Ask Sam Mailbag: Reactions to Chicago's first win, Alex Caruso, and NBA kicks

Sam Smith answers your questions about LaVine, LeBron and Basketball IQ
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later


Art Alenik:

I thought the Bulls would play fast and win easily. Well, they weren't fast and that wasn't easy. Except for 3's, that looked like an old fashion defensive battle. Happily, the new Bulls had enough grit to grind out a win. But they'll have to get used to bigger teams trying to slow them down & beat them up. When they can't run out, there has to be a better Plan B than going iso. Zach was, of course... and once again, magnificent. What's unfortunate is that he HAD to be in order to scape out a 6 point win. That reminds me a it too much of last season. I guess the best I can say is that the Bulls didn't shoot well, didn't play their game, played down to Detroit's level at times... and still won. The certainly weren't the juggernaut we saw in preseason. But they did what good teams do on bad nights; they grinded out a win anyway. Hoping for a prettier one Friday.

Sam Smith:

And so sums up one game. So size versus speed is the Bulls chicken and egg conundrum, though less which came first than which is best. I haven't been among those caught up in the Bulls lack of (at least front court) size because I like what Donovan has been exhorting and we'd seen in preseason with the speed and ball and player movement. It's been Golden State's secret sauce and the essential difference between Mark Jackson and Steve Kerr. Jackson played old fashioned, traditional NBA style isolations and mismatches. Kerr brought in a hybrid of the triangle and Popovich's post-big guy ball movement. Having Steph Curry, yes, makes a big difference. With the three-point shooting of this era with the spaced floor, even in half court you can play with speed with penetration and ball movement. But when it broke down early for the Bulls against the Pistons, they reverted to more familiar isolation. Donovan noticed and talked about it extensively after the game, albeit in his comforting non accusatory manner. Though everyone likes defense because you get to hold up cool symbols like picket fences, the Bulls aren't going to succeed that way. They're built with considerable offensive proficiency. The Pistons noticed that and played as physical as they could on cuts and half court moves. The idea is not to let the opponent get that close. Teams will push you around if they can; the idea isn't so much to fight back but avoid the confrontation with that speed and movement, the tai chi of the hoop. Though I feel there is some agreement that after one game there are still chances for development.

Tony Bradley guards Ja Morant

Jeff Lichtenstein:

The Bulls looked professional. That's a word I wouldn't have used to describe them in a while. LaVine is a 2 way player now. And playing with professionals, really let's him shine. Caruso is a menace. Ball, DeRozan, LaVine, and Vucevic seem like they have played together for years. Williams still looks like a rookie. A professional veteran power forward is needed to back up Williams and if Vuc gets hurt. This is a playoff team, so it needs to be addressed as game 1 showed that hole.

Sam Smith:

There is Tony Bradley. It was surprising to see Dosunmu because he basically only played fourth quarters in preseason when he did play. Which left off players we thought we'd see like Derrick Jones. Donovan had been using versatile Devonte Green and Tony Brown with Caruso as the first reserves, but suggested Brown was weak from illness and thus Ayo. So we'll see, especially when they play taller centers. The Pistons were small, though they played physically. With a few exceptions, not many teams beat you scoring inside anymore. The Bulls with their quickness and the preponderance of long rebounds from threes have rebounded at least competitively. And again Wednesday after a slow start. Big guys tend to slow things, especially ones who don't score. Unlike Vucevic, who is adept with his shooting as a trailer. I don't believe they see the need for additions quite yet.

Patrick Williams closeup of jersey shot

Alejandro Yegros:

I'm glad we won but I'm coming in with a hot take: how can PWill have 1reb in 28 minutes? Last year my biggest concern about him wasn't his passivity on offense, it was his passivity on the boards. His rebounding numbers are very low, and that tends to be a skill that guys have it when they come into the league or they don't. His body type is very different, but he's starting to remind me of Brad Sellers

Sam Smith:

