Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 01.13.12
Sam Smith opens his mailbag to respond to the latest round of emails from his readers
Now that we’ve seen that Lucas can run the show, and since Noah has had a few bad games, do you think we can package Noah and Rose for Dwight Howard?
Sam: And away we go.
I love Noah's game. In an emotional way, I wanted to write you complaining about the 4th qr. benchings and erratic playing time. But my basketball watching eyes see how sub par his game has been and how Asik has earned the time he has taken from Jo. You like to point out that Thibs is a players coach and how he would never throw one of his players under the bus or unnecessarily change his starters. But you have to start to wonder whether the Bulls would be better with Asik starting. Not because of the starting, but the finishing. When Omer comes in with a couple minutes left in the third and plays the entire fourth, there are times he appears to tire. Sadly, a tiring Asik is still preferable to a rested Noah late in many of these early season games. But if Asik starts, he would take the customary first eight minutes of the second half and sub back in rested to close. Plus you give Jo the ability to find his stride in those middle eight minutes and if warranted close the game out himself. It could be spun as a promotion for the excellent work of Asik rather than a demotion of Noah. Is this a bad idea? Would it negatively impact Noah's motivation or give him extra?
Sam: At this time, certainly with the team’s record and fast start with a load of road games, it’s unnecessary. It’s a good point if you are going to play Asik in the fourth regularly, but the Bulls are hardly counting on that despite the recent evidence. By far, the biggest issue with Bulls fans lately has been the uninspired play of Noah. And I use that adjective because that is the confusion. This isn’t a player who you depend on to score, or even really want to see shoot. He was paid to rebound, run the floor and contribute to the team energy. It’s a lot for that, but Noah is a unique talent in his way and the price seemed worth it for the results we’ve seen in big games on big stages, like against Boston in the playoffs, against Toronto just to get into the playoffs. But since breaking his hand in November 2010, he has never been the same player. The Bulls don’t know reason or have the answer but for now to play him and see if the old Noah emerges. Benching him no matter whatever alleged strategic benefit would seem to me to just cast a further spotlight on him that might only apply more pressure. Of course, it could work and then we’d say that’s what he needed.
First time I'm don't completely agree with you. Sure, Noah and Boozer did not play well, but the game I saw was a game that the PG did not try to find Noah or Boozer. Lucas stepped up, and did a wonderful job on getting the Bulls pass a tough challenge with just one PG in the roster but he did not have a great game as a PG. I saw Boozer lots of time post-up and on a pick-and-roll game and Lucas did not try to pass to him. I think 28 shots from Lucas explains a lot. But then again the guy did try his best and gets us a win.
Sam: I admit I overlooked that some in my postgame view of Wednesday’s pretty remarkable win with both starting guards out and basically no point guard but a guy I’ve always believed isn’t an NBA player. I still have my doubts, but Lucas was excellent. And when your scorer is out, it’s no time to be hesitant. Lucas was the right guy for the job, though Watson had a similar game with Rose out last year scoring 30-some against the Nuggets. The Bulls might not have won without Lucas, though the game was decided as much with the Bulls defense and rebounding and the play of Asik, Gibson and Korver and Washington’s ennui. Again this is a bit of the Catch-22 I proffered in the previous answer. Lucas by his own admission afterward is a scoring point guard, and Thibodeau agreed afterward he kept telling Lucas to shoot if he had space. Which he did. But if he played all season he might have more attempts than Kobe. Surely, Boozer needs help with his offense, which is why he was so good with Deron Williams. But there’s also something to demanding the ball and making yourself available and doing something with it. Still, you are right. He didn’t get a sniff of it early in the game. As for Noah, we don’t want him with the ball, especially lately.
It was just me or Deng was completely exhausted the final quarter of the game? I saw his body language... the guy was just dying out there.... this time, and only this time I thought Thibs should have gave a little more time on Jimmy Butler... 2 or 3 minutes for Lu to just rest. Then again... great stuff from Lu, never backing up on minutes.
