NBA takeaways

Eight thoughts about the NBA season minus LeBron James

The NBA is off to a wonderful, yet somewhat surprising start. The Celtics have won 16 straight games, the Pistons are third in the Eastern Conference and the Oklahoma City Thunder are under .500 despite building a super team in the offseason. Here are a few early season takeaways.

1. Is Lonzo Ball going to be good?

Going into the draft, the Lakers knew they were not drafting Lonzo Ball for his scoring ability, but his shot has been just awful. On shots from 0-3 feet from the basket (essentially layups), Ball is shooting 45.5 percent. His abysmal 22.8 3-point percentage is the worst in the NBA.

NBA takeaways

Hopefully Lonzo can figure out the whole shooting thing (Photo from ClutchPoints)

Instead of panicking, let’s look at some other famous guards. Russell Westbrook shot 47.6 percent from 0-3 feet, and 27.1 percent from three during his first year with the Oklahoma City Thunder. John Wall shot 40.9 percent from the field as a 20-year old in Washington, which is not as poor as Lonzo’s 31.3 percent, but is still weak.

Now for the positives. His assist-to-turnover ratio is pretty solid, and he already has two triple-doubles. Only 12 other guards have eclipsed multiple triple-doubles during their rookie seasons. That list consists of Jason Kidd, Michael Jordan, Chris Paul, Walt Frazier, Tim Hardaway and Kevin Johnson. It also includes Michael Carter-Williams, Jamaal Tinsley, Art Williams and Elfrid Payton.

Long story short, he could be great, but he also could be a major bust. He appears somewhat passive, and walking away from a fight that involved his teammates makes me question his toughness. Only time will tell, but in BBB we trust. Through 17 games, Ball is averaging 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists. The only other rookies to average at least seven boards and seven assists were Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.

2. Ben Simmons is super talented

You can already tell that, barring injury, Ben Simmons will be in the Hall of Fame. He is a lock for NBA Rookie of the Year, averaging a ridiculous 18.7 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game. The only other rookie to average at least 18-8-7 was the great Oscar Robertson. He is the modern day Magic Johnson, and NBA fans should be ecstatic.

The kid can do it all. He is special in half court, full court, open court, heck, he would probably be good in a court of law. The best part is a guy who has no jump shot is shooting 52.3 percent from the field. Simmons dominates inside, shooting 73.5 percent from 0-3 feet. I pray each and every day that he stays healthy for the remainder of the season.

3. Joel Embiid is so fun for the NBA

On Monday night, we watched Embiid swat Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, then proceeded to talk trash while Mitchell was down. This prompted Mitchell to shove Embiid, who flopped and drew a technical foul as he fell down to the floor.

In a game against the Clippers, Embiid had 32 points and 16 rebounds, while taunting Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The following night, Embiid put up his historic 46-15-7-7 stat line and proceeded to taunt Lonzo and LaVar Ball on social media.

Embiid is a national treasure, and like his teammate Simmons, needs prayers every night to stay healthy. He has a chance to be an all-time great, both on and off the court.

4. Brad Stevens is a magician and Kyrie Irving is special

The Celtics are off to an amazing start at 16-2, but the MVP of their team is not on the court. He is patrolling from courtside and calling out the plays.

Head coach Brad Stevens is the obvious choice for Coach of the Year and rightfully so. Without Gordon Hayward, Boston is riding a 16-game winning streak, and sits atop the Eastern Conference. Their defense has been phenomenal, ranking second in opponent field goal percentage, third in opponent threes allowed and fifth in total steals. Offensively, Boston is first in total rebounds and third in free throws made.

NBA takeaways

16 and counting (Photo from NBA.com)

When the Celtics were sitting at 14 straight, Stevens, in a postgame interview, noted “We gotta play a lot better.” That is a clear sign of an elite coach.

Kyrie Irving is shooting worse from the field, from three and from the line compared to last season. Luckily, Irving looks to be back on track after two dominating performances. Against the Hawks, Irving had 30 points while shooting 10-12. On Monday, Uncle Drew had his best game as a member of the Celtics. In an eight-point win against Dallas, Irving had 47 points (16-22), six assists and was +21 for the game.

He is also the most clutch player in the NBA. In the final five minutes with the score within five, Irving, in 38 minutes, has 65 points (24-39), 10 assists, zero turnovers, and a plus-minus of +40. Momma there goes that man.

5. Victor Oladipo looks like an All-Star

After being the punchline in the Paul George trade, the former No. 2 overall pick is having quite the season in Indiana. Oladipo is averaging 22.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists, while shooting 44.7 percent from long range. All of a sudden, Oladipo is an offensive threat, and has the Pacers above .500.

6. Dwight Howard is a Hall of Famer

On Monday night, Howard had 25 points and 20 rebounds in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. This was his 49th 20-point, 20-rebound game, which is the most of any player since 1983. Yes, that is more than Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal.

NBA takeaways

Dwight Howard will be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame (Photo from USA Today)

This past March in an interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated, Howard was asked about whether or not he thinks he will be the Hall of Fame. He responded by saying, “No doubt. It’s kind of got swept under the rug because the perception of all the things that happened in Orlando. All of the media stuff. If you look at basketball itself, and I don’t ever talk about myself, but winning three Defensive Player of the Year trophies has never been done. Leading the league in rebounding six straight years. All that kind of stuff, I think that deserves it.”

Although he actually has only led the NBA in five total seasons rather than six straight, the eight-time All-Star should walk into the Hall of Fame with ease. It’s so funny because he has had such an awkward career, from dominating in Orlando, to flopping with the Lakers and bouncing from the Rockets to the Hawks and now the Hornets.

Yes, he has probably underachieved, but Howard’s numbers will put him up with the all-time greats when all is said and done.

7. What is going on in OKC?

Of course it takes time to adjust to playing with other All-Stars, but this Thunder team is sketchy. They are 7-9, and Russell Westbrook is shooting worse from the field and free-throw line than last year. He also has less assists per game despite having more talent around him.

Carmelo Anthony is shooting 42.2 percent, which would be the worst field goal percentage of his career. They are constantly letting teams back into games after the first quarter, and have now lost two straight despite being ahead by 20 points in both contests. Hopefully this team figures it out and can compete with Golden State come June.

8. James Harden is the MVP at this point in the season

Harden leads the league in points and assists per game. He is shooting 45 percent from the field, 40.4 percent from deep and 86.4 percent from the line.

Houston leads the Western Conference at 13-4, and Harden was dominating without Chris Paul, the team’s second best player, who was dealing with an injury. He dropped 56 points against Utah, and another 48 against the Suns.

 

Featured image by SlamOnline.com

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Let’s pump the brakes on Shohei Otani

Hideki Matsui, former Yankees star and current special advisor for New York, is expected to play a major role in the pursuit for Shohei Otani. Otani, the Japanese two-way star, is hoping to bring his talents to the MLB, but the Players Association is standing in the way.

Typically, when a player like Otani becomes available to sign, there is a massive bidding war. Because of his age, only 23, the signing will mirror more of a college recruitment process, rather than a typical negotiation for an MLB free agent. The club that ends up signing Otani will be forced to pay a posting fee to his Japan Pacific League team, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

CBA

Under the most recent posting system, according to Baseball America, the “fee was capped at $20 million, but there is no current posting agreement between Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and Major League Baseball.” An agreement needs to be announced before Otani can come to the US. The goal is to lower the costs of the bids, especially after we saw Nippon Ham Fighters receive a $51 million posting fee from the Rangers for Yu Darvish.

According to the old Collective Bargaining Agreement, “Otani would have been eligible to be a true free agent if posted this offseason, not subject to any bonus restrictions” (Baseball America). Unfortunately, under the current CBA, the age cutoff to become exempt from the bonus pools was altered to 25, after it was previously 23.

