Bulls surprisingly getting out and running

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Bulls surprisingly getting out and running

DEERFIELD, ILL.Offensively, this seasons edition of the Bulls have put an emphasis on execution, ball movement, players moving without the ball and of course, head coach Tom Thibodeaus rigid stance on inside-out playat least when theyre in a half-court set.
However, theyve also made a concerted effort to push the pace in transition.
Its only three games into an 82-game season, but through the preseason and the NBAs first week, one of the teams strengths has been fast-break basketball. In the admittedly small sample size, they are tied for sixth in the league in transition points, at 16.7 points per game.
That might not seem like much, but consider the fact that they only averaged an identically middle-in-the-pack 13.4 the last two seasons, when they had the services of one of the games most explosive talents, Derrick Rose. Sure, most coaches start each season with the intent to play at a faster tempo, a mission that often dissolves early, but the Bulls, with few players observers would consider elite in the open court, seem committed to getting up and down the floor in a hurry.
We work on it every day in practice. Thibs has got us running up and down, trying to get easy plays and easy layups, and we want to try to use our speed., Rip Hamilton said. We dont want to play a half-court game for 48 minutes. We want to try to get as many easy baskets as possible.
Joakim Noah added: For us, I think its all about getting out on the break, getting steals and just being able to run to the open spots, and just knowing what your teammates strengths and weaknesses are.
Im not going to be the kind of guy thats going to catch lobs and stuff like that, so Id rather my teammates just throw a little bounce pass or something like that.
One would think that a coach with the mindset of Thibodeau, so concerned with ball security, wouldnt want to loosen the reins enough to give his players the freedom to run, especially with a roster that doesnt seem suited for the task. But upon closer inspection, the Bulls do have the personnel equipped for a decent transition game.
Hamilton, while older, was never an elite athlete, but is regarded as one of the fastest and more well-conditioned players in the league, traits that lend themselves to sprinting the floor for layups and uncontested pull-jumpers on the break. His bookend wing, Luol Deng, is in similar shape and while he isnt an above-the-rim player either, his size enables him to finish at a high level.
Noah, as he himself acknowledged, doesnt necessarily catch many alley-oops or possess a lot of flash as a finisher, but he is one of the best players at his position in the NBA at running the floor, as well as one of the few centers who can both starthis uncanny ball-handling ability and passing skills have earned Thibodeaus trustand finish a transition opportunity. Fellow big man Taj Gibson also runs the floor better than most of his peers and is one of the few Bulls who is known as a pogo-stick type of athlete.
Meanwhile, Carlos Boozer showed up to training camp in much better shape; besides losing weight over the summer, hes also running the floor a lot better, which allows him to keep up on fast breaks and even when he doesnt see the ball, the power forward has been able to frequently carve out early and deep post position. Among the reserves, swingman Jimmy Butler offers an exciting and athletic, if seldom-used presence, while sharpshooter Marco Belinellis playmaking skills, slashing ability and solid size for his position have yielded signs of also being effective in transition.
But the key to the Bulls early success as a fast-breaking team has been the play of their point guards, Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson. Both have employed significant ball pressure to opposing floor generalsthe Bulls rank seventh in opponents turnovers per game, at 18.3 a nightand whether its off a foes miscue or defensive rebound, the duo has been racing up the floor in search of easy opportunities.
Hinrichs style is more about making a hit-ahead pass to a streaking wing player or big man filling the lane, while the diminutive Robinson prefers to keep it in his own hands and making a drop-off to a finisher or kick-out pass to shooter. But whether its the starters more traditional hoops sensibilities or the backups speed-demon tendencies, the Bulls have been effective as a transition team.
They have not, however, been consistent with the approach. All too often, the team will start a game and establish a fast tempo, then fall into its grind-it-out habits as the game wanes onor, alternately, not push the pace early and adjust to playing faster after halftimean inconsistency Thibodeau would love to see disappear.
We want to get the ball up the floor quickly, Thibodeau said after the Bulls season-opening win over Sacramento. I thought we ran effectively early in the game, and I think weve got to do a better job running late.
Without Rose, the Bulls will need to manufacture points any way they can. While the offense-by-committee philosophy against set defenses is laudable when it works, on nights when it doesntlike Saturdays home loss to New Orleanstheyll need to speed things up, in order to avoid getting bogged down.

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system at 9:51 p.m. on Wednesday as Aroldis Chapman trotted toward the mound. Nothing would get lost in translation as the Cubs unleashed their new closer on the White Sox.

Chapman didn’t feel the full rush of adrenaline, because a revived offense scored five runs in the eighth inning, ending the save situation and any real suspense for the crowd of 41,166. The game within the game became looking up at the 3,990-square-foot LED video board in left field for the velocity reading after each pitch and listening to the oohs and aahs.

