White Sox

NBA veterans influence evident in Rose, Wall

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NBA veterans influence evident in Rose, Wall

Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010
Updated 3:22 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

As if their ridiculous explosiveness and other similarities weren't enough, Derrick Rose and John Wall - facing off Saturday night at the United Center for the first time in the regular season - both had a shared advantage upon entering the professional ranks: during their lone years in college basketball, the point guards were each tutored by 17-year NBA veteran Rod Strickland.

Strickland, an All-American at DePaul in the late 1980s and regarded as one of the league's best floor generals during his playing days, was an assistant coach at Memphis when Rose led the Tigers to the national-championship game and guided Wall last season at Kentucky. A pass-first playmaker who once led the league in assists, Strickland was also one of the NBA's best finishing point guards, although he lacked the elite athleticism of his proteges.

"They both had that finishing ability even before they got to college. As far as finishing, you've just got to go in there and be aggressive, but they're so athletic and they're physical, so it comes easy to them," Strickland told CSNChicago.com. "As far as their jump shots, even if you're not a great shooter coming out of high school or college, your shot gets better if you work hard on it. They don't have to necessarily be great shooters, they just have to get to spots and make shots to make people think that you can shoot sometimes.

"The hardest thing sometimes when you come into the league is playing against guys you look up to. Now, you've got to be the guy that turns dudes down and makes decisions. That could be a big adjustment for a young PG," continued Strickland about his advice to the two No. 1 picks. "I just told them both to basically go at everybody, always be aggressive, always compete."

A frequent point of comparison for Rose and Wall is concern about their outside shooting - something Rose has started to rectify in his third season and an area in which Wall may be better than advertised - but Strickland believes developing a strong leadership presence and overcoming adversity are more integral to pro success.

"For me it was different, because they the New York Knicks had Mark Jackson Strickland's rookie year. I was more like 'D. Rose' - kind of quiet, got people in spots because of the flow of the game. 'J. Wall,' he's a talkative type, he's going to tell everybody what to do and where to go, real outgoing. It's funny because when 'D. Rose got in the league, I thought that would be adjustment for him, but 'J. Wall,' he's just an outgoing person. 'D. Rose' was one of those guys that might point or slow things down. 'D. Rose' seems to have gotten more outspoken," said Strickland, who also coached last season's Rookie of the Year, Tyreke Evans, at Memphis, as well as Clippers rookie point guard Eric Bledsoe - who's seen an uptick in his minutes under former Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro while starter Baron Davis is sidelined - at Kentucky as collegians.

"With their games, their work ethic, me and everybody around them knew they'd be successful right away and be able to fight through the bad times," continued Strickland. "I'm sure it's tough - coming from a winning program, then losing a lot of games - competitors keep at it. Those guys just make it another challenge. I don't necessarily believe in that - the 'rookie wall.' I never thought I hit it when I played. I thought it was just a mindset. Those guys are competitive enough and their work ethic is great, so even when they struggle - and everybody does over the course of an 82-game season - they'll get past it."

Added Strickland: I'm not surprised about anything either one of those guys does because of their work ethic and way they went about their business in college. You would hear stuff, but I see them every day and I've been in that league and I know what that league's about. The court opens up so wide for them - guys can't leave them and they're playing with better players every night - that what they're doing is not surprising to me at all. They become different people when they get on the court. They love the lights. What Derrick has done, what John is doing so far, I expected that."

Rose talked about Strickland's influence on him after Friday's Bulls practice.

"Spending hours in the gym with him after practice, going over things, just working on my finishing moves and stuff, he helped me out a lot and I appreciate him for that," said Rose. "I still don't know how to finish like he does, but he was one of the greatest finishers in the NBA. I'm still learning."

As for the matchup with Wall, Rose, as always, prefers to focus on the game from a team standpoint.

"He's a good player, a good young player. He's got good vets over there that are helping him out. But I'm not too worried about the matchup. It's all about winning games and that's all I'm trying to do right now, trying to put my team in a position to win every time we step on the court," said Rose. "Every point guard brings something new. He brings quickness and strength. Saturday's going to be an exciting night."

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

After Reynaldo Lopez said White Sox 'looked like clowns' in Cleveland, Rick Renteria fine with his pitcher's comments

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USA TODAY

After Reynaldo Lopez said White Sox 'looked like clowns' in Cleveland, Rick Renteria fine with his pitcher's comments

The White Sox are on a seven-game losing streak and are 25 games below .500.

