Ask Sam Mailbag 1.24.20

Sam opens his mailbag and answers questions on Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and more.
Kris Dunn and Cristiano Felicio
by Sam Smith

Body

Tom Choi:

Da Bulls are really thin at Center with Wendall Carter Jr and Daniel Gafford out on injuries so why haven't they even considered or contacted Joakim Noah to play for them? Last year Noah made a nice come back playing for Memphis so I'm surprised that he's still is available. Wouldn't he be just what Da Bulls needs to improve on their lack of defense especially down low?

Sam Smith:

What, with Felicio and Kornet holding Towns to 40? Actually, Felicio played the best he has this season. He's taken a beating here and still is a bit of a basketball version of an abused child. I've watched him in some practices and he's won shooting contests. No, not because the other guys were so bad! He changed his motion (his free throws have been good) and really has a nice shooting stroke from three. But you can see he's afraid to even try. As for Noah, I wouldn't be surprised if they contacted him. I saw Thursday with Powell's injury rumors about Dallas' interest. I heard Noah was having a private workout for NBA teams either this week or next. He seems ready to play, though I've heard he's been waiting for an injury possibility with the Lakers or Clippers. Not wishing, mind you, but things happen. They haven't yet. He seems set on playing for a high level contending team or not playing. My sense is the Bulls don't fit his definition at this time.


Kris Dunn

Art Alenik:

Dunn has been a real surprise. We knew he could play D, but maybe not how instrumental that could be for us. If he can get that 3-pointer consistent (even just the open ones).

Sam Smith:

I've sensed lately the players have been trying to do what's best for the team, and best for themselves. You don't have to shoot threes! It's been drilled into and at them all season—three, layup, free throw—that it sometimes makes you hesitant when you get into an area where you have an open shot but you are not supposed to shoot. Dunn's got an excellent ability which he showed mostly last in December 2017 to get to the basket, get fouls and score. He did that well against Minnesota Wednesday, and he needs to do that more often. He's got long arms and is strong. He should be driving the ball and pulling up for mid-range shots or creating contact. Frankly, if I'm him I'd ask are they benching me? His disruptive play on defense has been vital to the team and inspiring with LaVine also getting into the lanes for steals and even among the league leaders. Dunn needs to forget standing there because he was supposed to stand there and drive the ball. If he scores, they'll say nice play.


Russell Westbrook

Bruce Roberts:

I am not satisfied with the plans I am hearing about a mid season tournament. I agree that players "rest" days need to be addressed. Players like Leonard and Westbrook missing most back to back games is a problem. Yes the season feels like it is over early for some terrible teams but that is true in all sports. I want the game to count in the standings. If back-to-backs are a problem start the season earlier and eliminate them. What are your thoughts on the mid-season suggestions?

Sam Smith:

I doubt it ever happens. The players, to me, are never going to buy into a competitive tournament in the middle of the season. Heck, you can't even get them to try in the All-Star game no matter what format they use. They'll wonder about pushing themselves in January and what that means for May and June. They sometimes don't push in January and February now because of what it might mean in spring. I credit the league and Adam Silver for always trying to think and act differently. I can see some sort of play-in tournament for the last two playoff spots. After all, it's not like if you finish seventh of 15 you should earn something just for being seventh of 15.


Kyle Kuzma

Phil Cox:

Tell me the Bulls aren't considering trading Zach for Kyle Kuzma! I see Kuzma's name in trade rumors everywhere, to me it looks like the media trying to hype up a player with a mediocre upside to get the Lakers more than he is worth. Lauri may not be the all-star sidekick we had hoped but we should keep Zach around.

Sam Smith:

I'm not giving up on Markkanen at all, and no, they are not considering trading LaVine. They've been doing all they can to promote him for the All-Star team, and if you ever are near Boylen on the bench late in games, you'll get a sense of the game plan. Get the ball to Zach! He's a keeper. The Bulls need others to become that.


