White Sox

Ibaka's offensive rhythm bad news for rest of NBA

936263.png

Ibaka's offensive rhythm bad news for rest of NBA

Serge Ibaka is beginning to find his rhythm on offense, and thats bad news for the rest of the NBA.

The 6-foot-10 power forward, who scored 14 or more points in just 11 of 66 games last year, has now done so in three straight for the Thunder after a 21-point effort in a 97-91 win over the Bulls Thursday night.

Ibaka wasted no time getting going against Chicago, scoring nine points in the first quarter, including three made baskets in successive possessions midway through the opening period.

He even hit a 3-pointer, his first of the season and third of his career, to help the Thunder stay close to a Bulls team that shot nearly 58 percent in the first quarter.

Guys can get hot, especially if theyre getting a number of shots up, Taj Gibson said. We were closing out to him, but he got an easy-going pace real early the way his jump shot was flowing early, and he just played a phenomenal game.

Ibaka has always had the talent offensively -- he averaged 9.1 points per game last year -- and range to hit from 15-feet out, but the last two years has had to pick and choose his scoring opportunities wisely while watching Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant go to work.

It seems this year may be different. James Harden is gone, and while Kevin Martin replaces Harden in the sixth man role, it feels as though Ibaka can be the third scorer in Oklahoma City. He attempted 15 shots, one off his career-high, and has now attempted at least seven shots in all five games. His 10.2 shot attempts per game in 2012 is well-above his 6.6 attempts-per-game average entering the season.

He said extra work in the gym on his offensive game this offseason has paid dividends, and people are beginning to notice.

My teammates did a great job finding me, trusting me and getting me the ball when I was open because they know I work on my shot any time during practice, Ibaka said. I keep working in practice and I keep showing my teammates and coaches I can do it. Thats why it gives me confidence.

Ibakas offensive night didnt take away anything from his defense, either. He still managed to grab nine rebounds and block four shots in 37 minutes, helping to hold the Bulls to 34 points in the paint.

In his fourth season in the NBA, Ibaka is still just 23 years old. That talent as a complete player is starting to round out at the perfect time for the Thunder, as they continue to try and mesh without Harden. If Ibaka continues to shoot like he has been through five games, that transition period should go much smoother.

He didnt do much in the second and third quarters, but stayed efficient by scoring six points of 2-of-4 shooting and grabbing three offensive rebounds. He then proceeded to score four points in the final quarter on 1-of-2 shooting (and two free throws), capping off a brilliant night as a No. 3 scorer against a feisty Bulls front court.

He can score around the basket and he can score around the perimeter, he can even shoot 3s, head coach Scott Brooks said. Serge is a good player. Hes not only a defensive guy, he can score.

Plenty of reasons to #VoteMcCann, but White Sox catcher should be an All Star regardless of election outcome

Plenty of reasons to #VoteMcCann, but White Sox catcher should be an All Star regardless of election outcome

James McCann should be an All Star. That's not me advocating a position as much as it is stating a fact: Barring something crazy, McCann should be a member of the American League roster next month in Cleveland.

Whether McCann is starting behind the plate or he'll get his turn in one of the later innings is in the hands of baseball fans, with the polls currently open for them to choose a starter between him, Gary Sanchez of the New York Yankees and Robinson Chirinos of the Houston Astros. Sanchez is probably the favorite to win the most votes. He has the first-place Yankees' worldwide fan base behind him, as well as 23 home runs and 52 RBIs.

But McCann has his own stellar case to start, in the midst of a, frankly, out-of-nowhere campaign of spectacular proportions. He entered Wednesday afternoon's game against the Boston Red Sox with a .326/.387/.508 slash line to go along with everything else he's done for this team.

McCann did a little more to add to his case Wednesday, picking up a pair of hits against Chris Sale, one of which was mashed over the Green Monster for a third-inning home run in the White Sox win on getaway day.

"He's the best catcher in the American League," White Sox starting pitcher Lucas Giolito said during Wednesday's broadcast. He's a tad biased, of course, but it doesn't mean he's necessarily wrong. "So I think that's all you have to really say. Offensive numbers, how much he's helped this team from a leadership standpoint, he checks all the boxes. He deserves to be starting the All-Star Game."

