Posts Tagged ‘defense’

Baseball is all romance, no fucking.

Robert Bykoski

This was a scary list to compile. For a few years I had read and heard about the bare cupboard that the Cubs farm system had become. Now, there are some gems here, but it lies mainly in the outfield. The Cubs have compiled a batch of CF prospects, but that’s just one position. Indeed the Cubs depth is pretty thin on the infield, and it’s going to be a growing need if Darwin Barney and Josh Vitters don’t pan out. This is more or less a list of players that you should pay attention to this year. There are some real young bucks in there, but their progress can yield more prospects or they could become future pieces of the hopeful Cubs championship puzzle. 

So without further adieu, he’s the fuckless romance.
-Mauricio Rubio Jr.
Follow me on Twitter, @MRubio52 

Catcher:

1. Geo Soto – Soto is once again coming off a season where his offensive production cratered. Soto was an older prospect when he finally broke through in 2008 and won Rookie of the year honors. In 2009 his offense fell flat and there were legitimate concerns about the bad weight he put on during the off season. Those questions were back again last year as he appeared to be heavier than he was in 2010. Soto was finally healthy but he was unable to properly square up the ball and his swing looked off. A .228/.310/.411 slash line sunk his value as he never possessed a cannon behind the plate. When he’s right, his stick is legit. There are two prospects that are legit threats to take serious playing time away from him, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see him dealt this year if he re-establishes his value at the plate. Decent power stroke, good eye, and he doesn’t kill you at the plate, he could bring back a decent haul.

2. Welington Castillo – The Cubs are noticeably thin at catcher, their other prospects are fairly far away from the major league level, but Castillo is ready now. He’s a bit like Soto in that his offense completely bottomed out in the minors before having a renaissance with the stick. He has a strong arm, but in a more stacked organization he would start the year in the minors to work on refining his catching skills. In 2011 he hit .287/.359/.516 across three levels, and his career minor league OPS is .753. He projects to be a good defensive catcher that can hit at an above average rate for the position. The Cubs will need to figure out if Castillo can hit Major League pitching sooner rather than later.

3. Steve Clevenger – This is why the Cubs are thin at catcher, he’s 3rd on the organizational depth chart because he bats lefty. Clevenger did well at AA, but it was the second go-round for him, and repeating a level usually skews numbers. By all accounts his defense is far away from Major League ready, and he’s a year older than Castillo, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him travel north with the team in place of Castillo to allow Welington to get regular AB’s.

First Base

1. Bryan LaHair – If you’re going to be a Major League First Baseman you’ll have to slug. There are rare exceptions to this rule in the modern game, Daric Barton is one, but there is no doubt that First Base is a power production position. LaHair has obvious power, but there are several examples of players that slug in their youth down on the farm and can’t figure out Major League pitching. Matt LaPorta comes to mind. A 1.070 OPS is no joke, but consider that LaHair was 28, old for the level, and hasn’t really flashed that power consistently at the Major League level. He did well in an extremely limited sample size with the big boys last year, but he’ll have to do it consistently in 2012 to keep a hold of the starting job.

2. Anthony Rizzo – Jed Hoyer claims that he promoted Rizzo too early last year, and owns up to that mistake. I would caution him to not let a past transgression affect his decision making for the current team. Rizzo might be ready sooner than Hoyer thinks, When he was in the minors last year he absolutely destroyed minor league pitching. The problem there is the deep chasm separating the two parks he called home in 2011. PETCO is a cavernous stadium that kills flyballs. Tucson’s park is a bandbox by any measure. While his numbers are a bit skewed, the power is truly a plus-skill. He can be a legit 35+ homer guy if he can ever put it all together, and he’s the future of the Cubs at the corner.

3. Daniel Vogelbach – Vogelbach is rawer than raw, he’s a 19 year old that flashed decent power in extremely limited playing time in rookie ball, but he bears watching. Scouts are praising his ability to drive the ball to all parts of the park, he has plus-plus power and has started to creep into top 10 Cubs prospect lists. His conditioning a concern, he’s a big boy at 6’0 and 250 elbows, but he’s a name to pay attention to.