Zach LaVine

Lex Gray:

I feel sorry that you have had to watch this team for the last five or so years. Currently constituted, the Bulls are and will continue to be irrelevant. Coby White is pretty much Nick Young 2.0. Zack Lavine is a nice player, but moreso as a third or fourth cog on a contending team. The same goes for Lauri Markannen, and Wendell Carter. Lots of decent pieces but no superstar or even a second fiddle. Even if the Bulls keep the team as it is and develop their players, the ceiling is the second round. I do like Lauri, because he's an excellent shooter and Wendell, so id hang on to those two. The Bulls aren't getting Anthony Davis, or any superstar FA in their prime because they never have in their history. That means the draft is the only way out of mediocrity and the Bulls are headed for another 7th pick to select another decent player and be a perpetual low seed to lose in the first or second round. The Bulls won't fully commit to rebuilding, they have one foot in trying to rebuild and the other foot in trying to be in the playoffs which means they're in neutral. What do you see the Bulls front office doing? Standing pat and being conservative—like usual, or making some trades to try to get some more draft picks and improve their draft position with more losses? They are going nowhere with this team.

Sam Smith:

It's always good to have at least one rant. I understand the frustration, but it is a bit early to give up on White. He'll eventually start and then we'll be able to just better. We've all discussed this for years: There just aren't many great free agents; not nearly enough to go around. And when you are losing, your players are devalued, which is why you can't make many moves as is. Markkanen had two growth years and a half not so much. I'll ride with him. Zach is way better than a third or fourth guy. Which is why you hear the Kuzma talk; the Lakers would love to get a player like that. With LeBron and Davis, yes, Zach is a third guy. He's certainly as good or better than someone like Klay Thompson, who was a second guy on a title team. Zach can be that.

Like Khris Middleton, who may be on a title team. It's tough to get that No. 1 guy, which is why in the NBA, unlike other leagues, the same teams win most of the time. Remember, Davis is a No. 2. Despite the way things have gone this season, with LaVine, Markkanen and Carter, the Bulls have a good core of talent. White will be a very good scorer, but there are pieces missing, like a distributor, another reliable scorer. You can do it like Denver or Utah does without a superstar. Will it lead to a championship? Maybe not. You have to get in line, and the Bulls really are not that far away from doing that. I think. Though I agree this summer may be crucial. Yes, heard it before, but really, this time. No, really.


Derrick Rose

Don Kush:

I want to know if trading for Derrick Rose would make the Bulls a playoff team? I believe it would. So here's my annual trade the Bulls need to execute... D. Rose L. Galloway and C. Woods for K. Dunn C. Felicio and the Bulls 2020 first round draft pick. I feel like it's a no brainer.

Sam Smith:

I don't believe you can get Rose. We'll see at the deadline if someone offers the Pistons something special since two years at the mid-level is one of the best contracts in the NBA. When Rose got hurt the talk was the contract was the worst, though no fault of his. Now two years at $7.5 million with him playing at an All-Star level is a bonanza. I'm sure the Bulls never would give up a No. 1 pick after having a chance at Rose last summer and passing. The larger issue is Pistons management (Rose's former agent) and ownership sees Rose as a veteran they can begin to build with because he's appealing to fans and helps attendance while the team can likely begin to move on from Drummond and perhaps see Griffin fade away because of injuries.


Lauri Markkanen

William Blanco:

I am not giving up on Markkanen yet, but it is a little concerning that he seems weaker this year compare to his rookie season. Maybe the question about the stereotype of European players being soft should be revisited. Maybe the energy that was suck out of his body during March (after a great February) and the rapid heart incident has something to do. It could be his vegan diet. Something is wrong.

Sam Smith:

We've gone through many explanations, the "system," the injuries, the change in coaching tone, simply missing, Chicago not being dark enough in winter like Finland. One complication that has been alluded to is the addition of Thad Young, which hasn't worked out well, though no fault of Young's. There are rumors of a trade, but his value, the interest and his contract are factors. Markkanen is too supportive a teammate ever to make it an issue, and the coach heavily recruited Young. So he wants it to work. Young is a good veteran and unwavering team guy. He just doesn't fit with the way the Bulls have decided to play emphasizing the perimeter shooting. He's a maestro of the mid-range area with his potpourri of quizzical moves and shakes. But it's not only the style of play. At Young's age, he's too slow for the wing and too small for center. So he basically has to be a power forward. He was a tweener coming into the NBA, though the so-called modern game has helped him with power forward no longer a position for the big bruisers. But then there's Markkanen with similar issues. Markkanen is a bit too thin for center, though he takes some turns there, and not quick enough for the wing.

