Rap and basketball

Rap and basketball: Forever intertwined through lyrical references

Rap and basketball go together like peanut butter and jelly. Players are name-dropped in songs and rappers sit courtside. Players have become rappers (Iman Shumpert, Damian Lillard and Nick Young) and rappers have become owners (Jay-Z and Nelly). Getting name-dropped in a song shows that you’ve done enough as a player, for better or worse, to warrant the shoutout.

“Once I got referenced, that is when I felt like I had made it in pop culture” – Dwyane Wade

The better and more successful a player is, the more likely he is to be name-dropped more often in a song. Michael Jordan has been mentioned 194 times in a song and Brevin Knight has been mentioned once (back to Brevin later). Listed below are 16 of the best NBA player references in rap history and my breakdown of the lyrics.

“If Jeezy paying LeBron, I’m paying Dwyane Wade”

Rap and basketball

Dwayne Wade shares a laughs with Jay-Z. (Kelly Dwyer/Yahoo Sports)

“Empire State of Mind” – Jay-Z ft. Alicia Keys (2009)

Jeezy is “paying” LeBron because he had recently made a song titled 23,24 where he mentions LeBron and Kobe a bunch. Jay-Z hops aboard the Dwyane Wade bandwagon in Empire State of Mind instead.

D-Wade was at his peak in 2009 when he lead the NBA in scoring by averaging 30.2 points per game. He was the best shooting guard in the NBA at the time, and Jay-Z is stating that he would back Dwyane Wade since Jeezy already backed LeBron James.

“Pyrex, cook it up like Kyrie, trade you off (let’s go), green and white like Celtics, don’t play with me, play with a fork.”

“All da Smoke” – Future and Young Thug (2017)

In this song off the recently released collaborative album Super Slimey, Future talks about the Kyrie Irving trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets 2018 first-round pick.

Pyrex is a cookware brand, and he compares cooking in the kitchen to Kyrie cooking defenders on the court.

Green and white is in reference to the Celtics colorway and the color of money, which Future has a whole lot with his net worth being around $8 million.

“I been Steph Curry with the shot, been cookin’ with the sauce, Chef Curry with the pot boy, 360 with the wrist boy.”

“0 to 100/The Catch Up” – Drake (2014)

Drake starts out the line by comparing himself to Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry. He is stating that he is a dead-eye shooter and doesn’t miss on tracks, like how Steph Curry seemingly doesn’t miss shots, especially from deep.

The two-time MVP is a career 43.6 percent 3-point shooter and has made over 2,000 threes already in his career. This puts him at eighth all time, and he is only 29 years old.

The second part of the lyric Drake refers to Ayesha Curry. Ayesha is Steph’s wife, and Drake mentions her ability to whip up feasts in the kitchen. It also refers to James Harden’s “stir the pot” celebration.

“And you can live through anything if Magic made it.”

“Can’t Tell Me Nothing” – Kanye West (2007)

Kanye references Lakers Hall of Fame point guard Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s AIDS diagnosis in this lyric. On Nov. 7, 1991, Johnson held a press conference and shocked the world when he announced that he was retiring from the NBA because he was HIV-positive.

At the time, the disease was deadly as they were still in the early stages of developing drugs to manage the disease. Kanye refers to this by saying you can live through whatever you are suffering through because Magic was able to survive his dire diagnosis.

“I am just like DeRozan, if I shoot it, it goes in.”

“iSpy” – KYLE ft. Lil Yatchy (2016)

This is a questionable lyric at best. KYLE is comparing himself to Toronto Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan by saying any track he makes is a hit, just like any shot DeRozan shoots he hits.

This is just a factually incorrect statement. Although DeRozan has improved his 3-point shooting percentage to a more than respectable 35 percent, he is still a 29 percent career shooter from deep. He also shoots 44.9 percent in his career from the field, meaning he makes less than half of the shots he attempts.

To make his lyric even more incorrect, this is the only song he has ever had in the Billboard Top 100, when ‘iSpy” peaked at No. 4. Although KYLE may improve his numbers just like DeRozan has, next time he should choose a better shooter to compare himself too.

“I been ballin’ so hard I swear I think that I’m Kobe”

Rap and basketball

Kobe balled pretty hard over his career. (Photo by AP / David J. Phillip)

“Kobe” – Chief Keef (2012)

Chicago legend Chief Keef believes that he has put in so much work and made so much money that he is convinced that he is Lakers legend Kobe Bryant.

Bryant averaged 25 points per game, 5.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists over his career. He has earned over $770 million in his career from advertisements and contract money.

On the other hand, Chief Keef has a net worth of around $6 million. Chief Keef feels as if he is on the same level as Bryant because he is making hit after hit. His debut album Finally Rich was a superb success, debuting at No. 29 on the Billboard Top 200 list. Not bad at all for a 17-year-old rapper.

“I’m not from round these parts I’m Stojakovic”

“Pump It Up (Remix)” – Joe Budden ft. Jay Z (2003)

Joe Budden, a rap old head, joins forces with mogul Jay-Z for the song Pump It Up (Remix). There are plenty of references in the song, but the best is the one listed above. It is a remix to Joe Budden’s most successful and acclaimed song Pump It Up.

Budden exclaims that he is foreign to the neighborhood, just like former NBA sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic. Stojakovic is from Serbia and averaged 17 points per game in his career and shot over 40 percent from three. He is one of the best international players of all time.

Just like Stojakovic is from Serbia and not familiar with his surroundings, neither is Joe Budden in this song.

“Klay Thomp’, corner shot (brrr), Eight-Ball, corner pocket(ayy)”

“Call Casting” – Migos (Quavo) (2017)

Migos gives a shoutout to Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson on the track “Call Casting” from the standout album Culture. Thompson is the second “Splash Brother” along with point guard Stephen Curry. They are two of the most accurate and deadly three-point shooters of all time. Thompson has hit many corner threes in his lifetime and will hit many more in the future.

In the second half of the lyric, Quavo talks about his Billiards knowledge by stating that he is calling the corner pocket of the table for the eight-ball when he is going for the win. An eight-ball may also refer to Quavo dealing with an eighth, or 3.5 grams, of a drug.

“James Harden, Swaggy P runnin’ up the budget”

“Facts (Charlie Heat Version)” – Kanye West (2016)

Kanye West is not only a rapper, but a clothing feign. He signed with Adidas after starting his clothing brand with Nike. Both of the athletes mentioned in this lyric also left Nike for Adidas as well. The Yeezy line is one of the most popular clothing and pop culture lines in the world.

West points to Adidas signing both Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden and then Los Angles Lakers shooting guard Nick “Swaggy P” Young. He states that their Adidas contracts are causing the budget to rise. Harden’s contract with Adidas is a reported $200 million over 13 years. That will certainly run up the budget.

“Got a thing for aesthetics, straight shooter like Redick”

“102” – Vince Staples (2011)

Vince Staples states that he enjoys beauty and the pretty things in life. Staples then compares his gun-toting abilities and accuracy with a glock to that of Philadelphia 76ers shooting guard J.J. Redick. Redick is one of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA. He is a career 41.4 percent shooter from deep and has made 1,369 threes in his career so far. Redick is someone you don’t wanna leave open from deep, otherwise you might as well chalk up three points for the other team.

