Cubs

Rose tries to outscore Westbrook, Thunder on CSN

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Rose tries to outscore Westbrook, Thunder on CSN

Monday, Dec. 6, 2010
Updated 1:38 p.m.
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Player A averages 25.7 points per game. Player B scores 24.1. Player B dishes out 8.7 assists per game. Player A averages 8.1. Both players are point guards, drafted in 2007--Player A with the No.1 overall pick, Player B fourth--with concerns about their respective outside shooting abilities dogging them, despite optimism about how their explosiveness would translate to the NBA.

The two players--Bulls (10-8) All-Star Derrick Rose and Oklahoma City Thunder (14-7) point guard Russell Westbrook, if it's not obvious by now--used their shared summer stint with USA Basketball as a springboard for what many observers regarded as MVP-candidate level beginnings to this young season. A pair linked by their athletic gifts and a friendship initially forged by summer workouts together and having the same agent, Arn Tellem, Rose and Westbrook have emerged as not just two of the better young and up-and-coming players in the league, but two of the best players in the league, period.

Rose might be slightly ahead of schedule for his coronation as one the NBA's elite talents, but his path has been in the offing since he was a sophomore at Simeon Career Academy. Westbrook, on the other hand, took a far different route.

At under 6 feet tall before his junior year of high school, the Los Angeles native, wasn't even a household name in his own city during his prep days. But a growth spurt and a strong final campaign--the season in which he first started dunking, which is hard to imagine now, as Westbrook is one of the league's best leapers--led to his recruitment by colleges on the mid-major level until hometown UCLA took an interest in him that spring.

Playing with fellow future pros like Minnesota's Kevin Love and Indiana's Darren Collison, the obscure recruit saw scant playing time as a freshman. As a sophomore, he became the team's starting shooting guard (playing alongside Collison, a true point guard) and carved out a niche for himself as a defensive stopper and one of college basketball's best dunkers en route to leading the Bruins to a Final Four appearance.

Still, despite winning the Pac-10's defensive player of the year award, Westbrook's modest scoring numbers and lack of experience playing point guard--although an sophomore-year impressive trial run when Collison was sidelined to begin the season opened some NBA scout's eyes--many observers were shocked when the Thunder drafted him so high in 2007, even taking into consideration his off-the-charts figures in pre-draft combine athletic tests. As an NBA rookie, Westbrook was thrown into the fire as Oklahoma City's starting point guard, and although his turnovers and perimeter shooting weren't optimal, his defensive mindset, exciting game and long-term potential more than justified his selection.

Last season, Westbrook's game blossomed further, as he helped lead the Thunder into the playoffs, where they put a six-game scare into the eventual champion Lakers in the first round, coming one rebound away from forcing the series to a seventh game. Then, he beat the odds to make the FIBA World Championships gold-medal winning USA Basketball squad, serving as a defensive stopper, slasher and energy player, a vital role that recalled his off-the-ball UCLA days.

Now, Westbrook has taken his game to a new level. Superstar Kevin Durant is still the team's go-to scorer, but Westbrook has established himself as a more than adequate second option, often carrying the team as Durant has suffered through nagging injuries and increased defensive attention that has resulted in lower than expected shooting numbers to start the season. Westbrook still has occasional issues with turnovers (averaging four per contest) and isn't a proficient shooter (43.9 percent from the field, 25 percent from beyond the arc), but his relentlessly attacking style has earned him individual billing alongside Durant, instead of just being a member of the supporting cast.

In this era of great young point guards--veterans Chris Paul and Deron Williams are considered the cream of the crop, but Westbrook, Rose and Boston's Rajon Rondo (Wizards rookie John Wall might soon join the club) are either right on their heels or advancing past them, depending on who one asks--Westbrook is an interesting case. Unlike Rose, Paul or Williams, he's not his team's superstar or leading scorer, while Rondo's situation is different because not only is his scoring not the focal point of his game, but he plays with three Hall of Famers.