So Markkanen's minutes seem to get reduced to accommodate Young, and that has an impact even if Markkanen never will say. Often this season, Markkanen was coming out of games early to go back in with a different unit and varying playmakers. It became confusing to all of us. So Markkanen seemed to become paralyzed, frozen at the perimeter looking for passes not coming. I actually think he's done well to play through the morass at a reasonable level without any complaints or disruption. He hasn't looked close to a star in a season we thought a year ago he could be an All-Star contender. Maybe never, but I suspect a lot more than we've seen. He's simply too much of a mismatch not to be close to a 20/10 player again. I believe he gets there, but probably not until there's some determination about Young's role and status or if they can be paired together better.


Denzel Valentine

Alejandro Yagros:

Last year when Boylen exiled Jabari I 100% understood. Jabari couldn't shoot and didn't defend, and his passing was inconsistent. With Denzel, he can shoot and is probably the Bulls's best passer. In a team that is horrendous on offense, why exactly is Bolylen exiling him?

Sam Smith:

I don't want to get into too much basketball jargon and technicalities, but I don't think he likes him.


Thad Young

Tom Brown:

In the majority of games the 3rd quarter has been a disaster. It appears the Bulls switching D works well in the 1st two quarters, the opponent makes adjustments at half time to the Bulls switching D, and outscores the Bulls by enough points in the 3rd quarter to put the Bulls on their heels and in a deep enough hole that they cannot dig out. Boylen has stated many times he is committed to his schemes. It appears the Bulls commitment to their schemes makes the Bulls too predictable. Should the Bulls experiment with making defensive adjustments at halftime to a straight man to man for example in anticipation of the opponents offensive adjustments to our switching D?

Sam Smith:

They have been doing some different things lately, like more switching with that smaller lineup that had Markkanen and Hutchison upfront with guards. I'm interested to see what occurs with Young, who has played well in limited minutes and took a turn on Towns Wednesday and bothered him some with physical play. Until, at least, Towns parked himself deep in the lane and just dropped the ball over Young. The paradox for Boylen was he emphasized a switching plan as the primary defensive coach under Hoiberg and began to question that with the horrendous defense. So he's gone to this pressure game, which does cause a lot of turnovers and has made the Bulls a better defensive team. Just not perfect quite yet.


Zach LaVine

Anthony Carter:

Is it just me or has Zach LaVine been stepping it up more on defense? Always in the passing lanes, bodying guys up when he has to. He might not ever be a lock down defender but it definitely seems like he's been applying more pressure on defense. I see you Zach! That's how you shut the critics up!

Sam Smith:

It's not just you, but it's difficult to beat first impressions. Zach's actually in the top 20 in the league in steals, one of the usual measures for defensive play. It's not a foolproof measure because James Harden also is top 20. But only Kris Dunn is better on the Bulls and it suggests despite the criticism that often comes from those reading box scores and watching highlights that LaVine has tried, has improved and is at least average. But when he gets beat it gets pointed out when it doesn't with someone who is supposed to be a better defender. Hey, maybe Zach gets Most Improved for his defense.


Luke Kornet

Paul Siekert:

Analytics is ruining sports; basketball is nothing but three pointers and layups; baseball is nothing but home runs and strikeouts; and cheating; sports is supposed to be entertaining and its not entertaining any more; Michael Jordan would have been relegated to the end of the bench and then to the d league; because the two point jump shot is now illegal on the bulls; I stopped watching football years ago, for a variety of reasons, but I had hoped to continue enjoying basketball and baseball; now im not so sure; anyway, im an old man so it doesn't matter; but, I dont see that you are successfully attracting the younger generation with analytics (and cheating) based sports;

Sam Smith:

The contradiction is that the numbers and stats and quick-hit analyses are generally preferred by the younger generation. It's been an interesting dichotomy. Young fans seem much more analytical than in previous years the way they dissect not only the statistics but the plays and strategies. Where it often becomes exaggerated is the way so many will pull up a single play and project that as the way someone plays despite there being hundreds of such plays in a game and not always taking into account the natural reactions of a player since so much, especially in basketball, like in jazz, is not scripted. Don't give up; it's all still wonderful entertainment.


