Ask Sam Mailbag 3.6.20

Peter Zievers:

Ah, Coby. He seems like a natural scorer. Allan Houston was a shooter. Brian Winters was a shooter. Michael Jordan was a scorer. So was Alex English. Kiki was the shooter. Korver is a shooter. Westbrook is a scorer. Had this interesting conversation with a young guy in the office today. He plays a lot of ball. I asked him if there was a way to scale things appropriately, would he like to have Westbrook as a teammate. He said "no way". Asked him then "which point would you like best to play with?" he paused for a second and couldn't really answer. Gosh. Isn't that a shame? not Chris Paul either. Too bossy. The shame is that he didn't see Maurice Cheeks or Earvin Johnson at the top of his game. Or Kevin Johnson for that matter. Mark Price. I honestly didn't get to see enough of Stockton to really get a hold of his game. When it was my turn, it was a tough answer.

Probably Walt Frazier. Frazier was a cunning defender and a very very smooth offensive player with a lovely sense of space both with his own shot, with screens on and off the ball, and when he passed. If I ever played with the gym rat version of Jerry West, I'd be scared to death. Gym rat version of Tiny? I'd be watching way too much. Tiny didn't defend either. Mullin or Hardaway? Mullin was more of a forward with court sense, but I did like Hardaway's lack of difficulty with contact. No slight to Isiah, who was such a good player but I actually preferred Dumars.- that was just me. Okay, back to Coby. Get him the ball in transition to give him a feel for letting go of the ball. In half-court set him high post extended in space and let him work. More places to shoot; top of the key encourages dribbling which for guys like Coby translates as ball stoppage. High post extended? pick up a little curl screen, let go of the 18ft'er or jab step and take it hard to the baseline. Either way it's catch it and do something. Guys like Coby need an opportunity to seize.

Sam Smith:

White is emerging quickly as he's come out of the All-Star break (Rising Stars snub?) one of the best guards in the game. Not just rookies. He's playing with purpose and poise, confidence and swagger, as the guys like to say. Starter? Finisher? That figures to remain a debate the rest of what's left of the season. But if the Bulls want to get a glimpse of their future White should be playing with LaVine almost always to see if the team has an IT pairing. They just may. Is White a future sixth man? It's a valuable role, but perhaps the Bulls ought to hope not. White seems like the real thing and is showing, especially carrying the responsibility without LaVine, that he may just have IT. That favorite partner is an interesting discussion, and one the Bulls probably need to see with White and LaVine. I've long believed Durant left Oklahoma City less for the title than to get away from Westbrook. He's awful to play with because of the blind frenzy with which he approaches the game. Unquestionably a wonderful talent, but he takes the fun out of the game for you. Chris Paul did that with the Clippers, but more because he didn't have anyone who could shoot with him. Now that he does he's been revitalized and a joy to watch again. Houston has got to be the worst place to be a teammate given Westbrook and Harden. I'd hate playing with Harden, too, the way he dribbles and dribbles and then mostly looks for himself.

Though I never played basketball at a high level, I played in plenty of leagues and always hated when the former D-1 player came home and he was, of course, the best talent, but miserable to play with because he dominated the ball. Even when you won sometimes, what fun is it if you mostly spend time watching and setting an occasional pick. It's one way Larry Brown was such a good coach. Even when he had Allen Iverson, he always made sure to run a few plays for Tyrone Hill so he'd go get those offensive rebounds. Same in Detroit with Ben Wallace, who rarely could score in an empty gym. Larry knew it was a lost possession, but it helped make the game fun for those guys. Harden and Westbrook take the fun out of the game. Nash dribbled plenty, but to find others. I actually believed he should have shot more. Guys loved playing with him. Same with Isiah. He could have averaged 30 even back then, but perhaps no one sacrificed more individually for team success, averaging fewer than 20 points when they were winning. Joe was good but got into the Hall of Fame because of Isiah. The difficult part in this era of scoring point guards is to play that role while being welcomed as a teammate. It was easy for Magic and Stockton, who wanted to pass first. Today you have to make yourself a scoring option first. Coby is starting to look like a guy who might just fit that unique role of scorer first/good teammate. If that occurs, the Bulls might have found themselves a real star. Free Coby White! Free Coby White!

Longing Le:

Do You think Denzel's confidence is shot; is he simply not getting any playing time? Good to see Coby white continuing to flourish. How is he as a defender? A liability?

Sam Smith:

Actually, White's defense is reasonably good. He gets beat at times because everyone does from Butler to LeBron to all those Defensive Player of the Year centers (the Jazz defense has been weak for weeks; Gobert is much overrated). Offense is too good, especially these days. Though I remain amazed how slowly guys still react to long rebounds and how few box out and merely stare at shots. But I digress to the get off my lawn stuff. Coby works at it, gets in front of guys and does enough that he'll never be a problem. The Bulls do have better-than-most habits of harassing the ball handlers and pressuring; it would be better if we could see if it would work in the postseason. Denzel has been an inspiration in some ways. Many would lose confidence or mope the way he's been treated this season, often virtuality ignored. But he's been a remarkably supportive teammate, doesn't complain to media or in the public and works at it when he gets his chances. You root for guys like that.

