Nikola Mirotic
Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls

Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 3.27.2015

Sam Smith of opens his Ask Sam mailbag and responds to the latest round of emails from his readers

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By Sam Smith | 3.27.2015 | 9:37 a.m. CT

I know everyone is considering the possibilities for the Bulls playoff positioning, and I keep going back and forth on whether I want the Bulls to be the 3 or 4 seed. Now I realize, like usually, the only thing that matters is Derrick Rose. I just don't think the Bulls have a great shot at the Finals if Rose is not healthy. So, really it would make sense for the Bulls to get the 3 seed, so Rose can ease his way back during the 1st round against a weaker Milwaukee squad, instead of chasing John Wall around everywhere and running into Nene or Gortat near the basket. I know they have looked worse lately, but maybe avoiding the Wizards is the best thing for Rose, which really is the biggest concern of all.

Jon Kueper

Sam: Yes, that again. No matter the vitriol sometimes expressed regarding Rose in different places, the team's ultimate fate as a title contender or early out depends on Rose's ability to make a high level contribution. What some don't fully understand about some in media is they do root against the home team and that can affect their views and writing or discussion. They get paid the same whether the team wins or loses, but if the team does well they'll have more work to do at the same wage, thus effectively lowering their hourly pay. Which they don't believe is enough, anyway. So many would love to see the team out early in the playoffs or not in at all. As for Rose, really, who wants to do rehab instead of playing? Does anyone really think he'd prefer that? I'm not one for shoe horning into a playoff seeding. If you are good enough, you don't care who you play. No one ever has won a title by manipulating the opponent. If you have to avoid someone to get somewhere you're probably not good enough and would lose, anyway. So play it out. I think Milwaukee is the weakest playoff team, but I think Cleveland is by far the strongest in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs likely will be No. 2 seed. The Bucks have the edge for No. 6. John Wall is tough and the Wizards front line is physical, but they seem to be having some get along issues even more than LeBron and Love. As I wrote from Day 1 of the season even before the Cavs made trades to improve, I saw the Cavs as the team you have to beat to get to the Finals. And I haven't seen anything to change that. I believe when Rose returns he'll be in good shape to do whatever is needed at the time, though I assume his playing time will be limited, certainly at first.

If all the players from the 2011 draft are thrown into a pool and redrafted today, how do you think the Top 5 would look? Consider we've got Irving, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Mirotic, Jimmy Butler, Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker, and Vucevic.

Dan Michler

Sam: This is your classic media/fan second guess. I've heard how this goes when I ask some media members how come they didn't know, for example, Greg Oden wouldn't make it and Kobe Bryant would. The answer is always the same: The gm is paid to know these things; they are not. Another lesson in media infallibility. Or rarely taking responsibility. Anyway, I've never come across an executive from Jerry West to Red Auerbach who hasn't missed badly in the draft. Especially now trying to predict with 19-year-olds. It's more chance than science. The 2011 draft turned out to be great for the Bulls, essentially building their future, which no media person or fan on draft night predicted or imagined. It turned out to be an excellent draft that if you were putting it in order today you'd still have major disagreements but could go this way:

Klay Thompson
Kyrie Irving
Kawhi Leonard
Nikola Vucevic
Jimmy Butler
Nikola Mirotic
Enes Kanter
Kenneth Faried
Kemba Walker
Brandon Knight

I think its time for you to write the article that gets people talking about Mirotic winning 6th man of the year. I've heard pretty much zero conversation on the topic all season, and realistically, who else would he be up against? Worth a shot eh? Carry the torch!

Dave Cronin

Sam: There's probably not much talk about it since he hasn't even been Bulls sixth man most of the season. As for competition, it's usually a strong field with Jamal Crawford, who is the model for the role, though hurt maybe for the rest of the season, Manu Ginobili, another classic, Lou Williams, who has been having a great season for the Raptors as their virtual closer all season, Marreese Speights, who was better earlier and several other Warriors like Andre Iguodala and Isaiah Thomas, who has put up big numbers in Phoenix and Boston. If Mirotic is in Rookie of the Year discussion given not even being a regular in the rotation for the first month that would seem pretty impressive.

