Rose for MVP? Iguodala to Bulls?

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Rose for MVP? Iguodala to Bulls?

Monday, Nov. 1, 2010
Updated 4:01 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

It's far too early to seriously discuss postseason awards, but since he atypically hasn't exactly backed away from the hype, why not--as Derrick Rose was famously quoted on Bulls' media day--jump the gun and examine Rose's chances to take home the league's top honors. The NBA's leading scorer at 33.5 points an outing less than a week into the season--it should be noted that Bulls center Joakim Noah is thus far the league's top rebounding at 18 boards per night--Rose's shot volume has been heavily scrutinized, as the promise he's displayed and his increased exposure ("freaky like my lady pyramid" and "fast don't lie" are quickly becoming part of the basketball-watching public's lexicon, thanks to his sneaker commercials) have observers believing the All-Star point guard is poised for a breakout season.

That said, an average of 29 shot attempts in a game won't be the norm for Rose this season, after sidelined power forward Carlos Boozer makes his long-awaited Bulls debut and preferably beforehand. Every bit of his career high-tying 39-point effort Saturday was needed to defeat the Pistons, but while Rose is forced to carry even more of the load in Boozer's absence--something both acknowledged and approved of by Tom Thibodeau after his first win as an NBA head coach--the lack of offensive support Rose has received from his teammates is a bit alarming.

Noah--and power forward Taj Gibson, to a lesser extent--have been solid point producers in the season's first two games, but it's been remarked upon by many that the early version of the Bulls this campaign resembles last season's squad, which was disturbingly reliant on Rose's scoring. Besides new personnel and a new system, a big difference is, players like Kirk Hinrich, John Salmons and even Flip Murray were at least adequate at creating their own opportunities on occasion.

Of course, it will take time for players to familiarize themselves with each other and Thibodeau's scheme, something that is at times very evident on the court, judging by the team's communication on the floor, lack of flow and admissions that not everybody is entirely comfortable with the offense yet. Those issues should sort themselves out in time and making the presumption that Luol Deng will bounce back from his slow start to the season, there will be times when the Bulls' offense will be clicking as it did occasionally in the preseason, with lots of unselfish ball movement, the inside-out philosophy working through patient shot selection in the halfcourt and diverse scoring options outside of Rose.

Meanwhile, Rose has the ability to put up gaudy scoring numbers and hold down the fort until Boozer's return, in the event that the team gets bogged down in an offensive malaise. With an emphasis on pushing the tempo to manufacture points--the likely quick fix for the time being--he'll thrive in transition and on the nights when his much-improved outside jumper is dropping, he'll truly sparkle.

However, with Thibodeau likely to force-feed touches to Boozer (in an effort to take opposing defenses' focus off Rose, not necessarily to make Boozer the team's first option) upon his return, expect the naturally-unselfish playmaker in Rose to emerge more prominently, leading to a decrease in scoring. A prediction of his numbers would be foolish, but if Rose remains among the league's top scorers all season, the Bulls are probably not playing up to their potential, thus lessening his chances of being bestowed the prized hardware.

Without huge numbers, Chicago would have to be one of the the NBA's elite--let alone the East's--this season, something many believe they're on the cusp of, but few opining they'll truly be there. Additionally, a pre-ordained cast of usual suspects--James, Bryant, Wade, Howard, et al--with the inclusion of burgeoning superstar Kevin Durant, would have to be thoroughly outplayed for Rose to climb the mountaintop, an unlikely prospect.

For now, simply helping the Bulls get up to speed and at least tread water during a harrowing November schedule is enough to expect--even if the United Center crowd continues to chant otherwise. Relax, enjoy the ride and remember that not even a week of the 2010-11 season has passed yet.

Speculate At Your Own Risk

Speaking of premature, the mini-firestorm over either correctly interpreted or misconstrued comments by 76ers swingman Andre Iguodala about wanting out of Philadelphia, followed by subsequent speculation that the Springfield, Ill., native could land in Chicago--in exchange for Luol Deng--isn't necessarily ludicrous, but almost certainly ranks below the probability of disgruntled Portland guard Rudy Fernandez or even superstar Carmelo Anthony coming to the Windy City this season, in terms of likelihood. While it's true that it appears that Sixers rookie Evan Turner and Iguodala have some redundancy issues as far as having point-forward tendencies (not to mention the conundrum Philly head coach Doug Collins faces in trying to develop point guard Jrue Holiday when neither he nor the aforementioned pair are proficient perimeter shooters), that swap wouldn't necessarily cure the Bulls' perceived ills.

