Business
384
Sports
286
Sport
565
Politica
617
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
unread news (Demo user)
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
unread news (Demo user)
The Houston Rockets’ rock-bottom was always predictable
Pairing Chris Paul and James Harden was always a “championship or bust” move. This is what “bust” looks like. When the Rockets traded for Chris Paul two summers ago, then signed him to a four-year, $159.7 million extension despite him being 33 years old, it was supposed to usher in an era of Houston basketball that legitimately challenged the Golden State Warriors as title contenders. And in Years 1 and 2 of the wild experiment that paired Paul with eventual MVP James Harden, it did. But entering Year 3, we have conflicting information about both Paul’s future in Houston and his relationship with Harden. Yahoo!’s Vincent Goodwill reported both Paul and Harden want to part ways with each other and cited a source who called their relationship “unsalvageable:” “Paul went to Rockets management and demanded a trade, and Harden issued a “him or me” edict following the Rockets’ second-round loss to the Golden State Warriors, sources said.” Meanwhile Rockets GM Daryl Morey appeared on Sports Talk 790 the day before. Not only did Morey say Paul doesn’t want to be traded, but he insisted that instead of fielding trade offers for the aging point guard, he’s seeking a third star to add to the dynamic duo. .@SeanUnfiltered: "Does Chris Paul want to be traded?"@dmorey: "No, Chris Paul does not want to be traded."@SeanUnfiltered: "Will you field calls on Chris Paul?"@dmorey: "No, we want to add one more star to this team."— SportsTalk 790 (@SportsTalk790) June 17, 2019 Regardless of which story is true, one thing is for sure: Houston’s trade for Paul was a championship or bust move. It was never a sure fire bet to work, and it could only have ended in one of two ways. That was the point. Now, this is what bust always would look like: possible friction between the two and an immovable contract for an aging star on a team that never made it to the NBA Finals. It’s also a situation Tilman Fertitta inherited when he bought the Rockets from former owner Leslie Alexander for a record $2.2 billion in 2017. Houston, after the Paul trade, was viewed as a team with an open title window. Two losses to the Warriors later, that title window appears shut. ESPN’s Tim MacMahon details a Houston front office riddled with turmoil, led by Fertitta, who has “grumbled about Paul’s contract, expressing regret to Rockets staffers and even in front of rival executives.” Morey’s big gamble fell short of its ultimate goal: an NBA championship. Now, it’s hard to see a viable exit strategy. How did we get here? Paul’s first season in Houston inspired hope the Rockets could actually dethrone the overloaded Warriors. He was a big shot taker and big shot maker, a pressure release for Harden, who carried one of the league’s two heaviest workloads and jockeyed with Russell Westbrook in a two-man MVP race the season prior. Last season, Paul carried the Rockets and made plays down the stretch when Harden couldn’t. The Harden and Paul-led Rockets recorded the best record in basketball, and they were potentially on their way to the NBA Finals, too. But then Paul suffered a hamstring injury in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals that kept him out for the series. Houston went on to win the game and take a 3-2 series lead, but they weren’t the same team without him. Golden State came back and won the series, then swept LeBron James’ ragtag Cleveland Cavaliers for their second straight NBA championship. Rather that build on that success, the Rockets botched last summer’s free agency. Instead of doubling down on the improved defense that powered their 65-win season, Houston allowed Trevor Ariza to walk to Phoenix and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to go to the Clippers. The Carmelo Anthony experiment was a wild failure, and injuries to Paul and Clint Capela sapped the team of its depth. All the while, Harden endured another season carrying the city of Houston on his back. He may very well be the MVP front-runner, especially after a superhuman month of January, where he averaged 43.6 points and scored 61 points at Madison Square Garden. But at what cost? Without Paul, the Rockets couldn’t manage Harden’s load if they wanted to make the playoffs. His minutes ran up to astronomical levels. Meanwhile, Paul played in his third straight season of 61 or fewer games, and didn’t seem happy about the team’s growing dependence on Harden. As a source told Goodwill: “There’s no respect at all, on either side.” Ready for the kicker? That was only the first season of Paul’s monster four-year contract extension. He is owed another $124 million over the next three years, while Harden will begin his own super max extension that pays $170.9 million through the 2022-23 season. Making a title run with a Paul-Harden partnership meant sacrificing the long-term for the short term, but the bill is now due earlier than expected. If the Rockets do want to trade Paul, they will have a difficult time finding a team willing to take his contract. As popular an option as it has been, the Lakers are not a viable trade destination for Paul. They do not have enough cap space to fit his salary, and frankly, it wouldn’t be the best move for them, regardless of his relationship with LeBron James. There are teams that could use a player with Paul’s skill set. The Orlando Magic made the playoffs with D.J. Augustin as their starting point guard. Are the Wolves actually shopping Andrew Wiggins? A guard of Paul’s caliber would do wonders for Karl-Anthony Towns. If Kemba Walker leaves, the Hornets have several contracts they could use to match Paul’s salary, and they could include Nic Batum, a versatile two-way wing who has struggled since leaving Portland. And how about the Miami Heat, who have one of the ugliest cap sheets in the NBA and could unload several contracts to bring Paul to South Beach? The Suns, Pacers and Jazz are also teams in dire need of a talented point guard, but the youth of these teams suggests they’d be interested in players earlier into their career. Problem is, all of those teams would send back toxic long-term contracts of their own to make up for swallowing Paul’s deal. It will be nearly impossible to trade Paul for any positive value. There’s one more option for Houston: ride this storm out It may seem like the Paul-Harden partnership has run its course, but if the Rockets can’t find a deal, their only hope may be to keep Harden and Paul together one more year and try to smooth over any tension while making one last title run. The Warriors won’t be contenders without Kevin Durant (ruptured Achilles) and Klay Thompson (torn ACL). That leaves the conference wide open for everyone, Houston included, to make a run for it all. The Lakers will be stronger than ever after pairing LeBron James with Anthony Davis, but they’ll need a third star to be championship favorites, and it’s unclear if they’ll be able to create the cap space to land one. The Nuggets will be better next season, but they’re still a young team with much to learn. The Trail Blazers will lose several key free agents without adequate means of replacing them. The Clippers could get Kawhi Leonard in free agency, or they might not. Then there are the Rockets, armed with two of the best guards in the NBA and their $5.7 million taxpayer’s mid-level exception. They will also find it difficult to retain key free agents, including Iman Shumpert, Austin Rivers, Gerald Green, and restricted free agent Danuel House. But the Rockets’ offense was successful despite Harden and Paul rarely, if ever, assisting each other on the court. Can they put their gripes aside to make one more run at a championship? They might have no choice. If so, Houston needs to get more out of Clint Capela, who underperformed expectations in the first season of a five-year, $90 million extension. The Athletic’s Shams Charania notes the Rockets have had “conversations around Capela.” SB Nation’s Houston Rockets blog, The Dream Shake, suggests a trade package that sends Capela to the New Orleans Pelicans — a team without a starting center on its roster — for the No. 4-overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft. If the Rockets want to add one more star, as Morey said on the radio, they could deal Capela and picks to do it. But is that enough to yield a difference maker, or did the Rockets miss their chance when they declined to include Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker in a potential deal for Jimmy Butler back in November? The Rockets made a championship or bust move when they traded for Paul and then agreed to give him an extension. But after a first year with legit championship hopes, Houston is in the middle of the “bust” scenario playing out. This was always on the table given the long-term salary committed to their back court. Now, it’s hard to see an attractive exit strategy. If the Rockets championship window is closed, their bust window is only beginning to open.
6 h
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
Anthony Davis to the Lakers is a heck of a start to the summer, but it’s only the start
There’s a LOT still left to be resolved after this blockbuster for both the teams involved and the rest of the NBA. Anthony Davis is a Laker. By becoming a Laker, AD is obviously not a Celtic. Even with the benefit of 48 hours to let it all settle, the deal still comes as a surprise after a year’s worth of posturing and maneuvering between two of the league’s superpowers. There’s so much to get into here, we’ll have to take it piece by piece. AD and LeBron and what, exactly? When the Lakers added LeBron James last summer they did so with the promise that more free-agent superstars would be on the way. There were three prime players available in this loaded class of superstar talent: Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard, who are free agents, and AD who is a year away from such status. The Lakers had cap space, but neither KD nor Kawhi have shown much interest in taking it and KD’s future took an unfortunate turn during the Finals when he ruptured his Achilles. Paul George didn’t take LA’s money either, electing to sign with OKC long-term last summer rather than return home. The Lakers simply couldn’t fritter away another year of LeBron. Rather than be left holding the bag the Lakers went all-in to acquire Davis, surrendering much of their young core and the next five years worth of draft rights. It’s a heavy price but Davis is the kind of transformational talent who is worth it, assuming he signs on for the long term. (Don’t laugh. This league, as you may have heard, is crazy.) When healthy, Davis is one of the five best players in the league, and arguably the league’s best big man. He’s also the kind of player who should do well playing with LeBron. With apologies to Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, neither AD or Bron has played with a talent of this magnitude. It’s an interesting spot for both players. Davis never played with another star in New Orleans, while LeBron has never taken a backseat to anyone on a basketball court. AD is not a peer like D-Wade or Bosh, he’s a young alpha like Kyrie Irving and we saw how that turned out. This situation should be different because LeBron and AD need each other and it will be on both to make the relationship prosper. The question now is what the rest of the Lakers roster will look like along their two superstars. They held onto Kyle Kuzma, which is nice, but there are no guards to be found. They have some cap space, but it’s not clear how much they’ll have after the ink is dry. AD has a trade kicker and asking him to give up $4 million after walking away from a lucrative long-term extension may be easier said than done. The timing of the deal is also important. If the teams wait until July 30 to complete the transaction, that would open up more cap space for the Lakers to spend. There’s nothing compelling the Pelicans to wait longer than the lifting of the July 5 moratorium. Perhaps they can squeeze something else out of the transaction. These are the kind of details that experienced general managers catch during the negotiation and it’s unclear whether Laker general manager Rob Pelinka saw those items clearly. This is the same general manager that signed a roster full of non-shooters to play with LeBron, so you’ll forgive me if I’m skeptical of his ability to skillfully execute a blockbuster or put together a competent basketball roster. LeBron and AD is a hell of a start, but it can’t be the end point. As an aside, don’t misinterpret Masai Ujiri’s blueprint. The lesson from Toronto’s championship is not to throw caution to the wind in the chase for a transformational star. The lesson is that there’s a time to make that kind of bold move. By trading for Kawhi Leonard, Ujiri added the missing piece to what was already a strong foundation. Simply stockpiling superstars hasn’t always yielded such strong results. This was a David Griffin move, all the way When Griffin agreed to take over a President of Basketball Operations with the Pelicans, he did so with the assurance that he’d be able to run the franchise his way and make decisions that were in the best interest of the club. The word at the trade deadline was that New Orleans would never deal with the Lakers, but if getting the best possible return meant dealing with the Lakers, then so be it. Griff was clearly calling the shots. In Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart, Griff didn’t get back a potential superstar to pair with Zion Williamson, yet all three certainly have potential. The idea of Zo and Zion running pick-and-roll lobs all the live-long day has tremendous appeal. This is a wonderful opportunity for Ball to get his career back on track. Hart can fit in anywhere. He’s just a good player. Ingram is the wild card. While some still see untapped potential in his skinny frame, others see Andrew Wiggins. He’s still young and growing, so let’s see what he can become before passing judgment. Ball and Ingram, especially, stand to benefit from the change in scenery. In those three, along with Williamson and veteran Jrue Holiday, Griff now has the outline of an intriguing basketball team, one that should be able to grow with Zion as he develops. The Pelicans aren’t better without AD, but they’re better positioned to maximize Zion’s prime years than they did for Davis. A lot has been made of the fact that this deal looks a lot like the one the Pelicans turned down at the deadline. But it’s not the same deal because the draft picks have changed. When the Lakers landed the fourth pick in the lottery, it upped their package considerably. Conversely, Boston’s draft assets looked a lot worse once the ping pong balls settled. The fourth pick in this week’s draft has value, either as a means to adding another talented young player or in acquiring one. The deep end of the pick pool is where it gets interesting. New Orleans gets LA’s top pick in 2021 unless it falls in the top eight, at which point it becomes unprotected in 2022. The Pels have swap rights in 2023 and an unprotected first in 2024 that can be rolled over to 2025. All those future picks are liquid gold on the trade market. If the Lakers bottom out, they can be cashed in on high value choices. Even if they don’t, unprotected first-round picks carry enormous trade value in a league where picks are most valuable before they’re made. Griff did well here, especially considering the Celtics balked at the last minute. This is very bad for the Celtics, but it’s not a total disaster. It’s still bad though. For the last few years the Celtics have been hovering around AD, loading up on picks and other assets to use in an eventual blockbuster. The letters AD were whispered around the Garden so frequently it was as if they were attempting to speak it into existence as an inevitability. And so Danny Ainge built the Celtics on parallel tracks. On the one side was a competitive team with a penchant for overachieving, and on the other was a locomotive filled with assets hurtling toward New Orleans. Where one began and the other ended made for an occasionally uncomfortable existence, but it was generally understood that the team was a means to an end, and that endpoint was Anthony Davis. That was never more evident than the decision to acquire Kyrie Irving from Cleveland. Not only was Kyrie an exceptional player, he was also exactly the kind of personality that the C’s envisioning bringing other players to Boston. Like Anthony Davis. That all changed during a wild February sequence when AD demanded a trade and Kyrie backed away from his verbal promise to re-sign. The Celtics proceeded to implode and all those years of careful planning and asset hoarding went by the wayside. Irving is almost certainly gone after a bizarre season that saw him publicly blame his younger teammates for not living up to his standard. It ended with his oddly disengaged postseason performance. “Who cares,” indeed. The Celtics held out hope that a pairing with AD would swing Kyrie back to Boston, but even that appeared to hold little promise. After all that, the Celtics are left with neither. This is bad, really bad. It’s not a complete disaster, however. Had Ainge gutted the roster only to see Kyrie sign with Brooklyn and AD opt out after a year ... that would have been a disaster. That he blinked was a win for agent Rich Paul, who spent the last few months telling everyone that AD would not be long for the parquet. Instead, Ainge will enter the offseason with a roster that includes Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart along with Gordon Hayward and Aron Baynes. They would like to bring Al Horford back into the fold and maybe now there’s room for free agents like Marcus Morris and even Terry Rozier to return. That’s not a contender necessarily, but it’s still the guts of a team that went all the way to Game 7 conference finals just over a year ago. It’s also the one that nearly lost in the first round to Milwaukee and has seen the rest of the conference load up on star power. Tatum and Brown hold the key. Their developments were stunted by Irving’s arrival and all of last season’s weirdness. Getting them back on track is vital if Boston is going to contend with this core. Still, this team needs more talent and Ainge still has all those draft assets to pursue another disgruntled young veteran star. (Bradley Beal, maybe?) No matter who Ainge is able to get, it won’t be of the order and magnitude of Anthony Davis. Those kind of players don’t come around very often and this was yet another opportunity lost. They’ve been roasted in the past for not pulling the trigger on trades for players like Leonard, George, and Jimmy Butler. Most of those non-moves worked out just fine. Still, AD was supposed to change all that and now AD is gone too. It’s been a very strange few years in Boston. Maybe now they can focus on what they have instead of what they hope to acquire.
7 h
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
Why each AFC North team will go over and under their Vegas win total in 2019
Vegas win totals are set for the 2019 season. With teams through their offseason workout program, it’s time to consider where each team will land. The true NFL offseason is officially upon us. Mandatory minicamp has come to a close and players from all 32 teams have gone their separate ways. Most players will get some vacation time in while continuing to work out in preparation for the return to training camp in late July. Once training camp arrives, the road to Super Bowl 54 begins in earnest. Each year, sports bettors are able to wager on where they think each team will finish up in the win column. Sportsbooks release a number for a team’s win total and you can bet over or under that number. If you land on the number, it’s a push, or tie. Below are win totals for the four teams in the AFC North. The number in parenthesis is the juice on the over and the under. For example, if you bet the over on nine wins for the Browns, the payout is -130 (you bet $130 to win $100). If you bet the under, the payout is +110 (you bet $100 to win $110). That means the over is the favorite. Sportsbooks are not predicting each team will win the number of games on the win total. Rather, they are setting a number so that they can get a similar amount of money on both sides of the wager. They do not want an extensive liability on one side or the other since then they would be relying on a specific outcome. With even money on both sides of a wager, the house will profit more often than not. Now that roster overhauls are mostly complete and teams have finished up spring workouts, we took a few minutes to chat with site managers from each SB Nation team blog. They offered reasons why their team could end up over the win total and why their team could end up under the win total. The sites pay close attention to their teams and have more insight than your average national reporter. Cleveland Browns: 9 (-130, +110) — Dawgs By Nature Why over: The Browns had as strong an offseason as anybody, loading up additional talent on both sides of the ball. Baker Mayfield had a phenomenal rookie season, and if he builds on it, this team is a playoff contender. They are currently division favorites and have the ninth best Super Bowl odds. If Greg Robinson improves at left tackle and the offensive line holds up over the course of the season, this team is sufficiently stacked on both sides of the ball to get into double digits wins. Why under: Expectations are high and the team has added a lot of talent, but they will still be counting on Baker Mayfield to build off a great rookie season. If Mayfield has a sophomore slump, the Browns might not be able to reach expectations. This is a team with a new head coach, questions on the offensive line, and a difficult schedule. They can overcome it, but finishing at or below nine wins is still a real possibility until the Browns prove otherwise. Pittsburgh Steelers: 9 (-125, +105) — Behind The Steel Curtain Why over: Despite a mediocre season which saw them miss the playoffs in 2018, and the departure of Antonio Brown, this team still has a very strong core of players returning for 2019. Ben Roethlisberger leads the charge on offense, and James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster are coming off Pro Bowl seasons. Defensively, the addition of Devin Bush and Mark Barron should help lift the defense which already gets to the QB as well as anyone else in the league, to new heights. If they can spread out the touchdowns Brown pulled in last year, they will be just fine. Why under: Speaking of those touchdowns Brown pulled in, there were 15 of them. Sure, they signed rookie Diontae Johnson, and free agent Donte Moncrief, but is that good enough? While the defense should be better next season, the offense, and their inability to score regularly, could be the reason the team underachieves when it comes to the over/under total for this upcoming 2019 regular season. Baltimore Ravens: 8.5 (+105, -125) — Baltimore Beatdown Why over: Greg Roman builds a strong scheme, utilizing sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson’s running and passing ability. Jackson takes the next step in fixing his mechanics and accuracy, which in turn provides more scoring opportunities for the Ravens’ offense. The 2019 draft class of WR Marquise Brown, WR Miles Boykin and RB Justice Hill instantly contribute and perform well. Meanwhile, the Ravens defense avoids a drastic plummet from their free agent losses earlier in the year with the addition of Earl Thomas III and the already dominant secondary. At least one of the junior pass rushers develop to pair opposite of Matt Judon, or rookie Jaylon Ferguson comes out of the gate ready to play. Health, as always, is a factor, and the Ravens avoid critical losses in the trenches on both sides of the line. Why under: The offensive scheme is still built towards Jackson and the running back unit carrying the rock over 30 times a game, while failing to open up the passing attack. Jackson’s accuracy inconsistencies continue and the rookie class can’t establish chemistry with the man under center. The offensive line doesn’t develop further, which leaves the most of the interior offensive line as a liability. On defense, the pass rush losses of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith can’t be replaced by Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser and rookie Jaylon Ferguson. The inside linebacker unit doesn’t step into the role left behind by C.J. Mosley and offenses strike early and often with tight ends across the middle of the field. Injuries hamper either side of the ball for long periods of time, which result in late-game breakdowns and losses. Cincinnati Bengals: 6 (-120, Even) — Cincy Jungle Why over: The Bengals would have easily won 8+ games last season if not for the injuries to A.J. Green and Andy Dalton. They were 5-3 before Green’s toe became an issue, and they wound up finishing 1-7 down the stretch. The roster got slightly better this offseason through free agency and the draft, not to mention Zac Taylor will breathe new life into this franchise. As long as the Bengals’ heavy-hitters stay healthy, they’ll get to seven wins and will be a dark horse playoff contender. Don’t sleep on defenders Sam Hubbard and Jessie Bates having huge sophomore seasons that make this defense a formidable unit. Why under: As much as Marvin Lewis needed to be fired, he did take this franchise to seven playoff trips, and several of those teams were undermanned units that Lewis got the most out of. Zac Taylor may be a better offensive mind, but he’s still got a weak defense that may actually look worse under first-year coordinator Lou Anarumo compared to what it was when Lewis was running the defense. The linebacker unit is still arguably the worst of any NFL team. The offensive line is also still a major question mark that could easily cripple the offense and turn this into a bottom-five team that struggles to just win five games, let alone the seven needed to beat the over/under. Another thing to consider is Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap are in their age 30+ seasons and should see a decline in their play, which could turn this defense into the NFL’s worst.
