Frankie O: Touch 'em all!

Frankie O: Touch 'em all!

By Frankie O

Time to go around the horn on the Chicago sporting scene while I await the second round of the NHL Playoffs and listen to Jon Gruden wax poetic about every player drafted.

Plenty of Hawk talk at the bar, pondering another early demise. When Im asked what I think, I summon my inner Dennis Green (Watch it!): The Hawks are we thought they were! Any honest appraisal of this team pointed to the many gaping holes in their game. Actually, I go back to their construction. In a league built for speed, this team has regressed in that area for the last two years. (Think Andrew Brunnette.)

In the Detroit Model in which a Bowman (You choose which one.) team is constructed, the last line of defense is usually the last piece considered. That would be fine if the players in front of the masked man kept the puck out and tilted the ice in the other direction, but this years team was not consistently up to the task. Their most consistent trait was their inconsistency. You would like to think of it as an aberration, but I remember the Captains repeated frustration with last years team also. A team with this core should still be playing, if they were surrounded by the right pieces.

I think Eddie O and Pat Foley were right on in their instant analysis as time was running out on the season: The Hawks have four top-six forwards and need a second-line center. That would help in their puck-possession game, and enable the team to match-up against the teams they would be meeting in the playoffs. Simple enough. And as I wrote here when the season started, the loss of Brian Campbell would be huge and it was. The inability of the defense to move the play in the other direction led to numerous preventable goals. Then there was the biggest problem: special teams.

This drum was beat all season, but no one was listening. The 26th ranked power-play during the regular season was even worse during the playoffs. Honestly! 5.3 is not going to help you in a series in which there is no room to breathe. Of course when you dont score, there is always the goalie situation. At this time of year they can steal a game, or as we just watched, a series. For no matter how inept you may be, if the puck doesnt end up in the back of the net, it doesnt matter. Ive spent the better part of my life watching my Flyers team double the shot output of their opponents only to lose because they allowed soft goals while having to do the work of three men to score theirs. The goals that Crawford allowed to lose Games 3 and 4 are ones he would admit he has to stop, but maybe if there were a couple of power-play goals the games dont get to that point. Crawford is going to take a lot of heat for this loss and thats part of his job, but when the real analysis is done, I think that there should be as much scrutiny on the rest of the roster. Its a team game and this team got as far as it should have.

A happier ending hopefully awaits the other tenant of the United Center, but Im not so sure. For some reason, well one reason actually: injuries, this team has been swimming upstream the whole season, albeit to the best record in the league. For most of us, that is a reflection of coach Tom Thibodeau. He is passionate and relentless in his pursuit of getting the most from his players, every night. No matter the opponent, or who was available to play, his team showed up. Most notably, that team did not include reigning MVP Derrick Rose for 27 out of 66 games. I know this is a nice team, but no Rose for that much and still the best record? That is ridiculous. In a weird way it might benefit them now that he missed so much time. They had to find other ways to win, and guys up-and-down the roster stepped up in big ways, special mentions for C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver and Carlos Boozer. (I know, I cant believe I typed that last name either!)

As the playoffs and my hometown Sixers loom, we all want to see which D-Rose shows up. I still dont believe that he is fully healed, but he has time to get better. I think that this team can dispatch of the Sixers and Celtics on the way to the expected matchup with the hated Heat, even without big minutes from their leader. But wins 9 thru 16 are going to require this team to be hitting on all cylinders, and when you add to Roses injury woes, Lu Deng playing with one hand and the populace waiting to see that Rip Hamilton, you have to wonder if this team will have enough to take on the Heat, even at a time that most feel the Heat are very beatable. (Ill believe that when I see it, Im still scarred from the last 4 games of last years series.) Not to mention what happens after that series, but first things first. This is a good team that should make its mark, but to get to where we all want them to go, it rests in the hands, and ankle of one player, lets hope he is who we know he is.

Did the baseball season start? Just kidding, of course it did, on the Southside! I tease! Well, sort of. The season will start for the Cubs once Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson come up from the minors. The way I look at this season is: Who is going to be here next year, or the year after? That is what this is all about, right? When you build from the ground up, it takes time, and a lot of losses! Even though a lot of folks arent being very forthright about this, thats the case. Personally, I dont have a problem with this, but then again Im not a season ticket holder. My curiosity is about how forgiving the ticket-buying public will be and for how long. There still has to be something compelling to make the folks come out or watch at a bar! What will be compelling is watching young stars on the way up. No doubt, Starlin Castro is that, but he needs help. Hopefully that will continue to come from Bryan LaHair, who is the best story on the team. We all love the guy who finally gets his shot and takes advantage of it. At least we wont be watching the Rodrigo Lopez re-run again this summer. Hes a known quantity, and we know we dont need more. This is all about kids on the rise and trade-bait. On this team youre either one or the other.

