Ask Sam | Sam Smith opens his mailbag | 11.6.2015

Like you, nobody’s asking me but I would put Gibson with Gasol and Mirotic with Noah. The pick and roll defense is difficult to watch and while this may not help that, you’d get a bit more balanced for overall defense especially rebounding.

I would personally start Noah, as Gasol while a good shot blocker within 5 feet of the basket gets lost when he ventures farther out. I know it’s hard to put Gasol on the bench to start but as you pointed out, the starting line up is coming out on the losing end. Makes me appreciate Dunleavy even more. Too many big men, maybe, but the mix is definitely off.

--Greg Young

Sam: I’ve believed this was going to be Hoiberg’s biggest challenge and not all the misguided Rose/Butler stuff. They’re the best at their positions by far the Bulls have with no reasonable backup and no ability to play the other’s position. If either is not good, the Bulls are done.

Same with the Thunder and Westbrook and Durant. No Durant meant title contender to missing the playoffs. You want Rose out, that’s maybe what happens for the Bulls or close. Same with Jimmy. They’re both All-Star level players, like Wall and Beal, like Curry and Thompson. They’ll drive their teams. Now we’re even seeing it with the surprise Trailblazers with McCollum.

Rose always has wanted a running mate; he knows he can’t win by himself. As much as the MVP and 62 wins and All-Star stuff was fun, he knows it hurts too much alone and can hurt you, as he fully discovered. There’s always been this belief that Rose didn’t want help because he didn’t recruit. His message truly was always the same: “That’s management’s job; I’m not lobbying for someone to replace a teammate. I’ll play with whomever they bring in.” That actually leads to a better locker room.

The Pau/Noah starting thing is and isn’t an issue. Everyone likes to be a starter for ego no matter how much they dismiss ego for winning. Plus, inconveniently both are free agents and though they don’t discuss it you’re naïve to believe it’s not a consideration and the notion—certainly of their representatives—is if you’re not a starter I can’t sell you as aggressively. I don’t buy that, and Tristan Thompson did OK. The Bulls have basically been trailing every game but one. But Jimmy and Rose play them as well.

So say you start Noah; there is an issue bringing an older player off the bench as players will tell you it’s harder the older you get. And it’s not like Noah is playing 35 minutes, anyway. Maybe you make the case to Pau he’ll get more touches and more scoring opportunities playing with reserves rather than the scorers Rose and Butler and it will enhance the team and his value. Or maybe you just do it and to heck with what anyone thinks. But then Mirotic stumbled against the Thunder and Hoiberg played Noah and Gasol together more than he had all season. And Gasol made some terrific plays down the stretch on offense in the pick and roll with Rose that Oklahoma City wouldn’t have guarded the same way if Noah was in.

There’s no great answer with the personnel they have. It’s simpler the way Thibodeau did it. You play seven guys and that’s it. But if you are committed to a deeper bench and using more players and for fewer minutes these issues will be ongoing, especially when you have several players with obvious strengths on one side of the ball, like Noah on defense and Pau on offense. This is not platoon football where you prepare for each play. Which when you think about it makes you wonder why anyone would watch that. Who invents a game in which you need to rest every 10 seconds? And then there’s Dunleavy still out, Hinrich out and probably the closest backup to being an actual point guard and Portis bursting to play. At least I should have plenty of Ask Sam material for this season.

Sometimes I feel disappointed that Bobby Portis hardly gets time. Or maybe I feel bad for him. We all know the dude can play. He hustles hard, makes the jumpers and brings a lot of energy. Heck I think if he plays a lot of minutes this season he might be in the conversation for Rookie of the Year. But at the same time, it is also understood that the Bulls are already made up of players who are ready to compete for a championship. And you just can't add a rookie in there. But, I still hope BP gets a lot more playing time, though. Dude's got heart.

Josiah Regencia

Sam: I think that’s probably obvious to everyone, and especially Fred Hoiberg. But six games into your NBA career as a coach is not the time to cut the time of your veterans. Jimmy rarely played as a rookie and it hasn’t hurt his career. Plus, Portis is 20 and there’s no rush.