Mo Harkless

Kieron Smith:

Can the Bulls really trade for Maurice Harkless and finally not have Kris Dunn at small forward?

Sam Smith:

His name is the one that has most come up in speculation in Los Angeles media regarding Young. The finances match and Harkless is on an expiring deal. I could see the Clippers being interested in the veteran Young for the playoffs. Harkless might be worth a look. He's shot the three well at times in his career, though he is not a difference-maker. It might be sort of addition by subtraction thing to give the young players more time and given Otto Porter Jr. seems on schedule to return to play after the All-Star break based on the kind of workouts he's been doing lately.


Luka Doncic

Mike Freeman:

I realize we've been unlucky in the lottery and unlike many Chicago fans I've always supported Bulls management. Do you think there was any attempt to trade up in the last 2 drafts like Dallas did for Luka Doncic? I am tired of seeing other teams making the bold moves and reaping the benefits, while the Bulls continue to draft what Jerry Krause called Our kind of people.

Sam Smith:

OKP; it should be on the jersey. You're correct that the Bulls probably are somewhat conservative, though they also made what would seem like one of the boldest moves trading Jimmy Butler for three No. 1 picks. Those deals usually are hailed, and it was (until this season). I don't believe there was a way to trade up for Doncic with Atlanta and Dallas ahead and offering future No. 1s. After all, when you've just decimated your team to rebuild, it's not like you have much. Rarely, by the way, can you trade into the top three, anyway. Teams are loath to give up those picks for fear of, yes, what just happened to Atlanta. Imagine being them. Or the Kings. Though Trae Young did get voted a starting All-Star this season. So it's not a horrible deal. And while you might suggest that now, the idea then of trading Markkanen and a future top 10 No. 1 for the rights to a player who ended up the third pick and who looked like Zion would dunk him through the basket probably would have seemed foolish to you. The Bulls have been bold at times, if not fortunate. It seemed bold to trade two No. 1s to move up in the draft into the lottery for Doug McDermott, whom everyone was sure would be Kyle Korver with athletic ability. There was demand (Denver for example) for Dwyane Wade coming off a great playoff series and the Bulls swooped in and got him. Then Wade decided to get old. Luck, as they agreed, isn't a plan. But you need some and they haven't gotten their share in recent years.


Luka Doncic

Joe Tanner:

What are your thoughts on Luka Doncic? Has there every been a player that has been this good this quickly? He is already posting a 30 PER at 20 years old. This is completely unprecedented. Even Jordan, Lebron, Wilt & Shaq weren't that dominate that quickly.

Sam Smith:

Wait, you mean the Chamberlain who averaged 37 and 27 as a rookie? Oscar who averaged a near 30-point triple-double (9.7 assists) as a rookie? Kareem who averaged 28 and by his third season was Finals MVP and a champion. Bill Russell, who joined a team that never had been to the Finals in its history and starting in his rookie season went to 10 straight Finals and won nine of them? Jerry West who in his second season averaged 30.8, 7.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists even playing with Elgin Baylor. Who, by the way, averaged 25 and 15 as a rookie and led his team to the Finals as a rookie and eight of the next 12 Finals? Then maybe Rick Barry, who averaged 26 and 11 as a rookie and 35.6 his second season with 9.2 rebounds. Jordan, by the way, averaged 28, 6.5 and six assists as a rookie with his team improving by 11 games and making the playoffs for the second time in eight years. You mean those kinds of unprecedented? Doncic is terrific and great to watch, and he is just turning 21 next month. But there have been some pretty good players even before him.

Got a question for Sam?

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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