Bears

LeBron James is the MVP ... right?

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LeBron James is the MVP ... right?

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- Whenever LeBron James gets asked about the NBA MVP award, he seems to answer carefully, as if to avoid any suggestion that he's campaigning for his third trophy. In fairness, James doesn't have to do much lobbying. Everyone else in the Miami Heat locker room takes care of that. And they say the James-for-MVP movement should be going strong. Not only did the Heat win a marquee game on Wednesday night -- they beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 98-93 -- but James won a head-to-head matchup against the player who is generally considered to be his top competition in the MVP race. He finished with 34 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, while Kevin Durant had his 30-point night also marked by a career-worst nine turnovers. "Every night I go out on the court, I try to play like the MVP for our team," James told the reporters surrounding his locker after the game. "I've always said that. ... It doesn't matter to me. For us, we got better tonight as a team. And I was the MVP for our team and just trying to lead those guys, lead us to a victory. That's what it's all about." James might have been considered a lock for the MVP award a month ago, when he and the Heat were both rolling along. But just about everything after the All-Star break has been a grind for Miami, which gets Thursday off -- James said he would be looking for the city's best massage -- and plays host to Memphis on Friday. Scoring is down by nearly nine points a game. The Heat aren't shooting as well, teams are shooting a better percentage against them, and that's all happened while James has dealt with injury woes like a dislocated left ring finger, an achy elbow and the aftereffects of banging his head on the court in a hard fall against Phoenix last month. On Wednesday, James twisted his ankle falling over a videographer, winced and grabbed his back after some inadvertent contact with a referee, took what he thought was excessive contact twice while attempting dunks -- getting pulled down by Russell Westbrook from behind on one of those, a play James later described as "scary" and "dangerous" -- and gritted his teeth after his finger started bothering him again down the stretch. And even shooting 37 percent, Miami still won. "I think he's the best two-way player in this league," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He does it in a night-in, night-out basis and he does it in a way where most teams would not ask a player to shoulder that type of responsibility. But the fact remains: He must play at an MVP level at both ends of the court for us. We've talked about him playing like a defensive player of the year, to defend all five positions, while at the same time playing four positions offensively." James' two biggest plays against the Thunder may be ones that don't show up in the box score. Oklahoma City had two possessions in the final 4 minutes where it had shots for a one-point lead. James snuffed out both. He ran Westbrook down and blocked a layup with 3:49 left -- ironically, it was at the same spot on the court where Westbrook grabbed him around the left shoulder and right side of his waist and sent him sprawling to the floor two quarters earlier -- to preserve a 92-91 Heat edge. Then with 1:30 remaining, the score then 94-93, Durant backed James down on the low post and tried a turnaround. James contested it well, so well that not only did Durant miss, but his shot bounced off the top of the backboard. Oklahoma City didn't score again, and James and the Heat were soon enjoying their payback win. On March 25, James was held to 17 and the Heat lost at Oklahoma City 103-87. "A great player," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of James after Wednesday's game. "You're not going to hold down a great player often. He missed some shots the first time we played them and we made him take some tough ones. He was feeling good. His jump shot was falling and he was getting some buckets in transition." It's not a stretch to say that James wants his third MVP in four seasons, and in what probably is no surprise either, Durant acknowledged before the game that he would like to win the award. Durant thinks it's too early to have the conversation -- and when it is time, he indicated he'd be like James, saying he'd rather not tout his own merits. "I can't worry about that," Durant said when asked about his own MVP candidacy. "If you worry about that type of stuff, that's when you take your focus off the game, start doing stuff that you don't want to do on the floor. I can't worry about that. It's not in my control. All I can control is how hard I work, how hard I play, and whatever else falls in line after that, we'll see." The Heat say they saw plenty on Wednesday. "Two MVP candidates, you have to want that matchup," Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. "LeBron accepted the challenge and that's what we expect him to do as our leader and our MVP candidate. You have to step up to the plate and that's what he did."

Stankevitz: Why the Bears should draft Quenton Nelson with the 8th overall pick

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USA Today Sports Images

Stankevitz: Why the Bears should draft Quenton Nelson with the 8th overall pick

The majority of the decisions made by Ryan Pace since New Year’s Day have been centered around Mitch Trubisky. 

He hired a young, offensive-minded, quarterback-driven coach in Matt Nagy — who hired Mark Helfrich and retained Dave Ragone — to pair with Trubisky. He guaranteed $66.2 million to Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton in March to dramatically improve the weapons at his young quarterback’s disposal. He guaranteed $5 million to Chase Daniel, who’s only thrown three regular season passes since the end of the 2014 season, to give Trubisky a backup who knows the nuances and language of Nagy’s offense.

So why would the Bears deviate from that approach in the NFL Draft, specifically with their first-round pick?

That’s why the Bears should draft Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson with the eighth overall pick on Thursday night. 

Nelson is regarded as one of the best offensive line prospects in recent memory, and those who were around him at Notre Dame see him as a Pro Bowler from Day 1. He’s an aggressive mauler in the run game who doesn’t play out of control, and has a highlight reel of pummeling opposing defenders to prove it. He’ll immediately help the Bears effectively run the ball, especially on the inside zone plays that are a staple of Nagy’s offense. He’s a sturdy, consistent pass blocker who will keep opposing defenders out of Trubisky’s face, allowing him to step up in the pocket and connect with all those shiny targets added by Pace in March. 

