Bulls

Cubs expecting Castro and Jackson to snap out of it

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Cubs expecting Castro and Jackson to snap out of it

SAN DIEGO Theo Epstein says the Cubs dont want cookie-cutter hitters. But Starlin Castro and Brett Jackson will be hearing voices as they try to get to the next level. If they dont, then this rebuild could take even longer than expected.

Those Boston Red Sox teams were known for grinding out at-bats and playing games that could easily last four hours on national television. Dale Sveum has very specific ideas about hitting and coached up Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun with the Milwaukee Brewers.

This isnt completely rewiring Castro, who at the age of 21 played in the All-Star Game and led the National League in hits with 207 last season. And its still way too early to rush to judgment on Jackson, who has eight strikeouts in his first 11 at-bats in the big leagues.

But how they finish this season will have to color how the Cubs think about 2013.

As much as Castro smiles in the clubhouse and shrugs off bad games, it definitely bothered him between the lines. Hes been known to throw bats and slam helmets in frustration. He finally snapped an 0-for-21 streak with a single in Wednesdays 2-0 loss to the San Diego Padres.

But the Cubs manager wont be surprised by these droughts until adjustments are made. That could be a project for this winter.

Its just making him understand he doesnt need all this extra movement, Sveum said. (Its taking) all the guesswork out of the timing involved with the leg lift and about three different hand movements he does by the time the guys getting ready to let go of the ball. (Otherwise) the timing factors just not going to be right on a consistent basis.

Castros average has dipped to .273, after never falling below .299 last season. He turned it on as a rookie in 2010 to finish right at .300. Sveum is looking for more.

Even though he was hitting .300 at the beginning of the year, it was a lot of off-the-end-of-the-bat, seeing-eye base hits, Sveum said. What Im talking about is a guy thats so gifted he should be able to hit the ball harder on a consistent basis. Were all trying to get (to) the higher level. (Its) not to be always satisfied with chasing hits.

The Cubs fired hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo in June and promoted James Rowson, a minor-league coordinator they felt would be a fresh voice to deliver their message.

This kind of thing never happened for me, and I dont feel too good about that, Castro said. Im working with (Rowson) every day, doing my routine every day. Its nothing different. Ive seen the video last year and this year its nothing different. It just happens in the game.

Part of the logic in promoting Jackson last weekend was that he would be able to work directly with Sveum and Rowson after striking out 158 times in 407 at-bats at Triple-A Iowa.

Jackson sat on Wednesday against Padres lefty Clayton Richard, but is in line to face four right-handers in the upcoming four-game series against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field. The night before, Sveum saw Jackson go through four different hand positions and three different setups and finish 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a walk.

This was part of the reason why we called him up, to see firsthand and get a good grip on whats going on, Sveum said. Its not like hes swinging through anything (when) the balls in the strike zone. Right now, hes just swinging out of the strike zone.

The Cubs arent worried about Jacksons state of mind or how he will handle failure in the spotlight.

Hes a confident kid that knows theres just something a little wrong (and it) needs to change to move forward, Sveum said. This is big-league pitching. Theyre not going to give in. (But hes) willing to make adjustments to succeed here.

This is what Jackson wanted from the moment he signed out of Cal-Berkeley as a first-round pick in 2009. Hes prepared to ride out all the ups and downs.

Thats how well you can adapt, how professional you can be, Jackson said. Thats something Im going to put together.

Zach LaVine's conditioning at '70 percent' but still on schedule

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USA TODAY

Zach LaVine's conditioning at '70 percent' but still on schedule

Everybody saw the play, that awkward instance where Zach LaVine looked ready for his second dunk of the season but was fouled from behind by Atlanta’s Taurean Prince.

It looked as if LaVine was ready for liftoff but one of his jets misfired, sparking at least the thought of his recovery from his ACL injury being a bit off—but he laughed at the thought.

“I don’t know why everybody keeps talking about it,” LaVine said Sunday at New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center, where the Bulls held practice. “The dude stepped on the back of my foot, so I couldn’t get off the ground. Everybody’s wondering if I’m okay, yeah. I just missed a fouled layup.”

The adrenaline from his first two games have worn off a bit, and he missed his first four shots from the field Saturday before hitting a couple in the start of the third quarter in the Bulls’ 113-97 win over the Hawks.

He looked winded a few times during his stint and admitted his conditioning isn’t where it should be—as expected given he’s missed 11 months of real basketball. He said his conditioning is at about “70 percent”, and you can certainly see it in his jump shot not being as fluid as it was last season in Minnesota.

“It was feeling good in practice but in games it’s seventy,” LaVine said. “Playing defense, getting back, running the break, just getting used to it.”

Add to it, the Bulls cover the most halfcourt ground of any team in the NBA with their set offense and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has long said he’s not slowing down his offense while LaVine is in.

The shooting guard will have to catch up to the pace, and it’ll probably be better for him in the long run.

“I think it’s just ‘okay’ and rightfully so,” said Hoiberg about LaVine’s conditioning. “It’s impossible to simulate game action in practices when you’re doing individual workouts. Every time he plays that conditioning will ramp up. As he plays, it’ll get better and better. And he’s such a good and natural athlete, it’ll come back quickly.”

Hoiberg isn’t concerned about the variances in LaVine’s performances. He came out the gate with such force and adrenaline in his debut against Detroit and two days later against Miami, but it’s tailed off against Golden State and then Atlanta.

“I think Zach’s doing great,” Hoiberg said. “You look around the league where players have come back from significant injuries, he’s gonna be up and down. His first two games he’s been unbelievable. A couple games he hasn’t shot the ball great. He played unselfish basketball last night.”

LaVine’s minutes has been extended to 24 from 20, and he’ll still practice in the off-days as the Bulls want to keep his rehab on schedule as opposed to having him play heavy minutes initially.

He’ll be re-evaluated after Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia and could see his minutes rise before the Bulls host the Lakers Friday at the United Center.

“I should just get used to it,” LaVine said. “Just getting used to the swing of things. It takes a second for your body to get adjusted to it.”

Three Things to Watch: Bulls visit Pelicans

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls visit Pelicans

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Bulls take on the New Orleans Pelicans tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Pregame Live.

1. Anthony Davis

The five-time All-Star just continues to improve. While he's not averaging career-highs in any major category, no one's going to scoff at his 26.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 2.1 blocks in 36 minutes per game. He's shooting nearly 56 percent from the field and is on pace for a career-best in 3-pointers made, which is a pretty impressive statistic. Lauri Markkanen will have his hands full, and it may be in the Bulls' best interest to get Nikola Mirotic some early minutes to try and get physical with Davis. There's no real way to slow him down.

2. DeMarcus Cousins

And if the Bulls should so happen to get lucky and slow down Davis, there's another All-Star starter waiting alongside him. Boogie Cousins has been every bit as good as Davis this season, averaging 25.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists in 36 minutes. He's certainly not as efficient as Davis (47 percent from the field, 5.0 turnovers) but is deadly inside. He's shooting a career-best 52.8 percent on 2-pointers this season, and his 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks make him a serviceable defender (although the Bulls could certainly stretch their offense to make him work more).

3. Rajon Rondo

Rondo hasn't been great in his first season with the Pellies, but perhaps he's turning things around. Beginning with his absurd 25-assist game just after Christmas, Rondo is averaging 7.4 points, 8.2 assists and 1.0 steal per game. He's allowed Jrue Holiday to play more off the ball, and while his defense is nothing to write home about he's logging solid minutes for a Pelicans team woefully short in the backcourt.