7 h
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
LeBron James has never had a teammate as perfect as Anthony Davis
Their games complement each other perfectly. If LeBron James could pick any other person on planet Earth to be his running mate, it would be Anthony Davis. There are other superstars who’d be productive and pleasant in a winning situation, but none can accentuate James’ strengths, capitalize off them, and conceal his defensive limitations. Davis lands in Los Angeles at an ideal and fascinating time. There is no unbeatable juggernaut in LeBron’s path, thanks to the Warriors’ injuries. He’s about to team up with a fellow megastar and arguably the most talented teammate he’s ever had. (Dwyane Wade was awesome in 2010-11, but there are numerous reasons why it shouldn’t surprise anyone if 26-year-old Davis exceeds that impact). Moreover, the two cross paths at a reputation-curving pivot point in their careers. Both failed to make the playoffs last year. Both were humbled. And now, both exist on the same frequency. Empathy won’t be an issue because they desperately need each other. Davis will help LeBron delay the age-related physical decline that invaded his body last season, while LeBron’s general omniscience should summon a more realized version of Davis than any we saw in New Orleans. LeBron is about to enter his 17th season and has played 10,000 more minutes than any other active player. (Yes, 10,000. Read that again). His time at the top of the league’s food chain is ending, if not over. But at the same time, LeBron still deserves more touches, responsibility, and decision-making power than whoever else is on his team. While any other star teammate would, in one way or another, veer into his lane by needing and/or wanting the ball, Davis is comfortable eating off his teammates. Since 2015-16, he’s scored 3316 points on assisted two-pointers, despite missing 59 games over that period. No other player has more than 3000. Self-creation has never been the primary way Davis gets buckets. Twenty-seven players averaged at least 20 points per game during the 2017-18 season. Among that group, only Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis averaged fewer seconds and dribbles per touch than Davis. Throw in his physical dimensions, discipline, and awareness that makes Davis a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and he checks every box James should want in a co-star. The big picture advantages for the pairing are self-evident. Davis should lower James’ usage and let him rest more, both on the sideline and on the floor. He yanks opposing big men into foul trouble, and is as comfortable steadying the game’s tempo as he is sparking it into a sprint. (Since 2014-15, Davis has ranked above the 92nd percentile in the percentage of non-shooting fouls he drew per team play, according to Cleaning the Glass.) That help goes both ways. Minus a brief, somewhat-unnecessary collaboration with DeMarcus Cousins, Davis’ Pelicans’ tenure was defined by a tragic evasion of needle movers. His Pelicans teammates weren’t scrubs — Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Omer Asik, and a couple others weren’t bad — but the talent level still topped out at “All-Star snub.” Years from now we’ll look back at the first seven years of Davis’ career as a worst-case scenario for building around a young superstar. In LeBron, Davis now has a consummate problem solver by his side. What neither has is all the time in the world, and how they interact in year one is everything. On paper, LeBron and Davis should elevate each other’s very best qualities from the start. In 2017-18, James Harden and Clint Capela, Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams, and Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic were the top three duos that generated more assisted baskets at the rim than anyone else. Fourth was Davis, from Rajon Rondo. Fifth was … Davis, again, from Holiday. That supreme ability to finish in the paint will add a vibrant set of colors to LeBron’s palette. James was born to orchestrate a half-court offense with someone this galactically awe-inspiring, and those two in transition is legitimately one of the scariest visuals an opposing basketball coach can imagine. But their most direct connection will be in the pick-and-roll. Davis induces a special brand of panic whenever he dives towards the basket. No pass is out of his reach, and halting whoever has the ball usually turns into the defense’s secondary objective. But there’s only so much a defense can do when James, who’s impossible to stop downhill with one man, is the ball-handler. (LeBron finished 7.5 plays per game as a pick-and-roll ball-handler last season, up from the 5.2 he averaged over the previous three seasons, per NBA.com. Expect that number to go up a little bit.) Watch Karl-Anthony Towns as Holiday barrels into the paint off Davis’ drag screen. The spacing here is critical, with three Pelicans lined up behind the three-point line on the left side. Towns is responsible for the help, but if he leaves his feet to contest Holiday’s layup, Davis will dunk on his head. And look at what happens here to poor Jarrett Allen. A simple ball fake in Davis’ direction shifts Brooklyn’s seven-footer two feet into the paint. James has played with roll partners that demanded respect before, but Davis is one of the feared divers of all time. Not every defense will drop Davis’ man. Some might duck under the screen and welcome an open pull-up for LeBron. Those with appropriate personnel will switch. Some may trap LeBron and force AD to create in a 4-on-3 situation. Help defenders will swarm the paint and force kick-out passes to the three-point line, especially in the playoffs. James will find teammates on the perimeter, but we don’t yet know who, exactly, will be taking those shots. This obviously matters. (Free agents like JJ Redick, Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Ross, Marcus Morris, Wesley Matthews, Danny Green, Wayne Ellington, and Seth Curry will all be affordable and should be on the Lakers’ radar this summer). But assuming they’re even average spot-up threats, LeBron and Davis will supply ample opportunity on the back side. One of the most intriguing ways they’ll collaborate is off ball. LeBron will set and receive pin-downs and cross screens with Davis (and vice-versa) in ways that generate terror. The simplest form will come with LeBron curling off the baseline and using his momentum to infiltrate a defense that’s mid-rotation, lower on the floor. Expect Los Angeles to borrow a few sets from Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry’s playbook, too. In one simple action the Pelicans occasionally ran last year, Davis would start in the corner, receive a wide pin-down screen from the initial ball-handler, then flare behind the three-point line. He hasn’t had the most success from deep, but not all of Davis’ attempts can come at the rim. Swapping several long two-point jumpers — nearly a quarter of his shots over the past two seasons were mid-range pull ups — for open threes is part of his evolution. Doing so is also necessary to create wider driving lanes for LeBron. A tenet of James’ success over the past few years has been his ability to feed big men from the outside, knowing one or two open threes early on tends to make an opposing big man hesitate with help. During his second stint with the Cavaliers, LeBron assisted on 502 of Kevin Love’s baskets, more than any other teammate by a significant margin. Chris Bosh was his number one assist partner in his final three seasons in Miami, too, and in 2017, James assisted more of Channing Frye’s threes than Draymond Green did for Klay Thompson. There are straightforward ways to get Davis going from the perimeter, like a pick-and-pop higher on the floor. There are also some more elaborate actions. The Pelicans found different ways to hide what they really wanted to do. Sometimes Davis would be the one who set a wide pin-down, then whoever he picked free would immediately return the favor. This stuff was complicated enough to stop before, and with LeBron either directly involved in the screen or drawing attention at the top with the ball in his hands, defenses will have no other choice but to wilt. Regardless of who else is on the team, these are some ways LeBron and Davis will work together. If new coach Frank Vogel elects to stagger their minutes, one or both can feast on opposing bench units more than they have before. They’ll of course be a devastating duo on the fast break. James has teamed up with some hypnotic talent in the back half of his career, but placing him beside Davis is like introducing Martin Scorsese to Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s invigorating, a mind-expanding partnership that not only alters how he’ll navigate through the season, but also each game, quarter, and possession. The potential is boundless. Even though they sacrificed most of their future to make this tandem real, what matters is the short term. And, assuming they use their cap space to sign logical complementary pieces, nobody will have a higher ceiling than the LeBron-AD Lakers, at least for this coming season.
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
Natasha Howard could be the most improbable MVP ever
Major injuries to Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird have given Howard a key role in Seattle, just two years after she was a mere backup scoring four points per game. She’s proving ready for a star’s role. Welcome to The W Is It, a weekly column about all the stuff that freakin’ rules in the WNBA. Here’s last week’s debut column on Chelsea Gray. Have any tips of topics to cover? Find me @mellentuck on Twitter. How deep is the talent pool in the WNBA? Consider that when one MVP went down with a torn Achilles, her teammate, two years removed from being a 12-minute-a-game reserve, has become a candidate herself. Natasha Howard’s meteoric rise has been so rapid that she’s lifted the Seattle Storm out of the injury-plagued wasteland so determined to crush their back-to-back title hopes. With star Breanna Stewart and legend Sue Bird sidelined due to injury, Howard has become an absolute terror. She’s averaging 20 points per game in leading the remaining Storm roster, which has no business holding a record above .500, to a solid 5-4 start nearly one month into the season. The offseason wasn’t kind to Seattle basketball. Like at all. A month before the WNBA season was set to begin, Howard watched as reigning league MVP Stewart, her Storm and Dynamo Kursk teammate, tore her Achilles in the EuroLeague Final Four. Five days later, Seattle’s head coach, Dan Hughes, announced he was diagnosed with cancer. Then, four days before the Storm were set to make their season debut, legendary point guard Sue Bird needed arthroscopic knee surgery, for which she’ll be out indefinitely. The heartbreak was infinite and the Storm’s chances at a back-to-back title were barren. But Howard, the 6’2 slashing, three-point shooting, shot-blocking, court-running and position-bending big, has instead developed her game to a level few thought she’d be able to sustain. Despite double- and triple-teams, she’s scoring over defenders in the paint, seeing the floor better than ever and continuing to serve as a defensive anchor. Recap the top plays from Natasha Howard's double-double performance (31 PTS, 16 REB) @seattlestorm #WNBA #WatchMeWork pic.twitter.com/4bwLr2Hr2r— WNBA (@WNBA) May 25, 2019 Her rise is even more remarkable considering the Storm poached her from the Minnesota Lynx for a mere second-round pick and a pick swap that never happened prior to the 2018 season. Stuck behind 2017 MVP Sylvia Fowles and Rebekkah Brunson, Howard didn’t have a clear path to earn playing time. It’s criminal, really. But it shows the surplus of talent a league with only 12 teams and 144 roster spots has. “It’s something a lot of teams deal with,” Storm GM Alisha Valavanis told SB Nation. “There’s depth that given a starting opportunity on different teams, they may be able to break out.” Through her game, Howard made her need for a bigger role clear. Anyone who’d seen Team USA’s 2016 Olympic team nearly lose in a scrimmage to the USA Select Team because of a Howard onslaught knew where her ceiling stood. The forward who averaged four points per game in the season prior broke out for 18 fourth-quarter points against the next-best players in the world. After hitting just one three-pointer in eight tries in her first three seasons, she hit three in that one night. “I think that’s when everyone opened their eyes even more like ‘Wow Howard is really good,’” she told SB Nation. “They didn’t know I was that good because I hadn’t had the opportunity to show my talent [like that.]” Now, finally, after four years of learning — and being overlooked just a bit — Howard has taken her chance to shine and is running with it. The Storm are out to an impressive start given the devastating injuries to its most coveted pieces, and that doesn’t happen without Howard’s quick bursts to the rim and much-improved range. She’s proving she can handle a larger plate. This isn’t just the silver lining to crap offseason luck. The Storm, as they stand right now, are a damn threat because of her. Here are a few other things to celebrate from Week 4 of the season. Megan Gustafson is back in the W Let’s GO! Gustafson, the NCAA National Player of the Year and leading scorer in all of college basketball last year at 28 points per game, was drafted by the Dallas Wings in the second round of April’s draft, but then cut before the season started. That’s how much damn talent is in this league. Anyway, the Wings re-signed her on June 13. Though she didn’t see any action in the ensuing game, shouts to her dad, who drove 20 hours to see her suit up for the first time. Gustafson had to fly out to Texas the morning after she found out she’d been offered a contract, so he drove from Wisconsin to Iowa, where she lived, to take her car all the way down to Dallas. The day before Father’s Day too! @GustafsonMeg10’s dad drove a combined 2⃣0⃣ hours this past weekend to see her play pic.twitter.com/fdZ6C6VgSd— WNBA (@WNBA) June 16, 2019 Dan Hughes is coming back this week! Specifically, Friday against the L.A. Sparks, GM Alisha Valavanis told SB Nation. “We are excited to have Coach Hughes back on the sideline.” Hughes, the Storm’s head coach, was diagnosed with an undisclosed form of cancer in April, and he’s been progressing well. On June 6, he said his surgery had been successful and that he’d been at team practices watching interim head coach Gary Kloppenburg take the helm. A quick health update from Coach Dan Hughes #WeRepSeattle pic.twitter.com/J2elAhS1rr— Seattle Storm (@seattlestorm) June 6, 2019 Fever guard Erica McCall rapped on stage with Carrie Freaking Underwood OMG! @EricaMcCall24 rapping to "The Champion" on stage with @CarrieUnderwood is the BEST thing you will ever see!!! #Fever20 #AllForLove pic.twitter.com/S2FENiPKAp— Indiana Fever (@IndianaFever) June 17, 2019 Who needs Ludacris when you can get the GOAT of WNBA rap, Erica McCall. This was HYPE. I’m delighted to welcome out newest WNBA stan, Carrie. Amanda Zahui B LIT UP the Sparks In a win over L.A., the New York Liberty big scored a career-high 37 points in 36 minutes and made seven of the eight threes she took. She came into the season with only 38 made threes in four YEARS, yet she came out with flames on the second night of a back-to-back. A walking bucket tonight ☔️ @AmandaZahuiB (37 PTS / 7 REB / 7 3PM) #WatchMeWork pic.twitter.com/2EAWcpsjiC— WNBA (@WNBA) June 16, 2019 WNBA Stan(s) of the Week - LeBron James, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook The Las Vegas Aces really are the biggest bandwagon franchise in the league, huh. Please watch as Kelsey Plum daps everyone up. KP with the Gucci Row crew @Kelseyplum10(via @wnba) pic.twitter.com/KcyQQ1bHDy— WSLAM (@wslam) June 15, 2019 I’m obsessed with this video for a number of reasons, not limited to the fact that RUSS is part of the banana boat squad now? How? When? Future Laker? Anyway, this might not be the last we see of Aces Stan Bron. He said he wants to come back for Vegas’ playoff run. Candace Parker is BACK On Tuesday night at 10:30 p.m. ET, Candace Parker will make her 2019 season debut at home against the Washington Mystics. She suffered a hamstring injury in the team’s first preseason game, and her team was able to cling on to a 4-3 record in her absence. Let’s GOOOOOO! She’s back #GoSparks #LeadTheCharge #SparkTheTrueYou pic.twitter.com/LnZlv9h2Hw— Los Angeles Sparks (@LA_Sparks) June 17, 2019
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
How many bases can you rack up in a single MLB game?
Probably not as many as Shawn Green From the early total base leaders the likes of Ty Cobb and Lou Gehrig to today’s leaders, Shawn Green and Josh Hamilton, the total base record has always required a player’s single best game of their career. Today, the best route to the top of the list is with MLB’s first five home run game, but it’s not the only way. There are only 18 players who have ever hit four home runs in a game and the leaders in total bases for a single game tend to be a four home run game with flair. Whether it be tacking on a single or double. This makes Shawn Green’s 19 total base game extremely difficult to surpass. Even Mike Cameron, who hit four home runs plus a shot to the warning track a few weeks before Shawn Green’s outburst, finds himself three bases short of the top of the leaderboard. One thing is for sure, when the total base record is broken, it will be a performance for the history books. Be sure to check out more episodes of High Score at www.youtube.com/sbnation.
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
Jarrett Culver is the NBA draft’s most versatile prospect after Zion Williamson
Inside the rapid improvement that made Jarrett Culver an NBA draft lottery pick. Jarrett Culver’s competitive spirit was forged through the timeless tradition of sibling rivalry beneath the unforgiving west Texas sun. As the youngest of three boys in a family full of athletes, Culver honed the talent that would eventually make him an NBA draft lottery pick by facing his older brothers on the courts and fields around their Lubbock home. The Culvers didn’t just play one sport — they played all of them. Oldest brother Trey would become a two-time NCAA high jump champion who is training for the 2020 Olympics. Middle brother J.J. currently plays college basketball at the NAIA level. Jarrett first excelled as a running back and wide receiver on the football field. His soccer ability was the stuff of urban legend. But upon enrolling at Coronado High School, he decided basketball was the sport he would devote himself to in full. Randy Dean coached all three Culver boys on Coronado’s basketball program. He described Trey as a glue guy who provided defense and rebounding. J.J. “only knew one speed” which led to spectacular moments but also some mistakes. And Jarrett? “He just had that presence on the floor that the great players have,” Dean told SB Nation. “He wasn’t flamboyant or cocky about it. But you knew he was the guy.” The youngest Culver flourished in his junior year as Dean moved him from the wing to full-time point guard. He was turning into the best player in the area by the time Coronado went to a Christmas tournament when misfortune struck. Culver went up for a ferocious dunk, got caught up on the rim, and came down with an injured shoulder. The pain lingered through the season but he never took any time off. When Coronado was eliminated from the playoffs, the school soccer coach asked Jarrett and J.J. if they’d be interested in joining his team for the end of the season. Jarrett scored four goals in six games to help the squad qualify for the postseason. Then it was back to basketball for his debut appearance on Nike’s EYBL circuit. Culver had only been receiving mid-major college interest to that point. Everything change when he was asked to join Texas-based program Pro Skills for their trip to Brooklyn on the opening weekend of EYBL play. In his second game, Culver scored 18 straight points, drawing legitimate headlines and opening up the flood gates for his college interest. Two days before Culver would fly to New York, Texas Tech hired Chris Beard away from UNLV in one of the strangest and most impactful coaching carrousel fiascos in the history of the sport. While former Red Raiders coach Tubby Smith never extended an offer to Culver, Beard did so immediately. Culver committed before the start of his senior year, choosing to stay in his hometown for college. He was still considered a three-star prospect at No. 312 in 247 Sports’ rankings. Finally, Culver saw a doctor about his shoulder. They told him he had a torn labrum and advised getting surgery immediately. Culver couldn’t stand the thought of missing his senior year, so he opted to play the entire season injured and have the procedure when the year ended. “That’s really the story of his character right there,” Dean said. “The other guys on the team were guys he had been playing with since 7th or 8th grade. He wanted that senior year to be good for them not just for himself. That’s why he chose to play” Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports Texas Tech had never been past the Sweet 16 in the history of the program when Culver arrived on campus. As a freshman, he emerged as the third leading scorer on a team that would go all the way to the Elite Eight. Still, Culver wasn’t even the breakout recruit on his own team. That would be Zhaire Smith, another three-star prospect who blossomed into the surprise No. 16 NBA draft pick after a brilliant one-and-done season no one expected. Culver now had the blueprint to follow his own NBA dreams. As the Red Raiders lost six of their top eight leading scorers from the year before, Culver assumed the mantle as Beard’s leading man. Like high school, he was moved on the ball from the wing. And like high school, he thrived with the move to de facto point guard. All Culver did as a sophomore was take a team full of overlooked recruits just like himself to the national championship game. He was the hub of everything the Red Raiders did on offense, turning into a dynamic off-the-dribble creator on a team where no one else could easily get their own look. Here are seven plays that show the versatility of his scoring ability out of pick-and-rolls and isolations: Culver always has a counter. With hesitation dribbles, spin moves, and wrong-footed layups, he turned into a crafty driver and one of the sport’s great finishers. On the season, he converted 69 percent of his shots at the rim with only 25 percent of those field goals coming off assists, per Hoop-Math. While a player like R.J. Barrett drew criticism for having tunnel vision and seemingly predetermining his drives, Culver consistently had a trick up his sleeve to get a bucket. Culver was the driving force on the Red Raiders’ offense, but the real reason the team ran all the way to the national championship game was because it had the most efficient defense of college basketball’s modern era. It’s defense where Culver will likely make his biggest impact early in his career. He projects as a three or potentially four-position defender who can switch screens, hold his own at the point of attack, and help teammates by making quick reads away from the ball. His advanced feel for the game shows up on both ends, giving him tremendous role player potential as he makes the jump to the NBA. Even if he never develops into a go-to offensive option in the league like he was at Texas Tech, his defensive ability, passing skill, and high IQ all project to make him a valuable player. Here are three defensive plays and three passes that show Culver’s two-way versatility. Culver is widely considered of the best perimeter defenders in this draft. Critics will point to his 30 percent three-point percentage as a reason to worry about his offense, but it’s also worth noting he scored efficiently in a variety of different ways. Culver graded out as “good” or better in every play type this season in Synergy Sports’ database. The jumper will get better, too. Culver reworked his shot over the last offseason to create a higher release and improve his rotation on the ball. The fact the Culver was able to get off 5.2 three-point attempts per-40 is encouraging. Volume is a skill in itself, something that contemporaries like De’Andre Hunter (3.4 three-point attempts, per 40) couldn’t match even as a more accurate shooter. Versatility is the name of the game in today’s NBA. Jarrett Culver is as versatile as any player in the 2019 NBA Draft this side of Zion Williamson. Culver can initiate offensive sets as a ball handler and find a way to score efficiently regardless of the situation. While he lacks ideal first step burst, he makes up for it with a full bag of counters and an unusual rhythm to his attacks. He also knows how the make smart cuts off the ball and even has a solid post game when a smaller defender switches on him on. Defensively, Culver has the size, quickness, and feel to be impactful. He measured at 6’6.75, 194 pounds with a 6’9.5 wingspan at the combine, giving him the type of frame to handle a plethora of different offensive players as he adds muscle to his frame. He thrives in help-and-recover situations, which is a vital part of defense in today’s NBA. Players typically get drafted in the top-five for takeover scoring ability, blistering first-step athleticism, or knockdown shooting. Culver doesn’t have any of those traits, at least not yet. What he does have is a well-rounded, intelligent game that translates at both ends. He had a massive impact on winning at the college level and projects to do the same in the NBA. Whatever a team needs, Jarrett Culver is there to do it. His game isn’t done blooming yet.
