Carmelo in town, Bulls taking on Nuggets

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Carmelo in town, Bulls taking on Nuggets

Monday, Nov. 8, 2010
Updated 2:33 PM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Mention the Bulls' perceived offensive struggles to players and coaches, and don't be shocked if they, um, take offense. To a man, the team insists that while their work-in-progress offensive attack isn't yet quite up to snuff, point production isn't a primary issue of concern.

Lost in the feel-good reunion and thrilling overtime loss at Boston on Saturday was the fact that even without Boozer--who now participates in non-contact practice drills; albeit nothing involving his injured shooting hand--the interior tandem of Taj Gibson and league-leading rebounder Joakim Noah had a field day against the vaunted Celtics defense, which opted to focus heavily on curbing the exploits of Derrick Rose, the short-lived NBA scoring leader (he's now fifth in that category at an even 25 points per game, but fourth in the league in assists at 9.8 an evening). Upon the return of Boozer (after an adjustment period, that is), Chicago should become that much more dangerous offensively, particularly in the halfcourt, where Boozer can command double teams.

In the aftermath of Friday's emotional loss, Noah--who scored a season-high 26 points and snagged 11 rebounds to begin the season with five consecutive double-doubles, but committed a turnover late in overtime that effectively ended the Bulls' comeback hopes--cautioned opponents postgame Friday to not wait that long to afford the Bulls the proper respect.

Noah backed off his heat-of-the-moment sentiments a bit Sunday--"Just some players...nothing out of the usual" was his response to who or what "trash talk" he was referring to after the Boston loss--but elaborated on his offensive development, which has featured him becoming more consistent shooting the ball from the perimeter.

"Noah is a lot more confident. I think he's put a lot of work into it and I think he's gotten a lot of confidence in his jump shot. Sixteen, 17 feet, he can shoot that and if you close hard into him, he can blow by you. His jump hook game is very effective inside, he's very active on the offensive boards, he knows how to move without the ball, so he's scoring different ways--and I think in transition--he's running the floor great," said Thibodeau. "Quite honestly, he hasn't surprised Thibodeau because I saw him shoot all summer and consistently he's knocked that shot down. My thing is, as long as you're working on it that hard and it's going in, I have no problem with you shooting it if you're open. It looks a little different, but it goes in and that's the bottom line."

"It's a little unconventional, but if you watch the final phase of it, it's actually pretty good. the way he finishes--he has good follow-through, good extension--he's very accurate."

"I feel pretty confident. I don't want players to play off me like that and I worked on it pretty hard with Thibodeau in the offseason. To me, there's nothing better than making a 15-footer because a lot of people told me my whole life that I wouldn't be able to shoot it, so it feels great knocking them down," said Noah of his "artistic" shooting form. Right now, I'm just working on it and trying to make it as consistent as possible. At the end of the day, Derrick is getting a lot of attention offensively. It's on me and Taj to make a play when they get the ball out of his hands."

Noah also opined on the progress of tag-team partner and fellow New Yorker Taj Gibson.

"He's definitely more comfortable to the NBA game. Taj is playing very well, especially offensively. he's shooting the ball pretty good. He's playing very confident," observed Noah, who is averaging 16.2 points to go with his NBA-high average of 14.2 boards a night. "The thing we have to get better at is being mentally tougher--not in the sense that we're soft--but we just have to do a better job of knowing the plays, especially down the stretch. knowing exactly what we have to get done. I think that's something that me and Taj have to do a better job of, just getting better with the system."

Gibson, who bounced back from a woeful preseason to average 15 points an outing (on a team-high 64.2 percent from the floor), as well as 6.2 rebounds, has also been particularly aggressive. His baseline jumper, a burgeoning part of his arsenal as a rookie, has become increasingly effective, especially when opponents are slow to rotate after double-teaming Rose.

Added Gibson, who wore a shoulder sleeve at practice to combat the effects of a nagging injury from last season: "I worked on it his mid-range jumper for basically half the summer; I really had a short summer due to injury (lingering plantar fasciitis from his rookie campign), but Thibs and the rest of the coaching staff worked on it with me. I even shoot threes in my spare time; eventually I'll work on that. But the coaching staff wants me to take that shot. They mostly get mad when I don't take the open shot because they feel so comfortable with me making it," said Gibson.

"The chemistry's (with Noah) still there from battling up and down last year...I'm just real responsive to what I have to do on the court and he Noah helps me out," he added Gibson. "We can get better. It's a grind out there. I understand we have guys injured, but just being in those hostile environments, with playing in Oklahoma City and Boston, it was real tough. We really had a chance to win both of those games...but it's a long season. We understand we have a lot to work on, but the sky's the limit for this team."

"We already have captains...but it's my job to be vocal. If you're playing the four or five, you have to be vocal in the NBA because the crowds are so loud," continued the second-year player about his growing leadership role on the squad. "Calling out play calls, calling out our defensive sets because I don't want Derrick to get hurt on screen-and-rolls. Just being vocal is one of the main things I have to do to stay on the court."

So while a tantalizing potential offensive upgrade will exist in the United Center--in the form of Denver's Carmelo Anthony, arguably the NBA's purest scorer, but currently ranked sixth, a notch below Rose--Monday evening, it appears that the Bulls are presently satisfied with the weapons at their disposal.

"A couple years ago, we kind of had a similar situation with Kobe Bryant. He got a pretty good reception when he came to the United Center," said Noah. "We'll see how it goes."

Thibodeau confessed to CSNChicago.com that he privately fretted about Chicago's scoring prior to the season, at 104.6 points per game (on 49 percent field-goal shooting), fifth in the league heading into Monday's game, he's now pleased with the offensive flow, even if there are some galling, stand-around stretches for the time being and bench production outside of Kyle Korver's 8.2 points per game (Korver, along with the aforementioned Rose, Noah and Gibson, as well as Luol Deng's 19.8 points per game, are the only Chicago scorers producing more than five points a night) has been lacking. Now, the Bulls defense--which allows opponents 105 points a contest--that's another story.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

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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