Running with the Bulls: NBA midseason awards

Running with the Bulls: NBA midseason awards

Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011
Posted: 1:20 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Before every NBA season, there are players and teams that the so-called experts (this writer included) believe will dominate headlines and then fail to live up to the hype right away. After the first few weeks of the season, more predictions are made based on the early returns, with observers going out on a limb to proclaim that those who have made immediate impacts will sustain their effectiveness over the course of the campaign. The halfway point of the season, while not a crystal ball, is a much more accurate way of determining future successes or failures. But instead of making any hare-brained claims, let's take a look at the NBA's top first-half performers.
MVP: Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
Forget about this being the obvious homer pick and let's examine his candidacy. One front-runner, Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki has missed significant time due to injury, leading to the Mavericks' recent slide. Another, New York's Amar'e Stoudemire, has been excellent, but his Knicks have also swooned lately. Miami's duo of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have effectively separated themselves from the other, potentially splitting votes--or garnering less momentum because of their partnership--at season's end. Kobe Bryant hasn't had a vintage season and at least right now, neither are his Lakers. The only other player in the league who presents a credible threat at the midseason point is Orlando's Dwight Howard, but since winning does play a factor--it might be prudent to see how the Magic's overhaul plays out in the long run--Rose's guidance of the Bulls to success (without co-stars Joakim Noah andor Carlos Boozer for long stretches) wins out at this juncture.
Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

Is there any other choice? Not only is Blake Griffin already arguably the league's most exciting player, but he's managed to not only lead the perennially-lowly Clippers to the brink of respectability as of late, he's reinvigorated enigmatic point guard Baron Davis, possibly extending former Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro's Hollywood shelf life in the process. Griffin isn't just good for a rookie, he's a dominant force, as evidenced by his NBA season-high 47 points Monday. The scary thing is, he's only going to get better.

Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

Maybe the Spurs are still boring as far as personalities are concerned, but nobody can accuse them of playing that way this season. Popovich has completely flipped their style of play, turning San Antonio into a run-and-gun team, de-emphasizing future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan on the offensive end (which many suspect is a ploy to save his legs for the grind-it-out, halfcourt-heavy playoffs) and making the up-tempo nature of backcourt stars Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili the team's new focal point. In addition to having likely the league's best backcourt, "Pop" has gotten through to small forward Richard Jefferson and has melded a seemingly haphazard bunch of role players (such as 26-year-old sharpshooting rookie Gary Neal and roly-poly undersized second-year bruiser DeJuan Blair) into an exemplary complementary unit, resulting in the league's best record.
Most Improved Player: Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves

Another no-brainer, as Love, the league's top rebounder, has become the bizarro Dennis Rodman this season. The wide-bodied, ground-bound power forward Kevin Love is a freak of nature on the glass in today's NBA, recording multiple 20-point, 20-rebound games, including a high of 31 boards in one night. Defensively challenged, Love is a savvy and versatile offensive performer, with comfortable 3-point range, excellent passing ability and old-school sensibilities. Although he toils for an awful Minnesota squad, Love a must-see attraction, despite his decidedly below-the-rim game.
Most surprising team: New York Knicks

Although they haven't been as good lately--losing the element of surprise is a factor--the fact that the Knicks are one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference is a bit of a shocker, especially given their slow start to the season. Much of the credit can be given to the elite play of their top offseason acquisition Stoudemire (getting his former player back, as well as others who fit his "Seven Seconds or Less" system is obviously a big part of Mike D'Antoni's turnaround of the team), but the squad's supporting cast--the likes of floor general Raymond Felton, sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari, versatile forward Wilson Chandler and rookie Landry Fields have all played significant roles--has been much better than advertised, bringing legitimate excitement back to the Big Apple for the first time in more than a decade.

Most disappointing team: Milwaukee Bucks
After last season's "Fear the Dear" run, expectations were high for the Bucks, particularly after an offseason that many observers thought was quietly among the league's best. But injuries to second-year point guard Brandon Jennings and others, as well as star center Andrew Bogut's not-yet-complete return to form have derailed Milwaukee. One of the NBA's most inept scoring teams, they have simply been unable to regain the magic that carried them last season. In the top-heavy East, there's still time to make a run, but it's doubtful they'll be able to build on the progress made a year ago.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's 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.

Five Things to Watch: Bulls try to snap skid against Spurs on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls try to snap skid against Spurs on CSN

Watch as the Bulls take on the Spurs tomorrow on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com, the only place where you can get the hometown call from Neil and Stacey.

