Cubs

Is this the year for Whitney Young?

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Is this the year for Whitney Young?

Tyrone Slaughter talked for 30 minutes. The Whitney Young basketball coach talked about his team, his expectations for the 2012-13 season, what he insists is the toughest schedule his Dolphins have ever confronted, the continued development of 6-foot-11 Jahlil Okafor and 6-foot-9 Paul White, the arrival of highly touted transfer L.J. Peak from South Carolina, rising 6-foot-4 sophomore Joseph Toye and other things.

But he never mentioned Tommy Hamilton. Not once.

Hamilton, a 6-foot-9 senior who once was projected to be every bit as good as Okafor and Simeon's Jabari Parker, has moved to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The son of former King star Thomas Hamilton, he has offers from Illinois, Michigan State, North Carolina State and Northwestern.

An underachiever in his three years at Whitney Young, Hamilton hopes to reach his potential in a new environment. He is being coached by Loren Jackson, who once coached at Julian and Boys To Men Academy in Chicago.

But it is apparent that Whitney Young can do without him.

"This team is better than last year. That is not debatable. This team can do things that last year's team couldn't do," said Slaughter, in his ninth year at the Near West Side school.

"With three starters back, this team is talented an experienced, as good as any team we have had. We may not have the sheer numbers of the 2009 state championship team but we feel very good about the quality of this team, one through seven."

Last year's team finished 17-10, losing to state champion Simeon in the sectional semifinal. "We knew going in with the schedule we had that it would be competitive and challenging. We hoped we would do better at the end of the year," Slaughter said.

"But we played great competition. The teams we lost to won state titles and were ranked nationally. And we started three sophomores. It was a successful season when you look at it in the big picture. The benefits of a competitive schedule will pay tremendous dividends this year."

Slaughter said his team will face an even tougher schedule this season. The Dolphins will open against perennial national power DeMatha of Hyattsville, Maryland, on Dec. 1 at Illinois-Chicago's Pavilion.

Later, Whitney Young will play Chester, a Philadelphia team that has won 56 games in a row, in Boston. They will play Melrose Heights in Memphis, Tennessee. They also have dates at the City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers, Florida, and the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, Virginia.

Not to forget a grudge match against Simeon on Jan. 26 at Loyola's Gentile Center and a game against Benet Academy in the CitySuburban Hoops event. And, of course, traditional rivals Marshall, Crane, Farragut and Orr in the Public League's Red-West Division.

"It is designed to get us ready for the state tournament," Slaughter said. "When you believe positively about yourself, it allows you to do more things. Last year, we looked at the schedule and said we improved and got more mature. This year, the schedule is more challenging."

To deal with all of that, Slaughter is looking for Okafor, who is ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the class of 2014 nationally depending upon which recruiting survey you choose to believe, to be his team leader on and off the court. He also is looking for him to be a dominant force on offense and defense, particularly on defense.

"Last year, he averaged 22 points and 12 rebounds per game. I'm not looking for more than that this year. No one can match up to him. But I'm looking for him to be a defensive dominator who makes us better defensively," Slaughter said.

In the meantime, Okafor's recruiting is ongoing. There is no timetable. He has more than 20 offers, including Kentucky, Michigan State, Duke, Illinois, DePaul, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio State, North Carolina State, Louisville, Connecticut, Georgetown, Arizona and Missouri.

Slaughter also expects more of White this season, more than the 11 points and five rebounds per game that he produced a year ago.

"I want to see him become more aggressive on offense. He has great skills. But he must be more aggressive," Slaughter said. "I want 17 points per game and double-digit rebounds. I try to encourage him that it isn't about Okafor but about us winning and he has to produce at a level that he is capable of doing. There is more that he can do and he has got that memo."

Other starters are 6-foot-5 junior point guard Miles Reynolds, Peak and 5-foot-8 senior guard Ausar Madison, a transfer from California. The first four players off the bench will be 6-foot-4 senior Robbie Brettner, Toye, 6-foot-2 junior Erwin Henry and 6-foot-1 freshman Rodney Herenton.

Slaughter looks for more consistency from Reynolds, about 10 points and seven assists per game. "I want him to become a good defender and our floor leader," the coach said.

Peak, a 6-foot-5 junior who is ranked among the top 50 players in his class nationally, figures to average 18-19 points per game. He has offers from Clemson, Florida State, Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Georgia and North Carolina State. He figures to attract interest from Midwestern schools.

"How does he fit in? He is a very good player. He understands the game. He is a well above average defender. And he is a great scorer. We have to get him comfortable with our guys and us with him. I know he can put points on the board. And he also is an outstanding offensive rebounder," Slaughter said.

But is there too much talent on the roster? Will one basketball in the game keep everybody happy? Will the emergence of Toye, who is extremely athletic and skilled, force Slaughter to rethink his lineup?

"The challenge is to put them together, keeping the main theme the main theme, working hard, staying committed to a common cause, being the best team we can be," Slaughter said.

"They enjoy playing together. The common goal is to win and move on to play at the next level. What can they do in the next two years? Could they be one of the best teams ever? They must put it all together."

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

In the latest edition of HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan makes his picks for the weekend.

Kap made his picks with the help of Eddie Olczyk this week.