Because of this, Otani would have to sign a minor league deal. Otani could earn some extra cash in his signing bonus, but this only allots to a few million because teams do not have a lot lying around in their 2017-18 international bonus allotments.

If Otani decided to come after the 2019 season, he would have a chance to sign as a true free agent, and receive a contract that is north of $150 million. There is even a chance that his signing bonus will be less than the money he would earn if he stayed in Japan for the upcoming season. All in all, teams will have to sell Otani on why he should come play in their city, rather than flaunting money in his face.

Just how good is he?

In 2017, as a member of the Fighters, Otani in 231 plate appearances, hit .332 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs. As a pitcher, he posted a 3-2 record with a 3.20 ERA. In 2016, while starting 20 games, Otani went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA, and struck out 174 batters in just 140 innings of work. As a hitter, he hit .322 with 22 home runs in 323 at-bats.

Shohei Otani

In 2016, Otani hit .322 with 22 home runs (NBC Sports)

Otani hopes to hit and pitch in the MLB, but will be able to pull it off?

“It’s difficult,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said in an interview. “It depends on the quality of both skill sets. The usage and the expectations of it will really come into play. It’s going to take a special player to do both. It’s hard enough to do one or the other.”

That is a polite way of saying Otani will not be able to do both. There is no shot someone would be able to put up numbers as both a hitter and a pitcher. The whole “Japan’s Babe Ruth” talks need to stop.

First off, there are only six teams in the league that Otani plays in. Six, which means that there are far less players to game plan for. Also, if we are looking at Otani as a pitcher, the guy has never thrown over 200 innings. If you think he is just going to come over here and dominate, then you are mistaken my friend. At least Yu Darvish had four seasons of 200+ innings before making the move to the MLB.

The most innings Otani has ever thrown was 160, back in 2015. He has totaled 543 innings in his five seasons. Before jumping to the MLB, Daisuke Matsuzaka had thrown over 1,400 innings. Hiroki Kuroda had over 2,000 under his belt before signing with the Dodgers. Both were unable to make an All-Star team and did not sustain consistent success in the states.

In 2008, Hisashi Iwakuma, a member of the Golden Eagles, went 21-4 with a 1.87 ERA in 201.2 innings. Iwakuma has had a solid couple of years in the states, but nothing special. This is a guy who logged over 1500 innings in Japan, yet is an average pitcher at best.

Offense

Shohei Otani

Yakult Swallows legend, Akinori Imamura (The Trading Card Database)

Sure, his 2016 offensive stats were really good, but he had less than 330 at-bats. Does anyone remember Kosuke Fukudome? Before signing with the Cubs, Fukudome had some monster seasons in the same league that Otani plays in. In 2003, Fukudome hit .313 with 34 home runs and 96 RBIs. The year before, he hit .343 in over 600 plate appearances. In five MLB seasons, Fukudome was a career .258 hitter and hit a total of 42 home runs. Translation, even a full-time hitter, who mashed in Japan, struggled to hit over .250 in the MLB.

What about Akinori Iwamura? As a member of the Yakult Swallows in 2004, Iwamura hit 44 home runs with 103 RBIs. The following season, he hit 30 more home runs and drove in 102. In 2006, Iwamura hit .311 with 32 home runs. In his four MLB seasons, Iwamura hit .267 with 16 total home runs. I think it’s fair to say that the competition is a tad different.

Conclusion

If Otani comes to the MLB for the 2018 season, he will be one of the most over-hyped busts of all-time. He does not have the experience as a pitcher to perform over the course of an MLB season and his offensive stats do not even resemble guys like Iwamura and Fukudome, two boarder line scrubs in the MLB.

If Otani was smart, he would stay in Japan and focus on his game. He should pitch two more seasons in Japan, throw at least 200 innings in both of them, and then receive a monster $100-million-dollar contract from an MLB team if he performs. Instead, he is going to come over to the MLB, prove he is not elite at pitching or hitting, and miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars.

 

Featured image by SI.com

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NFL Week 11

Stack your money Sundays: Week 11

Week 10 Review (3-0) OVERALL: 19-9-2

Minnesota Vikings (-1) @ Washington Redskins

Minnesota Vikings 38 Washington Redskins 30

In an emotional return to the sidelines for Teddy Bridgewater, Case Keenum could not be stopped. Did Bridgewater’s return spark Keenum to play big, knowing that his job is on the line? Maybe, but whatever it was, keep it up Case!

The former Houston standout threw for over 300 yards and four touchdowns. He was extremely efficient, completing 21 of his 29 passes and was also never sacked in the contest. Adam Thielen had a monster day, hauling in eight receptions for 166 yards and a score.

Minnesota was also able to rush for over 100 yards, while limiting the Redskins to just 81 rushing yards on 27 carries. In the article leading up to this game, we talked about how the Vikings were ranked sixth in third-down conversions, while the Redskins ranked 19th in opposing third-down conversions. As expected, Minnesota went 8-12 on third-down conversions.

The Redskins put up a fight, as Kirk Cousins threw for 327 yards while Vernon Davis and Jamison Crowder each had 76 receiving yards. Unfortunately, their poor defense and lack of run game left them just short. They now sit at 4-5 while the Vikings are looking great at 7-2.

New York Jets @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+2.5)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 15 New York Jets 10

This was one of the ugliest games of the season. It was a double revenge game, as both quarterbacks, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh McCown, faced off against their former teams. It literally took until 6:05 left in the fourth quarter for a touchdown to occur. Imagine paying to sit through this disaster.

Both teams were unable to rush for over 100 yards, and the Bucs won while throwing for only 187 yards and scoring one touchdown. Since 2007, teams that threw for under 190 yards, rushed for less than 100 and scored only one touchdown have a .129 winning percentage. Shout out to the Bucs for beating the odds.

New England Patriots (-7.5) @ Denver Broncos

New England Patriots 41 Denver Broncos 16

NFL Week 11

The GOAT (Photo from Boston Herald)

The Broncos have fallen so hard, and it’s honestly sad. After stopping Brady and the Patriots on the opening drive, Denver muffed the punt and gave the ball right back. From that point on, the game was over. Tom Brady continues to defy odds as he had a miraculous three-touchdown, 125.4 quarterback rating performance.

Brock Osweiler continued to do Brock Osweiler things. He was inefficient with his throws and unable to make any big plays.

To Osweiler’s defense, Denver’s D did not help him at all. They have now allowed the fourth most points in the NFL, and are second to last in defensive turnovers. So yeah, Brock isn’t great, but Denver’s defense is playing at an all-time low. They should be able to rebound this week against the Bengals.

 

WEEK 11 PICKS

Buffalo Bills @ Los Angeles Chargers (-4)

PICK: CHARGERS TO COVER

So a rookie quarterback is going on the road against a Philip Rivers team, and Rivers only has to win by four? Sign me up. Luckily, Rivers was a full participant in practice and looks ready to go.

To much surprise, Tyrod Taylor was benched in favor of Nathan Peterman, the former Pitt quarterback. As crazy as this move seems, it kind of makes sense. Under Taylor, the Bills were 30th in passing yards, 27th in first downs, 28th in total yards and 24th in passing touchdowns. Peterman, who played well in garbage time against the Saints, will most likely be handing the ball off over 30 times to a running back.

San Diego’s defense, although shaky against the run, has done a pretty solid job as far as keeping teams off the scoreboard. The Chargers rank ninth in opponent points per game and third in opponent points per play. As far as the red zone goes, they are the No. 1 defense in terms of percentage of red zone trips that end in touchdowns.

Rivers has won 60 percent of his home games in November, which is absolutely respectable. He is clearly the better quarterback, and his defense, which does a great job of not allowing points, is going up against one of the weakest offenses in the league. In their last 18 road games during the months of November-January, the Bills are 4-14. Not a good road team this late into the season.