McCann has been a hell of a find for the White Sox. When they added him in December, it appeared they were simply acquiring a veteran bridge, and a backup at that, to get them to highly rated catching prospect Zack Collins. Instead, McCann has performed so well that he's being penciled in by fans and onlookers as the team's catcher moving forward. At 29 years old, that's hardly outrageous, and he's still arbitration eligible following this season, making it very easy for the White Sox to bring him back for 2020.

And why wouldn't they? He's made a shocking improvement to the offensive numbers he put up in five years with the division-rival Detroit Tigers, a half-decade during which he hit only 240/.288/.366. It goes without saying that whatever McCann did this offseason worked.

"It's something I've worked for," McCann said last week at Wrigley Field. "It's something, as a little boy, you dream of, and as you get older you work for it. It's a culmination of a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication.

"After a down year offensively last year, I got to do some soul searching, and the biggest thing for me was not trying to be someone that I wasn't. And it sounds simple, sounds silly, but literally just trying to be who James McCann is and not trying to be someone else."

Who James McCann is has been a middle-of-the-order hitter for these White Sox and a game-changer behind the plate. It didn't take long for manager Rick Renteria to make #CleanupManJamesMcCann a thing, and it took a similarly brief amount of time for Renteria to give the majority of the catching duties to McCann in his timeshare with Welington Castillo.

While McCann's offensive presence has been great, his ability to do what Castillo couldn't during the latter's 80-game steroid suspension last season has been perhaps McCann's greatest contribution. He's excelled working with the pitching staff, specifically Giolito, whose turnaround from the statistical worst pitcher in the game to one of the best has been the biggest story of the team's season to this point.

"I have nothing but fantastic things to say about him," Giolito said last week. "He's done a great job this year. Looking forward to him being an All Star. There's not enough good things I can say about what he does defensively and offensively for us."

McCann often deflects the credit heaped onto him by Giolito back to the pitcher. But certainly that part of the White Sox acquisition of the veteran backstop in the offseason has come to fruition. The offense? General manager Rick Hahn has said multiple times that McCann has exceeded their expectations in that department.

"Obviously I played against them for five years, so they'd seen me quite a bit," McCann said last week. "I just turned 29, which I guess in the game of baseball some people think is old now, but in all reality I feel like I'm just coming into my prime. I hope that's the way the organization looks at me.

"I'm thankful for the opportunity, and I've really enjoyed my time here."

That opportunity has yielded an All-Star first half for McCann. See you in Cleveland, James.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

Jose Abreu flips the score, beats the Red Sox with a ninth-inning home run

Jose Abreu flips the score, beats the Red Sox with a ninth-inning home run

Alex Colome blew his first save of the season in the eighth inning, and the White Sox seemed destined for a deflating loss that would have had them swept out of Fenway Park.

Jose Abreu had different plans.

Down a run with one out in the top of the ninth, Abreu battled Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes in a 10-pitch at-bat. The 10th of those pitches was sent over the Green Monster for a score-flipping, two-run homer that took a 7-6 loss to an 8-7 lead.

Clutch.

It was the second ball Abreu blasted over the Monster in this series. He smacked one off the National Car Rental sign Monday night. This one did even more damage and traveled completely outside of Fenway Park, to boot.

That 8-7 lead turned into an 8-7 win when Colome shut the door in the bottom of the ninth.

Abreu doesn't have the same averages he has throughout his immensely productive big league career, the owner of a .255/.295/.493 slash line coming into Wednesday's game. But he's back on track from a power perspective after last season's injury-plagues season, with 19 homers and 59 RBIs. The four runs he drove in Wednesday's three-hit effort brought him to that 19-59 total that's a special numerical combination to White Sox fans. As of this writing, Abreu is one off the league-leading 60 RBIs of Seattle's Domingo Santana.

Abreu's heroics prevented the White Sox losing streak from sliding to five. It also continued a nice bounce-back season for him that has proven he's still capable of doing plenty of damage and could keep him around on the South Side into the future. He's slated to hit free agency at the end of the 2019 campaign, but general manager Rick Hahn has made it sound like Abreu is part of the team's plans moving forward.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.