Bulls

Cubs: McLeod, Epstein looking for game-changers

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Cubs: McLeod, Epstein looking for game-changers

MESA, Ariz. Jason McLeod is looking forward to checking out his new office at Clark and Waveland. He knows he probably wont see it for another eight weeks.

The Cubs senior vice president, scoutingplayer development will be at Wrigley Field for Opening Day, and then hit the road preparing for the June draft. Flying all across the country, he will have some time to catch up on the Mad Men episodes he enjoys watching on his iPad.

McLeod has a fancy title and a big portfolio in baseball operations. Born in Hawaii and raised in San Diego, he gives off a much more laid-back vibe. He compares the database in a scouts mind to the way a gifted musician can remember what hes heard before, and make sense of how it all fits together, to where the recall becomes second nature.

Theo Epstein viewed McLeod and general manager Jed Hoyer as essential hires when he was offered the presidents job and the keys to the Cubs kingdom.

McLeod had drafted so many impact players for the Boston Red Sox Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard and rebuilt the San Diego Padres system into one of the industrys best.

McLeod isnt as corporate or Ivy League, but he believes in all the MBA speak about processes and information management. The executive will be a key engineer for what Epstein has called the machine for scouting and player development.

The Cubs desperately need game-changers. They hold the sixth overall pick in the draft, and five within the first 101 selections.

If the new collective bargaining agreement hadnt restricted the amount teams can spend in the draft, the Cubs would have gone all in this summer and made the 12 million in bonuses they gave out last year look like spare change.

Its now a true scouting competition, and the Cubs are still strategizing when, within the new rules, it makes sense to go overboard and overpay. McLeod will be running meetings in Arizona starting Monday, the spring seasons midpoint, to narrow the focus for a front office where thorough is the new buzzword.

(We) really talk about: If the draft was next week, these are the guys were considering here, McLeod said. Then we really break them down and we start eliminating certain players and thats where we really start steering our coverage now. Were going to roll and rotate in on this group of players. And this next tier of players: This is how were going to attack them.

McLeods iPhone rang the other morning and it played The Whos Baba ORiley (Teenage Wasteland). Remember this is making multimillion-dollar investments on kids who just learned how to drive, in a field where you can be wrong 96 percent of the time and still have a pretty good year.

The Cubs want to know who hangs out with the wrong crowd, and what makes them tick. They want to see how they compete in other sports. Their 25 amateur scouts have been given cameras and must shoot at every game they attend, to create a video library.

Information as a whole is the currency of the draft, Epstein said. So there are different buckets of information scouting information, makeup information, medical information, statistical information, and our goal is to drill deeper than any other team.

The goal is to get to know the kids better than they know themselves, because youre looking at a 17-year-old. Youre projecting how hes going to be at 27. Its very difficult. You need to drill very deep to try to gain that kind of insight.

Everyone talks to the coach and the kids parents, right? Where can you make a difference?

Do you talk to the equipment manager? Epstein said. Do you talk to the guidance counselor? Do you dig deep enough to find out when the kid has struggled and (faced) adversity? What (has been) his biggest failure? How he bounced back from that failure?

Theres a lot of different ways to do it. Do you have a psychologist interview the kid? Do you have him take an objective test? Do you log your entire relationship with the kid, every bit of information that you get, so everyone in the draft room can share it and gain the insight?

You cant just wake up and do it in April and hope to have a good decision. Its like a 15-month process, minimum.

We know this approach gives us a better chance of being less wrong. (Thats) what scoutings about, degrees of being less wrong, when you draft 50 guys and you get two or three right. This isnt just something were doing for like window dressing. It evolved over 10 years in Boston. We feel pretty confident in the system.

Chairman Tom Ricketts has said how the new labor deal could create a new market for scouts, where the best talent evaluators can command higher salaries, because you cant just pay over slot for premium players.

The Cubs recognize they need to care of their scouts. McLeod e-mailed his staff last week to say that later this year scouts will be provided company cars, a benefit he had in Boston and San Diego.

(Its) creating an environment where they know that people care about what theyre doing, McLeod said. Theyre not just 2,000 miles away driving down a lonely highway and no one knows what the hell theyre doing out there. Because it can be a lonely frickin gig.

McLeod has known Epstein since the mid-1990s, when they were starting out in the business with the Padres, one in stadium operations and the other in media relations.

They were in their 20s and started hanging out after games, grabbing beers and talking baseball. They were given chances to drive to USC and Cal State Fullerton, and go watch Adrian Gonzalez play in high school, and began learning how to scout.

McLeod the great-grand nephew of Hall of Famer pitcher Carl Hubbell was drafted by the Houston Astros in 44th round of the 1991 draft and pitched briefly in the minors before taking an internship with the Padres.

But when the Padres first asked McLeod to transition to coaching, they had him as a rookie league hitting coach. So he spent an entire offseason at Qualcomm Stadium, three or four days a week, watching prospects in the cage alongside people like Tony Gwynn.

I would just sit there like a sponge, soak it up, McLeod recalled. Really, its just that old adage: Shut up and listen.