Sam: He did shyly admit to some fatigue afterward, though saying in the same breath if he were tired, he wouldn’t tell reporters. He’s matured into a real pro and invaluable to the team. Despite the heavy legs, he still got a team best 15 rebounds. That’s ridiculous when Noah gets four, though in way fewer minutes. I’m generally with Thibodeau on this, but I am leaning a bit lately to seeing more of Butler in that spot as I hear teammates and coaches rave about him in drills and practices. And though he’d never say so, I think Deng would be OK with it. You start to get a queasy feeling with so many players around the league being injured. But Thibodeau, for now, has come to rely on Deng more than perhaps even Rose as the Bulls are going to see some small lineups and Thibodeau likes to use Deng at power forward in some of those situations.
Was reading a really depressing article on ESPN about Joakim Noah and (the writer) pretty much goes on to say that Joakim has essentially lost interest in basketball and that's why he's playing the way he is. As a Bulls fan if this were true it would be so distressing given that what made me love Joakim was his exuberance for the game and his tirelessness on defense and doing anything to win. Could this be true?
Gabriel de Jesus
Sam: I have heard already loads of theories about what is troubling Noah, though I don’t see him apathetic. He still is flying around on the court, though the energy is often misdirected. He cares about the team and the game and is upset about his play, though he’s so much a team player he tries hard not to be any distraction given the team is doing so well. By the way, the best theory I’ve heard about Noah’s arc of limitations is that he is trying to get Orlando to lose interest in him so they won’t want to trade Dwight Howard for him if Howard changes his mind and says he wants to go to the Bulls. If that’s so, he is doing a pretty good job.
Noah's problem is from the neck up. You always know when he's having a tough time getting focus... he chases way too much and commits fouls that you know he knows he shouldn't.
God bless a guy in his mid-20's. However, like a lot of people for Noah the calendar keeps
running and ... well, there's adulthood and stuff like doing a job for
taking the money.
Who knows what gives with Noah? but, my guess is that it's all not
quite the adventure it used to be and he's in a funk about it. Happens to lots of people at about this point in life. I hope he recovers because he's a hell of a basketball player and as a person he seems to be able to express himself playing ball. My further guess is that he'll wake up after the all-star break as the post-season nears. Noah is a
big game player and as he gets on in his career maybe the NJ/Washington sorta games just ain't got the luster.
What he maybe hasn't yet figured out is that those are actually the
games he gets paid for. The Miami games and going deep into the
playoffs... those games you play for free.
Sam: That’s not the above related article that was referenced. But that does suggest Noah having a kind life crisis. I find that hard to accept, though many things players do I find hard to accept, like taking that extra few million dollars (it is hard to write, but this is not the real world) to play in a miserable place with a miserable team for the rest of your career. Or much of what Dwight Howard says and does. Yes, Noah has an unusual zest for life off the court and perhaps has greater ups and down than the average person or writer. As you said, it would be disappointing to be facing burnout at 26. I have to not believe that because it just seems too ridiculous. I always thought of him as a competitor and would find it difficult to believe he won’t pursue that. But amateur psychiatry never has been a specialty.
Do you think that Noah’s horrible play this season comes from Gar Forman showing interest in Howard?
Sam: Some players take to heart and grow overly sensitive when their name is linked to trade stories. But with Howard so adamant about not wanting to play for the Bulls, there hasn’t been much credence other than media suggestions that the Bulls have entertained any serious talks for Howard.
Is Noah playing with less joy this year? He seems almost timid about scoring and not having much fun (joy de riv, can't spell. I'm a pharmacist) overall. Is the money/ expectations an albatross? I thought he'd be the best to handle that stuff.
Sam: And I couldn’t read what you wrote based on my experience with pharmacists, though it’s fortunate you guys can now type. Noah’s $12 million contract extension kicked in this season, and that could be a minor factor as I think he does feel guilty about not doing more. He’s always had money in his family, so I don’t think he chased it as much for need as for respect. Now that he has it I think he longs to justify it and that could be troubling him, though not enough that he has trouble even catching the ball and is not much a defensive threat at the rim.
Just wondering how many "trade Joakim Noah" emails you have gotten in the last week or so. It seems everyone is freaking out a little more than we have to be. Even without much practice we will get better as the season goes on. Lets not forget the lack of offense can attribute to Hamilton being out of the lineup, he was averaging around 12 points a game I think. And CJ Watson is a better point guard than John Lucas, although it seems they may have been scoring around the same. My point is, when we get even more depth, that will effect our game in a positive way. As for Joakim, he’s never been an offensive threat. Maybe he has not taken many shots around the basket, but everyone goes through ups and downs, I fully expect him to be fine. He didn't suddenly lose his skill. Trade him for Eddy Curry?