It’s perhaps no surprise that the losses have piled up in a season that was always going to be about player development and advancing the rebuilding effort. Rick Hahn didn’t call this the hardest part of the rebuild for nothing.

But losing is fun for no one, and to be in the midst of such results on an everyday basis can unsurprisingly cause frustration to build.

The most verbalized display of that frustration to date came earlier this week, when at the end of a sweep at the hands of the division-rival Cleveland Indians, pitcher Reynaldo Lopez said he and his teammates “looked like clowns.”

“It’s unacceptable for us to look the way we looked today,” Lopez told reporters, including MLB.com’s Scott Merkin, through a translator after Wednesday’s 12-0 loss in Cleveland. “Nobody is happy about the way we looked today. Honestly, we looked like clowns there, starting with me. But I know we can do better. It’s a matter of us to keep grinding, improving and working hard.”

Calling the people you work with “clowns” might cause some problems in the average workplace. But the leader of this team, manager Rick Renteria, was fine with what Lopez said and complimented him for making the comments, not a dissimilar reaction to the one he had after veteran pitcher James Shields said he didn’t care about the rebuild and wanted to win now earlier this season.

“Good for him,” Renteria said of Lopez on Friday. “I think he was just speaking what everybody was probably sensing. I think nobody was hiding it. I think the players knew it. I think we addressed it a little bit. You know, when the pitcher comes out — I mean, he took accountability for himself, that’s one of the things we were talking about, that’s a good thing.

“I think when these guys express themselves to each other and make it known that we expect certain things and we’re not doing those things and we want to get back to what we’ve always preached.

“I think they’re all accountable. They look in the mirror. They understand, I believe, that he was speaking from a place of trying to get us back to understanding that there’s a level of play that you expect, there’s a level of focus and concentration that you’re looking to have, and it’s the only way you have a chance in order to compete.

“I mean, you’re playing against some of the best teams in the game of baseball. You need to have that focus and concentration in order to give yourself a chance. He just made it known.”

As Renteria kept saying, Lopez was just as hard on himself, and he had a right to be. He allowed five runs on six hits and four walks in just 4.1 innings. Surely he’d be happy to avoid the Indians again this season: In two starts against them, he’s allowed 11 earned runs on 14 hits over seven innings.

But he wasn’t alone in Wednesday’s ugliness. The offense mustered only two hits in the shutout, Yoan Moncada committed another fielding error, and the bullpen allowed seven more runs, six of them charged to Bruce Rondon.

Similar vocalizations of this team’s frustrations have come from the likes of Hahn, Renteria and Shields. But now it’s coming from one of the young players who are the reason for this organization’s bright future. Lopez has pitched as well as any White Sox pitcher this season, and he figures to be in the mix for a spot in the team’s rotation of the future.

“I think it speaks volumes for him,” Renteria said. “You can’t be scared to voice what you believe is, in your opinion, something that you’re viewing, especially (about) yourself. And then you can direct it, if you need to, to the rest of the club. And I think he did a nice job. I thought he did it very respectfully, to be honest.”

The level of talent on this roster obviously isn’t what the White Sox hope it will be in the coming years, and because of the development happening in the minor leagues, many of the big league team’s current players aren’t expected to be around when things transition from rebuilding to contending.

But the attitude and identity that made “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” a rallying cry is still expected to be on display every day. It’s hard to find that kind of thing in a 12-0 loss.

Of course these players don’t want to lose, and Lopez’s comments are a way of saying that. Hence why the manager of the supposed no-quit boys was happy to hear them.

Cubs still waiting for Willson Contreras' offense to take off, but they know it's coming

Cubs still waiting for Willson Contreras' offense to take off, but they know it's coming

If every Major League Baseball player was thrown into a draft pool in a fantasy-type format, Willson Contreras may be the first catcher taken.

Joe Maddon and the Cubs certainly wouldn't take anybody else over "Willy."

The Cubs skipper said as much in late-May, placing Contreras' value above guys like Buster Posey, Gary Sanchez and Yadier Molina based on age, athleticism, arm, blocking, intelligence, energy and offensive prowess.
 