Near the end of a long conversation, McLeod is asked if hed ever be interested in running his own team, if this fast track could one day make him a general manager.

I think everyone thinks about: What would I do in this situation? McLeod said. Certainly, Ive had those thoughts: What would I do here? What would I do there? If the opportunity ever comes up, certainly I would be interested in looking at it.

McLeod paused for a moment and laughed: But were so damn busy here. Plus, The Trio just got back together!

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

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USA TODAY

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.

The Daily Line: Week 7 Football Picks

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NBC Sports Chicago

The Daily Line: Week 7 Football Picks

The Supreme Court opened the door for sports betting legalization with its May ruling that struck down a 1992 law that banned commercial sports betting in most states. Sports betting is not yet legal in Illinois, but with football season underway, former Northwestern offensive lineman Eric Olson will take a weekly look at the odds surrounding the action on the field.

YTD record: 21-7 against the spread (11-1 in last 12)

New England Patriots vs. Chicago Bears 10/21 12:00pm CT

Line: Pats -3
Betting Percentages Split: 76% of the tickets on the Pats
The play: Bears +3

Listen here. I am not being a homer. In fact, I am from the Boston area and have been rooting for the Patriots my entire life. This is simply a great spot for the Bears. You have a Patriots team that is coming off the biggest win any team has had this season, beating the seemingly unbeatable Kansas City Chiefs in primetime. On the other side, you have a Bears team that just turned in one of the most disappointing performances of the season, losing outright to the Miami Dolphins and Brock Osweiler as a 7 point favorite. The Pats have been terrible outside of Foxboro and this is probably the best team they have faced on the road thus far this season. Additionally, this line has stayed firm at 3 and has even moved to 2.5 in some places despite the massive bet discrepancy favoring the Pats. What does that tell us? That the Pros are all over the Bears and refuse to move the line despite the public being all over New England. Ride the home town team catching points at Soldier Field.

Buffalo Bills vs Indianapolis Colts 10/7 1:00pm CT

Line: Colts -7
Betting Percentages Split: 55% of tickets on Colts
The play: Bills +7

If you have been reading my column throughout this NFL season you know I love bad NFL games. Go where nobody wants to go, get dirty and pick gross teams. I also have been pretty successful picking my spots betting on the Bills this year and I love going back to the well here. Simply put, the Colts should not be laying 7 points to ANYBODY at this point of the season. Sean McDermott decided to go with Derek Anderson this week and according to reports, this was to the delight of the locker room as they do not have to endure another Peterman Pix-Six Bonanza. I think this could give the Bills a little spark and anything that Anderson has left in the tank will be on display Sunday against the worst defense in the NFL. Circle those wagons, take the Bills and the points.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Kansas City Chiefs 10/21 7:20pm CT

Line: Chiefs -6
Betting Percentages Split: 75% of tickets on the Chiefs
The play: Bengals +6

Good loses are a real thing in the NFL when it comes to betting perception. Not a single person is knocking the Chiefs for their primetime loss to the Pats in Foxboro. I think Vegas could have set this line at a touchdown and the public would still jump all over the Chiefs. What does that tell you? I think this a questions bettors need to ask themselves more often. What it probably tells you is that Vegas values the Bengals more than the general public does and they aren't as bought into the Chiefs hype. Side with the house, fade the public and take a very solid Bengals team getting 6 points playing a Chiefs team having to get up for two straight primetime games.

New York Giants vs. Atlanta Falcons 10/22 7:20pm CT

Line: Falcons -5.5
Betting Percentages Split: 75% of tickets on the Falcons
The play: Giants +5.5

I said that week of 10/7 was my grossest set of picks to date. What happened that week you ask? I went 5-0. Pick your spots and bet bad teams in the NFL. It works. This league does not operate the way you want it to and you have to be willing to make picks that feel ‘off’. Here is another example of that. By any eye test, this makes no sense. The Giants are in the running for the worst team in the NFL and the Falcons, while overall disappointing, still have shown flashes of their talented roster that brought them to Super Bowl two years ago. However, when you move past the surface, you see a matchup that actually really favors the Giants. The Falcons are ravaged by injuries on both sides of the ball and the Falcons have one of the worst defenses in the league and will not be able to exploit the Giants porous O-Line like other teams have. I think these matchups are why Vegas set this line so low and why it has even moved in the Giants direction despite heavy public Atlanta action. Hold your nose and bet the G-men. 

Bonus College Game

Mississippi State vs. LSU 10/20 6:00pm CT

Line: LSU -6.5
Betting Percentages Split: 60% of tickets on LSU
The play: Mississippi State +6.5 (get 7 if you can)

LSU is the most overvalued team in the country. They have actually been out-gained in 4 of their 6 wins. That is an ABSURD statistic that just screams regression as the year carries on. Mississippi State has a really, really good defense and should be able to fluster Joe Burrow all day long. The Bulldogs put it to LSU last year and I expect them to show up again. Take Miss State and the points. Sprinkle the moneyline while you’re at it.