Sam: Well, it hasn’t gone there yet. I haven’t got as many trade suggestions as I have benching advisories. But Thibs does bench him in the fourth, which is his clever way of avoiding the media spotlight. It’s smart as the media focus on who stars so much. As an aside, Thibodeau hardly seems like a second year coach. Sure, things have gone well for the Bulls. But he responds to potential issues with the team well. It has been overlooked some that the first part of the Bulls schedule is grueling and after mid February they have one of the lightest loads. So if they get through that period it could be another awfully good regular season. That will take the pressure off Noah more than anything, but for the Bulls to be ultimately successful they need who he was.
I have watched every Bulls game so far this year, and I am very worried that we have seen the best of Joakim Noah. Is his right arm/hand still hurt from last season because he still only tries to use his left on hook shots? Would the Bulls consider trying to move Noah for another scorer that we will need in a series against Miami? Maybe for Monta Ellis? I understand that our advantage over Miami is our size, but Noah is not going to add to that if he keeps playing the way he has been playing.
Sam: Well, there are some trade suggestions. The reason is the Bulls have a pretty deep roster. Obviously, you don’t need a point guard or small forward, and the Bulls have yet to see fully what Hamilton can do, so they surely want to wait until he is healthy. With Boozer and Gibson, they have power forward. So maybe you need a center if you give up Noah, which is hardly likely you’d get someone better. Although there was a brief flirtation with Ellis a few years back, that has cooled considerably and I don’t expect any such talks will occur again.
Whats your opinion in trading Joakim Noah for Demarcus Cousins? I know Cousins can get a little hectic, but i think he can learn how to play better under Tibs given the way Tibs punishes his players for not playing well the first 3 quarters or for being disruptive.
Sam: I’d run it by Thibs first and then I’d assume he’d try to get his extension before Cousins got him fired, also.
Maybe it is time to trade either Noah or Boozer. We can’t have $25.5 million on the bench in the fourth quarters (as we have seen this continue from last year’s playoffs). I know you have to give these guys time, but it may be time to start making calls. It doesn’t look like they can play off one another.
Sam: That issue of compatibility hasn’t been addressed much since they didn’t play together much last season. When they did, even though Noah was never quite right, the record was very good, 24-5. But that was with the Bulls screaming down the stretch behind Rose. I’ve mentioned this at times this season with Boozer crowded some with Noah inside after becoming accustomed to playing with a great floor leader like Deron Williams and a shooting center in Mehmet Okur. Though Asik isn’t about to give Boozer any more space given not much offensive games as well. It’s why Boozer has to shoot a lot of jumpers, and it’s OK. He’s shot them reasonably well and my expectations for him are not that great, anyway, given Thibodeau has made it clear since midway through last season he likes to close the games with more defense. Boozer seems to me doing pretty much this season about what he is capable of now with a few good games sandwiched around some mediocre ones. Anyone who thought he would be a defender never watched him in Utah. But they survived that and so did the Bulls as the Heat didn’t average 90 points in last season’s conference finals.
I'm sure that I won't be the first to mention this but, it seems to me that there needs to be a change or two made to the Bulls line-up. The way I see it Boozer plays better with Asik on the floor and Taj plays better with Noah. I would personally like to see Noah coming off the bench with his energy and Asik inserted into the starting line-up.
Sam: I don’t think it’s time to make any dramatic media move with benching Noah, though Asik and Taj seem to play really well together with Asik’s defensive size and Gibson’s ability to switch and defend various positions. The issue is scoring with them and Boozer does draw defensive attention for his offense. What some point to is how well Noah played in November last season with Booze out and how well Boozer played in December and January with Noah out. They aren’t wonderfully compatible. But I don’t see how Asik is any better with Boozer since teams defend him less than they do Noah. So that hardly gives Boozer more working space. Boozer and Gibson are interesting, but they don’t play together much and Thibodeau would see them as too small. The Bulls last season were 23-6 when Boozer played with Kurt Thomas, who could step out more with his jump shot.
