Ask Sam Mailbag 1.3.20

Anthony Moulesong:

Should Kris Dunn remain in the starting lineup even after Otto Porter comes back from injury? His defense would seem to be utilized better against opponents' starting lineups rather than the second stringers. The other starters score enough to keep up with anyone, but none defend like Dunn. Moving him back to the second unit is likely to set the defense back, and it's really the biggest thing the Bulls have going for themselves this season. Otto could slip into the second unit, raising its efficiency considerably and getting himself back in shape for whatever happens next year.

Sam Smith:

Would Dunn be as impactful off the bench? He wasn't always, so as always, there are difficult questions with these Bulls. But it's a good point in that Dunn's strength this season has been matching up against the opponent's best offensive player. We saw it again in the Utah loss with Donovan Mitchell as ineffective as you can take him. That player isn't coming off the bench, so you take away perhaps the biggest thing Dunn is giving you. The outlook for Porter doesn't look great this season given there's talk about an evaluation in a few weeks, and then having been out so long how much more until a return? And then that he didn't play with the players is there another adjustment period? But Porter adjusted fast after the trade last season and the Bulls had their best run when he was playing. So if he is healthy you probably start him, especially with the weaknesses at the small forward position. More likely Satoransky, who seems a very willing and egoless player, moves to join the reserves. And he could be a good fit with Coby White, who shouldn't be thinking about attempting to pass to anyone again this season. Shoot, kid, shoot!

Kieron Smith:

I'm just looking for a way to save Kris Dunn's career. What about a trade for Darren Collison? Or maybe Bulls get: Montrezl Harrell, Maurice Harkless, Jerome Robinson Clippers get: Kris Dunn, Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoransky

Sam Smith:

That's a lot of careers to work on. I'm sure Kris is grateful, though he seems to be carving out something of a solid defensive niche with these Bulls. With Chandler Hutchison perhaps due back Saturday and perhaps Otto Porter Jr. after the All-Star break, the starting lineup likely will change. There were reports this week that Collison may like to return to the NBA after his surprise announcement last summer he was retiring. The Bulls had some interest, but they went for Tomas Satoransky. Satoransky has been a good acquisition. Since Collison retired as an unrestricted free agent he's still a free agent and can sign wherever he wants. The rumors are he's interested in one of the LA teams, though they'll both have to expand their rosters to 20 with all the buyouts and possibilities spectated about going there after the February trade deadline.

As for the second part, the Clippers aren't giving up Harrell. But there was speculation last week out of LA of interest in Young and mentioning Harkless. There might be something to that given the Bulls shortages at wing (Harkless) and the difficulty the Bulls have had finding a comfortable role for Young. He seemed an ideal addition at the time, but the way the offensive play has evolved with the perimeter shooting his role seems to have been compromised. He doesn't seem as engaged as he was. If the Bulls do anything at the trade deadline, it would seem that teams would have the most interest in the veteran Young. He is the type of player who can make a big play and win a big playoff game for a good team.

Greg Bowcock:

What does Dunn have to do to get a free throw in the NBA, as at this point I'm convinced that he must have murdered a litter of puppies in a past life, or something. I'm not one of those fans who complains about the refs, but I've never seen anything like this, before. The guy gets hit, and much harder, than practically anyone else on his drives and never gets to the line, with my personal favorite sequence being when he was practically decapitated by Brook Lopez on an attempted layup right in front of the official at the United Center, last year, and nothing was called, but Chicago had to call a timeout just to make sure that he was okay after falling so hard to the floor.

Sam Smith:

In the continuation of this week's Ask About Kris Dunn feature…I also don't usually complain about missed calls, and I'm not going to. One thing the Bulls as a team don't do—while remember trying to get up 50 threes a game—is taking the hit at the basket and try to finish. Remember, basketball is a non-contact sport in which contact is allowed, but contact which doesn't detract from the play. Sure, try to explain that one. Dunn hasn't been a good finisher, and part of the reason is he refuses to wear a James Harden costume. But you earn some of your calls in the NBA with trickeration, unfortunately, with contorted facial expressions and flailing your arms wildly in a Hardenesque way, or driving into a player, taking the hit and learning how to finish that play. Contorted LeBron pained expressions help. If you'll recall, we'd complain about the lack of foul calls for Derrick Rose the way he could twist his body and avoid contact. LaVine is equally good at that with his athletic ability and thus doesn't get as many foul calls as he could. It also becomes an art, but it's also on the officials to not be lured into so many erroneous foul calls by others.hard to the floor.

