Bulls

Look on the bright side with Blackhawks

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Look on the bright side with Blackhawks

July is just about finished, and what a memorable July it was for the Chicago Blackhawks.

OK, not really. It was quiet. Very quiet. And as we head into August, the quiet continues.

This has some fans freaking out, to put it mildly. Why arent the Blackhawks doing anything? Why havent they acquired anyone, outside of Sheldon Brookbank? Is this the team with which theyll start the 2012-13 season?

Well, after a month of perceiving the Blackhawks glass as half empty, lets consider the half-full look: the Blackhawks dont have big holes to fill like some of their fellow Central Division foes.

General manager Stan Bowman has said throughout the summer that the Blackhawks arent desperate to make changes. They have a full roster, and they have bodies to fill every position. Others in the Central cant say the same.

The Detroit Red Wings have needed a top defenseman since Niklas Lidstrom announced his retirement at the end of May. So far this offseason, they havent found him. Oh, sure, the Red Wings tried. They went after Ryan Suter and Zach Parise as so many other teams did. Their brass flew to Suters farm the day before the defenseman and Parise chose the Minnesota Wild.

Meanwhile, the Predators have had a soap-opera kind of summer. They simmered in frustration as Suter headed to Minnesota. Then they held onto Shea Weber by matching that gargantuan 14-year, 110-million offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers. Yes, the Predators are still a strong team with Weber staying put. But theres no doubt they lose plenty with Suters departure, and it remains to be seen how their depth at defenseman helps them.

Columbus is, well, still Columbus. The Blackhawks have handled them just fine these past few seasons, and Viktor Stalberg padded his offensive numbers plenty against them in 2011-12. For too long, the Blue Jackets have been known for Rick Nash and not much else. Now they dont even have him anymore, after he was traded to the New York Rangers. So its status quo there.

Yes, the Blackhawks still need to shore a few things up. Defense was an issue last season and it still needs to be addressed. Bowman may like Patrick Kane as a second-line center, but thats not the best long-term solution for the Blackhawks or for Kane.

But the Blackhawks dont have big holes and dont need massive changes. Some of their fellow Central Division foes certainly do. Sometimes, compared to others, the glass is more full.

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

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USA TODAY

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

Anfernee Simons looks more like a ball boy than a 2018 NBA Draft prospect right now. He’s not considered small, what with having a 6-foot-3 frame with a massive 6-foot-9 wingspan, and he weighed in at last week’s NBA Draft Combine at 183 pounds, “heavier” than Lottery-bound guards like Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Collin Sexton.

But there’s plenty of potential to unpack from the soon-to-be 19-year-old, baby-faced combo guard. Don’t let the appearance fool you. Simons is one of the most talented players in the class, and a team patient enough to let him develop at his own pace could reap major benefits in due time.

You won’t find much video on Simons, as the IMG Academy star is preparing to be the first prospect to go preps-to-pros without a year in college since Thon Maker did so in 2016.

Simons, a consensus five-star recruit in the 2018 class, originally committed to Louisville in November 2016 and then decommitted the following September shortly after Rick Pitino was fired. Since he had graduated from Edgewater High School in Florida and was playing a post-grad year at IMG Academy, he became eligible for the 2018 NBA Draft because he is a year removed from high school. That’s where he played this past season, declaring for the draft and signing with an agent in late March.

“The opportunity is there. Me and my parents talked about it a lot and I feel like I’m confident in myself that I’ll be able to make this jump,” he said at last week’s Combine. “So I just felt like, do it now and not waste any time.”

Simons has been on the radars of NBA teams, even if he’s not a household name like Ayton, Doncic and Bagley. He’s currently projected outside of the Lottery, in part because teams haven’t seen him compete against collegiate level talent and because his wiry frame almost surely means time in the G-League as a rookie. But again, the skill set is there.

Simons is a point guard with solid range beyond the arc. He may struggle off the ball because of his size, though that long wingspan and a quick release from his chest should allow him to get off shots. He’s a blur in transition and finishes well at the rim – his 41.5-inch vertical was tied for third best at the Combine, and his three-quarters court sprint was eighth fastest.

He’s a mixed bag defensively. Wingspan is the fun buzz word these days, and that will help him at the next level, but his small frame means there’s work to be done. A strength and conditioning coach will salivate at bringing Simons into the weight room and getting his body NBA-ready.

“Just staying durable through 82 games,” Simons answered when asked about his biggest challenge physically at the next level. “Taking care of your body is real pivotal so I feel like learning how to take care of my body now is a good thing.”

Simons maturely answered that the “unknown” of his game will be both a positive and minus during the pre-draft process. While fellow prospects he may face in team workouts don’t know as much about him and, thus, his game, teams also need to find out more about Simons’ game and off-court habits.

“Coming in young, people don’t know who I am and haven’t seen me play much. That’s the good side about coming in early,” he said. “It could be the same thing (negatively). People haven’t seen me like that, so I feel like they don’t know who I am. They probably think I’m too young to play in the league.”

Simons met with the Bulls and has scheduled a pre-draft workout with them. Though the Bulls feel like their rebuild could go quicker than anticipated – especially if they hit on their No. 7 pick – there could be plenty to gain from drafting for upside on a player like Simons.

Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne will both be free agents in 2019, and Denzel Valentine’s long-term future isn’t set in stone in Chicago. That leaves plenty of openings in the backcourt behind Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. Simons won’t be ready to contribute much in 2018-19, but the Bulls wouldn’t need him to. A handful of outlets projected Simons as a top-5 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The Bulls could snag him a year earlier, let him develop in Hoffman Estates and bring him up in a year when they’re a step closer to contending.

Daily White Sox prospects update: Gavin Sheets hits his first homer of 2018

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Daily White Sox prospects update: Gavin Sheets hits his first homer of 2018

Here's your daily update on what the White Sox highly touted prospects are doing in the minor leagues.

Class A Winston-Salem

Gavin Sheets hit his first home run of the season in a 12-4 loss. While it's taken him this long to hit his first ball out of the park, Sheets has a .380 on-base percentage and his 24 walks make for one of the top 10 totals in the Carolina League. Blake Rutherford doubled in this one, while Sheets, Rutherford, Alex Call and Luis Alexander Basabe combined to draw five walks.

Class A Kannapolis

Luis Gonzalez and Evan Skoug each had a hit in a 9-3 win.

Triple-A Charlotte

Charlie Tilson had two hits in a 9-3 loss.