Ask Sam Mailbag 3.27.20

John Leichenko:

I'm reading that Wade is "universality regarded is the 3rd best shooting guard in nba history behind michael and kobe". Is that true?

Sam Smith:

This time away from discussing nightly what LeBron did his last game is a good occasion to talk more NBA history. Yes, there has been a consensus lately with Wade, though probably more because he was retiring last season and going through his extended farewell and deserved tributes. Wade was a great player and one of the top shooting guards ever, though not quite in my top five. Close, certainly, though one big factor for me was not measuring up to the description. He couldn't shoot. OK, he could shoot a little bit and did make some. He made one of his best against the Bulls, finishing off a classic shootout with Ben Gordon to throw in a running three-pointer at the end of double overtime.

I remember when Wade first got on the map with a winner in his first playoff game against New Orleans. So he did make a bunch of game-winners. But when he was at his best it was as the athletic slasher. You can make a case for Wade fourth, though never ahead of Jerry West. In West's era, there were just guards. Guys did both, so West led the league in assists one season. But he was known more as the so-called shooting guard because back then the other guard was more for setup. I'd probably have Wade in a tie for sixth with Clyde Drexler with George Gervin fourth and Allen Iverson fifth. The intriguing figure you can make a top five case, for now, is James Harden, though the lack of a title or Finals appearance as a starter holds him back. But those scoring numbers seem like they are going to surpass many of the greats. He's already averaging well above what Wade averaged in his career. But I still have Wade ahead. Rounding out a top 10, I might go with Dave Bing and Ray Allen. Maybe Reggie Miller or Hal Greer. Perhaps Klay Thompson gets there. And that leaves out Tracy McGrady, Joe Dumars, and Mitch Richmond. Without their careers shortened, it could have been David Thompson or Andrew Toney. Oh, right. Jordan No. 1 and Kobe No. 2. There's no debate.

Louis Nguyen:

Can you comment with Hue Hollins infamous call with the Pippen led bulls, what if the bulls won that game, how far do you think they could have gone in the playoffs that year? Was a championship possible?

Sam Smith:

The general optimistic consensus—at least in Chicago—was the Bulls would have at least gotten to the NBA Finals because the Bulls had won four of five from the Pacers that season. The Knicks beat the Pacers in seven to go to the Finals, where they lost to the Rockets. It would have been difficult to see that Bulls team beating the Rockets since in the three championship seasons even with Michael Jordan, the Rockets had a winning record against the Bulls. The Bulls had huge matchup problems with Houston's frontcourt, and especially Olajuwon. Without Jordan, there was no one to match his scoring. Which eventually cost the Bulls against those Knicks. Beyond that, however, the Bulls had their chances. The controversy, after all, was in Game 5. They had a Game 7 back in New York in which the Bulls were dominated. The foul. Yes, for the era it was a bad call because back then they generally didn't call those fouls after a shot was taken. Now they do.

Pippen actually had made a defensive error on the play. He had Hubert Davis, but he dropped so far off to chase the ball he gave Davis six feet in space to shoot. Pippen was so quick with those long arms that he relied on that to make up space so quickly. He shouldn't have been that far off Davis. The Bulls had enough defense covering John Starks on the play. It's like those four-point play fouls now when a defender runs at a three-point shooter and hits him after the release. Or just brushes his arm or hip. Pippen clearly got Davis' arm after the release because Pippen had to run so far to get to Davis and his momentum carried him. Tough call. And it probably cost that game. The Bulls did have about three seconds left, but without Jordan, no one really could make that play like in Cleveland. But you had another game after the home win in Game 6 to make up for it. The Bulls were outplayed in Game 7. They didn't miss the Finals because of one officials' decision the previous week.

Gorav Raheja:

Where is Tom Dore these days? Is he doing anything related to basketball. Him and Johnny Red Kerr were Bulls legends?

Sam Smith:

They were the 80s voices of the Bulls, Tom warming them up and handing off. Neil Funk keeps in contact with Tom. Tom did some Arena League football and local radio sports reports after leaving the Bulls and some occasional college basketball. Also the Lingerie Football league, of which Mike Ditka was an equity participant. I think it only was around briefly. Neil tells me Tom moved to Austin, Texas and is out of the broadcasting business and working with an alternative fuel company.