Victor Devaldivielso:

So the first game LeBron plays Zion, Rick Flair does the player introductions and it was like a concert. That has LeBron James written all over it. That's LeBron trying to show Zion that he's better than Zion.... But what it really means is that LeBron doesn't want Zion to steal his thunder. The second game they played against each other, Zion absolutely dominated and abused the Lakers. I thought LeBron was a great defender? Why doesn't LeBron guard him all game? Instead... He was too busy winning an Oscar, falling to the ground when a little finger touched his chin. I've never seen a superstar seek so much attention. He makes everything about him.

Sam Smith:

So you're not for LeBron as MVP, either? The guy is having a truly great season and the Lakers No. 1 in the West really is impressive whether you like him or not. It's not exactly a loaded team even with Anthony Davis. Did I mention LeBron is having a great season? But because of what you suggest, and there is some of that and he's guilty of losing the camera, he gets on the sports highlight shows much more than Antetokounmpo. So there's been this murmur lately that LeBron should be MVP. At his age, doing this and all that. Giannis isn't playing with nearly the talent LeBron is, and while the Bucks won't win 70 games, Giannis should be a runaway MVP winner. Maybe if he gets one or two more he deserves the Jordan treatment of giving someone else a chance. LeBron's always been somewhat about the show, but you can appreciate him more now the way he's also using more intelligence to dominate late in his career as Jordan did after his baseball sojourn. You can see that LeBron's going to pass Kareem for the No. 1 all-time scorer and play with his kid and we're going to have that greatest debate all over again. Look, it's not like Michael didn't play to the cameras, too. It sells stuff, and as they like to say, it's a business. Heck, Jordan not only has a brand, his is in capital letters.

Brodie Larsh:

Do you think Zach and Coby can sort of split the PG duties and play together/off each other? This Bulls team seems like a poor man's version of the Denver Nuggets. We just need Lauri to turn into Jokic.... Could you see them trying to play Lauri at SF with Wendell and Gafford down low? Might fix our last in the league rebounding numbers. Now's the time to experiment

Sam Smith:

Neither is a point guard, but neither really isn't. The Nuggets are a good example as they don't have a point guard, but a point center. And LaVine and White project better than Murray and Harris. Which also suggests—yes, again, but then they have to actually win games—that there's potential with that Bulls roster. No, Markkanen isn't a Jokic type, and the Bulls really don't have anyone like that. But it also suggests there are guys like that to be found if you look hard enough. Neither is Markkanen that wing player given his lack of speed. But you have it right that it's time now to experiment with the players you believe are part of your core going forward and not just the hustle/work guys who might make the next game look more competitive.

Eric Cohen:

We need to be candid about Lauri's season to date. This is more than just a shooting slump, but let's start there. How many consecutive quarters has his offense been a virtual non-factor? Forty? His stroke is so beautiful that unless the added muscle changed his mechanics for the worse (or there's an injury we don't know about), I'll continue to be optimistic. More concerning to me is the rest of the package right now. Uncertain midrange game, absent post game. Penetration, his other supposed tool, has shown lack of agility and a befuddling looseness with the ball. Defense is...adequate? From my living room I'm not seeing emotion, joy or confidence. I can accept the shooting slump, but shouldn't our prized player add something elsewhere in the meantime? I hope I'm not overreacting or making things worse.

Sam Smith:

What if he were not your prized player? Perhaps he was just a bit overhyped because when you are rebuilding you seek out and try to promote hope. He's probably, in reality, a third or fourth option, especially with the development this season of LaVine and White. And as a subsidiary option, that's still a really good player to have. You do need five starters. Again, unfortunately, Lauri's season has been about injury. And he has to get past that even if the injuries seem freak occurrences. But attendance counts. Many have been down on him, but I'm not. He's seemed to have had trouble finding his way with the new offensive style and the new additions. But he doesn't complain and attempts to fit in, and he will. He's not generally an outwardly gregarious type, which I'm told maybe cultural. But it's also deceptive. He's got a very clever sense of humor which has been coming out more behind the scenes and he hasn't been as dour as you've witnessed. He's the type of player a team could give up on in the throes of a disappointing season. That would be a huge mistake for the Bulls. I recall the Knicks thinking like that with Porzingis. I wonder what Spike Lee would say now if he were still going to their games.

Carlos Ramos:

In the history of the NBA, have you ever heard stories of teams internally disciplining a player for positive drug test results and camouflaging a suspension by labeling the player injured?

Sam Smith:

Conspiracy theorist, eh? There used to be a lot of that and the Bulls in the early 80s were interesting practitioners with perhaps a half dozen guys checking in and out of rehab. Jerry Krause cleaned out that group and in recent years with the NBA testing policy, I trust what the league does. Though it is time to take marijuana off that banned list with so many states legalizing the substance. The corporate profits of the alcohol and tobacco industries shouldn't be the only exclusions. Especially now that sports has gotten into partnership with the gambling industry, which we were once told was the original sin. Until others could profit from it, too? Hey, I've got some conspiracies, also! Now about the draft lottery…

Wayne Warner:

Seems that Sato starts as point small forward. Who do you see that the bulls could obtain via free agent or trade or draft this summer who would be an upgrade to Sato as point small forward? Also I really like Boylens decision to bring C White off the bench & be the scoring microwave. I hope that White accepts that role for this..and next year.

