because of the way Simmons plays and the way LeBron intends to. One thing you must remember: You buy LeBron, he owns things. You can be sure after his experience with Miami he’s staying on one year deals and you better be nice all the time. Plus, they purposely foul Simmons. What corner is he shooting threes from? Forget that. OKC is the big early season story because they are shockingly bad. Fooled me, too, and not because I think much of their team. I just figured Chris Paul and Harden wouldn’t fit, but Mike D’Antoni is way better than most believe. And the problem, of course, is Carmelo Anthony. I thought they could figure out something with all that talent and they may still. It’s 20 games, but the 20-game mark is significant in the NBA because it does suggest who you are. Yes, I know Miami started 9-8 LeBron’s first season there, but Wade did make the big sacrifice in his game. Anthony is sort of that appealing cancer of a player. Nice with media so he gets a pass, but his game, declining even more now in lack of movement, can produce the ultimate stagnation for a team. It looks a lot like George is sick of it as well and has kind of closed down, driving Westbrook nuts and with a coach whose history in the NBA has been to produce fealty to his stars. Not that Donovan doesn’t know what to do. But with a few exceptions most of the coaches coming in these days are caught looking up to there stars. Fizdale in Memphis apparently didn’t and lasted almost a year an a half. It’s a tough job made even tougher when you have three such independent voices as Westbrook, George and Anthony. They’ll blame Donovan because they can’t blame Anthony, though he seems a lot more the problem lately. But, yes, a lot of players have gotten better leaving Oklahoma City. Let me think on that some more.
The Wiz are at 11-10....where is M.J. when you need him? Well, they've got arguably the youngest talented back court in the East if not in the entire league. Porter-Beal-Wall. Their power forward I like too, at 28, Morris is averaging 16/6. Very solid numbers. The Polish hammer, Gortat, is aging and his double-double stats are declining fast. How long until they begin to dismantle. Gortat being the first to go. Why the slow start after a promising last season? What direction is that organization heading?
Sam: That sounds like where the Bulls were and at some point you cannot see a path anymore. I think the Wizards still believe they can with Wall and Beal, and Wall has been out hurt lately. But that is the most difficult part of all this running an NBA team type of thing. The Wizards have some excellent talent, but its not the super elite. Like with the Raptors. You can appear to be serious contenders, and you can make the regular season fun, and that’s good stuff. I actually enjoy a good regular season run. But at some point you wear out just missing the brass, or other mineral, ring. The Suns of a decade ago or so are a classic example and in contrast the Jazz. Though the Jazz never did win, they hung together and got to the Finals twice, losing to the Bulls. If you look back at those late 80s and early 90s Jazz you’ll see plenty of 50-win seasons and a high 40s occasionally and a bunch of early playoff outs. They hung in for a decade and it was worth it. The Suns were blowing through the league with 60-win seasons with Nash and D’Antoni and Stoudemire, and management did make some blunders, like losing Joe Johnson and giving away picks that went for Deng and Rondo. But they overreacted being unable to get by the Spurs and basically self destructed. The Wizards will pick a lane at some point, but it’s too soon. And yes while Boston looks like the team on the way and the 76ers have promise, things change quickly. The Wizards have a solid group that I expect they’ll run another few seasons.
I see the demand for Okafor has dropped from 2 first round picks to a second rounder, we have a second round pick from the pondexter trade, why aren’t we making an offer for him?? We need another big man considering Felicio isn’t playing like himself. I know it means we have to cut a player but I consider it a low risk with a potential high reward outcome.
Also one more question, any idea on what happens with Blakney after his 45 day contract is up?
Sam: That’s the rumor, at least, but I’m not sure its true. There’s the issue now of taking on the salary in the middle of the season when as a free agent he can walk on you and if you are interested maybe wait. Or maybe they want more. The unfair part is the way his talent is being wasted. I expect something will happen and assume the Bulls are among several teams interested. As for Blakeney, who has struggled of late, after that period is expired he would have to be added to an NBA roster with an NBA contract if the Bulls want to keep him.
Will Niko & Lavine actually play games for Windy City??
Sam: So far Fred has said no, that they will just be practicing with them.
I have an idea for Derrick Rose. What about this? He retires and Adidas gives the money he would have been owed to a charity created to provide folks on the west side of Chicago with resources that allow children to learn and grow, families to support the growth of their children and themselves, and young adults to seek purpose, passion, and training? Derek Rose becomes the CEO and dedicates the next chapter of his life to giving back to his community. When he won the MVP it seemed like he was going to become a transcendent figure in Chicago’s history. That could still happen.
Sam: Well, it doesn’t look like he’ll be playing for Cleveland when the Cavs are here Monday. All I have heard is his ankle injury is more serious than anyone has let on. I don’t know what Derrick plans to do or the rest of his playing career. I still feel Derrick leaves a wonderful legacy in Chicago because he donated more money individually (other than through a foundation) to Chicago than I believe any athlete in the history of the community. Those years before Rose’s injury were as thrilling, if unsatisfying, to watch as many of the Jordan seasons. He probably will go down more like Gale Sayers, an if only. But those who got to watch Sayers will still tell you today those were some of the greatest things they ever saw in an NFL game. Rose had those moments and you’d wish the best for him. Somehow I don’t believe Adidas would go along with that. But nice try.
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