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
Stanford might be college football’s most predictable program, but 2019 is a mystery
Can David Shaw’s Cardinal overcome inexperience and take advantage of a home-friendly schedule? Bill C’s annual preview series of every FBS team in college football continues. Catch up here! Football is a messy, small-sample activity that rarely leaves us with crystal-clear answers. You lose games to lesser teams, you beat better teams, and because we’re dealing with a 12-game regular season and not, say, 82 or 162, we learn to live with the lack of transitive clarity. Stanford has become a rather interesting exception to the rule. Since 2013, David Shaw’s Cardinal haven’t lost to a team that finished with a losing record. They also haven’t beaten all that many particularly good teams. Over the last five years, they’re 9-17 against teams that finished with nine or more wins and 39-2 against everyone else. The 2018 season was particularly stratified. Stanford whipped up on bad teams, beat decent teams, and lost to good ones. The defense stopped bad offenses and got gashed by good ones, and quarterback KJ Costello did great against bad defenses and was merely solid against good ones. Stanford vs. teams ranked 31st or better in S&P+ (0-4) — average score: Opp 37, Stanford 25 | yards per play: Opp 6.3, Stanford 6.0 | average percentile performance: 58% | Costello’s passer rating: 143.7 Stanford vs. teams between 32nd and 75th (6-0) — average score: Stanford 24, Opp 14 | yards per play: Stanford 5.7, Opp 5.4 | average percentile performance: 64% | Costello’s passer rating: 158.4 Stanford vs. teams ranked 76th or worse (3-0) — average score: Stanford 42, Opp 23 | yards per play: Stanford 7.0, Opp 5.4 | average percentile performance 58% | Costello’s passer rating 166.9 At first glance, it appears that Stanford began the season on fire (4-0), hit a mid-year funk (1-4), and finished strong (4-0). Really, though, the Cardinal were mostly the same team — the funk just happened when the best teams on the schedule showed up. This is about as predictable an existence that college football offers. Is it a happy one? Just more than a decade ago, with Shaw on staff, Jim Harbaugh pulled off one of the starkest program-building jobs of the 21st century. He inherited a Stanford program at one of its lowest historical ebbs — the Cardinal had averaged just 3.2 wins per year over the previous five seasons and had finished ranked just three times in 29 years — and got the foundation laid in just a couple of years. From 102nd in S&P+ the year before he arrived, he improved them to 78th in 2007, 60th in 2008, 35th in 2009, and fourth in 2010. Harbaugh left for the NFL, but Shaw has kept the house intact. Stanford has established itself as a constant top-25 caliber program that plays more physically than you do and recruits better than its admissions standards would lead you to believe is possible. When they keep their starting QB healthy, the Cardinal win a lot of games. When they don’t, well, they still win quite a few games. Their S&P+ rating has also acted like a house settling into its foundation — on average, it sinks slightly each year. Stanford has, per S&P+, gotten at least a tiny bit worse in six of the last eight seasons. They are projected to make it seven of nine seasons this fall. This is an odd place to be. A decade ago, only ranking 32nd, as they are projected to this fall, would be a cause for celebration. And based on basic long-term health indicators — investment in the program, proximity to eligible recruits, etc. — it’s still a hell of an accomplishment. But when it is demonstrated that you can do more than that, it still feels disappointing. Costello was rock solid last fall, carrying an offense that got a massively disappointing contribution from its run game, but he’s nearly the only known entity returning on offense. His top running back (Bryce Love), top two WRs (JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Trenton Irwin), top tight end (Kaden Smith), and four of five line starters are gone. It’s Costello, all-world left tackle Walker Little — admittedly not the worst starting point — and a lot of mysteries on offense. The defense should improve after fielding an uncharacteristic number of freshmen and sophomores, but will it improve enough to offset offensive regression? Is Costello good enough to avoid that regression altogether? We can assume that whatever level Stanford establishes, the Cardinal will beat the teams below that line and lose to the teams above it, but where might that line be? Offense This is not the radar one would expect from a team that had a running back drafted in April: The Cardinal headed into 2018 with maybe the scariest running back in college football and a massively experienced line. They proceeded to rank 107th in Rushing S&P+ and eighth in Passing S&P+. Over 24 percent of their non-sack carries were stuffed at or behind the line. Love was battling knee and ankle injuries from basically the first snap of the season, and the line didn’t have a single guy who started all 13 games. Love was never a particularly efficient back — Stanford’s 2017 success basically came from waiting around until he exploded for a 50-yard gain — but in 2018 he lost most of his explosiveness too. He had 30 rushes of 20-plus yards in 2017, then just eight last year. Backup Cameron Scarlett was a bit more efficient than Love but was even less explosive. Youngsters Trevor Speights and Dorian Maddox offered nothing in either category. Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports K.J. Costello With a worthless run game, Stanford slowly opened things up. Costello averaged 28 passes per game in September and 38 per game through the rest of the regular season. And despite this one-dimensionality, he completed 65 percent of his passes and finished 16th in overall passer rating. Arcega-Whiteside, Irwin, and Smith became the rocks that Love couldn’t, and Stanford somehow finished 26th in Off. S&P+, only 10 spots worse than 2017. So was it Costello or his receivers? Was he making them look good, or vice versa? The answers to those questions will determine whether Stanford can withstand attrition. Costello does get tight end Colby Parkinson back; the junior and former blue-chipper was easily the most explosive of the primary targets (16.7 yards per catch), but he was far less efficient, too. He was an all-or-nothing weapon in a corps of constants, and he’ll need to become more consistent this fall because Costello might be leaning on him a lot. Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports Colby Parkinson Shaw has recruited remarkably well in the receiving corps. Parkinson is a former top-40 recruit, and Stanford currently boasts six four-star freshman, redshirt freshman, or sophomores at wideout. Sophomore Osiris St. Brown looked the part in a small sample, gaining 204 yards in just eight receptions. Three more young blue-chippers (Michael Wilson, Connor Wedington, and Simi Fehoko) combined for 24 catches as well, but this isn’t much to lean on. One assumes that Shaw and offensive coordinator — pardon me, Andrew Luck Director of Offense — Tavita Pritchard will strive for balance if at all possible. Can Scarlett carve out an efficiency niche with the turnover up front? Granted, Little’s not alone; three others (juniors Devery Hamilton and Dylan Powell and sophomore Drew Dalman) have combined for 21 career starts up front, and sophomore blue-chipper Foster Sarell could figure things out at any moment. But the line still has a lot more to prove than we would normally expect of the Stanford line. Defense Shaw has pretty consistently fielded an elite unit on either offense or defense. He has never managed to field two in the same year. He has had three offenses finish 16th or better in Off. S&P+, but Stanford averaged a Def. S&P+ ranking of 46.3 in those years. He has had four defenses rank 12th or better, but his offense averaged 44.8 in those years. Very strange. Last year was the first under Shaw in which Stanford had neither a top-16 offense or defense. Granted, that might have been different had Love and the O-line remained semi-healthy, but either way, the defense was a mediocre-for-the-talent-level 43rd. This was almost encouraging. Stanford actually improved ever-so-slightly on defense (from 44th) despite massive youth. Eighteen defenders made at least 13 tackles last season, and nine of them were freshmen or sophomores. This probably explains why defensive coordinator Willie Shaw Director of Defense Lance Anderson played so conservatively: Stanford was 39th in marginal explosiveness but 87th in marginal efficiency and 61st in overall havoc rate. That’s awfully bend-don’t-break. D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports Paulson Adebo Maybe it’s encouraging, though, that those nine freshmen and sophomores made over half of Stanford’s havoc plays (tackles for loss, passes defensed, forced fumbles). One of those youngsters, Paulson Adebo, was maybe the best cornerback in the Pac-12 last year despite his redshirt freshman status. Paulson Adebo headlines the strong group of cornerbacks returning for action in the Pac-12 this year. pic.twitter.com/qpjyBG1ufA— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 30, 2019 Even with bend-don’t-break rules applying, Adebo defensed 23 passes (second in FBS, behind only Virginia’s Bryce Hall) and recorded 3.5 tackles for loss and three run stuffs as well. Adebo, junior Obi Eboh, and sophomore Kendall Williamson give Stanford maybe the most exciting CB corps in the conference despite the loss of starter Alijah Holder. Safety Malik Antoine returns, too, though there’s not another experienced safety on the roster. With these corners, Anderson might get the itch to be more aggressive, but we’ll see if the safety situation allows it. Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports Jovan Swann (51) The defensive line returns mostly intact, too. Seven linemen recorded at least two tackles, and six were freshmen or sophomores. Junior-to-be Michael Williams was the leading tackler up front, and despite lining up mostly as two-gappers — intended to be more block-occupiers than play-makers — ends Jovan Swann and Thomas Booker combined for 11 tackles for loss and eight sacks. The major turnover comes at linebacker, where four of last year’s primary seven are gone. But Jordan Fox, Gabe Reid, and Casey Toohill (Stanford’s most active linebacker, recording seven havoc plays in seven games but missing six games with two different injuries) are still back. But they were all OLBs last year. Stanford has a lot of exciting defensive talent, but it has to be disconcerting that the backbone of the D — namely, the inside linebackers and safeties — is where most of the turnover occurs. Special Teams Maybe we should call future Stanford special teams coaches the Pete Alamar Director of Special Teams. Alamar came to Stanford as special teams coordinator in 2012 and has brought spectacular consistency to what is generally the least consistent unit on the field. Stanford has ranked eighth or better in Special Teams S&P+ in each of the last four seasons, and with the return of place-kicker Jet Toner, he’ll have a chance to make it five straight. He has to break in a new punter and punt returner, however. 2019 outlook 2019 Schedule & Projection Factors Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability 31-Aug Northwestern 57 8.3 68% 7-Sep at USC 29 -3.2 43% 14-Sep at UCF 27 -4.2 40% 21-Sep Oregon 20 -1.3 47% 28-Sep at Oregon State 105 17.0 84% 5-Oct Washington 15 -5.1 38% 17-Oct UCLA 63 9.5 71% 26-Oct Arizona 52 7.1 66% 9-Nov at Colorado 68 5.8 63% 16-Nov at Washington State 36 -1.3 47% 23-Nov California 60 9.1 70% 30-Nov Notre Dame 12 -6.6 35% Projected S&P+ Rk 32 Proj. Off. / Def. Rk 37 / 39 Projected wins 6.7 Five-Year S&P+ Rk 17.9 (12) 2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 21 2018 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 3 / 0.9 2018 TO Luck/Game +0.8 Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 54% (45%, 63%) 2018 Second-order wins (difference) 8.4 (0.6) This is an odd time for Stanford. The Cardinal have indeed been inclined to regress slightly for most of Shaw’s tenure, but they still have plenty of upside, and they might be starting as few as one senior on each side of the ball. Depending on which underclassmen go pro, they could be building toward something massive in 2020. Thanks to home-road splits, though, now’s the time to overachieve. The three most highly-projected teams on the Cardinal’s schedule (Notre Dame, Washington, Oregon) all visit Stanford Stadium, and while they are projected underdogs in six games, all six of those games are projected within a touchdown. If some young receivers step up for Costello, and if the aforementioned defensive backbone is just sturdy enough to allow exciting edge defenders to make plays, then every game on the schedule is winnable. Of course, if neither of those things happen, then about nine games are losable, too. We won’t have to wait long to get our answers about this team. Of five projected top-30 opponents, three show up on the schedule in the first four weeks, and that’s after a visit from defending Big Ten West champion Northwestern. Team preview stats All 2019 preview data to date.
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
Parc des Princes smells a little like pee
On pee, and the animal instincts that unite all cultures. The World Cup opener at Parc des Princes was too cold to take in a sensory impression of the stadium. All one really cared about was huddling up against the gusting wind while watching France get a 4-0 win against South Korea. But nine days and a dozen degrees Fahrenheit later, as the United States kept Chile almost entirely contained in its own half for 90 minutes, the unmistakable aroma of old pee drifted up into and around the press area. It reminded me of an incident a few days earlier at the Centre sportif Emile Anthoine, close to the Eiffel Tower. I was headed to a press event and, to my misfortune, clear as day saw a man relieving himself in the bushes just outside the center. There were plenty of people passing by on the nearby sidewalk because, as you’ll recall, this was by the Eiffel Tower. He did not care. He simply peed. As it turns out, humans act like animals everywhere. Americans have a complex relationship with the French. We envy Parisians for their perceived sophistication, their cosmopolitan attitudes, their seemingly unending flow of wine and gourmet cheeses. Yet we lampoon them for these things as well, tutting at the image of the roué fellow about town, the libertine philosopher smoking a cigarette and poo-pooing boorish Americans. The cigarette thing, from what I’ve seen, is pretty accurate, making some parts of Paris smell like Las Vegas. But the rest is your standard cultural cartoon Frankenstein’d from generic historical attitudes, pop culture images, and imagination filling in the Atlantic-sized gap between us. Meanwhile, I have seen approximately several hundred New York-related apparel items in Paris and Reims, either relating to the city itself, or to the Yankees. A Parisian in an NYC snapback is a New Yorker in a Paris je t’aime shirt, a way of enjoying the existence of an outside world beyond your familiar boundaries. The cross-global pollution happening between two of the most famous — or infamous — cities in the world is an undeniable link between our essential humanities, just like our dude peeing in the bushes. He could have been behind any bar on the Lower East Side. He just happened to be in broad daylight by a giant athletic center in a major tourist area. Parisians probably have their images of Americans too. I met a Franco-American in a bakery, someone who had spent most of her life in France but gotten her university education in America. She told me it took her a while to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all picture of Americans, who differ from one another across county lines, let alone across states or geographical regions. France, is, after all, less than the size of Texas. An American northeasterner and southerner might have less in common between them than they would with a Parisian. But whether it’s the pizza-rat subways of New York City, the open container back alleys of New Orleans, or the bushes by the Eiffel Tower, we really are just human beings with bad judgment who need to pee.
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
Was the Kawhi Leonard trade actually a risk for the Raptors? A debate
Did Masai Ujiri really make a bold gamble trading for Leonard, or was it actually riskier to keep the status quo? Last July, the Toronto Raptors traded for Kawhi Leonard. By itself, with no other context in the frame, that sentence should be viewed as a humongous victory for that organization. But Leonard was not coming off an MVP-caliber campaign when the Raptors acquired him. A mysterious quad injury effectively ended his 2017-18 season with only nine games under his belt — in eight of those nine, he did not crack 30 minutes. On top of that, 2019 would be the final year of his contract, meaning the Raptors might have just forked over DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a first-round pick for one year of Leonard, if healthy. (Also, Danny Green, which is important to note). That sounds like a risky move, but was it? Looking back on the deal one week after the Raptors won their first championship in franchise history, SB Nation’s Mike Prada and Michael Pina debate that question below. MIKE PRADA: All season long, Masai Ujiri’s decision to trade for Kawhi Leonard has been classified as a gamble. “Will Kawhi Leonard validate the Raptors’ big bet” is the exact language I used in tracking the impact the playoffs will have on the NBA’s biggest stories. It seemed obvious to me that trading for an injured star with no assurances he’d stay beyond this season was a big risk. I didn’t even think to call it something else. But you don’t see it that way. Is it fair to say you don’t think it was a risky move at all? MICHAEL PINA: For a variety of reasons, I don’t. Some of why I feel the way I have isn’t based on rational thought. I recognized Kawhi’s injury history but, him being someone I long thought would unseat LeBron James as the proverbial Best Player Alive, even 90 percent of that talent was far better than DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a late first-round pick. So I never expected him to be anything less than great this season — a contract year in which he’s trying to get paid. By the time meaningful games roll around, he’d be in good enough shape to rediscover his apex. Now, even if the real “risk” here centers more around Leonard’s free agency than his health, to me, as an organization that’s long operated with an NBA championship in mind, another season of Kyle Lowry and DeRozan would be a far worse gamble. During his introductory press conference back in 2013, Ujiri told media members assembled before him “the overall goal in the NBA is to win a championship. That has to be the overall goal. It’s not playoffs, it’s not … it’s to win a championship at the end.” Fast forward to last summer. The Raptors had won 48, 49, 56, 51, and 59 games with Ujiri at the helm, and had zero appearances in the Finals to show for it. Two roads are then presented: Trade for Leonard (and Danny Green) without surrendering your top two assets, then, even if only for one year, dramatically raise your organization’s ceiling, or ... Run it back and, in all likelihood, lose in the first, second, or third round. Again. With DeRozan about to turn 30 on the final year of his contract. Lowry is 33. Which option is a greater risk? PRADA: First of all, you can’t just hand-waive the injury risk away. Kawhi spent the entire season battling a medical staff purported to be among the most forward-thinking and player-friendly in the entire league. He played nine games during the season and shut himself down in the middle of that process. No matter how great a fully healthy Leonard is, you’d be nuts to not worry about the possibility of re-injury or, worse, permanent decline. (Regarding your point about him wanting to prove himself in a contract year and thus get himself in better shape, we just saw Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson show that will alone cannot overcome the realities of the human body). Second of all, the choices you present are vastly oversimplified. It’s not like Ujiri was spoon-fed that final offer and simply had to accept it. He had to do the work to seek it out, negotiate the Spurs down, divert attention away from other potential transactions, and ultimately complete it, all without jeopardizing the mood of the roster if it fell through. To go through all that, you have to make a decision that what you have isn’t enough and that the best way to get out is to stake everything on one season with a player that may not be healthy. Remember, Ujiri didn’t exactly break up a 40-something-win low-playoff seed. He broke up a team that won a franchise-record 59 games, led by the coach of the year and two stars who finally embraced a city that had been spat on throughout its history. He sacrificed a homegrown talent for a one-year chance to improve on the best season in franchise history. It’s easy to say the DeRozan-Lowry Raptors hit a glass ceiling, and maybe they did. But with LeBron James out of the conference, there was reason to believe the team who had the best record in the conference the season before could step into the power vacuum without doing anything. Given all those conditions, Ujiri vigorously pursued and executed the trades. I buy that it was smart. I don’t buy that it had no risk. Here’s a question for you: if exchanging that level of a trade package for one guaranteed year of Leonard was such a low-risk move, why didn’t any other team beat the offer? Why is the idea of trading for a “rental” still taboo to so many? PINA: I do not dispute that trading for a one-year rental is typically a gamble, but the particulars that apply to Leonard and Toronto do not translate across the board. The Raptors were simultaneously on the doorstep of a Finals appearance—sans enough talent to actually make it—and on the verge of starting over. How many teams can say that? This trade was a way to get in front of the inevitable, upping championship odds without mortgaging the future. How much worse is their long-term position if Leonard’s leg falls off a day after he lands in Canada, really? Before the trade, this team was running in place; a rebuild was on the horizon. Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka were not offered the five-year deals they wanted in 2017, and Ujiri reportedly offered DeRozan to the Thunder for the same package (Victor Oladipo and Domatas Sabonis) they traded for Paul George. With Kawhi, a rare opportunity presented itself and Ujiri snatched it without having to fork over anything of real substance (outside a late first-round pick) that would be useful after DeRozan and Lowry’s contracts expired. The Raptors only had so long to break through, and even without LeBron in their path, let’s please be serious about how good this team would’ve been with DeRozan as a first option this season. That squad is more likely to fall against the Magic than defeat the 76ers. We know they weren’t good enough to fill any LeBron-less vacuum, either. Since Ujiri was hired, Toronto’s postseason plus/minus was -11, -56, -85, -57, and -44. They were outscored by 10 points against the Indiana Pacers in 2016, and scored just four more points than the Milwaukee Bucks in a six-game series the following year. Meanwhile, every other realistic suitor either had no urgent motivationto shake things up (Boston and Philadelphia), or figured they could just sign him in free agency (both teams in LA). Trading for Leonard was an unnecessary and legitimate risk for them all because, at the time, Boston and Philadelphia was confident in their future. Dealing attractive assets that doubled as present-day contributors could’ve ruined that if Leonard walked. These teams were young, with key pieces that had untapped potential, and their front offices had reason to believe internal growth could guide them to a championship. The Lakers and Clippers were incentivized to pursue Leonard in free agency. Why give anything up when you can get him for free? The Raptors had none of that going for them. If they keep Leonard, great. If not, they are where they would’ve been anyway, set to enter a different part of their franchise life cycle. For them, standing still was always the greater risk. PRADA: All that is fair, and I get that Toronto’s situation was somewhat unique. But to me, that actually underscores why this trade was risky. The assumption in all your detailed analysis of the situation is that any NBA team would process their situation the same way Ujiri and Toronto did, and that’s simply not an assumption I’m willing to make or take for granted. Forget the teams you mentioned, even though all of them took a safe route that the Raptors could have justified. Where were other “stuck” teams in the Leonard trade picture? Where was Portland, for example, another team built around two guards that didn’t have a clear path to contention? Where was Washington? Where was Indiana? Where was Miami? Where were any number of teams that had a DeRozan-level player and weren’t coming off 59-win seasons with multiple all-stars on the best team in franchise history? Nitpick the particulars of each all you want, but if trading for Leonard wasn’t a risk, then it follows that all or even just one those teams would have at least jumped in more aggressively and forced Toronto to come with a better offer. Actually, here’s a better comparison: the mid-10s Clippers. Both teams achieved historic success for their morbid franchises, yet kept bumping up against glass ceilings in heartbreaking fashion. Both teams had decisions to make: play it “safe” and try to nibble around the edges, or go for broke and make dramatic changes to their cores. Were the Leonard trade not a risk, these two teams would have both chosen Option No. 2. Instead, the Clippers kept trying to run it back, while the Raptors bullied their way into the Leonard sweepstakes and got the deal done. Ultimately, I think our disagreement stems from the idea that the Leonard trade, in your words, was “a rare opportunity that presented itself.” My point throughout is that opportunities don’t just present themselves to you. You have to make a bet against incumbency bias to go get those opportunities with as much zeal necessary to get deals done. That’s where Ujiri really made his bold gamble. PINA: See, I don’t think there was any other team that can be compared to Toronto. Bradley Beal and Victor Oladipo are four and three years younger than DeRozan, respectively, and the Heat had nothing close to a perennial all-star on their roster. The Raptors were coming off a season in which they had the best bench in basketball. They were built to go from DeRozan to Kawhi and expect a championship, knowing Lowry, Ibaka, Siakam, OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, etc. were there as a solid support system. There were even more paths to upgrade the roster (Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, and CJ Miles for Marc Gasol), too. In other words, the Raptors were unique. I don’t think they shared much beyond postseason disappointment with those Clippers, either. Those teams were good, particularly when Chris Paul first got there. From 2013 to 2015 they finished with a top-three point differential, which is obviously plenty good enough to win it all, and when healthy their stars were even better in the playoffs than they were during the regular season. The same can’t be said for DeRozan and Lowry. At the end of the day I fundamentally don’t believe trading for Leonard was a risk in Toronto because A) they didn’t give up much, and B) they were headed towards a notable step back from anything close to title contention if they did nothing at all. For Toronto, it was always worth it to make this deal. Even if it blew up in their face, they wouldn’t be in any worse position than had they done nothing at all. Risk implies they had something to lose, but by doing it, all they had was a championship to gain.