Richard Meagher:

The NBA G League is supposed to help develop players. Since they play a lot of games, most players develop in practice. The G-League plays way too many games. So their practice to games ratio is out of whack. Do you think they are really doing the best job of developing players? They could do it better with a better practice to games ratio. What are your thoughts?

Sam Smith:

I can't say I've thought about that much. But the G-league isn't always that much about development. Improvement generally comes in practice, but more often summer practice. It used to be common that you'd see a player return from one season to the next with a better shot, passing ability, a new move. The regimen used to be that players used the summer to devote time to their game since the season was always about preparing for the next game. The baseball minor leagues, in theory, are more about development because the parent team controls the players. Though baseball's minor leagues seem more to be about finding 20 guys to play with two so the two can get to the major leagues. Though the "parent" team now controls the G-league team in the NBA, just about the entire team is free agents.

So at any time, just about every player but the two designated so-called two-way players can go play for anyone else or leave for overseas. So the G-league often becomes more of a tryout camp. Team development can be overrated. Sure, there's some. But teams mostly have to be about preparing for the games and trying to win now. The G-league also has a serious schedule since it's a business, too, and you don't make money practicing. They sell tickets and get on TV. Players improve when they work at it. Like Michael Jordan did, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, etc. If a player isn't getting better, don't blame the team.

Victor Devaldivielso:

If the Bulls win the lottery, instead of the 7th pick yet again....who do you think they pick? If you say, Wiseman, what happens with Carter Jr and Markkanen? If you say LaMelo Ball, that would be fun, ha! I'm somewhat rooting for the Pelicans to get LaMelo Ball...Zion would be happy and NBA fans would have something special to watch!

Sam Smith:

I wrote about those presumed top four picks last Monday and will do the next tier of the draft early next week. My top two for the Bulls were Ball and Wiseman. The issue with this draft is it doesn't have a Zion. Or a LeBron. Often No. 1 doesn't mean as much as No. 1 is supposed to. Like if it's Markelle Fultz, or even Jayson Tatum, who is looking like the best player from that 2017 draft. For the Bulls, I prefer Ball because of his 6-7 size and abilities to push and spread out the ball. Plus, he's much closer to ready than, say, Wiseman, the best of the seven-footers. Though who knows when this year's draft will take place, and much always occurs between now and then.

Art Craig:

After reading your draft column, I checked out James Wiseman, LaMelo Ball and Obi Toppin. They all look like pretty good prospects, but given my choice... LaMelo. LaMelo looks to be an even better passer than his brother; sees the court well, very creative and usually right on the money. He's not quite as quick as Coby or Zach, but has nice moves (esp. at 6'7") and makes good decisions. He doesn't shoot the 3 well (20%) and his shooting form needs to be overhauled, but he has a decent floater (like Denzel) & good touch. He'll need to beef up and not avoid contact so much. He's potentially a good defender, but needs to commit to D. Wiseman has the size and athleticism we need.

He'll run and dunk and defend the rim. Also has a nice touch around the hoop, but no offense outside the lane.A little skinny right now, but looks like he has a frame to build on. Maybe a project, but probably a short-term one w/ good potential. Toppin may have the best overall skill set. He's a 6'9" FWD who shoots over 50% from the arc and has a good inside game as well – the prototypical stretch 4. He has solid fundamentals and may be quick enough to play SF as well. We'll probably need a top 3 pick to get any of them. My choice would be LaMelo, not just because we need a PG but because I see him as a very exciting prospect at perhaps the most important position... and filling our biggest need. Based on need, Wiseman is next, but Toppin is tempting! The trouble is that gives us 3 starting-quality PFs (incl. the one who plays center). That is, unless Toppin can fit in at SF and eventually replace Otto. With the Bulls' luck, we'll draft no higher than 7th and maybe more like 9th. So we should also consider the next tier (Tyrese Haliburton?) and also look for hidden gems, like Giannis, Jokic or Draymond.

