Noah's offensive development benefiting Bulls

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Noah's offensive development benefiting Bulls

CLEVELAND As outgoing as Joakim Noah is, getting him to talk about his positive play on the court can be difficult. The charismatic center will talk about his need for improvement, how his team can be playing better, praise his teammates and even offer up the occasional mildly controversial comment about an opponent, but rarely will he pat himself on the back.

Part of it is his obsession with winning and team-oriented nature, something thats worked for him over the years, as evidenced by two college national titles at Florida and the Bulls progress during his NBA career mirroring his own. But after his 23-point outing in the teams season-opening win over the Kings at the United Center, Noah downplayed his contributions, as well as his obviously growing role as a scorer.

I think I played well, Noah said, adding probably not when asked if he thought Wednesdays output would become a normal occurrence. I think I can do things offensively. Whatevers asked of me. I feel like I can make plays for other people.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was a bit more expansive.

Part of his evolution. Two years ago, he spent a lot of time in the gym, in the summer, and he got off to a great start, then got hurt, and then he was never the same that year. He sat out so much of that season, and then last year was the lockout summer. Its more what hes doing now," he explained. "Hes healthy and thats big, and Andy Greer has done a great job with him. Theyve spent a lot of time watching film and thats helped him come into practice more focused.

"I think hes practicing as well as hes ever practiced, and I think the one thing you learn about this league is the better you practice, the better you play, so hes got to continue to do that. I think hes gotten comfortable now in a number of different areas and I also think his experience, when he sees how teams are playing him and he knows where the openings are.

"He and Carlos have played very effectively together and the beauty of both Carlos and Joakim is the fact that if you hit them and you cut, and youre open, theyre going to hit you with the pass, so I think the more we play through those guys, the better it is for us, the coach continued. The best leadership you could have is what a players actions are, so I think if youre doing the right thing, that shows your teammates how serious you are about winning and your commitment to the team.

Each year, hes gotten significantly better about his approach to the game and I hope it never ends. I dont think it will because I think thats Jos nature. He works hard at his game, he studies and hes getting better. To me, hes put a lot of work into his conditioning. Hes been healthy, which is a big plus for him. Hes practicing a lot better this year, too. Hes putting a lot more time into film. Hes coming in ready to go. I thought he had a great preseason. Hes coming in trying to improve every day.

The game dictates whos going to get what scoring opportunities. If theyre over helping off of him, he knows he can make those shots. Very good 15 to 17-foot shooter. Hes very active on the offensive glass and hes gotten a lot more comfortable with his post-up game. The thing that I really think hes improved upon is his screening, so the better he screens, the more hes open and thats where hes really a factor.

Noah is far more celebrated for his uniqueness as a personality, but he also possesses a very different set of skills, from his relentless rebounding and active help defense to his unorthodox shooting motion, uncanny ballhandling ability for his size and subtleties like his court vision and the lateral quickness to switch out onto guards in pick-and-roll scenarios, as well as more recently, a higher comfort level playing with his back to the basket. Thibodeau appreciates the entire gamut of his centers talents.

The interesting thing is he was very unorthodox still is but I remember when I was in Boston, watching him shoot pregame and seeing him make consecutive shots, and the first time he did it, you think, Okay, aberration, and then youre watching him as hes moving around and seeing that its not. The ending of his shot is actually pretty good and hes got touch. Hes proven to be a very good free-throw shooter, so I felt confident that hed be able to hit shots for us, Thibodeau said. "The coach trusts Noah as a dribbler and passer a lot. Hes got great vision and decision-making ability.

Noah is also an excellent complement to power forward Carlos Boozer, something that wasnt always the case when the duo were initially paired together. But with superstar Derrick Rose sidelined, the big-man tandem will be relied upon to both score and create as passers, which theyre capable of, due to their much-improved chemistry on the court.

Weve been playing together for a while now and I kind of know where he wants the ball, he knows where I want the ball. Were comfortable in Thibs offense and its good, Noah said. I think were moving the ball well and I feel like we can still play better. But when were moving the ball around, its a lot easier. You get the defense moving around like that, its a lot easier to get offensive rebounds and good things happen when the ball is hopping.

Thibodeau chimed in: Both of our bigs, he and Carlos, if we play through them in the post, and you cut and youre open, youre going to get the ball. Thats why its so important for us to play through those guys. For that matter, Rips the same way in catch and shoot, so often times, were going to play through him in the catch and shoot to get the ball into the paint also. But we have to play inside-out. Thats when were at our best.

Hampered by injuries the past few seasons, Noah played heavy minutes Wednesday a given with the offseason departure of Omer Asik; backup center Nazr Mohammed will likely play more of a Kurt Thomas veteran role in limited playing time, unless needed and while he might not be a consistently gaudy scorer, if his health and consistency are there, as well as the Bulls winning, it wouldnt be a stretch to see Noah make the All-Star team, something that he looked destined for two seasons ago, before getting hurt. Thibodeau indicated that Noah could again have a major workload Friday against the Cavaliers, who have a similar player in veteran Anderson Varejao, another member of the leagues all-hair club, not to mention a big-time rebounder coming off a nine-point, 23-board, nine assist game in Clevelands opener.