Philadelphia Eagles (-3.5) @ Dallas Cowboys

PICK: EAGLES TO COVER

No Sean Lee means major problems for Dallas. The Cowboys fear that their star linebacker could miss several games due to his hamstring injury. Without Lee in the lineup, Dallas is a completely different defense. In Lee’s first six starts of the season, the Cowboys held opposing teams to just 80.3 rushing yards per game. In the two games he missed in October, the Cowboys allowed 164 rushing yards per game.

NFL Week 11

The favorite for MVP, Carson Wentz (Photo from The Undefeated)

When Lee was in against Atlanta, the Falcons had four carries for negative two yards. Even without Devonta Freeman for a majority of the game, Atlanta ended up with 132 yards on 34 carries.

The Eagles are arguably the best team in the NFL, and are also coming off a bye. Carson Wentz looks like the MVP of the league, as his Eagles are fourth in yards per game, second in points per play, third in third-down conversion percentage and first in red zone scoring efficiency on touchdown drives.

Not only is their offense second in the league in points per game, but Philly’s defense is tenth in the league in regards to fewest points allowed. They also do an exceptional job of defending on third down, ranking third in opposing third down percentage. When it comes to defending the run, the Eagles are first in opposing rushing yards per game, as well as opposing rushing first downs per game.

No Ezekiel Elliott and no Sean Lee might be too much for Dallas to overcome, especially against the hottest team in the league, who is fresh off a bye.

Atlanta Falcons @ Seattle Seahawks (-3)

PICK: SEAHAWKS TO COVER

Not only have you been stacking your money on Sundays, but now you should invest and stack some more on Monday.

Seattle, coming off a Thursday night win, has had an extended amount of time to prepare for this one. The Richard Sherman injury will sting, but it won’t kill this potent defense.

Matt Ryan has been shaky all year, and will most likely continue this trend on his way to Seattle. The Seahawks are allowing the fifth fewest points per game and the fourth fewest points per play. This team defends the red zone well and ranks sixth in opposing touchdowns per game. Atlanta has been an average offense that turns the ball over too much.

In his career at home in November, Russell Wilson is 11-2. Contrary to this, Ryan is 8-9 on the road in the month of November. The Seahawks offense is seventh in total yards and second in terms of total passing yards. Wilson has only thrown six interceptions and ranks in the top 10 in yards per pass.

Atlanta turns the ball over more, is on the road and has the weaker quarterback. This should be a solid win for Wilson and the Seahawks.

 

Featured image from Zimbio.com

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Detroit Pistons

Are the Pistons back?

To this day, Detroit fans have a fond memory of the Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman days. Those were the days in which the Pistons won back-to-back titles, first sweeping the Magic Johnson and James Worthy led Lakers, then defeating Clyde Drexler’s Portland Trail Blazers in five games.

How about the early 2000s Pistons, who won a title in the 2003-04 season (we will touch on this later) while also making it to six straight Eastern Conference finals. From the 2002-03 season, all the way up to 2007-08, Detroit either won the championship, lost in the Finals, or was eliminated in the Eastern Conference finals.

Then, they dropped off. It has been nine years since the Pistons lost to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. Of Detroit’s last nine seasons, eight of them have been years in which the team finished below .500.  In their one winning season, 2015-16, Detroit was swept in the first round by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The switch to Little Caesars Arena was actually what this team needed. It gives them a fresh start and some new life. After 13 games, the new-look Pistons sit at 10-3, tied for their fifth best start in franchise history.

DETROIT’S BEST STARTS THROUGH 13 GAMES

SEASONRECORDFINISH
1970-7112-145-37
1990-9111-2Lost E. Conf. Finals
1996-9711-254-28
2005-0611-2Lost E. Conf. Finals
1988-8910-3Won Finals
2002-0310-3Lost E. Conf. Finals
2017-1810-3?

The other six times this franchise won at least 10 of their first 13 games, they ended up in solid spots come playoff time. On four occasions, the Pistons made it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals, and of course won the title in 1988-89.

Obviously, this does not mean that the 2017-18 Detroit team is a lock to go deep into the playoffs, but do not sleep on them.

How is this happening?

A year ago, Detroit ranked 28th in 3-point percentage. On the defensive end, they were not forcing any turnovers, finishing 27th in that department. This season, Detroit is currently eighth in 3-point percentage, and forcing almost four more turnovers per game. They are continuing to dominate the offensive glass, and committing far less fouls than the league average.

Detroit Pistons

Tobias Harris is quietly averaging 20.1 points per game (Photo from ESPN.com)

At this point, Detroit’s MVP appears to be Tobias Harris. Harris, who was traded by the Magic for Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings in February, 2016, is absolutely balling out in his second full season with the Pistons. After averaging 16.1 points per game during the 2016-17 season, Harris, through 13 games, is averaging 20.1 points, and 5 rebounds. He is shooting 48.1 percent from the field, and an outlandish 50.6 percent from three. Not to mention the 6-foot-9 forward is shooting 90.5 percent from the charity stripe, a place where Harris has succeeded his whole career.

Andre Drummond, who is the only Piston to have played in an All-Star game, is averaging 15.6 rebounds per game, which leads the NBA. Drummond also leads the league in offensive rebounds per game with 5.3 and has nine double-doubles in 13 games.

Their big offseason addition, Avery Bradley, appears to be exactly what Detroit needed. Bradley, a former All-Defensive First Team member, is dominating both sides of the floor. Not only has he continued to be a lockdown defender, but Bradley is averaging 17 points per game. He is a key reason for Detroit’s jump in 3-point efficiency, as he is shooting 41.4 percent from long range. Reggie Jackson is also looking like the Jackson from two years ago, averaging 16.3 a game.

Detroit’s bench has been quite special. Anthony Tolliver ranks first in defensive rating of players who have played at least 10 games. While averaging just under 10 points per game, Ish Smith is shooting 54.6 percent from the field. Of players who have played at least 8 games, Reggie Bullock ranks second in assist-to-turnover ratio.

While Detroit may be an underdog in the East, having to deal with teams like Boston and Cleveland, they look like they can play with anyone. Being considered an underdog is nothing new to Detroit, as their 2003-04 championship team was one of the biggest underdogs in the history of the NBA Finals.

Remembering the 2003-04 Pistons

After a conference finals loss, the Pistons brought in a new coach, Larry Brown. In that year’s draft, with the second overall pick (from the Grizzlies), Detroit selected Darko Milicic. Milicic would go on to play a few minutes off the bench, and is widely considered as a bust.

Detroit Pistons

One of the best starting fives of recent times. (Photo from History Locker)

Under the great Coach Brown, the Pistons, a strong defensive team, rallied off 13 straight wins between December and January. After hitting a bump in the road in February when they lost six straight games, Detroit needed a major acquisition to get them back on track. At the midway point in the season, the Pistons acquired Rasheed Wallace from the Atlanta Hawks.

The starting five of Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace and All-Star Ben Wallace was absolutely electric down the stretch. Detroit would go on to win 16 of their final 19 games. They ended the season at 54-28, good enough for the third seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

After defeating the Bucks and Nets in the first two rounds of the playoffs, Detroit faced off against the top-seeded Indiana Pacers. The Pacers, led by Jermaine O’Neal and Defensive Player of the Year, Ron Artest, were defeated in six games by Detroit. Into the Finals they went, squaring off against the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers.

UNDERDOGS PREVAIL

Since the 2004 playoffs, no team has been more of an underdog when the opening odds dropped for the NBA Finals since the Pistons. Even Lebron James’ 2007 Cavaliers, who were made up of a bunch of scrubs while facing the Spurs, were given a better shot to win. The Lakers opened up at -550 and had a total of 37 All-Star selections on their roster. Their coach, Phil Jackson, already had nine championships under his belt. Detroit had four All-Star selections, and Larry Brown was seeking his first title.

