Cubs

Bulls' draft pick will need to be a contributor

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Bulls' draft pick will need to be a contributor

For the first time since Taj Gibson was selected, the Bulls' draft pick this June will be expected to step in and make an immediate impact as a rookie, let alone be present at the start of the season. Unlike swingman Jimmy Butler, who was brought along slowly and mostly played spot minutes, or forward Nikola Mirotic, who continues to star in Spain's highly-competitive ACB league -- a dark-horse candidate to make the 2012 Spanish Olympic team, Mirotic won the coveted EuroLeague Rising Star award for the second consecutive season -- but won't make his NBA debut for at least a couple more seasons, whomever the Bulls pick this June will likely be thrown right into the fire.

With Derrick Rose set to miss a large portion of next season and the possibility that fellow All-Star Luol Deng is on the shelf for the beginning of the campaign if he opts to have left-wrist surgery following the Olympics, the Bulls won't enter October as a projected title contender and with some roster turnover bound to occur with the team holding options on free agents C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver, backup center Omer Asik a restricted free agent and their reserve peers John Lucas III, Brian Scalabrine and Mike James not under guaranteed contracts, simply put, the team will have some holes to fill. While it's likely that some of those players will be back and the front office will look to add some minimum-salary veterans due to the organization's lack of financial flexibility -- Rose, Deng, center Joakim Noah and power forward Carlos Boozer all have eight-figure contracts -- the Bulls' first-round draft pick can't just be a prospect for the future, like Butler was this season, or stashed overseas, like Asik was and now, Mirotic.

Granted, picking at the bottom of the first round because of their stellar regular-season record, the Bulls won't have the opportunity to pick a franchise-changing talent, such as Chicago native Anthony Davis, the University of Kentucky big man and consensus top prospect. But this is considered to be a deep draft and the selection of Gibson at No. 26 back in 2009 shows the Bulls have the aptitude to find a diamond in the rough.

Even assuming they won't trade up for a higher pick, there should be plenty of talent on the board that can help the team immediately and fill a need, but more importantly, be a major part of the Bulls' future championship push two seasons from now, when Rose will be a year removed from ACL surgery and contention for a title can fully resume. Butler was a safe pick last year, but with Brewer's potential departure, he also fills a need as a replacement backup swingman, one with the same defense-first mindset, as well as less expensive.

This time around, the Bulls would be wise to take more of a chance on a player whose current skill set fits an immediate need, countering head coach Tom Thibodeau's apparent preference to bring rookies along slowly, as evidenced by his use of Butler and Asik, as he only started giving the backup center more minutes the season before when injuries felled Noah. Though Korver's 5 million option for next season could cause the Bulls to blink at the price tag, his unique shooting ability on a team lacking outside marksmanship could mean his return, but pure shooters who are counted upon as rookies are rare, so that probably won't be the direction the team chooses in the draft.

Adding a rookie big man is an option, as you can never have enough size, but with Noah, Boozer and Gibson all returning, the post-player rotation won't have much available playing time, especially if the team matches potential mid-level exception offers for Asik from other teams, unless the Bulls prepare for his departure or Gibson's the following season The wings are another position of strength, as Deng would only miss a month or two if he has surgery, Rip Hamilton will be back as the starting shooting guard, Butler will back up both players and as stated, Korver and even Brewer could return, but even if neither or both is back, swingman is another position where the team will have a plethora of serviceable minimum-salary options in free agency.

This is a draft weak on point guards, the Bulls will likely either bring back Watson or look to sign a veteran floor general via free agency and it's a fair assumption that Thibodeau wouldn't trust his offense in the hands of a rookie anyway, so a true point guard wouldn't be necessary. Also, Lucas proved capable of playing second-string minutes this season and if he doesn't return, then another veteran with a similar contract will simply take his place.

One area the Bulls do need to address is finding another playmaking shot-creator, especially in Rose's absence, but also when he returns, though not a true point guard who would have to sit behind him or a slashing small forward who could cause a potential logjam at that position or duplicates Butler's abilities. Ideally, a combo guard with strong scoring instincts, solid passing ability, a reliable outside shooting stroke and a good defensive base to work with would be that player, but with the Bulls picking so late in the first round, the likes of Syracuse's Dion Waiters, Duke's Austin Rivers, Washington's Terrence Ross and Weber State's Damien Lillard, all prospects who have possess some of those qualities, will be off the board.