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
6 NFL players on the verge of their best season yet
Free agency and shrewd draft moves have surrounded these six veterans with more talent than ever. This offseason, several NFL players found new homes that could lead to major improvements in their games. Odell Beckham Jr. moved from Eli Manning’s aging passing game to Baker Mayfield’s deep ball extravaganza in Cleveland. Trey Flowers left New England’s rotation-heavy defense to reunite with his former defensive coordinator in Detroit. Nick Foles will get the opportunity to make 16 starts behind center for the first time in his career now that he’s a Jaguar. Then there’s the flip side. Plenty of players benefitted from staying home, watching the supporting casts around them improve. For instance, Jacksonville’s group of wideouts upgraded from Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler sailing passes over their heads to working with a Super Bowl MVP. Mayfield gets an All-Pro wideout to fling passes at indiscriminately, knowing there’s a non-negligible chance Beckham will catch it no matter where it goes. The entire Lions defensive front will get some extra opportunities to crash the pocket thanks to Flowers’ versatile presence. But then there are the veterans who are just waiting for an opportunity to regain lost glory or reach their potential. These are the players primed for breakout and comeback seasons, set to reward the faith their teams have invested in them. So who’s in line for a big 2019? Here are six veterans whose front offices have put them in line for a significant uptick. DeVante Parker, WR, Dolphins Since the start of 2019, Parker went from catching passes from checkdown masters Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiler (a combined 7.1 yards per attempt last fall) to deep ball lesser god Ryan Fitzpatrick (a league-leading 9.6 YPA). The results in training camp so far have been promising. We've watched this 50 times already... What about you?Fitzpatrick >> @DeVanteParker11 pic.twitter.com/CDC3Tgfuzq— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) June 6, 2019 Parker’s inconsistencies have been endemic of the profile Miami was eager to cast aside. Despite carrying the pedigree of a first-round wideout with him into the league, he’s failed to match the numbers he put up over his final two seasons at Louisville. While he briefly emerged as a deep threat as a rookie in 2015 (19.0 yards per catch), his career has mostly stalled out thanks in part to his place in an offense that struggled to stretch the field. Tannehill, a quarterback forged in the ether of limbo to be eternally stuck between good and bad, is gone. And although he wasn’t able to take advantage of Jarvis Landry’s absence last season, Parker will hear his number called more than ever now that he’s paired with a quarterback who prefers to look downfield rather than default to his slot wideout with regularity. The Dolphins recognized this potential, too. They extended him for two years and $10 million earlier this offseason. If (or when) Fitzpatrick is replaced by second-year passer Josh Rosen, Parker will be the security blanket for a young, budding quarterback eager to prove himself — and who is capable of making throws like this: .@MarkSchofield brought this Josh Rosen throw to my attn. while discussing Rosen's reported "third round" trade value.W13, 3rd & 23, tie game, 4:35 left. Leads to a GW FG. Couldn't put it anywhere else. pic.twitter.com/aaOWaJwBpL— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) March 7, 2019 Derek Carr, QB, Raiders The bad news is Carr won’t have Marshawn Lynch to provide support — both moral and ground — in 2019. The good news is, holy crap, Jon Gruden just gave him a brand new toolbox with which to work. Gruden resisted the temptation to replace a quarterback who emerged as an MVP candidate in 2016 and instead improved his team’s foundation around Carr. Donald Penn and rookie Kolton Miller made up one of the league’s worst tackle tandems last season, so Oakland released the veteran Penn, kept 2018 first-round pick Miller at left tackle, and brought Patriots left tackle Trent Brown to the West Coast with a record-setting contract to lock down the other side of the offensive line. This extra time to throw — Carr was sacked a career-high 51 times in 2018 — will come in handy after the Raiders completely revamped their receiving corps. Out went Martavis Bryant, Seth Roberts, and Jordy Nelson. In came Tyrell Williams, J.J. Nelson, Ryan Grant, Hunter Renfrow, and, most importantly, Antonio Brown. While the club’s lack of tight end help is concerning, Carr will now have a deep lineup of targets who can create windows of opportunity up and down the field. If he can’t regain his 2016 magic with this roster, he may never — and that could leave Gruden angling to replace his franchise quarterback before his team’s 2020 move to Las Vegas. David Johnson, RB, Cardinals Johnson emerged as an all-world multipurpose tailback in 2016, but injury, awful blocking, the league’s least-threatening passing offense, and the Cardinals’ amazing excess of gridiron malaise transformed him into bad-year Doug Martin last season. Arizona was unhappy with all of that, so it blew everything up and wagered its future on an offensive savant who’d just been fired as the 35-40 head coach of Texas Tech University: Kliff Kingsbury. The 2019 Cardinals will be leaning hard into a rebuild, but it’s easy to see what Kingsbury has in mind for his latest project. After drafting Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray with the first-overall pick and adding pass catchers like Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler, and KeeSean Johnson later in the draft, the first-year NFL head coach is assembling a limitation-free spread offense. He’ll allow Murray to take chances downfield and improvise mightily in and out of the pocket. That creates a lot of space for a dual-threat back to thrive. Though Kingsbury only had one Red Raiders running back record more than 30 receptions in a single season (DeAndre Washington, who is currently part of the black-and-silver Raiders’ platoon), he’s also never had a weapon like Johnson to boost his offense. The former Northern Iowa standout broke out for 80 catches and 879 receiving yards while leading the league in yards from scrimmage in his monster 2016 season. Now he’ll be the safety valve for a rookie quarterback who may need to make a whole bunch of short-yard snap decisions thanks to Arizona’s work-in-progress offensive line. That blocking could still be a problem, but Kingsbury’s spread offense and the keep-em-honest deep threats provided by Isabella and Butler should open up lanes for Johnson to thrive. He’s also the top tailback on a depth chart that features T.J. Logan and Chase Edmonds, so he should get a lot of opportunities to prove he’s still an upper-tier runner. Kyler Fackrell, LB, Packers Fackrell set a career high with 10.5 sacks in 2018. This was impressive not only because it came in seven starts (over 16 games played), but because it came for a defense whose other primary edge threat was a 32-year-old Clay Matthews (3.5 sacks, 12 QB hits). It was also a bit of an anomaly, since Fackrell’s 12 QB hits suggest he wasn’t getting to the passer as much as your typical double-digit sack performer — Fletcher Cox, for instance, also had 10.5 sacks last season but contributed 34 QB hits as a master disruptor. The fourth-year pro is now primed for a starting role at outside linebacker in 2019, and Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst has given Fackrell some much-needed support to keep his trajectory pointed upward. Green Bay made an extremely uncharacteristic splash in free agency by doling out $154 million in contracts for outside linebackers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith along with safety Adrian Amos. He’d later add former uber-recruit Rashan Gary in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft to round out his rebuild of the Packers’ pass rush. This updated depth chart could push Fackrell out of the spotlight, but he’s already proven himself as a valuable rotation piece for a team with few real threats to contain. Now he’ll be flanked by players capable of occupying blockers and preventing scrambles and rollouts away from his pressure. While that may not lead to a new personal record when it comes to sacks, Fackrell should be a much more consistent presence in opponents’ backfields in 2019. Myles Garrett, DE, and Larry Ogunjobi, DT, Browns Third-year pros Garrett and Ogunjobi are hardly long-toothed veterans and both are coming off exceptional seasons. The addition of Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson, a dynamic veteran duo set to lineup alongside them in Cleveland’s four-man front, will make them even more dangerous. John Dorsey’s radical overhaul continued this spring as his Browns went above and beyond just stealing Beckham away. No team in the league can match the balance of pass-rushing power Cleveland will bring to the trenches behind a lineup that features four starters who combined for more than 30 sacks last fall. And now they’ll get more freedom than ever to baffle opposing linemen and quarterbacks thanks to the departure of rigid defensive coordinator Gregg Williams: “I hopefully have more freedom to be the player I want to be,” Garrett told the media after a minicamp practice in Cleveland. “[Former defensive coordinator and interim head coach] Gregg [Williams] was more like: ‘You win with these two moves. I don’t want to see anything else out of you.’ It’s kind of hard with two moves. I feel like you can’t always be so predictable.” Quarterbacks stepping up to avoid the edge pressure of Vernon and Garrett will only be pushed into the blocker-backpedaling force of Richardson and Ogunjobi. At 600 combined pounds, that pair will also be a hellacious combo to clear for runs up the middle. Their ability to absorb blockers should also create gaps for Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert to excel as high-yield linebackers. Pressure is going to burst through the Cleveland defensive front like a malfunctioning pressure cooker, and that chaos should lead to career bests across Freddie Kitchens’ roster.
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
Why each NFC South team will go over and under their Vegas win total in 2019
Vegas win totals are set for the 2019 season. With teams through their offseason workout program, it’s time to consider where each team will land. The true NFL offseason is officially upon us. Mandatory minicamp has come to a close and players from all 32 teams have gone their separate ways. Most players will get some vacation time in while continuing to work out in preparation for the return to training camp in late July. Once training camp arrives, the road to Super Bowl 54 begins in earnest. Each year, sports bettors are able to wager on where they think each team will finish up in the win column. Sportsbooks release a number for a team’s win total and you can bet over or under that number. If you land on the number, it’s a push, or tie. Below are win totals for the four teams in the NFC South. The number in parenthesis is the juice on the over and the under. For example, if you bet the over on 10.5 wins for the Saints, the payout is +120 (you bet $100 to win $120). If you bet the under, the payout is -140 (you bet $140 to win $100). That means the under is the favorite. Sportsbooks are not predicting each team will win the number of games on the win total. Rather, they are setting a number so that they can get a similar amount of money on both sides of the wager. They do not want an extensive liability on one side or the other since then they would be relying on a specific outcome. With even money on both sides of a wager, the house will profit more often than not. Now that roster overhauls are mostly complete and teams have finished up spring workouts, we took a few minutes to chat with site managers from each SB Nation team blog. They offered reasons why their team could end up over the win total and why their team could end up under the win total. The sites pay close attention to their teams and have more insight than your average national reporter. New Orleans Saints: 10.5 (+120, -140) — Canal Street Chronicles Why over: Drew Brees holds off Father Time for one more year and combines with an improving defense to make another playoff run. Brees has shown some signs of decline recently, notably in road games, but it’s not unreasonable to bet on him keeping it up for another year. He won’t have Mark Ingram in the backfield, but when healthy, Latavius Murray has been a solid complementary option. Also, don’t sleep on the addition of tight end Jared Cook and the further development of wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith. Meanwhile, the Saints have won 13 and 11 games the past two years in part because their defense has started to turn into one of the better in the league. The unit showed signs of growth last season, and the addition of rookie safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson gives them a chance to boost a secondary that struggled last season. Why under: Drew Brees showed some signs of deterioration in the second half of last season, and is a year older. The departures of center Max Unger (retirement) and Mark Ingram (free agency) only further add to the potential question marks. Second round pick Erik McCoy should slot in at starting center, but if he has some rookie hiccups, it could create problems for an offensive line that will also be moving on from Jermon Bushrod. Atlanta Falcons: 8.5 (-130, +110) — The Falcoholic Why over: The Falcons are loaded with talent and fixed their biggest weakness along the offensive line, and that’s the best reason to feel confident about their chances of hitting the over. They have one of the league’s scariest passing attacks, a deep, healthy running back group, and now a revamped offensive line. If the defense improves at all they’ll be lethal, but even if it doesn’t they ought to be a contender. Why under: The defensive line now features what feels like 20 guys duking it out for 8-9 spots, but only Grady Jarrett and maybe Takk McKinley profile as excellent options there. Atlanta’s done a lot to upgrade their depth but can still only afford an injury or two before the lights dim on that side of the ball, and it’s far from clear that the defensive front can bring enough heat on opposing quarterbacks. Carolina Panthers: 8 (-135, +115) — Cat Scratch Reader Why over: The Panthers would have won more than seven games last season if not for Cam Newton’s shoulder falling apart over the last month of the season. Carolina started 2018 on a 6-2 run and then came crashing back down to earth after their embarrassing loss to the Steelers on Thursday Night Football — the same night that Newton suffered the hit that injured his shoulder. What followed was an ugly losing streak of seven straight games that ended in Week 17 against a Saints team that really wasn’t trying too hard to win. Assuming Newton’s offseason shoulder surgery was successful and he can return to his pre-injury form, the Panthers should win more than eight games in 2019. Why under: Cam Newton underwent offseason shoulder surgery and there’s a chance that he’s not ready to go when the season starts. The Panthers drafted Will Grier as a backup option to groom for the future, but if Newton has to miss significant time in 2019 then the Panthers’ fate will be in the hands of either a third round rookie or a combination of Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke. The Panthers tried to use Allen and Heinicke at the end of 2018 and the results weren’t much to write home about, so it’s safe to assume that if Newton is out for an extended period in 2019, the Panthers won’t reach the eight win mark. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 6.5 (Even, -120) — Bucs Nation Why over: A new scheme and new coaches on defense might be what they’ve been missing. Moving on from Mike Smith to Todd Bowles is a big improvement in coaching. Personnel-wise, Tampa Bay’s secondary doesn’t look great, but Bowles’ presence and playcalling should help out. The loss of Jason Pierre-Paul will hurt their pass rush, but they might be able to put a band-aid over that wound by using Devin White and Lavonte David on blitzes up the middle. Offensively, they’ll need fewer turnovers from Jameis Winston, but it’s probably safe to say that won’t be happening this year. Instead, they can try to revamp a running game that finished 24th in DVOA and 31st in yards per carry. Ronald Jones needs to step up after a disappointing rookie year. If he can, he can form a nice duo with Peyton Barber. Why under: The defense is still really, really bad. Even with Bowles taking over as defensive coordinator, the Bucs still have an underwhelming secondary. Vernon Hargreaves and Ryan Smith are the longest tenured defensive backs on the teams and both of them were drafted in 2016. If Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh can mesh well together, the Bucs should have a nice interior duo, but they still don’t have any proven edge rushers following Jason Pierre-Paul’s injury. Their schedule isn’t looking too easy either. Even though the Bucs have a “last place” schedule, they still play against the Falcons, Saints, and Panthers twice. Oh yeah, and they have to play the Rams and Seahawks on the road, the Colts and Texans at home, and open the season against an improved 49ers squad. Ouch. They might not have the secondary talent to keep pace with those teams.
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
Rockets aren’t yet chopped, but they might be screwed
We have that and more in Tuesday’s NBA newsletter. ESPN’s Tim MacMahon dropped a gnarly story about drama amid the Houston Rockets on Monday. There’s a lot there, but the biggest use of the piece is probably as an origin story for a bad franchisee. Tilman Fertitta comes off as a little too involved in the day-to-day business of an otherwise well-run team. I wouldn’t say this story makes him look like the next Robert Sarver, but there are some Sarvarian vibes here. To wit: Fertitta has been airing laundry about his (rejected) offers to coach Mike D’Antoni, creating a rift through the violation of protocol (and the apparently insulting offers). He also got most defensive in the interview with MacMahon about not wanting to pay the vicious repeater tax and as such having Daryl Morey slide under the tax one year -- this year, as it turns out. If you get angry at accusations from the peanut gallery about being cheap in a year that, while competing for a title and running out of quality players, you traded a rotation player to get out of the tax, you need to look in the mirror. It’s fine to be pragmatic about the luxury tax. It’s a bad look to get so defensive and denialist about its impact. Own it. You’ll also be unsurprised to learn that James Harden and Chris Paul aren’t really loving life together, that the Rockets are regretting CP3’s massive contract (Fertitta is apparently openly discussing his regret in front of officials from other teams!), and that D’Antoni’s agent -- not D’Antoni, but his agent -- is most mad at the front office. (Imagine the reaction if you replace the name “Warren Legarie” with “Rich Paul” in this story ...) It’s a mess! And an inopportune mess, given that the Warriors seem destined for a down year without Kevin Durant and with Klay Thompson for just half the year. Houston should be gearing up to claim that championship. Instead, they are bickering about money and control of the ball. What a disappointment. Aussie Aussie Aussie Australia will now have two top-25 draft prospects in the National Basketball League next year as LaMelo Ball will be playing with the Illawara Hawks. He joins R.J. Hampton, the No. 5 recruit in this class, down under. The NBL has made an explicit push to nab one-and-done prospects who prefer to play professionally rather than go to college for a semester and a half. Terrence Ferguson was the pioneer among American high school players going to Australia instead of college, and now it’s officially a trend. With one-and-done winding down over the next few seasons, Australia will never become a true competitor with the NCAA, which still has the overwhelming majority of pro prospects. But it’s notable that the NBL is now beating the NBA G League at recruiting high-end high school graduates. The NBA has never really found a way to make the G League work as a holding ground for elite prospects who’d rather play professionally than go to school. It’s a real bummer. Links Find the perfect NBA draft prospect for your team with our personalized scouting report. Cool project. Hammered Norman Powell was the best part of the Raptors’ championship parade and rally. Kawhi breaking out his signature laugh was another top moment. But it was all overshadowed by a terrifying shooting that injured four people. I wrote about the rise of the mercenary NBA superstar. It’s time for the SB Nation Blogger Mock Draft! Three Pelicans decisions that could define the Zion Williamson era. Speaking of which, the Pels picked up a 2020-21 option on Alvin Gentry’s contract. Bomani Jones on the NBA, analytics, and race. Why R.J. Barrett makes sense as a Knick. Zach Lowe suggests the Anthony Davis trade could be the league’s most important trade of a veteran (not draft picks) since Kareem in 1975. Hard to argue with that. Kevin O’Connor on the Warriors’ future. Dan Devine asks what the Knicks do now. Be excellent to each other.
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
Rockies vs. Diamondbacks: Odds and series betting trends
The Colorado Rockies visit the Arizona Diamondbacks for a three-game series starting on Tuesday as small underdogs at sportsbooks for the opening contest. The Colorado Rockies are a perfect 5-0 in their last five games against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Rockies hope to extend that winning streak on Tuesday night when they take on the Diamondbacks in the first game of a three-game series. Colorado is a +115 road underdog on the MLB odds in Arizona at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Antonio Senzatela will take the mound for the Rockies squaring off against Merrill Kelly and the Diamondbacks as -135 home favorites. Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks When: Tuesday, June 18, 9:40 p.m. ET Where: Chase Field, Phoenix, Arizona Betting Line / Total: Arizona -135 / 9.5 Runs Rockies at Diamondbacks OddsShark Matchup Report Colorado Rockies Betting Notes Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, David Dahl and Trevor Story are all having fantastic seasons for the Rockies as the team ranks second only to the Minnesota Twins in runs per game (5.70) and team batting average (.271) this season. But despite possessing an elite offense, the Rockies are just 37-34 on the season and 4-5 over their last nine games. The culprit is the team’s pitching, which sits in 28th place in team ERA at 5.29 and dead last by a considerable margin in ERA among starting pitchers with a whopping 5.85 runs allowed per game. The desert heat in Arizona hasn’t bothered the Rockies as they are 6-1 in their last seven road games against the Diamondbacks per the OddsShark MLB Database. Arizona Diamondbacks Betting Notes Arizona has been extremely streaky this season, erasing a 6-9 start with a 14-4 run only to follow that up with a 10-19 slump. Since then, the Diamondbacks are back on track with an 8-3 record over their last 11 games, and the net result of all of these ups and downs is a middle-of-the-pack record of 38-35. The Diamondbacks rank seventh in the league in runs scored and ninth in team ERA, so they should be a playoff contender if they can find some consistency. Merrill Kelly has been brilliant in three May starts with a 3-0 record, a 0.81 ERA and a 0.63 WHIP. Rockies at Diamondbacks Betting Total Tuesday night’s total is set at 9.5 runs. The OVER is 6-2 in Arizona’s last eight games and 5-1 in Colorado’s last six. This should be a fun series between two hard-hitting NL rivals. It continues with projected pitching matchups of Jon Gray vs. Zack Greinke on Wednesday night and Jeff Hoffman vs. Robbie Ray on Thursday afternoon. For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
White Sox vs. Cubs: Odds and series betting trends
The Chicago Cubs hope to continue their recent success against the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night as home betting favorites for the series’ opening game. The Chicago Cubs are 7-2 in their last nine games against the Chicago White Sox. The Cubs will try to break out of their recent slump in a two-game series against their cross-town rivals starting on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field The Cubs are a -230 home favorite on the MLB odds in the Windy City Showdown at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Cole Hamels will get the start for the home team going up against Ivan Nova and the White Sox as +195 road underdogs. Chicago White Sox at Chicago Cubs When: Tuesday, June 18, 8:05 p.m. ET Where: Wrigley Field, Chicago, Illinois Betting Line / Total: Cubs -230 / OFF White Sox at Cubs OddsShark Matchup Report Chicago Cubs Betting Notes Over a disappointing seven-game road trip against the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers last week, the Cubs went 2-5 over seven games. This recent slump has allowed the Milwaukee Brewers to take over first place in the NL Central, but the Cubs are hoping to regain that lead over a 10-game homestand starting on Tuesday. Newly acquired closer Craig Kimbrel is starting a Triple-A assignment this week and should be ready to join the team next week. In their last seven games at home, the Cubs are 6-1 per the OddsShark MLB Database. The Cubs are also 6-2 in their last eight home games against the White Sox. Chicago White Sox Betting Notes After losing 100 games last season across a 62-100 campaign, the White Sox have been far more competitive in 2019 with a 34-36 record through their first 70 games. Chicago has a couple of exciting young players on offense to build around moving forward in Tim Anderson, who is batting .315 with 10 home runs, and Yoan Moncada, who is batting .294 with 12 home runs. And Lucas Giolito looks like a legitimate staff ace for years to come with a 2.22 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. The White Sox have lost two straight since going 5-1 over their previous six games. White Sox at Cubs Betting Total The total for this contest will be released by sportsbooks on Tuesday afternoon. The OVER is 4-2 in the last six meetings between the Cubs and White Sox. The Cubs are 10-3 in their last 13 games with Cole Hamels on the mound. This short series will wrap up on Wednesday when Giolito will get his first taste of this rivalry in a matchup against Jon Lester. For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
Norman Powell was the best part of the Raptors’ NBA Championship parade
“ALL SUMMER LOOOOONG!” Norman Powell is an NBA Champion after four years with the Toronto Raptors and if you wanted to know how long he’ll be partying for, here’s your answer: Norman Powell is super lit. pic.twitter.com/FTKqH8C6x9— Chris Walder (@WalderSports) June 17, 2019 Did you hear that? He said “ALL SUMMER LOOOOOOOOOONG.” That wasn’t all for our reserve scoring champ, who put on an absolute show on stage with TSN reporter Cabral Richards. After letting us know that the Raptors are NBA champs who will party [cue Norman voice] ALL SUMMER LONG, he poured out a full bottle of champagne on Richards’ head. No one is safe from Norman Powell pic.twitter.com/oL6YM1ScVc— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) June 17, 2019 The clincher? When Powell announced why he was pouring all that liquid on the dude’s head. “Payback for all them annoying interviews you’ve been doing.” Legend.