What differentiates Westbrook, however, is his defensive ability and rebounding. Rondo is considered an elite defender for his position and is an uncanny rebounder (Westbrook averages 5.6 boards a night himself, a gaudy total for a point guard), but Westbrook's size poses a different dilemma for opposing point guards; their styles are also completely different, as the unique Rondo is more of a savvy floor general, who picks apart defenses based on his highly-acclaimed personnel. The player Westbrook is most compared with, Rose, has obviously widened the gap between the pair as a shooter (the Chicago native is shooting 35.7 percent from 3-point territory and 46.2 percent overall), but playing next to Durant, outside marksmanship isn't as key for the Thunder point guard as it is for Rose, who is his team's top scoring threat.

Nevertheless, Oklahoma City will put up with his sometimes-woeful shot selection and less-frequent out-of-control forays into multiple defenders because Westbrook has proven to be a special talent, rewarding the foresight the organization had in drafting him and the hard work of head coach Scott Brooks and top assistant Maurice Cheeks (both former NBA point guards, not to mention current Bulls assistant Ron Adams) in helping to develop his game. The benefits hoped to be reaped by their patience include advancing past the first round of the playoffs next spring, the first of many All-Star appearances by Westbrook in his hometown come February and a rock-solid foothold as one the West's--if not the league's--upper-echelon teams.

Chicago has similar goals, and Monday night's rematch of both teams' season opener (a 106-95 Thunder win in Oklahoma City, in which Westbrook recorded 28 points, 10 rebounds and six assists to Rose's 28 points, four boards and six assists) will be an important gauge for the team, as they look to build on Carlos Boozer's Windy City coming-out party in Saturday's exciting overtime win over Houston. But while the Bulls will likely marvel at Westbrook's similar explosiveness to Rose at the United Center--as well as the visitor's superior defense and rebounding ability--a Player A for Player B exchange, while somewhat even on paper (in theory, not an actual trade possibility), would never even cross the minds of the organization's braintrust.

Drafted a only few slots behind Rose, backing him up for USA Basketball, hopeful of equaling him as an All-Star (no small feat in the Western Conference, with Williams, Paul and an aging Steve Nash all near-locks to make the team, while Rose is most likely competing with Rondo for a starting spot in the annual classic), Westbrook still has a long way to go before he can touch Rose as his team's driving force--which might be impossible with the presence of Durant--and an orchestrator of his team's offense. There's nothing wrong with playing second fiddle, as Chicagoans well know from watching Scottie Pippen's career, but Rose has a chance to enter a rare stratosphere of players.

MVP candidate numbers and a realistic chance to be named MVP--Rose's much scoffed-at (not in Chicago, but elsewhere around the league) media day goal--are two different things and Rose, if he continues to perform at the same level and the Bulls follow his path to a top three or four seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, has the opportunity to at least be in the conversation for the coveted hardware. From an Oklahoma City viewpoint, it can be debated that Westbrook could do the same thing, if not more, if put in the same position as Rose, which would surely be countered from Chicago by saying Rose would be thisclose to winning a championship if paired with the brilliance of Durant, as his true playmaking ability would better complement the reigning scoring champ more than Westbrook's shoot-first mentality.

But that is, to paraphrase an often-uttered Rose quote, "the beauty of the NBA." Instead of wondering what if, the summer workout partners will simply go head to head at the United Center in the second and final matchup of the season, as Rose will try to even the score in the win-loss column, while Westbrook will look to maintain bragging rights.

Maybe, one day in the future, they'll be able to play more than twice a year to provide a bigger sample size for all to judge--on a bigger stage, like the NBA Finals. For now, this will do.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

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USA TODAY

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

Families gather and people talk about things they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, but what are Chicago sports fans happy for now?

Raised expectations on the North Side

Got to be thankful that a “disappointing” season is winning the division and losing in the NLCS. The expectations have skyrocketed, and that’s thanks to a ridiculous nucleus of bats and a steady front office. Not many clubs can say that. Also, though, it’s important to be appreciative of the Wrigley bar stretch. They may charge $8 for a Miller Lite, but it’s always a damn good party.

Javy tags, too. Don't forget Javy tags.