Ouch, though I was a Sellers fan and believed he was misunderstood, or at least 30 years before his time as a seven footer who could make threes. Unfortunately for him at a time when if a seven footer took one he was benched. I was going to go with the played just one preseason game after an ankle injury explanation until the Bulls said Friday he hurt his shoulder and probably would miss Friday's opener. There was a play in the second half when it probably happened. Williams dove for a loose ball though he didn't come out of the game. Except when Donovan went to Alex Caruso for defense. Which, yes, was supposed to be Williams' forte. I'm reminded with Williams a bit of the latest Chicago Bears quarterback conundrum—not unusual in sports these days—where we demand these kids be ready and be great basically three years younger than their predecessors. The Bears seem to have made a huge misjudgment by apparently being influenced by media and fans acting the infant—we want what we want and we want it now!—and what usually happens when you do that is your fall victim to the old line about if you listen to the media and fans you quickly end up sitting with them.

The Bears seemed to have had an ideal plan with an experienced NFL quarterback to complete this season and eventually give their kid a chance like has happened with so many of the best quarterbacks ever, like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. Similarly with Williams; he was a prodigy last season, and last season wasn't going anywhere, so they left him out there. I can't say it hindered his development, but we come to expect too much of these kids when that occurs. Williams seems naturally restrained as a player, which explains his willingness to be a sixth man in college and repeatedly defer on offense. He's a team guy. It's not fatal, but now with three All-Star scorers and Lonzo Ball, you could see Williams getting lost with those starters. Donovan was finishing quarters and games in preseason and did so for the most part Wednesday with Alex Caruso for Williams. Williams might actually be better for the Bulls coming off the bench as the Bulls starters looked best in preseason moving the ball and running with a smaller, quicker power forward to play in transition. It's Donovan's desired approach. And with those four starters, Williams as we figured wouldn't get as many opportunities. The reserves clearly need offense with Coby White out. Williams after a Summer League scoring orientation could be more the aggressor with that group. But having started Williams last year, would it look like a demotion (which it isn't)? And make management and the coach hesitant to make a change? Because fans and media might say it's a demotion. Though we know what can happen when you listen to that constituency.

Paul Siekert:

What role do you see Simonovich playing this year?

Sam Smith:

Getting the doughnuts in Hoffman Estates.

Gafford Smiling

Ryan Carpel:

Portis must be pissed off. Gafford got $40 million. Could we trade jones JR for Bagley?

Sam Smith:

Well, we don't want Bobby pissed off. That hasn't gone well. He's been out with a hamstring problem, though the Bucks didn't seem to miss him. Well, at least in their opener. The Heat was smokin! Most believe Portis eventually will get paid by the Bucks after his playoffs and the fan reaction. But I'll admit I was surprised about Gafford's deal. But good for him, a second round pick basically out of the rotation last season with seemingly limited prospects gets a chance and though hardly on an All-Star ascension produces and is rewarded. It also shows many are capable, but right place and right time makes a big difference. There seemed no way he was getting that chance with the Bulls despite some epic moments. It does demonstrate for all of us that sometimes success is based less on what you can do but where you are. You know, put me in coach! Bagley's just the kind of guy who could be very good after being—for him, certainly—in the wrong place at the wrong time. Though we have no idea what's gone on internally. But as a (overdrafted) former No. 2 pick with talent, maybe rookie Davion Mitchell, Buddy Hield and a No. 1. Ben Simmons?

Ben Simmons and Trey Young

Mike Sutera:

Man, Simmons. Morey said to buckle in because its going to be a long ride. Not much you can get now. Brogdon just extended 2 yrs so he cant be dealt till Summer. Maybe Raptors for FVV? Kings for one of their 3 pgs and Hield? but if they get out of the gate hot why mess with a trade? Same thing goes with Wolves and Russell. Murray, pick, Thad for Ben with Spurs? Kyrie for Ben? Still close to his home in NJ but what if Philly makes vaccines mandatory like NY and Cali? NBA in next CBA has got to address these trade demands. How would you fix it? Owners have got to be pissed league wide.

