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.

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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.

 

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2018 Australian Open preview

Opportunity down under: 2018 Australian Open ladies preview

The 2018 tennis season is under way, and the Australian Open draws are out. With Serena Williams not defending her title after childbirth, the ladies’ draw is even more wide open than usual. Here are some first-round matches to watch at the opening major of the year.

(7) Jelena Ostapenko vs. Francesca Schiavone – Two French Open champions will square off in the opening round. The Latvian seventh seed did well to back up her breakthrough in Paris last year and finished ranked inside the top ten. She is winless so far on the young season, but is capable of hitting her way through everyone if she can find even a little bit of decent form.

The 2010 French Open champion postponed her retirement plans after last season. The veteran Italian’s variety and Ostapenko’s raw power should create an entertaining match.

(11) Kristina Mladenovic vs. Ana Bogdan – These two players are pretty anonymous to everyone except super dedicated fans of the sport, but the backstory here is impossible to ignore. The 11th seeded Mladenovic is on a 14-match losing streak. You read that right. Mladenovic has not won a singles match since last August and is shooting up the record books in the worst way possible.

2018 Australian Open preview

Photo from zambio.com

Fortunately for her, she did major damage in the early part of last year. Thus, her ranking is still high enough for her to get decent draws for now. Getting a first-round matchup with someone ranked outside the top 100 is good news for Mladenovic, but she lost to a player ranked outside the top 300 just last week, so anything is possible.

No one likes to admit it, but everyone is going to watch a train wreck. Thus, every Mladenovic match is appointment viewing until the losing streak ends.

Sam Stosur vs. Monica Puig – For the first time in a long time, Sam Stosur is not the highest-ranked Australian woman at her home Grand Slam. The former U.S. Open champion has always struggled here, but perhaps the pressure has lessened a bit this year.

The reigning Olympic gold medalist from Puerto Rico is also struggling at the moment. No matter what happens in this one, a very talented player is going to get a big win.

(5) Venus Williams vs. Belinda Bencic – Spare a thought for Belinda Bencic. Last year, the former top 10 player was coming back from injury and drew Serena Williams in the first round at this event. This year, she is coming back from injury and draws Venus Williams.

Bencic is playing very well at the moment after a slew of titles at smaller professional events. Her ranking is back in the top 80 after falling as low as 400. However, dealing with Venus at a Grand Slam is a whole different level.

The American looked sluggish in her season debut in Sydney last week, but most of what we have seen from the 37-year-old in the last year has been astonishingly good. Bencic has the talent to beat anyone, but Venus has always managed to overpower her. If Williams comes out flat as she sometimes does, her time in Australia will be much shorter than she would like.

Top half predictions

World No. 1 and top seed Simona Halep heads up the draw. She bagged singles and doubles trophies in China to start the year. However, the Romanian has never played well here. In fact, she has crashed out in the first round the last two years. Halep has yet to figure out how to play her best tennis at the majors.

Additionally, she has been handed a tricky draw that could see her face former Grand Slam finalist Eugenie Bouchard and two-time Wimbledon winner No. 27 Petra Kvitova in the first week. Kvitova has struggled since returning from a stabbing injury last spring, but she tends to pull her act together at big events. Moreover, she can overpower Halep on a good day. Australian 18th seed Ashleigh Barty could also be dangerous if she handles the home crowd well.

The really interesting part of this half is the names that are clustered together. Reigning Wimbledon champion No. 3 Garbiñe Muguruza, No. 21 Angelique Kerber, No. 14 Anastasija Sevastova and unseeded five-time major winner Maria Sharapova are all in the same group of 16. That means that only one of these four title contenders can reach the quarterfinals.

Muguruza has failed to finish a tournament this year because of injuries. Sharapova has been hit or miss since returning to the tour, but underestimate her at your own risk. Kerber has had a nice resurgence to start the year by tearing through the field in Sydney, and Sevastova is a late bloomer who can hit shots that don’t even have names.

Prior to the draw, one of these names would have been a safe bet to make a deep run. Now, it is reasonable to speculate that whoever emerges from the scrum above may not have much left in the tank for the rest of the field.

