Bulls

Blackhawks breakdown: Jonathan Toews

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Blackhawks breakdown: Jonathan Toews

CSNChicago.com Blackhawks Insider Tracey Myers and PGL host Chris Boden will evaluate the 2011-12 performance of each player on the Hawks roster. One breakdown will occur every weekday in numerical order.

Jonathan Toews was in the discussion for the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP until a concussion forced him to miss the final 23 games of the regular season. In 59 games, Toews averaged 20 minutes and 51 seconds per game. When the injury struck, he had 29 goals and 28 assists for 57 points and a plus-17 rating. Five of the goals and seven assists came on the power play. Toews was leading the NHL in faceoff-winning percentage (59.4) when he went down. After a lenghty hiatus, Toews returned for the playoffs where he scored two goals -- including the OT winner in Game 5 -- and had two assists, finishing plus-4 in the six-game series vs. Phoenix.

Boden's take: The captain appeared headed for a career year entering the month of February -- historically his best month since his NHL career began in 2007. Instead, he found himself in the midst of a nine-game losing streak and in the beginning stages of a concussion that would sideline him the final quarter of the season. He came back in time for the Phoenix series, and his goal just four minutes into the opener had a shake-your-head-and-laugh feel that something special might happen for him and the team. While he was still one of the better Hawks in that series, he managed just a goal and two assists the rest of the way. While not coming out and saying he was 100 percent, he was medically cleared, but seemed to be battling some tentativeness over what a big hit might bring.

Myers' take: The Blackhawks captain was compiling a Hart Trophy-worthy season until a concussion sidelined him for the final month and a half of the regular season. And an arm injury kept him out of the All-Star Game, to which he was voted. But when he was healthy, he was great. Yes, Toews struggled as much as anyone during that nine-game winless streak. But theres no doubt what he means to this team with all that he does on the ice and in that locker room. The best part of Toews season was that he could play at the end of it; back from his concussion to start the playoffs, he made an impact immediately in Game 1 against the Phoenix Coyotes. And he wrapped up the postseason feeling no residual affects from that concussion.

2012-13 Expectations

Chris: Simply put, there is no one the Hawks need to remain healthy the entire season more than their best all-around player. The team did well without him, and maybe the record wouldn't have even been as good if he was there down the stretch and the team took his presence for granted. But, I think everyone would take him -- taking every shift, and doing all the big and little things he does -- end-to-end.

Tracey: Toews couldve played for Team Canada in the World Championships, but he stayed out, not wanting to re-aggravate anything now that hes healthy again. And youd have to believe Toews is going to do everything in his power this summer to make sure he comes into next season as healthy as can be. Toews posted career numbers in assists and points in 2010-11. He has every chance of hitting those numbers again with a full 2012-13 season.

How do you feel about this evaluation? As always, be sure to chime in with your thoughts by commenting below and check out the video breakdown of Toews as well as highlights from his five-point game in Anaheim above.
Previously: Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, SteveMontador, Sean O'Donnell, Brent Seabrook, Nick Leddy, Patrick Sharp, Daniel Carcillo, Andrew Brunette, Marcus Kruger, Brendan MorrisonUp next: Sami Lepisto

#MuscleWatch: Lauri Markkanen's new frame will add critical component to his game

#MuscleWatch: Lauri Markkanen's new frame will add critical component to his game

#MuscleWatch has become a staple of NBA Media Days each year. Players from all 30 teams hitting the weight room all summer in preparation for their best year yet while feeling as strong and healthy as they’ve ever been. More times than not it’s fluff. Some of the world’s greatest athletes – many of whom are still maturing in their late teens – adding weight and muscle is expected. Even if that growth is real, 29 other teams’ players have accomplished the same.

That being said, it would have been impossible to see Lauri Markkanen on Monday at the Advocate Center and not believe he’s a changed player.

The second-year Finn spent his summer in his native Finland and also made joined a handful of NBA players in traveling to China for the Yao Ming Foundation Charity Game. When Markkanen wasn’t traveling he was spending hours in the weight room, and it’s easy to see that the results paid off.

A noticeably bigger, more defined Markkanen said he’s up to 240 pounds, 17 pounds heavier than his playing weight as a rookie. The transformation is a product of Markkanen having a more open summer after he spent the lead-up to his rookie season playing for Team Finland in EuroBasket 2017. There wasn’t as much time, Fred Hoiberg admitted, to work on Markkanen’s body as they worked him in slowly once he arrived in Chicago.

“I feel fresh,” Markkanen said. “We’ve been playing here (in Chicago) every day almost so I’ve been going up and down the court, but it’s different. I’ve been able to work on my body and actually be healthy. So I feel good.”

The next part of Markkanen’s transformation will be using it to his advantage on the floor. The 7-footer was impressive in Year 1, overshadowed some by the historic seasons posted by fellow rookies Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum. Markkanen’s overall numbers didn’t jump off the page – 15.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.1 3-pointers, 43.4% from the field – but, taken in context, were solid. He began the year behind both Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis, then found himself in the Opening Night starting lineup after the infamous fight in practice.

And where Markkanen was good and showed off his massive upside, his 20-year-old frame expectedly held him back in other areas.