Poor Noah is the scapegoat While Deng is hero now.
I thought Noah didn't play that that bad even thou his number is down.
However I can't help to wonder if Noah is injured that be keep from public. I notice Noah is wearing right elbow pad and it has some serious padding. Noah also wear knee sleeve and he had left thumb tabbed after half time in wizard game.
Could Noah be effected by trade rumor be involved D12 trade talk? Deng didnt' play well when he was in Kobe trade rumor few years ago.
Or Maybe Noah isn't in game shape at all? I notice he is frustrated by fault (refs are terrible this season.) Fans think Noah can hide Boozer's defense but maybe that isn't the case? Noah just doesn't have the energy to cover both his man and Boozer's man. Noah seem always play better with Taj. If possible when you see Noah please tell him I wish him do well and Bulls need his heart and soul.
Sam: Maybe he just needs a hug.
I know that NBA2K12 doesn't mean a lot in real life, but I played omar at 5 and noah at 4 and the other team could not score in the paint and get a rebound. Do you think Thigs should try this?
Sam: Write back when you get a Bulls group that wins the title.
What do the bulls think about Asik's potential? In particular his offensive potential? While Noah is clearly the better player right now, could you see the bulls looking to move Noah at the end of the season if he continues at his current level and thus have cap space to sign Asik, if they think he will become the better player?
Sam: I guess it’s good they didn’t trade him for Courtney Lee or O.J. Mayo. The Bulls were smart not to panic looking for scoring help as you need your bigs. But the better Asik plays the more he’ll be in demand. He becomes a restricted free agent after this season, and if someone throws one of those huge center offers at him, like Golden State which got turned down chasing Chandler and Nene, it’s going to be tough for the Bulls to match given they have four players warning eight figure contracts. You can see with the new labor agreement even big spenders like Dallas and the Lakers pulling back. I suspect the Bulls will go through this season to see if they can win, and if not there could be some major changes depending on Noah in the playoffs and maybe a sign and trade with Asik, if necessary.
Are the Bulls planning on signing any big men at all?
Sam: They’ve felt most of the season they wanted to add a fifth big man with the departure of Kurt Thomas and indicated they would. They may be waiting out Joel Prysbilla at this time. But the shortage in the backcourt has put that search off for now.
Mike James? C'mon...Lucas, James and even Luther Head are all former Rockets in JVG era, who will be the next Moochie Norris?
Sam: Well, Thibs is loyal, we’ll give him that. We’re just lucky they weren’t there for Vernon Maxwell.
Is it just me or Kyle Korver really worked on his defense in post-season?
Sam: Kyle always works and he always has been a better defender than he is given credit for. Although I don’t feel there is anything conscious to it, he is held to greater scrutiny by the referees because of a reputation for not being a great defender which becomes some sort of self fulfilling prophesy. John Paxson fought that for years with many more technical fouls.
I personally am pretty surprised at the fact that Lucas managed to lead the Bulls in points twice this season. I can't believe that this is the same John Lucas who barely played at all last season and also cost the Bulls an important game last season. He sure has come a long way since then, and definately stepped it up ever since Watson went down with an injury.
Sam: He has been very good this season as he’s been given a chance, which wasn’t the case last season with Watson healthy and Lucas on and off the team. I’ve doubted his ability as an NBA player, but what he does have is a lack of fear and a confidence and willingness to not back off, which is a skill much harder to categorize. He’s earned a place on the roster and I think he deserves it. Plus, I like that he’s shorter than I am.
With a career high for him twice this season and it sort of feels like he is playing better then Watson was before he was injured, can we see more minutes from him when Watson returns?
Sam: Thibodeau likes to stick with his rotation, which is why you don’t see much of Jimmy Butler yet. Plus, the sports bromide is you don’t lose your job injured. So I see Lucas going back deep on the bench when Watson returns, though there being a little less angst from the fans the next time Lucas has to play.
I am noticing a lot of people who think the bulls need a trade. I don’t understand why. The Bulls are (best in the east) and that’s with no one really playing to potential, except Deng. Rose has had a couple great games but with him I’ve come to expect 20 and 8 pretty much every night. Rip is hurt and not producing much: Best record in the league and in first place. If anything, I think a big trade that gives us a player worth having would be a setback. Cough, cough—Dwight Howard.
