Ask Aggrey: Is Deng being overplayed?

728092.png

Ask Aggrey: Is Deng being overplayed?

Being a transplant to the Windy City, it always surprises me how spoiled fans in Chicago can be. Maybe it's the Cubs' lack of success -- hey, I live on the South Side -- or more than likely, the six titles the Bulls won a couple of decades ago, but between three losses to start the month of April, Derrick's injury saga and Thibs' contract, it feels like there's some overcompensating for the lack of drama all season.

The Bulls still have the best record in the NBA, Rose is back on the court and if you think Thibodeau or the organization is distracted by contract-extension talks (or lack thereof), no disrespect to C.J. Watson, John Lucas III or Mike James, you're probably in the crowd that wanted to trade the reigning MVP after they beat the Heat without him. Life is good right now, people, so be thankful Dwight Howard isn't in Chicago and enjoy this week's mailbag.

Has Thibs overplayed Deng this season? I have a bad feeling that when the playoffs are in full swing, Deng's legs will give out, and his shot won't fall as it has during the regular season. -- Michael C.

Michael, if you were talking about any other player, I'd agree with you. Lu, however, has truly thrived under Thibs and although it's a running joke that he plays too many minutes, he responds on a nightly basis, even when he doesn't have gaudy statistics. Lu has talked to me about when Thibs was first hired, how he visited Lu in the offseason to see his new player's summer conditioning program, got excited about the work ethic he was seeing and told Lu to get prepared to play major minutes last season, as well as being utilized differently than he ever had been before.

The results speak for themselves and the way he's adjusted his game since his left-wrist injury to remain effective has been remarkable. This is a guy who basically plays year-round, with the Bulls making deep playoff runs and his commitment to the British national team, so while his jumper could come and go at times, I don't see his effort waning and with his versatility, he'll still find ways to contribute. Trust me, if it hasn't been a problem so far, then conditioning won't be an issue for Lu in the postseason.
Which team would provide the best first round matchup for the Bulls? And what about the worst? -- Phillip P.

Phillip, I don't know how realistic it is, even with all of their recent turmoil, but I'd say Orlando would be the best opening-round opponent for the Bulls. The Magic's obvious lack of cohesiveness right now makes them easy prey and unless their shooters are having one of those ridiculous games from three-point range -- which happens semi-regularly, but isn't likely to occur enough against the Bulls' defense to win a series -- they are ill-equipped to beat the Bulls in a seven-game series, even if everything was peaches and cream in the Magic Kingdom these days.

However, both Orlando and Atlanta -- another team I don't think the Bulls would mind facing in the first round -- have enough separation from the seventh and eighth seeds to likely avoid either the Bulls or the Heat in the first round. Even before Sunday's loss to New York, I was wary of the new-look Knicks -- with or without Jeremy Lin, who probably won't be back in time -- and while Philadelphia has been experiencing their own freefall lately, the Sixers' style of play has given the Bulls problems in the past. Philly's weakness, a go-to scorer, is now no longer an issue for another candidate, Milwaukee, now that they have Monta Ellis, but of those three likely opponents, I believe the Knicks are the most dangerous potential foe.

I'm hearing some things about Tom Thibodeau's contract, do you think he will get an extension from the Bulls soon? -- Nick E.

Nick, if by "soon," you mean after the playoffs, my answer is...maybe? The Bulls have done things a certain way with coaches for some time now, going back to Phil Jackson. Scott Skiles was a bit of an anomaly and the decision to extend him for big money, in the view of the organization, backfired. With the likes of Michael Jordan and Rose leading the Bulls to success during team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf's tenure, it's no shock that star players are viewed more highly than star coaches.

On the other hand, Thibs is clearly a major factor in the Bulls' ascent the past two seasons. With a Coach of the Year award under his belt -- not that the honor means much moving forward, if you check the track record of several recent winners -- and more importantly, the respect of a lot of people around the league, even a guy who had to wait 20 years for his first NBA head-coaching opportunity appreciates the fact that he can get another job elsewhere. At the same time, Thibs is a student of the game, understands what a great market Chicago is and knows how lucky he is to be coaching not only Rose, but a team that's a contender now and will be in the future.

That said, the Bulls could always decide to play hard ball and pick up his option for next season without offering a new deal -- a situation that's not uncommon among NBA coaches, as the likes of the Thunder's Scott Brooks and the Mavericks' Rick Carlisle are in the same boat -- but at the end of the day, Thibs wants to win and knows Chicago is as good as a place to do it as anywhere else, while the Bulls have the same goal and with the man on the sidelines being at or near the top of his profession, they know there's not really an upgrade available.