I'm wondering what to make of Mirotic and his future role with the team. I watch the 25-point games and thunder dunks and fourth-quarter scoring, especially as a rookie, and those all seem like the hallmarks of a franchise player, like a Dirk Nowitzki, who in time you'd build a team around. But then I remember back in 2004-2005 the Bulls had a player in Ben Gordon who, if I remember correctly, led the league in fourth-quarter scoring his rookie year and was in the discussion as one of the most clutch players in the league, ultimately winning the Sixth Man of the Year award (but lost Rookie of the Year). But now he's just a solid journeyman player. And of course there was Linsanity, where he was amazing for a few months and since then has been solid, but unspectacular, as a backup. Most analysts I've heard laugh off the idea of Mirotic being compared to Nowitzki, or even Toni Kukoc, but I don't think people watching Noah or Butler as rookies saw the players they'd become, either. But clearly they see something that puts a ceiling on how great they think Mirotic will be. What's your take on him? Could he become a Nowitzki-level player? And since Wiggins pretty much has Rookie of the Year sewn up, could Mirotic be a dark horse for Sixth Man like Gordon was?

Chris Feldman

Sam: I actually believe Mirotic has an excellence chance to win Rookie of the Year. Given his games matter and Andrew Wiggins has yet to play one that does. I believe at this point given the way Mirotic carried a top four playoff team the last month it would be a disservice if he doesn't win Rookie of the Year. Gordon should have won the rookie award, but the voters didn't want to give him two awards. So they gave ROY to his college teammate, Emeka Okafor over Gordon and Dwight Howard. Luol Deng was fifth. And Okafor is a good where are they now question. He could be an interesting addition somewhere next season if he is healthy. Trying to guess ceiling seems an unneeded exercise. The larger issue with Mirotic is his role with the team. With Noah entering his contract season and Gasol going on 35, it doesn't make sense to break up the front line to accommodate him with a starting job. Plus you may have heard the Bulls tend to have a lot of injuries. I wrote a story this week showing where Mirotic's rookie season stands. I think Toni Kukoc was one of the most underrated NBA players ever and Dirk is one of the best. I don't expect Mirotic to be that good, though we didn't expect him to be anywhere near this good yet. Or, frankly even playing this much.

Tony Snell, like many, doesn't seem to have a good over all game without consistent minutes. 0-1, one shot, three personals in sixteen min Monday. That said, he had a block, no TO's, and didn't seem to hurt the team while he was on the court.

William Kochneff

Sam: Another element that makes the draft so difficult with young players is you can't quite tell their nature until you see them play in the NBA. It was no secret Snell was often passive in college, though very good. Mirotic wasn't a great scorer in Europe and had numerous low scoring games in playoffs. So you didn't know how aggressive he would be. For Snell, he disappoints at times in the games because of the way he defers too often. He's got such abilities with long arms, an ability to move his feet and a nice shooting stroke. You can see what the Bulls liked about him. But sometimes you just can't get him to react. As soon as Jimmy Butler came back from injury you could see like in that Charlotte game Snell basically handing the ball to Butler and not even wanting to shoot. Unselfish is good, but you have to make the defense know you are on the court. He was much better against Toronto, but that comes and goes with him. I suspect as the playoff rotation tightens and Rose is back he could be one losing playing time unless he's energetic. And I can't argue. After all, we know Thibodeau trusts Hinrich, who has shot well of late, and Brooks is one of the better fourth quarter scorers. You earn your time for the playoffs by showing you deserve to be on the court. Snell's got talent, but you have to make the case to the coach with your play. With Tony too often you don't know he's on the court. When that stage passes, he will be on the court.

As a fan of Jordan's past exploits, I follow the Hornets. Why are they so bad at drafting? Jordan and/or Rod Higgins came out of the 2011 draft with Kemba Walker when Klay Thompson was available and was viewed as a brilliant prospect; they then traded Tobias Harris for a project in Bismack Biyombo (huh?); 2012 (first year with Rich Cho at the helm) was Kidd-Gilchrist over Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal, and Damian Lillard; MKG's improved as of late, but he's still a project. Beal is closer to being a complete player, and Lillard's an all star. Cody Zeller was picked over Nerlins Noel, which looks like it may have been a mistake as well. They seem like they may have picked good players with this last draft, but time will tell. It seems like regardless of who's in charge that they don't seem to get it right.

