Cubs

Underrated Hinrich continues to quietly impress

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Underrated Hinrich continues to quietly impress

When Kirk Hinrich rejoined the Bulls over the summer, it was a fact that he'd be expected to replace Derrick Rose as the team's starting point guard. But who knew that the veteran would also make up for the loss of Omer Asik as a shot-blocking force?

Obviously, that's a bit of stretch, but Hinrich's impact on the defensive end--he's blocked five shots in four preseason contests, impressive numbers for a 6-foot-3 guard, to go along with 1.5 steals per outing--and steadiness on offense has already earned significant praise from his new coach and teammates.

"Setting the tone for us, both offensively and defensively. Keeping us organized, recognizing what's going well, who's going well, what the defense is doing. Anytime you get the defense to overcommit in one area, to take something away, there's going to be something open on the back side. He has a good ability to read that and defensively, terrific," gushed Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. "Terrific. Multiple effort, hard on the ball and he sets the tone for your defense."

Chimed in Carlos Boozer: "I love playing with him. He has a great, great sense of the game, man. Great flow, great feel, does a great job of making plays for all of us. Great defender, he has phenomenal hands."

Backup point guard Nate Robinson has already made strides as a floor general in the exhibition slate, but Hinrich is proving to be indispensable and could be on the way to joining former and current teammate Luol Deng as member of Thibodeau's exclusive club for players who don't get much rest during games. Coupled with the fact that the backup shooting guard spot is up for grabs and it's easy to envision the versatile Hinrich playing alongside Robinson in certain situations.

But Hinrich's value as a playmaker, after years of playing off the ball--first, upon Rose's arrival in Chicago; then after being traded to Washington, which had then-rookie John Wall; and finally, in Atlanta, where All-Star swingman Joe Johnson often dominated the ball and the Hawks were grooming Jeff Teague, older brother of Bulls rookie Marquis, as the team's future point guard--has been overlooked. Not quite as proficient an outside shooter as many believe him to be--though more athletic, as witnessed by his defensive presence and forays to the rim--Hinrich's floor generalship, beyond his 6.5 assists a night in the preseason, has been more impressive in light of all the new faces he's playing with.

Though he was familiar with Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, who was only a rookie when they were paired up, as well as fellow free-agent signee Vladimir Radmanovic, who was with him in Atlanta, Hinrich has had to adjust to the preferences of new backcourt partner Rip Hamilton, a former Central Division rival in a past life, and Carlos Boozer, a fellow All-American in the high school class of 1999. Thus far, not only has he been a good fit with his new teammates, but it's clear that he and Thibodeau are cut from a similar cloth.

"From knowing them over the years, my main focus is just trying to run the team and I'm improving at that. That's it, that's my focus. I'm not really worried about anything else, except running the team and playing solid," Hinrich told CSNChicago.com. "I've got great teammates, they're fun to play with.

"I'm really enjoying it right now. For whatever reason, some places, you fit. I thought I fit in really well in Washington with the system; we just weren't very good. It's just one of those things," he continued. "I thought it was a good fit for me and that was a big reason I decided to come here."

Still, Hinrich isn't satisfied with the early returns, for himself or the team as a whole. As the preseason winds down, he expects the Bulls to ramp up their play.

"We've got a couple more preseason games to try to tighten some things up and get ready," he explained. "We've just got to keep trying to tighten everything up so we're ready when it goes up for real.

"Not playing in spurts, more consistent on both ends," added Hinrich. "It seems like in some of these preseason games, we've kind of taken our foot of the gas in the second half and we just can't do that."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

It was a tough day for the North Siders.

The Cubs got obliterated by the Cardinals as Matt Carpenter had a three-homer, two-double day. Ben Finfer, Seth Gruen and Maggie Hendricks join David Kaplan on the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast to talk about the blowout.

Was Jon Lester due for this kind of terrible outing? And do the Cubs have enough to swing a big trade before the deadline?

Plus, the panel discusses Matt Nagy’s first training camp practice in the rain and Roquan Smith’s absence in Bourbonnais.

You can listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

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USA TODAY

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

NBC Sports Chicago’s John "Moon" Mullin talked with The MMQB's Albert Breer, who shared his thoughts on where the Bears stand — and if they’ll be able to compete — in a highly competitive NFC North.

Moon: The Bears have made upgrades, but they’re in the NFC North and not many divisions are tougher, given the strength at quarterbacks.

Breer: Yes. You look at the other three teams, and they all very much believe they’re in a window for winning a championship. The Packers are going through some changes, but they’ve gotten Mike Pettine in there as defensive coordinator and a new general manager who was aggressive on draft day. I know that internally they feel that’s going to give them a boost, and bringing Aaron Rodgers back obviously is the biggest thing of all.

Minnesota, all the things they did this offseason, signing (quarterback) Kirk Cousins, (defensive lineman) Sheldon Richardson, and they were knocking on the door last year.

The Lions have been building for two years under (general manager) Bob Quinn and (new coach) Matt Patricia, who lines right up with the general manager — the two of them worked together in New England. They really believe that Matthew Stafford is ready to take the sort of jump that Matt Ryan made in Atlanta a few years ago, where you see that mid-career breakthrough from a quarterback that we see sometimes now.

It’s one of the toughest divisions in football, and every team in the division believes that it’s in the position to contend right now.

Moon: We didn’t see a lot of Mitch Trubisky — 12 games — so it sounds possible that the Bears could improve and still lose ground.

Breer: The Lions were pretty good last year. The Vikings were in the NFC Championship game. And who knows where the Packers would’ve been if Rodgers hadn’t broken his collarbone. The biggest change is that Aaron Rodgers will be back, and that’s the best player in the league. It was a really good division last year, and you’re adding back in a Hall of Fame quarterback.

As far as the Bears, there’s going to be questions where the organization is going. It’s been seven years since they were in the playoffs. I think they certainly got the coach hire right. This is a guy who I know other organizations liked quite a bit and was going to be a head coach sooner or later.

And I think he matches up well with Mitch. I think the Bears are in a good spot, but as you said, they’re competing in a difficult environment, so it may not show up in their record.

Moon: A lot of love for the Vikings after they get to the NFC Championship and then add Kirk Cousins.

Breer: A lot of people look at Minnesota and think Kirk Cousins’ll be a huge improvement. And maybe he will be. I think he’s a very good quarterback, top dozen in the league. But Case Keenum played really, really well last year, so it wasn’t like they weren’t getting anything out of that position last year.

The NFC right now is clearly the strength of the league. If you picked the top 10 teams in the league, you could make a case that seven or eight of them are in the NFC. I think there will be NFC teams that miss the playoffs who could be in the Super Bowl coming out of the AFC. There’s a little bit of an imbalance there.

Moon: Trubisky projects as part of a wave of new quarterbacks league-wide, a sea change in the NFL.

Breer: The interesting thing is that this is probably as stable as the league has been at quarterback in a long time. There’ve been questions where the next great quarterbacks will come from, but I don’t know that there’s a team right now in the NFL like you looked at the Jets or Browns last year, where you say that team is definitely drafting a quarterback in 2019.

Everyone either has a big-money veteran or former first-round pick on their roster. One team that doesn’t is the Cowboys, but they’ve got Dak Prescott who’s played really well. Every team in the league has some stability at the position. I think the position is as healthy as it’s been in a long time, and you’ve got a lot of good young prospects.