“Back-to-back like I’m Jordan ’96, ’97”

“Back to Back” – Drake (2015)

This lyric is from the second of two diss tracks by Drake against Meek Mill. The beef started after Meek Mill called out Drake for allegedly using a ghost writer to write his verses.

Drake responded by dropping “Charged Up” and “Back to Back,” taking shots at Meek Mill and his entourage the entire time. He compares him dropping back-to-back diss tracks with Chicago Bulls shooting guard and the greatest player of all time, Michael Jordan winning back-to-back championships in 1996 and 1997.

“She said she need a ring like Carmelo”

“Nikes” – Frank Ocean (2016)

Frank Ocean talks about a woman in his life that he is with that wants to get married. The woman wants to solidify her relationship with Ocean by having the ring. He compares this to Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Carmelo Anthony not having won an NBA Championship, despite being one of the best players of the decade and one of the best individual scorers of all time.

He has averaged over 24.4 points per game over his 16-year NBA career. Therefore, he wants a ring that signifies being a champion. Many pundits and fans believe that’s the last thing Anthony needs to accomplish in his career, despite having one an NCAA Championship with Syracuse in 2003.

“I’ma beat they (butt) up like Ron Artest”

“Floyd Mayweather” – Young Thug ft. Gunna, Travis Scott and Gucci Mane (2016)

In the standout song off of Young Thug’s third major release mixtape Jeffery, Young Thug profusely states that he will beat the up the next person who tries to rob him, and make sure no one threatens him again.

He compares his fighting ability to Ron Artest’s (aka Metta World Peace). Artest is infamously known for his part in the Malace at The Palace fight. In a game between rival Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers in Detroit, the two teams got into a heated brawl in the closing seconds. The fight spilled into the stands with Ron Artest fighting fans after they threw things onto the court at him. It is one of the most infamous moments in NBA history.

So yeah, don’t get into a fight with Young Thug or Ron Artest.

“I bring all my guns to work, Gilbert Arenas”

“Spend It” – 2 Chainz ft T.I. (2011)

2 Chainz states he is always strapped up with weapons in the workplace like Gilbert Arenas was in the Washington Wizards’ locker room. Arenas was the star point guard for the Wizards when he was suspended for the rest of 2010 season after getting in a locker room dispute with teammate Javaris Crittenton. They reportedly drew weapons on each other in the locker room after arguing over a gambling debt.

On a somewhat related note, Crittenton is currently serving 23 years in prison after being found guilty of manslaughter.

“Boomin’ out in South Gwinnett like Lou Will, 6 man like I’m Lou Will”

Rap and basketball

Lou Williams with his two girlfriends. (Lou Williams Instagram)

“6 Man” – Drake (2014)

Drake love the Raptors so much he dedicated a song off the album If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late to one of their players.

“6 Man” is dedicated to shooting guard Lou Williams, who at the time was a high-scoring guard for the Toronto Raptors. He had recently won the Sixth Man of the Year award for the Raptors in 2014-15. Drake also shouts out South Gwinnett, which is where Lou Williams went to high school in Georgia. He also shouts out producer Metro Boomin with the first word of the lyric.

Drake states he is the 6 man like Lou Will because he is the man of the 6, which is what Toronto is known as. A fun fact about Lou Williams is that he once had two girlfriends at the same time, and one of his girlfriends had a twin.

“I take my Glock and I point god/point guard like Brevin Knight”

“Put ‘Em in the Grave” – Jedi Mind Tricks (2006)

I told you we would get back to out mutual friend Brevin Knight. In one of the most obscure rap references of all time, Vinnie Paz of Jedi Mind Tricks talks about pointing his pistol and guarding himself and his homies, like point guard Brevin Knight guarding people on defense.

Brevin Knight was a journeyman backup point guard who played for nine teams in his career and averaged 7.3 points per game. While it is a very slick metaphor and lyric, it is still quite odd that he picked perhaps one of the most random NBA players in history.

The only reason I knew Brevin Knight existed was that I had his Utah Jazz basketball card as a kid. I’m sure 99.9 percent of people reading this don’t know who he is, which is quite fair because he did absolutely nothing notable in his career besides being known as a decent defender (I had to look that up).

Hope you enjoyed this as much as I did writing this.

 

Featured image by Jason Merritt/Getty Images North America

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Top 10 MLB franchises of all time

Best baseball franchises of all time

Normally, this is the time of year when big-time moves are made. Free agents are signed, general managers are wheelin’ and dealin’ and there is a constant buzz around baseball.

This year? Not so much. The free agent market has been relatively stagnant, and trades are few and far between. So I’ve decided to actually put my history degree to use and list the top 10 baseball franchises of all time. Clubs will be ranked by World Series titles, Hall of Fame players and overall success. We will start at No. 10.

10. Detroit Tigers

Statistics: Five World Series titles, 9,235-8,979 record, nine Hall of Fame inductees

Top 10 MLB franchises of all timeAs one of the oldest teams in baseball, the Tigers have to find a way onto the list. They were a charter member of the American League and have been in Detroit since 1901.

But they don’t earn a spot on these rankings from their age alone. They have the 13th most Hall of Fame players in baseball, accumulating nine spots in Cooperstown. They also have four World Series titles to their credit, good for ninth most in baseball. But it’s the stories, myths and legends that help give this team an edge over the others.

As one of the greatest baseball players of all time, Ty Cobb was a menace in Detroit for 22 years. Stories of his aggressive demeanor are only overshadowed by his prowess on the field. He lead the American League in hitting nine years in a row and batted over .400 twice within that span. He also holds the all-time highest career batting average at .366. If that wasn’t enough, he was also an inaugural inductee into the Hall of Fame in 1936.

The Tigers never won a World Series with Cobb, but broke through in 1935 to give the city its first championship. They did it again in 1945, 1968 and 1984. Their 2012 trip to the World Series has been their most recent appearance.

The Tigers also have some greats to rely on in the 21st century, with Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera leading the way. Even in the midst of a rebuild, the Tigers can still lay claim to baseball royalty.

9. Chicago Cubs

Statistics: Three World Series titles, 10,803-10,258 record, 14 Hall of Fame inductees

Top 10 MLB franchises of all timeIf the Tigers are considered an aged franchise, the Cubs are ancient. You can trace their playing history all the way back to 1876, only 11 years after the end of the Civil War. They are a charter member of the National League, and assumed the Cubs name back in 1903.

As one of the best in baseball history, it’s not surprising to find that they hold multiple records. One of those is the modern-era single-season winning percentage of .763 in 1906 when they went 116-36. But the franchise’s history goes much deeper than the team level.

Perhaps one of the more overlooked Hall of Fame players for the Cubs is third baseman Ron Santo. Playing in the 1960s through mid-70s, he teamed with Ernie Banks to return hope to the Cubbie faithful. Even though the duo wasn’t able to bring a title home to Chicago, Santo still played at a high level. He was a nine-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner for the Cubs, providing stability at the hot corner.

One thing Santo couldn’t provide was a regular World Series contender, as the Cubs would have to wait until 2016 to earn their third title. With players like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Ian Happ, Jose Quintana, Jon Lester and a multitude of others, another World Series title in the near future is not out of the question.

8. Oakland Athletics

Statistics: Nine World Series titles, 8,834-9,322 record, five Hall of Fame inductees

Top 10 MLB franchises of all timeThe Athletics are another one of the old-guard franchises, joining the Tigers as an inaugural member of the American League in 1901. Unlike the Tigers, the Athletics have had multiple homes. After starting out in Philadelphia, the team moved to Kansas City in 1955 and then to Oakland in 1968.