Terrell Bryant

Sam: I can pick apart almost any team's draft like that as we all noted above with the 2011 draft and how many teams passed top players. Overall, I think Jordan's Hornets are one of the most improved organizations for being active in free agency and putting together competitive teams. Lots of teams passed on Thompson, who I have the best player from that draft. Kemba's a better pick that I thought and I don't see Noel ever doing much. Others have done worse. Give Mike a break.

What are your thoughts on playoff scheduling being favorable to the bulls i.e. one day off between games? Due to injuries and other issues our year can best be described as uneven. We can only point to the favorable record when all five starters are on the floor. We have not faired well in back to backs and the Detroit game was another example of inability to close. Also, what are your thoughts regarding the involuntary rest of Jimmy and to a lesser extent Taj? Could this late season extended rest help them in the long run? Lastly, will the playoffs prove to be a microcosm of the season? Uneven play, inability to close, great some nights, other nights not so much?

Greg Mendel

Sam: I guess that sums up this season reasonably well: Who knows what this team will do? Which makes it an intriguing playoff season. Given the injuries, the ability to lose to anyone and the uncertainty, you understand subliminally this is a team that wouldn't surprise you to lose in the first round or make the conference finals. NBA Finals? Well, possible. They haven't looked like that much except for a short stretch back in December. But as Noah notes, they have a chance. And when you have a chance you have a chance. Hey, no one copyright that! What? Riley always has?

With the way he's been playing, if OKC makes the playoffs, Westbrook must be considered front runner for MVP. That's coming from me as a Bulls fan, not a Warriors / Rockets fan. Curry has good shooters surrounding him (Thompson, Barnes, Green). Harden has better supporting cast than Westbrook. It seems every other game Westbrook will have a triple double. Even Rose during his MVP season couldn't pull this off.

Abram Bachtiar

Sam: There is no actual formula for MVP, though it generally goes to some sort of combination of the best player on the team having the best season. It doesn't have to be the best overall player—Jordan didn't get it every time—and doesn't have to be the first place team. Westbrook has been terrific of late, but basically has zero chance of winning. His numbers of as close to a triple double as anyone gets these days while averaging almost 30 points are amazing. But he missed the first month of the season, which almost eliminates him. You have to play. It's easier to have livelier legs when you miss a month. He's had great teammates even without Durant, who did play 27 games. And they're still trying to get into the playoffs. You can't win MVP in eighth place. Westbrook has had a terrific season. At best he's fourth in the voting. Maybe fifth.

Do you think the Bulls will keep Dunleavy around next season? I love his game. Sometimes he barely gets any shots off, yet he never complains and then when guys are down he has the ability to score 20-25 pts. Although the Bulls have Snell and McDermott and need to give them a chance to play, do they trust the young guys to carry the wing position next season?

Megan Wong

Sam: It's going to be one of the tougher questions of many in the off season. As usual, most decisions will depend on what happens in the playoffs. But if you can get a guy like Dunleavy for the $3 million he makes it's a huge bargain in the NBA. He's almost as underrated a player as he is a teammate. He's got a terrific, understated sense of humor that makes him one of my favorite players to ever have been around in the NBA. He has this wonderful perspective on how ridiculous this all can be while being a true pro, supportive of teammates, doing whatever asked without complaint or hesitation and until recently even one of the healthiest guys on the team. A lot will depend on how much the Bulls have to pay Jimmy Butler as it's not a question so much of being in the luxury tax—the Bulls will be—but if you get high in the tax it's so penal you are almost prevented from making other moves. The Bulls also have Aaron Brooks as a free agent and Kirk Hinrich having a player option I assume he'll exercise to stay. With the injury issues for Rose, the Bulls need to protect themselves at point guard. So maybe they trade a big man, though the only one who has been healthy has been the oldest guy. These things tend to become clearer in the playoffs. Yes, you'd like to see McDermott begin to get playing time, but Dunleavy is the kind of player you want on a team with title aspirations.

Just by the stats alone, I think Derrick Rose is so overrated. PGs like Chris Paul, Westbrook, Deron Williams and even Lawson have had countless games in which they scored 30+ pts and 15+ assists during their careers. Rose's done it only once yet he was/is considered an elite PG. Yes he's been inured a lot but he's generally not considered as a high assist guy. How is that acceptable? You can say that he's never quite had the big time scorers around him but heck, look at what Westbrook's doing without Durant night after night? And even Lawson with guys like Faried and Wilson Chandler. I would love to see Rose putting up 10+ assists per game on a consistent basis.