Iguodala would obviously bring some athleticism to Chicago, give the Bulls another competent shot creator, add the services of one of a player regarded as one of the league's best wing defenders and would seem to be a good fit with Rose in an up-tempo style. However, his erratic outside shooting wouldn't help the team's cause on offense and from a payroll standpoint, his hefty contract couldn't be considered relief from Deng's notorious deal, nor would he bring in the star cache to justify the move, especially as finances must be closely monitored with Rose's own long-term contract slowly approaching and if any big-ticket item were to be acquired, it would have to be the talents of an Anthony in order to not create an uproar from the masses.

Could Johnson Become a Regular?

In the wake of his eight-point, nine-rebound, four-assist, three-block, two-steal night Saturday, second-year forward James Johnson has played it cool when asked his opinion of whether his performances validates more playing time in the future. Cited by teammates as the key to the Bulls' comeback from as many as 21 points down against Detroit, Johnson's energy, athleticism and ability to make plays on both ends of the floor duplicated some of his impressive preseason outings.

After an up-and-down rookie year, a rough summer league and an offseason during which he lost approximately 30 pounds, the organization picked up the former No. 16 overall pick's third-year option mostly based off potential, not production. But on a deep roster, Johnson was told by Thibodeau that he likely wouldn't be in the team's rotation and subsequently saw no action in the team's season-opening loss at Oklahoma City.

Johnson's work ethic and positive attitude are viewed as primary reasons that Johnson got his opportunity against the Pistons, but he also adds some dimensions that no other players on the team possess. Johnson's powerful frame, versatility, athleticism and size for the wing are attributes that led to the Wake Forest product being picked so high in the draft to begin with, but he's now figuring out the pro game and making the simple play instead of constantly going for the big splash.

If Johnson continues to defend at a high level, is active on the glass, takes care of the ball and is judicious with his shot selection, there's no reason to keep him off the floor, unless his veteran counterparts are executing their roles so much (which hasn't happened as of yet in the case of many of Chicago's role players) that there's no reason to take a chance on the Wyoming native's inexperience. But in a season in which court time is important to Johnson's development and future--something usually frowned upon by contending teams, unless that player is a major contributor or is regarded as a surefire present and future key cog for the team--he ironically may end up with an opportunity to earn minutes by the merits of his present abilities, not just injuries or desperation. Monday's home matchup against Portland may be a good test to see whether Thibodeau subscribes to similar notions.

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.

Bears Grades: Offense ignites to end 1st half, puts up season-high points vs. Niners

Bears Grades: Offense ignites to end 1st half, puts up season-high points vs. Niners

With less than 2 minutes to play in the first half the Bears had gained a total of 45 yards, and had zero pass completions (2 attempts) and zero points . By the end of the half they had 115 yards, Matt Barkley had completed 4 of his last 6 passes and the Bears adjourned for halftime with a 7-6 lead.

For the second straight week Barkley engineered a comeback, this time for a win, and running a two-minute offense that, curiously perhaps for an inexperienced quarterback, seems to suit Barkley even more than the offense run a normal speed. More than one player said that 70-yard drive to finish the first half was a tipping point, on all sides of the football.

The turning point “was that two-minute right before the half,” said right tackle Bobby Massie. “Everybody just executed, did what we needed to do and drove right down the field. Then we come out after the half and drove right down again. It was good.”

More than just good for the offense. “I think that really spurred both sides of the ball to be motivated to finish the game strong,” said Barkley, who got the Bears into the end zone twice in last Sunday’s Tennessee game, and nearly a third, within the final 10 minutes, running 35 plays over the span of those minutes.”

This time the result was the highest point total (26) this season and scores on four out of five possessions beginning with that hurry-up score to end the half.

Quarterback: A-

Once again Barkley was beset by dropped passes, although nowhere near the avalanche of them that defeated him against the Tennessee Titans. Barkley shook off the conditions and poor start to complete 4 of 6 passes on the final drive of the half, for 64 yards – the entire passing production for the half.

Barkley followed a shaky first half with a solid second, completing 7 of 10 passes for 128 yards and zero interceptions, a significant key with the 49ers unable to do much of anything against the Bears defense. Barkley effectively convinced coaches that he could operate in the adverse conditions with passing and not simply handing off to Jordan Howard.

“I thought [the way] he handled the two-minute drive before the half, we had to open it up some and throw the ball,” said coach John Fox. “I thought he executed outstanding.”

Barkley finished with 11-of-18 passing for 192 yards, no touchdowns but no interceptions and a passer rating of 97.5.

Running back: A+

In a game that demanded effective rushing, Jordan Howard delivered a statement game, his fifth in the last eight with 100 rushing yards and 115 total yards of offense.

