Bulls

Schanowski: Bulls should be better than experts predict

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Schanowski: Bulls should be better than experts predict

If youve been reading some of the national magazines and websites, you already know there isnt a lot of optimism about this years Bulls team. Most of the so-called experts are picking Tom Thibodeaus squad to finish seventh or eighth in the East, and get drummed out of the playoffs in the opening round. While thats definitely within the realm of possibilities, I think they will do better.

Yes, we know Derrick Rose wont be back until mid-February or early March, and he probably wont return to his peak form until next season. But the Bulls have one big factor working in their favor over the course of the marathon 82 game seasonthey have the hardest-working and best-prepared coach in the league, and that, in itself, could be worth about a half dozen extra wins.

Thibodeau will make sure his team is thoroughly prepared for each team they face, and he wont accept any shortcuts.

Take a look at what happened to the Lakers on Opening Night. They thought they could just put on those gold uniforms and roll to an easy win over a depleted Dallas team playing without Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman. Instead, one of the other top coaches in the league, Rick Carlisle, had his team ready to go, and the Mavs handed L.A.s super-team an embarrassing loss.

Thibs will catch any number of NBA teams napping during the regular season, and that will allow the Bulls to stay within striking distance of one of the middle seeds in the East. Seems like everyones conceding the Central Division title to Indiana, but Im not. The Pacers wont have their top scorer, Danny Granger, for an indefinite period while he seeks a second opinion for an ailing knee, and theyll miss departed point guard Darren Collison more than people realize. Im expecting the Bulls and Pacers to battle for first place all season long, and while I would give Indiana a slight edge, another division title is certainly a possibility for Chicago.

There has been a lot of concern about the Bulls' bench being a lot weaker than its been the last two seasons, and granted, the second unit certainly wont be as strong defensively. But Nate Robinson has the ability to score points in bunches, and Taj Gibson figures to increase his offensive production. Chicago native Nazr Mohammed had a good pre-season, and Jimmy Butler should be ready for regular rotation minutes after serving a rookie apprenticeship last season.

Of course, theres no way to replace Roses scoring, play-making ability and open court brilliance, but Kirk Hinrich will do a good job of running the half-court offense and playing solid defense. The frontline of Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer is among the best in the league, and Rip Hamilton came to camp in great shape and figures to have a much better second season in Chicago.

Add it all up, and Im predicting a 47-35 finish, which should be good for the No. 6 seed in the East. And, if Rose starts building his confidence by playoff time, there isnt a team in the conference that will want to face the Bulls in Round 1.

Coby White's hair is special, but it looks wild in a draft day Bulls hat

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USA TODAY

Coby White's hair is special, but it looks wild in a draft day Bulls hat

After some pre-draft trade shook up the draft order before the Bulls' pick at No. 7, the first five picks went as expected. Once Minnesota grabbed Jarrett Culver at No. 6, North Carolina point guard Coby White was there at No. 7 and the Bulls pounced on him.

When he walked up to the stage, big hair and all, and put on a Bulls hat, well, it was a moment.

White's hair is special. Maybe the best in the draft class. It doesn't fit well under a hat though.

About 50 seconds into this video you can see White hit the stage and he is handed his Bulls hat. He tries to put it on his head, but after multiple attempts, it doesn't exactly sit right. He makes it a few steps before adjusting the hat again and then sort of just gets to a point where it sat on his head good enough.

It's an all-time draft hat moment. It may not be as good as Lonnie Walker last year, but it's still up there.

It also brings another Bulls draft pick who had hair that wasn't meant to be worn with a hat, Joakim Noah.

 

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Why Cubs feel they've created the perfect situation for Adbert Alzolay to succeed

Why Cubs feel they've created the perfect situation for Adbert Alzolay to succeed

The day has finally come. The Pitcher that was Promised has actually made his way to Wrigley Field.

Adbert Alzolay's first big-league game Thursday might be the most thrilling debut for a pitching prospect for Cubs fans since Mark Prior and it represents the end of a long road for the 24-year-old right-hander and for the organization in general.

