Ask Sam Mailbag 2.14.20

Cameron Watkins :

Is it more of a slap in the face to Lavine that he's not on the 44-man Team USA roster than it was that he didn't make the all-star team? This roster only includes American players and, at this point in the process, is almost twice as large as the combined all-star teams. I think Lavine would have made a better all-star than say Middleton or Sabonis, but other good players like Beal didn't make the team either. With 44 slots it is hard to see how he shouldn't get an invitation to Team USA. The competition is stiffer among guards than frontcourt players but still, Joe Harris and Derrick White?

Sam Smith:

Unfortunately, you also get pulled down when things aren't going well at your house. The Olympic team is, paradoxically for our country, a loyalty test. Well, now that I think about that…Anyway, last summer after most everyone dropped off the team they asked Zach. I think he was a little hurt to be asked after the 27th guy said no, but he had an ankle sprain at the time and said he couldn't. I think the committee held that against him. There are a lot of good guards among the finalists. But certainly, Zach could have been among 44 guys. Perhaps it will serve the Bulls well, given LaVine has even more reason to be motivated and work on improvement. Zach will be 25 next month. He should eventually get a chance as perhaps at least half the finalists on that list probably are in their last run with USA Basketball. He likes to note he's strained against being overlooked most of his career.

Rob Yolles:

I know I saw Wilt at that 1973 All-Star game and Jerry West since my folks took me to that game. I was 8 years old. I lost a Bulls cap that day. That memory is stronger than the game itself. I also recall a charity game. Guy Rodgers played but he had just retired. Maybe a catholic school gym. I got autographs. I had a bad speech impediment but all the guys were cool with me except Bob Love who signed but would not speak to me. That was upsetting but later when I found out about his issues. I wanted to tell him I was sorry for putting him on the spot. Thanks for stoking those memories

Sam Smith:

Bob, as many know, still works as an ambassador for the Bulls, his story of overcoming his stutter an inspiring tale that famously had him working as a janitor after his NBA career. That was a difficult time for players, who were famous but not nearly set financially for life-like players these days. It also wasn't a very understanding era as Bob received a lot of abuse about his disability. As you likely know, it becomes embarrassing to the individual. It's also why Bill Walton when he was younger was viewed as so ornery. It's wonderful with both Bill and Bob that once they started speaking they hardly have stopped.

Brodie Larsh:

With the trade deadline behind us, and the Bulls in talent evaluation mode the rest of the season. What areas do you think the Bulls will look to improve this offseason?

Sam Smith:

It's been difficult to assess the roster with so many players out. Shooting guard seems solid. Center probably is, as well, with Wendell Carter Jr. and I personally believe Lauri Markkanen will rebound (and score). The point guard and wing positions need to be addressed most. The Bulls defense has collapsed without Carter, and especially Kris Dunn. But the Bulls perhaps most need a point guard who can both distribute and be a scoring threat (Coby?). You can get away without it as the Celtics have with Marcus Smart, but then you can't be weak from the wing. Having Kemba Walker also helps. Otto Porter Jr. will likely opt-in for next season, but with his injuries, he may not be the ideal wing player any longer and more a stretch four. Chandler Hutchison has improved with more forceful play, but he's not close to being confident in his shot. Healthy—yes, big if—I still believe it's .500 level talent. So perhaps more tweak than an overhaul, still.

Kieron Smith:

With now 36 losses(and continuing?)/only 19 wins, it's only fit to say Bulls aren't making the playoffs.......again. Could they bounce back knowing Otto might be the only one to return to the court after the All-Star Break?

Sam Smith:

It certainly doesn't look promising, especially since when players return from being out that long they usually don't immediately step into 32 minutes in the rotation. We've heard this before, but this may really—no, really—be the crucial stretch. The Bulls play five of their next six at home coming out of the All-Star break with four of the six against losing teams and the other two against only possible playoff teams in Dallas and Oklahoma City. And then go to Minnesota. The way the bottom of the East is it only takes one little streak. Yes, we've heard that one before.

John Wilmore:

Since it seems unlikely that any All-Star free agents are going to join the Bulls this summer, giving them the apparently requisite two All-Stars needed to be a championship level team, the Bulls probably need to keep focusing on growing their young players. The biggest wildcard seems to be Lauri, and his offensive issues. Beyond injuries and lack of assertiveness, the main theory for his struggles seems to be that he does not "fit" in the Bulls' offensive system. My question is, was there ever a system he thrived in, and what type was it? (He doesn't seem particularly adept at the pick and roll, nor does he seem to have a post-up game. Further, his drives to the basket are not often pretty. He mainly seems to have good games when his three-pointer is falling, when he's running on fast breaks or when he's making strong cuts to the basket.) On the subject of young players, I would also like to see Coby White playing with the starters more. He is starting to show more potential as a playmaker than as a hot and cold shooting guard.

Sam Smith:

I believe Coby is fine where he is. He turns 20 on Sunday, is in the regular rotation and averaging 24 minutes per game. Maybe once the Bulls are officially out of the playoff situation, but what's the rush? I agree the Bulls have to improve at point guard, and maybe he's the answer. The Bulls believe he is for the future, and he is starting to look like he could be, seemingly a bit more comfortable as a facilitator lately. Though it's impacted his scoring and certainly shooting percentage, 31 percent overall the last four games. He could be that scoring/facilitating guy because he has the scoring component. But Satoransky is better for now to give the team a better chance to succeed. Lauri? I just hope they don't fall for it and give up on him now. I don't believe the Bulls will. You can play any "system" and still extoll and exploit a player's strengths. For whatever reason, the Bulls have not done that well this season and have not helped Markkanen. I understand the three-point shooting thing that's been embraced in many places. And Markkanen is, at least theoretically, one of the better big man perimeter shooters. So it was logical to ask him to shoot. The mistake the Bulls might have made with him this season--and to his credit, he's not a complainer or excuse maker—is he does, or can do, a lot of things despite what you may believe. He did a lot of those in his first two seasons. He's not a powerful post player, but he can succeed with mismatches on switches, which most teams do defensively. He can drive the ball on big men. He's got decent enough footwork that he could be good with that. He's good in transition.