Hoiberg is playing 10 guys and limited minutes, which is not exactly ideal yet for getting veterans into the swing of the season. You can see from the Thunder game the value of Gibson, and he’d played little. Plus, Noah has to be monitored given his knee problems from last season. He’ll always say he’s fine, but no one over 30 after what we now realize was pretty serious knee surgery can be pushed too hard.

At the same time, these guys have to play to build their timing and conditioning and getting used to a new system of play. Frankly, at this point, however much Portis might help in an individual game, if his presence takes time away from those veterans getting more comfortable playing together it would be a negative. You can tell Hoiberg likes Portis and wants to play him, but the priority now is getting the veterans to play differently, which even with the terrific win over the Thunder they are not.

There’s still way too much deliberate play, mostly a lack of movement in the half court. You watch the Warriors and that is such a strength. Pace is not only fast breaking; it’s movement in the half court to keep your defender moving and moving the ball. The Bulls aren’t there yet nor close and need those veterans getting accustomed to doing that. No one roots for injuries, but they will come and Portis will get his chances. Mike Dunleavy notwithstanding, the Bulls have had one of the healthier starts in the league. Could the Bulls trade someone from their front court? There are no such talks or considerations at this time I know of.

I don't have any proposals in this one, just interested in your thoughts on the Milwaukee Bucks roster. With Jabari Parker basically having been out for all of last year, the Bucks roster evolved into something interesting in his absence. Middleton was surprisingly good and received a long-term contract as a result. Antetokoumpo always had a ton of potential but is really producing through the first few games this season.

Prior to last year most assumed Parker would be the star of this team. Now it's unclear where he fits in the rotation when he comes back. I know they'd have to play him some after he's back to build up his trade value, but do you see them moving him at that point for either another big man or a shooting guard? he counter argument I guess would be that the Bucks are 1-3 with their lone win so far coming against the hapless Nets, and that they probably can't afford to be giving away young talent.

--Cameron Watkins

Sam: Yes, there is that unhappy development. They’re thrilled to have Parker, but as we saw—but so many refused to accept—it’s a slow process returning from an ACL injury and until you do and show you can compete at a high level, which is usually at least two years, the Bucks will take their time. They showed good management in keeping Parker out almost a year.

As I look back on the media condemnation of the Bulls and Rose after he didn’t return nine months after surgery, the obvious flaw was how badly Rose wanted to play despite the narrative of the alleged opposite. He probably shouldn’t have been shooting before games like he was in front of everyone. The Bucks kept Parker sequestered with apparently only occasional notes allowed to his family. No expectations were created; plus as we have now seen with the guys who tried to come back too early like Rondo and Rubio, their careers stalled and they are trying to rebuild them even with not having another setback like Rose’s two MCL surgeries. Rose obviously just wanted to play so badly he wanted to be out there and was condemned for it.

Several Bulls players have talked about 'low energy' after a disturbing number of games the last 2 seasons. What do they really mean by this, and what is the solution?

--Dan Michler

Sam: I always take that as the cliché answer when things don’t go well. The variation of, “It is what it is.” You know, we look out of sync because we are back on our heels and will have to make some adjustments to get back on track because when it rains it pours it was lights out and a train wreck when the wheels fell off because of the unforced errors. Energy is the shorthand these days for playing hard and overwhelming the opponent. No one comes to the games not ready to play. But some days at work are better than others.

It was like this Jimmy/Rose supposed feud. I always laughed. On some days I didn’t like everyone I worked with at The Tribune. OK, right, actually on most days. But I never felt I didn’t try to do a good job or interfered with anybody else’s ability to do a good job. Some days I might be jealous of someone else getting a better assignment or a raise or favorable treatment. But you pride yourself on doing your best no matter the circumstances. Some days perhaps it wasn’t as good as it could have been. Because you make more money, or a lot, lot, lot more money doesn’t make you immune to those human actions, interactions and behavior. Some days you are not as ready as other days.