Hes in shape, so were going to see how the game unfolds. I think his conditioning is great right now, Thibodeau said. Hes put a lot of time into it, he feels healthy and again, I think his passing adds a lot to our team.

McDonald's All-American Games return to United Center

McDonald's All-American Games return to United Center

The McDonald's All-American Games return to the United Center for the seventh consecutive year on Wednesday night as the nation's elite boys and girls high school basketball players take the floor.

The 40th annual games begin with the girls game at 4 p.m. while the boys game will follow at 6 p.m.

The 2017 McDonald's game won't have a lot of local talent to keep an eye on, besides Chicago native and center Brandon McCoy, but the national Class of 2017 is still a fun group to check out for local basketball fans.

Headlined by top prospects like small forward Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri), center DeAndre Ayton (Arizona),  center Wendell Carter (Duke) and point guard Trevon Duval (uncommitted), this year's McDonald's game features a lot of flashy guards, high-flying wings and talented big men.

Over the years, fans at the United Center have been able to see some of the NBA's best young players before they went to college as alums of recent McDonald's games include Anthony Davis, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Karl-Anthony Towns.

You can view the full rosters for the 2017 McDonald's All-American Games here

Why the Bears finally feel like they're in striking distance of a winning team

Why the Bears finally feel like they're in striking distance of a winning team

PHOENIX – Where the relationship between Bears GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox goes beyond 2017 remains to play out with their third season together. At this point, however, despite a combined total of nine wins over their first two, the critical bond between coach and general manager appears both clear and solid.
 
Which is no small state of affairs with the growing pressure on both and the organization, pressure that will only intensify if the on-field fortunes of their team does not begin to dramatically reverse. And both know it. Losing doesn't build character, it reveals it, and the same applies to a relationship; if there are cracks, adversity of the kind the Bears have endured the past 32 games will widen and expose them.
 
That relationship has been the subject of speculation virtually since its inception, when Pace hired Fox following the end of his tenure with the Denver Broncos. Much of it centered around who was in fact making the final decisions on personnel and who was the advisor, with some positing that Fox was in fact the final authority if only because age, seniority and experience. The primacy of Pace, however, has become clearer with each decision and traces or shadings of any fractiousness are conspicuously absent.
 
"His people skills are tremendous," Fox said Tuesday during the NFL owners meetings. "His evaluation skills are very good. I think humility is always a great quality in this business. And I've seen that. He's the same guy. He hasn't changed. Sometimes people get [elevated] positions, whatever position that may be and they change. It's just how some people react. And I haven't seen that."
 
Pace, who recently turned 40, is by his own description wanting buy-in on decisions. In the cases of free agency, which have involved the high-dollar commitments designed to have immediate payoff, he has identified pro targets and involved Fox in the decisions.
 
Looking for an immediate hit at linebacker to upgrade the entire defense about this time last year, Pace targeted Denver leading-tackler Danny Trevathan. Fox was his first consult.
 
"Just having drafted [Trevathan] and seeing him develop and get better and his work ethic and his preparation and study habits and how he is as a teammate in the locker room," Pace said of what insight Fox provided. "Those were all things that were taken into consideration."
 
This year, with the max need of improvement, the franchise-grade decision was to make a change at quarterback. Jay Cutler effectively made the decision on himself and he was out. Whether Mike Glennon is or is not an upgrade will play out this year, but Fox was involved in and endorsed the decision to go in a decidedly less-experienced direction.

[RELATED - No signs Bears are locked into drafting a QB in 2017]
 
Pace had attempted in the past to trade for Glennon, which Fox agreed with. Fox had familiarity with Glennon from his time coaching in Carolina.
 
"I was in North Carolina when [Glennon] was playing [at N.C. State], actually," Fox recalled. "I was exposed to two guys there. A good friend of mine was the head coach at NC State. Both Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon were coming through at that period in time, so I got exposed to them, watching games and kinda following them.
 
"And obviously evaluating both of them coming out, they were in different schools then. So I had a high opinion of them then. And then really [Glennon] was talked about a little bit before this year as a potential guy to get, and then this year, being free and without any kind of compensation, we dove in pretty good and feel good about it."
 
Most expectations are that the Bears will not repeat a three-win season, and that an improvement from the first two years keeps both Pace and Fox in their jobs. Key players (Trevathan, Eddie Goldman, Kyle Long, Kevin White) returning from injuries, free-agency upgrades on both sides of the ball and a draft class currently with two picks in the first 36 point to perhaps the kind of turnaround Fox has produced (in years two) at Carolina and Denver.
 
Fox did not dwell on what the roster was or wasn't when he arrived, or on how much of an overhaul Pace needed to do when he took over from Phil Emery and brought in Fox to replace Marc Trestman. But the reality was there.
 
"Going back to a lot of the changes, we've had a lot of change," Fox said. "I think we're better for it. Unfortunately, you can't walk around with your chest out about that because of our record the last two years. But I have total confidence and [Pace] has done an outstanding job and will continue to.
 
"I understand you have to win. And I finally feel like we're in striking distance."