Sam Smith:

We assume Porter resumes in that role with Young swinging between small and big forward now that he's shooting more threes, and Hutchison was playing much more aggressively before he was hurt again. So there's still some development to see, though Hutchison is another who has to prove can be on the floor. He really was trying as it seemed like he played quite a bit with that shoulder problem before he finally gave in. Coby as the sixth man, eh? It could be. I've likened him at times to Lou Williams, Ben Gordon and Jamal Crawford. The sixth man is a fine NBA tradition. Kevin McHale spent half his career as a sixth man. John Havlicek did so for years. It's a good and vital job. I think now with the season slipping away, many want to see whether and if White can and should start, how he'd look with LaVine to open games and how it would sound in the introductions with another of those extended, From North Carolina…White has emerged as a fan favorite and is playing at the very least at a Rising Star level. It should remain an intriguing question the rest of this season since the coach seems to be digging in with his position. I'm sure he appreciates your support.

Randall Sanders:

Do you think the gamble to not extend Dunn's Contract earlier could be a win now that he's out for the rest of the year ? Do you think he will get any substantial offers now coming off an injury?

Sam Smith:

Given the development of White and with Satoransky having at least one more guaranteed season, I'm also interested to see how the Bulls approach Dunn's status. Historically they have given players qualifying offers so they can become restricted free agents with the right to match. I assume they do that. Dunn sort of resurrected himself this season as an elite perimeter defender, which is a good job. But given Dunn's injury history and lack of offense, the market could be limited. I'm guessing the Bulls retain Denzel Valentine for his fourth year with a qualifying offer. The Bulls aren't in the free-agent market this summer with Otto Porter Jr. likely opting into a large final season. But they should be adding a lottery pick, which gives them trade options with an excess of young players.

Andrew Brown:

Just thinking about the future of our line up. I think what Houston are doing now is the future of where the game is going. They aren't the first to bring in small ball but it is a new concept of 5 players standing around the arc on offense. It will be tested in the playoffs if it works and hey they got beaten for the Knicks, but I still think it's where it's going. The Lakers have been running the old style with big men but I think that is only because of LeBron and his style of game. When he retires the whole league will shift to this. 1 big center who must be able to move, shoot 3s and slash with pace if need be. 2 wing player forwards like Tatum/brown. And then 2 guards who can slash and shoot 3s like harden/Westbrook.

Which brings me to the Bulls. I don't think the tandem of Lauri and Wendell are the best mix and I believe one will need to move on. Lauri offers the shooting but lacks any pace and defense yet Wendell offers a bit more pace, defense but needs to be trusted to shoot the long ball more. So based off the comparison you'd pick Wendell right? So should the bulls move Lauri as he could be that 5 for another team looking to adopt the same formula but in a trade we might get our young/decent wing. Wing will need to be the priority with Porter off the books soon also.

Sam Smith:

I'm not a believer in the five guard theory of the game, though I do believe in having your five best players on the floor a lot. As you noted, the Houston experiment isn't exactly new since Don Nelson was working on variations of it for years, like the Golden State Run TMC. It was regular season fun then, also, and might steal a playoff round, like when he famously was using a 5-4 guard against Utah's 7-3 Mark Eaton and tricking the Jazz into deciding maybe Eaton could score. But one constant with excellence always has been getting size. Pat Riley went to the Knicks because they had Ewing and then when he went to Miami the first thing he did was get Mourning. Phil Jackson's first suggestion to the Bulls was to get Cartwright for Oakley. If you remember the Bulls championship years, every season it was adding centers from Bison Dele to Robert Parish. Eventually, it was the four-headed monster against Shaq. Like Pat said, rebounds equal rings. True, the game has changed a lot, but even the Warriors were well stocked with big men, and not just seven-foot Durant.

They kept bringing in Bogut and McGee and Pachulia and Varejao and Cousins. Though I'm not opposed to the Rockets taking a chance that way since they didn't seem to be succeeding the other way. I'll still take my chances in the East with Embiid and Simmons if they can get back as the best chance against the Bucks. Ah, the Bulls. There are a lot of good parts there, and I don't see the need to move on from Markkanen or Carter at this point. The theory still works with Markkanen to stretch the floor and he has shown he can be a better rebounder. Carter has returned hesitantly from injury, which is not surprising after a serious ankle problem. He's just missed too many games these two years. Both those guys will get better, and I'd prefer they do it with the Bulls. Though they have to stay on the court. That will be their biggest test.

Adam Garcia:

Zach is out and we win... coincidence? Hmmm I know you love to defend him, but he's always going to be a #2 in a #1 role with the mentality of a #1.

Sam Smith:

Number twos are good to have, also. Ask Paul George and Anthony Davis. Though it seems to me with Adam Mokoka playing so well against Dallas and then sitting out against the Timberwolves, I think we know who is going to get those next MVP chants.