That logic opens the door for some other seeds like No. 6 Karolína Plíšková, No. 8 Caroline Garcia, No. 9 Johanna Konta, No. 17 Madison Keys and maybe even No. 20 Barbora Strýcová. Strýcová has always struggled to keep her emotions in check, and the others dealing with injury concerns were just not playing well. Much like Kvitova, Garcia seems to get hot without any rhyme or reason. In a wide-open draw that only features two previous Australian Open champions, a player like that is most dangerous.

Semifinal prediction: Garcia d. Kvitova

Bottom half predictions 

This half of the draw is much cleaner. It is best to view it with three in form players at the center. No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki led the tour in finals last year and has already reached one this year. No. 4 Elina Svitolina won the season opener in Brisbane. Lastly, No. 12 Julia Görges is on a 14-match winning streak.

2018 Australian Open preview

Photo from metro.co.uk

None of these three players has ever won a Grand Slam, but they are the only ones in this half that appear capable of winning this one. Wozniacki has been so close so many times, but she will never have a better chance at major glory. She is playing well and hitting the ball harder than she ever has.

This is one of the first times we are heading into a major with people talking about Svitolina and Görges as real contenders, so they may not react well once things get started.

There are a few other players who cannot be totally discounted in this part of the draw. 31st seeded Russian lefty Ekaterina Makarova always plays well in Australia. It would also be foolish to overlook fiery Aussie 23rd seed Daria Gavrilova. The same goes for the winner of the Williams-Bencic first-rounder. Finally, keep an eye on a pair of Americans. No. 10 CoCo Vandeweghe and unseeded Alison Riske.

Semifinal prediction: Wozniacki d. Svitolina

Championship match: Wozniacki d. Garcia

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!

 

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NHL All-Star Game

NHL All-Star Game: The stars, the surprises and the snubbed

On Wednesday the NHL announced the roster for the 2018 NHL All-Star Game (ASG) in Tampa Bay, FL.

Most of the players that made the cut were obvious choices: Connor McDavid, Anze Kopitar, Nikita Kucherov, etc.

However, a good amount of players that made the team don’t quite fit the bill. There were a lot of quality players that didn’t make the cut in favor of less qualified players.

THE STARS

There are two different categories for the stars in the ASG.

You have the obvious, always have and will be all-stars such as Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, McDavid and more.

There are the stand alone stars who’s teams are seeing mediocre seasons but they still stand out such as: Mike Green, Johnny Gaudreau and Jack Eichel.

Granted the Penguins, Oilers and Blackhawks are having less than stellar seasons so Crosby, McDavid and Kane could all be included in this group too, but lets face it; it’ll be a cold day in hell when these guys aren’t on this roster.

THE SURPRISES

Here we have a category of players who either surprised me (in a good way) individually this year or they come from a surprisingly good hockey team (looking at you Vegas).  In this group we see: James Neal, Marc Andre-Fleury and John Klingberg (are you kidding me, 33 assists as a D-man?).

Some additions in this group of surprises are: Josh Bailey, right winger for the New York Islanders, who is sporting impressive numbers this season in goals and assists for the floundering team. Bailey has a career plus/minus of -31 so this season is definitely a turn around for him.

Aleksander Barkov a center for the Florida Panthers is also somewhat of a rising star this season.  With 14 goals, 21 assists and a +4 rating; Barkov has definitely surprised hockey fans (especially with his flashy shootout moves). (Youtube link from Puck Daily)

In addition to these positive surprises I also have a list of “how the hell did you make it on this roster”.

Starting us off. Carey Price. I get that they are picking a player from each team, but even the shockingly bad Canadiens have better to offer this season.  After missing a handful of games due to injury, Price returned and has since been sporting a 2.89 GAA and a .911 S% over 29 games.

Our second victim in this category is Oliver Ekman-Larsson. This is by far the worst selection of the ASG. Sitting at 6 goals and 13 assists with an absolutely HORRENDOUS plus/minus of -34, Ekman-Larsson’s name doesn’t belong anywhere near the word all-star. Honestly, just give Shane Doan an alumni appearance in his place.