The “problem” with Nelson is that he’s a guard, a position traditionally not valued as worth such a high draft pick. But the league is changing: Three of the 15 contracts with the most guaranteed money handed out in free agency this year went to interior offensive linemen (Andrew Norwell, Weston Richburg and Ryan Jensen). Yes, left tackle Nate Solder got more than those guys, but the point here is that quality offensive line play is not easy to find. 

Plus, as Nelson eloquently argued at the NFL Combine, having strong interior line play is more important in today’s defensive landscape than ever before. 

“You have guys that are dominating the NFL right now in Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins and Fletcher Cox that have just been working on interior guys and you need guys to stop them, and I think I’m one of those guys,” Nelson said. “You talk to quarterbacks, and they say if a D-end gets on the edge, that’s fine, they can step up in the pocket and they can throw, a lot of quarterbacks if given the opportunity can do that. 

“That’s what I give is a pocket to step up in, and I think I also help the offense establish the run through my nastiness and establishing the run also opens up the
passing game, so I think it’s a good choice.”

And we haven’t even got to the Bears hiring Nelson’s college position coach, Harry Hiestand, to coach their offensive line. Hiestand recruited Nelson to Notre Dame and developed him into an elite player over their four years together in South Bend. If there’s anyone that can make Nelson an even better player in four years than he is today, it’s Hiestand. 

“He’s known me since I was an immature freshman that wasn’t good at football, until now being a lot more mature and responsible and doing the right thing and a good football player,” Nelson said at Notre Dame’s Pro Day last month. “He knows everything about me. … He’s always pushed me to be the best at everything I’ve done and I couldn’t be any more thankful and grateful for him.”

Do the Bears need to address their red-line need for a pass rusher? Of course. Does Vic Fangio’s defense need more playmakers? Absolutely. Those needs will have to be a focus of this week’s draft. Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds or Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick or Georgia’s Roquan Smith would all be fine picks. 

But if Pace is sticking to his strategy of building around Trubisky and drafting the best player available, there’s only one player that makes sense. And that’s the bruising, powerful guard who played his college ball two hours away in South Bend. 

“As a blocker my mindset is being dominant,” Nelson said. “I want to dominate all my opponents and take their will away to play the game by each play and finishing them past the whistle.”

John "Moon" Mullin's counterpoint: Why the Bears should draft Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds

  
 

Moon: Why the Bears should draft Tremaine Edmunds with the 8th overall pick

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USA Today Sports Images

Moon: Why the Bears should draft Tremaine Edmunds with the 8th overall pick

The late and legendary New York Giants GM George Young once described the first 15 picks of the NFL draft as the “dance of the elephants,” a reference to the premium the game placed on size, particularly when all other factors were somewhere close to equal.
 
For that reason, given the choice between linebackers Tremaine Edmunds from Virginia Tech and Georgia’s Roquan Smith, the Bears will hand in the name of Edmunds (6-5, 253 pounds) rather than that of Smith (6-1, 238).
 
It is far from the only reason and not the biggest (pun intended).
 
For purposes of perspective, the Bears are more than capable of selecting neither Edmunds nor Smith. GM Ryan Pace said that the Bears had identified eight players for their “cloud” of candidates worthy of the No. 8-overall pick in the 2018 draft. None of those eight are quarterbacks, Pace said.
 
Not that Pace would lay down smoke or engage in misinformation or misdirection, of course; but one interpretation of that “eight” declaration would be that Pace is advertising that he has operators standing by to take trade calls from teams below the Bears who were just told that the Bears have enough attractive options that they would be happy to trade down, secure in the knowledge that one or more of their eight will be there as late as No. 12 or even further.
 
Edmunds and Smith are among the top eight non-quarterbacks in a wide sampling of rankings by draft experts. Best guess here is that both linebackers are in Pace’s cloud.
 
Grades/rankings are the primary component of “best player available” evaluations. If Pace was being straight about having eight for No. 8, then rankings and grades are within an acceptable range.
 
What tips the decision toward Edmunds and Smith over the others in the eight is need.
 
The Bears need to protect Mitch Trubisky (Quenton Nelson). They need more takeaways (DB’s Minkah Fitzpatrick, Denzel Ward). But the dire need, after exits of Lamarr Houston, Pernell McPhee and Willie Young and even after signing ex-49er Aaron Lynch, is for pass rushers and those are too rare to pass on when the chance is there.
 
North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb isn’t expected to last until No. 8, so View from the Moon has moved to the others in Pace’s eight with that skill set. Edmunds has length and size for 3-4 OLB or possible ILB when Bears go nickel. The decision between Edmunds, with length and size and 10 sacks over last two years, and Smith, with better ’17 production (6.5 sacks, 14 TFL), is difficult because both could develop into elite players.
 
But Edmunds “might have the highest ceiling of any defender in this draft,” according to USA Today draft analyst Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz. Smith is more polished than Edmunds, but Pace is about upside, and for that final reason, “With the eighth pick of the 2018 NFL draft, the Chicago Bears select…
 
"Tremaine Edmunds, linebacker, Virginia Tech.”

JJ Stankevitz's counterpoint: Why the Bears should draft Notre Dame offensive lineman Quenton Nelson