Second Base

1. Darwin Barney – He’s pretty much all effort. His offensive value is strictly tied into his batting average, which usually spells death for most prospects. Barney drew 22 walks in 570 PA’s last year, which is pretty awful. He has a high baseball IQ and he knows how to be aggressive on the base paths while still being smart, you know, kinda like the inverse Theriot. What he brings to the table is shortstop range and arm to second base. He’s a tremendous fielder and his glove will justify his fairly anemic bat for his career. If he’s hitting .280, he isn’t killing you. If he falls below that, it’s trouble. That usually spells UTL instead of 2B, but given the limited options at the keystone, he’s going to get another 500+ PA’s with the Cubs.

2. Jeff Baker – Baker struggles against right-handed hitters (.200/.229/.263) and his defense is only so-so. He’s a decent platoon backup at 2B, but it speaks more to the lack of depth the Cubs have there than any of the meager positives that Baker brings to the table. He’s 31 and clearly at the end of the road. He’s been in a decline phase for 3 years now and his willingness to play every position is a clear signal of that. His trade value is in the basement right now, so he’s likely to stick around on the club, but it’s looking like he’s limited to facing left-handers from here on in.

3. Zeke DeVoss – He’s pretty far away at this point, but I don’t feel like writing about Blake DeWitt in this space, so let’s talk about this kid. He doesn’t profile to have much power, but his main tool is a good eye at the plate and good speed. He’s going to have to show that patience again, the worry on DeVoss is that he’s too passive at the plate and that his lack of power will show itself as he progresses through the system. His ceiling looks like Luis Castillo, so make of that what you will.

Shortstop

1. Starlin Castro – Here are Castro’s statistical comps through his age 21 season. That guarantees nothing, but it’s usually a good thing when you’re putting up numbers similar to 4 Hall of Famers. Castro needs to work on his defense, he doesn’t set his feet when he throws and it makes him wild, but he started to cut his error rate last year, and that’s a positive sign. Tulowitzki and Jeter were making errors at a higher rate in the minors than Castro in the majors when they were 21, but that didn’t move them off the position. Castro should remain at short, his bat is maximized there and he has the tools to be a good defensive shortstop. Castro can hit the ball, he has incredible bat control. He can add power if he adds good weight, and he’s on the track to be a star. He doesn’t walk at a high rate, but his consistency with the stick more than makes up for that. For now at least.

2. Junior Lake – The man is solidly built and has climbed the prospect totem pole. He’s 21 and had a solid showing at High-A ball before struggling in Double-A Tennessee. Depending on how big he gets he can actually move to 3B and still project well enough with his bat. He’s very raw and has bad plate discipline (running theme with the Cubs ORG, it would seem), but his power is real.

3. Javier Baez – Baez is here over Bianchi because he’s toolsy and that makes people excited. Truth be told, he’s a long shot to develop into the player everyone wants him to be. Baez has concerns about his makeup. He’s immature, which is to be expected for a 19 year old, but he’s going to make people drool over his tools. He had a meh showing on the farm, but he has tremendous upside.

Third Base

1. Ian Stewart – He never really took advantage of Coors. He was a decent prospect and a startable 3B, but he won’t be replacing the sum of Aramis’ production. All that said, Ramirez did need to go and Stewart is just a stopgap en route to a better 3B. Hopefully the wait for the next one won’t be as long as the time gap between Santo and Ramirez. The Cubs hope that the fabled “change of scenery” will help him out, but I’m not seeing it.

2. Josh Vitters – It seems like he’s been in the organization forever, but he’s still only 22. Vitters has the habit of struggling after a promotion and adjusting fairly well the following year. That’s fine for now, especially since he was making solid contact in 2011. Youth will only be on his side for so long (ain’t that the brutal truth), and with Ian Stewart likely to struggle on the Major League level, the time for Vitters to show that he is the legit future at third is now.