The final selection for the (bad) surprises is Rickard Rakell. He isn’t a bad player, he just isn’t the best the Anaheim Ducks or the Pacific has to offer. He has a respectable goal count with 15 but he only has 16 assists and a -6 rating.

THE SNUBBED

Speaking of that surprise selection from the Ducks, where is Ryan Getzlaf on this roster? I get that he only has 4 goals this season, but with 20 assists, a +9 rating and his leadership qualities he seems like a better choice for the ASG.

Mark Giordano somehow slipped under the radar for this year’s ASG. Coming from one of the best defensive cores in the NHL it is amazing that no D-men from the Calgary Flames made this roster. Dougie Hamilton could’ve easily been taken in place of Ekman-Larsson as well.

NHL All-Star Game

These are the top five forwards for the Vegas Golden Knights.   (Screenshot from NHL.com)

Finally we have the omission of Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson.

Marchessault leads the Golden Knights in points with 40 (16 goals and 24 assists) and Karlsson is right behind him with 36 (22 goals and 14 assists). James Neal made the roster in favor of these two which is shocking to me, especially if you look at the statistical breakdown of the Golden Knights’ forwards.

 

 

 

The Wrap Up

Overall, I am not impressed by this year’s ASG roster. Just bring back the fan vote (I want to see more John Scotts in the ASG) or the draft because that at least would make things more exciting and dramatic.

The 3-on-3 format is nice because it’ll keep things moving and showcase more speed so at least that will be interesting.

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The Hottest Team in College Basketball

College basketball has been impossible to predict as of late. Duke lost by 11 to a 10-5 North Carolina State team. Michigan State got steam rolled at Ohio State and then followed that up by barely beating Rutgers at home in overtime.

Last week every team in the top 10 lost besides two. The inconsistency of teams has fans grasping for some sort of certainty as we hit the middle of the college basketball season.

The number two ranked Mountaineers:

The West Virginia Mountaineers are now 15-1 this season. They are 3-0 in conference play and have rattled off 15 in a row after their opening night loss to Texas A&M. They are 2-1 against the top 25 and 2-0 against the top 15. The Mountaineers outscore teams by an average of 18 points a game.

As of January 13th they will be getting their second leading scorer from last season back. Esa Ahmad has been cleared by the NCAA to play. He had eligibility problems that cost him the first half of the 2017-2018 season, however he will make a return for the Mountaineers. Ahmad averaged just over 11 points a game last season and can help contribute to an already solid offense.

Press Virginia:

College Basketball

Jevon Carter, (Fansided.com).

Many teams struggle with West Virginia due to their grind it out press. The team presses every single defensive possession and gives no easy baskets. Opposing teams have to work for every single point they score, and that wears on a team. They give up the eighth most two point field goals in the country. Which if it wasn’t already obvious, nothing comes easy against this terrific defense.

The Mountaineers press forces nearly 22 turnovers a game which is good for 4th in the country. They themselves turn it over just 13 times a game which is 58th in the country on the other side. One of their major strengths is the way they dictate the pace. West Virginia doesn’t get tired when they play teams.

The backcourt of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles not only pick you up full court, but they also push the pace on offense. The team is eighth in the country in steals (10.9 per) and 10th in the country in offensive rebounds (14.7 per).

These two statistics in particular show just how well the backcourt dictates pace. Due to the speed of the guards the offensive rebounds are high, because the guards push it they create lots of space in the lane to crash the offensive boards.

When playing the number one ranked defense in college basketball the Mountaineers not only won the game but also won the defensive battle. They out shot the Virginia Cavaliers from the free throw line as well as from the three point line. They out rebounded the Cavaliers, and turned them over at a clip of 14 to the Mountaineers 10. The Cavaliers are one of the best teams in the country in protecting the ball, and the Mountaineers got a big win against a tough defense.

Jevon Carter:

It seems like Jevon Carter has been at West Virginia for forever. Well in today’s college basketball, he has been. He’s a four year senior who has increased his scoring every season he has been at West Virginia.

