Preps Talk

Bulls surprisingly getting out and running

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Bulls surprisingly getting out and running

DEERFIELD, ILL.Offensively, this seasons edition of the Bulls have put an emphasis on execution, ball movement, players moving without the ball and of course, head coach Tom Thibodeaus rigid stance on inside-out playat least when theyre in a half-court set.
However, theyve also made a concerted effort to push the pace in transition.
Its only three games into an 82-game season, but through the preseason and the NBAs first week, one of the teams strengths has been fast-break basketball. In the admittedly small sample size, they are tied for sixth in the league in transition points, at 16.7 points per game.
That might not seem like much, but consider the fact that they only averaged an identically middle-in-the-pack 13.4 the last two seasons, when they had the services of one of the games most explosive talents, Derrick Rose. Sure, most coaches start each season with the intent to play at a faster tempo, a mission that often dissolves early, but the Bulls, with few players observers would consider elite in the open court, seem committed to getting up and down the floor in a hurry.
We work on it every day in practice. Thibs has got us running up and down, trying to get easy plays and easy layups, and we want to try to use our speed., Rip Hamilton said. We dont want to play a half-court game for 48 minutes. We want to try to get as many easy baskets as possible.
Joakim Noah added: For us, I think its all about getting out on the break, getting steals and just being able to run to the open spots, and just knowing what your teammates strengths and weaknesses are.
Im not going to be the kind of guy thats going to catch lobs and stuff like that, so Id rather my teammates just throw a little bounce pass or something like that.
One would think that a coach with the mindset of Thibodeau, so concerned with ball security, wouldnt want to loosen the reins enough to give his players the freedom to run, especially with a roster that doesnt seem suited for the task. But upon closer inspection, the Bulls do have the personnel equipped for a decent transition game.
Hamilton, while older, was never an elite athlete, but is regarded as one of the fastest and more well-conditioned players in the league, traits that lend themselves to sprinting the floor for layups and uncontested pull-jumpers on the break. His bookend wing, Luol Deng, is in similar shape and while he isnt an above-the-rim player either, his size enables him to finish at a high level.
Noah, as he himself acknowledged, doesnt necessarily catch many alley-oops or possess a lot of flash as a finisher, but he is one of the best players at his position in the NBA at running the floor, as well as one of the few centers who can both starthis uncanny ball-handling ability and passing skills have earned Thibodeaus trustand finish a transition opportunity. Fellow big man Taj Gibson also runs the floor better than most of his peers and is one of the few Bulls who is known as a pogo-stick type of athlete.
Meanwhile, Carlos Boozer showed up to training camp in much better shape; besides losing weight over the summer, hes also running the floor a lot better, which allows him to keep up on fast breaks and even when he doesnt see the ball, the power forward has been able to frequently carve out early and deep post position. Among the reserves, swingman Jimmy Butler offers an exciting and athletic, if seldom-used presence, while sharpshooter Marco Belinellis playmaking skills, slashing ability and solid size for his position have yielded signs of also being effective in transition.
But the key to the Bulls early success as a fast-breaking team has been the play of their point guards, Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson. Both have employed significant ball pressure to opposing floor generalsthe Bulls rank seventh in opponents turnovers per game, at 18.3 a nightand whether its off a foes miscue or defensive rebound, the duo has been racing up the floor in search of easy opportunities.
Hinrichs style is more about making a hit-ahead pass to a streaking wing player or big man filling the lane, while the diminutive Robinson prefers to keep it in his own hands and making a drop-off to a finisher or kick-out pass to shooter. But whether its the starters more traditional hoops sensibilities or the backups speed-demon tendencies, the Bulls have been effective as a transition team.
They have not, however, been consistent with the approach. All too often, the team will start a game and establish a fast tempo, then fall into its grind-it-out habits as the game wanes onor, alternately, not push the pace early and adjust to playing faster after halftimean inconsistency Thibodeau would love to see disappear.
We want to get the ball up the floor quickly, Thibodeau said after the Bulls season-opening win over Sacramento. I thought we ran effectively early in the game, and I think weve got to do a better job running late.
Without Rose, the Bulls will need to manufacture points any way they can. While the offense-by-committee philosophy against set defenses is laudable when it works, on nights when it doesntlike Saturdays home loss to New Orleanstheyll need to speed things up, in order to avoid getting bogged down.

High School Lites Week 9 football roundup

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High School Lites Week 9 football roundup

High School Lites featured plenty of great action on Friday night as NBC Sports Chicago had highlights of many of the area's top matchups. Some playoff dreams came to fruition while others crashed and burned. 

Watch tomorrow as the IHSA playoff brackets are revealed tomorrow on NBC Sports Chicago+ at 8 p.m. Be sure to also follow us on Twitter @NBCSPreps for all of the latest IHSA football scores and highlights. 

