Ask Sam Mailbag: 12.9.16
Sam Smith answers reader questions after an up and down week for the Bulls
Still like my prediction of winning 1st round of playoffs.
Sam: Go Bulls, eh. What would Dennis Green say? It’s shaping up a bit like last season with the beating good teams (7-1 last season over Cleveland and Toronto). Yes, the chemistry is better, the teamwork better; Butler is becoming very special and Wade long has been. But the issues that many wondered about, like three-point shooting (they have been missing the one guy who is best at it until Thursday), isolation play and scoring have become problematic of late. It looked a bit better against the Spurs, though everything does in wins. Food tastes better, shower hotter and all that.
The Bulls have shown great things, like the victory over Cleveland and the 4-2 road trip; and then losing those games you hate to, like to a bad Dallas team, a weak Lakers team, an erratic Portland team. Though much attention has been paid to the veterans, it is a majority young team, and a majority young team the coach is being asked to train, develop and analyze along the way. It’s tough when some seem to be having a crisis of confidence. There’s plenty of time to make a good run, but the way the East is bunched three through 12, just like it was last season, seems the inevitability of this season. A little bit of luck and health can make the difference between ninth and fourth. And, like last season, the Bulls with Butler and Wade continue to show they can compete with and contend with just about everyone. So keep watching.
Just an early observation about Robin Lopez. It seems clear that Hoiberg has settled into a rotation that doesn’t include Lopez playing many, if any 4th quarter minutes. It occurred to me that the Bulls seemed to have been a reasonably strong 1st quarter team and not a great 4th quarter team. Looking at some of the numbers, it shows the Bulls are in the top 5 in the league in 1st & 3rd quarter point differential and 27th in the 4th quarter differential. Now I’m not suggesting that he is the ‘difference maker’ but I wonder if he needs to see more playing time in the 4th quarters as the numbers suggest when he is on the court, the Bulls play well.
Sam: There is really no set rotation these days other than Butler and Wade. Yes, Lopez has been out in fourth quarters often earlier in the season, though lately he’s been finishing more, like against the Pistons with bigger guys. Hoiberg tends to be more a matchup coach and lots of teams these days finish games not only without a center but often even a power forward. Lopez doesn’t chase out well and I think the Bulls also went to more switching because Lopez doesn’t blitz or hedge on the pick and roll like Noah. Felicio does a better job of that, but gives less offensive option. Though with his play against the Spurs finishing passes and tips he should get more time now.
Hoiberg also has tried to bring some more offense out of Bobby Portis, but he’ll step back if Felicio plays more. That was the issue Portis was facing coming in: where does he play. Hoiberg has tried to work him in at center with Gibson and Mirotic at power forward. So now we’ll see. I don’t like always to match to an opponent; let them match to you. But Lopez isn’t an offensive go-to option at the end of games, and it’s tough for a coach watching defensively as Lopez, who isn’t very fast to start with, trying to cover a three-point shooter when one basket is so big down the stretch. Lopez has averaged about 29 minutes per game, the second most in his career. It’s a second guess you can look at, but for the most part he seems to have been used effectively.
Jimmy Butler can't play a whole 48mins of a game, and expect us to win. He's going to get tired eventually.
Sam: Yes, his playing time has increased after moderating much of the first 10 games. Butler has been close to 40 minutes in December and close to 39, which would be a league high, the last 10 games. Though I’m with Jeff Van Gundy a bit on this, and you hate to admit that. But Chicago seems unusually absorbed with minutes. Hoiberg has given guys chances all season; thirteen players are averaging at least 10 minutes. If guys produce, they come back; when they don’t, they sit again. You can say you have to ride with guys to give them confidence. But you also have to win games. Hoiberg has done a fair job with Wade, who took two games off for rest, and has balanced playing time with Gibson and Lopez.
Hoiberg was very patient the first few weeks going with large groups of reserves, generally playing with Wade. But several of those reserves have struggled badly to score, and Jimmy can get you points even when he’s shooting poorly by going to the line. There’s only so long you can ride with guys who aren’t giving you much. And as Van Gundy always notes, Jordan played an awful lot. When he was 27 like Jimmy, Jordan was averaging 40 minutes per game. Jimmy will get tired and miss some late, but, as he says, he works all summer so he can do this. So the Bulls need to let him.
Joakim Noah is shooting 7 for 27 at the line this season. Wow those #s are weird.
Sam: I know he’s had a bad knee, though he has shown his shoulder was healed. But I was watching the other night and saw the Kings doing hack-a-Noah. And he missed all four free throws. It’s obviously confidence as we saw the last two seasons when that side spinning tornado shot not only didn’t go, but Noah refused to take it. He’d actually gotten pretty good at that a few years back. In fact, the worst he ever was at the line was just below 70 percent until 49 percent last season and half that now. You really hate it for him, one of the best guys who’s ever been through Chicago and around the NBA. He now seems like those baseball players who couldn’t throw home or to a base all of a sudden, Steve Blass, Chuck Knoblauch, Steve Sax, and lately Jon Lester and the pickoff, sort of a version of the yips. It’s most often attributed to golf and putting. In any case, it’s painful to watch, especially to a guy you root for.