Coverage begins at 8 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Attempting to end perfection. The Spurs have been absolutely electric outside of San Antonio this season, winning each of their first 13 road games to begin the year. That's the second longest streak in NBA history, and the Bulls have actually lost two of three at home. The Bulls will be home underdogs as the Spurs look to make it 14 in a row. The good news is the Bulls have defeated the Spurs at home each of the last two seasons.

2. Battle of the two-way studs. There's a real argument to be made that Thursday's matchup will tout the two best two-way players in the NBA. Kawhi Leonard, the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is having his best offensive season to date, averaging 24.5 points on 46 percent shooting, 1.9 triples, and averaging nearly 91 percent from the free-throw line. Expect Jimmy Butler and Leonard to be on each other's rear most of the night in what should be one of the most fun 1-on-1 matchups in the NBA.

3. Questions at the point. For the Spurs, Tony Parker is questionable to play with a knee injury. If he can't go, it would be Nico Laprovittola and Patty Mills running the point. For the Bulls, Rajon Rondo is coming off a pair of ugly performances in Bulls' losses to the Mavericks and Pistons (and his suspension against the Blazers). Someone needs to step up at the point, and it could decide Thursday night's winner.

4. Pau returns to the UC. Though it didn't result in much success, Pau Gasol enjoyed two highly successful seasons in Chicago. The stat-stuffer was named an All-Star in both seasons, averaging 17.6 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 150 games. He's now in San Antonio, filling Tim Duncan's role in the starting lineup. And though his numvers are down from a year ago, he's still capable of putting up numbers, especially against a Bulls' interior that has struggled of late.

5. Getting Doug McDermott back. Dougie McBuckets has been activated to the Bulls roster, and not a moment too soon. Since McDermott suffered a concussion on Nov. 12, the Bulls bench ranks 26th in 3-pointers per game (2.5) and 30th in 3-point field-goal percentage (23.5 percent). Getting McDermott back, even in a small role as he gets his legs under him, will be a major factor against a Spurs team whose offense continues to heat up in December.

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Bulls: Rajon Rondo calls incident with assistant coach 'part of the game'

Bulls: Rajon Rondo calls incident with assistant coach 'part of the game'

AUBURN HILLS, MICH—Rajon Rondo almost made it to the quarter mark of the season without incident, but his frustrations got the better of him in Dallas last weekend in a situation with Bulls assistant coach Jim Boylen.

He returned from his one-game suspension in a light mood, but didn’t take things lightly when addressing questions from the media after the Bulls’ 102-91 loss to Detroit.

Rondo admitted that he feels so strongly about things that he doesn’t let them go as easily as he should, which could have been the case with Boylen. Rondo threw a towel after an exchange with Boylen during the Bulls’ blowout loss to the Mavericks.

“That’s a good way to put it. Me as a player, a point guard, I have to handle a situation better,” Rondo said. “But when I feel a certain way, I’m gonna speak on it. My whole thing is always for the betterment of the team.

“If it comes off wrong or a certain way I’ll try to work on that. But for the most part I’m not a selfish individual, I try to do what’s best for the team, try to watch film with my teammates. That’s just part of the game, who I am.”

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When asked if he actually threw a towel at Boylen, Rondo quipped, “You gotta look at the film,” and tried to downplay the situation as best he could, noting the timing of the event in question.

He apologized to the coaching staff and his teammates and believes there won’t be lasting effects, although the Bulls are in the midst of a three-game losing streak.

“Hopefully it’ll be the last three-game losing streak,” Rondo said. “It’s about how you handle adversity. We usually handle it well as far as bouncing back.”

Calling the incident “part of the game,” Rondo didn’t want to address specifics but given his history of instances such as these in Boston, Dallas and Sacramento, this one makes it a little harder to shake the reputation of being difficult to deal with.

“I have a good relationship with my team and I take pride in being a great teammate,” Rondo said. “I think we’re still on the same page. When you lose, things get blown out of proportion. When you win, it covers everything up. So we have to get back to winning basketball.”

His teammates have been supportive both behind the scenes and publicly, and were happy to have him back despite not being able to quell the losing streak.

“It was good. That's our starting point guard. We need veteran guys on this team,” Bulls guard Dwyane Wade said. “We need our bodies. He's our leader today so when we got down early he was the one who kept talking to us defensively. He's so smart out there on the floor, takes certain things away, get out in open transition. The reason we got back in the game, he did a good job of leading us in those moments.”