Sam Smith:

Simmons may just be the test case and other owners may be cheering on the 76ers. I'm generally in favor of worker empowerment having always been one. But I also respect the sanctity of a contract: You give your word, you have to back it up. I hear from owners that the pendulum, which happens with these things, has swung too far, that you can't have both the security of the money and also the freedom to decide if you then want it elsewhere. I understand what happens with teams. Eventually they fold because it's still all about each season and they need to recoup something. Which we often see when a player is a free agent and unsigned. Many times a team will trade the player for fear of getting "nothing." But you always at least get their cap space and get to play poker, too. Maybe they can't get that better deal. Teams often fold too soon. The 76ers aren't and perhaps believe they can talk Simmons back, which seems unlikely for now. But as Phil Jackson always counseled with the Bulls revolving dramas of the 90s, you never say never in the NBA. I hear Minnesota still wants him as do the Kings. For now teams are bottom feeding. Eventually with losses or injuries the offer will improve and Simmons will be elsewhere. Though not Chicago despite an uneducated amount of speculation of a trade for Zach LaVine. But, true, this is eventually going to be another labor issue.

LaVine in traffic drives to rim

Randall Sanders:

Is Zach eligible for a Super-Max Contract at the end of the season with the Bulls ? I think they need to do whatever it takes to keep him as a Bull (Which would more than likely mean they can't re-Sign Vuc due to the Salaries of Ball and DeRozen if the Bulls re-sign Zach to a Supermax deal. Would this thought process be on target ?

Sam Smith:

I guess Zach needs to be all-NBA to qualify, and the opener was a good start. Though that's still a stretch or him because media voters generally don't watch enough defense to change their minds when they decide someone isn't good at it. Still, Zach should be seriously in the conversation if the Bulls are top six in the East. It will depend a lot on how the team does. My sense is the Bulls are committed to paying Zach as much as he wants and more than any other team can and they can without penalty to others. Ball and DeRozan are signed long term and Vucevic is through 2022-23, after which the team likely will make more personal decisions based on how these two seasons conclude. The Bulls could have extended Zach this summer, but he makes much more money by waiting until next summer. And if they had they couldn't have made all the player additions they did. And if they couldn't he wasn't going to resign with a team that didn't have playoff possibilities. He seems satisfied about the way things have gone, which is the best the Bulls could have done for now.

Westbrook and LeBron

Rui Dias:

I was reading some article on the Lakers and the age of the players and stuff... and I came across this; "Let us remember, though, LeBron James has been the best 34-year-old in NBA history, as well as best 35- and 36-year-old..." How old was Jordan in 96, 97 and 98 and what did he do? What could they be thinking? Bill Russell, 34 and 35, champion..10 points, 5 assist and 20 rebounds per game? 80 games per season? And I'm pretty sure back then it would be hard to see greatness at the age of 35 in professional sport. Today they are all physical beasts.

Sam Smith:

We are going to hear this season about LeBron and the marvels of age, but this Michael/LeBron debate is difficult. Michael played more (never missed a game at 35 with the Bulls) than LeBron and averaged 39 minutes per game his last season with the Bulls. Last season no one in the league even averaged 38 minutes. But LeBron started in the NBA at 18 and didn't take a hiatus like Jordan did for a year and a half in baseball. What Jordan and Russell have on LeBron—and it was a time players had shorter careers without all the curative treatment available in this era—is they were winning titles right into their mid 30s. Let's give LeBron a chance this season and see, but no one much thinks you can say championship and Russell Westbrook in the same sentence.

LaVine shoes

Katherine Kiel:

What's up with the basketball shoes these days? Team colors no longer required? Personal fashion, fav colors now allowed?

Sam Smith:

Actually that began about three years ago, though TV doesn't show the feet as much in basketball, which is why golfers wear their advertising on their hats and shirts. It's a nice personal expression for the player and subtle enough you hadn't noticed until now, especially since teams now can have the advertising logo patches on the jerseys. I'm still hoping the gambling sites don't begin buying that space, but I am a dreamer.

Caruso Diving on the floor

Mark Schweihs:

Last season you gave the mythical Norm Van Lier award to Thad Young. Who is your pick for this Bulls' team?

