Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls
Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 10.24.2014
Every Friday, Sam Smith of Bulls.com opens his Ask Sam mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers
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Watching a few of these preseason games it seems obvious to me that we got two natural 5's and two natural 4's. And I wonder if the Bulls are better off moving Gasol to the bench so Taj can play the 4 with Jo instead of playing an undersized 5. The Gibson/Mirotic pairing just seems awkward. It's undersized, lacks playmaking in the high post (though I imagine Mirotic will get there eventually), and is poor on the boards. I know Taj played a lot of center with Boozer, but Boozer was a much better rebounder than Mirotic and he could body up some of the big guys down on the block. I think Boozer really played as much center as Taj did. I also don't like Jo having to guard 4's. I think stretch forwards will kill us. Jo wants to stay down low and help on any drives into the lane and he does a poor job tracking shooters on the perimeter. And I think we will get killed on drive and kick situations on Joakim's side of the floor. Pero Antic had a bunch of wide open, all day no one near me looks during the Jo/Gasol pairing. Start Gibson so you can stagger your substitutions to maximize your talent and ensure that you always have great size on the court with different versatility. I would start Mirotic to give Derrick another floor spacer and allow Gasol to work the excellent defense of Taj so that the second unit doesn't get lit up on pick n rolls.
Sam: Some interesting points, which is why the Bulls aren’t that experienced team LeBron talked about that has such an advantage. Jimmy Butler basically is the only returning starter at his same position from last season’s opening game. And he’s hardly the classic shooting guard. It’s going to be an adjustment period for the Bulls as well with the level of Rose’s play early probably determining the team’s success. I think the Bulls are locked into the Noah/Gasol starting duo, part for respect and part for reality. It’s not easy to bring an older player off the bench for spurts and get him going more quickly. Especially someone who’s never done that. Pau starts. Then you need Noah to defend the stretch fours as Pau and Gibson can’t do that as well, though you are right that could be difficult. Plus, Noah’s physical issues remain a question. He says he’s doing fine from that knee surgery, but he is wearing a brace. So can he exert himself to that level? Maybe he should come off the bench as backup center? But do you do that to the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and all-NBA first team center? Thibs doesn’t have easy choices here. Maybe you have Dunleavy in against stretch fours like Kevin Love, though Love would have a rebounding edge. I do think the Bulls have to nurse Noah some through the season as much as he fights that stuff. So Taj should get enough starts. Then Mirotic gets time with Pau some. But you don’t want to extend Pau too much during the regular season. This is why I’ve backed off my 81-1 prediction.
Is Carlos Boozer really that indispensable? We are having a hard time with defensive rebounding, and seem to be getting muscled around in general. Is this all Booz's absence?
Sam: First his influence on Taj’s improvement and now the missing ingredient for the team’s spotty rebounding. Maybe they weren’t booing and were chanting, “Booz!”
Do you not think the best thing for Derrick Rose would be to play as a 2? Seems like he gets stuck on the half court. If Kirk ran the one and Rose ran the 2 it would take pressure off Rose and allow him to excel in all aspects of the game. Some of the best players to have played and play now play from positions 2-5.
Sam: I’m not sure he’d get the ball in the right spots as Kirk is more drive and pitch and making Derrick Rose a standstill shooter against a collapsed defense can’t be taking advantage of his strengths. Plus, you don’t take a league MVP and ask him to change positions. Not done very often. Rose’s strength, obviously, is his speed and explosion coming at you in the open court and the Bulls could hardly afford to lose that. Actually, I think the team’s concern through the preseason games has been that they will need Rose scoring more than they’d hoped. Yes, Hinrich had that one big game and Jimmy Butler had a few before he got hurt, though the rotations weren’t always matched against the best. Pau Gasol is not a dominant scorer and the team hasn’t gotten much from small forward with Mike Dunleavy in and out of the lineup. I think they need to push the ball more and there’s hardly anyone better at that in the NBA than Rose.
So it appears Mr. Rose is ready for the season! The matchups between Chicago, Cleveland, Miami, and Washington should be very entertaining this season. I still think we need Ray Allen to get past Cleveland. That extra perimeter shooting at crunch time is going to be needed against this team. We can beat them without him but it will be very risky and the outcome may depend on home court though that shouldn't give anyone a false sense of security with LeBron on the floor. Snell needs another year before he could be a legit contributor off the bench. Don't delay, call Ray today!