Rebuild sparking hope in White Sox fans

Where to begin? Obviously, be thankful for the plethora of young talent that will soon take over the South Side. Be thankful for Avi Time (while you still can). Be thankful that taking your friends or family to a game won’t cause you to take out a second mortgage. Be thankful for the 2020 World Series and, of course, 2020 MVP Eloy Jimenez. But most importantly, be thankful that Rick Hahn’s phone stays buzzing.

Eddie O back in the booth for the Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are having a rough start to the season, but at least Eddie Olczyk is back in the booth. The longtime Blackhawks broadcaster returned to the booth on Oct. 18 after missing time while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer.

With some of the key names from the Blackhawks’ title runs either leaving or being unable to play this season (in the case of Marian Hossa), Blackhawks fans are probably thankful to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice during games.

Lauri Markkanen leading the Bulls rebuild

OK, there’s not much to be thankful for about the current Bulls team. At 3-13, the Bulls are tied for the fewest wins in the NBA (maybe in the long-term that’s something to be thankful for as well). However, Zach LaVine’s pending debut after his eventual return from injury should help create some excitement.

The thing Bulls fans really should be thankful for this year is the play of rookie Lauri Markkanen. The 20-year-old leads the team in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounds (8.3 per game) while shooting at a high percentage (34.2 percent on threes and 50.6 percent on twos). It’s only the beginning of the Bulls’ rebuild, but Markkanen is a good start.

Mitchapalooza

If a few things broke the Bears’ way, Chicagoans could have been grateful that the team was finally out of the cellar. Instead, we’ll settle for the fact that there seems to be some building blocks already in place. Mitchell Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks seem to fit that category. Also, some may be thankful that this is likely John Fox’s last season at the helm.

Fire ending a playoff drought

After finishing dead last in MLS in 2015 and 2016, the Fire were one of the most improved teams in the league in 2017. After posting the third best record in the league, the Fire made a first playoff appearance since 2012.

The playoff run didn’t last long with the Fire losing a play-in game at home, but the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the league’s leading goal-scorer, Nemanja Nikolic, helped fill the stadium with six sellouts and gave Fire fans something to cheer for.

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

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USA TODAY

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

The Bears placed Leonard Floyd on injured reserve Thursday morning, ending the second-year outside linebacker’s season following a knee injury suffered Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Floyd suffered an MCL and PCL injury and will have surgery in the next week, coach John Fox said, and the Bears do not have a timetable for his recovery yet. But that Floyd didn't suffer damage to his ACL is potentially good news for Floyd's recovery timetable. 

Still, with Floyd on injured reserve and out for the season, the Bears’ current outside linebacker depth chart consists of two veterans (Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho) and two practice squad signees (Isaiah Irving and Howard Jones). These final six games of the 2017 season could serve as auditions for all four players for roles on the 2018 Bears. 

If every team needs at least three good pass rushers, the Bears can count on Akiem Hicks and Floyd for 2018, provided Floyd comes back healthy. But who’s the third?

The Bears could save about $7.5 million in cap space if they release McPhee in 2018; if they were to cut ties with Willie Young, who’s on injured reserve right now as well, it would provide $4.5 million in cap relief. McPhee will be 29 in December, while Young will turn 33 next September. 

The Bears won’t necessarily need the cap relief next year, and could certainly decide to keep both players, who’ve shown they’re still productive when healthy. But even if both players are back, the Bears may need to add another outside linebacker via free agency of the draft — remember, the team could’ve began the season with Floyd, Young, McPhee, Acho and Lamarr Houston as their outside linebackers; an injury Houston suffered in the fourth preseason game ended his time in Chicago. 

Needs at wide receiver and cornerback are pressing, but outside linebacker may need to be in that same conversation. If the Bears have a top-10 pick for the fourth consecutive year, plus some cap space, they perhaps could have the ability to address all three needs in March and April. 

That may be looking a little too far into the future, though. The best-case for the Bears is McPhee finishes the season strong and Irving and/or Jones shows something in the opportunities they receive in these final six games (Jones, for what it’s worth, had five sacks as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015). But the worst-case — and perhaps the most realistic — is that the Bears go into the offseason needing to fill at least one pass-rushing spot.