Carter is averaging 16.1 points, 6.8 assists, 5.5 rebounds as well as 3.6 steals a game. He is the teams best defender and their leader. He does a little bit of everything for the Mountaineers but what he truly brings is both experience and structure.

Jevon is the go to guy for this West Virginia team. When they need a big basket, he’s the one to take it. When they need a defensive stop, he seems to be in the right spot at the right time. He contributes time and time again to making winning plays that keep this team afloat.

The Big 12:

West Virginia is leading the way in the best conference in college basketball. The Big 12 has more then half their teams inside the top 20. They have four teams in the top 12 and three in the top nine. A conference that used to be dominated by Kansas has now been the deepest and most competitive in college basketball.

With all the unpredictability in college basketball this season West Virginia has quietly sat back and executed. It hasn’t always been pretty or high scoring, but the Mountaineers have rattled off a fifteen game winning streak.

Experience in the backcourt, good coaching and great defense is always a good combination come both conference play and NCAA tournament play. Look for the Mountaineers to make a deep run and make people remember just how tough the “Press” Virginia defense is.

Featured image from ESPN.com.

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New York Mets team profile

New York Mets team profile

The New York Mets finished in fourth place in the NL East with a 72-90 record. They were a team that dealt with a plethora of injuries, and it ended up costing them its season. David Wright has not been able to get over the injury bug, and the team’s two best hitters, Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto, saw extended time on the disabled list.

It was not only at the plate, but on the mound the Mets saw its fair share of issues. Matt Harvey has not been able to break out of his rut, and Noah Syndergaard was only able to start seven times. Jacob deGrom was the only one that was able to cross the 25-start threshold in 2017, so the Mets have a fair amount to deal with before being able to compete in the near future.

Offseason moves

New York Mets team profile

Jay Bruce will reunite with the Mets in 2018 (Photo from FanRag Sports)

The New York Mets have taken strides to improve in the near future. It was reported on Wednesday that Jay Bruce would be returning to the Queens with a three-year contract. This is a solid signing that is lighting a mini spark into the hot stove. Since not many other moves have been made, the Mets look serious about improving in 2018.

So far, the only loss for them has been Jose Reyes, who did not have a great 2017 season. It was also reported that the Mets were very close to a deal with the Cleveland Indians for second baseman, Jason Kipnis. While he may not have provided the impact that the Mets need, it would have been a step in the right direction to show they are serious about improvements.

The three-year contract that Bruce signed also shows that the Mets are nowhere near thinking about a rebuilding phase despite its current place in the division. The rest of the NL East is in for some trouble with how successful the Nationals have been during the regular season. This move shows that the Mets want to try their hand though, and they may not be that far off.

The pitching

The New York Mets ranked 28th in pitching in 2017. This is nowhere near the expectations for the players they have on the team at the moment. New York has some of the best young pitching in the league, but due to injuries and underperforming, they took a step in the wrong direction.

The Mets have built a very good base in the rotation with Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler. As mentioned, due to injuries and poor performance, it does not look as solid as it once did. The top two in the rotation still look like they have a promising future, but Harvey, Matz and Wheeler will have a pivotal year in 2018. If they don’t show signs of improvement, the Mets will know it will be time to move on.

Anthony Swarzak had the best year of his career in 2017. He may have been one of the better middle relievers in all of baseball. He, along with A.J. Ramos and Addison Reed, should provide a reliable core to the bullpen.

2018 outlook

New York Mets team profile

Matt Harvey needs to get back on track in 2018 (Photo from USA Today)

As stated previously, the Nationals are still at the forefront of the NL East, and the National League as a whole. No team from the East will most likely compete with them for the division.

This is a year for the Mets to build up and see if they are ready to compete by 2019 perhaps. Washington is leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, and even the Wild Card is going to be tough to come by as it will take more than 87 wins most likely.

This is a big year for Matt Harvey as well. After stellar seasons between 2012-15, Harvey looks like he has lost his touch. This especially looked to be the case last year after finishing with a -1.1 WAR and 6.70 ERA. Something has to change in order for him to stick around the team. Whether it is mechanical or mental, the Mets can not afford to let him throw games away much longer.

