Preps Talk

Former Bulls coach Del Negro has Clippers surging

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Former Bulls coach Del Negro has Clippers surging

LOS ANGELESClippers head coach Vinny Del Negro, now more than three years removed from his dismissal as Bulls head coach, had the last laugh Saturday night. His current team blew out his former team, 101-80, and while he said all of the right things afterwards, one got the feeling that the memory bitter taste he likely had in his mouth after leaving Chicago made the Clippers blowout victory that much sweeter.

This is one of those nights. I have a lot of respect for Chicago, he told reporters. I thought we did a good job tonight in a lot of ways. Its a good, solid win for us against a very good team. You have to play hard. We knew we had to do that and our guys came out, and we responded well.

Prior to the game, at his pregame media availability, he talked about the fact that the Bulls are without injured superstar Derrick Rose, who Del Negro coached upon his arrival to the NBA.

Its Derrick Rose. Hes the MVP of the league. You take anybody of that caliber which are very few out of that lineup and obviously, its going to change. Its just natural. Derricks that good of a player, he said.

But these days, Chicago is in his rear-view mirror. Despite being looked at as the other professional basketball franchise in Los Angeles, Del Negros Clippers are actually the better team at the moment and at least early in the season, they appear to be a serious contender in the Western Conference.

Its been good. We have great guys. We have great balance to the roster. Looking forward to getting Grant Hill back, getting Chauncey Billups back from their respective injuries, he said. We have a lot of depth and were trying to use it right now. But we have nice balance, some younger guys, guys in their prime and some veteran guys who have great leadership. Things are built around Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and everyone else is accepting their role right now. We have to get a lot better. We have to improve in a lot of areas, but theyre giving me good effort and thats all I can ask for right now, is us coming together with chemistry as the season goes on.

Weve got a lot of people that I think are quality players. Its hard to give them the minutes that they probably deserve, but its about the team. Its not about individual, and you win and lose as a team, and guys have to accept that a little bit and theres nobody in our locker room that didnt know what they were getting into when they started. Well work through it as guys come back, as we manage the schedule and injuries throughout the season, Del Negro continued, discussing arguably the leagues deepest roster. Chauncey will start in the backcourt. Im not sure when hell be back. Its kind of his call, really when he feels comfortable. Hes been practicing in all contact, in all practices probably at least the last few weeks. Looks very good, but hes had a couple setbacks with his calf and his back, but hes feeling great. And then, Grant will probably be back later than Chauncey, and well just work through it. Grant went through training camp, played in China during the preseason for us. We had a good rotation off the bench then, so well just work through it when they come back, but youre talking about two guys who know how to play, know the big picture and are more than capable of accepting their roles, and theyre going to be contributors on our team.

Still, he acknowledged that in the Hollywood culture of the city, the star-studded Lakers and the recent drama surrounding Mike Browns firing, Phil Jackson getting passed over for the job and Mike DAntoni being hired as the teams new head coach means the Clippers, even with the star power of All-Stars Paul and Griffin, play second fiddle in the arena the two teams share.

It is unusual, but we dont spend any time with that. Thats kind of the fans and the media, and things. But were just kind of focused in on what we can control, our preparation, our mindset, our improvement. We know we have to get better in a lot of areas. You cant control other things that are going on, whether its the Lakers or the Bulls, or other organizations, he explained. Youve just got to control your day-to-day routine here. Were trying to continually build an environment, build a culture and do things the right way to be successful, and were not where we need to be yet, but were seeing signs of more consistency, so thats great.

91 Days to Kickoff: Joliet Catholic

91 Days to Kickoff: Joliet Catholic

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting July 30, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 24.

School: Joliet Catholic Academy

Head coach: Jake Jaworski

Assistant coaches: Dave Douglas, Cory McLaughlin, Chris Kinsella, Mark Mettille, Jake Ziesmer, Zach Dolph, Josh Greenback and Craig Slowik

How they fared in 2017: 3-6 (2-5 East Suburban Catholic Conference). JCA failed to make the 2017 IHSA state playoff field.

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 vs. St. Rita

Aug. 31 @ IC Catholic Prep

Sept. 7 @ St. Viator

Sept. 14 vs. Carmel

Sept. 21 @ Marist

Sept. 28 vs. Benet Academy

Oct. 5 vs. Marian Catholic

Oct. 12 @ Nazareth Academy

Oct. 19 @ Notre Dame

Biggest storyline: Can Joliet Catholic snap a two-year hiatus from the state football playoffs?

Names to watch this season: OT Dave Monnot and RB Kenyetta Williams

Biggest holes to fill: The Hilltoppers will need to reload at the quarterback and wide receiver positions. 

EDGY's Early Take: It's been a rough few seasons at one of the state's best football programs. That said, 2018 has the potential to be the turnaround year the Hilltoppers have been looking for. Second-year head coach Jake Jaworski will feature four big and experienced offensive linemen, led by senior OT Dave Monnot (6-foot-6, 287 pounds). They also have a name to watch in junior-to-be RB Kenyetta Williams. If Joliet Catholic can survive another challenging early season non-conference schedule, they will compete in the always-tough ESCC.