Chapman made it look easy against the middle of the White Sox lineup, with 13 of his 15 pitches clocked between 100 and 103 mph in the ninth inning of an 8-1 victory. That triple-digit default setting, fluid left-handed delivery and intimidating presence showed why the Cubs made a game-changing trade with the New York Yankees.

The first impressions from Tuesday’s press conference apparently bothered Chapman enough that he initially refused to speak to the reporters waiting around his locker after his debut. There had been questions about his 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, the off-the-field expectations from chairman Tom Ricketts and where the wires got crossed with coach/translator Henry Blanco.

After taking a shower – and listening to a few associates inside the clubhouse – Chapman agreed to two minutes of questions with catcher Miguel Montero acting as his translator.

“It happened,” Chapman said when asked about his portrayal in the Chicago media. “Don’t want to go further with it.”

The controversy will begin to fade after Chapman struck out Jose Abreu swinging at a 91-mph slider that almost scraped the dirt, forced Todd Frazier into a routine groundball and struck out pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia looking at a 103-mph fastball.

“It’s just entertaining to watch the gun, beyond everything else,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s a different kind of a pitcher. You don’t see that every 100 years or so. He’s just that good. Everybody talks about the fastball. How good is the slider? The slider is devastating.

“He was very calm in the moment. He was able to get through the last couple days to go out there. It was almost good it wasn’t a save situation just to get his feet on the ground.”

Picture the drama and the excitement when Chapman isn’t throwing with a seven-run lead and has to get the final three outs in a playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“I’m not impressed – I thought we were getting a guy that threw 105,” winning pitcher Jason Hammel joked. “I’ve never seen anything like it.

“It’s jaw-dropping. To see that type of velocity and command, it’s almost unfair to have a slider and offspeed pitches after that, too.”

This is what the Cubs envisioned when they decided to weather the media storms and absorb the PR hits, how Maddon could reimagine the entire bullpen and the whole team would sense the game-over feeling when the ball is in Chapman’s left hand.

“That’s a confidence-booster for us and it’s a morale kick for anybody out there,” Hammel said. “For the other side, it’s got to be black clouds: ‘Oh man, we can’t let the bullpen get in there.’”

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

The New York Yankees directed blanket coverage of the Cubs in the weeks leading up to the Aroldis Chapman deal, looking closely at prospects throughout their farm system. Three names figured to be prominent if the Yankees decided to sell and the Cubs wanted to make a blockbuster trade: Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ.

The Yankees made Torres their headliner in that four-player return from the Cubs, getting the organization’s top prospect and a supremely talented defensive shortstop out of Venezuela. The Cubs invested $1.7 million in Torres during the summer of 2013, the signing formalized the same day as the Jake Arrieta trade with the Baltimore Orioles.

This has been years in the making for Theo Epstein’s front office, building the first-place team that drew 41,116 to Wrigley Field for Wednesday night’s 8-1 crosstown victory over the White Sox, watching Chapman throw 13 pitches in the ninth inning that hit triple digits on the huge video board, understanding that the Cubs had to sacrifice parts of their future for the now.

“That’s the right word – inevitable – just because of the timing of when we thought we were going to be good,” said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. “We all knew as we were doing this that there was going to come that time when you trade the player that you not only feel is an impact-type prospect, but the organization just loves the person.

“Gleyber certainly fits that. That was one of the tougher calls I’ve ever had where we’re trading a guy, just because of how much the kid meant to us personally, and just hearing him, too.

“He was – as you would expect (with) a 19-year-old – shaken up and saddened by it, just because in three short years he had dreamt of nothing but being a Cub and playing here at Wrigley. I just told him: ‘You’ll still be wearing pinstripes. They’ll just be a different (color).’”

The Cubs didn’t want to trade core guys off their major-league roster and have a middle-infield foundation with Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist. So they gave up a high-floor player from Class-A Myrtle Beach while holding onto Jimenez and Happ and seeking out more possible deals before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

“All of them would have been hard to swallow,” McLeod said. “But we know that’s part of why we try to stockpile as much talent as we can.”

The Cubs can market Happ as another polished college switch-hitter with first-round pedigree, second baseman/outfielder versatility and an early ETA (already at Double-A Tennessee during his first full season of professional baseball).

Jimenez – who got a $2.8 million bonus out of the Dominican Republic during the same signing class as Torres – enjoyed a breakout performance during the All-Star Futures Game in San Diego and almost has a .900 OPS at Class-A South Bend.

At the age of 19, with a 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and a smooth right-handed swing, Jimenez reminds the Cubs a little bit of Kris Bryant during his freshman season at the University of San Diego, meaning the sky is the limit.

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

The Crosstown Classic concludes on Thursday at Wrigley Field as the White Sox square off against the Cubs on CSN Chicago. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (14-3, 3.18 ERA) vs. John Lackey (7-7, 3.79 ERA)

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