Im still not sure what to make of the Sox. Nice road-trip, but against two of the worst hitting teams in the majors. Oakland has a team batting average of .205 and despite what my baseball sensei says about Seattle, any team that has 5 of its regulars batting under .236 is not a juggernaut, but I digress. The Sox keep giving me mixed signals. Johnny Danks has a 5.11 ERA, while Jake Peavy is 3-0 with a 1.88. Philip Humber throws a perfect game,(very cool to watch by the way) in his next start Phillip Humber gets lit up like a Christmas tree by Boston. Addison Reed hasnt given up a run in 9 appearances, while Hector Santiago has given up 4 homeruns in 7. Alex Rios(!) is hitting .362, while Dayan Viciedo is batting .173. Adam Dunn has 30 strikeouts in 19 games! But Brent Morel is only 5 behind with one less game played! See what I mean? Give some, get some is what happens when youre a game above .500 19 games into the season. There are a lot of story lines that need time to be played out here, but this team will go as far as its pitching, which so far hasnt been half bad. But unlike that offensive powerhouse that plays in the emerald city, I would feel much better if the bottom four regulars on this team could hit over the.214 that they currently reside under.

And last but not least are the Bears. The big news of course is the draft. Again, I do not for the life of me understand anyone who can sit and watch this whole thing, but then again I dont understand most of the top watched weekly shows on cable either. Have you seen that list? Its worth a look even if you dont understand, although in some ways it makes perfect sense. Dont get me wrong, I like some of the intrigue of the draft, I mean, how could you not want to watch guys who are very used to getting their way have to wait their turn?

But even the guys who have to pick dont know how half of these will work out. If you dont believe me, google the Bears last ten drafts. How do you like that list? Its almost as scary as the cable show list. Not only that, you can do this with any team in the NFL. You think the Bears are the only team with the tortured draft past? Try again! Which brings us to the 1st pick of the Phil Emery era, Boise State defensive end Shea McClellin. Im not even going to try and tell you that I know anything about this kid, because I dont, just like most of the people who will give you their opinions about the pick today.

What I find interesting is that no one that I read had him rated this high. Everyone here thought that they would take Illini end Whitney Mercilus (headline writers dream) or Syracuses Chandler Jones. Both were left on the board by Emery. Also left was Iowa left tackle Riley Reiff. I might be mistaken, but I think there have been some rumblings about the play of the incumbent left tackle. LOL!! Only time will tell how this will play out but it looks like Emery stuck to his guns. We all hope that pays off. Besides, like any draft, this one should be rated in its entirety and with hindsight. For now its pretty much darts at a board, but by most accounts, the first one is a good, safe shot.

Michael Carter-Williams learns on the fly, thrives in Bulls debut

Michael Carter-Williams learns on the fly, thrives in Bulls debut

Ten days ago Michael Carter-Williams was the starting point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Circumstances can change quickly in the NBA, as the 2013 Rookie of the Year found out when he was traded two weeks ago for the second time in his four-year NBA career. But Carter-Williams also realized just as quickly the value in carving out a role, and he made a great first impression on his coaches and teammates Thursday night in the Bulls’ 105-99 win over the Celtics.

The 6-foot-6 guard played a crucial role in the second half in slowing down a potent Celtics offense, and he provided an offensive jolt midway through the fourth quarter that helped push the Bulls to their first win of the season.

His numbers in 17 minutes won’t jump off the score sheet – he tallied five points, six rebounds and three assists – but his impact on the game was felt on both ends, and in his three stints he cemented himself as a key part of the Bulls’ rotation moving forward.

Carter-Williamas was thrown into unfamiliar territory late in the second quarter. Isaiah Canaan was the first guard off the bench for Fred Hoiberg, but after he missed all three of his 3-point attempts and the Celtics reeled off a 14-4 run to pull within three, 43-40, Hoiberg deployed Carter-Williams alongside starting point guard Rajon Rondo.

In the 10 days since Carter-Williams had joined the Bulls, his time in practice had been spent learning the point guard position. But with Rajon Rondo playing well in the first half, Hoiberg kept his starter in and substituted in Carter-Williams, a natural point guard, into a three-guard lineup with Rondo and Jimmy Butler.