Detroit Pistons

Pistons in 5. (Photo from Twitter.com)

Both Karl Malone and Gary Payton, two Hall of Famers, signed with L.A. for the minimum salary in hopes of winning a ring. Not to mention the fact that the Lakers were also were coming off three championships in four years. The combo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal is considered one of the best duos of all-time.

Despite the Lakers’ greatness, Detroit was not phased. In fact, the series only went five games, as the Pistons defeated the Lakers 4-1. Billups was named Finals MVP, averaging 21 points per game in the series. The Lakers, who averaged 98.2 points per game during the regular season, were held to just 81.8 points against Detroit. Defense wins championships. Coach Larry Brown became the first coach to win both an NCAA national championship and an NBA title.

While many will not give Detroit a shot at winning it all, mainly because of the super teams, just don’t sleep on them. Nonetheless, they are off to one of their hottest starts in franchise history and look to be back to their winning ways, which is dope for the city of Detroit.

 

Featured image from Bleacher Report

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Duke Basketball

This Duke team is scary good

I know what you’re going to say. How can you judge a prestigious team like Duke when they play schools like Elon and Utah Valley? Of course they are supposed to blow them out because they are the Duke Blue Devils with one of the best coaches in the history of the sport and a top recruiting class year after year.

However, with just two games under their belt, this team looks poised for a National Championship.

How are these Blue Devils different from last year’s team?

Although Duke became the first ACC team to win four games in four days on their way to winning the ACC Tournament, the season was a disappointment, as they fell to South Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Duke basketball

As talented as the 2016-17 Duke team was, the season was a disappointment (Photo from News and Observer)

Going into the year, according to ESPN.com, Duke had the No. 2 recruiting class, highlighted by players like Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles and Frank Jackson, who were all drafted in this past NBA Draft. They also returned Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson.

Despite these big names, injuries and lack of consistency haunted this Duke team throughout the season. Allen was constantly in the headlines for tripping people, and Harry Giles was never able to be a real factor.

Fast forward to this season and in walks a fresh new breed of elite talent. Because of the one-and-done era, the best players attend a school for one season before departing to the NBA. If you watched the first two games, make sure to not fall in love with some of the players because a few of their names will be called in next year’s NBA Draft.

 

Big Men on Campus

According to ESPN’s Top 100, a list that complies the top 100 incoming freshmen for this season, Duke owns the first, fifth, sixth and eighth ranked players. The No. 1 ranked player, Marvin Bagley III, is a 6-foot-11, athletic freak. Bagley, who is originally from Phoenix, reclassified this August so that he could graduate high school and attend Duke this fall.

Duke basketball

The possible first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Marvin Bagley III (Zagsblog)

This past season for Sierra Canyon High School, Bagley averaged 24.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. This kid can do it all, and NBA stars like Chris Paul, Paul Pierce, and Lamar Odom had a front-row seat to his dominance, as they all attended Sierra Canyon games while Bagley was playing.

Over the summer, Bagley spent time in the Drew League, competing against players like DeMar DeRozan, JaVale McGee, Julius Randle and Baron Davis. In a game against a team led by DeRozan, Bagley erupted for 32 points and 11 boards. He also participated in the league’s All-Star game, knocking down 18 points and corralled 20 rebounds.

In his first two collegiate games, Bagley has been nothing short of impressive. His 49 points are tied with Jabari Parker for most points by a freshman over the first two games of their Duke career. He is also averaging 10 rebounds a game. Bagley has a real shot to be the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Another big man, Wendell Carter Jr., the fifth ranked player in his recruiting class, is projected to be a top-10 pick in the draft. Because of Bagley, Carter’s talent may be swept under the rug in the public eye, but Duke knows the 6-foot-10, 260 pound freshman is a stud. Carter is a mobile big man, who can score with both hands in traffic and has no problem going hard to draw fouls. He is an exceptional rebounder, as he has tallied up 13 boards in his two games.

Exceptional Guard Play

The other two big names in this recruiting class, Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval, have both found immediate success at the collegiate level. Trent Jr. is the son of former NBA player, Gary Trent. He appears to be lights out from deep, as he has started the season 7-for-13 from three. Through two games, Trent Jr. is averaging 17 points per game.

Duke basketball

Tricky Tre! (Photo from KSL.com)

The reason for Duke’s struggles last season was mostly due to the fact that they were without a true ball handler. If you think back to their past two championships, both teams had a dominant ball handler. They had Nolan Smith in 2010 and Tyus Jones in 2015. Insert “Tricky” Trevon Duval.

Duval, a super athletic point guard, has exceptional handles and is as quick as they come. “Tricky” looks like a a combination of John Wall and Russell Westbrook, as he flies around the floor and has already shown his freakish athleticism. Duval does not shy away from contact, and defends well. His 20 assists in his first two games is the new Duke freshman record, eclipsing Chris Duhon’s 12 from the 2001 season. Duval has also only turned the ball over just one time.

The four freshman scored 58 of Duke’s 97 points against Elon. In their last matchup against Utah Valley, Duke’s first 40 points were scored by freshmen, as well as every single point during their 27-8 run in the middle of the first half.

 

What about the rest?

Somehow, we have managed to go this far into an article without mentioning the great Grayson Allen. Allen, who had somewhat of a down season last year, is determined to put up big numbers in his senior year. In the home opener, Allen lit it up, scoring 22 points, including 6-for-9 from deep. He kept the momentum going against Utah Valley, scoring 18 on 7-for-11 shooting.

In 2009-10, seniors Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas all played crucial parts in the championship run. In 2014-15, we saw Quinn Cook show exceptional leadership, as he kept the team focused on their way to the title. Allen, who played a pivotal part in the 2015 National Championship, is ready to lead this young group of stars.

This team reminds me a lot of the 2014-15 team. That team, led by the three exceptional freshmen, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones, was a young, talented team like this year’s squad. Based off the first two games, this Duke freshman class could be the best we have ever seen.

Players like Javin DeLaurier, Alex O’Connell, Marques Bolden and Jordan Goldwire will all play vital roles in helping this team accomplish their goals.

Tonight, Duke will square off against No. 2 Michigan State in Chicago in the Champions Classic.

 

Featured image by Naples Herald

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Stack your money Sundays: Week 10

Week 9 Review (1-1-1) Overall: 16-9-2

Los Angeles Rams (-3.5) @ New York Giants

Los Angeles Rams 51 New York Giants 17

What a romping. Once New York gave up a 52-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-33, this game was over. The Rams continue to run the ball with ease, and had their second game of the season in which they did not turn the ball over. Jared Goff threw for over 300 yards, his first time eclipsing 300 passing yards since week one. This was also Goff’s first career four-touchdown game. Los Angeles’ offensive line continues to dominate, as they did not allow a sack.

Not sure if this game was more about the Rams dominance or the Giants struggling. Ben McAdoo might lose his job, and Eli Manning will most likely be gone after next season. If the Giants continue their poor play, they will be in line for a top pick in next year’s draft, in which they could draft a future quarterback. No offense to Davis Webb, but I don’t see him as the future of this team.

Atlanta Falcons (-2) @ Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers 20 Atlanta Falcons 17

This is now two weeks in a row in which the Falcons have failed us. Atlanta is suffering from a serious Super Bowl hangover. A team that finished fifth in rushing yards a season ago, ran for a grand total of 53 yards against Carolina. The Falcons offense struggled on third down, and were unable to convert on all three of their fourth down conversion attempts.

MJ or Cam Newton? (SB Nation)

Cam Newton had a beautiful rushing touchdown in which he pulled off his inner MJ and dunked the ball as he crossed the goal line. However, this win was more about Carolina’s defense. They completely shut down the run, and now have the number one ranked defense in terms of yards allowed. They are allowing the fourth fewest points, second fewest rushing yards and sixth fewest passing yards. In other words, Carolina’s defense is elite.

