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Ask Sam Mailbag: Play-in thoughts, draft targets and more

Chris Feldman: Simple question: Would you rather be a 46-36 team that goes 1-18 against the top-4 teams in each conference heading into the postseason or a 38-42 team that goes 9-14 against the top-4 teams in each conference heading into the postseason?

Sam: Complicated answer: I’m usually better at multiple choice with more choices. Any other possibilities? Not that I’m trying to or good about raising hopes, but I’d say the 38-42 team if it didn’t have to win two elimination games on the road. The Bulls last season clearly were overmatched when they got to the playoffs because they’d lost Ball and LaVine was dragging through with a knee injury that was way worse than anyone let on (they never really let on). Caruso wasn’t right (OK, he often is hurt but plays through it), but rookie Dosunmu was overmatched and Coby White had never fully recovered from that shoulder surgery. That they were where they were probably was the more remarkable part. And so they basically had no chance against the Bucks, and we saw it up close when they probably played the two worst playoff games I ever saw a Bull team play in those two home games, three and four, both basically over by halftime. But they were in the playoffs, which will take a heck of a week coming up. So I’ll go with the 46-36, but I reserve the right to call timeout and use my challenge if things go well next week.

Ateeq Ahmed: Thoughts on being 10th place for play-in? Would be amazing if we moved up, but it doesn’t look good. Does this mean our draft pick goes to Orlando now as long as not top-4? So who do you like with the potential 4th pick if we get lucky? Consensus is Victor, Scoot and Miller for top 3. I’ve been reading mixed reviews about this year’s draft. Would be amazing to get Scoot but that’s might be too much wishful thinking by me.

Sam: I know there was a strong opinion around the trading deadline among some fans the Bulls should pack it in, get some picks and prospects and take a shot for Wembanyama. If they don’t get to the playoffs next week, maybe that becomes a good second guess. Of course, their luck also might have been No. 4, and I’m still barely aware of what Overtime Elite is with supposedly the fourth or fifth or sixth potential picks. It looks like a top-three draft for now, though we know from history how bad NBA scouting is and that several guys likely will emerge from the first round. The two play-in teams who don’t make the playoffs from each conference go into the lottery by record. Play-in games don’t count for the record. The Bulls now are 10th and if it stays that way, they don’t get into the playoffs and don’t move up if they are out of the playoffs, the pick goes to Orlando to settle the Vučević trade. But let’s also remember the odds for the teams with the three worst records to get No. 1 is 14 percent. So even if the Bulls were able to trade off guys back in February, it likely wouldn’t have been enough to fall too far and then the odds for No. 1 probably would have been about 10 percent. And for a top-four pick about 30 percent. Still not great. Though we all remember 2008 when the Bulls went from 49 wins in 2007 to 33 in 2008 and had 1.7 percent odds for the No. 1 pick. And got it, selected Derrick Rose, and had the best record in the league three years later. Plans are important; luck is better. So if next week doesn’t lead to the playoffs, those top guys theoretically still are on the board for the Bulls, and all look like potential all stars.

Mark Schweihs: The best race going down the wire is the #5 and #6 seed in the Western Conference. That is because KD and the Suns have the fourth spot locked up. The Kings have the third spot locked up. And so, the #5 seed will play the NBA favorite #4 Suns in the first round. At the same time, the #6 seed plays #3 lowly regarded Sacramento Kings. And so, as the Western teams 5-11 challenge for the remaining three playoff spots - the real challenge is finessing the #6 seed out of Sunday's finish.

Sam: There’s that better watch out for what you wish for thing, and these Kings do play well at home with one of the more vocal home crowds and a scary night light. I agree most everyone is targeting them with the reasonable belief that after missing the playoffs most of the last two decades their season is made already. But I think last season the Celtics could have packed it in and gotten a theoretically easier early opponent. But they played it out and got the tougher first round opponent in Brooklyn and a tougher road and knocked out Milwaukee and made it to the Finals. Sometimes keeping your edge up helps more. It seems apparent since Draymond Green even mentioned it that the Warriors are targeting the Kings. They said, oh no it’s just because we have so many fans there because it’s close. Sure. But I’m not sure how you figure who to go for in the West or who to avoid since the top seed Nuggets and Grizzlies don’t look that formidable. With Durant back, you can make the case now the top three could be the Suns, Warriors and Lakers.