How good do you think Anthony Davis will be in the NBA? -- Barry W.

Barry, I think Anthony will be a very good pro in time, but I'll hold off from the Hall of Fame predictions for now. However, right off the bat, he'll have an immediate impact as a shot-blocking specialist, and I expect him to be one of the league's elite defensive talents early in his career. Offensively, I think he's better than a lot of observers believe. Forget the whole transformation from a 6-foot-2 guard to a 6-foot-10 athletic freak in a year thing for a second: Anthony's ability to run the floor, catch and finish will immediately pay dividends in the wide-open NBA.

He'll clearly have to get stronger, but he's shown the ability to knock down open mid-range jumpers and as one NBA assistant coach told me, "he'll be able to play the pick-and-pop game from Day 1," not to mention the fact that if he plays with guards or wings who can command double teams off screen-and-roll situations, they can simply throw the ball up to the rim and watch him go get it in certain situations.

That said, while I believe he has more perimeter skills, particularly off the dribble, than he was able to display with a perimeter-heavy offense loaded with talent at Kentucky, he certainly has a ways to go in terms of developing his back-to-the-basket game. Because of his college coach and style of play in his brief career, he's drawn comparisons to Marcus Camby -- I think he'll become a better scorer than Camby, but if he has a similar NBA career, he'll have nothing to be disappointed about, though the expectations that come with being the likely No. 1 overall pick will surely bring a share of detractors if that occurs -- but his upside might be more like that of Kevin Garnett's. Anthony has a long way to go before that happens, but his agility, defensive acumen and natural guard skills do remind me of a young KG.
Derrick Rose is such a fierce competitor...what is his mental state like during his current injury issues? -- Rick F.

Rick, before Derrick's return Sunday, it was evident that he was extremely frustrated by his injury situation. We're talking about a player who goes at full tilt all the time and has never been sidelined for long stretches of time. Thus, this entire injury-riddled season, let alone 12 consecutive games during the stretch run of the campaign, was very difficult for him to deal with. His annoyance with the media's constant questions and outside speculation was obvious, but to his credit, he handled the situation as well as he could and as soon as it was possible, it appeared that he jumped into each subsequent stage of the rehab process with the same abandon with which he attacks the basket.

Both Thibs and Derrick talked about the silver lining to him having to miss games -- he'll be well-rested for the postseason and he got a chance to study tendencies of teammates and opponents alike -- but it was clear Sunday that he's relieved to be back on the court. Sunday's game wasn't particularly smooth for him, but as the game progressed, more flashes of the player we've come to know began to appear and I believe that he'll be back to his previous form sooner than later.

Nick Delmonico takes advantage of fresh start with White Sox

Nick Delmonico takes advantage of fresh start with White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Given he was almost out of baseball just two years ago, White Sox farmhand Nick Delmonico never imagined he’d be where he is now.

But the former Baltimore Orioles/Milwaukee Brewers prospect feels like he has rid himself of the off-the-field issues that stunted development early in his career.

In 2014, Delmonico served a suspension for unauthorized use of Adderall and later asked for and was granted his release by Milwaukee. Now with a fresh start with the White Sox, he heads into the final week of camp with an outside shot at the roster. Though he’s likely to start the season at Triple-A Charlotte, Delmonico knows he has made tremendous progress both on and off the field the past two years.

“I definitely did not see this,” Delmonico said. “I’m very blessed to be here.

“It feels awesome. It feels like I’ve accomplished a lot just in my life to get here. Just being around my teammates is one of the biggest things I enjoy every day, just coming to the ballpark. I’m very happy and honored to be able to come here everyday.”

The White Sox weren’t sure what to expect when they signed Delmonico, 24, to a minor league deal on Feb. 11, 2015. A sixth-round pick by the Orioles in 2011, Delmonico received a $1.525 million signing bonus. He was traded to Milwaukee in July 2013 in exchange for closer Francisco Rodriguez.

Delmonico received a 50-game suspension for Adderall in 2014, which he told the Charlotte News Observer he’d used since high school for attention deficit disorder (ADD). Delmonico told the Observer he informed Milwaukee that he no longer wanted to play baseball, changed his phone number and asked for his release. He was placed on the restricted list on July 28 and never played in the Brewers farm system again.

The White Sox signed Delmonico seven months after his final game with Milwaukee and he returned to the field that June.

Delmonico requested privacy when asked about switching teams but acknowledged, “I had some past issues with some stuff that I’d like to keep to myself,” he said.

