Blackhawks

Bulls' bench is broken

950841.png

Bulls' bench is broken

Okay, Ill admit it. I was wrong.

I thought the Bulls would be able to survive the break-up of the celebrated Bench Mob, filling their spots with decent veteran players on minimum contracts. But this is the classic case of a groups collective strength being much greater than the sum of their individual talents.

When you compare the new Bulls reserves to last years group, the only clear drop-off figured to be at the back-up center spot, where we all know a young defensive force like Omer Asik is far superior to 14-year veteran Nazr Mohammed. Most of the other spots figured to be a wash. Jimmy Butler projected as a capable replacement for Ronnie Brewers defense-first game. Marco Belinelli figured to come close to the point production and 3-point shooting provided by Kyle Korver. Nate Robinson would offer the same kind of hot and cold scorer we saw in C.J. Watson the last two seasons. And, of course, Taj Gibson was coming back, reportedly better than ever after a busy summer of work on his offensive game.

But through the first 13 games, the comparison of stats and past performance, hasnt added up to a smooth transition on the court for the Bulls reserves. And even worse, it looks like Tom Thibodeau has lost confidence in his second unit, playing his veteran starters way too many minutes. Luol Deng and Joakim Noah rank first and second in the league in average minutes played. Deng played 47 minutes in the nightmarish loss to Milwaukee, getting a one minute break midway through the second quarter, even though the Bulls were way in front most of the night. Right now, Thibodeau basically has an 8-man rotation, with Gibson, Butler and Robinson the only guys hes comfortable using off the bench. And, Gibson is really struggling right now, possibly because hes putting too much pressure on himself after signing that big money contract extension.

Belinelli is coming off his best NBA season in New Orleans, where he averaged nearly 12 points a game, and shot almost 38 percent from three-point range. In case you were wondering, Korver averaged eight points last season on 43.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Unfortunately for Belinelli, he struggled with his shot during the preseason, and since hes never been a great defensive player, hes basically fallen out of the rotation. Mohammed is a career back-up, and with Gibson now getting some minutes as a back-up center, and Noah averaging 39 minutes a game, there just isnt any time for him to play.

The larger issue involves the heavy minutes the Bulls veteran starters are being asked to play. The NBA season is a grueling marathon, and even the fittest players can break down if not given proper rest. All five Bulls starters have had injury issues in the past, and its crucial to keep them healthy until Derrick Rose can get back. We know Thibodeau wants to win every game, and no one can blame him for that. But looking at the bigger picture, finding minutes for the likes of Belinelli, Mohammed and even Vladimir Radmanovic could keep the starters healthy and fresh for a stretch run with Rose back in the line-up.

The Central Division is clearly up for grabs this season, given the injuries to Rose and Indianas Danny Granger. The Bulls would have taken over first place had they not blown that 27 point second-half lead against Milwaukee, and it looks like 48 wins might be good enough to win the division and earn home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

Losing a game or two for the sake of developing the bench really isnt a bad thing right now. Lets hope Thibodeau will give some of his reserves a longer rope in the Bulls upcoming games, and ease the wear and tear on the starters.

As I said at the top, I was wrong about the Bench Mob. Turns out, it really is impossible to replace that units chemistry and defensive strength. Asik, Korver and Brewer are all starting on their new teams, and Watson is playing a big role backing up Deron Williams and Joe Johnson in Brooklyn. But the Bulls had to make some tough financial decisions to avoid going deep into the luxury tax. The front office knew winning a championship this season would be pretty unlikely, and they wanted to open a new window to build a contending team around Rose in the next year or two. We can only hope losing all the popular reserves will pay off in a home run addition to the roster down the line.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Reacting to Round 1 of NHL Draft

hawks-pod-draft.jpg
USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Reacting to Round 1 of NHL Draft

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Round 1 of the 2018 NHL Draft.

They discuss the pair of puck-carrying defensemen that the Blackhawks selected on Friday, Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin. When can we expect to see these first-round picks play in the NHL?

Boyle also goes 1-on-1 with Boqvist and Beaudin. The guys spoke with Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville on Friday.

The guys also share their biggest takeaways from those interviews, which includes your daily Corey Crawford update and Quenneville appeared excited that the team has plenty of cap space to spend in free agency.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

0622-lucas-giolito.jpg
USA TODAY

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

The preseason expectations and the results have been drastically different for Lucas Giolito.

Expected to be the best pitcher on the White Sox starting staff, Giolito hasn’t come too close to that title, instead heading into Friday’s doubleheader with the most earned runs allowed of any pitcher in baseball. His walk total has been among the highest in the game all year long, too. And the calls from social media to send him down to Triple-A haven’t been at all infrequent.

But Friday, White Sox fans got a glimpse at what they expected, a look at the guy who earned so much hype with a strong September last season and a dominant spring training.

It wasn’t a performance that would make any reasonable baseball person’s jaw drop. But it was the best Giolito has looked this season. He still allowed four runs on seven hits — as mentioned, not a Cy Young type outing — but he struck out a season-high eight batters. Prior to giving up the back-to-back singles to start the eighth inning that brought an end to his evening, he’d surrendered just two runs.

Most importantly he walked just two guys and didn’t seem to struggle with his command at all. That’s a big deal for a pitcher who had 45 walks to his name prior to Friday.

“You know it was a tough eighth inning, but throughout the whole game, I felt in sync,” Giolito said. “(Catcher Omar Narvaez) and I were working really well, finally commanding the fastball the way I should. Definitely the best I felt out there this year, for sure. Velocity was up a tick. Just felt right, felt in sync. Just competed from there.”

Confidence has never left Giolito throughout the poor results, and he’s talked after every start about getting back on the horse and giving it another try. Consistently working in between starts, things finally seemed to click Friday night.

“It all worked today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “(Pitching coach Don Cooper) says that every bullpen has gotten better, from the beginning to this point. He sees progress. The velocity that he showed today was something that Coop was seeing in his work. You can see that his delivery is continuing to improve. He was trusting himself, really attacking the strike zone, trusted his breaking ball today when he need to and just tried to command as much as he could. Did a nice job.”

Giolito went through this kind of thing last year, when he started off poorly at Triple-A Charlotte with a 5.40 ERA through his first 16 starts. But then things got better, with Giolito posting a 2.78 ERA over his final eight starts with the Knights before getting called up to the big leagues.

This was just one start, of course, but perhaps he can follow a similar formula this year, too, going from a rough beginning to figuring things out.

“I’m not trying to tinker or think about mechanics anymore,” he said. “It’s about flow, getting out there and making pitches. We were able to do that for the most part.

“I’ll watch video and see certain things, and I have little cues here and there. But I’m not going to go and overanalyze things and nitpick at certain stuff anymore. It’s about going there and having fun and competing.”

Maybe that’s the secret. Or maybe this is simply a brief flash of brilliance in the middle of a tough first full season in the bigs.

Whatever it was, it was the best we’ve seen of Giolito during the 2018 campaign. And it was far more like what was expected back before that campaign got going.