Howard rushed for 3 touchdowns, giving him five on the year, and carried 32 times, an average of 3.7 that belies the overall, which involved the chemistry of the run game, now averaging 4.4 yards on the season . “He’s fun, man,” said guard Eric Kush. “We block our butts off to try to give him something. Even if it’s not the prettiest block, we try to finish our blocks and give him a chance.”

Howard displayed power inside as well as burst on the Bears’ outside-zone runs that exploited the San Francisco edges. He carried 10 times in the first half, then 22 in the second.

“I’m definitely ready to be that workhorse,” said Howard, who now has 883 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns despite not starting until game four. “Even though they might know the run is coming, they still have to stop it.”

Receivers: B+

Josh Bellamy, replaced in the starting lineup by Deonte Thompson after his drop-laced game against Tennessee, had perhaps one the streakiest game of the Bears year. Bellamy again suffered with drops that included lost TD catches, but Bellamy rebounded to match his career-best 4 catches against Tennessee but with 93 yards and a long of 31 and others of 24, 22 and 16 yards. Bellamy also was handed the ball on an end-around for 12 yards.

All of this despite two egregious drops, one of a potential TD ball with Bellamy two steps behind his defender. “He came up to me and said, ‘Keep feeding me,’” Barkley said. “I’m not going to stop giving those guys the ball… .I’m going to keep coming back to them for the rest of the year.”

Cam Meredith remained in the starting lineup and caught 3 of the 4 passes thrown to him, with Thompson and tight end Daniel Brown catching 2 each.

Offensive line: A

With the adverse weather conditions expected, coaches made a specific challenge to the offensive line to take over this game against a struggling San Francisco front. Guard Josh Sitton was active but still limited with an ankle injury, so coaches stayed with Eric Kush at left guard and were rewarded with some consistent blocking in the run game. Kush executed combination blocks and worked to the second level. Kush and Charles Leno repeatedly dominated the San Francisco left side as the Bears pounded with the run and never let up in the snowy conditions.

“With the conditions, you had to run the ball,” Leno said. “The O-line just tried to come together, not worry about the record and win one week at a time.”

The result was another 100-yard rushing day for Jordan Howard, with 3 touchdowns, and 142 rushing yards, high for the season. “Today the offensive line got great push like they always do,” Howard said.

Barkley was sacked once, in the fourth quarter, on a breakdown in one-on-one blocking by tight end Daniel Brown.

Cody Whitehair going down in the fourth quarter with a leg injury was a blow, but Whitehair was able to return later in the period. The Bears had Sitton dressed and part of field-goal unit, and Sitton came in at right guard and Ted Larsen moved over to center.

Coaching: A

The obvious overall effort and preparation of a 2-9 team for a game of virtually no import to the season was noteworthy, as the Bears again played with intensity and efficiency throughout, including recovering from first-half gaffes on special teams that put the Bears down 6-0.

The defense schemed for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick by staying almost exclusively in a 3-4 front, utilizing three down-linemen and two outside linebackers to pressure Kaepernick and with the speed to thwart his runs. The result was the worst game of Kaepernick’s career, with 20 rushing yards and 4 passing, vs. 25 yards lost to sacks.

The offense held to a run-based mindset and plan, even when the 49ers turned two special-teams mistakes into field goals for the first two scores. The 49ers also relied primarily on man-to-man coverage, committing an extra defender to run defense, but the Bears were willing and able to challenge downfield knowing that the San Francisco pass rush was hampered by the field conditions.

“Props to Dowell[Loggains, offensive coordinator] and the whold coaching staff for getting us ready and making adjustments like that during the game,” Barkley said.

Special teams was again mistake-prone with mental breakdowns compounded by physical mistakes.

Morning Update: Bears beat 49ers; Blackhawks' offense struggles in loss to Jets

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USA TODAY

Morning Update: Bears beat 49ers; Blackhawks' offense struggles in loss to Jets

Here are some of the top stories from Sunday in Chicago sports:

Five Things to Watch: Bulls back in action against Trail Blazers

Tune in tonight for Chicago Bulls Charities Night

Blackhawks score late but can't get past Jets

Bears offense finds groove in win over 49ers

Winter meetings preview: Why teams will find trying to copy a ‘Cubs Way’ rebuild is easier said than done

White Sox revamp would mean fewer 'stopgaps' and 'half-measures'

Significance of Bears win over 49ers lies beyond records and score

Five Things from Blackhawks-Jets: Offense still anemic

Bears' Matt Barkley 'showing the world' he can be a starting QB in the NFL

Lars Johansson excited for Blackhawks call-up