3. Marquez Smith – He’s old and he’s hit his ceiling, so at this point he can contribute as a solid if unspectacular right-handed bat off the bench. He’s not a star anymore, and at this point he’s waiting on guys like Jeimer Candelario to pass him up in the organization. He’s a Bobby Scales type guy at this point, great minor leaguer, but he’s never going to develop into an everyday Major League Player.


I’ve spent a lot of time writing about baseball games these last couple of months. It’s only natural. Baseball is my favorite sport after all. I don’t feel like I’m doing anyone a disservice by writing solely about baseball, but a little variety now and then can’t hurt.

Basketball is not my game. I tried playing it when I was a kid and found that my two main skills, free throw shooting and fouling other players, weren’t a recipe for a star hoopster. Subsequently, I only enjoyed it when winning or losing didn’t matter to anyone involved. I loved playing 21 and horse during PE in both elementary and high school and to this day still love the idea of just shooting a ball around, not that I ever do. At the end of the day basketball is just a fun game that I can’t take seriously. At least I can’t take it seriously enough to watch others play.

That’s why I love NBA Jam.

It’s a basketball game that doesn’t take the sport seriously. While winning and losing may be a personal matter within the game, there’s no season riding on it. There are no teammates to ridicule or be ridiculed in the locker room after a blowout loss. There isn’t a shred of remorse or hurt feelings when a game is over. Just another couple of coins dumped into the slot. There have been several games released with the NBA Jam name, and many more similar games of varying quality under different titles. All hipster douchebaggary aside, the original arcade cabinet is still the best version available if you can find a place that has one. It had balanced teams and it just sounds and feels right. Plus it had Shaq and Barkley so there.

When you play NBA Jam on the original arcade cabinet, you are playing a caricature of one of the most exciting and storied times in basketball history. It was a time when old greats faced off against young new stars, new dynasties were being formed as old standbys crumbled, the NBA was taking chances by drafting new talent from Europe and for the first time sent its top stars up against the increasingly tough talent in the Olympic games. That’s not even mentioning that Micheal Jordan had just forced his name into the world’s collective consciousness, whether they liked it or not, by winning his third consecutive championship ring and five MVP awards in the process. (Two regular season, three finals.)

So why is NBA Jam still such a popular game? How has it endeared itself to so many fans? What’s the magic? What’s the trick? The gimmick? What’s the secret?

For one, it’s fast. The 3 minute quarters blink past without a care. It’s really a testament to how great a game is when people don’t even realize they are being duped into dumping extra coins in a game due to a fast counting clock. Then there’s the gameplay. Through all the shoving, turbo passes, flaming dunks, and shattered glass you don’t even realize how much time really goes by or how many games you’ve played. You put in your first quarter, you play, you look up and your pockets no longer jingle and its been three hours. What the hell?

Another reason people like NBA Jam is the flamboyantly comical art style and presentation. Between the static player photographs put on what seems to be a single body that is repeatedly pallet swapped and re-sized, and commentary provided by Tim Kitzrow it’s hard not to smile while you watch and listen to the game. Everything is so over the top that there’s no room for rational basketball rules. I mean, how do you call a foul in a game where you can set the net on fire with a dunk? How could you allow the game to stop just because the ball goes out of bounds when any given player jumps higher than the rim? You just can’t. It’s an arcade sports game at its core and NBA Jam does it so right, there’s no way to really improve it. Even the newest version on the Wii, PSN, and Xbox Live is just the same game with updated rosters and visuals.

There is, however, an underlying theory as to why people love NBA Jam. One that is buried within the confines of sports history and the evaluation of what was happening in basketball between 1991 and 1993. The 1980’s were a period of rising popularity for professional basketball. Starting in 1979 when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson entered the league, star player after star player emerged culminating in a virtual renaissance in the NBA. The 80’s saw the retirement of some of the game’s most storied players including Bill Walton, Kareem Abdul Jabar, Julius Irving, and Walt Frazier. But while these greats were taking a seat players like James Worthy, Isiah Thomas, John Stockton, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Clyde Drexler, Chris Mullen, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, and Micheal Jordan were easily making names for themselves in a sport that was fast becoming a contender for the worlds most popular sport. Basketball was clearly evolving and it would take a loss on the world’s stage for America to understand just how far the sport had come.