Not because you didn’t want it to be but because there are days like that. Entertainers, as players are, in our society are judged to have a skill we will pay more to see performed. Thus comes the heightened scrutiny with it. So when you have that day when the other guy is better or writes that lead you wish you had thought of, the general community isn’t writing you to say why couldn’t you be like the other guy. Perhaps you thought it, but were glad no one else much mentioned it.

There’s also this fiction that’s nice to perpetuate that sports is on a higher plain and because teamwork in involved there’s this unselfish ethic that transcends regular society because, well, you know, sports is so important. So at the end of the day, or night or game, as it were, and things didn’t go that well and there were, oh, just so many different possibilities, you say it seemed like low energy and then you can leave and have dinner before it gets cold.

I always remember the New York reporters anxiously pestering Red Holzman about some game and Red would say, “"If we win I'm going to go out and have a steak and Scotch. If we lose, I'm going to go out and have a steak and Scotch." His Knicks title teams remain legendary in the NBA. He cared, did everything he could. And then he went home. He was a great coach.

How high do you think Niko's ceiling is? I see it as Dirk Nowitzki, although I recognize that he's unlikely to reach that level as Dirk is, for me, the greatest foreign player to have played in the NBA.

--David Beer

Sam: Yes, let’s lower the roof a little bit. As you can see from the last few games—three of 16 shooting and just 16 minutes against the Thunder and four in the second half—some matchups are not going to work for Mirotic. Hoiberg has been pretty good about sticking with guys after bad stretches, but you could see he wanted this game more after the loss in Charlotte and basically didn’t bring Mirotic back after a brutal first half in which he constantly over helped and was out of position and left Ibaka open again and again for shots.

There’s a lot there good to like with Mirotic with his size and versatility, and Dirk, after all, was known as Irk his first few seasons in the NBA. You know, no D. Mirotic is not a great shooter on the level of Nowitzki or even McDermott. But he does a lot of things, is an adept learner and team player. One of the issues the Bulls have is Mirotic isn’t a great athlete. The Bulls have several skill guys at the potentially athletic position of small forward, like McDermott and Dunleavy. So there are going to be issues at times.

Plus, Mirotic, like Dirk, doesn’t translate as well moving down a position and losing his edge. I believe Mirotic is on the way to being a terrific player; remember, he hasn’t even been in a fulltime rotation for a full season yet. He’ll become more consistent, but let’s say he’s more in an atrium and his ceiling will be much harder to reach than a Nowitzki.

One thing we all can agree on. Bulls can't be giving up 130 points to any teams. The only person who got a smile out of that was Tibbs.

Randall Sanders

Sam: That game obviously got out of hand early with an unconscious shooting game by a generally poor shooting team. Things like that happen in the NBA. It’s easy to forget four games into Thibodeau’s first season with his slower paced game the Knicks in the United Center beat the Bulls scoring 120 points led by Toney Douglas blitzing the Bulls for 30 points. Yes, that Toney Douglas.

The Bulls then went to Boston and gave up 110 points the next game and lost. Then they won 62 games. Not to say the Bulls are as I have them more in the 50-win range. But Hoiberg is trying a lot of new things with more players playing than in the last five years and those players generally playing fewer minutes with the minutes being more distributed. So there will be aberrations. The community was screaming the last few years for players to play fewer minutes to build toward the playoffs. You can take some beatings in November, especially since by March it’s tough to remember where you even were in November.

In an article: can you do 10 Fun Facts about Tony Snell (besides the fact that he seems to only need one facial expression to get through the day)?

--Alejandro Yegros

Sam: I’m thinking. Well, he did play with Kawhi Leonard in high school, who as far as I can tell has the league’s most deadpan expression. That must have been some party animal team.

I don't really want to hear about how it's a new system, new coach, blah blah blah. Every other team in the league is in the same boat. Last year it was 'new players getting used to each other blah blah blah'. Time to perform.

Rose - sure blurred vision, bad eye, facemask. He looks aweful! If he can't play, don't play him. Jimmy want to play point, let him. Rest Rose and promote McDermott to SG.

