Ask Sam Mailbag 2.28.20

Eric Cohen:

The story of Coby White's season epitomizes the trouble confronting this franchise. By game 2, a win at Memphis, his star was born (and I recall beaming that he, not Ja, was ours); at the game 3 home opener the crowd was chanting Coby, Coby... An instant fan favorite. He goes on to play 22 and 16 minutes in successive games, and his minutes were kept in check for months from that point on. You'll see a handful of box scores with him on-fire off the bench with under 20 minutes of playing time. It's not a surprise that Coby was left off the rising stars game, though it was not his fault. We identified the Next Gen Microwave by game 2 and just decided not to plug it in. If you're not going to make splashy trades or sign big name free agents, at least you can get your own house in order.

Sam Smith:

I'm not sure I agree Coby has been the microcosm for the season, though I do agree he was quickly becoming a fan favorite the team probably didn't exploit much. Though I have been in the camp of wanting to see him more, especially during All-Star weekend, I believe early in the season it was understandable given the line ahead of him. The initial team goal was the playoffs and at least respectability given the last few years more so than just development and another draft pick, it seemed to me. Satoransky was a big off season acquisition and a judgment had to be made on Kris Dunn with his free agency ahead. White was very impressive to start strictly as a scorer, and the Bulls believed they were strong there with Porter and Markkanen.

Then as players began to fall away and the record plummeted, there seemed to be that emphasis on development, which also suggested White as a lead guard. I don't see him that way, and certainly not yet. So I believe as a good student type and attempting to please he got lost in trying too hard to be someone he was not; at least not yet. So I suspect his concentration waned as a scorer and his results declined. The team hadn't given up the season, so he slipped into the background a bit. It's understandable with a rookie on a team that added veterans. Memphis has a better record now; they just didn't expect to. So they came into the season saying Morant could make as many mistakes as he wanted. Same with rookies like Barrett, Garland, Reddish and, of course, Zion when he showed up. Coby wasn't in that sort of situation. It's evolved toward that, so he is playing more than 30 minutes now.

Richard Meagher:

I do not think a total housecleaning will be in order. The 4 players that they can build around are: Zach Levine, Kris Dunn, Laurie Markkanen and Coby White. The cupboard is not bare, they have players that you can build around.

Sam Smith:

Hey, what about Wendell? The Bulls do have a reasonably good and potentially better than that young core to work with, and it seems the way things are going another lottery pick. Which is why I don't believe anyone thinks it's some start overtime. More so why we all thought the playoffs were a strong possibility this season, and we're astonished they're 19 games under .500 and probably the most underachieving team to this point. Yes, injuries have been a huge setback, and I know no one wants to hear about that again. They're missing their entire starting frontcourt for the last month and some longer. Have I mentioned no one seems to want to hear about that again? We've said it before, but, really, there is a there there. You have LaVine, White, Markkanen, and Carter in your staring lineup; that's pretty good. That's three players who at least project at or near All-Star level. Maybe four. I understand fans have heard that before, so there is skepticism. And a show me about seeing them play a season without being hurt. So, true, they have to prove it. But I believe there is substantial personnel in place.

Carlos Ramos:

What is a ligit explanation for Archi to continue starting over Coby?

Sam Smith:

Boylen's explanation is legitimate, if not pleasing to everyone. That White is a rookie, that he likes him playing with the reserves to give them some scoring punch since the starers have scoring and playing Harrison, Felicio and Mokoka with Arcidiacono could be offensively catastrophic—which does make the most sense—and that there's no rush for a kid who just turned 20. It's not an unreasonable explanation, though I wish Boylen would make it that way instead of being insulted about being asked. And while the playoff goal is fading, it has not disappeared and the goal is to win games, and this is the best way to try to win. Plus, White is finishing games and playing more than 30 minutes, so what's the problem? And he may ultimately be an off the bench energy scorer type, so why not look at him in that role? I think in the future I'm just going to ask and answer the questions myself. That generally works better for most of us, anyway.