Sam: I think that’s why that last roster spot remains open. I don’t think the Bulls are that optimistic about landing Allen, but they’re certainly among the teams in the running. Though Butler had a nice preseason before his sprained thumb, it’s still a lot to say he’s going to make those perimeter shots in the postseason. It’s another reason why I think they need to have McDermott starting. With Dunleavy and Butler on the wings, there really isn’t very good spacing. Dunleavy is a good three-point shooter, but somewhat reluctant given his all-around game. Butler obviously still needs to prove to defenses he can make threes. There’s a scoring, shooting, spacing gap there that Allen would do a lot to fill. And Allen would be much more in demand for the Bulls as the Cavs three-point shooting is superior.
The bench has the pieces, but there is no cohesion whatsoever. Taj always looks for his shot even when it’s not there; Brooks is capable of creating for others but doesn't yet. Doug can’t find a rhythm on offense because he is pigeonholed into a poor man’s Korver. Niko is the wildcard in this but he is a rookie.
Sam: True, no t-shirts yet. It’s another reason why I think they need Dunleavy and why the starters need McDermott. The ball hasn’t moved that well with second unit, though there’s still a lot of experimenting and mixing and matching, so it’s premature to make too many judgments. I also don’t think Thibodeau will go with 10 players once the season starts, so there’ll be the usual mix and match with starters and reserves. Thus it remains to be seen how that group develops.
I have always loved Rose’s offensive game and have enjoyed observing his improvement. The one thing that has always bothered me is the lack of assists. I watch guys like Chris Paul penetrate and drop off spectacular passes regularly. Even the German kid Schroder on Atlanta, was impressive the other night. It seems like one thing Rose is lacking is superior court vision. Now I have changed my mind. I have decided why shouldn’t he just blow by the defense and shoot layups or get fouled rather than drop it off. It is probably just as effective as making the pass.
Sam: I’ve always felt the assist statistics were misleading and especially for Rose. In the Clippers’ offense, a lot of the drive and kick stuff when Paul makes his passes, the players take the shot and are set up that way. The way the Bulls play when the guard penetrates and makes the pass there’s more often an extra pass. That’s why you’ll hear the “hockey assist” term, at times. In hockey, they give the assist to the last two guys to make the passes. It’s also easier because no one can see the puck so they can away with giving guys lots of assists. Basketball only credits the last guy before the pass even if it’s handing the ball to the guy standing next to him and getting an assist. Rose does finish on his own a lot, but he has very good court sense and sees guys well. If he has a flaw it’s that jump pass, but he pulls it off and you’ll notice when he does jump he knows where everyone is and makes good passes off that. But yes blowing by and scoring if you can do it works just as well.
I didn't realize how bad Irving was defensively until I watched him on Team USA. He literally chases Rose and can't catch up. Rose, on the other hand runs/hustles and gets in front of Irving. My buddy and I didn't even realize Love was in the game until after a few minutes went by.
Sam: They aren’t perfect, but don’t sleep on them. They are very good and in my view the Eastern favorites going into the season despite what LeBron may say.
Another exciting season is coming up for the Bulls. The team looks great on paper and is starting to look like they are gelling on the floor a bit more too. I still think we will not see what this team is really capable of until December-January, though. There have been a number of additions that will take time to fully acclimate. Like many others, I have been watching Rose closely to see what he still has and honestly, it is all still there. Most impressively his defense has really benefited. We may have the best defensive three guard rotation in the NBA with Derrick, Jimmy, and Kirk. When did Rose become such a stout defender? Was the added bonus of all that time off the opportunity to really learn other players' tendencies? Has he spent more time with Thibs learning the finer points of defense?
Sam: He deserves the credit because he really has worked at it. It’s not something he’s had to do and you’d hardly blame him if it wasn’t the case as after being out so long you’d think he’d be anxious to prove he could be that MVP talent again. But when he went with USA Basketball not only was he willing to take an auxiliary role, but he worked hard on the defensive end and was by far the best perimeter defender on the team. Here’s the former league MVP as an offensive and spectacular player and willingly gives himself up not only for the team but to do a dirty work job. Obviously, when Rose was out he couldn’t practice defense with its sharp movements. But it shows what kind of unselfish, team oriented competitor he is to improve not only in something he knew he wasn’t that good at but something with so much less notoriety, like the better shot or move. It’s a credit to him as a person and player.
I wanted your take on all of these naysayers claiming D Rose will never be "MVP caliber" ever again. I know it was a preseason game vs Cleveland and that he's two years removed from basketball, still has rust, etc. but what I saw on Monday was the most dominant player on the court. It bugs me with idiots claiming he will never be that type of player as he can’t shoot, play mediocre defense, has to rely on his athleticism, etc. when all they care about is player efficiency ratings and stats that are irrelevant. Kevin Love has a great PER but hasn't even been to the playoffs so does that make him an MVP caliber player I know he has a long way to go and still has to prove everyone that he can stay healthy, but what I saw on Monday was an MVP caliber player.