They are also one of the few teams on this list with a losing record, posting a .487 win percentage. However, with so many World Series titles (third most in baseball history), they easily find themselves among the top ten teams all time.

One reason for their World Series dominance is Mr. October, Reggie Jackson. Before Jackson was shining under the bright lights in New York, he was blasting away at the bay. Jackson played 10 seasons for the Athletics, leading them to back-to-back-to-back titles in 1972, 1973 and 1974. He was also a more balanced player in Oakland, hitting 269 home runs and stealing 145 bases.

Just like many of Oakland’s stars, the Athletics weren’t able to retain him. This developed into a common theme for the A’s.

That is one reason why their win percentage is so low. The Athletics experienced multiple runs of success, winning five World Series titles from 1910-30, three in the 1970s and one in 1989. With the introduction of free agency, the small-market Athletics weren’t able to compete in the bidding wars their stars warranted.

Even so, the A’s have been one of the best franchises of all time, and could be on the verge of another dominant run with a loaded farm system and young major league club.

7. Pittsburgh Pirates

Statistics: Five World Series titles, 10,394-10,233 record, 13 Hall of Fame inductees

Top 10 MLB franchises of all timeAfter joining the National League in 1887, the Pirates took baseball by storm, representing the National League in the inaugural World Series in 1903. It wasn’t until 1909 that the steel city could boast its first World Series title though.

Led by players like Honus Wagner, the Pirates of the early 20th century dominated baseball. With pennants in 1901, 1902, 1903 and 1909, the Pirates established themselves as one of the dynasties of baseball.

They continued that legacy well into the 20th century, relying on one of the greatest Pirates of all time to guide the franchise. Roberto Clemente started for the Pirates at the ripe age of 20, but didn’t establish himself until he turned 25. In the following eight seasons, Clemente earned eight All-Star appearances, seven Gold Gloves and one AL MVP award. He also led the Pirates to two World Series titles, cementing himself as a legend in Pittsburgh.

His legend ended spreading far beyond Pittsburgh or baseball, as he was an avid humanitarian. That, coupled with his skills on the diamond, makes him one of the most beloved Hall of Fame players the Pirates have had. As such, a new generation looks to carry on the legend he left behind. Players like Gregory Polanco, Starlin Marte and a cast of young Pirates will look to right the ship and return to the franchises’ former glory days.

6. Cincinnati Reds

Statistics: Five World Series titles, 10,457-10,211 record, 10 Hall of Fame inductees

Top 10 MLB franchises of all timeAs one of the charter members of the American Association in 1881, the Reds have played ball in Cincinnati for 136 seasons. In that time, some of the greatest players and teams have called the queen city home.

Unlike the other ancients of baseball, the Reds did not have much early success. They boast one World Series title in the early 20th century, winning the fall classic in 1919. Even so, their dominance in the 1970s is the stuff of legends, as only one of the greatest teams of all time can be worthy of such a title as “the Red Machine.”

At the heart of the red machine was none other than Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench. He helped propel one of the most dominant teams of the modern era, and caught one of the better pitching staffs baseball has seen. He played his full 17-year career in Cincinnati. In that time, the Reds won back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and 1976. With a rare blend of power and defensive skills, Bench became the standard bearer for elite catching. But a machine isn’t made up of just one member.

Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Dave Conception were all vital cogs in the big red machine and were integral parts to their two World Series titles in the 1970s. Now a new machine is being constructed in Cincinnati led by All-Star Joey Votto. With a young core and stacked farm system, the Reds will try to emulate the success of the 1970s.

5. San Francisco Giants

Statistics: Eight World Series titles, 11,015-9,513 record, five Hall of Fame inductees

Top 10 MLB franchises of all timeOne of the first things that catches your eye with the San Francisco Giants is their gaudy record. Since their inception in 1883, they have posted a .537 win percentage. That includes stints as the New York Gothams, New York Giants and San Francisco Giants. While fans may have more fond memories of New York than San Francisco (five World Series titles in New York, three in San Francisco), San Francisco does have much more recent memories to draw upon.

One of the most dominant and bizarre runs baseball has seen belongs to the San Francisco Giants. In 2010, 2012 and 2014 the Giants were able to bring San Francisco a World Series title. Led by one of the best pitcher-catcher combos in the game, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey were vital to the Giants prolonged success.

In his rookie season, Bumgarner pitched eight shutout innings against the Texas Rangers in the World Series. Posey was also solid as a rookie in the World Series, batting an even .300. Now both grizzled veterans, they look to bring San Francisco back to its former glory.

With a strong supporting cast, they may make another run yet. Joining Bumgarner and Posey at the core of the Giants roster is Brandon Crawford, Hunter Pence, Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen. All in the prime of their respective careers, the Giants should definitely be feared. But it remains to be seen if they can make a return to their former glory atop the throne of baseball’s elite.

4. Los Angeles Dodgers

Statistics: Six World Series titles, 10,776-9,691 record, six Hall of Fame inductees

Top 10 MLB franchises of all timeAnother former New York team claims a spot on our rankings, as the Los Angeles Dodgers find themselves in baseball’s elite. After undergoing nine different name changes since their founding in 1884, the Dodgers moniker finally stuck in 1932. The team went on to win all six of its World Series titles as the Dodgers, bringing one home for Brooklyn in 1955, two years before their cross-country exodus. Even with five titles won in Los Angeles, Brooklyn will always be able to boast one of the greatest players of all time, Jackie Robinson.

Robinson broke onto the major league scene in 1947. As a 28-year-old rookie, Robinson won Rookie of the Year. He also added an MVP to his trophy case, bringing home the award in 1949.

Even as a six-time All-Star, MVP and World Series champion, Robinson’s biggest impact has come after his playing days. As one of the first African-Americans to play Major League Baseball, Robinson opened the door for thousands of African-Americans to follow in his footsteps. That distinction, coupled with his stellar career, made Robinson a slam dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1962.

While the Dodgers haven’t won a World Series since 1988, they are not far off from earning another one. With a core of Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Yasiel Puig and others, the Dodgers are believed to be perennial World Series contenders. And with future Hall of Fame lefty Clayton Kershaw as the ace, the sky is the limit for these Los Angeles Dodgers. Look for their number of World Series titles and Hall of Fame players to increase in the coming seasons.

3. Boston Red Sox

Statistics: Eight World Series titles, 9,410-8,776 record, 12 Hall of Fame inductees

Top 10 MLB franchises of all timeNow we enter some rarefied air. The Boston Red Sox are one of the younger franchises on this list, debuting in 1901. Even so, they have made good use of their time. With a glut of World Series titles and Hall of Fame inductees, the Red Sox have put together a .517 win percentage. While part of that is due to their large market status that lets them spend freely in free agency, it’s also owed to some savvy drafting and player development.

One example of the Red Sox keen eye for talent is one of the best baseball players of all time, Ted Williams. Williams made his Red Sox debut at 20 years old, and led the American League in RBIs with 145. He hit .406 in 1941, while leading the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. Even with a three-year hiatus in the midst of his career to fight in World War II, Williams is easily a Hall of Famer. That was proven by his first-ballot induction in 1966.