Andrew Brown:

Do you think the Bulls will start Coby soon? The season is done so we might as well develop this kid. May as well experiment with Cobe as the starter if he is the future. Sure he is not a natural pg but he won't be SG with Zach around and not tall enough to play 3.4,5. Let's put a future proof plan in place.

Sam Smith:

I guess that's the big issue, that fans want to see that for now and how it works and if it can. And why not if it's a fun thing? Plus, it's been difficult to watch lately, at times. Hopefully, that changes in the next week with injured players returning and the season not done. I know we've heard it before, but one little streak in the East….

Longgiang Le:

Good to see Coby White finding his groove/ hitting his stride. Do you know what the high point total in a Game for a rookie is this Year?

Sam Smith:

It's one of the few statistical marks White didn't reach in his scoring assaults of the last week. Miami's Kendrick Nunn had 36 back in December, one fewer than White's total against the Thunder. So Coby still should have goals. The minor misleading part about all the milestones is they were qualified as being by a reserve. Rarely do reserves get the opportunity to play that much and take that many shots. So while they were outstanding performances, they weren't quite as historic as they seemed by the collection of all timers.

Cameron Kadleck:

It's generally considered a disadvantage to be playing in the second game of back to backs, but the Bulls are remarkably good in these games this season. So far they've played in 9 sets of back to backs. In the first game of the set, they're 1-8, while in the second game of the set, they're 7-2. Are the Bulls' players or coaches doing something differently in their approach to these games? As a fan desperate to see signs of something positive, I'm hoping that whatever competitive advantage may have resulted in this atypical success could be replicated for other games.

Sam Smith:

It's the statistical flaw of the regular season, and especially in this era of load management when teams might not play everyone or be in their own difficult stretch or having injuries at that time. The regular season isn't always a level playing field like the playoffs. The Clippers were one of those and rested most of their regulars, and the Bulls had the benefit of playing losing teams like the Pistons, Hawks, Hornets, and Cavaliers twice in those second games. But something I will say for this Bulls team even with the injuries is that as poorly as they might play at times, they don't give up or give in like I've seen with some other teams. They don't so-called mail in big deficits, which accounts for the good character type people the Bulls always talk about acquiring. I see that with these Bulls players, and it's to their credit. They just need to check possibly for people with stronger ankles.

Yuriy Formin:

You're absolutely right about Coby White getting snubbed in the Rising Stars Game. A few more of these 30 point games and other people will realize it as well. Coby actually reminds me of another young, inconsistent Bulls guard: Jamal Crawford. Coby is actually much better than Jamal was when he came into the league. I actually think it's good that he got left off the Rising Stars roster because it well put an even bigger chip on his shoulder. I think Coby White will be a darn good player, even if he remains a sixth man, microwave scorer type.

Sam Smith:

I agree that's who he looked like these days, and I have no issue with that as sort of a combination of Lou Williams/Jamal Crawford/Ben Gordon. That's a better thing in this era, so I really don't see a reason to believe White has to be shoehorned into a position. Positionless basketball, right? I think we've seen enough this season that everyone on the roster can't make plays with the ball. But there's also no one on the roster quite like Chris Paul or that natural playmaker type. So the Bulls don't have every role filled yet? Imagine that. But what a great addition to have a fearless scorer in this era who can give you 30 when he gets going to pair with LaVine, who also can do that any game. Teams that have two players like that generally are successful. And we all believed Markkanen might be there the first. I still can't figure out, by the way, why no one has picked up Jamal. I guarantee you he's in shape and probably has played more basketball this winter than most guys on NBA teams.

Pete Zievers:

Early in the season, you mentioned that White's shot looked a little shaky. Has he been working on formal stuff or is he just shooting freer? I observe that changing speeds on foot is really an important skill for a scorer. A scorer that naturally changes speeds does best if he scores from midrange. That guy can really screw up a good defender and create problems for an entire defense. Does White have decent enough court vision? Or does he get his assists completely out of the offense? there's nothing wrong with the latter, but it'd be great if this kid had natural point guard vision and anticipation. Dunn anticipates ok, but he doesn't let go of the ball consistently right.