1 d
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
Christiane Endler wants her star performance to be a statement for Chilean women’s soccer
Meet Christiane Endler, the superstar goalkeeper who stonewalled the USWNT and raised her nation’s profile. PARIS, France — Even if you don’t regularly follow Chilean women’s soccer, at least one name will stick in your mind after this World Cup: Christiane Endler. Age 27, Endler steadily progressed through several clubs in Chile, England, and Spain before taking on the role of Paris Saint-Germain’s starting keeper. Thanks to her current gig, she began the tournament as one of Chile’s highest-profile players. After two group games, she’s shown that she’s the rock upon which many of her squad’s positive performances are built. Against the United States, she was monumental. “Christiane Endler, the Chilean goalkeeper performing miracles,” read one French headline. “A festival of stops,” read another. Chile goalkeeper Christiane Endler was on another level.Whilst they lost 3-0, it would have been a lot more if it wasn't for her.#CHI #FIFAWWC pic.twitter.com/KGh0Yluqx6— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) June 16, 2019 The stats demonstrate the media’s remarks weren’t mere hyperbole: 26 US attempts to Chile’s one, with nine shots on target and fifteen corners. Endler is officially credited with six saves on the night, but it feels like she made twice that, holding the United States at bay in the second half. She absolutely stonewalled Christen Press, and not for lack of trying on Press’ part. The United States won the game 3-0 having out-possessed their opponent 68 percent to 32 percent, and yet Endler still came away as player of the match. On Sunday night, the miracle-maker herself was last through the mixed zone in the bowels of Parc des Princes, nearly an hour after the final whistle. She clutched her Visa-branded Player of the Match trophy in one hand as she dutifully moved from interview to interview, first to the Chilean press, then the international journalists. She looked tired after her nonstop heroics in goal, her shoulders slightly slumped, but not defeated. Just quiet, ready for the night to be over, but not wanting to pass up the assembled media. For Chile’s WNT, unranked by FIFA in 2016 due to their own federation not scheduling games for the squad, there seems to be a sense that it needs to take every opportunity to put their story out into the news. “Always when you play today with the US, you have a bigger [platform] to show up, and if you do good, you can be known,” Endler says. “And for me it’s really important that everyone knows a little bit more about the women’s football in Chile, but it’s good for my career too. So they saw me and maybe in the future I can go and play [in the US]. Of course I have two more years here in Paris and I think this performance will help me here too.” Endler’s point about the United States boosting the profile of the teams they play is well-taken; many of the American headlines from the game mentioned Endler, and over the past couple of weeks, there have been a flurry of English-language news pieces about the Chilean womens’ struggle just to be allowed to compete as a national team. But what happens when the World Cup inevitably ends? When asked what can be done to continue the progress of the team, Endler called upon Chilean clubs to get on board. “I think it’s really important that in Chile, the clubs get involved with women’s football,” she says. “They are not investing in women’s football. Our league is not professional either, so it’s hard to be dedicated 100 percent to football. So when you come [to the World Cup], you notice the difference is too much. We are working for that. They are changing. We are getting better conditions to perform, but we are a few steps back from the others, from the USA. I think we are changing that, but it’s a little bit slow, and I hope in the future this is just the beginning of something better for us.” Endler also didn’t hesitate to say that FIFA needs to take a stronger hand in developing women’s football. “They give money for women’s football but the federations don’t use [that money] actually in women’s football,” she says. “So they have to be more strict with these kinds of things to be sure that the money is going in the right way. And of course if FIFA gives more importance to the women’s football, women’s football will grow up.” Helping to carry her team through a World Cup is a lot of pressure for a twenty-something player. Endler is aware of the expectations placed on her in particular, a natural consequence of her development into a top-tier goalkeeper. “I work really hard to be good today and the whole World Cup,” she says. “Of course you always want to do well. Sometimes you can do better or not. The first half, I think I could do better. But for me I have always to be a good starter for my team because I know that they need me and I want to give them the confidence to play a little bit more.” Surely Endler gave Chile as much confidence as she possibly could with her lights-out play. Her stone-cold denial of Press in particular was so good it could have been the start of a great professional beef, but Endler has nothing but respect for Press. “She’s so fast and she can shoot very strong,” Endler says. “She can shoot with the left or the right so you never know where she’s going to shoot. It’s hard. Good for me today that she can’t score, I think.” Endler grins at the gentle banter, then adds, “It’s nice to play against a great player always.” No doubt the Americans felt the same way about her. In the mixed zone, Press herself acknowledges it feels better, as a forward, to have great shots stopped by equally great saves, rather than putting up a bad performance with low quality or no chances. Given Endler’s remark about a potential future playing in the United States, it’s probable that she’ll continue confounding American forwards in the future. Chile has at least one more game to play in this World Cup, fighting for third place in Group F with Thailand, who is currently sitting at a minus-17 goal differential. That match is Endler’s best chance for a clean sheet, but there’s no doubt that whatever happens, fans will remember her name.
1 d
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
Why each AFC West team will go over and under their Vegas win total in 2019
Vegas win totals are set for the 2019 season. With teams through their offseason workout program, it’s time to consider where each team will land. The true NFL offseason is officially upon us. Mandatory minicamp has come to a close and players from all 32 teams have gone their separate ways. Most players will get some vacation time in while continuing to work out in preparation for the return to training camp in late July. Once training camp arrives, the road to Super Bowl 54 begins in earnest. Each year, sports bettors are able to wager on where they think each team will finish up in the win column. Sportsbooks release a number for a team’s win total and you can bet over or under that number. If you land on the number, it’s a push, or tie. Below are win totals for the four teams in the AFC West. The number in parenthesis is the juice on the over and the under. For example, if you bet the over on 10.5 wins for the Chiefs, the payout is +130 (you bet $100 to win $130). If you bet the under, the payout is -150 (you bet $150 to win $100). That means the under is the favorite. Sportsbooks are not predicting each team will win the number of games on the win total. Rather, they are setting a number so that they can get a similar amount of money on both sides of the wager. They do not want an extensive liability on one side or the other since then they would be relying on a specific outcome. With even money on both sides of a wager, the house will profit more often than not. Now that roster overhauls are mostly complete and teams have finished up spring workouts, we took a few minutes to chat with site managers from each SB Nation team blog. They offered reasons why their team could end up over the win total and why their team could end up under the win total. The sites pay close attention to their teams and have more insight than your average national reporter. Kansas City Chiefs: 10.5 (+130, -150) — Arrowhead Pride Why over: Since Andy Reid took over for the 2013 season, the Kansas City Chiefs have averaged 10.8 wins per season, including three seasons of 11 or more wins over the last four. During two of those 11-plus-win seasons, Alex Smith was the starting quarterback. Now, it’s Patrick Mahomes’ team, and if the reigning MVP’s name alone doesn’t give you enough confidence, Travis Kelce is expected to be ready to go by training camp after offseason ankle surgery. Kelce has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in each of the last three seasons. When people think of the Chiefs, they think of a good offense and a lousy defense, but there is an argument to be made that the defense might be better in 2019: the Chiefs went through a complete scheme change under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and added safety Tyrann Mathieu and defensive end Frank Clark to complement sack leader Chris Jones. If that trio can get the defense can get to average, 10.5 wins might be way low for Mahomes. Why under: I think we can all agree that Patrick Mahomes’ numbers in 2019 were silly. 50 touchdowns and more than 5,000 yards. I think we can also agree that although he’s no doubt arrived, the chances of repeating such wild numbers are slim (throwing for 50 touchdowns only happened twice before 2018). Mahomes is now without both running back Kareem Hunt and center Mitch Morse, and questions still surround Tyreek Hill as to whether he will be suspended for at least a portion of the season or released outright. Also, the Chiefs’ defense finished No. 31 in yards per game in 2019. It is hard to know what to expect with so many new players on that side of the football. Andy Reid has never finished with less than nine wins since coming to the Chiefs, but 10.5 wins, especially given the Chiefs’ schedule — they see the Bears, Colts and Patriots in addition to the AFC West — is a tall order. Los Angeles Chargers: 9.5 (-140, +120) — Bolts From The Blue Why over: The Chargers are only a few months removed from winning 12 games. They have retained all of their truly meaningful free agents. Then, in the 2019 NFL Draft, they somehow managed to luck into two of the best players at their respective positions — both at absolutely massive positions of need. Philip Rivers is another year older, granted, but he is coming off one of the better seasons of his entire career. The 2019 Chargers are simply a more talented squad than the 2018 Chargers and there is no reason to think they can’t win at least 10 games this season. Why under: While the Chiefs might possibly take a small step back with the loss of Tyreek Hill, the division as a whole looks to have gotten tougher. The Raiders and Broncos are both going to be tougher outs than they were a season ago. The Chargers still don’t have a true homefield advantage and on top of that they will once again travel more than almost any other NFL team. That has to eventually take its toll. Philip Rivers has been remarkably healthy for his entire career, but he continues to age and the offensive line continues to be manned by the likes of Sam Tevi and Dan Feeney. The entire offense falls apart without Rivers (yes, even with Tyrod Taylor) and at some point one has to think the “injury luck” runs out. Finally, much of last season’s success came from a dominating defense and it is a rarity for defensive success to completely carry over from year to year. A tougher division schedule combined with a simple regression toward the mean easily sees the Chargers falling below double-digit victories. Denver Broncos: 7 (-120, Even) — Mile High Report Why over: The Broncos won six games with Case Keenum at quarterback and Vance Joseph at head coach. You have to think the combo of Joe Flacco and Vic Fangio nets an extra win or two. Plus, the Broncos got better through both free agency and a very highly graded draft class. Why under: The biggest unknown is new Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello. If he is a bust, all the Broncos are left with are defensive play-callers to call an offense. That could end badly. Oakland Raiders: 6 (-130, +110) — Silver & Black Pride Why over: The only winning season the Raiders have had in the past 18 years was the season Derek Carr had the same offensive coordinator two consecutive seasons (2016). Carr also had the same top two receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. He also had arguably the best offensive line in football that season. Carr will be entering the second season in Jon Gruden’s complex offense and Gruden made his top priority this free agency to make Trent Brown the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history. He will also have probably his best starting receivers of his career in Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams Why under: The defense was historically bad last season. It still has no pass rush to speak of and drafted pass rushers often take a season to catch up to the NFL. Even Khalil Mack only had four sacks as a rookie. Carr may be more comfortable in the offense, but he must be comfortable with his protection to play well. Both tackle spots were an issue and they might have solved one of them, while still not knowing if Kolton Miller is the answer. Carr also lost his top target Jared Cook in free agency and former All Pro guard Kelechi Osemele. It’s hard to know what to expect from this offensive line now — even though it’s hard to imagine them giving up 52 sacks as they did last season.
1 d
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
3 big questions for the upcoming Pelicans’ Zion Williamson era
Now that they have the bounty of picks from Los Angeles, the Pelicans have options. When the New Orleans Pelicans leapfrogged six spots to land the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, they received the a golden ticket to selecting the 6’7,” 275-pound tank that is Zion Williamson. No longer were they the team tethered to Anthony Davis, strong-arming his way to Los Angeles by hook or by crook. With their luck of the ping pong ball draw, the Pelicans became a team with a new face. The question now is, how do they build around it? The good news is they have plenty of options, thanks to the bounty of prospects and future picks they received from the Lakers in the Davis trade. Williamson is a player the likes of which the NBA has never seen. He is of the LeBron James, Charles Barkley ilk, though his most superficial comparison has been to Rodney Rogers. He was the best player in college basketball history, a transcendent talent who will make the Pelicans more relevant than they ever dreamed after trading their best player ever to the Los Angeles Lakers. But to properly build around him, new Pelicans GM David Griffin must answer these three questions. 1. Is Jrue Holiday part of the future? “[Davis is] like 90 percent of the reason that I stayed,” Holiday told reporters in late January after Davis requested a trade. “He’s a talent that comes once in a generation. A 7-footer who can do everything at his skill level.” That talent is now gone and has been replaced by another. But what does it mean for New Orleans’ floor general? Holiday signed a five-year, $131 million contract in 2017, of which he has three years and $77.8 million remaining. He has proven to be one of the best two-way guards in the NBA, but he also just turned 29 years old. Keeping or trading Holiday sets the pace at which the Pelicans move forward. If they keep Holiday, they’re making a run for it right now. If they trade him, it’s safe to gather New Orleans is fully rebuilding around Williamson and is in no rush to do so overnight. There would be no shortage of suitors for Holiday on the market. The laundry list of teams that could use his services include Phoenix, Orlando, Detroit, Indiana, Minnesota, and Chicago. Or, Griffin could opt to keep Holiday and re-tool with a playoff-ready roster for Williamson’s rookie year. 2. To keep or not to keep pick No. 4 This year’s class is considered by many to be three players deep (Williamson, Ja Morant, R.J. Barrett), but there are always gems hidden in the pool. Jarrett Culver, De’Andre Hunter, Darius Garland, and Coby White are popular selections across multiple mock drafts after the first three picks, and the Pelicans would benefit from adding any one of those talents alongside Williamson for the long haul. But what are Griffin’s options if he’s not in love with any of those players? He has options, and they’re fun: The Pelicans could trade down. It took pick No. 5 and a future first-round pick for Dallas to move up two spots and select Luka Doncic in last year’s draft. What’s the price to move up to No. 4? The consensus has been this year’s class isn’t as loaded as last year’s. Are Nos. 8 and 10 from Atlanta enough to move into the top-5? New Orleans could use those picks to select Cam Reddish and Kevin Porter. That’s scary. Other trade partners could be the Celtics, armed with three first-round picks (Nos. 14, 20 and 22), and the Hornets, who sit at pick No. 12 but will have a very attractive unprotected first-rounder in 2020 should Kemba Walker leave Charlotte this summer. They could also trade the pick for current talent. This makes sense if Griffin and Pelicans brass decide to become competitive immediately. Does Holiday, Ingram, pick No. 4 and a future Lakers asset turn into Bradley Beal and No. 9? Did Gordon Hayward show enough to take a flyer the remaining two years, $67 million left on his deal? Could the Timberwolves interest the Pelicans in Andrew Wiggins and other pieces? What about someone like Olando’s Aaron Gordon, as The Bird Writes suggested. Or, of course, the Pelicans can keep the pick. They’d have their choice of Culver, Hunter, Garland, White or any other prospect available on the board. History has shown if you can’t assemble a super team in free agency, the best way to build a contender is through the draft. New Orleans has two of the first four picks in a top-heavy class that is expected to have sleepers scattered throughout. Keeping the pick wouldn’t be a mistake if a knock-your-socks-off trade isn’t on the table. 3. What kind of free agents will New Orleans pursue, and when? Williamson may have shown he’s not afraid to shoot the three in one season at Duke, but he didn’t exactly inspire confidence he’ll ever become a knock-down shooter, either. That means every other player on the floor needs to be a threat from distance, and that’s before New Orleans decides whether its plan is to win now or wait until the future, when all those Lakers draft picks come into play. With players like Williamson and Lonzo Ball, it only makes sense that the Pelicans be a fun-loving, running-and-gunning, high-flying team. With two dynamic play-makers in the open-court, New Orleans, not Los Angeles, could be the next Showtime team. How does Brandon Ingram fit into the picture once he returns from his Deep Vein Thrombosis? That’s on Griffin and Alvin Gentry to figure out. The Pelicans currently project to have $22.5 million in cap space to sign free agents this summer, plus their $4.5 million room mid-level exception. Their roster as currently constructed includes Holiday, Ball, Ingram, Josh Hart, Solomon Hill, and E’Twaun Moore. Building around Williamson’s strengths — play-making and finishing in transition, bullying defenders with brute force, and elite athleticism for a player his size — will be Griffin’s most important task. He can’t go wrong with adding shooters, especially ones who serve multiple purposes, like Brook Lopez and Terrence Ross. There are alternate realities that show different renditions of a New Orleans team built around Zion Williamson. One reality is a playoff-ready team, anchored by veterans giving Williamson the space to grow into a contender. The other is a young team, learning on the fly and having fun every step of the way. And then there’s the most likely path: somewhere in-between playoff contention and player development. That’s the luxury the Pelicans have due to the future Lakers picks coming their way. They can try to accelerate Williamson’s timetable in the short term and re-tool with a lot of future draft picks in the long-term. David Griffin’s Pelicans will be scrutinized every step of the way. Williamson is a player unlike the league has ever seen before. It’s Griffin’s job to build a winner around him.
1 d
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
The 4 big things that won Gary Woodland the U.S. Open
Woodland was already one of the best players in the world. This is how he secured his leap to the elite of the elite. Even by the standard of it being almost impossible to fluke into a professional golf tournament win, Gary Woodland’s U.S. Open victory at Pebble Beach wasn’t a fluke. Woodland spent four days staring down a fair but challenging course setup, and he played his 72 holes in an incredible 13-under to deny world No. 1 Brooks Koepka a three-peat. There’s no doubting Woodland was the best player along the Pacific all week. Woodland took the lead by the end of the second round and never got caught, though his lead dwindled to a stroke before he extended it to win by three on Sunday. These are the things Woodland did to make sure even the cyborg Koepka couldn’t catch him. 1. Devastatingly good approach shots Major champions tend to get remembered for making clutch putts and executing challenging touch shots around the greens. Woodland did both, but the biggest strength of his game here in Monterey was his approach shots. Woodland gained 2.09 strokes per round on the field via his approaches, per Data Golf. That was third-best in the field and the biggest source of Woodland’s gains on everybody else. He hit a few that qualified as “that shot might win him the U.S. Open!” shots, with the most prominent being this striped 3-wood at the par-5 14th hole on Sunday: Gary isn't scared. #USOpen #LexusGolf pic.twitter.com/ZI7BSWPwqt— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 17, 2019 That set up a short chip and fairly easy birdie to grow his lead on Kopeka to two, right when the two-time defending champ, playing a group ahead, seemed poised to catch him. “My caddie and I talked a lot about it,” Woodland said. “It would have been pretty easy to lay up there. And he even said it was a tough wedge shot. He gave me more confidence on that shot. I’ll give him all the credit. He’s the one that told me play aggressive.” Before that, Woodland had gotten his round rolling with a couple of birdies on par-4s at the second and third holes. One came after he spun an iron from 200 yards to 7 feet from the flagstick. The other came when he put a 97-yard wedge to 6 feet. Woodland hit 72 percent of his greens in regulation, better than anyone in the field except Koepka, who’s by far the best ball-striker in the world these days. 2. No big mistakes on the greens Woodland averaged 1.53 putts per hole, tied for 19th-best in the field. He didn’t sink many (emphasis on many) long ones, but he did avoid making a single three-putt all week. When you’re hitting greens more than anybody not named Koepka and then you’re not three-putting, you’re going to put up low numbers, and that’s what Woodland did. He made four bogeys in 72 holes at a U.S. Open, and I can’t believe those words as I’m typing them. All told, Woodland gained 1.79 strokes per round with his putting. It wasn’t quite as key as his approach game, but he was still fifth-best in the field there, and some of the putts he poured in were big-time. This 25-footer to walk off on the 18th hole will go down as one of the most memorable U.S. Open moments in a while ... WHAT A WAY TO FINISH!CONGRATS, GARY WOODLAND! #USOpen pic.twitter.com/aPyRmdPiCE— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 17, 2019 ... but other testers he made earlier in his Sunday round were even more important. He saved par with a 7.5-footer at the seventh and a 5.5 footer at the 10th to keep the field at bay when things were a lot closer than his two-shot lead on the final green. It was the putting, specifically, that separated Woodland from Koepka, who finished three back of the winner at 10-under. Koepka was the leader in Strokes Gained tee-to-green at plus-3.6 shots per round on the field, but he was just about average putting. His inability to birdie the par-5 18th while trailing Woodland by two shots ended the suspense. 3. Accuracy off the tee Maybe this point should go higher in this post, because the penalties for being in the rough at U.S. Opens are severe. But it’s worth noting that Woodland didn’t win the championship with his tee shots. He just avoided losing it, before winning on approaches and putts. Driving is the best feature of Woodland’s game, usually. He got himself to the No. 25 world ranking before this championship by driving the ball, for a long time, like a top-five player in the world. His career Strokes Gained numbers show that driving has been the most consistent part of his arsenal. At 309.1 yards, he’s hung out near the top of the PGA Tour leaderboard in driving distance (and driving Strokes Gained) this year. But Pebble’s a short course, at least by U.S. Open standards. He couldn’t just long-drive the field into submission. because it was only playing at about 7,100 yards. Everyone in the field can move the ball around a course like that. So it was vital that Woodland hit 40 of 56 fairways and that when he missed, he rarely missed by a lot. (The win moved Woodland to No. 12 in the world ranking.) 4. One icy chip shot When Woodland’s tee shot at the par-3 17th hole settled on the green but a mile away from the pin, he was in significant danger of losing his two-shot lead to Koepka. The defending champ was up ahead at the par-5 18th, which he didn’t birdie, but which he easily could’ve. A bogey for Woodland could’ve quickly led to a tie. It was a tense moment. Woodland was just a bit above average aroundthe greens for the week, but this iconic chip from the fringe wrapped up a par and made things feel over: Gary Woodland nearly holed the chip from ON THE GREEN! #USOpen pic.twitter.com/IWGxmVouf4— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 17, 2019 “Wasn’t too many options,” Woodland said. “If I putted it, I don’t think I could have got within 20 feet. You don’t win U.S. Opens without tapping into every part of your game. Woodland did.