Mike Sutera: DeMar looked ancient the past two games. Billy needs to shut the big 3 down the next two games. 

Sam: Well, DeMar did say that’s over with. It seems like DeRozan and LaVine will sit out Friday in Dallas, though it also seems like Vučević wants to play and get in those full 82. More for pride than payment, it seems. Vooch is a playa. Er….Billy said he certainly will play all three probably half the game Sunday against Detroit since they start Wednesday and don’t get the whole week off like last season. DeRozan still is averaging almost 25 points per game and can put up huge games almost anytime, but there’s been some adjustments for him this season with LaVine emerging and more so Patrick Beverley getting to control the ball more. DeRozan often is seeing it later in possessions and with defenders better set, but with his scoring there still are possibilities like with the Game 2 win over Milwaukee last playoffs.

James Phoenix: The Bulls are a team that does not make any sense to me. They find a way to look like a championship team against Memphis, then lay an egg against Atlanta. Now they just lost to Milwaukee. This is not a team with a winning culture. I am at the point where they need to structurally change this team including coaching. Fine tuning is not enough for a team so inconsistent as them. I do not think DeMar and LaVine can work together longer. We need defense and three-pointer shooters. Management has to see this is not going to work next season either.

Sam: Can’t we just give them another week. I know at least from the mail I get that after the Memphis game it was leaning toward maybe they do win the conference finals to cash in Zach and DeMar for a second rounder after the Atlanta game. So give it at least another week. Though it has become obvious they need a point guard, three-point shooting and more athletic players who can score off the dribble. These last two seasons we’ll call Step 1. And looking at it that way from where they were it did sort of work. But as they say there’s more work to be done.

Joseph Austin: Starting with the play-in round how do you see the Bulls rotation based on match-ups?  Who do they match up best with? Which team is their worst match up? Do they have any chance at pulling off a Nuggets over Sonics-type upset?

Sam: Well, Toronto is a poor shooting defensive oriented team sort of like the Bulls, though it seemed the Bulls this season played better against Atlanta, the poorer defensive team that can shoot and score though Young is such a poor defender. So they can win some games assuming Miami wins its opener. Of course, the Bulls did their best this season against the Heat. It also seems obvious I have no idea.

Brian Tucker: I have asked myself this question so many times this year: Who is this team? Every time they start a climb, they fall. Every time they fall, they get back up. This rollercoaster season has made me dizzy. As we stand at the precipice of the playoffs, coming off a very impressive, record-breaking win against Memphis and then the losses, what do you see as the Bulls’ playoff potential? Is it good enough that they just did their job of staying relevant and keeping us entertained for the whole season?

Sam: If you were entertained, yes, it was good enough on some level. It’s generally viewed as disappointing so far because, after all, management before the season said anything less than advancing farther than last year would be a disappointment. All seasons reveal the team, and no matter how next week goes and perhaps even beyond, it should be clear after this season why the rollercoaster seems about to go off the rails. There’s a good work ethic on the roster and serious commitment, guys who want to play and do play and enough comebacks to show a team that doesn’t give in. But just doesn't have enough of the appropriate level of talent to succeed in this version of the NBA. Maybe the 90s; not so much now.

Martin Skelly: How about this for a trade: DeRozan to the Hawks for Dejounte Murray. The Bulls get a Ball like replacement (defense and scoring) and the Hawks get to mix it up a bit, the Murray experiment hasn't seemed to have worked. Maybe we can fix each others issues? If Ball and everyone's back having two 2-way players to go along with Zach would be amazing! Dejounte, Ball, LaVine, Williams (Caruso) and Vooch. Could they be close with that starting line up. If they could keep a bench of White, Ayo and Green it could be interesting?

Sam: It’s an interesting proposal, though the Hawks gave up a lot for Murray and with DeRozan much older you’d obviously have to give them a few other parts. Not sure without many draft picks the Bulls could do that. DeRozan could do well with Atlanta, a veteran scorer and savvy veteran, though they’d more likely try to give you John Collins. Murray would be great with LaVine as the two are close friends as well. But with the age difference and defensive component, that deal skews a bit too much for the Bulls. Though this is the Bulls site. I’d say see if it works on the Hawks’ site.