Noah - yuck! We have Taj / Gasol / Portis / Niko for size, please we have enough depth to drop one. I'm sick of hearing how good this team is but they don't take accountability for bad losses. You don't lose to the Hornets, seriously, if you want to win a championship.

--Andrew Brown

Sam: I am glad given the season is about 10 days old that a fan base as sophisticated as the Bulls’ with more championships than every team but the Lakers and Celtics understands the rhythms and requirements of a long NBA season.

What, in your professional opinion, would it take for Mirotic to move up into the top slot for best beard in the league? I personally think a curly mustache on top of all that thickness would do it. But perhaps it's too late as James has snatched all creative licensing for his...It'd be a shame if he couldn't at least compete for it.

--Matt Mikulice

Sam: Finally, a serious topic. Niko appears to be making an effort and now with Harden shooting 29 percent this season and 16 percent on threes and that they reportedly have found a family of four living in his beard, it could be a long season for Harden and who knows how this will go.

Hoiberg has the makings of a very fine people manager. Managing people is a profoundly thorny and complicated job. There is much to it and many rich rewards. But if he wants to be a great NBA coach he's going to find that X's and O's are just table stakes. I'm pulling for him. More good managers make the world a better place. BTW, comparing Hoiberg to Thibodeau does neither any favors. Two such different guys. It's like comparing foot surgery to the color indigo. I'm going to stop, myself.

Gasol is foot slow. He just is. Great guy, lots of skill, fun to watch, really a delightfully bright fellow, but foot slow. More deft than Brad Miller, though! Gasol is a very good rim protector but he can't play out on the floor. Hoiberg's offense is all kinds of fun to watch particularly with most of the current Bulls roster. and ball stoppers are buzzkill. Great team guy that Rose is, he gives up the ball to keep the peace. He absolutely shines in this offense, and can be blindingly great when his vision clears up. But other than that high post weave they run (fan vote: against), Rose gets the ball headed in the direction of the rim pretty consistently. I sorta wish I felt differently, but the greedy fan in me wants the ball in Rose's hands every time. That’s fun to watch.

--Pete Zievers

Sam: The players keep getting asked about Hoiberg vs Thibodeau and I agree, coaches change all the time. They change and when they change things are different. That’s why they change. It’s also a natural progression in coaching; five years is a life cycle for basically every one. There’s no shame on either side. I’ve noticed the players wearying of this. Not because they are anti-Tom or pro-Fred. Just because they know this happens all the time.

Tom’s system fit Pau’s style better than Hoiberg’s because of the lack of pace. Pau is better in a slower game (yes, he is slow, but he also ran the same speed when he was in the Finals three straight seasons). But no one the Bulls have is a positional panacea. Pau will have some trouble against quicker big men in a game that is going to quicker and smaller big men in my basketball oxymoron.

Al Jefferson making those jump shots like in the Hornets game will be an issue. But we also saw Pau in that late pick and roll and pick and pop with Derrick against the Thunder pick up some big baskets. And the Cavs had a heck of a time with it. If Pau were not hurt that series could easily have turned toward the Bulls. But no complaining with all the guys the Cavs had out.

It’s a big part of coaching: Finding the ways to best utilize the talents a player has and not putting him in positions where he’ll have more trouble succeeding. Hoiberg is good; but it’s always basically trying a matchup and even if it makes the most sense, it doesn’t work if you miss the shot or the other guy throws his in. Like Johnny Kerr famously said, “Who wants five guys out there running around with your paycheck.”

I saw this in the article about the game: The Hornets tailed 100 points in the first three quarters, the most points allowed during that span by the Bulls since 1990.

We've had some bad coaches during that stretch - Tim Floyd, Jim Boylan, Vinny Del Negro. If that statement were true, and they didn't even allow 100 points in 3 quarters, then Hoiberg can't be that good of a signing. Tim Floyd 2.0 in the making? Say it ain't so.

--Abram Bachtiar

Sam: Good thing the Bulls didn’t fire him after the Charlotte game as they probably planned to; then he wouldn’t have been able to surge into the early season coach of the year voting lead with wins over the Cavaliers and Thunder, which no one else has come close to.