With Noah Syndergaard coming off injury and deGrom looking to improve, there is a lot of room to improve. Their health is key too, as we may see a much better team in 2018 if the Mets are able to keep guys on the field.

 

Featured image by Al Bello/Getty Images

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Jabre Lolley 2018 NFL Draft profile

2018 NFL Draft profile: Jabre Lolley

Jabre Lolley knows a thing or two about winning. The Shepherd Rams running back only lost two regular season games during his entire college career and played in the NCAA Division II playoffs in three of his four years.

One of those seasons included a run to the National Championship, but Lolley and the Rams came up short against North West Missouri State in that game. Still, 42 total wins in four years is an impressive accomplishment. Lolly said the road to the championship, something that had never been done before at Shepherd, is his greatest memory from playing with the Rams.

“First of all, it had never happened in school history,” Lolley said. “And just to be a sophomore, being able to help the team was big for me. Even though we didn’t win the National Championship game, it was still a great experience.”

Lolley played a big role in the Rams offense, rushing for 3,512 yards and 56 touchdowns during his time with the team. His senior season was his best yet as he rushed for 1,115 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Lolley said Shepherd was a great fit for him. In high school, Lolley played at St. Mark’s in Delaware and wanted to go to a college that was close to home. He didn’t have the grades to go to a Division I school, and Shepherd, located in West Virginia, reached out to him and his quarterback, Jeff Ziemba.

“I really chose Shepherd University because they showed interest in me and my quarterback,” Lolley said. “DI schools were out of the question as far as grades. And they showed a lot of interest so we just decided to go there together, and it ended up being the perfect fit for me.”

It has been a great ride at Shepherd, but now Lolley has his sights set on the NFL.

As he prepares for the NFL, Lolley is working to be in the best shape of his life. He is paying more attention to what he eats to shed off any extra weight off and working out at Titus Sports Academy in Newark, Delaware.

One reason Lolley believes he stands out from the rest is that he is more than just a runner. He is not just an every-down back, but can do a little bit of everything.

“I think a team should choose me based on my determination when I get the ball. Rarely does a guy ever bring me down by himself,” Lolley said. “Possibility to catch the ball and run aggressively, I think will make me stand apart from everybody else. I can block really good. I can run the ball pretty good. And I think they will be impressed by the way I can catch the ball in the air.”

He was definitely a threat as a pass-catcher at Shepherd. In his career, Lolley caught 57 passes out of the backfield, including six touchdowns. Lolley really did it all with the Rams.

Jabre Lolley Scouting Report

Lolley has great size at 6-foot, 220 pounds. While he isn’t the fastest running back out there, he uses his muscular frame to his advantage with some powerful runs. Adding more strength won’t be an issue for Lolley, who has shown some impressive, tough running.

Jabre Lolley 2018 NFL Draft profile

Lolley can do it all in the backfield. (Photo by David Pennock)

Once he is handed the ball, he is patient enough to let his blockers open up some holes. His vision leads him to wide open areas of field to run. He can’t be arm tackled and looks to punish defenders by running them over or hitting them with a strong stiff arm. Lolley also has some decent cuts and spin moves to make defenders miss. When he gets to the open field he turns on the jets and gets up to a great speed for his size.

To go along with his power running, Lolley also has a knack for catching passes out of the backfield. He can beat man coverage and then catches pretty well. On plays where he is not thrown to, Lolley protects the quarterback well with good pass blocking. His ability to catch and block will enable him to stay on the field for third downs.

If teams need a power back, who can do more than just run with power, Lolley will be a name to look for.