In 1988 the US men’s basketball team finished third in the Olympics. Third. They lost to Russia and Yugoslavia. What was happening? All the time the US was sending college kids to play in the Olympics in basketball the rest of the world was sending its best players to compete and they were getting better every year. The best players from the United States were in the NBA and weren’t allowed to play in the games due to their professional status. In effect, that gave the US a huge disadvantage. Sure nine of the players on the Russian and Yugoslavian teams that beat the American team ended up playing for the NBA at some point and with varying success, you may remember Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc, and Drazen Petrovic, but that was no excuse. So in 1989 when the worlds governing body over international basketball, the FIBA, decided it was cool to allow professional players to compete the stage was set for something crazy to happen.

The 1992 US men’s basketball team featured eleven NBA players and one guy from Duke (pfft they couldn’t get one more?). Not only did they tear up the world qualifying tournaments, beating the six teams they played by an average of 52 points, but they flew through the Olympics with ease. They averaged 117 points per game and beat the opposition by an average of 44 points per game to win the gold medal that year. It was a great moment in sports history and The Dream Team is one of only eight complete teams to be elected to the basketball hall of fame. Combine that with basketball’s general rising popularity and you have a country ready to eat up anything basketball related. NBA Jam couldn’t possibly fail in at atmosphere like that.

NBA Jam represents a time in sports history where everything was on an upswing and a time in video game history when new avenues of game development were being explored. These two elements combined to bring about a classic game that painted a bombastic and flashy picture of American culture. One that I dearly miss and has yet to be matched.

Stay tuned for part two, The ghosts of Reggie Lewis and Drazen Petrovic.

Boomshakalaka.

The Miami Heat are the best team in basketball right now. They’ve managed to augment their talent with a modicum of depth. Shane Battier, a healthy Udonis Haslem, ditto with Mike Miller, Norris Cole came out of nowhere to provide meaningful minutes, the Heat have a bench now and that makes them deadly. It’s a forgone conclusion that the Heat will meet the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals once again.

That’s part of the reason the Heat are so criticized. When you add to a core that boasts 3 of the 10 best players in the NBA, you’re supposed to be unstoppable. The roadblocks that remain for the Heat are the same ones as last year. They have difficulty figuring out who will be the man in the closing minutes, you can frustrate them with a zone defense, and they have some difficulty with rebounding.

And there’s that really weird LeBron issue too.

Which of course brings me to Derrick Rose. I have no idea where the excuse of “That’s the proper basketball play,” came from, but it’s complete utter bullshit. The Heat were in trouble last Friday against a tough Utah Jazz team. Yeah, LeBron spearheaded an inspired comeback that came up just short, he was hitting ridiculous three pointers and taking odd shots from odd angles because, damnit, he’s the best damn player on the planet and he should be forcing up shots like that because he can hit them.

On the final play however? “I gotta pass to Udonis. Crunch time.”

Don’t even give me Kerr or Paxson. Those assholes were jump shooters, deadly threats from the outside. It made sense to pass it out to the top of the key when the defense was collapsing on you. LeBron is an absolute force of nature. No one is going to bother him much when he drives the paint. You can’t slow that down.

Look at Rose. In the waning moments of a close game against a tough Philly team, when the Bulls needed a bucket, who was throwing his small frame into the teeth of a pitbull defense that was looking to make sure that it wouldn’t be Rose who scores? Onesanity, that’s who. A stupid, ill-advised shot that makes you go, “NONONNONONONONNO!!!! WAIT WHAT!!!!!! YES! SHIT YES, YOU LITTLE SHIT YOU KEEP DOING THAT AND IT MAKES NO SENSE WHATSOEVER GODDAMNIT!”

Well, maybe that’s just me, but Rose is the same guy that dominated a state playoff game and only scored 2 points. He can distribute and he loves getting his teammates involved. Remember early in his career when we were all begging him to quit deferring?