Per NBA.com, Markkanen used just 11 percent of his offensive possessions in the post. And of those 111 possessions, he scored points on 45 of them. That 40.5% scoring frequency placed him in the 36th percentile league-wide. He shot 41.6 percent in post-up situations – nearly two percentage points lower than his overall number – a less-than-inspiring number considering the high percentage nature of those looks.

That should change with the added weight. Markkanen’s new frame, Hoiberg said, will also give the Bulls more options on offense.

“To be around our guys and to be in the weight room and to put on the size and strength that he did will help him overall all over the floor,” Hoiberg said. “Hopefully the ability to be able to punish a switch more consistently on the block. And his strength, as far as his ball handling and keeping guys on his hip (and) when he’s able to go by a bigger player.”

Where it will make an even more significant impact – as Hoiberg also alluded to – is on the defensive end. Teams went after Markkanen in the post, as a team-high 15 percent of his defensive possessions came in the post. And teams were smart to do it. Markkanen’s post-up defense ranked in the 28th percentile, allowing opponents to shoot 49 percent and score 101 points on 103 possessions, per NBA.com.

“I’m not going to get back down as easily,” Markkanen said.

His strength will add another component to what’s already becoming one of the most unique skill sets in the league. Zach LaVine is the $78 million man, Jabari Parker is essentially in a contract year and Bobby Portis could be in one if he and the Bulls don’t reach an extension agreement by Opening Night. Even Kris Dunn is entering a critical year for his growth (and future earnings).

But if the Bulls are going to take the next step of their rebuild and begin winning games, it’ll be Markkanen leading the charge. Though he admitted there may be nights “I might not be able to get touches as much” because of the new faces and spread out talent, the Bulls are hoping he’ll take on more on an Alpha role and become a leader. Markkanen himself admitted he’s always been a leader by example but needs to accomplish more vocally in his second season.

It’s a lot to ask for from a 21-year-old, but such is life in the NBA. His teammates see it in him, and they’re confident the 240-pound version will be the best one yet.

“He had such a good rookie year with the opportunity that he had,” LaVine said. “And the sky’s the limit for him. He’s one of those players that can do a lot of big things. Lauri’s off the charts.”

Cole Hamels explains how Cubs can survive an intense final week

Cole Hamels explains how Cubs can survive an intense final week

Cole Hamels has been here before.

A major reason why the Cubs acquired the veteran left-handed pitcher before the trade deadline was his vast postseason experience (98.1 innings) and a knowledge of what it takes to make it to — and succeed in — October.

Nobody expected him to pitch to a 1.00 ERA in his first seven starts in a Cubs uniform, so this regression that's come over his last few outings isn't anything to panic about.

Hamels lost his second straight start Monday night against the Pirates, serving up a two-out, two-run homer to Francisco Cervelli in the first inning, staking his club to a deficit they could not overcome in a 5-1 loss that left them just 1.5 games up on the Brewers in the division.

"Shoot, givin' up home runs sucks," Hamels said. "I can't shy away from it — I do give 'em up. I have given 'em up in my career. I try to minimize the damage to mostly solos.

"But at the same time, when you give them up in the first inning when you're at home, it definitely doesn't set the momentum and it creates that sort of extra game that you have to play because now you're trying to come from behind. They've obviously already done some damage and you've gotta play with that in your head of what could come throughout a game."

Really, that wasn't even the story of Monday's game.

It was the lack of offense, as Hamels provided the only run off Jameson Taillon — a 437-foot homer in the third inning he hit with a 105 mph exit velocity.

The Cubs' roller coaster offense has been a major talking point the last couple weeks of the season and figures to be the Achilles' heel of this team in October...whether that's in the NL wild-card game or in the NLDS.

In fairness to the Cubs, Taillon has been carving up every lineup he faces lately as he enters the conversation as one of the true "aces" in the game today. 

"Sometimes, you just run into the wrong guy," Joe Maddon said. "... They have a nice rotation that has given us a hard time. We have to somehow overcome that. They are good, but we gotta do better.

"The at-bats early were really well done and then Taillon just started getting command of his curveball, also. He was dropping that in when he was behind in the count for strikes.

"...Early on, I thought we had a pretty good shot, but then he just settled in and turned it up a bit."

So with the Brewers hot on their heels, what do the Cubs need to do the rest of this week against a team like the Pirates that would relish playing spoiler?

Hamels is in the midst of his 13th MLB season and he provided his perspective of how the next six days should go:

"I think I've played this game long enough — when you have an opportunity to be a spoiler, it creates a little bit more energy in the clubhouse and you play for a little bit more to kinda disrupt what's going on," he said. "For us, we just have to keep our focus and keep to the gameplan and go out there and just try to either execute pitches or execute at-bats inning by inning. 

"We do have the talent and from what I've seen, we definitely know how to put up runs — it just hasn't happened this past week. And so I think for what we're trying to do and what we're trying to accomplish, just not try to overdo it. 

"Really just try to get back to the basics from the first pitch from the first inning and just plug away. I think if we're able to do that, good things will happen and we'll be able to overcome any sort of obstacle of what's kind of narrowing down in the last six games."

We're about to find out if the Cubs are up to the task.