Sam: Yes, Howard will be the guy right up to the March 15 trading deadline, especially because of the issues with Noah. But my sense is management sees it the way you do.
I tried. I still am concerned they don't have enough scoring to beat the Heat. Boozer is basketball Soriano - he gets his numbers off the bad teams.
Sam: That’s the issue, and this season hasn’t done much to change that other than the record and that Hamilton has barely played. The notion is when he does he will change that, so we wait.
The company line on the Bulls ability to beat Miami in the playoffs tends to rest on the idea that the Bulls can dominate with their front court. While it sounds reasonable in theory and Bulls have depth of front, the quality of their play remains questionable at best. Boozer has shown an ability to play well on occasion(Pistons game this week) but the trend isn't promising.
According to Hoopdata, from 2007 to 2011, Carlos averaged between 7.4 and 6.0 shot attempts at the rim. This season, that number is down to 3.1. Meanwhile, his attempts from 16-23 feet have jumped from 3.0 last season to 5.2 this season.
Sam: I mentioned the different personnel dynamic between Chicago and Utah, where they had a three point shooting center. I’m not saying the Bulls are the favorites, which I can give to Miami still, especially given the Bulls have gotten nothing from their only major pickup. But in seeing Miami lose to the Warriors and Clippers this week and again collapse down the stretch and without much interior size or a true point guard and LeBron still tightening up late, I hardly see them as the kind of favorite the Bulls were or Pistons and Celtics before them. Miami is vulnerable and the Bulls can beat them. It doesn’t mean they will if they cannot score more.
I was wondering if Rip Hamilton will ever get healthy and if maybe what will happen if he doesn't meet expectations? Will Brewer become a starter?
Sam: I don’t see the Bulls wanting Brewer to start, though he clearly has improved his long range shooting this season and showed, to his credit, he worked during the lockout. If Hamilton’s injury is a long term thing it leaves the Bulls worse off than they were last season.
Do you think Deng is the bulls new scottie pippen? Don't get me wrong Deng is not in same league as Scottie when it comes to overall skill but when you look at the similarities with the two, supporting player to a major superstar, defensive stalwart, quietly under the radar and underated at first and always seemingly the problem when things don't go right for the Bulls? Including him in say a trade for Howard may seem like the perfect answer for the Bulls in its quest for a title but ultimately I think would be a disasterous move that would break the spine of the team and lets not forget the Mavs won the title with 1 "superstar".
Sam: If you did trade for Howard, which I strongly doubt is even possible, you’d obviously have to include Deng. And that is the risk you’d have to weigh. The conventional wisdom is you are not good enough now, so you’d want to upgrade and trade for Howard, especially because you could lose one of your bigs, Asik or Gibson in the next year or two, in free agency. If the Bulls are good enough now, of course, you don’t change. Are they? And can they afford to allow Asik or Gibson to just walk on them without getting something. It’s somewhat akin to the superstar situation, except Asik and Gibson don’t want to leave. But you don’t want to lose your players without getting something and the Bulls have a rare excess of good big men in an era when few teams do.
How would howard benefit from playing with an elite point guard? Would there be good chemistry between Rose and Howard. I know you said he could clog the middle but what would be some of the positives. We know he can rebound, score in the post, and play D but would Rose and Howard make each other better.
Sam: The general observation says so as if you have the game’s best point guard and center you have to be considered the elite team. Howard would surely benefit from defensive attention elsewhere on the floor he’s basically never had in Orlando. Likewise for Rose. It’s one of the strengths of the Heat with two players who demand excessive defensive attention. And center and point guard are the toughest positions to find. So you measure chemistry and depth against star talent. It’s now the identities of the Bulls vs. Heat.
I've always thought your criticism of Howard's antics as "childish" and "immature" to be exaggerated. He never fit the mold of the guy who performs these side-shows for the sake of taunting ala LeBron and these other new school meatballs (respect to the throwbacks, DRose and Mr. Durant). However, his resuscitation of Big Baby was simply embarrassing and I felt an emotion inside that I never knew existed, I felt bad for another team that was not Chicago. I'm not sure what the score was but Orlando was probably losing at the time and someone collecting the paycheck Mr. Howard collects, should absolutely take that responsibility with greater seriousness and more pride. Orlando should get ready to put up Andrew Bynum billboards because their franchise has already packed his bags for Hollywood (someone needs to send Bynum a memo that if he enjoys his life in LA, he shouldn't get all those rebounds).