Jeepers bring back the reserves in Doug & MCW please! As soon as we go to our bench at the moment without them it's like eeeeek! Just hope we don't kill our starters with extended minutes.
Sam: Everyone has been supportive and positive; no one, as they point out often, points fingers. But at some point you have to reach the point where you produce. Get the point? Or like McDermott quipped. Looks like team was missing his defense. You have to contribute some way.
I am thinking if hawks continue to fall maybe they will have a fire sale. Maybe we could get a rental; notice Jordan Hill never plays with Minnesota. And by the way, the Clippers will win a ring when Malone comes back and wins one. Clippers are all bark and no bite.
Sam: It is starting the trading season next week with players signed in the summer eligible for being traded. The “problem,” if you can call it that in the Eastern Conference, is that it’s going to be difficult to be out of it. So even as a team like Atlanta gets blown out for two weeks, they’re still in the playoff chase and for what they could get they’re probably not giving up a chance for that few million dollars the playoffs are worth for the extra games. Yes, I can see Thibodeau with a lot of young bigs and a lot of losses so far looking to do something, but as for the Bulls it’s not like they have much appealing to give up at this point.
As I’ve written previously, the thinking for awhile was Taj in his last contract season might draw interest, but with Mirotic slow to come on this season Taj seems too valuable to give up for maybe a pick or something. When bench guys aren’t producing it’s not like their value is high. May as well see if they can break out for you. What good is another mid round draft pick? The Bulls will need McDermott and Carter-Williams up to regular minutes before knowing what they have. I don’t see many trade possibilities for now. As for the Clippers, I suspect they run it out one more to time, sort of like the Bulls last season. See what the players can do, and then if it’s second round or less and out it’s probably time. Just like that Bulls team. When you are close and expected to do a lot for five or six years and don’t, players tire of one another, the coach, the media, the fans, their cars, the restaurants, the commute, the weather…OK, maybe not in L.A. Chris Paul is the interesting one.
He likely will take his opt out to become a free agent and cash in long term one more time. We know he has famous boating friends like Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James. The Cavs have no money going forward as their payroll is slightly more than Elyria’s. Anthony’s situation is interesting as with the back and forth lately with Phil Jackson and LeBron, Jackson and Carmelo, perhaps others say to rebuild around Porzingis. Anthony has a no trade. Are they trying to force him out now? There’s many possibilities there. Would Paul try to organize his buddies somewhere? Go with them? Bring them in with him? Perhaps there’s not great intrigue about the Finals, though there certainly will be about the offseason.
Is Mario Chalmers seriously injured? Why isn't anyone picking him up? He usually puts up pretty good numbers in limited minutes while playing respectable defense with quick hands. He's still only 30 and should be capable of contributing to any team nicely if healthy.
Sam: Yes. He ruptured an Achilles last season and that’s a tough one to return from at 30. It usually takes that second season before you can be consistent on some level. The Grizzlies looked at him with Mike Conley hurt. He said he feels he could play now, but he’s obviously still in a rehab situation, and when teams are looking for help they need it now.
What are the Bulls doing with the d-league? They are constantly sending and calling up players. I don't see how this benefits any of the players. It would be much more beneficial to play against better talent (Bulls starters). You don't get better by playing worse players. If it's a punishment for lackluster play then it's obvious that the "young and talented" bench we were sold on is just young.
Sam: I actually think it’s terrific. NBA teams rarely scrimmage seriously during the season, so it’s tough for players not in the regular rotation to get game type opportunities. Obviously Wade isn’t scrimmaging once the season starts and Jimmy with his increasing minutes isn’t, either. So this is really a perfect situation with the D-league team so close the Bulls can send a player there, basically my commute home for a game and then back with the team. You see Felicio had a good game with Windy City and then was ready when he went back in and with his games against the Pistons and Spurs I think we’ll be seeing more of him now. It’s hardly punishment (they keep their same pay) and they get to play, and to me I’d rather play in the D-league (for the NBA money) than watch on the bench. The fun is still in the playing. Which should also help their attitudes and give fans a chance to see the young players for suburban prices. Sorry, it is win/win. You’re way off on this one.
Is Bobby Portis coachable? The reason I ask is that he is very often out of position on defense. He does not seem to understand putting a body on an opponent to keep the opponent from getting an offensive rebound. He regularly commits senseless fouls. When Marcus Teague was not playing well he went to the D-League. Do you think Portis would benefit from a stint with the Windy City Bulls?
Sam: Bobby seems very coaching; maybe too much. He works really hard with the coaches, listens intently. But he comes with a load of bad and no habits from a program that didn’t exactly play disciplined ball. It’s tough to interpret exactly the issues with the reserves, other than the guys coming in as six, seven and eight now were supposed to be nine, 10 and 11. Having McDermott back will mean a lot.