Tom Golden:

First Team; Wilt, Oscar, MJ, Bird, Duncan, in that order. Second team: Magic, Kobe, Lebron, Kareem, Durant. Phil, coach. I know, 13 rings….I just never liked him

Sam Smith:

C'mon, how does anyone not like him? Bill Russell, by the way, couldn't have been more unpleasant and difficult to pretty much everyone, but I digress. There are plenty of these lists and yours lines up a lot with mine except for missing Elgin Baylor. Not sure Durant is close to an all-timer for me and Shaq takes these omissions personally. So I wouldn't go near a TNT studio for awhile. The entertaining part will come in about a year when the NBA hits 75 and I'm pretty sure they add 25 to their all-time top 50. Start your lists.

Mike Logan:

I've noticed that the Bulls seem to get blown out in the third quarter a lot. Am I imagining that or have the Bulls really been worse in the third quarter this year than they have in previous years? If I'm not imagining it, does that reflect bad coaching? The other team making adjustments while the Bulls do not? Although hard to know whether he's saying the right things at halftime and the players just aren't properly implementing the adjusted game plan.

Sam Smith:

We don't look back to the last two years because they weren't always about competing, but certainly in the last month—and it was most stark the last two games—opponents turned around the game coming out of halftime. The Bulls have lost the third quarter in 11 of the last 15 games. The margin is minus-34 in that stretch with a few close ones. Though it's not supposed to be, first halves often are more of a feeling out in the regular season with the schedule (one team often on a back to back) and perhaps playing that team for the first time. Despite extensive scouting, players often don't pay as much attention until they start playing the game. Better teams tend to increase their defensive pressure as the game goes on, which we saw with the Bucks and Jazz. Teams do make adjustments, also, so is it the opponent defending harder? A strategy change? Or as you note the players not responding and countering? Let's say it's another area for growth.

Richard Meagher:

I spend a lot of time looking at mock drafts. I wonder, are second round picks undervalued? there have been may very good NBA players taken in the second, so should the Bulls try to get more second round picks?

Sam Smith:

Most importantly, you perhaps should look into stamp collecting or a gym membership. I'm not a big fan of second-round picks. Sure, some do exceptionally well and we know all the surprise stories from Dennis Rodman to Draymond Green, and you'd love to have some of those players. Daniel Gafford with this season's Bulls looks like he'll be very good and already has passed summer free agent Luke Kornet. And I do remember the outcry of this being the end of the franchise when the Bulls sold off their second-round pick, who now is benched with a bad Minnesota team instead of a bad Golden State team.

Been waiting to say that for a while again. Speaking about rebuildings, remember before this Warriors recent great run, they went from 1995 to 2012 and made the playoffs once. And the one time was as an eighth seed. There are no guarantees with these projects. I believe you can get enough of those kinds of players as free agents, from the G-league, lottery picks who can't make it one place who are worth another look and parts of trades. The picks are fine, but I wouldn't invest to get extras. Miami this season is a good example of adding those kinds of players to the right system without being second-round draft picks.

Yuriy Fomin:

I like Zach Lavine as a player, but I can't vote for him as an All Star in good conscience this year. In 14 games against plus .500 teams this year, he's shooting a cool 39% from the floor. The consistency is just not there yet.

Sam Smith:

OK, I'll accept he's not Giannis or LeBron or Harden. But Zach's having an All-Star season and deserves to be on the team. Vote Zach! Because he's had the misfortune of a slumping Lauri Markkanen for two months, an injured Otto Porter Jr. and a reluctant offensively at times Wendell Carter. To me it's remarkable he's done as well as he has with five guys guarding him. Sometimes late pretty much no one else but Coby even seems to want to shoot. So Zach has been taking so much on himself, and defenses did notice. Of course, he also likes doing that, I'll admit. It's a lot easier to get your points standing next to Giannis or Harden or LeBron, who are being chased by three guys with five sets of eyes watching him. No one has said Zach's in that first elite all-NBA class. But he's played at an All-Star level for two years. Vote Zach! And watch the games, not the spreadsheet formulas.

Stephen Fulton:

It looks like the Bulls are continuing to grow and improve. Boy if they could get back a few of those early games they let slip away, they would be close to 500. When does Hutchinson return? They could use Porter also. That seems to be something they are missing. Maybe Felicio for Taj Gibson to help work with the big guys and give us one more veteran? LaVine looks like he has a legit shot to make the All Star Team. Which Eastern Guards would he be competing against?

Sam Smith:

Despite the losses to the Bucks and Jazz—OK, the Bucks definitely are better—they have played better, competed, been in games and come back. I know, yadda, yadda, heard that, but they're still 13-22. But it's the East and two games out of the last spot for the playoffs, and the Magic just lost Jonathan Isaac for maybe the season. I know all the playoff talk can be misleading when it's under .500, but there's something to be said for that. Jordan's second season when he came back late from injury, the Bulls made the playoffs at 30-52. They were swept by Boston, but Jordan had that magnificent series that was a kick start to within two seasons winning 50 games. We talked about the schedule being more available to start the season.