1 d
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
7 of the most surprisingly athletic NFL players from the past 20 years
Just because you aren’t chiseled doesn’t mean you can’t ball in the NFL. No sporting event this year was as visibly jarring as heavyweight boxer Andy Ruiz getting a TKO against Anthony Joshua. Joshua looked like he was in peak physical condition while Ruiz confidently rocked the dad bod. Their contrasting physiques suggested that Joshua should’ve been the clear favorite, but Ruiz was the superior athlete in the ring. That got me thinking: which current or former NFL players didn’t look like an elite athlete, but played like one? Here are seven NFL players from the past two decades who were surprisingly athletic on the gridiron. Vince Wilfork Vince Wilfork has a pretty impressive athletic background, including holding a shotput record at the University of Miami. That helped him have a great NFL career that included five trips to the Pro Bowl and a memorable appearance on the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s “The Body Issue.” As a nose tackle, Wilfork didn’t get too many opportunities to show off that athleticism. Most of his time in the NFL was spent in the middle of the line of scrimmage, blowing up run plays. But when he did get a chance to make his own explosive plays, he made the most of it. Here’s just one example: Back in 2011, Wilfork pulled off a one-handed interception against Philip Rivers. Having the coordination to tip the ball back himself at 325 pounds is absurd. Wilfork may not look like he’d be able to do that, but surprises come in all shapes and sizes — even incredibly big sizes. Joe Flacco Joe Flacco probably isn’t the first name that comes to mind when you think about quarterbacks who can run the ball. Even though he’s no Lamar Jackson, he can quietly create big plays with his legs. Flacco ran a 4.84 40-yard dash at the 2008 NFL Combine, which isn’t slow by any means. He’s got the frame of a lumberjack at 6’6, 245 pounds, but he’s pretty spry when he gets into the open field. In 2013, Flacco had a 22-yard run against the Minnesota Vikings where he broke free from the pass rushers, dodged an incoming linebacker, and then scampered down the field — in the snow! (That should serve him well in Denver.) Flacco has recorded a run of 10 yards or longer in each of his 11 seasons, and he has the sixth-most rushing touchdowns among all quarterbacks since entering the league in 2008. Not bad for a guy who’s built like Paul Bunyan. Mike Tolbert When I originally asked this question on Twitter, former Panthers running back Mike Tolbert was a popular answer — and for good reason. At 5’9, 243 pounds during his NFL career, Tolbert was built like a can of soup, but he showed the balance and patience of a ballerina with the ball in his hands. He was particularly effective catching the ball during the Panthers’ 2015 season. He hauled in 18 passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns. No play exemplifies that more than his receiving touchdown against the Eagles that season. Tolbert caught a pass in the flat, bounced off of a tackle attempt, evaded another defender while he was pinned on the sideline, and powered his way into the end zone. Plays like that made Tolbert such a unique weapon during his 10-year career. He had the appearance of a pure blocking fullback, but he was able to do so much more than that. Jared Lorenzen This list would be useless without Jared Lorenzen making an appearance. Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images Lorenzen gained fame during his time as Kentucky’s starting quarterback. Even though he was much heavier than most quarterbacks — Pro Football Reference has him listed at 285 pounds — he was incredibly productive. He left Kentucky as the school’s all-time leader in passing yards in 2003, a distinction he still holds. What really made Lorenzen such an anomaly was his ability as a runner. He could really make defenses pay if he got out of the pocket. Lorenzen didn’t get much playing time in the NFL, but he did flash his mobility in a 2007 preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens as a member of the New York Giants. On third-and-7, Lorenzen scrambled for a first down and outraced the Ravens’ backups to the sideline. While Lorenzen only threw eight passes in his short career, he proved to be a valuable member of the scout team and still left his mark as a football legend. Larry Allen Larry Allen might be one of the freakiest athletes in the history of football. During the 1990s and early 2000s, Allen was a 335-pound offensive guard for the Dallas Cowboys, with the movement skills of a running back. One of Allen’s most memorable plays wasn’t a huge block that allowed Emmitt Smith to get loose for a touchdown. It was a tackle on an interception return against the Saints. After Darion Conner intercepted a deflected pass, it looked like he had a clear path for a pick-six. Allen hit the turbo button while he was in pursuit of Conner and tackled him along the sideline. 335 pounds shouldn’t be able to move like that. Joe Staley 49ers offensive tackle Joe Staley is another lineman who has some ridiculous highlights in the open field. On Alex Smith’s 28-yard quarterback sweep in the Divisional Round of the 2011 season, Staley raced down the field and made one hell of a block to clear the way for a touchdown. Just look at how he accelerates down the field. Staley ran a 4.79 40-yard dash at the 2007 NFL Combine — at 306 pounds! That second gear was fully on display for an iconic moment not just in 49ers history, but also for Staley himself, who has been a staple on the team’s offensive line for more than a decade. Troy Polamalu Part of what made Troy Polamalu a breathtaking player to watch is that he kind of looked like a normal dude. At 5’10 and 207 pounds, Polamalu was an average-sized safety — but one who ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. It’s hard to pick just one play that showcased Polamalu’s athleticism. The one-handed interception he had against the Titans in 2009 might be the best example because of the degree of difficulty. He was falling backward and still managed to catch the pass with one hand. Polamalu had rare instincts, coordination, and balance that really helped him as he hit the late stages of his career. In 2013, when he was 32 years old, Polamalu recorded five forced fumbles, two sacks, and two interceptions, including one he returned one for a touchdown. He retired after the following season and will likely be a Hall of Famer when he’s eligible in 2020. There’s nothing average about that.
1 d
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
Mike Leach gets weirder (and Washington State gets better) with age
2018 was supposed to be a setback year for Leach and Wazzu. It was anything but. Bill C’s annual preview series of every FBS team in college football continues. Catch up here! Each year, it seems Mike Leach becomes a little more Mike Leach. It’s been nearly 15 years since Leach started talking to his team about pirates and swords and nearly eight since he wrote a memoir with a pirate-themed title. Since, he’s moved on to writing a book about Geronimo (nearly five years ago now), lecturing anybody who will listen about sovereign immunity, endorsing a presidential candidate (only fair, since said candidate once endorsed him), and, most recently, teaching a course about warfare and tactics (in which an assignment is, naturally, to draw up football plays) and visiting the Middle East. It seems age makes an eccentric more of an eccentric, which, considering where the bar was originally set, is awfully impressive. But it also seems that age has made this eccentric football coach ... a better football coach. It really shouldn’t be like that. Thirty years ago, Leach and Hal Mumme, one of his first bosses, worked to create a revolutionary, pass-happy vision of football, and 22 years ago, when Mumme was named Kentucky’s head coach, they took it to major college football. In the years that followed, after Leach had embarked on his own career trail and Mumme had been fired from Kentucky, Mumme became something of a football gypsy, constantly working somewhere new — Southeastern Louisiana, New Mexico State, McMurry University, Bellhaven University, etc. His next gig will evidently be as an offensive coordinator in the XFL. When I reference Mumme now, it’s mostly in calling someone a “Hal Mumme type” — one who influences others who end up succeeding more than he does. (Hello, NFL Chip Kelly.) Leach, however, has held two football jobs in the last 20 years and won in both. And while Mumme’s tactical and/or leadership model began to wither under scrutiny, Leach gets better the longer he is in a job. He averaged seven wins over his first two seasons at Texas Tech, then 8.4 over his next five, then 9.3 over his last three. It took until his ninth year for him to break through to double-digit wins in Lubbock. At Wazzu, he did it in his seventh. He has pulled off something few coaches ever manage: four consecutive years of improvement. (This is neither here nor there, but hot damn, was Wazzu bad in 2008-09.) That this streak reached a fourth year is mind-blowing. There was reason, both football-based and not, to believe that Leach’s Cougars were due a setback last fall. He had briefly accepted the Tennessee head coaching job in December 2017, and it can be hard to win your players back after something like that. Plus, his staff experienced a drastic amount of churn, and he brought in nearly 10 new assistants, including a new defensive coordinator to replace Alex Grinch, an inspired hire and the new Oklahoma defensive coordinator. On top of all of that, his team (and its remaining staff) had to reckon with the death of a teammate in Tyler Hilinski. In last year’s preview, I wrote that the best-case scenario was that “Leach’s weird brand of steadiness could create normalcy where none should exist.” But I thought that would result in maybe a top-50 S&P+ ranking and seven wins or so. Instead, with a mustachioed grad transfer throwing to a pretty green receiving corps (among Wazzu’s 10 leading receivers, there were four freshmen and sophomores and one senior), the Cougs somehow improved by more than a touchdown per game offensively, and until the slightest of fades at the end of the year, Wazzu was in the S&P+ top 25. WSU dropped a controversial September decision to USC and suffered its annual Apple Cup loss to rival Washington (for all his strengths, Leach hasn’t figured out how to beat Chris Petersen yet) but swept the other 11 games. The Cougars beat Pac-12 South champion Utah, beat Oregon for the fourth straight year (and by double digits for the third straight), beat Stanford for the third straight year, survived a thrilling Alamo Bowl against Iowa State, and finished 10th in the AP poll, their best finish in 15 years. Whew. In terms of personnel and staffing, the turnover has been minimal this offseason. By comparison, anything would be. Leach snared another grad transfer — this time Gage Gubrud from nearby Eastern Washington — to potentially lead an offense that returns a vast majority of last year’s touches. His offensive line is experienced, as well, though his defense has been thinned out a bit. A fifth year of improvement feels like too much to ask, but, well, so did the fourth year. Offense When Gubrud originally committed to Washington State after three years at EWU, I was, for a moment, incredibly intrigued. Gubrud is an athletic dude — he did, after all, put up 99 non-sack rushing yards while throwing for 475 when the Eagles upset Leach’s Cougs back in 2016. Might he add a rushing element to the Leach attack?, I wondered. Might Leach use Gubrud’s athleticism in different—and then I stopped thinking and made fun of myself. Leach doesn’t change his offense. Leach’s system is and will always be based around throwing the ball more than everybody else in college football. While the average FBS team runs the ball about 60 percent of the time on standard downs, Wazzu ran just 32 percent of the time last year. While the average team runs about 35 percent of the time on passing downs, Wazzu ran 18 percent of the time. Might Gubrud be inclined to scramble a bit more here and there? Sure, maybe. But Leach isn’t changing a damn thing. Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images Gage Gubrud (8) Of course, we don’t know for sure that Gubrud will be the starter. Seniors Trey Tinsley and Anthony Gordon have both seen the field here and there, and four-star redshirt freshman Cammon Cooper is waiting his turn as well. Still, none of those guys have Gubrud’s track record. Despite missing parts of each of the last two seasons with injury, he’s still thrown for 9,984 career yards and 87 touchdowns. He’ll probably reach 10,000 yards within his first three throws of his seasons, and assuming he’s the starter, he’ll hit 100 touchdowns by mid-year at the latest. Still, if Gubrud gets hurt again (as he did this spring), the backups appear qualified. James Snook-USA TODAY Sports Dezmon Patmon The QB of choice will have one hell of a receiving corps at his disposal. Six players were targeted at least 66 times last season, and the only one who doesn’t return is running back James Williams. (Williams’ backup, Max Borghi, was also a member of the 66-Plus Club.) In Tay Martin, Borghi, and inside receiver Jamire Calvin, Wazzu boasts a nice set of efficiency guys. In Easop Winston Jr. and Dezmon Patmon, however, they’ve got the kind of proven vertical threats that make Leach’s air raid attack particularly difficult to stop. This is an efficiency-first attack in the same way that the triple option is, which means that containment and strong tackling are just about your only ways to get off the field. But when Wazzu is gashing you with big plays, too, there’s really no defensive solution beyond “hope desperately that you can get pressure on the QB quickly.” Almost no one is able to do that, either. Wazzu ranked first in the nation in sack rate allowed, a paltry 1.9 percent. Even on blitz downs (second-and-super-long, third-and-5 or more), opponents only dragged Minshew down for a loss 4.1 percent of the time (11th in FBS). Granted, all-conference left tackle Andre Dillard is gone, a first-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles. Still, right tackle Abraham Lucas returns after posting second-team all-conference honors as a freshman, and three other starters are back, too. The quick-passing nature of the offense keeps the QB’s jersey pretty clean, anyway, and a good line makes that job twice as hard. Defense When Leach hired Grinch, the defense’s improvement was remarkably linear. The Cougs improved from 97th to 77th in Def. S&P+ in 2015, then to 60th in 2016 and 30th in 2017. WSU’s 2017 offense was far less consistent than normal because of QB injuries and another young receiving corps, but the defense picked up the slack, and the Cougs won nine games all the same. Grinch left to become Ohio State co-coordinator after 2017, however, and Tracy Claeys’ first year as his replacement was marked by inconsistency. The good moments were still excellent — the Cougs held five opponents to 20 or fewer points (and, not surprisingly, went 5-0 in those games). But they gave up 7.3 yards per play and a 48 percent success rate in their two losses, and they got gashed by Oregon State (37 points, 6.5 yards per play), Stanford (38 points, 6.7 yards per play), and Iowa State (only 26 points, but 7.8 yards per play) as well. The pass defense was strong — 33rd in passing marginal efficiency, first in passing downs sack rate (if you fell behind the chains, your quarterback was getting hit) — but if you were decent at running the football, you didn’t have to pass. Wazzu was 115th in rushing marginal efficiency, and once you crossed into the red zone, the Cougs had no answers: they were 122nd in success rate between the 11 and 20 and 107th inside the 10. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images Willie Taylor III Continuity on the two-deep is at least decent this year. Seniors only made 38 percent of last year’s tackles, and of the 11 players to make at least 20 tackles, seven return. Plus, of the six players to record at least three sacks (Claeys’ pass rush was as diverse as it was effective), four are back: end Will Rodgers III and linebackers Dominick Silvels, Willie Taylor III, and Jahad Woods. None of them are seniors; Wazzu will be defined by its pass rush for a while. Of course, it might still be defined by poor run defense, too. Rodgers and end Nnamdi Oguayo return up front (so does sophomore Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei, who had 2.5 sacks among his 6.5 tackles), but last year’s top two defensive tackles do not. Only a couple of likely contributors weigh in over 280 pounds, and none topped 300 as of their latest weigh-in (290-pound sophomore Jesus Echevarria came the closest). For that matter, none of the major linebackers top 235. This is a speedy but light unit. Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports Jalen Thompson (34) The secondary doesn’t have much size either, but that’s less of a concern. Veteran safeties Skyler Thomas and Jalen Thompson (combined: four tackles for loss, four INTs, 10 pass breakups) return, as does corner Marcus Strong (two TFLs, three INTs, five PBUs). But depth has thinned considerably. No other returnee logged more than 6.5 tackles. That probably tells you why Leach signed four JUCO DBs. A couple will need to contribute immediately. Special Teams For three years, Leach had maybe the most consistently awful special teams unit in the country. Wazzu ranked 120th or worse in Special Teams S&P+ each year from 2014-16 but hopped to 79th in 2017 and sustained its gains last year (74th). Place-kicker Blake Mazza was scattershot as a freshman (only 6-for-9 on field goals under 40 yards but 4-for-6 over 40), but punter Oscar Draguicevich III was excellent, and Travel Harris was decent in kick returns. They’re all back. 2019 outlook 2019 Schedule & Projection Factors Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability 31-Aug New Mexico State 121 29.3 95% 7-Sep Northern Colorado NR 41.2 99% 13-Sep vs. Houston 73 8.6 69% 21-Sep UCLA 63 8.3 68% 28-Sep at Utah 17 -9.0 30% 12-Oct at Arizona State 49 0.5 51% 19-Oct Colorado 68 9.7 71% 26-Oct at Oregon 20 -7.4 33% 9-Nov at California 60 3.0 57% 16-Nov Stanford 32 1.3 53% 23-Nov Oregon State 105 20.8 89% 29-Nov at Washington 15 -11.3 26% Projected S&P+ Rk 36 Proj. Off. / Def. Rk 20 / 71 Projected wins 7.4 Five-Year S&P+ Rk 5.7 (49) 2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 61 2018 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 8 / 4.6 2018 TO Luck/Game +1.3 Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 61% (58%, 64%) 2018 Second-order wins (difference) 9.7 (1.3) Primarily because of turnover at quarterback and defensive back, Wazzu’s four-year run of improvement is projected to come to an end. The Cougs are projected to slip slightly to 36th. Yes, they were projected to slide last year and didn’t. Maybe they keep the streak going. Still, at 36th they’re projected favorites in nine of 12 games. Playing at Utah, Oregon, and Washington will likely cut short any hopes of winning the Pac-12 North, but there are still lots of wins on the table here. There’s no telling where Leach’s odd mind will take him next offseason or the one after that. But in-season, he’s coaching as well as he ever has. Team preview stats All 2019 preview data to date.
2 d
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
The rise of the mercenary NBA superstar
Stars switching teams has become completely normal, and now NBA teams aren’t expecting any guarantees. When the Boston Celtics traded picks and players for Kyrie Irving, they did not believe it would be a short-term rental. They saw Kyrie as a foundational piece for the next great Boston team. Yet as his contract ends in a couple of weeks, Irving is widely expected to leave in free agency. This specter has already affected the Celtics’ other potential moves, namely by keeping them on the sidelines of the Anthony Davis bidding war won by the Lakers. When the Toronto Raptors traded an All-Star and a prospect for Kawhi Leonard, they knew full well that it was likely to be a short-term rental — just one season — unless the franchise could somehow rally and, who knows, maybe win a championship? The Raptors did win a championship with Kawhi, and it seems like he still might leave in free agency. These aren’t totally unique situations. Jimmy Butler and/or Tobias Harris could walk away from the Sixers after Philadelphia traded for both of them this season. Kevin Durant could walk away from the Warriors even as everything went sideways when he ruptured his Achilles trying to help salvage Golden State’s three-peat attempt. Superstars have walked away from good, even great situations in the past. What Kawhi and Kyrie and the others are reinforcing is that in this era, contracts are just contracts. There’s little interest among the NBA’s best players to remain in one spot for a long period of time. Personal interest and desire reign over any prospect of continuity, permanence, and what forlorn skeptics might call loyalty. When you trade for a star on a contract these days, you are trading for that contract only. There’s no telling what the star will do when it ends, no matter what you do to stay in that star’s good graces. Loyalty from players has always been a weird concept in a league where trades are rampant. Call Kawhi a mercenary all you want, but just also acknowledge the mercenary fashion in which the Raptors dealt with and then dealt DeMar DeRozan. Every party in this high-stakes league puts themselves first. That’s probably how it ought to be, lest someone naive get taken advantage of. Criticize Kyrie for claiming he’d commit to Boston in the preseason, only to walk in July. But don’t let the Celtics escape similar critique for calling Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown their future while dangling them in trade talks. Everyone’s a mercenary now, and if everyone’s a mercenary, no one is. It’s just the facts of business in the new NBA. Frankly, it’s a more honest way of doing business than the fake loyalty of the past, Kyrie’s flip-flop excepted. No one can ever say that Kawhi misled them about his intentions. His camp has been brutally honest about the likelihood he’s sign a long-term contract with any team that traded for him in 2018. Even when asked in the moments following his second championship win last week, Kawhi maintained pokerface composure about his plans for the future and refused to get anyone’s hopes up. You have to respect it: he’s going to disappoint someone — probably either the Raptors or Clippers — but it will have been the fault of the disappointed. Kawhi has been transparent all along. When players sign multi-year contracts, they are getting the benefit of guaranteed salary — regardless of injury or performance — over a set period of time. The downside is that they lose their agency for that period of time, unless they take a Davisian heel turn and request a trade early. We’ve seen LeBron innovate on the NBA superstar contract multiple times: with the mini-max 13 years ago, and later the 1+1 contract. These are adjustments to the basic math here: the player risks some certainty in salary in exchange for recapturing his agency sooner. For LeBron, there’s never been a real financial risk: every team in the NBA would love to sign him for a max. There are few players at that level. Kevin Durant followed LeBron’s lead, and is now a test case for what happens when that backstop is required due to injury. We’re about to find out if it is really necessary — which would likely mean Durant opting into the +1 of his 1+1 deal for $31 million — or if it isn’t, with Durant signing a multi-year deal despite the Achilles rupture that will likely erase his 2019-20 season. Given all this, and that the Lakers know better than most teams what a mercenary league the NBA has become, it’s worth wondering just how committed Davis is to L.A. through thick or thin. He’s on a 1-year contract. He has stated his preference for the Lakers and to play with LeBron, and everyone — most especially the Lakers — seems convinced he will sign a new contract in 2020. But in today’s NBA, you just never know. Stranger things have happened. Just look around as the biggest free agents of this summer and you’ll see the evidence.