Watching Jimmy Butler's clutch defensive plays in the 4th quarter of the Orlando game, I remembered an interview with Walt Frazier. When asked how he always seemed to make a crucial steal in the 4th quarter, he said that he had figured out earlier in the game how to take the ball away from the man that he was guarding. But he didn't use this knowledge until he really needed it at crunch time. I wonder if Jimmy or other great defensive players do the same thing.

--Michael Mezey

Sam: Sure, good players study habits all game. They did it in the 60s as well; they just didn’t call it analytics. If a guy went left for his shot, you tried to push him right. You just didn’t know how many times he did it; but you knew when he’d do it because you watched. Jimmy has really become terrific at that. He’s really a better defender than Deng because of his athletic ability. Deng used his size and relentless play to stay with guys. Jimmy is so much quicker.

He’s not quite the offensive player Rose is as defenses still don’t double Jimmy off the pick and roll like they do with Rose. Plus, Jimmy prefers isolation play, anyway. But he’s so much the superior defender, though Rose did an excellent job against Westbrook Thursday when I said I’d put Jimmy on Westbrook. Rose certainly loves to compete with his buddy Westbrook and Westbrook will win some as well.

But Rose was better on both sides of the ball as Westbrook gave in to every late screen and never was truly able to break away from Rose all game. Jimmy’s superior defense and vastly improved offense and Rose’s offensive game potentially gives the Bulls that second guy whomever you may believe it is who is All-Star caliber and truly gives the team a chance to do great things in the playoffs. But only if you have them both at a high level. The other issue is it’s a drop off from those two. But hardly insurmountable given the variety and depth.

Thoughts on Myles Turner? Besides the hair he looks good. Great pick. And really surprised at how competitive the Trailblazers have been to start the season. I thought this team would struggle to win 25 wins. Now i say 35-38. No one seen CJs play coming, lets see if he can continue it.

--Mike Sutera

Sam: He’s been one of the more impressive rookies. I don’t watch college ball, so I just get to see these guys now. I’d take him ahead of every big man in this draft but Towns. I’ve continued to be impressed with Denver’s Mudiay for his point guard game, which the Lakers’ Russell doesn’t really have enough of in this NBA because of his lack of athleticism. He’ll struggle because the Lakers over sell their guys to their fans and they now think he should be Magic Johnson.He’ll be good, but probably with his next team.

Again, the embarrassment continues for the NBA with the 76ers. The Bulls are there Monday and they’ll eventually win some games. But their refusal to compete and slot machine roster diminishes the NBA. The Blazers have been maybe the early surprise team. Their management is good the way they addressed needs without worrying about the impact of losing Aldridge, though it’s hardly like Aldridge was leading them to titles. He’s surely a good player, but isn’t a great fit in this era, especially in the West. I don’t think he makes the Spurs much better this season; more that they got someone to replace Duncan and so won’t have to go back to 25 wins. But he was a postup, faceup, midrange player who held the ball a lot. That’s not the Spurs style, but they’ll teach him as good as they are.

The Blazers can now play with two scoring guards and a bunch of guys to go fetch the ball for them in a version of the Iverson 76ers. Perhaps the other side of the surprise is the team they beat Thursday, the Grizzlies, who have taken some amazing beatings thus far and now seem too slow to keep up. Yes, it’s early. But that tease of Jeff Green seems to be sinking them as it has others before them.

I've hated drose for the last four years because of his attitude towards teammates on and off the court. Its nice to see him playing for the team this year, hes trying on defense and the three straight assists last night (against Orlando) to get an easier look were nice. Hope it continues. Maybe the three straight years of thibs unrelenting style was just too much for him and a lot of other guys.

--Jake Henry

Sam: I’ll also deal with that ESPN Bulls are done with Rose out of left field one quickly. Really, you fell for an ESPN off the wall self promotion on a day there just happened to be a Bulls game on national TV that ESPN didn’t have but needed to attract some attention? You fell for that one?