Ask Sam Mailbag: Bulls NBA Draft and free agent options, Doncic's defense and more

Sam answers your questions about what the Bulls should do at No. 18 in the '22 NBA Draft, free agent options, Luka Doncic's playoff defense and more.
by Sam Smith
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Richard Meager:

When the Bulls have a full healthy roster, they are one of the top 5 teams in the NBA. Looking forward to next season. Can they get any help from the draft ?

Sam Smith:

Yes and no. They have their No. 18 pick, which usually yields a competent talent, and they have some holes. But they also don't need too many more young guys as they can be overwhelmed in the playoffs. I don't study the draft much until the Chicago draft camp later this month (lottery May 17, formerly the Bulls biggest day of the season) and then into June. Of course, by then we all have the same lists.

The Bulls could use a backup point guard, but you don't get them close to ready in the draft and out of lottery. So I'd go for a spot up shooter, like Miami with Max Strus, Duncan Robinson and Gabe Vincent has shown you can find those guys even outside the draft. The Bulls could use an athletic seven-foot rim protector type, and it seems there should be one at No. 18 among Walker Kessler of Auburn, Jalen Duren of Memphis and Mark Williams of Duke. How about me talking draft?

If the Bulls could get one of the guys, it would seem they've done well. And I have to watch some YouTube highlights to see what they look like.


Mac McClung

Young and exciting prospect Mac McClung had a solid season in the NBA G-League.

Mike McQueen:

I wantMac McClung back. Summer league and training camp deal.

Sam Smith:

The dunking man, the YouTube sensation? I read where he signed a two-way with the Lakers. Sure, why not. I assume Ayo goes to Summer league and he needs to learn to throw more lobs.


DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan and the Bulls ran out of gas down the stretch of a long season and physical first round series vs. Milwaukee.

Valentin Pepeldzhiyski:

Was DeRozan tired or out of shape after the long slog?

Sam Smith:

He seems to work hard to stay in shape, but he did play an awful lot, the most on the team despite being the oldest, and could have worn out some later in the season. Obviously, there were adjustments, as well, as we saw in the playoffs after he attracted so much attention with the brilliant season he had. Still, I do wonder about one thing: DeMar's 4 a.m. summer wakeups for training that he supposedly has signed up Patrick Williams.

I remember Jimmy Butler talking about that and having some teammates in, though I think Jimmy waited 'til 5 a.m. Probably for the coffee. Though it does seem strange to me, as a lot in the NBA does, like morning shootaround. DeMar talks about always going to the gym on off days at night, and that makes a lot of sense. At 4 a.m., I don't know about that. We all know our bodies adjust to certain rhythms and habits, and for NBA players—as it is for writers—they have to be at their best at about 10 p.m., the winning shot and all that, the punchy lead, and DeMar was ready at least two straight nights this season. But if your job requires you to be at your best between 9 and 10 at night, why are you waking up to prepare at 4 a.m.?

Shouldn't his summer program be, say, from 7-10 every night to mimic the game experience? If you're preparing for when you need to be at your best at work, why are you doing it when you'd normally be sleeping? Or should be? I'm checking to see if the Bulls have a suggestion box.


Luka Doncic

Luka Doncic (left) has been picked on defensively by the Phoenix Suns in their second round Western Conference playoff series.

Mike Sutera:

I love Luka, but man is he putrid defensively. Superstar?

Sam Smith:

Yes, the Suns went after him in Game 2. Tough to find those two-way stars. Just ask James Harden. And Steph Curry, Jokic, Ja, Mitchell. Not unusual. But this continuing Luka celebration with Jason Kidd saying he needs more from the rest of the team and the Suns 2-0 leads reminds me of early Michael Jordan and the Bulls and a bit of the Bulls this past season.

It's the issue that sometimes occurs with great talent, a team that wants to cultivate and support that talent and the nature of the way they play more than their lack of regard for teammates. Jordan, I'm sure many forget, was on the losing team in nine of his first 10 playoff games. Wait until LeBron gets a load of that. And there was a 63-point scoring game in there. While it is generally dismissed as a great player having to lift an unnecessarily heavy load of lessers, Jordan had many productive teammates when he scored 63 and then went on to average 37 the following season, like John Paxson, Orlando Woolridge, Charles Oakley, Sidney Green, Gene Banks, Dave Corzine and Pete Myers, all of whom had long NBA careers. But Jordan was so confident, so good and so impatient, he just went. The Bulls with DeMar DeRozan often experienced this, especially after the All-Star break when he made his historic scoring run. For perhaps a month he shot the ball maybe as good as anyone ever has. So why stop?

But then teams adjusted as he still settled into and dribbled into his scoring spots, making it so much more difficult, as the Pistons did with Jordan until Phil Jackson helped persuade Jordan to give a little up even though he still could score easier than they could. That's what made Scottie Pippen integral. With a big, attacking point guard/forward, Jordan finally felt comfortable enough to release downcourt. That took the defense with him and opened up the court. He could always get his spot when he wanted to. That's what the Bulls were missing without Lonzo Ball, a big, attacking guard.