2 d
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
Vegas sportsbook took $10,000 Lakers bet three hours before Anthony Davis trade
Someone might have had a little bit of inside information about Saturday’s NBA madness. The Los Angeles Lakers turned the NBA on its head Saturday evening when they acquired Anthony Davis in a blockbuster trade with the New Orleans Pelicans. The Lakers dealt away Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and three first-round picks to pair the superstar forward with LeBron James. The trade sent shockwaves through the NBA and reinforced a new potential power structure in the league. Prior to the trade, the Westgate SuperBook installed the Lakers at 5/1 to win the 2019-2020 NBA title. They were the favorites, just ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers (both 6/1), primarily due to the potential for some kind of big name addition this offseason. They made that move on Saturday, but before the trade happened, a sports bettor showed some clairvoyance. Approximately three hours before the trade happened, someone placed a $10,000 wager on the Lakers to win the title. The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook just took a $10,000 bet on the Lakers at 5/1 to win the championship next season. The Lakers were already the favorites. Their odds have since been adjusted to 9/2.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) June 15, 2019 That wager improved the Lakers to 9/2, and the Davis trade improved them further to 3/1 — where they currently stand. They are followed by the Bucks at 6/1 and the Clippers at 7/1. Did the bettor know something about the trade ahead of time? We may never know, but whether he did or not, most casinos limit the action on futures bets because of this kind of thing. There are generally fewer limits on point spread and moneyline game bets, but title futures feature lower limits. The Westgate sets their win total limits at $50,000. Westgate executive Jeff Sherman told The Action Network, “I’m sure it was with knowledge, but that’s why we have liability limits in place.” Sports bettors are always on the hunt for inside information. You can find some edges on the injury report and with advanced analytics for a given game, but with futures bets, a single trade that nobody sees coming can swing odds considerably. A sportsbook looks to protect itself against unnecessary risk, and someone having inside information on the Anthony Davis trade is a notable risk. People might have access to inside information about an injury heading into an individual game, but there is more easy access to that kind of information through the injury report and extensive coverage of the major sports leagues. Additionally, with a line only set for a couple days for a given game in the NBA, or at most a week in the NFL, there is less time for much in the way of shenanigans. With futures bets, knowledge of a huge trade can make a big difference. The NBA in particular has become a league where a single big name move can change the balance of power across the league. The 2019 NBA Draft is just a few days away, which means there is a decent chance we see some more significant action in the coming days. The rest of the league will continue shuffling through trades, the draft, and free agency, but it’s safe to say you are no longer going to find hidden value in a Lakers NBA title bet. Here are your full 2020 NBA title odds following the Anthony Davis trade. Los Angeles Lakers: 3/1Milwaukee Bucks: 6/1Los Angeles Clippers: 7/1Houston Rockets: 8/1Toronto Raptors: 10/1Golden State Warriors: 12/1Philadelphia 76ers: 12/1Boston Celtics: 16/1Denver Nuggets: 16/1Oklahoma City Thunder: 20/1Brooklyn Nets: 25/1Utah Jazz: 30/1Portland Trailblazers: 30/1Dallas Mavericks: 40/1New York Knicks: 50/1San Antonio Spurs: 60/1Indiana Pacers: 60/1New Orleans Pelicans: 60/1Orlando Magic: 80/1Atlanta Hawks: 80/1Chicago Bulls: 100/1Sacramento Kings: 100/1Memphis Grizzlies: 100/1Phoenix Suns: 100/1Detroit Pistons: 200/1Charlotte Hornets: 200/1Miami Heat: 200/1Washington Wizards: 200/1Cleveland Cavaliers: 200/1Minnesota Timberwolves: 200/1
2 d
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
The Paris Metro might be *too* efficient if you’re there for the World Cup
If you’re visiting Paris, be prepared to be 15 minutes early to everything. PARIS, France — I used to have a problem with punctuality. Everything was always a race to be on time, usually ending with me at the entrance of my destination covered in sweat from sprinting the last five minutes. At some point I decided I couldn’t go on that way, so now I aim to get everywhere about 15 minutes early. When combined with the multitudinous inefficiencies in Boston’s public transit system, this attitude usually puts me right on time. It’s a hard habit to break, and I carried it over to my travels in Paris. My first few trips on the Metro, I added an extra 15 minutes to my transit app’s estimated travel time. I ended up everywhere half an hour early. Okay, so the app is more accurate than I thought. I tried to adjust, and began leaving at the time recommended by the app. I ended up everywhere 15 minutes early. Irrationally, this made me feel stupid, like some tourist rube who was afraid of the Metro and therefore overcompensating. I began playing it closer and closer to the vest. Sunday morning, I left after the recommended time on my app for brunch, convinced I’d have to make the old 5-minute dash to my destination. I was there 10 minutes early. Admittedly, it was Sunday, and much of Paris is borderline deserted on Sunday morning. Friends, it’s time for a spicy take about the capital city of our very hospitable World Cup host: the Paris Metro might be too good. I feel, at this point, that it is going to lure me into a cushion of comfort and then there will be some kind of stoppage, as there inevitably is in any transit system the size of Paris’, and I will be 30 minutes late for a press event or a dinner and everyone is going to think that I’m that woman who is always late. I don’t ever want to go back to the time when I was showing up to meet people I respect looking like I just played 90 minutes, asking for a moment and a glass of water before I could speak. I really didn’t think the trains in the City of Love would spur an existential crisis about the bad habits I overcame in my twenties. I’m the person who believes in punctuality, not the person who risks it all on the assumption the trains will continue to be excellent. Have I gotten too comfortable? Is this just the haze of living in Paris and becoming some kind of cosmopolitan European transit-taker against my will? They say it takes three weeks to establish a new habit, and I will be in Paris for longer than that. What if I return to Boston and this kind of louche behavior continues? Really, I think I’m just afraid to go back to the loud, dirty hole in the ground that is the MBTA. Sometimes I catch myself thinking, I could live here, mostly just after I’ve managed to successfully conduct a conversation with a shopkeeper at least 90 percent in French. Well, 80 percent. Okay 70%. But at least I can take the Metro really well.
2 d
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
Find the perfect prospect for your team in the 2019 NBA Draft
Tell us your team’s needs, and we’ll give you a custom draft board. Zion Wiliamson Zion Williamson turned into a worldwide phenomenon during his one-and-done season at Duke. His unprecedented combination of strength, agility, and athletic explosiveness would have been enough to make him a star on its own, but Williamson’s game is so much deeper than that. In putting together the most statistically dominant college season of the modern era, Williamson showed a refined skill set featuring incredible touch around the basket, a strong feel for the game, and an undeniable nose for the ball. In addition to being the greatest pure talent college basketball has seen in a long, long time, Williamson also proved to be a selfless teammate and natural leader. There is zero debate that Williamson is the best player in this NBA Draft. The only question is how he stacks up to the best prospects of the last decade. This is a future NBA superstar in every regard. Ja Morant Morant’s impossible rise from a mid-major recruit to the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft is a testament to his breathtaking talent. This is a point guard with elite athleticism who spent his sophomore year at Murray State collecting victims for his own personal highlight reel. While his dunks got most of the attention, Morant’s best skill is actually his passing vision. He led all of Division I in assist rate this season, whipping passes with either hand to unsuspecting teammates the moment the defense collapsed on him. While mostly projecting as a ball dominant guard, Morant is a high-level facilitator who will help his teammates reach their offensive potential. He’s also a developing shooter who was better from both the free throw line and three-point line than most give him credit for. Morant’s defense is a question mark, and he’ll have to prove his shooting from the NBA line. In the meantime, expect him to be one of the most exciting young players in the league. R.J. Barrett It wasn’t long ago that Barrett was considered the top prospect in this draft class. While his Duke teammate Zion Williamson almost immediately surpassed him in the eyes of scouts, Barrett still had an undeniably productive freshman season, averaging 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 4.3 assists in arguably the toughest conference in the country. This is an 18-year-old who will be ready for NBA physicality from Day 1. He projects as a volume scorer on the wing who can take his game to new levels if he improves his vision and decision-making. While Barrett put up big numbers, his shot selection came under heavy critique amid allegations of tunnel vision. He’ll also need to prove he can use his physicality to become a better defender. For now, Barrett is safe bet to be a productive scorer with room to grow in other areas. Jarrett Culver Culver’s breakout sophomore season was the biggest factor in Texas Tech’s shocking run to the national title game. The 6’6 wing brings all of the versatility that’s valued in today’s game: He’s a skilled finisher, a great help defender, a smart passer, and always seems to be in the right place at the right time on both ends of the floor. After playing primarily on the wing as a freshman, Culver became the Red Raiders’ de facto point guard this past season and proved to be an impressive creator off the dribble for himself and others. His jump shot remains a question mark, but Culver checks so many other boxes. Culver might lack takeover scoring ability and knock down shooting, but he makes up for it with a complete two-way skill set. More than anything, Culver just helps you win basketball games. Brandon Clarke No player enjoyed a bigger rise up draft boards this season than Brandon Clarke. A year ago at this time, Clarke was preparing to make his debut in a stacked Gonzaga front court after sitting out a year following a transfer from San Jose State. He quickly emerged as a defensive wrecking ball who gobbled up blocks at the rim and had the quickness to stay with guards on the perimeter. Offensively, Clarke was incredibly efficient, finishing with a sparkling 70 percent true shooting percentage mostly on the strength of dunks, put-backs, and short floaters around the rim. Clarke lacks ideal size for a center at 6’8 with proportional arms and a slim build. He’s also a rough outside shooter at this stage, though he has made progress over the last year. Put him next to a floor-stretching center and Clarke would be an incredibly effective glue guy who helps you win. Coby White White broke high school scoring records in the state of North Carolina before he became a Tar Heel. The question was how he would transition to point guard at the college level after taking over for a four-year starter in Joel Berry. The results were as good as anyone could have hoped. With White at the controls, UNC played played at its fastest tempo in the last 20 years and still finished with a top-10 offense in efficiency. White soared up on draft boards as a shifty 6’5 guard with refined scoring instincts who thrived on catch-and-shoot opportunities and showed upside as a pull-up shooter. He can take his game to new levels if he continues to improve as a playmaker for his teammates. Goga Bitadze The 6’11 center makes up for a lack of elite athleticism with a well-rounded skill set and impressive feel for the game. At 18 years old, he’s already been remarkably productive as a pro in his short career, winning Euroleague’s prestigious Rising Star Award this season. His feel for the game stands out on both ends of the floor, particularly with his defensive positioning and screen setting on offense. He’s a quality shooter and should be an NBA-caliber rebounder from Day 1. This is a traditional center will still be able to thrive in a changing NBA. P.J. Washington Washington blossomed as a three-point shooter during his sophomore year at Kentucky to unlock his lottery potential. After making just five three-pointers at a 23 percent clip as a freshman, Washington drained 33 triples on 42 percent of his attempts this past season. Already blessed with the length (7’2 wingspan) and strength to play in an NBA front court, he now has the skill to match his physicality. Washington’s quickness and newfound shooting strokes gives him great versatility. While he’ll likely spend most of his career at the four, he could see minutes at center in small ball lineups or even attempt to defend wings if his shooting continues to impress. This is a quality rebounder and capable shot blocker who can score efficiently out of the post or as a face-up attacker. He needs to continue to get more comfortable as a ball handler to fully unlock his upside. Bol Bol There has never been a college prospect with Bol’s combination of historic length and knockdown outside shooting. His 9’7 standing reach and 7’7 wingspan are equaled only by the likes of Rudy Gobert and Mo Bamba. He separates himself with incredible shot-making ability with range that extends beyond the NBA three-point line. Bol hit 52 percent of his threes at Oregon before a fractured navicular bone in his left foot ended his season after nine games. He also would have finished top 10 in the country in block rate if he played enough games. There remains serious questions about Bol’s frame, mobility, durability. Big men with a history of foot injuries are a scary proposition, especially when they lack the lateral quickness desired in today’s NBA. He also weighed in at only 208 pounds at the draft combine. Even still, his special physical gifts and ridiculous shooting touch give him star upside that is worth gambling on. De’Andre Hunter Hunter is a long and strong forward who shot 44 percent on three-pointers as a redshirt sophomore this past season. He was the star of Virginia’s national championship game victory over Texas Tech, winning the individual matchup against fellow top prospect Jarrett Culver by hitting several clutch shots late. While Hunter has a high floor as a 3-and-D wing, his upside is limited by his lack of creation ability off the dribble. He also posted curiously low block and steal rates given his defensive reputation. Hunter is a safe bet to be a productive, but his ceiling depends on the development of his ball handling ability and how he can fit into team-oriented defensive scheme. Darius Garland Garland played only five games for Vanderbilt before having season-ending meniscus surgery. Despite the small sample, he was able to establish himself as a possible top-five draft pick mostly off the strength of his pull-up shooting ability. Garland shot 48 percent from three at Vandy and has the type of range that should translate seamlessly to the NBA. He’s also a quick and shifty ball handler who can break down a defense at the point of attack. No defender will ever want to go under a screen when Garland has the ball. There will be questions over his lack of size (6’2), finishing, and defensive versatility. Garland had more turnovers than assists during his brief college career, which makes facilitating his biggest area of growth. If he proves to be a capable playmaker, taking him in the top five won’t look so risky. Cam Reddish Reddish drew comparisons to Paul George and Tracy McGrady as a high school recruit for his length, shooting ability, and defensive versatility. After an underwhelming and inefficient freshman season at Duke, it’s time to temper those expectations. While Reddish lacked the burst and feel for the game to have a sky-high ceiling, he should still have a long pro career for all the reasons that originally made him intriguing. He showed flashes of impressive shooting versatility this season and also made a habit of getting in the passing lanes for steals. Wings with his size and shooting will always have value. Nickeil Alexander-Walker Alexander-Walker is a 6’5 guard who can dribble, pass, and shoot. The Virginia Tech sophomore and cousin of Clippers guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander won’t blow you away with his athleticism, but he has the size to play either backcourt spot and a baseline competency at the game’s most important skills. His steal rate of 3.4 is among the highest of any projected first rounder. He also shot 78 percent from the foul line. Alexander-Walker could struggle to create off the dribble against the NBA’s biggest and strongest defenders, but his two-way versatility means he should have a long career whether he’s a starter or third guard who can give a team positive minutes off the bench. Grant Williams Williams might look like an undersized power forward without knockdown shooting ability at first glance, but a closer inspection reveals he’s one of the smartest and most well-rounded players in this year’s class. A two-time SEC Player of the Year, Williams is a powerfully built 6’7 forward who dominated college basketball. While his inside scoring might suffer as he jumps to the pros, he’ll still succeed because he’s a good passer, gifted help defender, and able to provide that type of supplemental rebounding and rim protection teams need to win. He can take his game to another level if he continues to develop as a shooter after hitting 32 percent of his attempts this season. The fact that Williams shot 82 percent from the foul line should give teams hope. Sekou Doumbouya Doumbouya is a 18-year-old French forward with the frame and athleticism NBA teams look for. At 6’9 with wide shoulders and long arms, Doumbouya is a ball of clay right now who is just growing into his body and his game despite already being a pro for multiple years. His outside shot started to make strides this season in France’s top league and he’s already showed the ability to finish plays in transition. Defensively, he has the tools to one day guard up to three positions, but remains unrefined in technique. Doumbouya still needs to improve his “feel for the game” which is tricky but not impossible for someone his age. He could be the first international player off the board in this draft. Chuma Okeke Okeke was putting together the game of his life in Auburn’s upset of North Carolina in the Sweet 16 when he tore his ACL. The team that drafts him will have to be patient, but could be richly rewarded with a two-way forward who seems like an ideal fit in the modern NBA. Okeke was only Auburn’s third leading scorer this season, but he contributes in so many other aspects of the game. The 6’8, 230-pound sophomore wing shot 39 percent from three-point range, put up huge block and steal rates on defense, and was effective crashing the offensive glass. He should make a positive impact defensively with the versatility to guard multiple positions early in his career. His two-year track record of being efficient on catch-and-shoot opportunities should also translate to the next level. Despite the injury, this could be one of the biggest sleepers in the draft. Jaxson Hayes Hayes exploded onto draft boards this season as a freshman center at Texas. After entering college as a four-star recruit without much draft hype, Hayes immediately impressed pro scouts with his length, quickness, and coordination. Hayes thrives running the floor and finishing at the rim with long strides and effective touch in the paint. He was immediately effective as a shot blocker, finishing top 10 in the country in block rate. His 7’3.5 wingspan makes him one of the longest prospects in this class. Hayes will need to add strength to his thin frame and continue to develop his skill set. Rebounding is his biggest area of improvement. He didn’t attempt a three-pointer this year at Texas but did hit 74 percent of his free throws. He projects as a run-and-jump big man who catches lobs and protects the rim. Kevin Porter It’s tough to know what to make of Porter after an up-and-down freshman season at USC. At his best, Porter was drawing top-10 hype as a 6’6 wing with an advanced scoring package. Porter had a habit of making tough shots look easy, using step-backs, pull-ups, and athletic up-and-unders as part of his arsenal. He also shot 41 percent from three-point range and surprised some scouts by putting up impressive block and steal rates defensively. For all of Porter’s talent, he never seemed to find his place on a USC team that finished a game under .500. Injuries limited him to 22 games and he was only seventh on his team in minutes per game. Porter wasn’t always a willing passer for the Trojans and also struggled with turnovers. He feels like one of the biggest boom-or-bust picks in this draft. Nassir Little Little entered the college season as a projected top-three pick only to see his stock slip as he struggled to find his role within a veteran North Carolina front court. Coming off the bench for the entire season, Little underwelmed with his three-point shot (27 percent) and posted a turnover rate that was nearly three times as high as his assist rate. He’ll need to learn to read the floor and make quick decisions if he’s ever going to fulfill the promise so many scouts saw him as a recruit. Despite a disappointing season, the 19-year-old still has upside for a variety of reasons. At 6’6, 225 pounds with a 7’1 wingspan, he has the ideal frame for a combo forward. He rebounded the ball well and has always had a reputation for playing with a high motor. He also shot 77 percent on free throws, which shows he still has potential as a shooter. Romeo Langford Langford was considered a top-five recruit entering college after a prodigious prep career where he set scoring records in the state of Indiana. His lone season for the hometown Hoosiers was a mixed bag, as Langford scored well but struggled with his three-point shot and saw his team miss the NCAA tournament. His NBA value will mostly be dependent on his ability to fix his jumper after shooting only 27 percent from behind the arc. If there is a mechanical change that can better his outside shot, Langford will suddenly look like an impressive prospect. He has a great frame for a shooting guard with a 6’11 wingspan and showcased soft touch inside the arc. He was particularly good as a pull-up shooter and on floaters. If Langford is still on the board as the draft hits the teens, he’s worth gambling on. Mfiondu Kabengele Kabengele never started a game for Florida State, but still led the team in scoring as a sophomore this season. The nephew of Dikembe Mutombo, Kabengele has a great frame for a front court player, measuring at 6’10, 255 pounds and with a 7’3 wingspan at the combine. His combination of strength and three-point shooting should be intriguing to teams at the middle or end of the first round. He shot 37 percent on threes, 76 percent on free throws, and finished with an impressive block rate of 8.3 percent. Kabengele is limited with the ball in his hands right now, posting only 21 assists combined over two seasons. He mostly scores on dunks or catch-and-shoot opportunities, but also thrives drawing fouls when attacking the basket. Talen Horton-Tucker Horton-Tucker has one of the most unique profiles of any player in the draft. At 6’4, 235 pounds with a 7’1 wingspan, THT has the frame to defend multiple positions and also posted impressive block and steal rates during his freshman season at Iowa State. His offensive skill set is unrefined, but intriguing. He can handle the ball in the open floor and had nine games this season with at least four assists. He struggled as a shooter, both from the three-point line (31 percent) and the foul line (62 percent). At the same time, he was able to get off three-point attempts at such an impressive volume that he could have major value if he makes a mechanical tweak to his shot. Horton-Tucker is also one of the youngest prospects in this draft, not turning 19 years old until November. Right now, he’s mostly a blank slate with great tools. He’ll need to find a patient team who is willing to develop him long-term. Cameron Johnson Johnson is one of the few seniors projected to go in the first round, but his combination of size and shooting can’t be ignored. A 6’9 combo forward, Johnson was one of the very best shooters in the country this season, hitting nearly 46 percent of his three-pointers. He should immediately have value as a catch-and-shoot threat for a team that needs floor spacing around a more dynamic shot creator. Johnson is limited as a ball handler and playmaker, but he did improve dramatically as a transition scorer this season. Teams will wonder if he can stay on the floor defensively given his lack of natural quickness. Tyler Herro Herro was an indispensable shooter in the backcourt for John Calipari during his freshman season at Kentucky. The 6’4 off guard scored efficiently on a variety of play types, thriving on spot-up opportunities and floaters in the half court while also emerging as a surprisingly effective transition threat. He was also the best free throw shooter in college basketball this season, hitting 93.5 percent of his attempts. He’s a better shooter than his 35 percent three-point percentage would indicate. Scouts will question Herro’s defense and his ability to create shots off the dribble. His 6’3 wingspan is the shortest of any player who measured at the combine. He also lacks ideal athleticism for a pro shooting guard. In an ideal scenario, Herro would develop into a feared shooter who can run off screens and attack closeouts like JJ Redick. Ty Jerome Jerome was the backbone of Virginia’s national title run this season as a 6’5 junior guard who can pass, shoot, and dribble. Jerome hit 40 percent of his threes this season and finished in the 99th percentile on spot-up shooting attempts, per Synergy Sports. He also was one of the better facilitators in the country, finishing in the top 50 in the country in assist rate. Jerome is not particularly quick or athletic, so scouts will question his ability to defend and create off the dribble. With the size to play either backcourt spot and a strong feel for the game, Jerome has a high floor as a potential third guard. Matisse Thybulle Thybulle has a case to be the best defensive prospect in this draft. The 6’5 senior was a wrecking ball in the middle of Washington’s zone defense this season, averaging 3.5 steals and 2.5 blocks per game. As a long and strong wing, Thybulle projects to be effective as a point-of-attack stopper but really shines by making plays as a help defender. His offensive skill set is unrefined, but Thybulle did finish well at the rim. Shooting remains his biggest weakness. Thybulle’s three-point volume was impressive this season but his accuracy from the behind the arc (30 percent) was not. A team towards the end of the first round will hope he can be a lockdown defender from Day 1 as his jumper develops. Luka Samanic Samanic flashed intriguing talent as a pro in Europe before impressing scouts at the NBA Draft combine in May. The 6’11 forward has improved his frame since first coming onto NBA radars in FIBA youth tournaments, no longer looking physically overmatched as he took the court at the combine. NBA teams will target him as a stretch shooter in the front court with a pretty stroke that features a high release point and quick motion. His defense, rebounding, and ability to score in transition will come under a microscope as a pro. Rui Hachimura Hachimura became one of the biggest stars in college basketball this season as a junior. He led a powerful Gonzaga team in scoring, showcasing impressive touch from mid-range and the physicality to finish near the basket. At 6’8, 230 pounds, he has the frame to play the four in the league if he continues to improve his volume as a three-point shooter after hitting 41 percent of his attempts this past year. Scouts question Hachimura’s feel for the game on both ends of the floor. He averaged more turnovers than assists and was often caught out of position on defense. Hachimura will receive plenty of attention from the moment he enters the league as the greatest Japanese basketball prospect ever. As long as he can limit his mistakes on each end, his shooting touch and physicality should give him a long career. Nic Claxton Claxton was a three-star recruit entering college who blossomed into a possible first-round pick after two years at Georgia. The 6’11 big man has elite quickness and movement skills for his position, projecting as a center who can switch screens and contest shots. He offers some rim protection ability after finishing in the top 75 in the country in block rate this past season, though he’ll need to add strength to his 220-pound frame. With a nearly 7’3 wingspan, he’s also one of the longest players in this class. Claxton can take his game to the next level if he continues to improve as a shooter. After hitting eight three-pointers as a freshman, he drained 18 threes this season, though only at a 28 percent clip. Until that happens, scouts will continue to question his physicality and touch as an inside scorer. Daniel Gafford Gafford was projected as a possible lottery pick a year ago, but chose to return to Arkansas for his sophomore season. While his stock slipped slightly as his numbers remained similar, there’s still a lot to like for NBA scouts. A 6’11 center with a 7’2 wingspan, Gafford tied Claxton for the best max vertical of any center at 36.5 inches. His shot blocking numbers fell slightly this year, but he still should make his money as a rim protector. Offensively, Gafford mostly scores on alley-oops and put-backs. He’s going to need to improve as a free throw shooter after never hitting better than 59 percent of his shots from the charity stripe during his two years in college.