And then he did the damndest thing and quit deferring and became the MVP because of clownshoes ridiculous shot after shot that won the Bulls games? Yeah, it’s crazy but I think someone (Thibs) sat Derrick down and said, “Now, I know that you don’t want to step on any toes, but seriously, asshole, you’re passing to Bogans and Jo for jumpshots. Cut that shit out and just take it to the rack.”

LeBron needs that speech. Yeah, passing to Haslem is the proper basketball play, but everyone needs to shit on that stupid theory. Legends don’t follow the rules. They reinvent the book in their own image by throttling the game by it’s throat and making it bend to their will. “Oh what’s that? I’m too selfish? I’m only a scorer? Here, have some of this 35-8-8 up your asshole. And then I’ll win 6 titles.” “Oh, I can’t win without Shaq? Taste my asshole, I’ll win two more and solidify my legend. And I’ll do it by being a maniacal asshole who makes funny faces and takes a lot of ‘bad’ shots.”

The rules that dictate what is and isn’t a good basketball play are completely open for LeBron to reinterpret and rewrite. Bad basketball plays are good ones for him because he is such a physical freak. The man can do whatever he wants on the court, and if he’s going to shake off the demons, get the monkey off his back, he’s going to have to forget about that “good basketball play” bullshit.

Impose your will asshole, if you don’t, good luck getting by the Bulls.

[youtube http://youtu.be/-i51QLznR2g]
Goddamn that’s an awful shot…awesome.

The 61st Annual NBA ALL-Star game came and went over the weekend. Amidst all the Oscar buzz and red carpet glitz and glamor, did anyone even notice?

Seriously, who is scheduling these events nowadays? The NBA is fighting to regain its fan base and attract new ones simultaneously, and The Commish can’t even get his timing right? Good luck with that whole rebuilding process, Señor Stern. The schedule making powers that be failed to notice that Hollywood’s biggest night took place the same night? Really?

 

So many issues I have with today’s NBA. Lucky for me, the pros always outweigh the cons, and I continue to con myself into believing in basketball.


I heard they’re using this year’s game as a tutorial for young ballers to show them exactly what not to do when they step on the hardwood. Even Luol Deng, a premiere defender in my book, practically sprinted out of the way for Blake Griffin to obtain a perfectly clear dunking lane. C’mon, Lu! It’s your first ASG. Swat that shit to the first row! Seriously, the defense is absolutely atrocious. But you knew that before tuning in to watch. What I don’t know is how they got Thibs to patrol the East sideline with the game’s reputation being what it is. I was taking over/under bets on not if, but how many times Coach T would stroke out due to lack of defense. The West scored 88 points…by halftime (yes, that is a record). The Bulls have held opponents to less than that (in entire games) 18 times this  year! 


The West won the “game” 152-149 if anyone gives a shit. And Kevin Durant was the game’s MVP. He’s so slick.


There was a moment in the 3rd quarter when Kobe took it to the rim, and DWade fouled him. Hard. It was a shot to the nose- a playoff foul. I smiled a little. Actual defense. It was in apparent retaliation to a good defensive stop by Kobe against Wade on the other end of the floor. And then a little bit later, Kobe broke Mike’s all-time All Star scoring record. Damn. I guess I have to come to terms with Kobe being this generation’s version of the one we call His Airness. I suppose it’s better him than LeBron, he of the ringless, opportune turnover variety. A part of my basketball self dies with every MJ record that gets broken. 


Yes, the game actually came down to the final possession(s) and a little bit of my favorite elements of the game: defense and coaching. This reminded everyone watching why Tom Thibodeau is a master of both-reigning Coach of the Year-by ironically exposing LeBron, yet again, for what he truly is: an oligophrenic, overhyped failure when it matters. Why don’t him and overhyped, one dimensional forward  Blake Griffin just duke it out in the sky where they belong, making for a Dunk Contest someone would actually want to watch? That’d be one for the ages. Have Vince Carter, Mike, Dominique and Dr. J judge that shit. I’d watch. 