Tennessee Titans (-3) @ Baltimore Ravens

Tennessee Titans 20 Baltimore Ravens 17

Our second push of the season. It really looked like the Titans had the cover in the bag until they gave up a last-minute touchdown, which cut their lead down to three. Going into this game, the Ravens were allowing over 130 yards on the ground, and all of a sudden, they limited the Titans, a powerful run team, to only 71 yards. Just shows how hard it is to predict some of these teams.

Solid win for Tennessee, as they move to 5-3 and are tied for first place in the AFC South. If they want to make some noise, the Titans defense needs to defend the pass better, and Mariota needs to step up his play.

WEEK 10 PICKS

Time to get back on track!

Minnesota Vikings (-1) @ Washington Redskins

PICK: VIKINGS TO COVER

WHY THE VIKINGS WILL SUCCEED

Case Keenum, average but efficient (Houston Chronicle)

  • Coming off a bye, extra week to prepare
  • Sixth in the league in third down conversions
  • Defense is legit: third fewest points per game allowed, fourth fewest yards, second fewest yards per play, second in opposing third down conversion percentage.
  • Allowing the fewest touchdowns per game, also rank third in opposing red zone scoring percentage on drives ending in a touchdown
  • Defend the run well, third fewest rushing yards allowed per game
  • Offense is efficient, seventh in completion percentage, fourth fewest turnovers.
  • Kai Forbath: 21/22 on FGA

WHY THE REDSKINS WILL STRUGGLE

  • 24th in opponent points per game
  • 19th in opposing third down conversions
  • Allow 4.2 yards per carry on the ground
  • Allow 6.7 yards per pass (20th in the NFL)

 

New England Patriots (-7.5) @ Denver Broncos

PICK: PATRIOTS TO COVER

WHY THE PATRIOTS WILL SUCCEED

  • Extra week to prepare because of bye
  • 12-5 under Belichick in game after a bye (Outscoring opponents 436-285 in those games)
  • seventh in points per game
  • third in the league in third down conversions
  • third in the league in yards per pass
  • fifth in completion percentage
  • Second fewest turnovers in the NFL

WHY THE BRONCOS WILL STRUGGLE

  • They don’t have a QB
  • Defense is 25th in points allowed per game
  • 22nd in points per game, 27th in completion percentage
  • 25th in yards
  • Second most turnovers in the league

 

New York Jets @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+2.5)

PICK: BUCCANEERS TO COVER

WHY THE BUCCANEERS WILL SUCCEED

  • Ryan Fitzpatrick has higher completion percentage, and higher QBR than Jameis Winston.
  • Tampa Bay ranks eighth in yards per play
  • second in passing yards per game
  • third fewest penalty yards per game

WHY THE JETS WILL STRUGGLE

  • 22nd in opponent yards per play
  • 24th in opponents yards per game
  • 30th in opponent touchdowns per game
  • 22nd in yards per game
  • Second most penalty yards per game

 

Featured image by ESPN.com

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Who is the next best player in the NBA?

On Tuesday night, we saw the underachieving Cleveland Cavaliers face off against the exciting and intriguing Milwaukee Bucks. More importantly, we saw the undisputed best player in the league, LeBron James, square off against potential MVP finalist, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Behind Kevin Love’s 32 points, 16 rebounds and LeBron’s 30 points, Cleveland defeated the Bucks 124-119. Despite the loss, Antetokounmpo poured in 40 points, knocking down 16 of his 21 attempts. The Greek Freak also added nine rebounds and four blocks.

Still, Antetokounmpo’s plus/minus was -7. He also turned the ball over eight times. With that said, even at age 32, LeBron James remains the best player in the NBA. With Father Time being undefeated, it is obvious that James will eventually be dethroned, most likely in two to three years.

Ben Simmons is coming for the top spot (CBS Sports)

Once LeBron stops being the best player on the planet, will Antetokounmpo take over as the sport’s biggest star? What about The Unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis, over in New York? Another case could even be made for the emerging Sixers star, Ben Simmons, who through 10 games is averaging 17.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 8 assists.

Simmons already has seven games of at least 15 points, five rebounds and five assists. Through their first 10 games, both Jordan and LeBron only had four. If he keeps his averages up, he will join Oscar Robertson as the only other player to average 17 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists in a rookie season.

The following is an NBA timeline of the greatest players since 1970. This list of names was originally created by Nick Wright, co-host of FS1’s First Things First. While this list is obviously up for debate, it is, in my eyes, an extremely accurate timeline of who was the best player in the league over the last 47 years.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1970-71) – (1977-78)

Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr., is probably the most accomplished players in the history of basketball, absolutely dominated the seventies. During this eight-year timespan, Kareem won five MVPs, was a two-time scoring champion, and had four seasons in which he averaged at least 27 points and 15 rebounds.

In just his second season (1970-71), the Bucks, behind Kareem and Oscar Robertson, swept the Baltimore Bullets in the NBA Finals. Kareem, who at the time still went by Lew Alcindor, was named Finals MVP. Throughout the 1970-71 playoffs, Alcindor averaged 26.6 points and 17 rebounds. During his 1974 MVP season, Abdul-Jabbar finished in the top five in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots and field goal percentage.

Moses Malone (1978-1979) – (1982-1983)

Form 1978-83, Malone won three MVPs, and led the NBA in rebounding five times. For his career, Malone ranks seventh in points and third in rebounds. Malone is the offensive rebounding king, as he currently sits as the all-time leader in that department.

Moses Malone, one of the best rebounders we have ever seen (ESPN.com)

In the 1977-78 season, Malone missed 23 games due to injury, yet still led the league in offensive rebounding, and finished second in total rebounds per game. The following season, after gaining 15 pounds, Malone led the league in minutes, and averaged 24.8 points with 17.6 rebounds per game.

During the 1982-1983 season, his first year with the Philadelphia 76ers, Malone averaged 24.5 points and a league-best 15.3 rebounds per game. He was named All-NBA first-team, as well as first-team All-Defensive. He became the only NBA player to win back-to-back MVPs on two different teams, and his Sixers would go on to win the championship, in an easy four game sweep over Kareem and the Lakers. Malone was named Finals MVP, and outscored Abdul-Jabbar 72-30 in the four games.

Larry Bird/ Magic Johnson (1983-1984) – (1989-1990)

It’s hard to decide who was the better of the two, but Larry and Magic ran the 80s. In the 1983-84 season, Bird’s Celtics defeated Magic’s Lakers in the NBA Finals. The following year, the Lakers beat the C’s in six. In 1985-86 Boston reclaimed their spot on top, only to be defeated the following season by, you guessed it, the Lakers. From the ’79 playoffs, up until 1988, the Lakers and Celtics combined for eight NBA championships.

Throughout this extraordinary run, both Bird and Magic won three MVPs apiece, and the two legends combined for five Finals MVPs. Magic winning three, and Bird with two.

Michael Jordan (1990-1991) – (1992-1993)

To sum it up, the Bulls won three championships in a row, Jordan was named Finals MVP in all three of them. During this three-year span, “His Airness” also won a pair of MVPs, and led the league in scoring each year.

Hakeem Olajuwon (1993-1994) – (1994-1995)

Because of Jordan’s hiatus (Minor League Baseball), the NBA needed a new star. In stepped Hakeem, who led the Rockets to back-to-back titles. In 1993-94, “The Dream” averaged 27.3 points and 11.9 rebounds on 52.8 percent shooting. That same year, he became the first player in NBA history to be named MVP, Finals MVP, and Defensive Player of the Year awards all in the same year.

The following season, on a mission for his second championship, Hakeem averaged 33 points in the 22 playoff games. In the Eastern Conference Finals, up against MVP David Robinson and the San Antonio Spurs, Olajuwon put on a show. During that series, he averaged 35.3 points a game, and outscored Robinson by 40 points in the final two contests. In the Finals, Hakeem dominated a young Shaquille O’Neal, outscoring him in all four games.

Michael Jordan (1995-1996) – (1997-1998)

Just another three-peat, and three more Finals MVP trophies to add to his illustrious career. Again, Jordan led the league in scoring all three seasons, and tallied up two more MVPs.

Shaquille O’Neal (1998-1999) – (2001-2002)

“The Big Diesel”, Shaq was an absolute monster. Each year from 1998-2002, O’Neal led the league in field goal percentage. He only won one MVP, but helped the Lakers win three straight titles. Shaq averaged at least 25 and 10 in his first seven years with the Lakers. The guy was flat out incredible.

Tim Duncan (2002-2003) – (2004-2005)

In 2002, Duncan won his second consecutive MVP trophy, while also notching his second ring. In this particular three-year span, Duncan won a pair of titles, and earned Finals MVP honors in both. He averaged at least 20 points and 11 rebounds, while easily shooting over 50 percent in all three seasons.

Lebron James (2005-2006) – (??)

The King. (Billboard.com)

Who knows how long this run will last, but boy has it been special. LeBron has been an All-Star in 13 straight seasons, and has made the NBA Finals seven years in a row. It might as well be called the LeBron James Invitational at this point. LeBron is clearly the most talented player this game has ever seen.

To this point in his career, King James is a 4x MVP, 3x Finals MVP, 3x NBA Champion, 6x All-Defensive, and also the 2007-08 NBA scoring champion. Keep in mind that when LeBron originally left the Cavs, they had the first pick in the draft. When Jordan left, the Bulls went from 57 wins, to 55.

Who is next?

 

Featured image by SI.com

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MLB’s 40-40 club: Stats, facts and more

In the history of the MLB, there have been 296 no-hitters, and 23 perfect games. Fourty-five times we have seen players hit at least 50 home runs and drive in 100 or more RBIs in the same year. On 60 different occasions, we have seen a player steal 70 or more bases in a season. There have been 104 pitching seasons in which the player won at least 20 games, with an ERA below 2.00.

A signed baseball card commemorating Canseco’s historic feat. (30 Year Old Cardboard)

Only four players in the history of the sport have been able to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same year. The 40-40 club is the most exclusive group in baseball. The four members are Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano. Both Canseco and Rodriguez have admitted to using PEDs, and if you don’t think Barry Bonds used some sort of performance enhancer, then you probably live under a rock.

So why is it so hard to become a member of this hallowed fraternity? Will anyone else ever join? Were any players close? Don’t worry, we have the answers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Athletic Prime

According to an article by RealClearScience, any sprinters, or jumpers, both men and women, peak around 25 years of age. Male Marathoners compete at their best around 29-30 years old. For professional hockey players, their peak is between the ages of 27 and 28. Triathletes peak at around 27-years-old. For baseball, players tend to be in their prime from ages 27-30.

The Boston Globe published an article in 2015 that used Wins Above Replacement (WAR) on offense, to determine when players peak. The piece states that “the greatest likelihood of finding a player worth 2.0 WAR on offense peaks quite clearly between the ages of 26 and 28.” The articles also can confirm that after turning 30, “players experience a clear and steady decline in the likelihood that they’ll be productive offensive contributors.” Long story short, hitting a lot of home runs and stealing a ton of bases can only be done in the first half of your career.

Since 1903, there have been only 32 occasions in which a player stole at least 40 bases, age 34 or older, in one season. Only 22 different players have hit 40 or more home runs after turning 34 years of age. Of players 33 years or older, only three, Davey Lopes, Joe Morgan and Ricky Henderson, had seasons in which they hit 15 or more home run, and stole at least 40 bases. This occurred only a total of seven times at age 32 or older.

 

Who was close?

The 30-30 club has 38 members. On 60 different occasions, some members achieving this more than once, we have seen players hit at least 30 home runs and steal 30 or more bases. Of the four players in the 40-40 club, two of them, Alex Rodriguez and Jose Canseco, both had only one season of at least 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases. Luckily, it was their 40-40 seasons. As far as the other two members, Bonds would go on to have five 30-30 seasons, and Soriano had four.

One home run shy of joining the 40-40 club, Vladimir Guerrero (Studious Metsimus)

 

PLAYERS WITH 2 OR MORE 30-30 SEASONS
ALFONSO SORIANO
BOBBY ABREU
BOBBY BONDS
BARRY BONDS
HOWARD JOHNSON
JEFF BAGWELL
RAUL MONDESI
RYAN BRAUN
SAMMY SOSA
VLADIMIR GUERRERO

 

In 2002, Soriano, who would later join the 40-40 club in 2006, hit 39 home runs and had 41 stolen bases. Bobby Bonds, Matt Kemp and Vladimir Guerrero were all also one home run shy of joining the crew. In 1997, Barry Bonds hit the 40 home runs, but only managed 37 steals.

 

Will anyone else join?

Since a handful of players have been inches away, it seems as though someone will get over the hump and become the fifth member. This year, we saw more home runs hit in a single season than ever, so that part should be taken care of right? Yes, a ton of home runs were hit, but only five players hit at least 40 home runs. Of those five, Aaron Judge led the group in stolen bases with a grand total of nine. The number of attempts, as well as successful stolen bases, is decreasing.

In 1987, there was a total of 3585 stolen bases in the MLB. Keep in mind there were only 26 teams. In 1999, we saw that total hit 3,421. That same year, now with 30 teams, 21 different organizations stole at least 100 bases. In 2017, there were 2527 total steals. Only seven teams had at least 100. As you can tell, there were over 1000 more steals in 1987, then there were during this past season.

Since 2000, there has been only one year in which more than 20 players stole at least 30 bases in a season. The outlier, 2012, featured two of the 38 30-30 members, Ryan Braun and Mike Trout.

 

Meet the 40-40 Club

Jose Canseco (1988)

The first to ever do it, Canseco is also the only one to win the MVP award the same year as his 40-40 season. In April of 1988, Canseco guaranteed he would hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases, even though no player had accomplished this. By the end of the season, the 23-year-old had a .307 batting average, 120 runs scored, 124 RBIs, 42 home runs and 40 stolen bases. He carried his A’s all the way into the World Series, eventually losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games.

Barry Bonds (1996)

Despite his 40-40 season, Bonds finished fifth in NL MVP voting (SI.com)

Bonds would go on to become the first National League player to join the club. That same season, Bonds joined the 300-300 club, having hit his 300th home run on April 27th. The only other members of the 300-300 club are Bobby Bonds, Willie Mays, Andre Dawson, Carlos Beltran, Reggie Sanders and Steve Finley. Bonds finished the ’96 season with 42 home runs, 40 stolen bases, 129 RBIs, 151 walks and a .308 batting average. He finished fifth in MVP voting, as Chipper Jones captured his first, and only, MVP trophy.

Bonds was 31 years old at the time, the oldest any of the four members accomplished this feat. Did someone say PEDs?

Alex Rodriguez (1998)

A-Rod, who was 22 years of age, stole 46 bases, the most of the four players. He also set the record for most home runs by an AL shortstop with 42. Rodriguez joined Ernie Banks and Rico Petrocelli, as the only shortstops to hit 40 or more home runs in a single-season. Somehow, Rodriguez finished ninth in MVP voting. The winner of the award, Juan Gonzalez, hit 45 home runs and drove in 157 RBIs.

Alfonso Soriano (2006)

After three 30-30 seasons from 2002-2005, Soriano, at age 30, became the fourth member of the club. Realistically, Soriano is the only “clean” member of this club, having never been accused of PEDs. 2006 was also his first year as a member of the Washington Nationals.  In March, Manager Frank Robinson decided to play Soriano in left field. At first, Soriano refused to take the field, but once he realized sitting out would affect his salary, he gave in. This was a wise decision, and by the All-Star break, Soriano led the league in outfield assists. At the time, the only players to be named an All-Star at more than one position, were Stan Musial, Pete Rose, Robin Yount and, in 2006, Alfonso Soriano.

In August, he became the fastest player to reach 200 home runs and 200 stolen bases. On September 16, 2006, Soriano stole his 40th base, and became the only member to join the club while playing at home. He would later go on to become the only player to hit 40 home runs, steal 40 bases and reach 40 doubles in one season.

Featured image by SI.com

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NFL Week 9

Stack your money Sunday’s: Week 9

Teams against the spread through Week 8

Buffalo 5-1-1

Kansas City 6-2

Philadelphia 6-2

NY Jets 5-2-1

Houston 5-2

New Orleans 5-2

Houston 5-2

Chicago 5-3

Minnesota 5-3

Pittsburgh 5-3

Jacksonville 4-3

Dallas 4-3

LA Rams 4-3

Indianapolis 4-4

San Francisco 4-4

Miami 3-3-1

Carolina 4-4

New England 4-4

Baltimore 4-4

NY Giants 3-4

Seattle 3-4

Cincinnati 3-4

LA Chargers 3-4-1

Green Bay 3-4

Tennessee 3-4

Detroit 3-4

Oakland 3-5

Denver 2-4-1

Atlanta 2-5

Washington 2-5

Cleveland 2-6

Tampa Bay 1-5-1

Arizona 1-6

 

Week 8 Review (1-2) Overall: 15-8-1

Pittsburgh Steelers (-3) @ Detroit Lions

Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Detroit Lions 15

NFL Week 9

The Steelers sit atop the AFC. (Photo from FanRag Sports)

JuJu on that beat! With Martavis Bryant suspended, Smith-Schuster, the wideout from USC, had seven receptions for 193 yards, including a 97-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger during the third quarter. Pittsburgh’s defense was phenomenal, forcing two turnovers and not allowing Detroit to score a touchdown.

It appeared the Lions still had a shot when they were down one in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, Matt Stafford was sacked on fourth down. On third and fourth down, the Lions were a combined 2-14. The turnover on downs led to the big JuJu touchdown.

Matt Prater did not disappoint fantasy teams, as he knocked in a total of five field goals.

Atlanta Falcons (-6) @ New York Jets

Atlanta Falcons 25 New York Jets 20

Two points away from covering. Close but no cigar. The Jets looked like they were going to pull off the upset heading into halftime with a 17-13 lead.

A Matt Bryant field goal and a Mohamed Sanu touchdown put the Falcons ahead with less than 13 minutes to play. The Jets were unable to score a touchdown in the second half, and Atlanta squeaked out a close one.

The Falcons, who have an average run defense, shutdown New York, allowing only 43 yards on 22 carries. They also limited the Jets to a mere 15 first downs, which is tied for their best performance of the year.

Atlanta looks to continue their success this week, going on the road to face Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.

Oakland Raiders (+2.5) @ Buffalo Bills

Buffalo Bills 34 Oakland Raiders 14

The Raiders are truly the most unpredictable team in the league. They went into this game following an emotional win over Kansas City, and appeared to be the better team. That was until the game actually started. Oakland turned the ball over not once, twice, or even three times, but four times, including a pair of interceptions by Derek Carr. They have now lost five games, which is already more than last season.

Give credit to the Bills, who look like a legitimate playoff team, even though they just got smacked by the Jets. Tyrod Taylor continues to not turn the ball over, and LeSean McCoy is playing like vintage Shady McCoy. McCoy had a 48-yard touchdown run and added a little spice, holding the ball out from 10 yards out to taunt the pitiful Oakland defense.

At this point, I think it is safe to say the Bills are more likely to play in the playoffs than the Raiders.

WEEK 9 PICKS

Los Angeles Rams (-3.5) @ New York Giants

PICK: RAMS TO COVER

The Rams are coming off a bye, which means they had an extra week to prepare for this one-win Giants team. Quite frankly, the Rams are just the better team. They are second in scoring, sixth in yards per play and eighth in first downs. Their defense also ranks ninth against the pass.

On the other hand, the Giants, on both sides of the ball, have been a mess. New York ranks 24th in yards per play on both offense and defense. Eli Manning has his team at 29th in plays per drive and last in first downs. Their defense ranks 23rd in rushing yards allowed, which is not great considering the Rams are the sixth best rushing team, largely due to Todd Gurley.

New York just isn’t scoring, as they rank 29th in percentage of offensive drives ending in a score. The Rams rank third in that department, which is clearly a major difference.

This game could end up in a double-digit victory for the Rams. The Giants cannot run the football, so if Eli struggles, watch out.

Also, the Rams love to score right off the bat, ranking fourth in first quarter points per game. On the flip side, the Giants are 31st. As for third down conversions, the Rams are first in the league, while New York ranks 29th.

Numbers don’t tell the whole story, but I think it’s clear that the Giants are not very good at the moment. Keep in mind Janoris Jenkins will not be playing this week either.

Atlanta Falcons (-2) @ Carolina Panthers

PICK: FALCONS TO COVER

Not only did Cam Newton lose his best friend on the team, Kelvin Benjamin, but he lost his best receiver. Newton has publicly expressed that he is not a fan of the move, so expect a shaky start for the former MVP.

Carolina has lost two out of their last three games, and currently rank 23rd in points. Newton is not playing like an MVP, as he already has 11 interceptions.

Although it is somewhat of a disappointing start for Atlanta, they are still very solid. Their offense ranks fifth in yards, fourth in yards per rushing attempt, and fifth in first downs. Atlanta has the 11th ranked defense, which is the second best defense the Panthers have seen this year. The Falcons also rank second in yards per drive, while Carolina is 20th.

Matt Ryan has been somewhat average and has thrown more interceptions than usual. Luckily, the Panthers do not force many turnovers, as they rank 27th in that department.

If it comes down to the wire, Carolina is 27th in fourth quarter points per game, which cannot be trusted. Take the Falcons on the road.

Baltimore Ravens @ Tennessee Titans (-3)

PICK: TITANS TO COVER

NFL Week 9

Expect big numbers from the Titans’ backfield. (Photo from Titans Online)

Like the Rams, the Titans are also coming off of a bye week. They sit atop the AFC South, tied with the Jags for a share of first place, so a home game like this is a must win.

When the Titans rush the ball for over 100 yards, they are 3-0. Baltimore ranks 30th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game, letting up almost 133 yards per contest.

As long as the Titans stick to the run, they will be fine. Even after the Ravens 40-0 win over Miami, they still rank dead last in passing yards, and second to last in overall yards. Their running game has been decent, but Tennessee defends the run well, and sits fifth in opponent rushing yards per attempt.

Expect Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry to run wild, and for Joe Flacco to continue to look bad, especially after nearly being concussed a week ago.

 

Featured image by myAJC.com

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Jimmy Garappolo trade: 49ers absolutely win deal

On Monday night, the 49ers stole Jimmy Garappolo from the New England Patriots. The Patriots received a second round pick from San Francisco, but most believed Garappolo was worth a first. A second round pick for a possible franchise quarterback is an absolute steal. By the way, to put this pick into perspective, three recent second round quarterbacks have been Geno Smith, Christian Hackenberg and DeShone Kizer.

What this means for the 49ers

At 0-8, it appeared the 49ers would wait this season out and go for Kirk Cousins, or draft a young quarterback. San Francisco had no idea what the Redskins were going to do with Cousins, and going into the season, the 49ers were one of the 10 youngest teams in the league. With the average age of a 49er being around 25 years old, it makes complete sense to go after a 26-year-old.

Jimmy Garappolo trade

While only starting two games, Jimmy G looked like the real deal (SBNation)

Additionally, coach Kyle Shanahan really likes Garappolo. Prior to the 2014 NFL Draft, Shanahan ranked Derek Carr and Garappolo as the best quarterbacks in the draft. However, don’t expect him to play right away. San Francisco is without both of their tackles on the offensive line, and it is going to take time to learn the playbook. Realistically, Garappolo could play following their bye, which would give him three weeks to prepare.

In 17 career games, and two starts, Garappolo has been essentially flawless. He has thrown five touchdowns, zero interceptions, completing passes at 67 percent and a passer rating of 106.2.

Last season, Garappolo’s yards per attempt was 8.0, which would be good for fifth in the league in 2017. His 113.3 passer rating would be second behind Alex Smith. Obviously, it is an incredibly small sample size, but 49ers fan should feel ecstatic.

Future of San Francisco

As far as the future of this team, don’t let their winless record fool you. The 49ers are a young defense who can turn out to be very special. Solomon Thomas, who is battling an MCL sprain, has looked like the real deal in his rookie season. DeForest Buckner is arguably the 49ers best defensive player, and he is just 23 years of age. Former first round pick Arik Armstead had 16 tackles and 1.5 sacks before injuring his hand against the Washington Redskins. Don’t forget about Reuben Foster, who has also been battling injuries all year.

The offense has enough weapons for Garappolo to find early success. Carlos Hyde has been extremely effective as both a runner and pass catcher in the offense, while Pierre Garcon is up to 500 yards receiving through their first eight games. Speedster Marquise Goodwin is a perfect deep ball threat for Garappolo.

In his press conference, Garappolo exclaimed how he is “thrilled to be here” and “eager to get out there and show what I can do on a Sunday.” Garappolo also touched on how he could not be happier to be a member of this team.

As far as future schedule looks, it won’t get any easier next season for San Francisco. They will be facing, on the road, Green Bay, Kansas City, Seattle, Minnesota and the LA Rams. While it may take some time, Jimmy G and the 49ers could be a perfect fit. The best part is that San Francisco will still have a top five pick in this year’s draft, and might have found their quarterback for the next ten years.

What this means for New England

To be honest, this move is quite the head scratcher. It would be one thing if the Patriots did not like Garappolo and thought he wouldn’t pan out, but that is just not the case. The Patriots loved this kid, and viewed him as the Aaron Rodgers to Brett Favre. If Brady goes down, their season is over.

An important message to note is that Bill Belichick would have absolutely considered trading Tom Brady after this season. However, Brady and owner Bob Kraft are extremely close, and Albert Breer, reporter for the MMQB.com, claims that Belichick “probably knew the Kraft family was not going to allow him to trade Tom Brady.”

Jimmy Garappolo trade

Were Kraft and Belichick on the same page for this move? (Boston Herald)

Whatever the case may be, Tom Brady is 40 years old. Although he looks good, it just doesn’t make sense to trade the future away, especially when the franchise believed he has serious potential. Joe Montana, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre, one way or another, were all forced to cut ties with their original teams and play somewhere else.

New England is usually ahead of the curve when it comes to trading players away at the right time, but I guess when you are dealing with the GOAT, things get complicated. Something tells me Kraft’s relationship with Brady got in the way of how Belichick wanted to do business.

Boston sports fans are extremely blessed, but also might not be ready for life after Brady. Keep in mind that from 1989-1993, the Patriots never won more than six games in a season. The Celtics did something similar to New England, when they held onto Bird, Parish and McHale too long. After their success, the players aged, and Boston went 22 years without winning a title. They were unable to reach the playoffs from 1995-2001. Letting past success get in the way of the future leads to situations like the Celtics.

To remind Patriots fans, and NFL fans, how hard it is to find a franchise quarterback, I have constructed a list of all the quarterbacks who have won at least nine games in three different seasons. All of course, part of the same franchise. As you’ll see, it could take years before New England gets back on track once Brady is gone.

Players with at least three 9-Win Seasons with Franchise (# of seasons)

Arizona/St Louis Cardinals

Jim Hart 1974-76 (3)

Atlanta Falcons

Matt Ryan 2008- (6)

Baltimore Ravens

Joe Flacco 2008- (6)

Buffalo Bills

Jack Kemp 1964-1966 (3)

Joe Ferguson 1973-1981 (4)

Jim Kelly 1988-1995 (6)

Carolina Panthers

Jake Delhomme 2003-2008 (3)

Chicago Bears

NONE

Cincinnati Bengals

Ken Anderson 1973-1981 (4)

Boomer Esiason 1986-1990 (3)

Andy Dalton 2011-2015 (5)

Cleveland Browns

Otto Graham 1950-1955 (5)

Frank Ryan 1963-1967 (5)

Bill Nelsen 1968-1971 (3)

Dallas Cowboys

Roger Staubach 1971-1979 (7)

Danny White 1980-1985 (4)

Troy Aikman 1992-1996 (5)

Tony Romo 2007-2014 (3)

Denver Broncos

John Elway 1984-1998 (9)

Jake Plummer 2003-2005 (3)

Peyton Manning 2012-2014 (3)

Detroit Lions

Bobby Layne 1952-1956 (3)

Matthew Stafford 2011- (3)

Green Bay Packers

Bart Starr 1961-1966 (4)

Brett Favre 1993-2007 (12)

Aaron Rodgers 2009- (7)

Houston Texans

NONE

Indianapolis Colts

Johnny Unitas 1959-1970 (5)

Bert Jones 1975-1977 (3)

Peyton Manning (11)

Andrew Luck 2012- (3)

Jacksonville Jaguars

Mark Brunell 1996-1999 (4)

Kansas City Chiefs

Len Dawson 1962-1971 (5)

Alex Smith 2013- (3)

LA/San Diego Chargers

Dan Fouts 1978-1981 (4)

Stan Humphires 1992-1995 (3)

Philip Rivers 2006- (6)

LA/STL Rams

Roman Gabriel 1967-1970 (4)

Kurt Warner 1999-2001* (2 (Went 8-3 in 2000) )

Miami Dolphins

Bob Griese 1970-1977 (5)

Dan Marino 1984-1998 (8)

Minnesota Vikings

Fran Tarkenton 1973-1976 (4)

New England Patriots

Steve Grogan 1976-1979 (4)

Drew Bledsoe 1994-1997 (3)

Tom Brady 2001- (15)

New Orleans Saints

Bobby Herbert 1987-1992 (3)

Drew Brees 2006- (5)

New York Giants

Phil Simms 1984-1993 (7)

Eli Manning 2005- (7)

New York Jets

Joe Namath 1967-1969* (2 (Three winning seasons when regular season=14 games) )

Vinny Testaverde 1998

Oakland/LA Raiders

Daryle Lamonica 1967-1972 (4)

Ken Stabler 1974-1979 (6)

Rich Gannon 2000-2002 (3)

Philadelphia Eagles

Ron Jaworski 1978-1981 (4)

Randall Cunningham 1988-1992 (4)

Donovan McNabb 2000-2009 (6)

Pittsburgh Steelers

Terry Bradshaw 1972-1980 (6)

Neil O’Donnell 1992-1995 (4)

Ben Roethlisberger 2004- (9)

San Francisco 49ers

Joe Montana 1981-1990 (7)

Steve Young 1992-1998 (6)

Seattle Seahawks

Dave Krieg 1984-1990 (3)

Matt Hasselbeck 2003-2007 (3)

Russell Wilson 2012- (5)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NONE

Tennessee Titans/Houston Oilers

Dan Pastorini 1975-1979 (3)

Warren Moon 1989-1993 (3)

Steve McNair 1999-2003 (4)

Washington Redskins

Joe Theismann 1979-1984 (3)

Mark Rypien 1989-1992 (3)

 

Featured image by Boston Herald 

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