Sam: It was an impressive game for Rose and certainly of the caliber of player he was. As for the math guys, many don’t watch much basketball and use the numbers to create discussions and make points. It’s worthy enough for debate and doesn’t need to be taken personally. But they’ve always been way off on Rose. I remember one of those stat things in Rose’s rookie year ranking him ninth among the rookies that season. Sports is great because of the numbers that give us a common ground of discussion, but the games are played beyond the numbers. The more reasonable reason why Rose may never win another MVP award is the Bulls have increased their talent level with Gasol, McDermott and Mirotic and Rose probably won’t be playing quite as much after the two years with injuries. But in the time he plays there’s no reason to think he is not MVP caliber.
There are some GMs that basically answers "LeBron James" in every player category (of the annual GM survey) right? It sounds ridiculous that he gets votes for almost every category... man the guy is the best but let’s calm down a bit, no?
Sam: Well, these are some of the guys who picked Hasheem Thabeet, Derrick Williams, Darko Milicic, Evan Turner, Michael Beasley and Marvin Williams second in the draft during the last decade. So they don’t get them all correct. Everyone makes personnel mistakes. And, after all, James is the best player in the league. But I always find it comforting to know many of the angriest people who write me on Twitter can run NBA teams, too.
Why does coach Popovich get a somewhat pass from the media for sitting his players? There are a lot of coaches that would get slammed for this but no one seems to call him out in the media. I know you might say it's because of all the rings, but does winning change how you should feel about someone's personality?
Sam: It’s that he scares everyone. I’m not a big fan of all the resting, though sports works backwards: We see who won and then try to duplicate that. Popovich’s Spurs have succeeded spectacularly for a decade with this part time regular season rotation. That they’ve generally had among the top three records in the league takes the steam out of the condemnation. After all, if he can beat you with half his team you’ve got the problem. Not him.
You think if D Rose stays healthy and with the addition of the new team members that they have a good chance at making it to the playoffs?
Sam: Now that’s what I call lowering expectations. Nice.
Since Thibs said best to play 9 guys, who is your fantasy top 9 Bulls of all time? I'm 37 so mine is Rose, Jordan, Pippen, Grant (more two player than Worm) Noah. Bench is Kerr, Kukoc, Butler (proven he can play shooting guard and small forward as a backup) and Gibson so bench has mix of shooting and D.
Sam: Here’s my plug for my new book, “There is No Next,” being released next week from Diversion Books. It’s a narrative/oral history of Jordan’s career and legacy and sundry effects on society. The idea began to develop as I realized how many people talked about Jordan but never really saw him play in his prime, which was that era before the first retirement in 1993, and especially the amazing growth years in the 80’s. I’ve had to wince about some of these statistics that get thrown out about LeBron or Durant and some record of scoring 25 points in consecutive games. Jordan’s putting up 35, 40, 45 every game on teams with basically the entire defense going after him. And winning the award as the league’s best defensive player the same time in the era that’s pretty universally regarded as having the greatest collection of talent. Anyway, yes Jordan and Pippen, of course, Rose on talent, though it’s not longevity yet given his injuries. And yes Noah gets in with his run from the last few years. That would be it from your group. Chet Walker and Artis Gilmore are in the Hall of Fame. You could make a case for Bob Love, who over a six-year period averaged about 25 points per game. There’s Jerry Sloan, the symbol of the franchise other than Jordan and a player who played as hard as anyone who ever played the game. Just not as talented as some, but probably the player in the history of the game who more players didn’t want to play against. It’s easy to forget Reggie Theus, but if he hadn’t moved around to so many poor teams you could make a Hall of Fame case for him as well. He averaged 20 points for the Bulls over six years until a feud with the coach had him benched and traded. You could also make a case for Luol Deng, though he never rivaled the numbers of those great Bulls of the past. And that’s leaving out the other manic competitor, Norm Van Lier, who was something to watch with Sloan.
Should there be a reason to worry about D Rose maybe not being as explosive as he was or should we just sit back, relax and have faith in him.
Sam: I think you may be watching Hinrich.
Nationally everyone's selling high on the Bulls right now, but as a longtime fan and someone who's watched the Thibodeau years closely, I think it's going to take a month or two of the regular season for the team to really gel. It's always taken that long for the team (especially the new players) to really start playing the defense that Thibs expects. While the Bulls are finding themselves, all the sportswriters will jump ship and write a lot of "Bulls are tuning Thibs out" and "Rose is not what he once was" baloney. By Christmas the Bulls will be back to being the underdog playing with a chip on their shoulder and it's going to be fun to watch. Did I get anything wrong?
Sam: Not much.