DRIVE: Prairie Ridge: Episode 10

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Back of the Yards QB Jeremiah Harris

St. Xavier Team of the Week: De La Salle Meteors

Friday's Top 25 Games

No. 1 Lincoln-Way East 18, No. 19 Bolingbrook 14 

No. 2 Prairie Ridge 55, Dundee-Crown 14

No. 3 Maine South 56, Niles West 9

No. 4 Marist 42, Joliet Catholic 14

No. 5 Lake Zurich , Mundelein

No. 6 Phillips 53, Clark 0

No. 9 Homewood-Flossmoor 50, Sandburg 14

No. 10 Barrington 40, Conant 19

No. 11 Huntley 45, McHenry 7

No. 12 Naperville Central 35, Lake Park 21

No. 13 Hinsdale Central 42, Hinsdale South 14

No. 24 St. Charles North 35, No. 14 Batavia 28

No. 16 Wheaton North 20, Waubonsie Valley 10

No. 17 Crete-Monee 52, Cahokia 8

No. 18 St. Rita 47, Marmion 14

No. 20 Lyons 31, Oak Park-River Forest 14

No. 21 Nazareth 48, Marian Catholic 7

No. 22 Oswego 30, Plainfield Central 0

Mount Carmel 35, No. 23 Providence 34

Other Highlights

Tinley Park 29, Evergreen Park 0

T.F. South 21, Oak Forest 14

Glenbard North 24, Neuqua Valley 14

St. Edward 29, Wheaton Academy 28

Marian Central Catholic 44, St. Patrick 21

Saturday's Top 25 Games

No. 7 Loyola vs. Brother Rice

No. 8 Glenbard West vs. Proviso West

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Theo Epstein answered questions from the Chicago media for more than an hour on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, but the most interesting part might have been what the Cubs president didn’t say, something along the lines of: These are our guys.

Or at least Epstein didn’t give the same full-throated endorsement of The Core that he delivered after engineering the Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox this summer, getting an All-Star pitcher without giving up anyone from the big-league roster.

Whether it’s the way the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs throughout the National League Championship Series that ended Thursday night, the inconsistencies and frustrations during a 43-45 first half of this season or the reality of losing 40 percent of the rotation, you walked out of that stadium club press conference thinking big changes could be coming.

“We’re going to pursue all avenues to get better,” Epstein said.

The Cubs already understood this would be a challenging time to dramatically reshape their pitching staff, with Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, Big Boy John Lackey and All-Star closer Wade Davis about to become free agents.

The Cubs don’t really have many (any?) high-end, headliner prospects left to trade after borrowing heavily from their farm system to acquire Aroldis Chapman for last year’s World Series run and get Quintana to help solidify the rotation through 2020.

All of Major League Baseball is looking beyond this winter and preparing for the monster free-agent class that will hit the open market after the 2018 season.

Meaning it’s time for the Cubs to make some difficult decisions about all these young hitters they’ve collected.

“It may or may not be,” Epstein said. “Those choices, they’re not unilateral things. You can’t sit there and decide: ‘Hey, this guy, we’re moving him.’ Because you don’t know what the return might be. You don’t know how the different moving parts might fit together.

“I think going into the offseason prepared to make some tough choices and execute on them — and keeping an open mind to anything — is appropriate under the circumstances where we have some obvious deficits and we have some real surplus with talented players who are really desirable.”

Let’s assume All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, MVP third baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras are essentially untouchable.

The Cubs used the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft on Ian Happ with the explicit idea that the college hitter should be on a fast track and could be flipped for pitching later: Is it time to sell high after the rookie just put up 24 homers and an .842 OPS?

During an exit meeting with Albert Almora Jr., Epstein said he couldn’t promise an everyday job in 2018, though the expectation would be more responsibilities: Think anyone else would be interested in a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s already playoff-tested?

Do you want Addison Russell or Javier Baez as your everyday shortstop for the next four years? Is there an American League team willing to bet big that Kyle Schwarber will crush 40 homers a year as a designated hitter?

The Cubs have to ask themselves those types of questions, which could mean getting outside of their comfort zone and taking on some riskier pitching investments and sapping the strength that has turned them into the dominant force in the NL Central.

“We’ve really benefitted from having two or three extra — and ‘extra’ in quotes because they’re not really extra — starting-caliber players on the roster,” Epstein said. “That helped us win 97 games in ’15, 103 last year, 92 this year. That’s as big a part of the club as anything.

“Having an Addison Russell go down and being able to move Javy Baez to shortstop — that’s an obvious example of it. But those things show up every week for us. There’s a day where someone can’t make the lineup and someone else slides in and you’re still starting eight quality guys. That’s huge.

“Sooner or later, you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club. There’s no sort of deadline to do that. But I think we’re entering the phase where we have to be really open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and organization better.”

Translation: The Cubs are open for business. Make your best offer.