Ask Sam Mailbag: 12.2.16

Sam Smith opens his mailbag to take a look around the NBA and the Bulls

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By Sam Smith

Tony Snell is starting for the Bucks and they're probably going to make the playoffs this year after winning only 33 games a year ago. Snell did not start for the Bulls last year, in fact got very little quality court time, and the Bulls did not make the playoffs. And, I did predict two years ago that this would be Snell's breakout year. Just saying. Of course, there's a long way to go in the season, but maybe the Bucks knew what they were doing when they traded for Snell.

William Kochneff

Sam: You got me; I’ve moved him up to No. 3 on my MVP ballot. No one wishes ill for Tony, no one faulted him for the Bulls decline last season, and so far the Bucks have won the trade because Snell is at least vertical. But I’d make that trade again 100 times if I were the Bulls. Good for Tony and I hope he does well, though he’s playing about how he did with the Bulls when he got minutes. He’s shooting about 30 percent on threes; in 14 November games he scored in double figures six times, generally following a 14 with a three-point game. He’s playing about 30 minutes per game and the Bucks needed someone athletic and a shooting threat once Khris Middleton went out. But Tony’s time with the Bulls was up. He’d had his chances. You didn’t want to get into having to decide whether to pay him. The Bulls greatest need was backup point guard, and still is. Carter-Williams’ injury seemed a fluke; he should be back soon. The Bulls could use him. Again, no offense, but if this is breakout you hope not many Bulls players have those sorts of career explosions.

What's up with the T'Wolves?! They were a lot of people's dark horse playoff contenders...

Matt Mikulice

Sam: The word is Thibs is on the hot seat. Supposedly his gm feels he gave him the talent. Oh, right, he’s also the gm. Just kidding, of course. And you don’t want to make any premature judgments on a team with that much talent. Agreed, they haven’t been very good for the talent, though it’s another new coach, a young team, new system, unusually mild fall weather, still celebrating the Ryder Cup win up there, yadda, yadda, yadda. Thibodeau is a very good coach; there’s little debate about that. But it is a good lesson that the value of coaching often is overrated, that they get too much credit when they win and too much blame when they lose. Not that they are unimportant, but consider perspective. When Thibodeau had a healthy Rose, Deng and Noah, the Bulls led the league in wins two straight years. When he didn’t, the Bulls averaged 47 wins and won one playoff series in three years and were 12-17 in playoff games. But Fred Hoiberg was ineffective with 42 wins with also Dunleavy, Mirotic and Butler missing large parts of the season in addition to Noah out 50 games? The Timberwolves inevitably will be a prominent team in the West thanks to Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. I’m interested to see the personnel moves they make as it’s always risky to have the coach having final say over personnel. Coaches, all coaches, tend to fall in and out of love with players quickly. I have heard, though, they have asked Thibs to tone down his courtside language a bit. As the officials doing Bulls games used to say, they didn’t know Jesus had a middle name.

Mirotic and Portis aren’t as good defensively as Lopez; Face it! Bulls won't be a solid unit, unless they can find a way to get centers who can block just as well(and no, I don't mean suddenly make Gibson a backup center either).

Kieron Smith

Sam: At some point you have to see what your players can do. Portis didn’t play much at all last season and while we can keep saying he is young, he’ll be 22 in February and you have to find out how much he can give you. He’s been getting some prominent placement in the rotation the last few weeks, but the contribution has been limited in connection with the problems the bench has been having on the road trip. Hoiberg said Thursday after practice that Felicio will get some time again. He didn’t say when. My sense is they know Felicio will give them some defensive stability, but little offense. Bobby has shown three-point shooting range, but the game still has seemed still too fast for him and I’m guessing we begin to see a bit more of Felicio.

Is it just me or have the Bulls had the easiest schedule to start this season? Seems they have plenty of time off between games. It's like 4 days till the next Lakers game. I think we've had like 2 back to backs and it seems when we play teams, they are getting us off the back of their own back to back. Anyway I'm not complaining!

Andrew Brown

Sam: Well, here comes the first and only four in five, 17 games in December plus in San Antonio on Christmas. The Bulls did come off the circus road trip tied for the most road games in the league, which suggests a tough schedule. But, yes, they did have some theoretical breaks with teams on the second of back to backs or players out, like George Hill in Utah, Joel Embiid resting in Philly. Of course, that four days off didn’t work as well as you figured. This hard schedule/easy schedule thing is more talking point. Really, what’s so difficult about a second game in a row when you have your own airplane, stay in a Ritz hotel and have everyone worried about whether you are playing more than 37 minutes? I see LeBron James already took a game off to rest. Geez, the strongest guy maybe other than Wilt or Shaq ever to play in the NBA, OK, maybe Gilmore also. Needed a day off the first month of the season? Basically every team now has 15 players and everyone has a few blowouts one way or the other where the starters don’t play the fourth quarter. Everyone plays 82, 41 on the road. There are fewer back to backs overall by commissioner concern, and training camp scrimmages have been limited by labor negotiation. So far it appears 30 teams have reasonably easy schedules. Like Jimmy Butler said the other day, hey, we’re working an hour and a half a day. Get serious; or something like that.