Sam: I also think he ends up in L.A. I’ve heard from some players I know whom he talks to that he doesn’t want to follow Shaq, but in the end as Bynum is having a good season, if he stays healthy the Magic probably will shrug and take Bynum and tell Howard they couldn’t deal with anyone else. And then he can average 40 rebounds grabbing Kobe’s misses.
Just got done reading your interview with Phil Jackson, and it got me wondering whether the Bulls were considering doing something for Phil, as far as some kind of ceremony or something. He missed the Championship celebration last year, so I was thinking maybe they'd like to have one for him to let the fans show him some love after all these years.
Actually, I was wondering the same thing about Jerry Sloan as well. Seeing as he isn't doing much these days (well, basketball-wise, at least), maybe they'd do a "Jerry Sloan night" or something.
Sam: It’s a nice thought, but neither of those guys are big for that stuff. I haven’t heard anything from the Bulls, but I can see a reunion celebration for the 1995-96 greatest team and perhaps then for Phil. As for Jerry, I still have a feeling he’ll be back someday as a coach again.
You noted in your T-Wolves post game column that small lineups have given the Bulls problems. Its understandable for the Bulls starting lineup to have problems defensively against small lineups since neither Noah or Boozer are good at chasing on the perimeter. My question is why haven’t the Bulls been able to make those teams pay at the other end? If a team goes small then the Bulls should be able to kill them on the offensive boards and in the post right.
Sam: They can’t seem to get Noah or Asik to score for obvious reasons, and Taj’s shot has mostly been missing this season. Boozer did well against the small Pistons.
What would you think about the Bulls making a trade for Dwight even if they are not sure about him resigning with them? I think by doing that the Bulls will get a serious run at the championship this year. Then if he resign, great. If not they will end up under the salary cap and can go after some good free agent and rebuild.
Sam: Based on all the free agents who have been pining to come to Chicago? Next!
Is it too early in the season to start talking about the PER (statistic)? Rose is currently 23rd in the league. Right behind some guy named MarShon Brooks.
Sam: I’m not much a stat guy as I prefer watching games and the actual players. But what would it take to get this Brooks guy? Rose, Deng and what?
Just curious, as you get to all the venues, does anyone anywhere in the NBA elicit the response from fans as Scalibrine does when he comes onto the court?
Sam: No, and I’m not particularly proud to hear that. Scalabrine seems to enjoy it, so who am I not to? He’s an incredibly friendly and personable guy—with a very good basketball mind—so he goes with it. But I’ve never liked the fan response to so called pet players who come in at those times. It’s always seemed insulting to me. But, of course, I still read actual books and send letters in the mail.
I know its blasphemy for me to say this and I'm sure anyone around the Bulls' circle probably doesn't want to hear this but why does D. Rose play so lazy at times? Lazy passes and he almost jogs the ball up the court with this stoic look on his face (against Atlanta). MVP's shouldn't fall into that lull. He's an awesome athlete but I worry about his 'motor'. Anything to this notion?
Sam: No. I don’t see it, but I’ve only seen every one of his pro games so you can’t always go by me.
We all know that Derrick is not the kind of guy who lobbies for other star players. Do you think Derrick maybe the kind of guy who tells management "don't trade anyone, we can win with this team."
Samuel B. Wood
Sam: He’s said he’s not someone who interferes with management. Of course, had management listened to Michael Jordan they wouldn’t have traded for Cartwright and would have traded Pippen and Grant. Players play, coaches coach and executives… go out to expense account lunches.
Why do the Bulls play so soft? & Why wont they try & get Gilbert Arenas whom I think they could really use right now?
Sam: Just because you carry a gun doesn’t mean you’re tough.
I realize Iverson desperately wanted to get back into the league, but that was a pretty cheap stunt changing his name to Lucas.
Sam: Rim shot. Duck. Was that another shot by Lucas?