Instead, some of the more likely candidates to fill that duty include: Ross' Washington teammate Tony Wroten, a point guard with size, but who has garnered some concern about his shooting and decision-making ability that could cause his stock to drop enough that he could be available, though he has great explosiveness, passing and could be paired with Rose in the future; Kansas' Tyshawn Taylor, who never quite mastered being a floor general in college, but has good athleticism, can get in the lane and could defend both backcourt positions, a la Clippers second-year backup Eric Bledsoe; Kentucky's Doron Lamb, a tough and heady player, if not a mind-blowing athlete, but an excellent shooter with range; Vanderbilt's John Jenkins, like Lamb an underwhelming athlete and a tad undersized for an NBA shooting guard, but one of the draft's best pure shooters; Lamb's Kentucky backcourt partner Marquis Teague, the younger brother of Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague, not a pure point, but a quick driver with finishing ability and decent size; Oregon State's Jared Cunningham, a sleeper, but a big-time athlete and defensive pest with the ability to create on offense; Iona's Scott Machado, a pure point, but one with the maturity to potentially step into a backup role immediately, despite his lack of size; Memphis' Will Barton, a long, athletic and versatile wing who needs to add strengths, but has a nose for the ball and a variety of skills; Missouri sharpshooter Marcus Denmon, who played off the ball in college, is undersized for shooting guard, but has some intangibles to go with his scoring prowess; and Tennessee Tech's Kevin Murphy, one of the nation's leading scorers last season and an athletic wing who raised his stock with his play at the annual Portsmouth Invitational Tournament.

Clearly, there are a variety of options for the Bulls, including names not listed here and many who will be at the Berto Center for workouts in the coming weeks or back in Chicago for next month's NBA Pre-Draft Camp, but only one of whom will be selected by the organization, though others could play for the team's summer-league squad in Las Vegas in July. Thus, when league commissioner David Stern announces, "With the 29th pick, the Chicago Bulls select...," the player he names will have to be a contributor.

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. gave another example of his all-around game

Albert Almora Jr. might be in the middle of a breakout season. The 24-year-old outfielder continues to show his impressive range in center field and is having his best year at the plate.

In Sunday's 8-3 win against the Giants, Almora had three hits and showed off his wheels in center to rob Evan Longoria of extra bases. The catch is visible in the video above.

"Defensively, right now he's playing as well as he possibly can," Maddon said.

On top of the defense he has become known for, he is hitting .326. That's good for fifth in the National League in batting.

"He's playing absolutely great," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's working good at-bats. His at-bats have gotten better vs. righties.

"The thing about it, is there's power there. The home runs are gonna start showing up, too."

There's also this stat, which implies Almora is having a growing significance on the Cubs as a whole:

There may be some correlation, but not causality in that. However, with Almora's center field play and growing accolades at the plate, the argument is becoming easier and easier that he is one of the most important players on the Cubs. That also goes for Almora's regular spot in the lineup, which has been up in the air with Maddon continuing to juggle the lineup.

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

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USA Today Sports Images

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

Dion Sims is still here, which is the outcome he expected but perhaps wasn’t a slam dunk — at least to those outside the walls at Halas Hall. 

The Bears could’ve cut ties with Sims prior to March 16 and saved $5.666 million against the cap, quite a figure for a guy coming off a disappointing 2017 season (15 catches, 180 yards, one touchdown). But the Bears are sticking with Sims, even after splashing eight figures to land Trey Burton in free agency earlier this year. 

“In my mind, I thought I was coming back,” Sims said. “I signed to be here three years and that’s what I expect. But I understand how things go and my job is come out here and work hard every day and play with a chip on my shoulder to prove myself and just be a team guy.”

The Bears signed Sims to that three-year, $18 million contract 14 months ago viewing him as a rock-solid blocking tight end with some receiving upside. The receiving upside never materialized, and his blocking was uneven at times as the Bears’ offense slogged through a bleak 11-loss season. 

“The situation we were in, we weren’t — we could’ve done a better job of being successful,” Sims said. “Things didn’t go how we thought it would. We just had to pretty much try to figure out how to come together and build momentum into coming into this year. I just think there were a lot of things we could have done, but because of the circumstances we were limited a little bit. 

“… It was a lot of things going on. Guys hurt, situations — it was tough for us. We couldn’t figure it out, along with losing, that was a big part of it too.”

Sims will be given a fresh start in 2018, even as Adam Shaheen will be expected to compete to cut into Sims’ playing time at the “Y” tight end position this year. The other side of that thought: Shaheen won’t necessarily slide into being the Bears’ primary in-line tight end this year. 

Sims averaged 23 receptions, 222 yards and two touchdowns from 2014-2016; that might be a good starting point for his 2018 numbers, even if it would represent an improvement from 2017. More important, perhaps, is what Sims does as a run blocker — and that was the first thing Nagy mentioned when talking about how Sims fits into his offense. 

“The nice thing with Dion is that he’s a guy that’s proven to be a solid blocker,” Nagy said. “He can be in there and be your Y-tight end, but yet he still has really good hands. He can make plays on intermediate routes. He’s not going to be anybody that’s a downfield threat — I think he knows that, we all know that — but he’s a valuable piece of this puzzle.”