Sam Smith:

Boylen pointed out the other day how White has gotten the ball higher from this artificial shooting pocket he's had and his shot has gotten better. It's still a bit of a set shot at times, but he's so quick and gets it off fast. Also, he finishing better, which is a huge advance for a rookie not playing regularly. Coby appears to have a terrific ability to change speeds and moves to get his shot off. The reason he'll be valuable with LaVine is when they both get going they need to be trapped and you obviously don't have enough defenders. I make it a practice not to make judgments on skills and abilities when someone is 20. But I also believe you don't teach court vision and feel. White seems like a scorer. That is a good thing as long as they continue to add the points for victory.

Luther Snow:

As people start to talk about "tanking" again, can we clarify the reality of the lottery system please? Every mock draft board pretends that the order that teams finish in the standings is the order that teams will pick in the draft. That's just not true. With the lottery, the chance that the 14 teams with the worst records will actually pick in that order is virtually none. At the same time, "tank" enthusiasts seem to think that having the worst record in the league gives you the best draft position. But in terms of the expected results of the lottery, it gives you the worst value position. By value score, the best positions for the lottery are positions 7 - 10. Instead of "tanking" by losing the most games, teams would have the most to gain by building better teams, winning more, and hitting that "sweet spot" between 7th and 10th where they are most likely to move up in the draft and add more valuable players to their already-more successful teams.

Sam Smith:

That did work for the Bulls with Derrick Rose, and it did work last year for the Pelicans and Grizzlies with Zion and Morant. I'd like to believe that is the case, and there does seem to be less intentional losing this season with even the Warriors seemingly bringing back Steph Curry when they don't have to. You sent a lot of charts I didn't reprint because there was way too much math, so I will take your word for it. I still cling to the quaint notion that each day you should try your hardest to succeed in whatever you do. Utopian romantic that I am.

Dorian Christmas:

What's you take on Stephen Jackson? I remember him being an ok player during his time with the Spurs and Indiana (Malice at the Palace) and lately he's been on his podcast upset about his circumstances as a player. Do you think he was an all-star level player even tho he never had an all-star or all NBA selection?

Sam Smith:

I don't listen or watch to his podcast show, though I've read some provocative things he and guests have said. I'm still reading more than listening, but I have on order one of those new stereos I've heard about that actually play AM and FM. Jackson was a really good, physical player who had a long career and probably was justifiably just short of All-Star level given his statistics and several turns with losing teams. What probably hurt him most was also often why you liked him on your team. He was not unlike Vernon Maxwell, the Houston shooting guard who was the only player I remember who not only used to trash talk with Michael Jordan but would then threaten to get Jordan outside and kill him. He likely wasn't serious, but with Maxwell, you never quite knew.

Players always said not to arouse Jordan. Mad Max, as he was known, didn't just poke the bear. He wanted to bring a lighting rod into the cave. No one else ever did that to Jordan. I'm asked often about the Bulls winning five or eight straight titles if Jordan didn't take that break in 1993, and I always say no because the Bulls had trouble with the Rockets even when they were winning titles in the early 90s. The Bulls went from 1989 through 1995 not winning once in Houston and lost at home to Houston in the 1991 and 1993 title years. So during the Bulls first three championship seasons, they were 1-5 against the Rockets. Otis Thorpe and Hakeem used to dominate Cartwright and Grant and Maxwell was the only guard in the league who used to try to bully Jordan. Jordan would still have great games against the Rockets, but it generally wasn't enough to offset Hakeem and Thorpe. Jackson was like that, which is why you liked him on your team as a fan. But also why he was kicked off so many teams for the way he was belligerent with teammates and coaches. Popovich as a military guy liked to take chances on guys who were tough to deal with, but even he had to let Jackson go twice. Which I'm guessing, though, makes for a very good social media host these days.