Without him the big scorers often wouldn't release and run the court, waiting to get the ball and find their spots. That seems to be going on with the Mavericks. Doncic is great, able to score easier than anyone else. But like Jordan and DeRozan, he has a tendency to hold the ball, and while he can then do some remarkable things, others then can't. And then when everyone checks the box score—and I was guilty of this, too—how do you fault the guy with 40? That's when you need really strong coaching and management, which is much more difficult in this era of player empowerment, much shorter contracts and eager suitors.


Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons recently underwent back surgery for a lingering issue, hoping to return next season for the Nets.

John Petersen:

I see that Ben Simmons is having back surgery and hopefully it helps as he is an amazing talent. I suspected his issues were more between the ears but apparently that is incorrect. We shall see.

Sam Smith:

I'll admit I did, too. So hopefully it's the back and he'll be back. With the way Harden seems to have regressed—and isn't getting quicker going on 33 this summer with an offseason program that seems mostly doughnuts and late night White Castle—I may have to pick Brooklyn No. 1 again next season. Oh right, Kyrie, and the virus seems like it's gaining some vigor with, of course, another variant, and it's almost fall already (hey, we had the usual three-day spring in Chicago), yup, the East still is going to be wide open next season.

I still can't believe the Celtics the way the Bulls made them cry last November. That's a potential Finals team?

I'll admit I did, too. So hopefully it's the back and he'll be back. With the way Harden seems to have regressed—and isn't getting quicker going on 33 this summer with an offseason program that seems mostly doughnuts and late night White Castle—I may have to pick Brooklyn No. 1 again next season. Oh right, Kyrie, and the virus seems like it's gaining some vigor with, of course, another variant, and it's almost fall already (hey, we had the usual three-day spring in Chicago), yup, the East still is going to be wide open next season. I still can't believe the Celtics the way the Bulls made them cry last November. That's a potential Finals team?

One more thing. We didn't know and were left guessing about Simmons (unfairly) because of the way teams mislead about injuries. The Nets apparently knew for awhile. It's one thing before the league went into partnerships with gambling companies. But now it's really inexcusable the way a team is allowed to mislead everyone about injuries or remain silent and then leave people in position to make wagers about those teams without the complete information that the teams obviously have. I don't gamble, and am not a big fan of all these gambling apps. But if you are supporting them as pro sports are (and they are legal now), then you have a further obligation to compel your teams to be more forthcoming, especially with injury information as soon as they know it.


Nemanja Bjelica

Bjelica could be an interesting offseason addition for Chicago as a shooter with size.

Parker Lerdal:

Does Nemanja Bjelica signing with the Bulls, Heat or Warriors for this offseason?

Sam Smith:

He's an inexpensive type that could fill a role with shooting, though it seems like he's been dropped from the Warriors' playoff rotation for now. The Bulls do need to prop up their bench with skilled NBA players, so perhaps he'll be on a list. Though probably not a priority.


Bulls team huddle

The Bulls won 46 games and made the playoffs after only winning 31 games in 2020.

Dwayne Corry:

The season is over. Great step forward. They sure ran out of gas at the end. We need a point guard. Look at how well we played with our big three getting the ball from Lonzo Ball. Are there any obtainable, cap wise, point guards out there in free agency and is there a guard in the draft worth a draft pick?

Sam Smith:

As I mentioned, you probably don't want to be trying out point guards from the draft. The Bulls will have a salary cap exception, though still undetermined of either about $6 million or $10 million. You should be able to get Rajon Rondo again cheaply, though to me he doesn't fit what you need with a guard who can penetrate and make a shot.

Will John Wall be cut? Russell Westbrook? Not likely. I know, West-Brick. Shush. He doesn't like that. A healthy Ricky Rubio would be ideal, but who knows when he'll be back from ACL surgery. I've always liked Tyus Jones, but the Bulls may not have enough money. Whatever happened to Dennis Schroeder? Maybe he still needs to show after the anonymity of Houston. And there are trade possibilities, and we know the Bulls have been creative after last summer, so who knows.

There are guys out there, and the Bulls now can credibly offer a playoff contenting situation.


Brook Lopez over the back

Brook Lopez (left, black jersey) fights for a rebound over Celtics' wing Jaylen Brown.

Bart Goldberg:

Perhaps this is just a perceptual problem from a disappointed fan, but I don't remember ever seeing a team playing more physical on their own free throw attempts than the Bucks. They seemed to really attack it. Sometimes by trying to force their way through space from the side, and other times by just pushing everyone forward like they were linemen playing football. I know that the announcers criticized the Bulls for not blocking out on the shooter a couple of times in I think the first game, but the problem was more than that.

Lopez, Portis and Holiday would all push like hell and then try to reach over our player to tip the ball out to the key. I think that a foul was only called once. By the way, Portis is clearly the second most annoying Buck (Allen is in a class by himself) with the way runs into the fans to strut and pose after a big play. The league should not allow that.

Sam Smith:

It's, you know, the playoffs. And as Tex Winter always reminded us, "You win with men." The Bulls didn't have enough. As for Bobby, he's just imitating Steph Curry. And we all love him. Right? It's the NBA, National Blogs and Analytics. The clock is going: TikTok. It's all a game, and it's all a show. That's why we watch. There's no sport like it.

Got a question for Sam?

Submit your question to Sam at asksam@bulls.com

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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