Ask Aggrey: Is Deng being overplayed?

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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.

Robert Streb shoots 63 and joins Jimmy Walker in lead at PGA

Robert Streb shoots 63 and joins Jimmy Walker in lead at PGA

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. (AP) -- In a major championship season of endless theater, the PGA Championship lived up to its end of the bargain Friday.

Robert Streb led the way, even if hardly anyone noticed.

As thousands of fans crammed into the closing holes at Baltusrol to see if Jason Day could finish off his amazing run and Phil Mickelson could make it to the weekend, Streb hit a 6-iron into 20 feet on his final hole at the par-3 ninth for a shot at 63.

He made the birdie putt during a TV commercial break, making him the 28th player to shoot 63 in a major, and the third in the last 16 days.

"It was pretty noisy for the 15 people that were out there," Streb said.

No matter where anyone was at Baltusrol, there was no shortage of entertainment.

Mickelson hit his opening tee shot off the property and onto a side street and made triple bogey, only to rally to make the cut. Rickie Fowler finished birdie-eagle to get back into the picture. Rory McIlroy only needed to birdie the par-5 18th, the easiest hole on the course, to make the cut. From the fairway, he made bogey and was headed home to figure out what was wrong with his putting.

A second round that began in rain with one group given the wrong hole location on No. 10 ended with Streb and Jimmy Walker sharing the lead and becoming the eighth and ninth players to match the 36-hole record in the PGA Championship at 131.

Walker had to settle for a 4-under 66, right when he had the 36-hole record for all majors (130) within his reach with two par 5s remaining. But he hit into the hospitality area well left of the 17th and scrambled for par, and then his tee shot narrowly missed its mark and found the water on the 18th, leading to bogey.

Even so, he was tied at the halfway point of a major.

"It's going to be a new experience, and it will be fun," Walker said. "You still have to go perform. Doesn't matter what tournament it is."

Day dropped to even par with a double bogey on No. 7, and that appeared to wake up the world's No. 1 player. Day went on a tear with seven birdies over his next eight holes, two of them from 18 feet, one of them from 35 feet. Suddenly, he was on the verge of a shot at 63 until he hooked his tee shot to the base of the hospitality area on the 17th, and pushed a driving iron into the right rough on the 18th. He settled for pars at both for a 65.

Day was right where he wanted to be, three shots behind going into the weekend, his name high on the leaderboard for everyone to see. At stake is a chance to join Tiger Woods as the only back-to-back PGA champions since the stroke-play era began in 1958.

Day was joined at 7-under 133 by Emiliano Grillo, the talented young Argentine who worked hard on his putting at Baltusrol and watched it pay off. Grillo got this afternoon of birdies going by making five of them in a seven-hole stretch on the back nine until he cooled on the front and had to settle for a 67.

This is new territory for him, too.

Just like Walker and Streb, he has never even contended in a major.

"I've never been in this situation, and I'm not afraid of it," Grillo said. "I'm going to go out and enjoy it."

By the end of the day, it was easy to overlook a familiar figure - Henrik Stenson, the British Open champion who made eagle on the 18th at the turn and polished off another 67. He was only four shots behind in his bid to match Ben Hogan as the only players to win two straight majors at age 40.

Mickelson made the cut, and that might have been the most entertaining of all.

He began his round with a tee shot so far left that it sailed off the property, bounced along Shunpike Road and caromed to the left down Baltusrol Way. Wherever it finished, it was out-of-bounds, and Mickelson had to scramble for a triple bogey. He spent the rest of the day battling to get back, and he delivered on the 18th with a birdie to post a 70.

"I think in the history of the PGA Championship, that's the worst start of any player's round. I'd have to look it up," Mickelson said.

No need to. Someone pointed out that Nicolas Colsaerts piped two over the fence and made 8.

"I'm having a difficult time right now managing my expectations, because I know how well I'm playing and I'm so result-oriented that I'm not playing very relaxed, free golf like I did at the British, like I did in the preparation here," Mickelson said.

Two weeks ago at Royal Troon, where Mickelson opened with a 63 and Stenson close with a 63, it was just those two players in a duel that ranked among the greatest.

At Baltusrol, a dozen players were separated by five shots going into the weekend, a group that included Martin Kaymer (69). Jordan Spieth was finally back in the mix, at least on the fringes, after a hot start that led to a 67. He was in the group six shots behind.

The biggest surprise was Streb, who became the fourth player with a 63 at Baltusrol. Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf each had 63 in the opening round of the 1980 U.S. Open, and Thomas Bjorn shot 63 in the third round in the 2005 PGA Championship.