2 d
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
Which NFL team can finally win its first Super Bowl this season?
Let’s all pretend for a moment that it won’t be the Patriots again. 2019 is the year of the first-timer. The St. Louis Blues won their first Stanley Cup. The Toronto Raptors won their first NBA title. And, not long after the NFL’s regular season comes to an end, the Cleveland Browns will win their first Super Bowl. Or the Houston Texans. Or the Los Angeles Chargers. Or maybe the Minnesota Vikings. There are a dozen NFL franchises without a banner to hang in their stadiums or a Lombardi Trophy to host in their fanciest meeting rooms. If the current Big 4 sports trend holds, one of them will be hosting a parade in their honor come February 2020. Here they are, sorted by their chances to finally win the big one next winter. Probably not Arizona Cardinals Cincinnati Bengals Detroit Lions The Cardinals are breaking in a rookie head coach and a rookie first-round quarterback for the second straight year, somehow. If they win six games this season they’ll: a) improve on last season’s record by 100 percent, andb) match the number of wins Kliff Kingsbury had against non-Kansas Big 12 competition in his last three seasons at Texas Tech. The Bengals will be better if they can coax full seasons from Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, but this still looks like an extremely Marvin Lewis team despite the absence of Marvin Lewis. The Lions beat the eventual Super Bowl champions last season and finally got a 100-yard rushing performance from one of their tailbacks. Those are about the highlights of their 2018, though, so it’s going to take a journey to even get back to the playoffs in 2019. Hooo boy, it’d take some leaps Jacksonville Jaguars Buffalo Bills Remember when the Jags were one quarter away from a Super Bowl appearance? That was less than two years ago! This season, Jacksonville will blend a championship-caliber defense with Super Bowl 52 MVP Nick Foles and quite possibly the league’s least inspiring lineup of skill players. 2019 is the year Foles has to prove he can be good outside of Philadelphia — and that his mid-career slump was a function of Jeff Fisher’s soul-sucking gravity. The Bills had a quietly great offseason, surrounding second-year quarterback Josh Allen with an array of the kind of free agent targets who can be lured to western New York following a six-win season: Cole Beasley, John Brown, Tyler Kroft, and the immortal Frank Gore. They’ll play against the backdrop of one of the league’s top defenses in 2018: While Pro Bowl veteran Kyle Williams is gone, the team got an A-level replacement in first-round draft pick Ed Oliver. Buffalo’s got the chops to outperform expectations — though by how much will come down to how well Allen puts an inaccurate rookie campaign in his rear view. I could be convinced Carolina Panthers Tennessee Titans Since 2013, the Panthers have had winning seasons in years ending in odd numbers and losing seasons in years ending in even ones. 2019 falls into the former category, and it seems like a prove-it season for Cam Newton after an injury-filled and underwhelming 2018. He’s still lacking for targets beyond Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore, but Carolina worked hard to beef up both sides of its line (signing Matt Paradis, Gerald McCoy, re-signing Daryl Williams, and drafting Greg Little) to spark an odd-year resurgence. The Titans fielded the league’s third-best scoring defense last fall and had that squandered by an impotent offense that faltered behind an injured Marcus Mariota. 2019 is the former Heisman winner’s make-good season since he’s due to hit free agency next spring, and that could coax a major performance from him. Factor in the growth of young playmakers like Derrick Henry and Corey Davis, along with new additions Adam Humphries and A.J. Brown, and you can see an emerging offense that could stay afloat in the suddenly competitive AFC South. Actual, legitimate contenders Atlanta Falcons Minnesota Vikings Houston Texans Cleveland Browns Atlanta’s quest to return to the postseason in 2018 was derailed by injuries that seemed to affect every single defensive starter. That snapped a budding two-year postseason streak for a team that combines the league’s most lethal combination of quarterback and wide receivers. If a healthy defense can snap back to life this year, the Falcons will be in the running to unseat the Saints in the NFC South. Of course, since this is the team that once blew a 28-3 lead in the third quarter of the Super Bowl, expecting nice things may be a bridge too far. That latter theory applies to the Vikings, too: With the St. Louis Blues winning the Stanley Cup last night, the #Bengals move into fourth place on the list of oldest franchises in the 4 major sports without a title.Texas Rangers -- 1961Minnesota Vikings -- 1961Atlanta Falcons -- 1965Bengals -- 1968— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonATH) June 13, 2019 The Vikes used last season’s upgrade from Case Keenum to Kirk Cousins as quarterback to regress from 13 wins to eight. Minnesota tried its hardest to buttress the cheesecloth offensive line that allowed Cousins to be sacked 40 times last season by drafting interior linemen Garrett Bradbury and Dru Samia while signing former Titan Josh Kline. How much of an impact they’ll have in 2019 is up in the air, though. The Vikings could win anywhere from six to 14 games and it wouldn’t be terribly surprising either way. The Texans finished the 2018 season on an 11-2 heater while getting MVP-caliber play from a 23-year-old Deshaun Watson. While a suspect secondary and unfearsome offensive backfield are legitimate flaws, 2019 could mark the first time in franchise history Houston escapes past the Divisional Round of the postseason. Or it could be a disaster portended by a post-draft firing of its general manager after only a single season, the tampering accusations lobbed by the Patriots in their quest to find his replacement, and the possible holdout of pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney. Cleveland is the most popular pick to win the AFC North thanks to the offensive surge that made, in order: a) Baker Mayfield a Rookie of the Year candidate (he lost to Saquon Barkley)b) the Browns an eight-loss team (their fewest since 2007 ... good lord)c) interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens Cleveland’s newest head coach. General manager John Dorsey rode that momentum into a showcase offseason by freeing Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon from the Giants and adding players like Sheldon Richardson and Morgan Burnett in free agency. That’s the roster of a Super Bowl contender — they just have to escape the Browns-ness of it all to get there. There’s a tremendous burden of expectation heaped on a team that’s so often been the league’s doormat, and there already appears to be dissent fomenting in northeastern Ohio. The most likely champion (from this group) Los Angeles Chargers LA fits the profile of a champion, even if it’s been more than two decades since the club’s last Super Bowl appearance. The Chargers have a veteran quarterback still playing at a high level in Philip Rivers, who recorded one of the most efficient seasons of his career last fall. They’ve got a bevy of skill players — Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry — who can be game-changing threats as long as they can fend off injury. Their defensive holes have help on the way thanks to a hopefully healthy Joey Bosa (only seven games in 2018) and 2019 first-round pick Jerry Tillery in front of one of the league’s top secondaries. And they stopped the Ravens’ momentum in its tracks in a playoff game back in January. Los Angeles also has a problem; the team’s postseason resume is a disaster. Its lone Super Bowl trip ended in a 49-26 clunker against the 49ers. Rivers has a 5-6 record in the playoffs and a passer rating (84.2) that lines up closely with Case Keenum’s career mark. And if he has to face Bill Belichick, his body and brain malfunction in ways difficult for the human mind to grasp (0-3, four interceptions and a fumble against the Patriots in his playoff career). And yet, the Chargers feel due. Defensive end Melvin Ingram, a man who should feast if he’s bookended by Bosa for 16 games this year, is into it. “We’re definitely going to win the Super Bowl,” Ingram told reporters at LA’s minicamp. “Still ASAP — Any Squad Any Place. That’s what we’re about.” Of course, this perpetually snakebit team could also wind up devastated by injuries while winning seven games as Rivers tries to heroically play through two broken legs. It is the Chargers, after all.
2 d
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
Why each NFC North team will go over and under their Vegas win total in 2019
Vegas win totals are set for the 2019 season. With teams through their offseason workout program, it’s time to consider where each team will land. The true NFL offseason is officially upon us. Mandatory minicamp has come to a close and players from all 32 teams have gone their separate ways. Most players will get some vacation time in while continuing to work out in preparation for the return to training camp in late July. Once training camp arrives, the road to Super Bowl 54 begins in earnest. Each year, sports bettors are able to wager on where they think each team will finish up in the win column. Sportsbooks release a number for a team’s win total and you can bet over or under that number. If you land on the number, it’s a push, or tie. Below are win totals for the four teams in the NFC North. The number in parenthesis is the juice on the over and the under. For example, if you bet the over on nine wins for the Bears, the payout is -130 (you bet $130 to win $100). If you bet the under, the payout is +110 (you bet $100 to win $110). That means the over is the favorite. Sportsbooks are not predicting each team will win the number of games on the win total. Rather, they are setting a number so that they can get a similar amount of money on both sides of the wager. They do not want an extensive liability on one side or the other since then they would be relying on a specific outcome. With even money on both sides of a wager, the house will profit more often than not. Now that roster overhauls are mostly complete and teams have finished up spring workouts, we took a few minutes to chat with site managers from each SB Nation team blog. They offered reasons why their team could end up over the win total and why their team could end up under the win total. The sites pay close attention to their teams and have more insight than your average national reporter. Chicago Bears: 9 (-130, +110) — Windy City Gridiron Why over: The Bears were 12-4 a year ago while working in a brand new offense with several brand new skill players. The year two bump of the Matt Nagy offense will be enough to counteract whatever minimal dropoff (if it drops off) that the defense may face from losing defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Why under: Severe injuries would be the only thing that could have the Bears coming in under nine wins. Green Bay Packers: 9 (-120, even) — Acme Packing Company Why over: The Packers’ now-infamously antiquated offense under Mike McCarthy is gone. In comes Matt LaFleur, who intends to jolt this unit back to life with plenty of new concepts and a heavy dose of the running game. Combine that with a healthy, motivated Aaron Rodgers and a defense that got a major facelift in free agency and the draft and you have a team that should be right in contention for an NFC North title once again. Why under: Success this year depends on Rodgers staying healthy and developing a connection with and faith in LaFleur. In addition, the Packers chose not to invest significantly in Rodgers’ receiving corps for 2019, meaning they will be relying heavily on the development of several young, unproven players. If any of those factors go against Green Bay and the team gets off to a slow start, a tough middle of the schedule could keep them from getting back over .500. Minnesota Vikings: 9 (-110, -110) — Daily Norseman Why over: Because the Vikings went into this offseason with one mission, that being to fix the offensive line. Between the hiring of coaches Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison, the signing of Josh Kline, and the drafting of Garrett Bradbury and Dru Samia, it appears that the Vikings have done that. The Vikings’ offensive line doesn’t have to be a top five offensive line. If they can even get to league average, this team has enough talent to be well over the nine wins that the books are putting them on. The defensive talent is still there and the offense should be better under Kirk Cousins in year two. Why under: If the offensive line doesn’t get any better than they were last year, then the offense is going to have the same issues. They’re not going to be able to run the ball the way that Mike Zimmer wants, and that’s going to lead to the offense stalling out and Kirk Cousins being under siege once again. A rash of injuries on the defensive side of the ball could play a role in pushing the Vikings under that nine-win mark as well. Detroit Lions: 6.5 (-125, +105) — Pride of Detroit Why over: The Detroit Lions showed some improvement on defense toward the end of last year, and now they have a full defensive roster to Matt Patricia’s liking. Detroit hit six wins in one of Matthew Stafford’s worst seasons and a scheme-transition year on defense, so adding at least one more win should be this team’s floor in 2019. Why under: The Lions’ offense is a huge question mark. They downgraded from Golden Tate to Danny Amendola. They’re making a questionable decision to focus more on the running game when passing offenses rule this era. And it always takes time to adjust to a new offensive scheme. The Lions’ offense could get off to a slow start, and that happens to be the toughest stretch of their schedule.
2 d
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
Pebble Beach made for a pretty much perfect U.S. Open
For the first time in a long time, the national championship offered nothing to complain about. The 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach will go down as the moment Gary Woodland jumped from one of the best golfers in the world to one of the best golfers in the world. He finished up at Pebble Beach at 13-under for the week, which was enough to become the first and only guy to beat Brooks Koepka in the last three years of national championships. But the tournament will go down as something else, too: as the perfect example of what the U.S. Open can be when it gets its venue and setup exactly right. The U.S. Open has long been golf’s most complained-about tournament. But the 2019 version left even its harshest critics little to be mad about. Industry criticism of this particular championship goes back generations. So many U.S. Opens are remembered as much for players being mad about them as playing well in them. This has been going on for at least 50 years and probably longer. Some retro hits: In 1970, the tournament was at Hazeltine, one of famed architect Robert Trent Jones’ courses. In the middle of the championship, while he was leading, Dave Hill said of the track: “They ruined a good farm when they built this place. All it needs are a few cows and 80 acres of corn.” He said they should plow over the whole course. In 1974, Hale Irwin won at 7-over. The event earned the nickname The Massacre at Winged Foot, with players all over the field telling horror stories about the course’s rough. In 2004, the USGA didn’t properly water down Shinnecock Hills ahead of Sunday, leading to greens that were so fast they ensured only two players finished the week in red numbers. In 2007, Phil Mickelson and others were furious with the thickness of the rough at Oakmont. Mickelson, upon missing the cut, called the course “dangerous.” In 2010, the last time the tournament was at Pebble Beach, Tiger Woods called the greens “just awful.” Ryan Moore delivered an all-timer of an anti-USGA screed. When a reporter asked him if he’d play another U.S. Open, Moore replied: “Probably, just to torture myself. I get angry, and it makes me hate golf for about two months, and then I’m OK again.” In the half-decade leading up to the tournament’s return to Pebble Beach, new issues popped up every tournament — some around course setup, others around rules. In 2015, Chambers Bay was so baked out that the U.S. Open barely resembled a golf tournament. In 2016, the Dustin Johnson moving-ball controversy at Oakmont created Sunday leaderboard uncertainty that lasted over an hour. In 2017, Erin Hills was so easy that legions of people who’d criticized the USGA for making U.S. Opens too hard went the other way. (Brooks Koepka’s 16-under tied for the lowest score to par in tournament history. In 2018, Shinnecock created problems again, with high winds and a dry course leading to Saturday carnage and again infuriating the pros. That year included Mickelson intentionally putting a moving ball, maybe (read: probably) to spite the UGSA. The criticisms leveled at the USGA over the years have varied in their fairness, and your view of the organization probably depends on how much you care what the winning score is in relation to par. I don’t personally care whether the U.S. Open winner is 20-under or 20-over, so I don’t care much about USGA course setups as long as they’re safe. But no matter what your course design fancy is, the 2019 championship was likely cool with you. Pebble Beach turned out to be the perfect mix of impossible and possible. It was exactly the kind of “test of golf” the USGA always says it wants. Every course setup takes and gives, but few do so as inherently and as well as Pebble Beach. It starts right away. Wanna hit driver on the 386-yard, par-4 first? It’s gettable in a way few par-4s at U.S. Open courses ever are, but it’s also tight, with out-of-bounds markers hugging the fairway on both sides. Most players hit iron instead, including Woodland, who birdied it on Friday and otherwise made stress-free pars there every day. Wanna attack the pin at the 100ish-yard seventh, the iconic hole at the edge of the world? Do it, but you can’t if the pin is placed at the very front of the green, at the bottom of a downslope that would send your ball bouncing into a back bunker. On Saturday, that’s where the pin was. Only 20 players birdied it, before the pin moved back and 28 made birdie on Sunday. Even on that exceptionally short hole, red numbers were at a premium. Wanna make up ground on the course’s most gettable holes? The four easiest this week, statistically, were the par-5 sixth, par-4 fourth, that par-3 seventh, and the par-5 18th? That’s smart, but the Pacific Ocean’s in play on all of them, making ambitious shots at least a little bit risky even for the most locked-in pros. Almost every green here is tiny, and hitting them means succeeding in some challenging target practice. But it also means going to the middle provides a birdie look more often than not. As long as the greens aren’t so fast that the best players in the world can’t hold them, there’s little to complain about. That might’ve been the case in 2010, when Graeme McDowell won at even par, but it wasn’t the case in Woodland’s win. “It just puts a real premium on the shots required by the players,” Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director for rules and open championships, told me beforehand. “The targets become very small. You talk to players, they’ll probably say, ‘Jeez, I can put the ball in the middle of every putting green four days in a row, I’m gonna have really good chances to make birdies.’” In the end, that’s how Woodland won. The champion wasn’t bad at anything, but he only stood out in two areas: approach shots and putting. He was third in the field in Strokes Gained on approach, averaging a gain of 2.1 shots per round on the field. He gained another 1.8 putting, compared to only about half a shot per round gained off the tee and chipping/pitching. The most iconic shot of Woodland’s day was a vicious 3-wood from the fairway on the par-5 14th from 263 yards out to set up a short chip and birdie. Gary isn't scared. #USOpen #LexusGolf pic.twitter.com/ZI7BSWPwqt— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 17, 2019 (Woodland also hit a brilliant chip from the fringe to save par on the 17th, but his lead was safer then, and he later said the shot at the 14th gave him the confidence for that chip.) In past years, the USGA’s taken flack for setting up courses in ways that turned out to be tricky, not just challenging. Mike Davis, the organization’s CEO, acknowledged after 2018’s Saturday bloodbath at Shinnecock that “well-executed shots were not only not rewarded, they were penalized.” At Pebble, the requirements were clear and doable: Hit the ball onto these outlandishly tiny greens, and then go get your birdies, like Woodland did. The course was fair the whole time. That shouldn’t be mistaken for easy. The fairways were firm but didn’t resemble concrete. The greens were fast but still receptive to descending golf balls. If you strolled near any green at Pebble over the weekend, you heard that hollow thudding sound a ball is supposed to make when it lands on a green. (Andy Johnson sums it up well here.) Maybe the best thing about the course was how it forced the best players in the world to think their way around it. Most of Pebble’s greens slope back toward the fairways, and players had to think their way around the place to avoid having brutal downhill putts. “It just takes a little bit of concentration because there’s some shots where you need to land the ball 10 yards short of the pin and some holes, like back into the wind, it might only be 3 or 4 yards,” Rory McIlroy said after his Saturday round. “But you can’t go firing at pins because you’re going to one-hop it over the back all day.” 13-under might be low for your U.S. Open taste, but it was a product of elite shot-making, not a setup that guaranteed anyone would finish that far below par. The course was so good that Mickelson, of all people, called it “perfect.” “Yeah, it’s perfect,” he told reporters after he finished up his Sunday round at 4-over for the week, which would eventually tie him for 52nd. “It’s a perfect hard test. When you struggle a little bit or if you pull shots like I did, it’s very penalizing. And the guys that are playing well, it gives them a chance to separate and make some birdies and reward great shots. It was perfectly done and I’m just so excited to see — to go watch our national championship.” Any U.S. Open needs three things be its best: 1) a stunning setting, 2) a chance for the best golfers in the world to self-destruct, and 3) a chance for those same golfers to put on a master class. Pebble Beach provided all three.
2 d
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
Lonzo Ball has a second chance
We have that and more in Monday’s NBA newsletter. There are a whole bunch of winners in the Anthony Davis trade, and you’d have to rank LeBron James, Davis himself, and various Lakers executives as the top winners. But Lonzo Ball is right up there. He goes from a tough situation caddying for one of the GOATs to partnering with a next-generation superstar. This is really and truly a second chance to make a strong impression on the league, two years out from free agency and a year before he can sign a rookie extension. Whether Lonzo is a good prospect is one of the most hotly contested questions among NBA fans and analysts. We have trouble grading out point guards. We have trouble agreeing on the value of non-scorers. I mean, look at the discourse on Kyle Lowry before he became an NBA champion! Lonzo shoots quite poorly -- 33 percent on threes, 42 percent on free throws, 32 percent on shots outside of three feet. But he rebounds, passes, and defends well. The Jason Kidd comparisons have always been aspirational, but they are on the right end of the spectrum. Lonzo was on track to be a poor man’s Rajon Rondo for LeBron’s Lakers (which also featured an old man’s Rajon Rondo in, well, Rajon Rondo). Instead, he now gets to run with Zion Williamson and learn from one of the best defensive guards in the NBA, and a fellow L.A. and UCLA kid from a deep basketball family in Jrue Holiday. There couldn’t possibly be a better mentor in the league than Jrue for Lonzo, or a better on-court running mate than Zion. Will Lonzo take advantage in the turn of good fortune? That’s how we’ll find out if Ball is indeed good or if it turns out his electric style in high school and college was all a ruse. It’s been impossible to agree on whether Lonzo is good. One side or another will have some really good evidence within another year or so with few real excuses or caveats to fall back on. Betting On Failure Interesting piece by Tom Haberstroh on how the Pelicans are betting on the Lakers to fail by concentrating the Davis trade package so heavily on draft picks. That’s basically right and applicable to most NBA superstar trades. But there’s another element, which is that draft picks are the currency of the realm, so to speak. They are the placeholder for young prospects without the complications of contracts and personalities and broken jumpers. They are uncomplicated assets easy to use in future trades and easy to sell to ownership and fans. There are already rumors that the Pelicans actually don’t want to use the No. 4 pick to grab Jarrett Culver or Cam Reddish or any other prospect, that New Orleans will instead flip it for a veteran player or multiple future picks. This is the benefit of trading for picks and pick swap options: they are highly liquid assets that you can focus new deals on. David Griffin doesn’t have to be convinced the Lakers will stink in 2023 for that unprotected L.A. pick to be valuable: someone who has something Griffin wants just has to be convinced. The same applies to pick swaps, which are also able to be traded. This is just pure asset collection really. The Pelicans had a very valuable asset in Davis, and the Lakers had a mandate to get him, so Griffin was able to extract every possible asset from them but Kyle Kuzma. There’s no guarantee he keeps all of them until fulfillment. In fact, it’d be weird if he did! Links Winners and losers from the big trade. I wrote that the Lakers are really, truly back, for real this time, probably. It sounds like Anthony Davis won’t be waiving his trade kicker and the Pelicans won’t be delaying the official trade date to helps the Lakers open up a bit more cap room. The Celtics were circumspect on trading for Anthony Davis in part because of Kyrie Irving’s odd situation. How the Raptors turned the NBA’s global dream into reality. Be excellent to each other.
2 d
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs