Cubs

Rondo's scoring helps keep assist streak alive

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Rondo's scoring helps keep assist streak alive

Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is in the midst of a historic assist streak that has put him in the same category as Magic Johnson and John Stockton. But Monday night at the United Center, it was Rondos early scoring that broke down the Bulls defense, and his passing late that sealed the victory.

Rondo tied a season-high with 20 points and handed out 10 assists -- the 31st straight game he has compiled 10 or more assists -- in the Celtics 101-95 win over the Bulls.

The Celtics lone point guard took advantage of a Bulls defense that desperately needed Kirk Hinrich, who missed the game with a strained hip. Rondo dominated his matchup with starter Nate Robinson, adding nine rebounds and five steals while posting a - of 15. In 30 minutes, Robinson was -15 in the same department.

Rondo looked the part of a franchise point guard Monday night, scoring when open, finding open players when needed and coming up with timely defensive stops on the other end.

I think he's starting to really get comfortable with the players on the floor with what he can call, and you can see that coming on as well, head coach Doc Rivers said.

Rondo is off to the best start of his seven-year NBA career, averaging career-highs in points and assists -- albeit in a small sample size -- that began during last years NBA Playoffs.

In the 24 games he handed out 10 or more assists to end 2011-2012, Rondo averaged 9.8 points on 9.5 field goal attempts per game. He scored in double figures in half of those games.

But in 2012-2013 Rondo has been even more aggressive, scoring double figures in all seven games while averaging 15.4 points on 12.7 field goal attempts per game.

He's getting a lot more opportunities now that we don't have Ray Allen out there in the starting lineup, Paul Pierce said. Usually a lot of those shots would go to him, so he's just taking it upon himself to be more aggressive on the offensive end. His shot attempts are up, his scoring average is up and we need that. He's part of the Big Three now, so he's taken the lead and showing why he's the leader of this ball club.

Rondo was part of the act that had the Celtics race out to an early lead and keep it for most of the first three quarters of the game. Rondo scored all 20 of his points by the start of the fourth, including three on jump shots that may have caught the Bulls off guard.

Pierce, who finished with a quiet 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting, said hes happy to see Rondo enjoy offensive successes after putting in time to improve his game in the offseason.

He works hard at his craft, Pierce said. He's developing nicely over the years and I feel like me and Kevin, being around here have been a part of that, seeing his growth as a player.

Rondos growth as a scorer came in handy for the Celtics down the stretch, but it wasnt the point guard doing the scoring.

After a surge by the Bulls to start the fourth quarter, the Celtics lead had been trimmed to four at 93-89 with less than three minutes to play when Rondo drove from the right wing to the left block and, instead of taking a shot, flipped an alley-oop to Kevin Garnett for a dunk.

Inside a minute to go, a Luol Deng layup cut the Celtics lead to two, 95-93, when Rondo and Garnett ran the same play out of a timeout to extend Bostons lead with what would eventually be the game-winner.

Rondo attributed the success of those plays to his offensive game and keeping defenders, specifically center Joakim Noah, honest.

Its just me attacking the hole and trying to draw the big, Rondo said. Noah thought I would shoot it. He contested my shot both times, and I was actually passing it to Kevin and he went up and got it and threw it in.

Rondo just barely got in his 10th assist to keep his record intact, finding Brandon Bass wide open underneath the basket with 23 seconds to play that sealed the game for the Celtics.

Rondo picked the perfect time to have his best game of the season, and as his offensive versatility improves, Pierce believes it will become even harder for opposing defenses to figure out which part of his game to stop.

I consider him the best point guard in the league," Pierce said. "The things he's able to do out there, and when he's scoring the ball out there, you already know what he can do as far as passing and rebounding. He's just unstoppable.

CubsTalk Podcast: How new coaching staff will help ensure Maddon's tactics won't get stale

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USA TODAY

CubsTalk Podcast: How new coaching staff will help ensure Maddon's tactics won't get stale

ESPN’s Jesse Rogers stops by the CubsTalk Podcast to chat with Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki about his new book on Joe Maddon. The trio also debate whether Maddon’s tactics get stale and how the new coaching staff will affect the season.

Plus, who should hit leadoff? Fans are all in on Albert Almora Jr., but that might not be the best option. And whose side do you take in the Willson Contreras-Yadier Molina tiff?

Listen to the entire podcast here:

Who should lead off for Cubs in 2018?

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USA TODAY

Who should lead off for Cubs in 2018?

The Cubs' offseason has been hyperfocused on pitching, pitching and more pitching.

But what about the offense? Specifically: Who's going to hit leadoff for the 2018 Cubs?

That question seems to be one of the hot topics surrounding the team as they strive to make Even Year Magic a Chicago thing and win another World Series in 2018.

Before we get into who SHOULD lead off, I'll tell you who shouldn't: Albert Almora Jr., who is a popular choice among fans to fill in for the ghost of Dexter Fowler atop the order.

That's not a knock on the young outfielder, who seems primed for a breakout in 2018 when he should be playing on a regular basis and seeing a lot more time against right-handed pitching. 

This will only be Almora's second full season in the big leagues and given he was in a platoon for most of last year, he still only has 411 career plate appearances in the majors. 

So he's not much more experienced than Kyle Schwarber was when he was penciled into the leadoff spot for the Cubs to kick off 2017 and we all know how that experiment went. Leading off is a tough position to put players in, especially those that are still growing in their big-league skin.

Plus, Almora simply doesn't see enough pitches. He swings at the first pitch often (more than 11 percent of the time) and saw only 3.45 pitches per plate appearance in 2017. That mark was good for 29th on the Cubs behind eight pitchers (Dylan Floro, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Eddie Butler, Jose Quintana, Jake Arrieta and Hector Rondon), though the pitchers obviously have a small sample size of plate appearances.

Still, that's a shockingly small number for a position player. Almora would've been tied for 143rd out of 145 position players in baseball in pitches per plate appearance if he had enough at-bats to qualify.

But as for who SHOULD lead off, my choice is Ian Happ, though I would like to see Kris Bryant get some run up there and maybe even another Anthony Rizzo stint as "The Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All Time."

Here are my Top 5 suggestions if Joe Maddon were writing out the lineup today:

1. Ian Happ
2. Kris Bryant
3. Ben Zobrist
4. Jason Heyward
5. Anthony Rizzo

Here's more on the reasoning behind that:

Hot Stove - Cubs Leadoff Hitters/2021 White Sox Predictions

Who should be the Opening Day leadoff man for the Cubs? What will the 2021 White Sox lineup and rotation look like? We make our predictions and want to hear yours NOW on Hot Stove Live!

Posted by NBC Sports Chicago on Wednesday, January 17, 2018