Preps Talk

Carmelo in town, Bulls taking on Nuggets

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Carmelo in town, Bulls taking on Nuggets

Monday, Nov. 8, 2010
Updated 2:33 PM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Mention the Bulls' perceived offensive struggles to players and coaches, and don't be shocked if they, um, take offense. To a man, the team insists that while their work-in-progress offensive attack isn't yet quite up to snuff, point production isn't a primary issue of concern.

Lost in the feel-good reunion and thrilling overtime loss at Boston on Saturday was the fact that even without Boozer--who now participates in non-contact practice drills; albeit nothing involving his injured shooting hand--the interior tandem of Taj Gibson and league-leading rebounder Joakim Noah had a field day against the vaunted Celtics defense, which opted to focus heavily on curbing the exploits of Derrick Rose, the short-lived NBA scoring leader (he's now fifth in that category at an even 25 points per game, but fourth in the league in assists at 9.8 an evening). Upon the return of Boozer (after an adjustment period, that is), Chicago should become that much more dangerous offensively, particularly in the halfcourt, where Boozer can command double teams.

In the aftermath of Friday's emotional loss, Noah--who scored a season-high 26 points and snagged 11 rebounds to begin the season with five consecutive double-doubles, but committed a turnover late in overtime that effectively ended the Bulls' comeback hopes--cautioned opponents postgame Friday to not wait that long to afford the Bulls the proper respect.

Noah backed off his heat-of-the-moment sentiments a bit Sunday--"Just some players...nothing out of the usual" was his response to who or what "trash talk" he was referring to after the Boston loss--but elaborated on his offensive development, which has featured him becoming more consistent shooting the ball from the perimeter.

"Noah is a lot more confident. I think he's put a lot of work into it and I think he's gotten a lot of confidence in his jump shot. Sixteen, 17 feet, he can shoot that and if you close hard into him, he can blow by you. His jump hook game is very effective inside, he's very active on the offensive boards, he knows how to move without the ball, so he's scoring different ways--and I think in transition--he's running the floor great," said Thibodeau. "Quite honestly, he hasn't surprised Thibodeau because I saw him shoot all summer and consistently he's knocked that shot down. My thing is, as long as you're working on it that hard and it's going in, I have no problem with you shooting it if you're open. It looks a little different, but it goes in and that's the bottom line."

"It's a little unconventional, but if you watch the final phase of it, it's actually pretty good. the way he finishes--he has good follow-through, good extension--he's very accurate."

"I feel pretty confident. I don't want players to play off me like that and I worked on it pretty hard with Thibodeau in the offseason. To me, there's nothing better than making a 15-footer because a lot of people told me my whole life that I wouldn't be able to shoot it, so it feels great knocking them down," said Noah of his "artistic" shooting form. Right now, I'm just working on it and trying to make it as consistent as possible. At the end of the day, Derrick is getting a lot of attention offensively. It's on me and Taj to make a play when they get the ball out of his hands."

Noah also opined on the progress of tag-team partner and fellow New Yorker Taj Gibson.

"He's definitely more comfortable to the NBA game. Taj is playing very well, especially offensively. he's shooting the ball pretty good. He's playing very confident," observed Noah, who is averaging 16.2 points to go with his NBA-high average of 14.2 boards a night. "The thing we have to get better at is being mentally tougher--not in the sense that we're soft--but we just have to do a better job of knowing the plays, especially down the stretch. knowing exactly what we have to get done. I think that's something that me and Taj have to do a better job of, just getting better with the system."

Gibson, who bounced back from a woeful preseason to average 15 points an outing (on a team-high 64.2 percent from the floor), as well as 6.2 rebounds, has also been particularly aggressive. His baseline jumper, a burgeoning part of his arsenal as a rookie, has become increasingly effective, especially when opponents are slow to rotate after double-teaming Rose.

Added Gibson, who wore a shoulder sleeve at practice to combat the effects of a nagging injury from last season: "I worked on it his mid-range jumper for basically half the summer; I really had a short summer due to injury (lingering plantar fasciitis from his rookie campign), but Thibs and the rest of the coaching staff worked on it with me. I even shoot threes in my spare time; eventually I'll work on that. But the coaching staff wants me to take that shot. They mostly get mad when I don't take the open shot because they feel so comfortable with me making it," said Gibson.

"The chemistry's (with Noah) still there from battling up and down last year...I'm just real responsive to what I have to do on the court and he Noah helps me out," he added Gibson. "We can get better. It's a grind out there. I understand we have guys injured, but just being in those hostile environments, with playing in Oklahoma City and Boston, it was real tough. We really had a chance to win both of those games...but it's a long season. We understand we have a lot to work on, but the sky's the limit for this team."

"We already have captains...but it's my job to be vocal. If you're playing the four or five, you have to be vocal in the NBA because the crowds are so loud," continued the second-year player about his growing leadership role on the squad. "Calling out play calls, calling out our defensive sets because I don't want Derrick to get hurt on screen-and-rolls. Just being vocal is one of the main things I have to do to stay on the court."

So while a tantalizing potential offensive upgrade will exist in the United Center--in the form of Denver's Carmelo Anthony, arguably the NBA's purest scorer, but currently ranked sixth, a notch below Rose--Monday evening, it appears that the Bulls are presently satisfied with the weapons at their disposal.

"A couple years ago, we kind of had a similar situation with Kobe Bryant. He got a pretty good reception when he came to the United Center," said Noah. "We'll see how it goes."

Thibodeau confessed to CSNChicago.com that he privately fretted about Chicago's scoring prior to the season, at 104.6 points per game (on 49 percent field-goal shooting), fifth in the league heading into Monday's game, he's now pleased with the offensive flow, even if there are some galling, stand-around stretches for the time being and bench production outside of Kyle Korver's 8.2 points per game (Korver, along with the aforementioned Rose, Noah and Gibson, as well as Luol Deng's 19.8 points per game, are the only Chicago scorers producing more than five points a night) has been lacking. Now, the Bulls defense--which allows opponents 105 points a contest--that's another story.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms 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.

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.