Sam Smith:

This should be an easy one as at least the community has already chosen Alex Caruso. The first game was enough of an example the way three points looked a lot more significant. Caruso is no Jason Kidd because he's not that athletic, but Kidd was one of the most unusual players ever the way he'd dominate a game and then you'd look and he'd have eight points. I picked Caruso as my league sixth man, though he probably doesn't have much chance because he won't average in double figures. And voters don't watch every game. But if you do with Caruso you'll see all the stuff the coaches talk about, the deflections, floor burns, stolen jump balls, defensive contests and outlet passes that don't get you an assist. Talk about the little things. Heck, most don't even make the hustle board. But that was Norm, 48 minutes of intensity.

Jaylen Brown layup

Pierre Taylor:

Jaylen Brown over Damien Lillard? Seems weird to leave him out of your All NBA category. And no Jayson Tatum.

Sam Smith:

Those were my two most questionable omissions, and if neither plays another game after the opener we're both correct. They were awful for team USA thus summer, though they said Lillard was hurt. Anyway, I did select Jaylen Brown instead of Tatum, and at least the opener showed that. Tatum strikes me as a selfish player who takes awful shots. He gets on some runs, which can obscure his play. He's surely talented, but I like Brown better. As for Lillard, I have the Portland thing falling apart at some point and then perhaps if not a trade a lot of speculation about that, which could derail his system. Not rooting for it, but it also is Zach's time! Too often the votes become legacies; if you were in before then you probably get in again, like Kyrie Irving last season.

commentators on the suns bucks finals

Greg Moja:

Definitely a new era for the Bulls, which is exciting. One thing I've noted in the media, and in the comments by players and coaches and you and Stacey King etc., it the constant mention of high basketball IQ. While I'm glad our players seem to have it, why should we expect otherwise? Can you comment on when this term started being used in the NBA? Has everyone been given a directive to use that term as much as possible, especially this year for the Bulls? I don't remember people saying that about Jordan and Co. back in the day. It seemed obvious and expected. In the real world, it's expected that you be smart and understand your job. It would be something special if I had a high basketball IQ. But a professional basketball player? Wouldn't it be strange to say, "one of the reasons those Americans won the recent Nobel prize in medicine is because of their high medical IQ." It's sort of required if you want to be in that profession. I expect people getting millions of dollars to play basketball to be good at it. Not just good at making a shot. Good at the game. To understand the game. Which means high IQ, not just in basketball, but in general. I guess I'm asking if you think people and teams have stopped expecting players to have high basketball (or general) IQ and view it as a luxury. And why.

Sam Smith:

I love this question. It's a bit of media laziness, which I guess is why we don't get to say we have high IQs. It's become a thing in basketball, like say load management, and then we all just repeat it because the coaches and GMs and players mention it. Like when we started calling players "assets." I found that a bit too insulting, though the GMs liked it. Actually, it's also insulting to those 90s Bulls because since they didn't mention it, the suggestion is they weren't very bright and these days they are. The contradiction is today's players actually aren't as bright as the players were before—not based on SAT or ACT scores—because they come into the NBA so limited in basketball experience lacking college training and much coaching. There are exceptions like LeBron James, though it's a corollary that if you don't go to school as much you are not likely to be as well trained. Of course, I've yet to run into a coach who says they have low IQ players. Or a coach who announced who on the team is low IQ. Which gives me an idea: If the coach tells us who is high IQ then perhaps he also will tell us who is low IQ. Someone must be. Can they all be that brilliant?

Rodman dunks

Parker Lerdal:

Will Dennis Rodman's jersey be retired by the Bulls in the near future?

Sam Smith:

Probably just his hair. With new management, I can renew my quest for Chet Walker, Hall of Famer, multiple All-Star, closer, second highest scoring game for an individual in team history (after Jordan's many higher), responsible for the start of a five-year run averaging more than 50 wins for a recent expansion team. I'd also have Norm Van Lier as the symbol of the blue collar Bulls for decades, Horace Grant as the third of a Big Three for the first championship (and two more). And before Rodman you could talk me into Derrick Rose (only other MVP with Jordan in franchise history and one of seven Bulls ever all-NBA) and Joakim Noah, the latter to be honored next week at the Knicks game Oct. 28 with Rose, Taj Gibson and Tom Thibodeau in attendance among many former Bulls with Noah's retirement in a Bulls jersey.

Got a question for Sam?

Submit your question to Sam at

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.


  • Facebook
  • Twitter