 

I’ve seen LeBron do things no other player is capable of, and I’ve seen him not do things a superstar of his caliber should be able to accomplish. Maybe he’s just not a professional winner.


And maybe The Flash is turning out to be more of a flash in the pan, after all. I like DWade because he’s a hometown guy, but for us to overthrow the Eastern Conference champions here in The Chi, we need his and LeBron’s weaknesses revealed in May. Too bad Thibs can’t be there to sabotage them again. Or can he? (Insert evil genius laugh here) 

 

When travelling, I often state that no matter how much I love a place that I happen to visit, I always, ALWAYS love returning home to my city of Chicago. I’ve been many places, many cool ass places, but Chicago is where I’ll stay, probably forever. I’ve got the flag tattooed on my arm and the lakeshore wind tattooed on my soul. I felt a similar sensation after watching the ASG on Sunday. I love watching the entertainment value of the game’s biggest stars. Despite all the hate toward it, the dunk contest is still cool to watch. The three point contest is timeless (still bitter about Hot Sauce’s snub). But no matter what (excluding Shaq and Penny in the mid ’90s), I’m never swayed to another team or out of town players. I’ll always bleed Chicago red and black. That’s why Luol’s limited run in his first appearance didn’t bother me. That’s why Derrick’s ridiculously massive shoe deal getting no talk from mainstream media all weekend didn’t affect me (you know if LeBron or Kobe signed that same deal, it would’ve been top news; difference being Derrick deserves every zero in that contract). Humility sort of comes with the territory ’round here, so when Chris Paul, Deron Williams, even Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook get mentioned as the L’s top point guards ahead of Chi Town’s Finest, we remember that it’s all about one thing: winning. That’s what we’re about in The WINdy City.

 

That’s why this is my kind of town.




 

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In this episode we absolutely hate on Skullsplitter, talk some Cubs, some Starlin Castro, switch out to PBR, sent a shot across the bow at another show, curb our expectations for the 2012 Cubs season, talk Cubs prospects, lament the Cubs starting rotation, we time travel a little bit, we talk about the Blackhawks recent streaks,  we try to figure out which Chicago coach gets fired next, we discuss what John Starks is up to now in honor of Linsanity, we remember Slam Ball, we have an impromptu Celebrity Basketball draft,  Andy finally starts reading Moneyball, Andy and Raul think the Sox will suck this year, and we do a top ten most misunderstood athletes.

In this week’s episode we decide to hate on everything. We introduce our Michael Jordan event, we talk Tebow, Packer hate, some amazing NFL games, the term “Try-hard,” we review Pegasus IPA, introduce our new “Where are they now?” segment with Jon Garland, Tim Duncan, Cub culture, Kerry Wood vs. Paul Konerko, Barry Larkin and the baseball HOF, and we roll out our Top Ten Superbowl Memories.

College football has never been my sport of choice (I mean, one foot in bounds for a catch? C’mon), but the defensive battles between Alabama and LSU got me excited for the defensive renaissance that took place in their matchups. Shouldn’t they just have played another game, a rubber match, to determine the BCS champ? Yet I digress, and this weekend is all about the NFL, a reward for us diehard fans who want to see the game played the right way, defenses winning games, a return to football in its pure form and superstars being born on both sides of the ball.

As I write this, NFL Championship Sunday is tomorrow. Four teams remain in the quest to be crowned Super Bowl Champion. Beyond the intrigue of a potential Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh showdown in Indianapolis, there lies a possible matchup of one of the NFL’s greatest defenses of the last decade+ vs. the San Francisco 49ers whose defense belongs in its own category.

San Francisco hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in its past 36 games, a streak that dates to Nov. 22, 2009, and eclipses the league’s second-longest streak (Miami, 12). That, along with the feat that the 49ers hadn’t allowed a rushing touchdown in 15 straight games, matching the 1985-86 Bears for the longest streak since 1970. It took until very late this season for that TD streak to end, but it will be vital if the Niners are to move past Eli and the Giants. A dominant performance in the NFC Championship will put them in a class with the ’01 Ravens, a number of the Steel Curtain defenses from the ’70s and yes, our ’85 Bears.