Sam Smith:

Yes, the hidden gems. The Bulls get a lot of draft flak, obviously, but who did better than Jimmy at No. 30? Not to say they hit all the time, though no one does. Perhaps the point also is to increase the overseas scrutiny the way international players have been making such a dramatic impact. Draymond was a great fit, though he does seem to need Steph and Klay somewhat. There's a wing player from Israel who looks like he's rising fast even as nothing much is going on. Which is why several months before the draft we often have a very different idea about things. This year will be different with the likelihood of none or fewer draft camps and fewer workouts and interviews if any. Plus, it seems to be one of those years like the 2013 draft when any of a half dozen players could go No. 1. That year it was: Anthony Bennett, Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter Jr., Cody Zeller, Alex Len, and Nerlens Noel. Giannis was No. 15 and the only other All-Stars have been Oladipo, but not until he was traded twice, and C.J. McCollum.

I've spoken with Bulls broadcaster Stacey King about this. Fit matters. The 1989 draft was like that with Stacey among six players thought to be possible No. 1s. He ended No. 6 to the Bulls after Pervis Ellison, Danny Ferry, Sean Elliott, Glen Rice, and J.R. Reid. Had Stacey gone to the Kings, I believe he likely would have been a multiple All-Star with the way he could score in transition. He wouldn't have had any titles, however. But the Bulls had Horace Grant and wanted Stacey merely to be a defensive backup playing out of the triangle offense for spot shooting. Not that there were any great choices for the Bulls after No. 6 with then George McCloud, Randy White, Tom Hammonds and Pooh Richardson. Nick Anderson was No. 11. Probably wouldn't have beaten out Michael Jordan, however. The best player from that draft was Shawn Kemp at No. 17, who'd had a shaky prep career and hadn't played in college after suspensions and being accused of theft. Not what then-general manager Jerry Krause considered OKP—Our Kind of People. Tim Hardaway at No. 14 was pretty good, though a bit too much ball dominant for the Bulls.

Greg Cowley:

As far as the GOAT conversations are concerned it seems to me most folks skip right over or hardly mention defense. Back in the day it was Magic and Larry (neither who was known for playing great defense). For example, everyone always mentions his game-winning shot in the 98' finals without recalling that is was the steal that led to the "shot"! I know it's hard to compare generations and there are plenty of players to include in the debate but in your opinion does Jordan's dominance on both sides of the ball make the argument for him as the GOAT that much stronger? Fun Fact: As a 25-year-old in 1998 I flew from NY to Chicago to watch MJ's last game as a Bull (Game 5 - a game they lost of course). I also took my son (drove 9 hours) to see Game 4 of the 2018 Finals which coincidentally was Lebron's last game as a Cavalier.

Sam Smith:

That's a good fan scrapbook; congratulations. But that's also an excellent point regarding Jordan, and another reason There is No Next. Taking shots at LeBron is something of a cottage industry these days, but I do have a great amount of regard for him and his career. The Lakers were lousy. Add LeBron: Almost great again. But LeBron played defense more A la carte. He could be great but wasn't purposeful like Jordan, or even Kobe. The great coaching cliche is 48 minutes, and that was the difference with players like Jordan and Bryant. They bothered you defensively the entire game. They saw every one of your offensive possessions as a chance to get on offense as opposed to waiting their turn after you shot. Jordan was the first player ever to be named MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same year and could have been Defensive Player of the Year many more times. If not for, you know, probably becoming the second-best defensive player…on his team.

Though we celebrate the offense and creative flair of Jordan and Scottie Pippen, there never has been two defense players of that elite caliber on the same team, let alone basically in the same backcourt. Which is why just advancing the ball against those especially early 90s Bulls when Jordan and Pippen were in their athletic primes was more important than the shot. That's often the overlooked reason why the 90s Bulls were so dominant. I often point to the effect Jordan had on culture and the world—the sneakers, the shaved head, the earrings, long shorts, crossover appeal—as making him unique and unable to be duplicated even if others accomplish could more athletically. Then there's the manic competitive nature and relentless drive, making practice the seventh game of the playoffs, clearing out the trainer's room because if you weren't out injured you were playing. But, correct, the offensive/defensive combination is basically unmatched, almost like if you'd combined Russell and Chamberlain. Or Rodman and Bird. Though, I'd mostly like to just see the latter together at dinner.