It's obvious the Bulls need something from Niko or Canaan on a consistent basis, especially with the current injuries. If these 2 continue to struggle, do you see them sending maybe Canaan down to the D league and promoting somebody if McD and MCW are still out a while? Do you see Niko as a mid-season trade if this continues? I know the guy needs a full season so I guess it is too early to abandon ship with Mirotic? Also, I notice there are not many quotes after games from Robin Lopez. Does he avoid reporters or not care for it much, or is he just not the guys reporters care to talk to since he is not as intriguing to hear from as others? The guy has been solid and better than I imagined when the Bulls traded for him.

Jon Kueper

Sam: That’s some reasonable stuff there. As for the D-league, fourth year players like Canaan would have to give their permission and I doubt he would. Or really should. He was brought in more for emergency purposes for spot play and with the injuries that weakened the weak backup point guard position and three-point shooting, suddenly he was playing a lot more than anticipated. He’s had some very good moments and made some crucial shots, but a mistake people (coaches, too) make is wanting players to be who they need rather than who they are. He’ll get into his right spot once Michael Carter-Williams returns.

It’s been a tough season for Mirotic with consistency. He’s had good games, but cannot sustain. It strikes me he’s been a bit anxious this season knowing much has been expected of him, and especially lately with McDermott out. They were playing together, so now Mirotic gets more defensive attention. Teams like him because he’ll also do some good things on the defensive boards, but they’d try to steal him now in an off season. You wouldn’t get much and I’d like to see him once McDermott returns. As for Lopez, some guys just do the stump speech better. He is a bright guy with a colorful personality, as I wrote about this week on But some guys just don’t embrace the post game media thing much. Robin isn’t rude and always will talk to reporters, but he doesn’t much do the game breakdown thing and doesn’t bail out media. Some reporters tend to ask “questions” like, ‘So, 12 points and 10 rebounds.” Robin doesn’t elaborate much on those. Plus, his answers are generally short, anyway. And there are always guys who like to talk or who will, so you tend not to bother the ones who don’t love it, like Rondo also. The journalism rule is you get quotes from the leading scorer, who is often Jimmy Butler, and then maybe another guy who played well or was involved in a key play. But the Bulls now have one of the most articulate and cooperative athletes ever in Dwyane Wade, so he’s a natural. Also, Taj Gibson is thoughtful and equally cooperative. With those so called go-to guys for media like Wade, Butler and Gibson, there’s no reason to strain a few words out of guys like Robin. But he is interesting to just chat with. It’s nice to have those guys around and he could care less about the media attention.

I liked the last shot play in Denver too. If the bulls are in a last second spot in the playoffs it is certain the other teams coaches will be aware of the types of plays Hoiberg has run. In my opinion it will keep defenders honest in the future and it was a nice look regardless of whether it went in.

Jake Henry

Sam: Yeah, I thought there was an unnecessary overreaction to that Canaan shot in Denver. It was open; anyone would generally say if you can get someone wide open for a three for a winner on the road that’s pretty darned good. And someone who is a three-point shooter. I know Hoiberg was second guessing himself with Jimmy so hot in that stretch, but they doubled him like the Lakers later did earlier this week. It was worth the chance. We’ve seen plenty of Nate Robinson, D.J. Augustin winners down the stretch in big games in recent years. November is for giving that stuff a try, I agree. Though what you had to like was the way the other players continually defend their teammates no matter the result. It’s a good sign.

No coach fired yet. I for one am shocked.

Mike Sutera

Sam: The problem is most of the places where the coach could be in trouble have new coaches, like Sacramento, Phoenix, Indiana, Washington and Orlando. Dallas is headed for a brutal season, but that’s more roster based trying to buy a year extra each year to compete while you still had Dirk. I can accept that and agreed with doing that. But you can see Dirk appears in no rush to return as he understands what’s going on. They’re headed for a makeover. You’d figure Brett Brown is closest to the end in Philly with new management, but with Ben Simmons out and Embiid not playing back to backs and with minutes limits what’s the point. A firing-free season? Halleluiah.

Odd question, but will the Bulls be wearing the old school red jerseys with Chicago written in the jersey any time this season??

Shaun Chalmer

Sam: I usually don’t monitor the laundry, but I have been told that one was for last season. Though I do like that one as well since you never can have enough fond memories of Jawann Oldham, Ennis Whatley and Caldwell Jones. The league marketing department determines the various jerseys and I think each team has five or six; the Bulls have home and road, of course, plus a green one for St. Patrick’s, a Christmas one and a gray one, I assume for our weather.


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