Having Rondo next to him, Carter-Williams said, helped him ease into the Bulls’ offensive sets that wound up making a difference in the fourth quarter.

“He definitely helps me out a lot,” he said of Rondo. “He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever talked to about basketball, he knows everybody’s position, he’s a great point guard and I’m glad I get to learn from someone like him.”

Carter-Williams’ impact was felt immediately. The Celtics missed their next four shots, with their only points coming off free throws after Nikola Mirotic fouled Jae Crowder on a 3-point attempt. The Bulls pushed their second-quarter lead back to nine by the end of the half as Carter-Williams defended both Avery Bradley and Gerald Green.

That same substitution pattern followed late in the third quarter after the Celtics used a 14-5 run to pull within a possession of the Bulls. The Celtics took their first and only lead of the night on an Isaiah Thomas 3-pointer, but with Carter-Williams again playing next to Rondo the Bulls reeled off seven straight points to push the lead back to six, 75-69.

Carter-Williams opened the fourth quarter on the floor without Rondo, though Wade initiated most of the offense. Playing off the ball, Carter-Williams continued to press defensively while waiting for his opportunity to contribute on the other end.

And when he got his chance, he made the most of it. After missing his first four attempts, Carter-Williams was left alone on the left wing for a 3-pointer that he connected on. Butler then stole an Avery Bradley pass in transition and found Carter-Williams, whose floater in the lane pushed the Bulls’ lead back 12, 93-81, with less than 8 minutes to play.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

When Thomas reeled off five quick points to pull the Celtics within five Hoiberg pulled Carter-Williams for Wade, who assisted on two consecutive Taj Gibson baskets before connecting on a 3-pointer with 26 seconds left to seal the Bulls’ home opener victory.

It was as successful a debut as a reserve point guard could have, with Carter-Williams logging the only positive rating (+3) among the five players who came off the bench for the Bulls. A 30-point first quarter allowed Hoiberg to play Carter-Williams alongside Rondo in the second and third quarters, and the results were evident, even with Carter-Williams playing a “new” position.

“I think it was tough for me because when I was first in there I was with Rondo, and so when he’s in there he runs the 1 and I play the 2,” he said after the game. “So a lot of times in practice I was learning the 1, and it’s pretty hard to learn everybody’s position in one week. So I was just looking for anybody to tell me where to go, what to do, and just try to make the best of it.”

Despite the unfamiliar spot on the floor, Carter-Williams did make the best of it. In nine minutes alongside Rondo, the Bulls’ defensive rating (points per 100 possessions allowed) was 99.1, an improvement from the 103.6 rating the team logged on the night. Carter-Williams’ individual defensive rating was 95.1, the second best number among guards behind Wade (89.8).

The numbers weren’t as solid on the offensive end, with Rondo and Carter-Williams together managing just 93.5 points per 100 possessions. But the Bulls’ surprisingly hot night from beyond the arc – 11-for-25 – allowed Hoiberg to focus more on the defensive end, where the Bulls wound up holding the Celtics to 99 points a night after they tallied 122 against the Nets.

And Carter-Williams still came up with two key passes late in the third quarter as the Celtics threatened. First he found Mirotic open for an 18-foot jumper on the left baseline. Then he grabbed a missed Wade layup and kicked it back out to Mirotic, who buried a 3-pointer in the final minute of the third quarter to push the Bulls’ lead to six heading into the fourth quarter.

“I love Michael’s game. He had a couple times where he had no idea what he was doing when I called the play, but that’s going to happen. He’s only been around the team a few days. But he played with a lot of poise,” Hoiberg said. “I like how he can get into the paint. He can get downhill. That’s something that every team wants.”

It’s an important year for Carter-Williams. In addition to him learning a new system on the fly, he’s in a contract year and said it’s a personal goal of his to cement himself as the backup behind Rondo.

With Jerian Grant inactive and Canaan sitting the final three quarters, Thursday night may have done just that. And whatever his playing time looks like going forward, or who he’s playing with, Carter-Williams is hoping to make the same impact he did Thursday night.

“I think I can really lead us no matter who’s on the court,” he said. “Whatever Fred thinks is best he’s going to do, and of course it’s a personal goal of mine to just be on the floor as much as I can.

“I was able to find my rhythm a little bit (in the second half) and just try to help the team. Defensively, whether it’s rebounding, getting steals; offensively, scoring or making the right pass or the right play.”

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