Bambi Choy

Sam: There's an old joke about statistics with drowning in water that averages three feet. Depends on where and how you look at the statistics. They tend to be deceiving in regards to the way teams play. For one thing, Rose has been a scoring guard for the Bulls, asked to score for an offensively challenged team. That's changed as Noah developed, though more so last season offensively and with the development of Butler and addition of Gasol this season. But the way the Bulls often play, Rose is maybe more unselfish than guys like Chris Paul. Paul holds the ball throughout the possession and then makes the last pass. Rose doesn't do that with the Bulls. Because the Bulls have such great passing big men in Noah and Gasol—the best in the NBA—a lot of plays go through them. You get an assist in hockey on the previous pass. Not in basketball. So Rose hits Noah or Gasol who'll move the ball. It results in fewer assists as does the fact the Bulls have few catch and shoot three point shooters. The Bulls shooters like Butler and Mirotic tend to pump fake and put the ball on the floor and then shoot, which wipes out the assist. Rose is easily the best passing guard the Bulls have. The irony, of course, is the bulk of the criticism he received before his surgery was that he wasn't being aggressive enough in attacking the basket and was passing too much. Oh well.

One thing I've been wondering about is if (and how) the Bulls can run the Noah-centric offense with Rose. I guess 1st option will still be for Rose to run out & beat everyone down court. But if he can't run out, I'd like to see them use Noah as distributer and Rose as a '2nd shooting guard'. Makes it a lot harder to shut down the offense by triple-teaming Rose... or putting LeBron on him. (Of course, Bulls still need to make shots!)

Art Alenik

Sam: It is going to be interesting to see how Thibodeau approaches that. It's clear by now Noah is more comfortable in that role, had his best season in that role last season and struggled to adjust as Rose returned this season and then began to bloom again with Rose out. Noah's such a great teammate, as I often note, that he'll always opt for team first. But team first also is having him at his best. It seems one obvious solution is to have Noah out there as much as possible when Rose isn't since the Rose/Noah pick and roll and pick and pop isn't the greatest since being the roll/pop guy isn't Noah's strength; it's Pau's. Then do you bring Noah off the bench to start the game? I think we have the message from Thibodeau that he doesn't like that. But there's likely going to be 20 minutes when Rose isn't playing and Noah could get into a nice flow in those 20 minutes. Start Mirotic with Pau? Thibs probably would see that as not a good enough defensive lineup. Taj with Pau as Taj does do better starting and seems to get more into the game? Bairstow with…OK, OK, enough with the possibilities that are not about to occur.

Is it me but is Thibs just way too loyal to his veterans? I know Thibs trusts and loves Hinrich but shouldn't he know better when to use and not use him in certain match ups? Bulls tend to struggle against quick little guards so why doesn't Thibs use E'Twaun Moore to slow them down instead of just sticking with Hinrich who's obviously no longer the defensive player he was? I guess all that talk about winning is not always a top priority of Thibs as loyalty comes first even if they are playing poorly. Also why not use E'Twaun Moore more who's proven that he's one of the most reliable players on the team who doesn't make a lot of mistakes?

Tom Choi

Sam: I believe Thibodeau uses Hinrich more than Moore—I love writing all the mores—only because Hinrich is a better player. This is what you need to know about coaches: It's about them. They're all like that because their future, reputation and fate rest on winning games. Sometimes their view is too short sighted as for only this win, but that's their job. It's why you'll so often have coach/management philosophical divides; it's a different job with different goals. Some are the same, sure, to succeed imminently. But the methods often are at variance. I'd like to see Hinrich more in the 20-minute range just because I believe it will produce more consistent results at his age. And few have as many hard years on them as Hinrich, who should be the ultimate fan favorite because no one plays harder pound for pound than he does. It's why his body takes such a beating and maybe needs a few less minutes. But it's also why Thibodeau relies on him so much, because he'll never back down, fights over the screens when others won't, doesn't bury himself in the screen and yell for help and will be in the face of anyone who challenges his teammates. Moore has been a terrific pickup and I hope he stays. He's a solid player for spot minutes and not the least bit cautious about the moment. He can't give you the defense or veteran savvy of Hinrich, and coaches like that as it helps win games.

