Blackhawks

Mohammed ready for matchup with former team

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Mohammed ready for matchup with former team

For Nazr Mohammed, the Bulls' preseason game Tuesday night against visiting Oklahoma City, his former team, won't be a bitter reunion. However, despite not having any bad feelings toward the Thunder, don't expect him to take it easy on his old teammates.

"It's preseason, no ill will towards them, but I'm a competitor and they're competitors, and we're going to compete like two brothers in the backyard. Sometimes you can't even tell if they're really brothers," he said after Monday's practice at the Berto Center. "It's the same as I take my approach for any other game. I'm going to come out there and play hard, and be physical and I know that I expect the same from them."

The South Side Chicago native is a well-traveled veteran, having played for eight different teams in his 15-year NBA career, but one can see he has a soft spot for the young Thunder. Led by the All-Star duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook -- neither of whom reportedly will play Tuesday -- Mohammed views Oklahoma City, the defending Western Conference champions, as one of the league's elite teams, even with many observers already anointing the star-studded Lakers as the best in the West.

"They're going to be a good team. They're going to be very good. They bring all the major pieces back. They're adding a guy like Eric Maynor the team's backup point guard, who was injured last season, who I'm a fan of, just from playing with him. They're going to be really tough out West," he explained. "First off, you've got to look at Kevin and 'Russ,' they're superstars in this game.

"Then, you've got James Harden, who's becoming a superstar in this game. In my mind, he's a superstar already, but I don't know how you guys feel. But you've got three legitimate superstars who can score 30 on a given night and score 30 together, and you've got unbelievable low-post play," he continued. "Kendrick Perkins with the 'D' and you've got the best shot-blocker in the league in Serge Ibaka, who can also knock down jump shots. They've got a strong bench and they can play different styles of play. They can play physical because of Kendrick's ability to play physical and then Serge. Then, you've got Nick Collison, who's my guy. Nick's a great guy off the bench and he just does everything right. So, they've got so many different pieces. They can play an up-and-down style, they can play a physical game and they can play defense, so there's really no holes in their team.

"But at the same time, I don't want to just harp on them. I feel like we can do those same things and I feel like we're a very good defensive team, so I think it's going to be a very interesting matchup."

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau agreed with his backup center's assessment of the opposition: "They're a very good team. They present a number of different challenges. We just want to keep improving every day. That's what we're striving for. They're a deep team. They have a number of guys who can go off the dribble. They're big, a shot-blocking team, so we're going to have to play well on both sides of the ball," the coach explained.

Thibodeau has been pleased with Mohammed's strong exhibition campaign thus far, but claims that he's not surprised by the 35-year-old's performance.

"I wouldn't say he's playing better because he came very highly recommended, so I was expecting a lot from him and I had spoken with a number of coaches that had him previously, and the story was the same. Every team, they said he's a great worker, totally committed to the team, keeps himself in great shape and he'll be ready. Whatever role you ask him to play, he's going to handle his role great," he said. "You can't play as long as he has played without every coach saying the same thing and also from observing, I know how I felt when he was on the floor when I was coaching against him. I'm very pleased with his conditioning, with his approach, veteran leadership, great teammate. I think he's added a lot to our team."

Mohammed has been similarly impressed with Thibodeau's operation and went as far to compare the coach, only in his third season as an NBA head coach, to the likes of Hall of Famer Larry Brown and the current dean of NBA head coaches, San Antonio's Gregg Popovich, both of whom previously coached him earlier in his career.

"It's definitely an intense training camp. You've got to come in focused and ready to work. We have a fast-paced camp. Coach Larry Brown who coached the Bobcats when Mohammed played in Charlotte was kind of similar; he wants it intense. But we have a fast-paced camp with transition from drill to drill pretty fast. It's pretty consistent, what he asks of every player. It's not like, 'You, I need this. You, I need that.' He wants the same from everybody, which is good and I've got to give credit to guys. Everybody came in shape and everybody came in ready to go, so we haven't had too many 'getting on the line,' running, things like that. Guys are ready to go," he said. "Thibodeau is very similar to Popovich because they have high expectations for the players. They ask for you to work extremely hard and they ask for you to be focused for a long period of time. Mental lapses just aren't accepted, but a guy like me, I like that because I like order. I like to know when I'm wrong and when I'm right, so when you have order, it's easier for guys like me, but everybody's different.

"Training camp is very important, especially when you're going to a new team. There's a lot of terminology thrown at you. New guys, you're trying to get a feel of what they can do and they're trying to get a feel for what you can do because even though you've been in the league and have seen guys on other teams, it's night and day when a guy's your teammate and you kind of inspect his game and see what kind of worker he is," he continued. "It's the most mentally demanding training camp I've been to. As far as physically, it's up there, but once it gets hard, it's hard. There's no 'extra hard'...because you're asked to stay sharp, at a high level, for a long period of time and mentally, not everybody can do that, but I know I'm capable because I'm doing it now. But it's not for everybody to try to do and we've got some great guys who have been doing a great job at it.

"From our standpoint, we know that we can beat any team in this league, but we also know that if we don't come and play the right way, we can also be beat by any team in this league, so we're focused on what Coach wants us to do and we understand where it's at."