The Cubs initially signed Alzolay in 2012 as a 17-year-old out of Venezuela, but he really didn't put himself on the map until a breakout 2017 season with Advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach. He probably would've made his debut last year if not for a lat injury that ended his season in late May and he has the potential to be the first homegrown pitcher to make a real impact at the big-league level under Theo Epstein's front office.

"The stuff's really pretty good — good delivery, strike-thrower," Joe Maddon said. "All those kinds of things. He has the kind of ability that he could transform a group. Then again, you don't want to lay too much on him. He's a young man, he's just trying to make his mark.

"With the surroundings here and the other guys that are on the staff to wrap their arms around him, I think this is the perfect situation for him to morph into a team like this."

The Cubs wanted to ease Alzolay into major-league life and felt Tyler Chatwood had earned an opportunity to start Thursday's game amid a resurgent season, so Alzolay will back up Chatwood as a potential long relief option. Maddon said before the game he was aiming to get Alzolay into a clean inning and since the kid doesn't have much experience as a reliever, they want to give him plenty of time to warm up and get loose.

Maddon also wants Alzolay to enjoy himself and take in the entire experience.

The Cubs haven't made any determinations beyond Thursday's game with their rotation, so it's possible Alzolay and Chatwood could both be vying for the next turn in the order as Kyle Hendricks' return from a shoulder injury is not imminent. 

Nobody can predict the future, but Maddon said the Cubs have already been discussing "different methods" in how they can keep Alzolay here in Chicago, even when Hendricks returns. If the young pitcher performs, he could be a real weapon for the team in the second half and down the stretch.

Of course, it's all about health with Alzolay and there is no guarantee he has immediate success. But he's been on fire lately in Triple-A Iowa — 1.93 ERA, 40 strikeouts vs. only 3 walks in his last 28 innings — and with a group of veteran pitchers around him to learn from, it wouldn't be crazy to see him stick. It also helps that he has a fellow Venezuelan native as his catcher (Willson Contreras).

"Having never even seen him throw a baseball live — what I hear and what I see via video, I'm betting on him," Maddon said.

Alzolay has credited his development as a pitcher to improved production from his curveball and feels more confident in his changeup to accompany a fastball that can reach the mid-to-upper 90s.

On top of the physical attributes, Alzolay has drawn rave reviews from Cubs brass for his makeup and intangibles. He's also been making use of the times he's not on a mound by watching and studying MLB video.

"During my time off — after the games down there in Triple-A or even in spring training starting last year — I've been watching a lot of videos from all those guys to see the way they work here in the big leagues," Alzolay said. "Watching different guys that have the same kind of stuff that I have — watching and learning from that. I think it will help."

He also watched video of himself from 2017 and realize that he was too slow last year, so worked to speed up his tempo this season. 

Maddon believes life experience has helped mold Alzolay into the person and pitcher he is today, citing the 24-year-old's upbringing in Venezuela.

"He's a very mature young man," Maddon said. "...He slows things down. When you speak to him, he speaks clearly and slowly. I watch him on video and you get this sense of confidence when he throws the baseball. I think he knows exactly what he wants to do when he's out there, so he elicits confidence from that, also. He's just a very mature young man."

While Alzolay's debut is a source of excitement for the fanbase and everybody can dream on his tantalizing potential, his journey to the big leagues as a homegrown pitcher matters. This is a different situation than Kyle Hendricks or Carl Edwards Jr., since both players were drafted and partially developed in other organizations. 

At a time when the Cubs have an aging — and expensive — pitching staff, they could really use a guy like Alzolay to come up to the majors and stick...especially if it's eventually in the rotation.

"If you're running the organization, it's a big deal," Maddon said. "When you're able to draft and develop or sign and develop players, yeah there's something to that. When you have them right out of the womb, man, there's a lot of investment in that — from the scouts to the development people to the big-league staff. 

"But there's always a sense of pride of developing your own. That's just true. Whether there's a shortstop or a third baseman or whatever. And the fact that we've had a hard time developing pitchers that have arrived at the big-league level, yeah, it's good to get your feet on the ground with that and then try to recreate the template as you go along.

"I think everybody takes a strong sense of pride in watching his development."