Streb hasn't had a top 10 on the PGA Tour since he tied for 10th in the PGA Championship last year. He found something in his swing a few weeks ago, birdied the last four holes a week ago Friday in the Canadian Open just to make the cut, and grabbed a sliver of history at Baltusrol.

Justin Morneau returns to White Sox lineup, Target Field for first time

Justin Morneau returns to White Sox lineup, Target Field for first time

MINNEAPOLIS -- If the White Sox needed a reminder how much they missed having a left-handed bat earlier this season, the last two games without Justin Morneau confirmed it.

Forced out of the lineup because of National League rules, Morneau on Friday returned to a White Sox lineup that struggled in his absence in a pair of losses at Wrigley Field. It’s the same issue that has dogged the White Sox throughout the regular season until Morneau was activated two weeks ago after Adam LaRoche unexpectedly retired.

Friday’s contest also marked Morneau’s first regular season appearance at Target Field against his former since he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013.

“When he’s not in there it really changes a lot of the dynamic for us of where guys are, how deep your lineup is, as well as just having a really good left-hander in the middle of it, a consistent guy who not only can hit, but takes pitches, walks, is a threat and he’s not a half bad guy,” manager Robin Ventura said. “He’s back here and I think guys are happy for him that he’s back here as well.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

There’s little doubt the White Sox missed Morneau at Wrigley Field when they combined for 10 hits and were outscored 11-2 by the Cubs in two losses. Even though he’s only two weeks removed from the disabled list, Morneau has already offered the White Sox the balance they desperately needed in the middle of the order since LaRoche called it quits.

Morneau, who had elbow surgery in December and then rushed to get back as quickly as he could after he signed in June, likes how his swing has progressed so far. Perhaps the one upside to his absence -- Morneau said the two-day break has him feeling even better as the White Sox opened a three-game series at the Minnesota Twins.

“The swing feels good,” Morneau said. “A couple days off helped my body recover a little and sort of recharge the battery coming in here. I feel I can go up there and battle, like I can put at-bats together, guys in scoring position all that stuff. It’s fun to be out there in situations, that’s what I kind of enjoy the most.

"The amount of work it takes to get ready isn’t the fun part, but stepping into the batter’s box and battling those guys is really all we play for. I’m comfortable doing that, and it’s good.”

Even with the addition of Todd Frazier’s team-leading 29 home runs, the White Sox offense has only shown slight improvement this season in part because the team was so right-handed heavy until Morneau was activated on July 15. The White Sox entered Friday having scored four runs per game, which is up from 3.84 in 2015. The team carried a .699 OPS against right-handers into the game.

Even though LaRoche had the worst season of his life in 2015, the White Sox were short-handed once he retired. The original plan had been a rotation between Melky Cabrera-Austin Jackson-Avisail Garcia and LaRoche between two outfield spots and the DH role. Instead, Garcia was forced into full-time action and Ventura often had to bat Melky Cabrera in the fifth spot to break up a run of four straight right-handed bats in the middle of the order.

Despite improved production from Frazier and Brett Lawrie at second, the White Sox have been inconsistent all season. Thursday’s loss was the 49th time in 102 games they scored three or fewer runs. Ventura said the need for a lefty bat implored the White Sox to take a risk and sign Morneau without knowing what they’ll receive.

[RELATED: Robin Ventura doesn't want to see Sale or Quintana traded]

“I think that’s the reason why we ended up going on a limb a little bit and going with him knowing we’d have to wait to have him in our lineup,” Ventura said. “Once we lost Adam we became very right-hand dominant. It’s tough to have for Jose and those guys to be in there and not have that left-right combo that you’d like to have.”

Morneau received the welcome he expected from the Twins fanbase. Even though he now wears a White Sox uniform, Morneau was received well. The American League Most Valuable Player in 2006, Morneau played for the Twins from 2003-13. His wife’s family lives locally and Morneau said he spends part of every offseason here.

“You never know when you go to a rival or play for a team in the same division that we battled against for so many years here, and to go on the other side of it, some people’s feeling might not be as warm as you’d hope them to be,” Morneau said. “But for the most people have been great to me and I don’t think I’d really expect anything else.”

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs look to stay hot vs. Mariners Saturday on CSN

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs look to stay hot vs. Mariners Saturday on CSN

Jake Arrieta and the Cubs look to stay hot against the Mariners on Saturday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Wade Miley (6-8, 5.23 ERA) vs. Jake Arrieta (12-4, 2.76 ERA)

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