Bulls

Bears training camp capsules: Wide receivers

822773.png

Bears training camp capsules: Wide receivers

Bears receivers have rare high expectations to meet
The realistic expectations outside of their meeting rooms have been generally pedestrian for much of the past decade. The hope was that this receiver or that would emerge and become a top-tier pass catcher.
It never happened.
But the annual dance of mediocrity is expected to end in 2012, beginning in training camp.
The Bears finished 26th in passing yards per game, not entirely surprising given that they were without their starting quarterback after game No. 10. They had no wide receiver with more than 37 catches (Johnny Knox, Roy Williams) and only those two with more than 30 catches.
Also not surprisingly, GM Phil Emery made wide receiver the No. 1 off-season priority, with his bold trade of two third-round draft choices to the Miami Dolphins for Brandon Marshall. That was followed by the Bears investing their second-round draft choice on a receiver, Alshon Jeffery from South Carolina.
The Bears best season since Marty Bookers 100 catches in 2001 and 92 in 2002 was Bernard Berrians 71 receptions in 2007.
Marshalls worst season in the five since his rookie year was last year: 81. He has netted 1,000 receiving yards in five straight seasons; the Bears have never had more than two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and only once by the same player (Booker).
Simply put, training camp 2012 will be an advance look at a passing game expected to be like nothing the Bears have ever had.
2011 in review
The Bears went through two wideout years. They were averaging a pedestrian 216 passing yards per game with Jay Cutler but had three games of sub-90 yards in the six he missed.
Significant problems began in training camp when Mike Martz effectively handed Johnny Knoxs starting job to Roy Williams. Martz saw the Williams that caught 82 passes for 1,310 yards in 2006 for Martz in Detroit, and was not a fan of Knox.
Williams, however, did not report even in training-camp shape, a further irritant within the receiver group, and did not establish a comfort level with Jay Cutler. Williams went on to commit too many drops during the season and Knox had regained a starting job before his season-ending back injury against Seattle.
A chest injury to Earl Bennett at New Orleans in game two was a major blow to a passing offense that could not afford one. Devin Hester was bothered by nagging injuries as the season went on. He finished with 26 receptions but caught passes in just two of the final eight games.
Dane Sanzenbacher proved to be a positive surprise, making the roster as an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State and finishing with 27 catches and three TDs, tops among wide receivers.
2012 Training Camp What to Watch
Depth chart
1. Brandon Marshall2 .Earl Bennett3. Devin Hester4. Alshon Jeffery5. Eric Weems6. Devin Thomas7. Dane Sanzenbacher
Notable free agents: Joseph Anderson, Brittan Golden
Perhaps the strongest indicator of the state of the Bears wide-receiver group is that Sanzenbacher goes from third in receptions to roster long shot.
The Marshall addition followed by the Jeffery draft selection vaulted the Bears into factor status among NFC North passing offenses. Both top 6-3 and are rated as having top-tier hands.
Mike Martz talked about getting Hester more involved in the offense, once declaring, Devin Hester could be just stupid-good. What we could do with him inside, the match-ups we could get with him on third corners or safeties and linebackers would be absolutely remarkable."
That never came to pass. So it was reasonable to be skeptical when Mike Tice began talking about a Hester package, until Hester himself and others began talking privately about what was being put together already. Camp will be the chance to see where Hester is positioned and aimed.
Weems was arguably the surprise during minicamps and OTAs, a returner who repeatedly flashed as a receiver, something he has rarely done through his career (24 catches through five NFL seasons, all with Atlanta).

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

2-18_markkanen_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

This is part of a four-part series looking back at the historic career of Michael Jordan and the legacy he left on the game of basketball. It all leads up to Saturday when we unveil his top 5 moments on his 55th birthday. Here are 55-4544-23, and 22-6.

5. Jordan wins fourth title and finishes greatest individual season ever, June 16, 1996

It’s hard to comprehend just how much Jordan accomplished during the 1995-96 season. We’ll try:He won his fourth championship, was named NBA Finals MVP for a record fourth time, won All-Star Game MVP, won a record 72 games, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, was the league’s leading scorer and became the Bulls’ all-time leader in games played. So when he dropped a casual 22 points in Game 6, it marked the end of one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. Oh, and Space Jam came out a few months later.
 
4. Jordan hits six triples, scores 35 points in first half against Blazers, June 3, 1992

During the 1991-92 regular season, Jordan never made more than three 3-pointers in a single game. In fact, the most 3-pointers he had in any two-game stretch that year was four. So when he began burying triple after triple in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, even Jordan couldn’t believe it, giving a shrug toward the NBC announcers as if to say, “I don’t know, either.” Jordan finished the first half with six triples and scored an NBA-record 35 points. The Bulls cruised in the second half, so Jordan finished with only 39, but his shrug remains one of the most iconic NBA Finals moments in history.
 
3. Jordan battles the flu, scores 38 in Game 5 on his way to fifth title, June 11, 1997

The Flu Game. Jordan was battling a nasty illness in the lead-up to a pivotal Game 5 in Utah, and there were concerns about whether he would even suit up. Hours before tip Jordan got out of bed and made his way to the arena, looking to halt Utah’s momentum after it had taken Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. The Jazz came out red-hot while Jordan looked sluggish, but he responded with 17 points in the second quarter alone to give the Bulls a halftime lead. Jordan then keyed a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to erase a Jazz lead, and he hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead. The Bulls hung on, and Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms walking off the floor. His final line? 38 points, 13 of 27 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Two days later the Bulls won the title in front of a sellout Chicago crowd.

2. Jordan scores 63 points against Celtics in playoff loss, April 20, 1986

Jordan had just turned 23 years old when he took to the Boston Garden floor to face Larry Bird in his prime and the Celtics. These Celtics had gone 40-1 at home, led the NBA in field goal percentage defense, started FOUR future Hall of Famers and had a fifth come off the bench. They would ultimately go down as one of the all-time greatest teams, and Jordan made them look absolutely silly. He played 50 minutes in the double-overtime thriller, shooting 22 of 41 from the field and making 19 of 21 free throws, including the last two with no time on the clock and the Bulls trailing by two at the end of regulation. He scored 54 in regulation, added five in the first overtime and four in the second. He also led the Bulls with six assists. It still stands as the NBA record for most points in any playoff game. Twenty-three years old. Twenty. Three.

1. Jordan scores 45 in final game with the Bulls, securing sixth championship, June 14, 1998

Jordan’s final game with the Bulls was iconic. Like so many of these moments, die hards know exactly where they were. The 45 points were majestic, and while he only had one rebound and one assist he affected just about every possession on both ends. But what we’ll remember most is the final 37 seconds. Jordan drove to the basket for layup that cut Utah’s lead to one, then stripped Karl Malone from behind on the next trip down. That gave the ball back to the Bulls with 20 seconds left. Jordan let the clock tick down to around 9 seconds before making his move from the left wing, driving right on Bryon Russell, (maybe pushing off) and pulling up for a jumper at the foul line. The shot was good with 5.2 seconds remaining, and John Stockton’s ensuing 3-pointer was off the mark. It gave Jordan and the Bulls their sixth NBA title, and marked the perfect ending to his Bulls career: getting it done on both ends, in the clutch, and finishing with a victory. Because it encapsulated so much of his 14-year career in Chicago, it’s our top Michael Jordan moment.