The Bulls have put him too often in the home run position of making or missing a three. It doesn't affect some like Zach. Lauri tends more to be a pleaser trying to do exactly what is asked instead of the coach yelling, "No, no, no, good shot." Lauri probably hears the nos. The three-point game works for some; not everyone. I also feel there's a psychological effect of making baskets. And even if someone tells you it's OK to average 38 percent shooting, it's still getting a bit too accustomed to missing two of three shots. Some shooters need the feel of making shots. Even Jordan used to talk about making a few free throws early to get the feel of the ball going through the basket. As inconvenient as it might be for the calculations, humans play the game. It's not just done in box scores and spreadsheets. Some people need to have success in the way they define it to be more effective. Look, Markkanen was spectacular under Boylen for a month last season. I'm confident he will get back to that. He's just better than he's been permitted to be this season.

Jon Kueper:

So the Spurs are 8 under, Pop not looking like a genius anymore. Does this just give more proof that the NBA is simply a player's league? Maybe he is a great coach only when he has great players? Would a different coach help the Spurs right now? I feel silly saying that since I have bashed Boylen plenty and think the Bulls should be better with a different coach. Does coaching only matter for certain teams or to a certain point? Seems like it is much more important in football as I think most would take a Belichick team without Brady over a Brady team without Belichick.

Sam Smith:

I am waiting for Belichick without Brady since I recall Belichick as coach of the Browns and Jets and don't recall their Super Bowl celebrations. Belichick is terrific, obviously. One of the best coaches sports has seen; and so is Popovich given his flexibility with so many different talents, his willingness to compromise and be decisive while maintaining relationships and respect. Of course, it's a players' league, and Phil Jackson surely knew it was more fun to coach with great players. He didn't have them in the CBA, so it took awhile to even get into the NBA. The Spurs roster isn't particularly deep and it is flawed. Still with Lillard now hurt and Memphis holding down eighth, you shouldn't count out the Spurs yet. With the Pelicans there, I do think the Spurs miss the playoffs for the first time since 1997. I believe making it this year would give them the all-time consecutive streak for all team sports. If he's available, I'd hire him. Speculation has been this will be Popovich's last season and then onto the Olympics. He still looks like a great coach to me.

Alejandro Yegros:

I'm really liking Zach more and more this season. He's always honest and no bs, and I really like how he just shows up and plays and does his best. He hasn't missed a game and when reporters tried to set him up with "injury"-type questions recently he (correctly) stated that they stunk too when healthy. He seems like a real stand-up guy. I hope they keep him.

Sam Smith:

If this difficult season has shown something, anything, it's that LaVine really is good enough to be your best player and have success. I know, I know, if he's so good how come they don't have success? It's complicated. His talents are exceptional with shooting at that level, clutch play, bailouts, finishing. I understand everyone looks for excuses when you are losing. Defense, as if James Harden guards anyone. Empty scoring, as if the points aren't difficult when everyone keeps throwing the ball back to you with five seconds on the shot clock. Zach has handled an incredibly difficult season with professionalism, honesty, integrity, and commitment. He never takes games off. He's accessible to fans and media, he takes and makes big shots and accepts his faults with a commitment to improve. Isn't that what you want? I know, I know, the wins. It takes a village, you know.

Mark Staine:

I have had a pretty good track record with picking draft success stories. Outside of Wiseman, Ball and Achiuwa ( Achiuwa is going to be a draft steal. Great motor, skills, instincts, fire and IQ. The Bulls need to make a move to insure they can nab him. Achiuwa will make WCJ expendable or bolster the line up with him. ) I don't see any real studs in the 2020 draft, Edwards is too passive and seems scared of contact, Cole doesn't not move his feet well on D nor does he have the penetrating moves to get to where he needs to be on the court. McDaniels is a less aggressive Hutchinson. Toppin does not show any polish, great athleticism or coordination. I would take several 2021 draft prospects over Edwards, Cole and Toppin. (2021) Green, Mobley, Cunningham and Clarke will be major studs. I would love to see Bulls be able to grab either Green or Clarke. Their skill and scoring knack would be perfect with Zach and I believe they both are #1 scoring options.

Sam Smith:

Thanks for the scouting report since I never watch college basketball. It's almost as good as golf for inducing naps. Though the problem based on what you are suggesting means the Bulls have to be bad next season, too? I'm not sure any of us can deal with that. And rarely can you acquire a high draft pick, and perhaps never again after the Hawks traded down and gave up Doncic. And not if the 2021 draft is that good. Do you suppose it's possible no one else but you knows?

Stian Nordvik:

I just don`t see the point with the All Stars anymore, except for the 3 point shootout there are no resemblance to the game anymore. Watching the terrible game vs Washington I got to thinking about who were the all stars vs the Bulls the last 5 years. Not the most hyped players, but the unlike hero excelling beyond their reputation. The nemesis the Bulls had real problems to handle. I came up with these 5 players. Rodney Stukney, Klay Thompson, Ish Smith, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valenciunas. Enjoy your week without loosing.

Sam Smith:

They're trying to trick the players into caring with those new game-within-a-quarter things. With the tribute to Kobe fourth quarter—reaching 24 points—the way they score in these things it could be a very short quarter. Meanwhile, maybe Zach did get into the premier event. And as for the last part, c'mon, it's been a tough enough season. That's piling on! Personal foul! At least you could have named five guys all still in the NBA.