Cubs

Central Division rival Pacers dealing with their own injured-star woes

956349.png

Central Division rival Pacers dealing with their own injured-star woes

Heading into this season, the Pacers were supposed to be the class of the Central Division, capitalizing on Derrick Roses extended absence in Chicago.
However, due to a major injury of their owngo-to scorer Danny Granger, their starting small forward, is out indefinitely with severe knee soreness and reportedly wont return until the next calendar yearIndiana got off to a slow start.
They have since recovered from an early swoon that saw center Roy Hibbert, coming off an All-Star season and a maximum contract extension over the summer, seemingly regress and the teams multiple newcomersan overlooked aspect, as the Pacers have an almost entirely new bench, with the exception of holdover Tyler Hansbrough, a frequent Bulls antagoniststruggle to adjust to their new roles. Indiana is now 8-9, including a buzzer-beating win over the Lakers in Los Angeles, coming into Tuesdays showdown against the Bulls at the United Center.
I think more than anything, I think its just an opportunity for us to get a quality win against a good basketball team, veteran power forward David West told CSNChicago.com at the teams morning shootaround at the United Center. We know theyre not at full strength either, but again, theyre very capable. Were fighting for the division and its just a game thats on our schedule, that we have to do all we can to come out and try to get a win.
Were trying to fill in the gaps where we can, get some guys in positions, get them some experience that they havent had and guys get an opportunity to play. Thats what happens in the league when one of your main guys goes down. Other guys get an opportunity to play, step up and again, we started off rough, but I think guys are doing a better job getting into a flow. Weve had to adjust the offense to make some inroads, in terms of being able to compete and get wins, he continued.
Again, anytime you bring guys into a system, theres always an adjustment period, but its still early and we know what type of talent and capability we have on this basketball team, and we feel like well get in the right flow as the year wears on and obviously, you dont want to be playing your best basketball right now. You want to be playing your best ball later in the year. We feel like we have the team thats built to do that and hopefully we can pick ups wins when we go out, play the game the right way, but as the year wears on, get better.
Obviously you want to do better than you did the year before. I thought a key to our success last year was that we were just healthy. We didnt have any guys miss games. Obviously thats not the case this year, but were building toward the end goal and thats to be full strength as the year wears on, and hopefully fight for one of the top playoff spots. We dont feel like thats out of the grasp or out of the realm of reality for us.
West was an All-Star with his previous team, New Orleans, and appears headed back to that form early in the season, as well as taking over a more vocal leadership following a season in which he was still recovering from an ACL injury with the Hornets. Now in a contract yearhe signed a two-year deal after the lockout and is now poised to be one of the better free agents on the market next summerhes been able to put his stamp on the young Pacers.
I wasnt really healthy, in terms of being able to do what I wanted to do last year, really until the last month of the season. Having an opportunity to have a full summer to just work out, play, improve and then have a full training camp, full preseason, it just helps, he explained. Obviously just feeling more confident in my leg, confident in what I can do, thats contributed to some of the success that Ive had early on.
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel, who was just the interim coach when Indiana faced off with the Bulls in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs two years ago, now has experience to go with his youthful enthusiasm on the sidelines. Vogel understands that meshing together a retooled roster and continuing to develop young talent, including athletic swingman Paul George, is crucial, even as Indiana deals with preseason expectations.
Even the end of last year, we got to a point where we sort of the hunted because we were playing so well, so I think we got used to it, got a taste of it at the end of last year. Coming into this year, its a double-edged sword. Youve got the expectations and then, youve got to deal with readjusting with Danny being out, so its been a little bit of a struggle, but I feel good about the fact that were remaking our identity and I think that weve got some good basketball ahead of us, he told CSNChicago.com. Guys are just trying to play the team approach. No one guy can make up for Danny Grangers absence. Weve just got to move the basketball, share it and make up for it as a team.
Vogel believes that the Central Division will be a hard-fought race until the end, with the Bucks also factoring in, as the Bulls and Pacers try to hold down the fort without their injured stars.
Milwaukees playing great basketball, too. Theyre right up there, he said. Obviously us and Chicago are right around that .500 mark. Its going to be an interesting fight.

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

1117_kris_bryant.jpg
USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

In the latest edition of HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan makes his picks for the weekend.

Kap made his picks with the help of Eddie Olczyk this week.