But the Bulls obviously weren't ready with the new everything. The rotation, roles, and play are more organized now. They really have played much better. They should continue to compete well. As for Zach, he did well in the first fan voting results, fifth among East guards with Kyrie Irving second. Irving has been injured and might not play, which if he's top two means the commissioner makes the replacement. And the league would like a Chicago representative. Plus, media and player votes are added later. Trae Young is first. Since media and players often weigh record and the Hawks are last in the East and falling that could change. And Derrick Rose off the bench is fourth. But Ben Simmons, Kyle Lowry and Spencer Dinwiddie with better teams are just beyond Zach. He's got a chance.

Andrew Brown:

Well thank you Giannis for putting the Bulls back in their place. It really does show that gap between us and the top teams. And then the gap between us and Orlando and the 8th seed, whilst close it also puts us close to that danger zone territory of just sitting around 8-9-10 and going nowhere for years (like what the pistons were). Am I seeing improvement? No not really after 30 games. Seems the wins we get is when stars are rested or hurt so I was never getting excited about the small win streaks. Lauri having a big game vs the hawks...so what. It was over before it began with trey young out. So it's 2020 and we are still very average. Whilst we can still strive for the 8th seed which we must do, how do we get there with a young hungry team with upside (think 1993 Charlotte Hornets when LJ and Zo were coming through). Changes still need to be made and it seems clear we are sticking with the coach. So who can we target and who needs to go? Nobody wants a broken Otto Porter or Hutch so forget them. It's going to be one of Lavine/Lauri or Carter with a Dunn thrown in to get something good. Utah did well with a piece move of Jordan Clarkson. Hopefully there is just a piece like that for us.

Sam Smith:

I agree their place isn't with the Bucks, and it's a really poor record against winning teams. So let's be a bit optimistic and say what a great opportunity coming up this month to beat some of those winning teams. But those are the big questions, thank you. We expected more from Markkanen, and he has gotten more confident as the season has progressed. He needs to be more a focus. I don't agree, as some say, LaVine takes shots from him as Zach looks for Markkanen a lot, as he did against the Jazz. This season is about a step, meaning competing into April for something even if it's unsuccessful. But it's not like the Pistons to me because the Bulls core is younger players with a higher upside like Carter, White, Gafford. The team's salary cap for acquisitions is set for the summer of 2021. That's when the test will be in the fourth year of rebuilding from the bottom, which isn't unreasonable.

Longiang Li:

So I hear Lauri getting praise this week: what do you see in him being able to lead a team? Does he have closing ability?

Sam Smith:

I believe Markkanen still can be a 20-point scorer in the NBA, but not a closer. Not many are, though he can make shots for you at the close of games. His game is not to create off the dribble and beat his player to get to the line or make a late shot. But he can make that shot off-ball movement and action, which the Bulls don't do particularly well late in games yet. Which is understandable to some extent given most of the first quarter of the season was spent with changing lineups, rotations and starters and injuries to Porter and Hutchison. With that stability, the Bulls mostly have been a competitive .500 team the last month, which was something of the goal, if not the fantasy. Markkanen is really good and a bit underutilized this season with the early experimental rotations. I'd like to see some late sets in which the last shot is set up for him even if he doesn't create it. I believe he'll be a bigger part of things the second half. Here comes February Lauri?

Bill Unger:

There was a comment during the Hawks game "Who could guard Dominique Wilkins today". and then, "players from the past would have an easier transition to todays game than players today playing in the 90's". Seems to me that if we live at the same time and train and eat the same way, the best players will always be the best players. Like saying that if Mantle and Mays played today they would just be pretty good. Time travel aside, what do you think? Who could guard Dominique? Scottie Pippen is not an answer.

Sam Smith:

It's interesting because usually, they say the players from today would be superior. Who was Elgin Baylor, anyway? And last week I dealt with a lot of Wilt just picked on 6-6 fat guys. Since we basically only get to judge what we've seen, if you produced excellence then you are and were excellent. The interesting part of these hypotheticals is what would have occurred. Because consider that Durant might not even have been an NBA player if he came along in the 70s. He's a seven-footer, so he's playing by the basket. If he refused with big men not allowed to shoot and no three-point shot, he would have been kicked off the team. And plus being so skinny he probably would have gotten pushed around so much that with his sensitive nature he might have quit. But he's a bright and talented person, so growing up in the DC area more likely he becomes a state representative and replaces Tom McMillen in Congress from Maryland. Yes, we've lost a very good public servant because of those basketball rules changes.