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

"BINGO!"

Joe Maddon couldn't contain his glee as he was told there is actual scientific evidence that proves the Launch Angle Revolution has not had any impact on the uptick in homers over the last couple seasons.

The reason MLB players were hitting the ball into the bleachers more than ever before in 2017 was because of the way baseballs are made now, reducing the wind resistence and causing balls to carry more.

But all these players changing their swing path to get more lift on the ball? Not a thing for the group as a whole (h/t MLB.com):


But in analyzing Statcast™ data from the measurement tool's 2015 inception through 2017, the committee found no evidence that batter behavior, en masse, has been a contributing factor toward the homer surge. In fact, exit velocities decreased slightly from 2016 to 2017, spray angles from the time studied were stable and a small increase in launch angles was attributable primarily to, as the study refers to them, "players with lesser home run talents."

Basically, the long-ball surge was global, affecting players from all spectrums of homer-hitting ability and irrespective of their approach.

"Going into this, I thought that was going to be the magic bullet, the smoking gun," Nathan said. "But it wasn't."


Hence the "BINGO!" cry from Maddon, who has been very vocal in the fight against the Launch Angle Revolution this season.

The end result is the study will eventually lead to baseballs being returned to normal levels and a more uniform way of storing the balls moving forward. Thus, homers figure to eventually return to normal levels, too, and everybody who was caught up in the Launch Angle Revolution may be left behind.

It's the changing landscape of baseball and we've already seen the after-effects this year: April was the first month in MLB history where there were more strikeouts than basehits.

Why? Because strikeouts are a natural byproduct of the Launch Angle Revolution as players are swinging up on the ball more and sacrificing contact for power and lift.

That, coupled with an increase in velocity and higher usage of relievers, has led to more strikeouts.

It makes perfect sense — it's tougher for a player to try to catch up to 98+ mph at the top of the strike zone with an uppercut swing.

"It's one of those things that sounds good, but it doesn't help you," Maddon said of launch angle. "There's certain things that people really want to promote and talk about, but it doesn't matter. When a hitter's in the box, when you're trying to stare down 96 or a slider on the edge, the last thing you're thinking about is launch angle.

"Now when it comes to practice, you could not necessarily work on angles — your body works a certain way. Like I've said before, there's guys that might've been oppressively bad or they just had groundballs by rolling over the ball all the time So of course you may want to alter that to get that smothering kind of a swing out of him.

"But if you're trying to catch up to velocity, if you're trying to lay back and I could keep going on and on. It sounds good."

The idea of hitting the ball hard in the air has been around for decades in baseball, pretty much ever since Babe Ruth on some level. It just wasn't able to be quantified or accessed by the public as easily until Statcast came around and made it all mainstream.

The Cubs, however, have been anti-launch-angle to a degree this season. They let go of hitting coach John Mallee (who liked players to hit the ball in the air and pull it) and replaced him with Chili Davis (who teaches the full-field, line-drive approach).

The effects haven't yet yielded results in terms of consistently plating runs or having a better performance in the situational hitting column, but the contact rate is, in fact, up.

Here is the list of Cubs hitters who currently boast a career best mark in strikeout rate:

Kris Bryant
Javy Baez
Willson Contreras
Addison Russell
Jason Heyward
Kyle Schwarber

Even Ben Zobrist is very close to his career mark and Anthony Rizzo is right at his career line.

Some of that jump in contact rate can be attributed to natural development and maturation of young hitters, but the Cubs are buying into the new way of doing things and it's paying off.

It's also probably the way the game is going to shift, with an emphasis on contact going to become more important the less balls are flying out of the yard.

The Cubs have seen firsthand how to beat the best pitching in the postseason and they know that cutting down on strikeouts and "moving the baseball" (as Maddon likes to put it) can help manufacture runs in low-scoring, tight affairs in October.

Now science is supporting those theories and Major League Baseball teams will have to adjust. 

The Cubs, however, are at least a step ahead of the game.

It's a long game — the offensive strides will take time to fully take effect even for the Cubs, who are at least a full offseason and two months ahead of the curve in terms of bucking the Launch Angle Revolution.

Maddon concedes that launch angle is a cool stat to see on the video board after homers, but other than that, he doesn't see much of a use for it, pointing to Kyle Schwarber's laser-line-drive homers having the same effect as Kris Bryant's moonshots.

However, Maddon does believe there's a place for launch angle and exit velocity in the game, though mostly for front offices trying to acquire players (think "Moneyball").

"As a teaching tool, you either come equipped with or without," Maddon said. "It's like you buy a new car, you either got this or you don't. Sometimes you can add some things occasionally, but for the most part, this is what you are.

"I like inside the ball, top half of the ball, inner half of the ball, stay long throughout the ball, utilize the whole field. I still think that's the tried and true approach and I'm not stuck in the mud on this by any means.

"The harder pitchers throw the baseball, the more laying back is going to be less effective."