That’s right, Bears fans, the current Niners defense is drawing comparisons to our beloved ’85 Bears. They’re that good. I was two years old in 1985, so all I have to go on is word of mouth and highlights, but hot damn if San Francisco isn’t the best group of run-stoppers I’ve ever seen.

They’ll need every ounce of defense if they are to overcome the suddenly hot New York Giants. That’s the story in professional sports though. Get hot at the right time, and the sky’s the limit.

Over in the AFC, Baltimore has a formidable foe to overcome in the still dominant New England Patriots. Tom Brady continues to tear shit up, shredding so-called top defenses, spreading the ball and cementing his legacy as one of the greatest QBs to ever play the game.

New England’s defense has been their Achilles heel all year, but the offense more than makes up for its deficiencies, something of which few teams have the luxury. Even with Ed Reed (and his motivational tactics to fire up goofball QB Joe Flacco) and Ray Lewis anchoring The D and performing at a high level, The Pats are too good to lose this late in the season.

Any sports fan has heard the phrase, “Defense wins championships” or some variation of the phrase. If that is an absolute truth, then wouldn’t the Bears have won at least a few more in between 1985 and now? Our current, yet aging defensive core has definitely had some championship-caliber seasons, but we’ve only managed to appear in one Super Bowl since our illustrious victory in SBXX. If defense wins championships, wouldn’t the Ravens have been back to at least another Super Bowl since their victory in SBXXXV?

San Francisco was able to match Drew Brees and New Orleans’ high-octane offense, a rare offensive shootout by a team known for its stifling D. I still have yet to hear a fitting name for Vernon Davis’ game-winning TD catch. Anyone?

New England beat the shit out of a very good Denver defense last week, and showed anyone watching that they can and shall impose their championship will on any given opponent on any given Sunday.

That being said, I’m splitting the difference between defense and offense, so to speak: San Francisco will torch New York 30-10, and New England will beat Baltimore 31-17.  The Harbaugh sibling rivalry will have to wait at least one more year. But, hey! At least we can root for a Chicago QB in the Super Bowl, right?

 

Remember that pinnacle moment in Mad Men where Don Draper takes out a full page ad to bid good riddance to Lucky Strike in an effort to save face in the public eye? This is going to come off a bit like that, but every word is true in the case of disgruntled Orlando Magic Center Dwight Howard: we don’t need you in a Bulls uniform to win a championship. This year. What we need is a healthy Derrick Rose leading the stampede and keeping the other eleven guys involved as he’s gotten us accustomed to seeing. He is a once-in-a-generation leader, a scoring point guard with jump-out-of-the-gym hops who still distributes the ball evenly and efficiently, keeping the guys involved and ultimately creating an on-floor chemistry that leaks into the locker room and permeates their personal lives. These guys are in it to win it. Together. And Derrick is our leader, our most valuable, our hometown hero.

So, why has the topic of trading for the best center in the league become more than just hypothetical hyperbole? Why would we want a player so arrogantly naive he thinks he’s allowed to make lists of teams he’d like to play for? I was happy to see that we were not on his list of potential suitors. We don’t need him. Seriously. No you guys, I’m serious.

In Bill Simmons’ seminal The Book of Basketball, Isiah Thomas reveals that the most important element of winning in basketball is that “it’s not about basketball.” Sounds ridiculous, right? I mean, of course it’s about basketball. The most talented roster wins, right? The team with the best players will win the most championships, right? Wrong. I suppose if that were true, even though his Heat trumped team defense with superstar prowess last summer, LeBron would have at least ring by now, wouldn’t he? The point Chicago’s own Zeke (and Rick Barry of all people, among others) goes on to make through his stories in The Book of Basketball is that championships are won by teams with the best…wait for it…team chemistry. The San Antonio dynasty that is somehow still intact 13 years after their first championship run together thrives on this very principle: high character guys sacrificing their ego for the sake of winning. Because, despite what you’ve heard, let’s face it:  winning is everything.