Nicholas Hill: As disappointing as this season has been at times, I've really enjoyed watching Coby's overall improvement as well as P-Will becoming more comfortable and playing much better in his bench role. So, it got me thinking about the "developing players" narrative. I believe it's overstated. Nobody complained about Jimmy's development or Derrick Rose, MJ, Scottie, Luol, Joakim, Ben Gordon etc. But all of a sudden the Bulls can't develop players because Lauri, Wendell etc are playing somewhere else and playing well? I personally think it's on the players to improve enough for the coach to put them in the game. Every team has practices, every team has an off season. If a player doesn't improve, how much of that blame do you put on the organization?

Sam: I do think team development is overrated, but teams have so many development coaches that I believe it will hurt the national employment rate if teams looked at it the way we did. White is a great example as I think he took it upon himself to get stronger and improve his playmaking and ball handling enough that he’s the de facto reserve point guard these days. His status will be intriguing for the offseason since it seems like new management in clearing the decks had him overboard last summer. But we could see now his shoulder problem never was right until this season. Now it will be interesting both to see his market as a restricted free agent and the Bulls’ interest. He’s made himself the most valuable reserve. Though does he see himself as a starter? It also seems apparent that Williams isn’t a power forward, that the Bulls badly need one, and the small forward spot has to be opened next season for Williams, who has become maybe the team's best spot up shooter and shown possibilities for making plays off the dribble from the wing. He’s been toggled between positions, so you can see he’s been confused what to be. I think now he knows who he is and what he should be, and with a summer to concentrate on that he could be much improved next season. It’s up to the Bulls to clear the position for him.

Nate McCoy: What does Andre Drummond have to do to get some real minutes in this league? The guy isn’t a shooter but……. You telling me a guy that rebounds, sets screens, plays defense, finishes hard and is big cat quick, we don’t need more of that?

Sam: Sometimes you buy something that looks great on you in the store and you get home and wonder just what you were thinking. Not that Drummond didn’t come as advertised, but Billy Donovan clearly prefers his smaller, quicker, hopefully transition-oriented style of play. So Drummond gets some time, but you can see Donovan’s default is to players like Derrick Jones Jr, who does have more three-point shooting range, which Drummond doesn’t. Drummond has a player option for next season and I’d be surprised if he were with the Bulls.

Michael Mortenson: Hope the Bulls miss the playoffs and finish second in the lottery. I cannot imagine the tall guy's joints being able to stand up to an NBA season. Closest guy to him coming into the league was Kareem, but he had to wait four years out of high school. Heck, he couldn't even play on the varsity his freshman year at UCLA.

Sam: Well, that was because freshmen were ineligible for varsity then and UCLA’s freshman team basically dominated the varsity that season, and talk about the most dominant college player ever. They literally outlawed dunking in college because of Kareem. Wembanyama isn’t as good as Kareem — if you didn’t see him in college you have no idea — but it’s an intriguing comparison because Kareem really was about 7-4 and he seems to me the only guy ever over 7-2 who didn’t have injury issues. Though no one moved as smoothly as Kareem, and Wembanyama doesn’t, either. The conventional wisdom now is shooting and small ball, but the NBA still loves the dominant giant. Since LeBron the most anticipated collegian was Greg Oden. Yes, more than Zion. And now Wembanyama. He sure looks coordinated for his size like Kareem was. And you can’t say the league is tougher now for all the physical punishment Kareem took. I’ve only seen Wembanyama highlights, and I know he’s young and in an adults’ league. But shouldn’t his numbers be much bigger than they are?

Mike Queen: With that new labor agreement, not a fan of a potential mid-season tournament.

Sam: Me, neither. After all, that’s the time of the season when guys go into big time load management, also. I know the NBA wants it badly and is determined to make it work. Or have it whether it works or not, though it reminds me of when they tried to change to that rubber ball a few years ago. I can’t see much enthusiasm for this, either. Maybe if they give everyone free samples of New Coke (the drink).

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