With all of Ted Williams’ heroics, he could not bring Boston a World Series title. It took 86 years for Boston to be title town again in 2004. What has followed has been a successful run. With two more World Series titles in 2007 and 2013, it seems the curse had finally been lifted. It will be up to Mookie Betts, Rafael Devers and Chris Sale to continue to prove the curse broken.

2. St. Louis Cardinals

Statistics: 11 World Series titles, 10,739-9,918 record, 17 Hall of Fame inductees

Top 10 MLB franchises of all timeVery few teams have been as good as long as the St. Louis Cardinals have. Founded in 1882 and joining the National League in 1892, the Cardinals have been one of the most dominant teams in baseball.

In a span of 20 seasons (1926-46), the Cardinals amassed six World Series titles. Their 11 total World Series titles gives them the second most in baseball history. It hasn’t just been World Series titles that has made them great though, as the Cardinals have a slew of Hall of Famers.

Perhaps the greatest was Stan “The Man” Musial. Musial entered the league in 1941, and by 1943 was a perennial MVP candidate. He won the award three times in his illustrious career and brought St. Louis three World Series titles.

Perhaps his most amazing accomplishment was his 24 All-Star selections, garnered over a 22-year career. That career includes 475 home runs and a .331 batting average, making Musial one of the best of all time.

Cardinals greats aren’t limited to just Musial though. Players like Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright have helped carry on the Cardinal’s legacy. And with players like Matt Carpenter, Marcel Ozuna and Dexter Fowler joining them, the Cardinals are set to continue their run among baseball’s best.

1. New York Yankees

Statistics: 27 World Series titles, 10,175-7,719 record, 24 Hall of Fame inductees

Top 10 MLB franchises of all timeWas their ever any doubt who No. 1 would be? The New York Yankees aren’t just one of the best franchises in all of baseball. They are perhaps the best professional sports franchise in history. With 27 World Series titles, 53 playoff appearances and 40 pennants, it’s hard to argue against it. With such a dominant history, one would believe it would be difficult to sift through all of the greats to don the pinstripes. However, one stands out among the rest.

George Herman “Babe” Ruth was the man that built the New York Yankees dynasty. Ruth wouldn’t become a full-time hitter until his move from the Red Sox to the Yankees in 1925. Prior to the move, Ruth amassed 94 wins and a 2.24 ERA as a starting pitcher with the Red Sox.

But it was at the plate that Ruth made the biggest impact. He earned seven World Series titles with the Yankees, hitting 714 home runs and batting .341 in his career. When the Yankees moved to Yankee Stadium in 1923, it was nicknamed “The House that Ruth Built.” No other man has had such an impact on baseball history. A fitting distinction for a legendary franchise.

That’s not to say that others haven’t tried. In fact, the Yankees boast two of the best power hitters currently in baseball in Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Both have 50-homer power, and will be the driving force behind another great Yankees team.

The major league club also has a loaded farm system, something past Yankees teams haven’t had. With so much talent throughout the organization, the Yankees are primed for another dynastic run.

 

Feature image from Cool Old Photos.

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Calgary Flames

Those Flames are so hot right now

The quintessentially average Calgary Flames have finally found their stride and it may be for real this time.

THE SLUMP YEARS

The last time the Calgary Flames made a legitimate run for the Stanley Cup was in 2004 against the Tampa Bay Lightning (spoiler, the Flames lost).

The last time the Flames won a Stanley Cup was WAY back in 1989 and that is their only Cup.

So, it’s been a while since the Flames have tasted victory and it seems as though they are finally getting hungry.

The Flames have failed to make the playoffs in six of the last ten NHL seasons. Those seasons were chaotic, unsure and frustrating.

Calgary Flames

Miikkaa Kiprusoff may be the best goaltender the Flames have ever had. (Photo from Reddit)

After losing Miikka Kiprusoff (who may be even more missed than Jarome Iginla) to retirement before the 2014-15 season the Flames struggled to find someone to take command between the pipes. They went through Jonas Hiller,  Kari Ramo, Reto Berra, Brian Elliot, Chad Johnson and most recently Eddie Lack.

Even when the Flames had Kiprusoff they lacked solid secondary support in the crease which caused the Flames to overplay Kiprusoff and potentially lead to his somewhat premature retirement.

In addition to their goaltending woes, the Flames also had an extremely slow and old group of players.

Calgary Flames

Here is a breakdown of the average ages in the NHL in 2010-11. (Screenshot from QuantHockey.com)

Veterans are beneficial to a team, but you don’t want a whole team of veterans.

The Calgary Flames were above the NHL age average from the 2009-10 season until the 2012-13 season. Two of those seasons they were second in age average (at nearly 30 years old) to only the Detroit Red Wings.

A COUPLE GOOD MOVES

Extending the contracts of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan were clutch moves (albeit obvious). Their connection is absolutely incredible and adding Michael Ferland to that line has made a huge positive difference.

Picking up Dougie Hamilton and Travis Hamonic and the rise of Michael Stone have bolstered the Flames D-line to be one of top defensive cores in the league.

Picking up Mike Smith is one of the best things that’s happened to the Flames since Gaudreau became an unexpected star.

THE PAST TEN GAMES

In their last four games of December the Flames went 1-3. Not due to lack of effort. The Flames shootout loss against the San Jose Sharks was one of the best games I have ever watched.

On New Years Eve the Flames turned it all around. They were playing the Chicago Blackhawks and came out on top with a great all around effort. That victory sparked a seven game win streak which is still in progress. During the win streak the Flames have matched up with and beaten extremely strong opponents, such as the league leading Tampa Bay Lightning, the Anaheim Ducks and the LA Kings.

The biggest difference between this current streak and some of the Flames’ past streaks is the quality of the teams they are beating. In addition to this, the Flames are seeing offensive contributions from more players than just their first line, including key contributions from their defensemen.  

The Flames are seeing depth not only from their forwards and defensemen but also their goalies. It seems like for the first time in over a decade the Flames may have found a decent backup in David Rittich who has gone 4-1-1 since being called up with a 2.03 GAA and a .932 S%.

LOOKING FORWARD

Two members of the Flames were named to the NHL’s Three Stars of the Week; with Johnny Gaudreau at number one and Mike Smith at number two.

If the Flames continue to execute on special teams and keep their possession numbers up there is no reason why they shouldn’t be in the playoff picture.

Things are really starting to look up for the Flames, so if they can keep this level of confidence the rest of this season should be smooth sailing. 

Featured image from Calgary Herald

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Marcus Johnson NFL Draft profile

2018 NFL Draft profile: Marcus Johnson

Marcus Johnson left his mark on Slippery Rock University’s football program. He leaves The Rock as one of the greatest receivers in program history.

It wasn’t always easy for Johnson though. After a successful high school career at University Prep in Pittsburgh, he went on to play at Thiel College, an NCAA Division III school in Pennsylvania. After a successful freshman season, Johnson transferred to Division II Slippery Rock University. The transition was a tough one for Johnson at first.

“Going into my sophomore year I was kind of going through a rough patch learning the program and everything,” Johnson said. “Once it got going, it really took off going up there.”

Boy did it take off. In his junior year, Johnson caught 54 passes for 898 yards and 13 touchdowns.

This past season was his best by far. As a senior, Johnson caught 72 passes for 1,214 yards and 14 touchdowns, which was first in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC).

He also set the single-season record for all-purpose yards with 1,993, showing he can also make an impact on special teams. Johnson added three more touchdowns, two kickoff returns and one punt return, to make his season total 17 in just 11 games.

Johnson leaves tied for first in program history in receiving touchdowns with 28. He also ranks fifth in receiving yards with 2,238 and sixth in receptions with 133. Johnson only played three seasons with The Rock and two as the primary target.

He is now hoping to make the same kind of impact on an NFL team.

This past week, Johnson got to show off his skills at the College Gridiron Showcase in Addison, Texas. The showcase features some of the top seniors of college football. The showcase provides exposure and the opportunity to be evaluated by professional scouts and executives.

Johnson believes his ability to go up and get the ball and work ethic are things the NFL scouts are going to like about him.

“I have great ball skills in the air,” he said. “Just the way I compete. Not a lot of guys have my work ethic. I feel like I really can make a difference in the league the way I go get the ball in the air.”

Johnson was one of two Division II All-Americans at a showcase filled with Division I talent. That alone shows shows how hard he works.

Johnson said he believes the biggest transition from switching from college to pros will be the speed of the game.

“Probably speed of the game. It’s a lot more fast. It’s a lot more learning. Learning the technique. Learning the defenses. Really looking forward to learning those things.”

What might we see Johnson doing after football? Johnson majored in Interdisciplinary Studies. He wants to help kids in his community who don’t have a father figure in their lives.

Marcus Johnson Scouting Report

Johnson has decent size for a wide receiver at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds. He can add strength to his frame to beat NFL-level corners off the line of scrimmage. Most corners he plays know the type of threat he is and therefore give him a little bit of a cushion, but that won’t happen in the NFL.

Marcus Johnson NFL Draft profile

Johnson’s speed and route-running make him a real deep threat. (Photo by Rebecca Dietrich)

He is a good route-runner, who does an excellent job at changing speeds to make his cuts and get open. Once the ball is in the air, he high points it and usually comes down with the catch. This is an ode to his great ball skills. When he gets the ball in his hands, Johnson is elusive and hard to get to.

Because of his good route-running and change of speeds, Johnson is a deep threat, but can also do some damage underneath. His ability to win 50-50 balls make him a redzone threat. Slippery Rock continually threw to him on fades, slants and out routes to get him open for a touchdown.

Not only is Johnson a great wide receiver, he also makes a lot of plays returning kicks and punts. His elusiveness with the ball in his hands comes into play here as well. He routinely has big gains in the return game and is a threat to score any time he touches the ball.

Johnson is a great candidate to be selected in the 2018 NFL Draft for a variety of reasons. He is a productive receiver with great ball skills. Running routes won’t be a problem for him either. Teams will want to see what he can do with the ball in his hands. To top everything off, he is an ace on special teams, which is a plus heading into the NFL Draft season.

Full interview for Marcus Johnson:

 

*Josh Burris interviewed Johnson, while Joe DiTullio provided the scouting report.

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NBA trade deadline moves

Five players who desperately need a new team

With the trade deadline less than a month away, it’s time for teams to assess their rosters and make a plan for the future. While some teams like the Cavaliers, Trail Blazers and Bucks are looking to add talent to their roster and gear up for the playoffs, other teams need to deal their players and begin to look to the future. Here are the players who need to move on to a new team.

Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

NBA trade deadline moves

Gasol has had a great career in Memphis, but his time as a Grizzly could be over soon. (Photo from Sports Hub)

While Marc Gasol has tons of ties to the city of Memphis, including attending high school there while his brother Pau played on the Grizzlies, it’s time for the front office to trade him away and start to rebuild. Gasol was consistently one of the best centers in the NBA, but he’s turning 33 this month. While he’s added a lethal 3-point shot into his repertoire, he is not the player he once was.

The Grizzlies do not have the young talent to challenge for a playoff spot. While their 13-28 record would’ve been a lot better if Mike Conley stayed healthy, their best case scenario would’ve been sneaking into playoffs at the eighth seed, only to lose in the first round to the Golden State Warriors.

The Grizzlies need to let Gasol play for a contender and start building for the future.

Potential Teams: Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and Portland Trail Blazers

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Anthony Davis has played for the Pelicans for six years, averaging at least 20 points per game and 10 rebounds every year except his rookie season. The Pelicans have not won a playoff game since he’s been on the team, and it’s time to make a big move. Davis has also proven to be injury-prone, as he’s only played over 70 games in a season once.

Davis is a top-10 talent in the NBA, and he’s only 24. The reluctance to trading such a talent is understandable. However, the team is barely a playoff team (currently at the eighth seed) and are nowhere near competing with teams in the top of the Western Conference.

The addition of DeMarcus Cousins was a great move on paper, but the on-court performances haven’t been enough, and the dynamic duo of Cousins and Davis has been a failed experiment. Some reports believe that members of the front office prefer Cousins over Davis as the face of the franchise, and they should bring in pieces to build around Cousins.

With the threat of Cousins bolting to the Lakers in free agency this offseason, the Pelicans can’t keep the status quo.

Potential Teams: Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors

Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets

Kemba Walker has done everything he can to keep the Hornets afloat. However, the Hornets are not going to compete in the East with the roster they currently have. Walker is now 27 and is in his prime. He doesn’t want to be apart of a rebuild.

Walker is a star in this league, and he needs to be on a team that has talent to surround himself with. His talent is being wasted on a below-average team, and the Hornets need to accumulate draft picks and young players. Walker would be a perfect fit for a team desperate for a point guard, like his hometown team, the New York Knicks.

Potential Teams: New York Knicks, Denver Nuggets

Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls

NBA trade deadline moves

Mirotic will be a great addition to any playoff team this trade deadline. (Photo by NBC Sports)

The Bulls have launched into rebuild mode trading away Jimmy Butler this past offseason, and it’s time for them to trade Nikola Mirotic for more draft picks and young talent.

While Mirotic is having a great season as the No. 1 option on offense, the team is in full tank mode with a record of 16-27. The Bulls needs to start getting draft picks and young players to develop.

Mirotic has also expressed interest to moving to a contender, with reports this week that he still wants to be traded before the deadline.

Mirotic was punched in the face by Bobby Portis, a teammate, during a practice before the season started and was out for 2 weeks with a broken nose. The report exploited what appears to be a dysfunctional roster with lots of unhappy players. The growing feeling around the organization was that a trade was imminent after the incident. While they have yet to deal Mirotic, both sides would benefit from a deal.

Potential Teams: Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons

DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers

Probably the most available player on this list, Jordan’s impending free agency and potential trade has been very publicized by the media this season. Jordan has been a great defensive center and vertical threat for the Clippers the past couple years and has spent 10 seasons as a Clipper. During his time, he’s made three All-NBA teams, one All-Star game and two All-Defensive teams.

Jordan has been dominant and is apart of a dominant interior duo with Blake Griffin, when he is healthy. Nonetheless, it’s time to move to Jordan because he will not stay with the Clippers past this season, and the market for quality centers is very scarce. Jordan almost left the Clippers for the Dallas Mavericks a few years ago, but the Clippers players locked him in his house and made him sign the contract.

A deal before this trade deadline would benefit both sides. The Clippers can address other needs and rebuild after an injury-riddled season. Jordan wants to go to a contender, and there’s multiple Eastern Conference teams that could desperately use his interior presence.

Potential Teams: Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks, Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors

 

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Harry Kane Real Madrid

Why Harry Kane to Real Madrid makes sense

Fresh off of Tottenham’s 4-0 thrashing of Everton, Harry Kane is now Tottenham’s leading Premier League scorer in team history. After scoring a brace against Everton, Kane’s goal total with his club rose to 98. Surpassing Teddy Sheringham’s 97 goals with the team, and at the age of 24, it would seem that Kane has many more goals ahead of him for his childhood team. That is of course, unless Kane is sold to another team.

The Englishman scored more total goals in 2017, for club and country, than anyone else in the world, including the likes of Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar. This feat has undoubtedly put him on the radar of all the top teams in the world, if he wasn’t already there. Despite having the top goal-scorer in the world, Tottenham still finds themselves in fifth place in the EPL table. This means they need an overall better surrounding cast despite having players like Danny Rose, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Son Heung-min if they want to seriously contend for an EPL Championship or the Champions League trophy.

The best way for Tottenham to achieve this is by selling its best player. By selling Kane while he is still young, under contract and in top form, Tottenham could command a Neymar-esque price for his services. Last summer’s transfer fee for Neymar to play in the Parc des Princes for PSG from Barcelona was an outstanding record-breaking €222 million, or $263 million.

While it’s unlikely that Kane would command that price, or more, it is likely that he will be close to that range. A good starting point might be somewhere between the €222 million for Neymar and the €120 million for Coutinho from Liverpool to Barcelona from this transfer window.

The criteria

Now that a market range has been established for a player of Kane’s caliber, the next step would be to find which teams may be viable options for a transfer of that magnitude. The most important criteria for a move like this to take place would be need, available assets and team prestige.

Harry Kane Real Madrid

Photo from Getty Images

While every team in the world would have a need for a young goal-scoring machine like Kane, some teams will struggle with altering their already strong starting lineups to be able to accommodate all of the superstar egos and playing time. In order to justify such a big move, the team would also have to be under-performing if they already have superstars on the team, so that would automatically eliminate teams at the top of their table such as Barcelona, PSG, Bayern Munich, Napoli, Juventus, Man City and Man United.

Available assets would be the biggest factor of all. A team would have to have the liquidity to purchase Kane, or players to sell in order to be able to buy him. That factor alone would eliminate almost every team in the world. Only a team with a die-hard international following with lucrative television deals would be able to meet such an asking price.

Last but not least, team prestige could be the last factor that makes or breaks Harry Kane sporting a different team’s kit in the future. If it comes down to a couple of teams, no doubt team prestige would be the determining factor. Kane would want to join a team that could make him an international house hold name like Messi and Ronaldo. This would also allow him to be the target of more lucrative sponsorship deals that could add to his total package.

All things considered, it’s extremely doubtful that Spurs would let Kane go to any English Premier League team, as that would be counter-productive toward their goal of winning the EPL championship. That leaves La Liga teams the most likely options as they have a history of buying some of the best players from the EPL, and they are some of the most prestigious teams in the world outside of England.

Why Real Madrid

Enter Real Madrid. Los Blancos, as they’re otherwise known, seem to fit all of these criteria perfectly. Real Madrid’s current goal-scorers have not been in their best form this season. French striker Karim Benzema has struggled mightily this season, scoring only two league goals this season, something that is almost unimaginable for a Real Madrid striker.

The Gareth Bale to Manchester United speculations only seem to grow larger as each transfer window comes and goes. Team management and Cristiano Ronaldo also seem to be growing further apart with each passing day. It would seem Ronaldo is on his way out of Madrid sooner rather than later as well, giving the team a huge need for a goal-scoring weapon like Kane. Kane is only 24 and still approaching his prime as a player.

He could be the future face of the sport at a club like Real Madrid, widely considered the most popular soccer team worldwide. That checks off the need and team prestige boxes in Madrid’s favor. Madrid came into this season as favorites to win the league along with the Champions League once again. They are currently fourth on their league table, when it was supposed to be Barcelona that imploded with the departure of Neymar.

Last but not least, when it comes to assets, if Real Madrid ended up selling Gareth Bale, they could also sell Benzema and eventually Ronaldo as well, which should give them plenty to spend on a world class player like Harry Kane.

At the end of the day, it’s the fit that makes the most sense for both sides. It would only seem fitting that a player like Kane, who could soon end up being the best player in the world, to play on what some would consider the best team in the world.

 

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Blow it up: Why the Clippers should embrace a rebuild

The Clippers are only one game back from the eighth seed in the West. Lou Williams is playing outside of his mind. Blake Griffin is back from concussion protocol and Patrick Beverley says he could potentially play again this year. Not to mention, they’re one of the most injured teams in the league, all around, and they still beat the Warriors on Wednesday.

So why blow it up? Why not keep getting healthier and make one last meaningful run at the title while everyone has written them off?

Easy answer to an easy question; They won’t win a title in the West. They can’t. Not with this roster in this conference with this level of competition.

The Clippers are already teetering on breaking their streak of six straight playoff appearances. So here’s why they should wave the white flag and lean into the disappointment.

Trade chips

Lou Williams’ value will simply never be higher than it is right now. He’s averaging 31.6 points per game off the bench in his last 10 contests. He’s a virtual lock for Sixth Man of the Year, although he’s pretty much playing starters’ minutes. And he dropped 50 points on Golden State on Wednesday night, which is significant because the name of the game for 29 teams in the Association is to beat the Warriors at all costs. That’s something to, at the very least, take into consideration while going over a shopping list.

Clippers

Lou Williams tries to score over Omri Casspi. (Photo by: Alex Gallardo/Associated Press)

The Clippers also have two of the premiere offensive-minded rebounders in the league in Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan.

At 28 and 29-years-old respectively, are both in that sweet spot where the Clippers can trade them away without an iota of seller’s remorse. Historically, big players have started to have a downturn in their numbers around 30-years-old. So, the Clips can say that they held onto Griffin and Jordan in their prime, tried their very best to make it work and can sell very high to teams in need of their production.

Also, if they keep Beverley off the court this year and maintain an air of mystery around what he is capable of, then they can sell high on his defensive potential during the off-season.

Coaching

Doc Rivers is a prolific players’ coach, and puts more stock in talent than schemes. This isn’t a knock against him in any way, and, in fact, it is what won him a championship in Boston.

The problem is that without transcendent talent on the floor, coaching has to be about schemes and patterns. Now that Chris Paul is a Rocket, Blake Griffin can’t seem to stay on the court for an entire season, and defensive wizard Patrick Beverley is probably done for the year, Rivers is not the right fit for the team.

Clippers

Doc Rivers yells at an official while Deandre Jordan begins to hold him back (Photo by: Kathy Willens/Associated Press)

Trading away talent for picks and placeholders is an easy way to phase out Rivers and begin again with a clean slate. His contract is up after next season, so if the team commits to the rebuild, then next year’s record should be pretty bad. That’s an excuse to let Rivers go find his next job and lets the Clippers pick a new direction.

The draft

The Clippers don’t have a wealth of draft picks this year. In fact, as of now they only have one pick. Obviously, if they trade away stars and want to rebuild, that will (or should) result in more picks.

The 2018 draft should be pretty balanced and should feature some franchise-altering talent in the first round. That leaves two ways Los Angeles can play this particular game.

They can stockpile picks and see what sticks and what doesn’t, a-la the Philadelphia 76ers. Or, they can bear hug the tanking philosophy after trading away Williams, Griffin and Jordan and aim for a high pick. Once that pick is secured, they can flip it for more chances at less-valued players, or go for broke and try to draft a star.

Either way is equally risky and equally viable, but it should all depend on what they can get for their on-court talent.

Clippers

Blake Griffin throws down a dunk. (Photo by: Harry How/Getty Images)

It’s not easy to say goodbye to Lob City. The Clippers were, genuinely, one of the most exciting teams in the NBA for a long period of time. They also successfully overshadowed a certain purple and gold clad team that shares their arena.

But with Chris Paul dropping dimes in Houston, an aging frontcourt and no real identity, it’s time to watch these players be great somewhere else. Steve Ballmer is, arguably, a top-10 owner in the league, so let’s all hope he won’t want to mortgage the future for another meaningless first round exit.

Two good teams in Los Angeles is good for the Association, and good for the fans. If this happens, however, there will be two pretty bad teams in Los Angeles, for what is probably the very first time. But this is a Band-Aid that needs to be ripped off. They still have the Dodgers, after all.

Featured image by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

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2018 Australian Open preview

New year, same contenders: 2018 Australian Open men’s preview

As has been the case at most majors for the last decade, the number of men who can realistically win the 2018 Australian Open is much smaller than the number of women who can do so. Here are some interesting first-round matches to watch in Melbourne.

(14) Novak Djokovic vs. Donald Young – With Andy Murray finally deciding to undergo hip surgery and on the shelf until who knows when, it sure is nice to have a 12-time major winner like Djokovic in Australia, who is apparently healthy enough to answer the bell.

Donald Young was once a child prodigy. At 28, the left-handed American will likely never live up to the massive expectations once placed on him. Even so, he has turned himself into a serviceable pro who is always ranked in the 40-80 range.

2018 Australian Open preview

Photo from ausopen.com

Djokovic could have drawn much simpler opponents for his first official match since Wimbledon. He is still quick to point out that he is not fully healthy, but the Serb at 85 percent is better than most guys at 100 percent.

(12) Juan Martín del Potro vs. Frances Tiafoe – The big Argentine is playing his best ball since winning the U.S. Open in 2009 and will return to the top 10 on Monday. He is even hitting a non-sliced backhand for the first time since multiple wrist surgeries cost him almost two years.

Tiafoe is arguably the most promising American male prospect in tennis. He made a name for himself by pushing Roger Federer to five sets at the U.S. Open last year. In just his seventh Grand Slam main draw, this is probably above his current weight class, but this should still be a fun watch.

(19) Tomáš Berdych vs. Alex De Minaur – Three weeks ago, this matchup would not have caught anyone’s eye, but de Minaur made a semifinal in Brisbane followed by a final in Sydney playing as a home country Wild Card. The 19-year-old beat some good players in the process too, including former Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic. He will take on another Wimbledon runner-up here.

While still a very good player, Berdych is on the down side of his career. De Minaur’s speed and somewhat unorthodox style will make the veteran work hard at the very least.

Predictions

Doing predictions for the men’s Grand Slams requires much less analysis than the women at the moment. The tennis media gets a lot of heat for focusing on the “Big Four” too much. However, the fact is Djokovic, Murray, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal all missed large portions of 2017. Yet, they all managed to win at least one event. Federer and Nadal split the four majors.

For that reason, there is no indication that this Grand Slam will be any different, even with Murray missing altogether and Djokovic and Nadal still recovering from knee and elbow injuries. Whatever combination of those guys shows up at a Grand Slam are the favorites until someone proves they aren’t.

However, there are a few players that have a shot at upsetting the norm. Here is a look at that small group.

The young guns – If none of the younger players could lift a Grand Slam trophy last year, it is tough to believe they will do it this year. Despite that, No. 5 Dominic Thiem, No. 4 Alexander Zverev and No. 17 Nick Kyrgios have all had flashes of brilliance in the recent past, but have just two trips to major semifinals between them.

Kyrgios is particularly maddening. You will be hard-pressed to find anyone with more natural talent. Yet, he is still more known for his off-court antics and on-court tantrums than his game. The Aussie won in Brisbane to start the year, but it is so hard to trust him. Tennis is dying for more personalities. If Kyrgios ever “gets it,” he can help with that.

2018 Australian Open preview

Photo from theguardian.com

Thiem and Zverev stand in Djokovic’s way before a semifinal with Federer. However, they have a grand total of two wins against Djokovic between them.

Juan Martin del Potro – Injuries are the only thing that has kept del Potro from creating a “Big Five” over the years. His forehand may be one of the greatest shots ever. He has beaten Federer and Nadal at the business end of majors as well as Djokovic twice at the Olympics. As noted above, his opener is intriguing. It is his possible quarterfinal matchup with Federer that might be the defending champion’s toughest hurdle.

Grigor Dimitrov – The third seeded Bulgarian is a few years older than the young guns, and he was able to take advantage of last year’s high profile injuries. He won the Masters event in Cincinnati and the year-end championships in London. While he is still looking for his first Grand Slam title, he seems to be a little further along in terms of week in week out consistency than the youngsters.

Semifinal predictions: Federer d. Djokovic. Dimitrov d. Nadal

Championship match: Federer d. Dimitrov to defend his title

The Australian Open begins Sunday night at 7 p.m. ET across the ESPN family of networks and Tennis Channel. I will tweet out my complete picks for both singles draws before play starts. You can follow me on Twitter below and check out my ladies preview here!

 

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no drama

No drama in hockey?

I was talking to a friend of mine about sports the other day. We ended up discussing sports talk shows, podcasts etc. The thing that always bothers me about those shows is that unless you’re watching the NHL Network, you’re most likely not ever hearing about hockey. I disclosed this irritable feeling with my friend, but he responded in a way that made me more frustrated. He said to me, “yeah that’s just cause there’s no drama in hockey”…

That is just absurd. The entertainment and soap opera drama within the game of hockey is so vast, yet the appreciation is slim. We have previously discussed the NHL popularity compared to the other major sports. This is a reason we see a lack of hockey coverage as it pertains to sports talk shows and podcasts. To say that it is due to a lack of drama is about as ignorant as it gets..

Hockey is as entertaining and dramatic as any sport. I don’t have to convince this to the hockey purist or anyone for that matter. Anyone reading these articles are most likely followers of the league. That was simply a phrase that struck a nerve, but also sparked an idea. Today we will discuss all the “no drama” we have in the NHL at this point in the regular season.

“Who are you going to take?”

no drama

Photo from NHL.com

The New Jersey Devils were a long shot to attain the number one overall pick at last year’s draft. Before the lottery took place, the team sat at number five. So, New Jersey GM Ray Shero did not even give the idea of acquiring top prospects Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick much thought. After winning the lottery, Shero went out to dinner with Avalanche GM Joe Sakic at a restaurant in Toronto where media then gathered..

Members of the media started harassing Shero asking him again and again, “who are you going to take?” Channelling his inner Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner in the movie Draft Day) he responded to the media, “Ok! I’ll write it down on a piece of paper” (NHL.com). He proceeded to take out a pen and paper and wrote, “Vontae Mack no matter what”, folded the piece of paper and handed it to the media. Mr. Shero may not have known right then he’d take Nico Hischier at number one, but New Jersey is very happy with their decision.

Hischier (8G, 18A in 41 games) went number one to the Devils, followed by Nolan Patrick (2G, 6A in 33 games) to Philly. Both rookies are 19 years of age and will meet for the first time Saturday night in New Jersey at the Prudential Center. Ray Shero has told the media that you can’t judge these two right now because they are simply great young talents who will both be very good players in the future..

The NHL draft is filled with scrutinized decisions that are mulled over for years. It’s the same drama that is heightened in all four of our major sports that shape all organizations involved.

Realignment/Expansion

no drama

Photo from The Athletic

The NHL currently has 31 teams, which makes it an uneven league. There are three divisions with eight teams and one division with seven. Another expansion is soon upon us (targeted by 2020-21) as  Gary Bettman has invited Seattle to apply. It is a city the league has been looking at for years where owners have been reported to be greatly in favor of the $650 million expansion fee. This would also make for a needed realignment.

A presented restructure of the divisions has Seattle in the now Pacific division, moving Arizona to the now Central as well as the Detroit Red Wings. This would renew an historic rivalry between Detroit and Chicago. Current rivalries would be in a sense broken also as Nashville would then move to the East. Expansion and realignment changes the landscape of who has to go through which teams to capture the Stanley Cup.

The NBA has a conference (the East) that is completely inferior to the other. The MLB has races to the postseason altered when teams like the Houston Astros relocate from one league to the other. The NFL has conversations about the playoff alignment every year as divisions are stronger and weaker at times. Each of the major sports have these conversations about how can we make the game better. Hockey is no different than football, baseball or basketball in this regard.

Tragedy and heart-felt stories

no drama

Photo form Yahoo Sports

National hockey analysts for NBC Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire are currently battling cancer. Olczyk is fighting colon cancer while McGuire is going through prostate cancer as both are undergoing chemotherapy. The two of them are going about their business still as it relates to NBC Sports. Eddie has been filled in for by Mike Milbury, but has found a way to do games here and there while Pierre said he will be back for NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics.

Brian Boyle plays at a forward position for the New Jersey Devils. The 32 year old was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia during training camp. Boyle has since returned to the ice in wake of his diagnosis and was moved to tears after scoring his first goal of the season. He said he has found more of an appreciation for the game as his teammates say he is still ‘the loudest guy in the room’ (Sportsnet). The battle that hockey is can greatly relate to the battle of life as we have discussed.

The tragic overcoming of disease is newsworthy in any sport. These stories have been reported and commented on how they would be in any of the major sports. They are a reminder of how sports can serve as a great coping mechanism for fans and athletes alike struggling with the battles life throws our way. Hockey has always been a sport where adversity is met and has inspired those playing and watching.

Money Aside

Hockey may not approach the revenue stream of the other three major sports, but will never be a sport with a lack of drama. If you were to search NHL in the news section of google or any search engine, you would find stories in abundance just like football, baseball and basketball..

Having a two-minute segment on an hour-long Sportscenter hurts, but it’s reality. Viewership and ratings speak for themselves. Just don’t ever say hockey isn’t “interesting” or there’s “no drama” in the sport.

You look at the NHL playoffs, and you see 16 teams in two brackets trying to win four four out of seven series to win a championship. You have communities competing against one another to try and be the last one standing. It’s a tournament filled with twists and turns that make for an art show overflowing with drama..

Hockey is fast. Hockey is a game that can be won suddenly. A sport such as this can never be said to have no drama.

 

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NBA most efficient players

The five most efficient role players in the NBA

Efficiency has become the name of the game in the current NBA world.

The current NBA offenses now consist of a lot more 3-pointers and layups than any other time period within the NBA. Teams have increasingly adjusted their offenses away from a post-centric offense and mid-range shots and moved towards a perimeter-based offense with more shooters.

This is the reason why players like Monta Ellis and Josh Smith, who once were young stars, are no longer on an NBA roster. This is the reason the stretch 4 position has become such a commodity in the last five years. The new offensive sets have allowed teams to become significantly more efficient, and teams covet efficient players like never before.

In the increasingly competitive market for efficiency on the court, here are five of the most efficient supportive or role players in the NBA this season.

Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers

PER: 22.23

NBA most efficient players

Harrell has played solid minutes as a new member of the clippers this season. (Photo by AP)

Harrell has turned into a solid role player for Doc Rivers. While his points per game average is down from 9.1 to 7.7, Harrell is currently shooting 60.3 percent from the field, which is in the top 10 among the NBA.

Harrell has been a solid role player coming off the bench for a depleted Clippers roster in desperate need of help. Patrick Beverly (knee surgery), Danilo Gallinari (hip), Blake Griffin (concussion, knee), Milos Teodosic (foot) and now DeAndre Jordan (ankle) have all missed portions of the year already due to injury.

The starting lineup has been completely decimated by injuries, but Harrell has been a bright spot in an otherwise depressing season for clippers fans.

Tyreke Evans, Memphis Grizzlies

PER: 22.91

Evans, who once beat out Stephen Curry and James Harden for Rookie of the Year honors, had continued to regress after his promising rookie season, until this year. Evans’ scoring this year (19.9 points per game) is nearly on par with his rookie season (20.1). He is currently shooting above 45 percent from the field and above 40 percent from beyond the arc.

While the Grizzlies have struggled with Mike Conley sidelined with an achilles injury and Dave Fizdale fired, Evans has emerged as a quality NBA starter. With a scarce supply of talented wings in the NBA, Evans will garner lots of attention this summer as a free agent if he can continue his strong play.

Don’t be surprised if the Memphis Grizzlies go into rebuild mode and trade Evans and Marc Gasol for young prospects and draft picks. Evans could really help a team like the Wizards or his former team, the Pelicans, make a playoff push.

Enes Kanter, New York Knicks

PER: 23.77

The former No. 3 pick in the draft from Turkey has become one of the most efficient bigs in the NBA. He’s quietly scoring 13.4 points per game while shooting 59.7 percent from the floor. He has also developed great chemistry with Kristaps Porzingis.

While Kanter has never been known for his defense, he is pulling down 10 rebounds a game and pacing to finish with career highs in blocks and steals.

Kanter has showed he’s not afraid of anyone, whether that be LeBron James, Kevin Durant or the Turkish government.

David West, Golden State Warriors

PER: 24.27

West has proven to be a great leader for the second unit on the Warriors. (Photo from USA Today’s FTW)

While the 37-year-old and former All-Star only plays 13 minutes per game for the defending champions, he’s shooting at an unbelievable 62.4 percent from the field, his highest field goal percentage in his career by a wide margin.

West is the only non-starter in the top 15 of the player efficiency ratings and is one the most underrated passing big men in the NBA.

While the Warriors have lots of options, West has been a reliable backup big for Steve Kerr and is one the cogs responsible for the best reserve group in the NBA.

 

 

Clint Capela, Houston Rockets

PER: 25.79

Capela has blossomed in his fourth year as a pro, averaging 14.2 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. Capela is also first in the NBA in field goal percentage at 66.9 percent.

With the addition of Chris Paul, Capela has been the beneficiary of open looks around the rim, and he’s been efficient doing so. Similar to how DeAndre Jordan’s ability as an alley-oop threat and finishing around the rim resulted with his very high shooting percentages, Capela has become Chris Paul’s new Jordan.

The 23-year-old from Switzerland has formed a great pick-and-roll duo with James Harden, combined with a plethora of excellent 3-point shooters to space the floor. Capela has provided great rim protection on the defensive side of the ball, and has been holding down the interior for Mike D’Antoni.

 

Featured image from YardBarker.com

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