Delmonico started the 2015 season at Single-A Kannapolis and was promoted a week later to Double-A Birmingham. He finished the season with a .733 OPS and made an additional 76 plate appearances at the Arizona Fall League.

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Last season, Delmonico combined to hit .279/.347/.490 with 17 homers between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte in 110 games. That earned him an invite to big league camp, where Delmonico has displayed a swing refined the past two seasons.

Current third-base coach and former director of player development Nick Capra said Delmonico has worked hard to go from a pull hitter to one who uses the entire field. He entered Sunday hitting .268/.328/.589 with nine extra-base hits this spring in a team-high 61 plate appearance this spring.

“This kid has made a complete turnaround from when we first got him in camp,” Capra said. “He’s done everything. He’s done probably more than we expected him to do. He’s in a really great place. He has a personality that people kind of gravitate to and it’s been a blessing to have him around and see the smile on his face when he comes to work every day.”

Originally a third baseman, the White Sox have moved Delmonico around this spring. He’s logged time at first base and also in the outfield as they try to improve his versatility. If Delmonico performs well at Charlotte, there’s no reason he couldn’t eventually find his way to Chicago and succeed in the big leagues.

“We’re continuing to try to explore his ability to play third base,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He can obviously play first. We’ve started using him in left field. He’s a young man that has a bat to carry. Can hit the ball out of the ballpark. Gives you good at-bats. There’s something to him about his personality and the way he carries himself, which is infectious, which we like.”

Delmonico praised the family-feel that has been prominent in the White Sox clubhouse this spring. He had some jitters coming into his first big league camp but hasn’t allowed them to hinder anything.

He likes how Renteria and his staff have brought a young group of players together. And best of all, he’s happy to be in the right place to enjoy the experience.

“It definitely gives you confidence what you do here,” Delmonico said. “You’ve got to keep moving forward. The biggest thing for big league camp for me is learning as much as I can from everybody. And learning from myself, I’ve been able to handle things and try to pick up as much as I can.”

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls show some moxie in road win over Bucks

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls show some moxie in road win over Bucks

Whacked on his ailing left hand by Khris Middleton, Jimmy Butler shook off the pain to hit a rare triple in transition while Middleton was complaining for a foul a couple possessions later.

Butler then darted into the passing lane for a pass intended for Jason Terry like a linebacker jumping into the flat for an interception, then trotted down for an uncontested dunk to give the Bulls an unlikely 17-point lead.

For the man who claims he’s the best football player in the NBA, playing through the pain and doing so with his team’s playoff hopes dwindling, Butler may finally have some believers to his boasts.

Not only did the Bulls avoid a season sweep to the Milwaukee Bucks with a resounding 109-94 win at the BMO Bradley Center Sunday afternoon, they restored a slight sense of pride after looking like they had none of it Friday night in their loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Butler scored 20 with a career-high 13 assists in a grinding 39 minutes, but he could play the role of a semi-closer, making those big plays in the fourth when the Bulls pulled away.

Instead, it was March Madness as Nikola Mirotic played up to his career numbers in his favorite month on the calendar, drilling five triples on his way to 28 points and eight rebounds in 35 minutes.

Mirotic and Rajon Rondo helped the Bulls to a decisive double-digit lead in the third quarter with Rondo scoring 14 of his 18 points in the period, hitting a triple, getting into the lane for layups and dishing out a few of his eight assists.

It was an offensive masterpiece for the Bulls, a prospect that seemed highly unlikely given the opponent and the way they played coming into Sunday’s contest. And with the Bucks getting Giannis Antetokounmpo going early along with Middleton, it looked like a nightmare of a different kind was in store for the Bulls.

But Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg wasn’t about to let an instant replay occur, having seen his own version of a “Nightmare on Madison Street” Friday night against the woeful 76ers when his backups let time stand still for minutes at a time, squandering a double-digit lead.

Hoiberg decided not to mess around with the second unit as the Bucks began pulling away in the same manner the 76ers did Friday night. He brought the starters right back in when the lead ballooned to 45-33 at the 8:29 mark.

Then the Bulls went to work to finish the half, with a 23-10 run, along with starting off the third as efficient as they had been in awhile against a worthwhile opponent, shooting 14 of 21 in the period to take a 91-79 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Mirotic was seven of eight from the field before halftime and his first miss of the third—a 30-foot triple that went wide right, wound up in a 3-point opportunity for Rondo, who scooped the ball and scored on a layup while being fouled.

It was that kind of afternoon for the Bulls, a team that can’t seem to decide who they want to be on a nightly basis—making it that much harder for an opponent to predict, that much more difficult to eliminate from the playoff conversation.