Getting to know four newly-signed Blackhawks

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AP

Getting to know four newly-signed Blackhawks

The Blackhawks announced Monday that they have officially agreed to terms with forward Dominik Kahun, defensemen Lucas Carlsson and Darren Raddysh and goaltender Kevin Lankinen on entry-level contracts.

Kahun ($925,000 cap hit), Lankinen ($925,000) and Raddysh ($730,000) each signed two-year deals that run through the 2019-20 season while Carlsson's is a three-year deal that runs through the 2020-21 campaign and carries a cap hit of $792,500.

So who are these guys? Let's meet them:

Carlsson

Drafted in the fourth round (No. 110 overall) by the Blackhawks in 2016, Carlsson set a career-high with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 44 games this season with Brynäs IF of the Swedish Hockey League. He was tied for fourth among all blue liners with seven goals.

Carlsson, 20, doesn't have major upside, but he's a reliable, well-rounded defenseman and that's what drew the attention of Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley.

“When he’s on the ice, he makes things happen," Kelley told Scott Powers of The Athletic last summer. "I think what impressed the Sweden under-20 coach was Lucas’ ability to challenge in all three zones. He’s an active defensively. Offensively, he challenges. He keeps plays alive.”

Kahun

The 22-year-old forward spent the last four seasons with EHC München of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, Germany's top professional hockey league, where he established career highs in assists (29), points (41) and tied a personal best with 12 goals, leading Munchen to their third straight championship in 2018 after recording four goals and 10 assists in 17 playoff contests.

He raised eyebrows at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, where he compiled five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games and won 55.4 percent of his faceoffs (41 of 74), helping Germany capture a silver medal.

“He has made an enormous step this year, has become much more stable and mature," German national team coach Marco Sturm said after the Olympics. "I am sure that he would grab it in the NHL,” Sturm told the Hamburger Morgenpost.

Most recently, Kahun had a goal and two assists in seven games for Germany during the IIHF Men's World Championship. He's 5-foot-11, 176 pounds whose known to be a solid two-way player and can play center but may need some time to adjust to the smaller ice surface and NHL style of speed and physicality.

Lankinen 

Lankinen is 23 years old and coming off a season in which he was in the discussion for the Urpo Ylönen trophy, annually awarded to the top goaltender of the Finnish Elite League, after registering a league-best 1.33 goals against average and .946 save percentage in 15 games with HIFK.

He missed a large portion of the season because of an injury, but it didn't stop him from turning in a strong postseason, guiding his team to a bronze medal after posting a 1.99 GAA and .936 save percentage in 13 playoff games. The year before that, he led the league with seven shutouts in 42 games, backstopping his team to a silver medal.

This is a low-risk, medium-sized reward signing for the Blackhawks, who could use some more young goaltending depth in the pipeline, especially given how this season unfolded with the big club.

Raddysh

The Blackhawks signed Raddysh to a one-year AHL contract last June, and he turned it into an NHL one after a strong season with the Rockford IceHogs.

Raddysh, 22, accumulated 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 66 regular-season games with the IceHogs, and has appeared in each of the team's playoff games en route to the Western Conference Final.

Last season Raddysh was named the OHL's top defenseman after scoring 16 goals and 65 assists for 81 points in 62 games for the Erie Otters, where he was teammates with current Blackhawks winger Alex DeBrincat. He's the Otters' all-time leader in assists (143) and points (184) among defensemen.

Raddysh might be nothing more than a depth defenseman, but his development is worth monitoring because the offensive production is there and that's something the Blackhawks lacked this past season from their back end.

Lauri Markkanen celebrates 21st birthday with a spot on the NBA's All-Rookie First Team

Lauri Markkanen celebrates 21st birthday with a spot on the NBA's All-Rookie First Team

Lauri Markkanen’s celebration for his 21st birthday coincided with another major honor, being selected to the All-Rookie First team.

Markkanen received 76 of 100 possible first-team votes to join Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, Boston’s Jayson Tatum and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma on the first team. Mitchell and Simmons were unanimous selections and Tatum was one vote short of joining Mitchell and Simmons.

Markkanen, acquired on draft night in the package of players for Jimmy Butler, showed he was far more advanced than many expected. His 15.2 points per game ranked third among rookies and his 7.5 rebounds were first.

Markkanen was a constant in a topsy-turvy season for the Bulls, scoring 30-plus twice and hitting the 25-point plateau another three times. As a perfect fit in Fred Hoiberg’s offensive system, Markkanen had eight games where he hit four triples or more, including a game in New York where he drilled eight 3-pointers against the Knicks.

Only 15 rookies have hit more than 140 triples in NBA history, with Markkanen accomplishing the feat in 68 games—he was joined by Mitchell and Kuzma from this year’s star-studded class.

As the season progressed and Markkanen took hold of the power forward position, the Bulls began maneuvering personnel around him, trading disgruntled forward Nikola Mirotic and making a concerted effort to put Bobby Portis at center to pair Portis with Markkanen as a spread-shooting duo.

As the most impressive rookie the Bulls have employed since Derrick Rose, he’s also the first rookie since Taj Gibson in 2010 to make All-Rookie First Team.