Forget Kyle korver's season, DeAndre Jordan will be the first 70% FG, 40% FT, 25% 3FT

Mike Coughlin

Sam: I don't see that mentioned as much in the ESPN stats. Who says the Bulls can't get free agents? They got the elite free agent of four straight Defensive Player of the Year awards in Ben Wallace, who had the first 45 FG, 41 FT, 20 threes season in franchise history. And they still won't retire his jersey. Go figure.

Turning back the clock a bit, Adrian Dantley is one of the most prolific and unique scorers in the NBA history. He's definitely one of my favorite players of all time and I doubt we'll ever see another like him. What's amazing is that he was very generously listed at 6'5 and 200lbs yet most of his points came from posting guys that were half a foot taller and 40+ pounds heavier. Plus we're talking in the 80's when it was a lot more physical than now. It wasn't like he was extremely quick either despite being built more like a guard. I still vividly remember getting so frustrated watching 7ft Brad Sellers buying every one of Dantley's fakes and struggling to guard this puny guy. How did he manage to not just play well but really have it his way in the NBA despite his physical shortcoming?

Jay Choi

Sam: That's how you get into the Hall of Fame, being exceptional. Dantley was an amazing scorer and a better teammate than advertised at times as I'm convinced the Pistons would have won titles with him as well as Mark Aguirre, who was acquired in midseason when the Pistons went on to win twice. Dantley wasn't the Bad Boy guy, a loner with an isolation game, though so was Aguirre in many respects. But Aguirre was close with Isiah Thomas and Dantley wasn't, and management decided to go for comity. It's sort of this latest LeBron/Love discussion. You can win pretty much no matter the personalities as I never saw a Bulls champion in which the players universally hung around together or didn't have various issues with one another. It's about on court respect and professionalism, and Dantley was a pro. He had one of the best post up games, much like Aguirre, in which he was strong and get could to the basket with a quick first step and finish. It probably hurt his reputation he didn't get to stick around for the titles, but the Pistons didn't win because they traded him.

When you wrote about officials not calling palming on Earl Monroe because they'd never seen anyone do anything like what he was doing, it reminded me of the Will Ferrell movie Semi Pro. Have you seen it? It wasn't a classic but Ferrell plays the owner/player/coach of an ABA team. At the climax of the movie during the team's final game they invent the alley oop play. The crowd goes quiet because nobody has ever seen anything like it and the referee calls a foul because he has no idea what just happened. I figure alley oops started becoming a part of the game shortly after dunks did. I know some early coaches and basketball personalities were strongly against dunks being allowed. Do you remember alley oops ever being controversial?

Cameron Watkins

Sam: There was more respect for opponents back then; less hugging and post game hand shakes—it's like they're still in little league and have to line up—and more appreciation of a person doing their job. I've never been much of a fan of so called trash talking since I always felt if you can do it you don't have to announce it. But that was more a 60s ethic. Clearly, some of the best pros of all time were legendary trash talkers, like Larry Bird and Reggie Miller and, of course, Jordan. But back in the first great era of the league dunking was generally viewed as an insult to an opponent. Not for the same reasons, but it even was banned in college when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was there. You never saw those angry screaming dunks from the best big men of all time, Kareem, Wilt and Russell because they knew it was worth the same two points. It was so easy for Wilt, in fact, that he learned to shoot fade away bank shots because he didn't want to embarrass opponents so easily. There were instances of it, and the first lob dunks I ever saw were actually the Bulls first teams with what Guy Rodgers and Don Kojis called the Kangaroo Kram, a back door lob play. No one tried it on Wilt or Russell.

I called it! At the beginning of the year I sent u this email: “How high up do Lebron's powers really go? The last 2 players to beat him out for the MVP award have been stricken with injuries the following year. I know Durant's injury isn't as serious as Rose's... Yet. But don't be surprised if Durant misses extended time with more injuries this year. For Lebron truly is the chosen one and anyone who beats him out for an NBA award shall be cursed forever!” Now I think it's safe to say Durant's season is over and maybe more. Lesson here- do not mess with the chosen one!

Billy Habibi

Sam: Now you are starting to scare me. I better pass this on to Curry and Harden.


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