Bears

Bulls welcome Warriors to United Center

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Bulls welcome Warriors to United Center

Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010
Updated 12:01 PM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Throughout the league, it seems that every other team made a massive offseason roster overhaul designed to make them an instant contender (whether it's playoffs or championship) and reinvigorate their fan base as a contribution to the most anticipated NBA campaign in recent memory. Golden State is no exception.

The Warriors, however, had a much different summer than most teams in the aforementioned category. The addition of power forward David Lee--acquired in a sign-and-trade scenario with New York--got them the requisite big-money free agent, albeit one with a lower profile than some of the others on the market. But the Bay Area squad also got new ownership, headed by former minority Celtics owner Joe Lacob (which was somewhat surprising, considering fellow bidders included 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison) fired the winningest coach in NBA history, Don Nelson, just before training camp.

New head coach Keith Smart (yes, the same Keith Smart that led Indiana to the 1987 NCAA Championship over Syracuse with his now-legendary jumper in the clutch) pledged to implement a more defensive-oriented brand of basketball than Nelson's run-and-gun regime, but with little time to steep the team in his methods, no major style changes have yet occurred. Instead, Golden State (6-2) is winning games with the same familiar attack, but with a more traditional lineup and at least a conscience on the defensive end.

Lee, with center Andris Biedrins again playing significant minutes after a falling-out with "Nellie," constitutes a legitimate post-player duo, and while free-agent swingman Dorell Wright isn't a big name, his inclination to defend certainly make them less porous against the legions of scoring wings in the NBA. Meanwhile, the backcourt of scoring machine Monta Ellis and second-year point guard Stephen Curry appears to be co-existing peacefully, and more important, productively.

One of the league's most potent guard pairings, Ellis opened the season with a 46-point outburst after reports of him getting his personal life in order after marrying in the summer. Curry, last year's Rookie of the Year runner-up, is regarded as one of the league's top players at pick-and-roll basketball, a top sharpshooter and an underrated playmaker, something no doubt enhanced by his summer with USA Basketball.

The Warriors bench isn't much to write home about, with former D-League call-up Reggie Williams their most consistent offensive threat and the organization still crossing its fingers that ex-lottery pick Brandan Wright develops after numerous injury-prone season; history could repeat itself with current rookie and fellow big man Ekpe Udoh, the No. 6 overall pick who has yet to suit up--not even in summer league--due to a wrist injury. Still, whether or not their hot start persists, the culture seems to be changing, and despite having to give up reliable swingman Kelenna Azubuike, defensive stalwart Ronny Turiaf and high-upside youngster Anthony Randolph to the Knicks in order to get Lee (scorer Corey Maggette was also dealt, to Milwaukee for essentially role-playing reserves), thus far, it looks to be worth it.

It will take time before Golden State is a contender--or even a team that makes noise in the playoffs, like the beloved Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson-led bunch that dramatically upset the defending finalist and top-seeded Mavericks in the 2007 playoffs--but with Ellis' beginning to the year, he's now reportedly off the trading block and there's a core group from which the front office can build upon moving forward. But with a fresh face on the sidelines, a committed owner and the pieces in place to spread some optimism among some of the most passionate fans in the league, the future looks a lot brighter than it did a few months ago.

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.

Bears' Nick Kwiatkoski was a top-5 inside linebacker in 2017

Bears' Nick Kwiatkoski was a top-5 inside linebacker in 2017

The Chicago Bears selected inside linebacker Roquan Smith in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft with the expectation that he'll become an immediate starter and impact player on defense. But, was there a need at inside linebacker?

According to Pro Football Focus, Nick Kwiatkoski, who Chicago selected in the fourth round of 2016's draft, was a standout performer last season. He ranked third in the NFL among inside linebackers in run-stop percentage and was fourth-best in pass-rush productivity.

Kwiatkoski also wasn’t tagged for a missed tackle against the run all season. He still has to share time on the field with Danny Trevathan and newly-drafted Roquan Smith, but should be able to capitalize on a great sophomore year after being drafted in the fourth round from West Virginia in 2016. Overall, Kwiatoski was graded as the NFL’s 12th best inside linebacker, higher than both Spaight and Hitchens.

His 21.0 pass-rush productivity ranked fourth and came on the heels of his rookie season in which he ranked 10th in the same category in 2016.

Kwiatkoski didn't receive much fanfare last season but the analytics speak for themselves. He started six games (appeared in 11) and registered career highs in tackles (34) and sacks (two). He's an ascending player but his growth is likely to be stunted by Smith's presence. 

Chicago could view Kwiatkoski as the heir to Danny Trevathan's starting job. The Bears can move on from Trevathan with little consequence at season's end. His dead cap number drops to just $1.25 million in 2019. Kwiatkoski will be in the final year of his contract that season (2019), and if he hasn't earned a starting job by then, he's a near lock to sign elsewhere when his rookie contract expires. 

Kwiatkoski has proven he can produce when given a chance to play, something 31 other teams have certainly taken notice of.

Pro Football Focus: Bears rank near bottom-third of NFL in pass protection

Pro Football Focus: Bears rank near bottom-third of NFL in pass protection

If the Chicago Bears want to make a real run at the playoffs in 2018, the offensive line will have to do its part by keeping QB Mitch Trubisky upright. The offense is expected to be more pass-heavy under coach Matt Nagy and will depend on Trubisky having time in the pocket to go through his progressions and find the open target.

New offensive line coach Harry Hiestand should help that cause. He's universally praised as one of the best offensive line coaches in the sport and will be charged with getting a better effort from a unit that ended last season ranked in the bottom-third of pass protection, according to Pro Football Focus.

19. CHICAGO BEARS

2017 pass-blocking efficiency: 77.9

Best individual PBE: Josh Sitton, 97.4

Because of several crippling injuries, nine different players saw at least 100 pass-block snaps for the Bears in 2017. They gave up 152 pressures on 536 passing plays. The top performance came from left tackle Charles Leno Jr., who enjoyed the best season of his career and allowed just 24 pressures all season. Heading into the 2018 campaign, rookie guard James Daniels is penciled in to fill the shoes of the recently departed pass-blocking star Josh Sitton. Daniels performed well in pass protection during his final college season, allowing just 10 pressures on 371 pass-blocking snaps at Iowa.

The Bears will be without last season's top pass-protector, Josh Sitton, who was let go by GM Ryan Pace this offseason and signed with the Dolphins. 

Pass protection was once all about the play of the offensive tackles, but with the NFL's interior defensive linemen evolving into disruptive forces up the middle, guard play will be nearly as important. A healthy Kyle Long is critical. Chicago can't afford growing pains from James Daniels, either. Cody Whitehair returns to full-time center duties, a role he excelled at during his rookie season. 

Charles Leno should provide reliable play at left tackle. Bobby Massie remains a wildcard, but with little depth behind him, the Bears can do nothing more than hope his bad reps are limited in 2018.

With Hiestand in the fold and a healthy Long ready to compete at a high level again, the Bears' offensive line should be much improved this season.