Contreras strikes out more, doesn't hit for as high of an average and doesn't yet have the leadership ability of Posey, but he's also 5 years younger than the Giants catcher. Molina is possibly destined for the Hall of Fame, but he's also 35 and the twilight of his career is emerging. Sanchez is a better hitter with more power currently than Contreras, but a worse fielder.

Remember, Contreras has been in the big leagues for barely 2 years total — the anniversary of his first at-bat came earlier this week:

All that being said, the Cubs are still waiting for Contreras to display that type of complete player in 2018.

He's thrown out 11-of-32 would-be basestealers and the Cubs love the way he's improved behind the plate at calling the game, blocking balls in the dirt and working with the pitcher. They still see some room for improvement with pitch-framing, but that's not suprising given he's only been catching full-time since 2013.

Offensively, Contreras woke up Saturday morning with a .262 batting average and .354 on-base percentage (which are both in line with his career .274/.356 line), but his slugging (.412) is way down compared to his career .472 mark.

He already has 14 doubles (career high in a season was 21 last year) and a career-best 4 triples, but also only 4 homers — 3 of which came in a 2-game stretch against the White Sox on May 11-12.

So where's the power?

"He's just not been hitting the ball as hard," Maddon said. "It's there, he's gonna be fine. Might be just getting a little bit long with his swing. I think that's what I'm seeing more than anything.

"But I have so much faith in him. It was more to the middle of last year that he really took off. That just might be his DNA — slower start, finish fast.

"Without getting hurt last year, I thought he was gonna get his 100 RBIs. So I'm not worried about him. It will come. He's always hit, he can hit, he's strong, he's healthy, he's well, so it's just a patience situation."

The hot streak Maddon is talking about from last season actually began on June 16 and extended to Aug. 9, the date Contreras pulled his hamstring and went to the disabled list for the next month.

In that 45-game span (40 starts) in the middle of 2017, Contreras hit .313/.381/.669 (1.050 OPS) with 16 homers and 45 RBI.

It looked like the 26-year-old catcher may be getting on one of those hot streaks back in mid-May when he clobbered the Marlins, White Sox and Braves pitching staffs to the tune of a .500 average, 1.780 OPS, 3 homers and 11 RBI in a week's worth of action.

But in the month since, Contreras has only 3 extra-base hits and no homers, driving in just 4 runs in 29 games (26 starts) while spending most of his time hitting behind Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

What's been the difference?

"I think it's honestly just the playing baseball part of the game," Contreras said. "You're gonna go through your ups and downs, but I definitely do feel like I've been putting in the work and about ready to take off to be able to help the team."

Contreras admitted he's been focused more on his work behind the plate this season, trying to manage the pitching staff, consume all the scouting reports and work on calling the game. He's still trying to figure out how to perfectly separate that area of his game with his at-bats.

"With my defense and calling games, that's one way that I'm able to help the team right now," Contreras said. "And as soon as my bat heats up, we're gonna be able to take off even more."

On the latest round of National League All-Star voting, Contreras was behind Posey among catchers. The Cubs backstop said he would be honored to go to Washington D.C. next month, but also understands he needs to show more of what he's capable of at the plate.

"If I go, I go," he said. "Honestly, it's not something that I'm really focusing on right now. ... I do think I've been pretty consistent in terms of my average and on-base percentage and helping create situations and keep the line moving, at least.

"But right now, I know my bat hasn't been super consistent so far. It would be a great opportunity and I'd thank the fans."

As a whole, the Cubs have been hitting fewer home runs this season compared to last year. Under new hitting coach Chili Davis, they're prioritizing contact and using the whole field over power and pulling the ball.

Contreras has a 19.3 percent strikeout rate — the lowest of his brief big-league career — while still holding a 9.6 percent walk rate, in line with his career mark (9.9 percent).

Thanks to improved defense, Contreras still boasts a 1.6 WAR (FanGraphs) despite the low power output to this point. Posey (1.7 WAR) is the only catcher in baseball more valuable to his team.

Just wait until his power shows up.

"He hasn't even taken off yet," Maddon said. "He's gonna really take off. Remember last year how hot he got in the second half? That's gonna happen again. You see the pickoffs, what he does behind the plate, how he controls the running game — he's a different cat.

"And he's gonna keep getting better. He's not even at that level of consistency that I think you're gonna get out of him. Great athlete, runs well, does a lot of things well, but it does not surprise me that he's [second in NL All-Star voting at catcher] with Posey."