For full interview with Lolley:

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

Featured image by Rick Kozlowski

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Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine is back for the Chicago Bulls

One of the most prolific dunkers in the NBA is back this weekend as Zach LaVine returns from an ACL tear. The 6-foot-5 189-pound wingman has been rehabbing his knee since the summer and has not played a game yet this year. LaVine is expected back on Saturday, making his Bulls debut against the Detroit Pistons. In a twist, LaVine tore his ACL against the Pistons almost a year ago while playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

[su_quote cite=”John Paxson” url=”http://www.nba.com/article/2018/01/09/chicago-bulls-zach-lavine-season-debut#/”]Zach will play 20 minutes a game to start and not play back-to-backs until after the All-Star Break. [/su_quote]

The Bulls staff introduces Markkanen, LaVine and Dunn at the Advocate Center in Chicago. (James Foster/for the Sun-Times)

LaVine came to Chicago in the Jimmy Butler trade during the 2017 NBA Draft. He was sent to the Bulls along with guard Kris Dunn and the 7th pick in the draft, in return for Jimmy Butler and the 16th pick. With the 7th pick in the draft, the Bulls chose Lauri Markkanen from Arizona, and he has turned out to be one of the best rookies out of the draft so far.

Zach LaVine is considered the centerpiece of the trade and Bulls fans have been waiting all season to see him take the court. With Kris Dunn looking more and more like the point guard of the future and Lauri Markkanen continuing to develop, the Bulls have a nice core to build around. If LaVine can show he is fully recovered from the injury and showcase the athleticism and scoring we saw from him pre-injury, the Bulls will be in a great spot in their rebuild with lots of cap-space and a likely top-5 pick in the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft.

What He Brings to the Table

Zach LaVine is known to even the most casual fans for his outrageous athleticism shown in winning back-to-back NBA Slam Dunk Contests in 2015 and 2016.

Many people forget that Zach LaVine is a scorer, plain and simple. After averaging 10.1 and 14 ppg his first two years in the league, LaVine bumped his scoring average up to 18.9 ppg last season before his injury. He increased his scoring averages by bumping up his three-point percentage to 39 percent on 6.5 attempts per game. LaVine also played over 37 minutes a game, up from 28 minutes the year before. The increased minutes lead to more scoring opportunities, and LaVine took advantage of them. He improved his overall field goal percentage to 46 percent while increasing his shot attempts to over 15 a game. This shows that LaVine is fully capable of being a high-octane scorer while still be efficient in his attempts.

Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine dunks over Alex Len of the Suns.(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

LaVine was able to improve his efficiency by cutting down his contested mid-range attempts and by taking and making more three’s. He uses his quick first step to blow by defenders and attack the rim, which is bad news for the defense. When LaVine goes up to slam it home, the defender is more likely to end up on a poster in kids bedroom that block the dunk.

It also allows him to break down the defense and kick it out to the open man because the defense is scrambling to help out the beaten man. He will add scoring, athleticism and 3-point shooting to a young, rebuilding Bulls team that needs it. The Bulls are currently 29th in the league in Field Goal percentage and 25th in scoring. LaVine can help in both of those categories while developing chemistry with the other young guys such as Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis and David Nwaba.

How LaVine’s Return Impacts the Rotation

Currently, the Chicago Bulls starting lineup is Kris Dunn, Justin Holiday, Denzel Valentine, Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez. With LaVine coming back and sliding into the starting lineup, Fred Holberg will have two options.

The first option is having LaVine play shooting guard, sliding Justin Holiday to Small Forward and moving Denzel Valentine to the bench. This would allow for the lineup to not sacrifice defense will adding offense and shooting. This is the option that I believe Hoiberg and the Bulls will go with.

The second option is have LaVine start at shooting guard and Valentine stay at his small forward position. This option Justin Holiday would be moved to the bench. In this case the starting lineup still has a ton of shooting, but less defense as LaVine and Valentine are not plus wing defenders.

In any of the above scenarios, Paul Zipser would cease getting minutes off the bench because of LaVine coming back and Valentine, Nwaba and Holiday’s minutes would be reduced. This makes the Bulls bench deeper and allows them to more opportunities mix and match lineups based on the opponent.

LaVine is on the last year of his rookie deal so he is not only playing for a new team but playing for the future. If he shows that he can be the offensive playmaker that we saw last year before he got hurt, then he could be in for a huge payday from the Bulls or another team in Restricted Free Agency this summer.

I will leave you with some Zach LaVine’s best dunks, least you forget after a year off what a freak athlete he is.

Video by:

NBA2KShow TV

Featured image by Terrance James-Chicago Tribune

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