Also, when you have a lot of young players they begin to get anxious about playing time and production for contracts, especially that first one. Even if no one says anything, their “people” are in their ear about the money. Not that there are problems as teammates, but all these young guys have many voices going at them and when they aren’t getting many chances and not doing much when they do, it’s difficult. These are their jobs, and when you get those poor reviews, you’re not exactly rooting for the other guys to succeed. Not that they are undermining anyone, but you can press. Portis might do well with a D-league stint just to get some confidence in a game. He’s shown in the summer leagues he can produce, but he seems caught in a tough spot. The Bulls want him to shoot the three and not hesitate as they not only don’t have enough shooters, but want to have a big man threat as Mirotic has also struggled. But Bobby has seemed uncertain what to do and when. They encourage him, but he doesn’t get enough time to experiment. That’s the tough part of being a bench guy. You are expected to produce even more sometimes than a starter because you have a limited time to play; often if you don’t do much, you get yanked. Butler against Detroit was one of five for two points playing the entire first quarter. You do that as a reserve you may not get back in. Butler then makes four of his next five shots in the second. Bobby’s anything but uncoachable; it’s just difficult for young guys on good teams sometimes. Put him on the 76ers and you might be trying to trade for him.
Maybe you can clear the Air on Jimmy Butler. I think Butler is having another All-Star year. I know a few people who still Dis-like Butler because they think the contract and success went to his head last year. I happen to be a Butler Fan and don’t understand why the hate? Sure, Butler handled some things the wrong way last season. No one else on the Bulls Man-Up(ed) on the team but Butler. Besides, He was the only bright spot in a lot of those games before the contract extension. While Rose-Noah-Deng Took their turns on the medical table ? What is the League’s / Media View of Butler? Is it more the way I think or the Haters ?
Sam: Air Butler? You must be reading those fake news stories on Facebook. I don’t hear much criticism about Butler; in fact, much the opposite. I hear criticism of the Celtics and Timberwolves for not doing more to try to trade for Butler last spring, though there’s no certainty the Bulls were seriously considering such a trade. Butler is a lock as an All-Star and has actually crept into MVP discussion, though with so many great individual performances this season from Westbrook, Harden and Davis and the players on the teams with the best chances to win—the Warriors, Cavs and Spurs as we seem to have eliminated the Clippers this week with their home blowout loss to Golden State—he’s not nearly high enough. But Butler’s a certain All-Star and elevated himself to be considered among the true elite of the NBA. His game has flaws, sure, notably three-point shooting and some isolation play. But he’s turned himself into an amazingly powerful scorer to the surprise of everyone who was drafting that season. Consider he never averaged close to 20 points at Marquette. And didn’t even in junior college. How does a guy then get to 25 per game in the NBA? It’s one of the great stories of the era, and if you find a lot of criticism, you need to begin to change your reading habits.
A lot of media guys are talking about Niko, Bobby and the Bulls bench struggles and lack of confidence. But when players get on the court and there is only one guy controlling and shooting the ball, it is difficult to build that confidence. Players like Niko needs to shoot to get their groove, not pass it all the time!. When Wade plays with the second unit, nobody except himself shoots the ball. The same with Jimmy. And no, I am not Niko writing here. Yes, you want to win, but this is also about the future, right?
Sam: We have a chicken and egg thing here. Or how about life or Earth? Or the dunk or the slam? The short answer, which I don’t do, is no, it’s not about the future. It’s always about the present unless you have completely given up like the 76ers did a few years back. If you have Butler, Wade and Rondo, it’s still about now. I agree with the point about one guy shooting, but what’s been happening too much is those guys keep throwing the ball back to Wade, who then takes a lot of tough shots at the end of the shot clock. Confidence. Yes, but how do you get it if you miss two and you are out? Good point I made there. It’s also the life is not fair thing. You have to try to get on a roll, and especially with Hoiberg, if you produce he goes with you. Valentine had some good moments against Dallas, so then he got more playing time the next game against Portland. Didn’t play well, so he didn’t play much against Detroit. Maybe it’s not fair and maybe it’s not ideal for development, but when you give Dwyane Wade two years you are holding off development for now. They all are getting chances; the ones who do the most with them will get to play more. That’s the real world.
What the heck is a Euro-step? I hear announcers talk about it all the time, but I’m not sure exactly what move their talking about. Help?
Sam: Hello, Dwyane Wade. He’s regarded as one of the principal practitioners of the move, which basically is a body crossover instead of a dribble crossover. It’s considered when you pick up the ball, take a step left or one way and then go back right or the other. Two steps. It’s been credited (blamed) to the players who started coming over from Europe in the 1980s, like Sarunas Marciulionis, since they were allowed three steps in Europe instead of the NBA two. Though you’ll have many old timers question whether it’s three steps in the NBA now. James Harden probably travels the most on the so called Eurostep without the call. His non calls are said to stretch from here to Fiji. Many would prefer to see a Trexit, the end of allowing the travel. Of course, then they may have to call palming and then hardly anyone would score 50 points.
Poor Spencer Dinwiddie. From one NBDL team to another.
Sam: Da dum.
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