High character winners are exactly what the Bulls brass has assembled mostly through the draft but also key free agent acquisitions from Jerry Sloan’s Utah Jazz. MVP Derrick Rose won multiple state championships at Simeon and played in the NCAA Championship in his lone season at Memphis. Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng played under legendary (and Chicagoan) Coach K at Duke. Joakim Noah won unheard-of-nowadays-back-to-back ‘chips at Florida. Rip Hamilton won it all at UConn and got a ring in Detroit. What did Dwight Howard accomplish in college? Oh wait, that’s right…

The point I’m getting at and one that all Bulls fans should embrace is that we don’t need Dwight Howard or any other big name malcontent coming to town and screwing up the fragile chemistry that has powered us to the best record in all of basketball land in this shortened season. We have all the pieces in place to win–now.

Dwight Howard will never be an NBA Champion. We’ve built something the old fashioned way here, and he thinks he’s Superman. Hey Dwight: Shaquille O’Neal already took that nickname! And copycat bullshit is something we don’t, and will never, welcome here in Chicago.

It’s not just about basketball. It never is. It’s bigger than that. Bigger than Superman.

5 games in one week? Bulls survive and win all 5.

To survive is to prosper, and the Bulls certainly did that coming off a bad loss against an enigmatic Atlanta Hawks team. The Chicago Bulls are a difficult team to score against when they play at the United Center. They are giving up 66.8 ppg at home this year.

A modern NBA team is giving up 66.8 points per game at home in 5 games.

They kicked off the week by holding a bad Detroit team to 68 points. Then they gave up 64 to the John Wall led Wizards. The Bulls finished up by choking Toronto out and allowing 64 points. Oh, there was also a Derrick Rose injury mixed in there, allowing John Lucas III to  chuck up a bunch of shots and score 25 points. Good for him, I don’t know if he’ll ever get that shot again. Take it if you have it.

Damn I love this image.

There are of course the concerns of Boozer and Noah playing together. It seems that they’ve recently gotten in sync over the past few games, but that’s a lot of money in the front court that’s been sitting late in games. The take away I have is that the Bulls have quality depth in the frontcourt, so why not utilize it? It’s a luxury that probably won’t survive much beyond this season. They should use it.

Boston has officially been relegated to “everyone else” status in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls put them away in the 4th quarter behind a strong crunch time performance by the reigning MVP. It’s become clear that it’s the Heat vs. the Bulls with everyone else hoping to play spoiler. Boston just had no answer for the Bulls.

This was awesome.

By the way…

What to watch for when watching Bulls games.

I know it won’t always be pretty, but the second star of this Bulls team is the defense. Rose is sublime, he has the best layup package in the NBA right now. He can do things with layups I didn’t know were possible in all honesty. When you watch Rose, understand where he came from, that he was always playing against taller, bigger kids that wanted to punish him on his way to the bucket. That’s why he has that football carry move on drives to the paint. He ducks his head, protects the ball, then explodes out of that position with acrobatic flair. The man is a basketball ninja.

However, what you need to start watching is the Bulls defense. The Bulls do a tremendous job of keeping dribble penetration out of the painted area down low. They have active bigs and their on the ball defense is one of the best in basketball. Defense is a team concept, everyone needs to play it or it just breaks down. The Bulls play premium team defense. There is a shape to it, and it is constantly snapping back into form when the offense tests it. Their defense on pick and roll is the best in the league. The bigs show hard on the dribbler and allow the picked defender to recover before they snap back and cover their man.

What you need to watch is the feet positioning of the on ball defender. The feet are always in a position to deny entry to the lane, cutting the ball handler off from the painted area. The off ball defense is also impressive. The Bulls are active off the ball as they cut the passing lanes and force players down towards the baseline. The Bulls play a suffocating brand of defense. They are constantly contesting shots, hands are up and active, the ball is denied to soft spots in the defense, it’s truly a thing of beauty.

Start watching how the Bulls play defense and appreciate it. It’s the best D in the league.