Tuesday, March 22, 2016

2016 NBA DRAFT: 'Peak Lamar Odom?': Why NBA GMs will hesitate to take Ben Simmons with the No. 1 pick

Simmons averaged 19.2 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 4.8 apg, and led the nation with 23 double-doubles as a freshman.

Still sure you want Ben Simmons as the number 1 pick?

The 6'10 point/power forward from Australia has all the talent and all the game to succeed on the big stage, but when it comes down to the level of maturity it takes to be a team's franchise player, Simmons has some serious red flags.

Let me preface what I have to say by making it clear that I hate the one-and-done rule.  They should let them go straight from high school or be three years removed from it like they do in football and baseball.

Simmons didn't wanna be at LSU.  Not for a one-year spectacle at least.  He probably knew from the minute he stepped on campus he was no normal college student. He's Ben Simmons.  And, everyone knows that he's less than a year away from becoming a millionaire.

But this is actually the new norm for college basketball now and guys are expected even as 18 and 19 years old to be able to handle it.

Simmons hasn't made the best case as being one of the guys that can handle it this year and his blatant disregard for the whole "student-athlete" thing causes questions of character, work ethic, and maturity.

Simmons' passing ability has garnered him comparisons to the great Earvin "Magic" Johnson.

The John Wooden player of the year award is one of the most prestigious accolades one can achieve as a college player, and for good reason.  It not only acknowledges playing skill but also academic standing is incorporated.

Simmons didn't make the cut.

Student-athletes must maintain a 2.0 GPA to be eligible for the award.  I guess no big deal but consider other one-and-dones such as Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, and John Wall were eligible for the award. When asked about it, Simmons had this to say:

"Mr. Wooden was a teacher, right?"

Simmons then added, "It's their award.  I'm not too worried about it.  I just want to win. I'm a team guy.  I just want my team to do well."

His team did not do well.

Winning is always the best elixir, and Simmons didn't do enough of it to turn his season into a feel good.  Best example: Carmelo Anthony was academically ineligible for the Wooden in his one-and-done year but, not only did he lead Syracuse to a NCAA tournament berth, they won the whole thing.

LSU struggled all year and the losses of forwards Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin hurt it's consistency.  But with Simmons, his AAU teammate and top recruit Antonio Blakeney, veteran swingman Tim Quarterman, and a few other key pieces, it should have been a cinch that the Tigers make the NCAA tournament.  The wheels fell completely off when LSU got whooped by Texas A&M in the SEC tournament 71-38. But even if you go back to the loss at Kentucky March 6th, players were finger-pointing and complaining about a lack of leadership.

Simmons and Blakeney couldn't lead LSU to a tournament berth, even in a below average year for the SEC.
"A leader has to lead by example more than his mouth," Blakeney said. "This team has a lot of leading by talking and not by example."

Something tells me that Simmons is the catalyst for Blakeney's sentiments.

When LSU did not qualify for the tournament, the school announced it would not participate in any postseason tournament.

Simmons doesn't want to get hurt before the upcoming draft so I get that but aren't there other players on the team, too? Would a university like LSU cater to a player/student who had what basically amounts to a one-year deal?

Simmons has hurt his draft stock from about December on (this is probably the point in the season where he felt he did enough to prove he was the best NBA draft prospect and got bored with the minutia of 'playing school') and all of the questions of character and work ethic and the lack of winning are starting to get noticed and analyzed by scouts and draft pundits.

Last week, Jonathan Givony of draftxpress.com dropped Simmons to No. 2 in favor of Duke's Brandon Ingram.  People like NBC's Kurt Helin are reporting that Simmons at his best could be "peak Lamar Odom."

He's probably way too talented to pass up at outside of the top five, but the signs of negligible maturity are there.

-quotes c/o Jeff Goodman ESPN.com, Kurt Helin of NBC's ProBasketballTalk

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

2016 NFL DRAFT: 'Cardale Jones and the Last Crusade'

Jones looked like the second 'Chosen One' in the state of Ohio at one point.

In Cardale Jones' final game as an Ohio State Buckeye quarterback, he didn't take a single snap.

As the team celebrated it's 44-28 New Year's day Fiesta Bowl win over Notre Dame, the smiles on the players' faces were genuine. Satisfied relief due to a hard fought win against a solid football team was the expression most of the Buckeyes players exued, especially of the guys that would be graduating or entering the NFL Draft and playing with these group of brothers for the final time.

J.T. Barrett started at quarterback (for what would have been the sixth straight game had he not been suspended for one following a DUI arrest) and played well. Joey Bosa, star defensive end and projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, was ejected from the game in the first quarter for targeting Fighting Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer. Running back Ezekiel Elliot rushed for four TDs, flashing the trademark OSU abs to the fans in the back of the endzone after one of them, and doing the iconic Bosa shrug pose after another.

It was a good win for the program but it wasn't a game against Alabama, or Oklahoma, or Clemson. Those teams played the night before, Dec. 31, on the big stage. The Buckeyes were left out of the College Football Playoff. Their hopes were crushed on a last second field goal Nov. 15 at home against Michigan State. The Spartans won the Big Ten championship and locked up one of the coveted final four playoff spots. Bitter and dissappointed, there were questions if many of Ohio State's players would be motivated to play in a lesser bowl game and rather just try to not get hurt and mess up a chance to play in the NFL next year. Alabama would go on to trounce Sparty 38-0 in one of the semifinal games, the night before the Buckeyes took the field in the Fiesta Bowl. That game could have given players incentive to prove to critics that the loss to Michigan State was a fluke and to gripe that, 'we could've played Alabama better than 38-0!'

Again, Cardale Jones did not play.

For that to fully resonate, you have to go back and look at what he and the team accomplished towards the end of the 2014 season. And to get a better understanding of what exactly the 6-5, 250-pound quarterback prospect from Cleveland went through to get there, you have to go back farther on his timeline.

His Twitter timeline to be exact.

Its fair to say that no one outside of the state of Ohio knew who Jones was until the then redshirt freshman took to Twitter and posted this:

Of course this caused a major uproar, and head coach Urban Meyer suspended jones for the following game. It didn't really affect the team at all, as Jones was the 3rd string QB, and Braxton Miller, the 2012 and 2013 Big Ten Offensive player of the year, was the starter. It wouldn't be until the end of the 2014 season that Jones would truly get a chance to blowup on the field and not just on social media.

Miller would miss the entire 2014 season with a shoulder injury, and a competition for starting quarterback between Jones and Barrett began. Neither player had started a game in their careers and Barrett, a redshirt freshman at the time, won the position battle. Other than an early season loss on the road to Virginia Tech, Barrett solidified his role as the starting quarterback and undisputed captain of the team (44 total TDs are school and Big Ten records), leading the Buckeyes to an 11-1 record and a birth in the conference championship game.

But Barrett suffered a broken ankle in the win over Michigan in the final game of the regular season and was ruled out for the year. Now down Barrett and Miller, coach Meyer would have to turn to the same guy he had to suspend the year prior for suggesting he only wanted to play football. He was finally getting his chance to play some.

In his first career start, the 2014 Big Ten conference championship game against Winsconsin, Jones threw for 253 yards and 3 TDs. Ohio State cruised 59-0 and earned a spot in the inagural College Football Playoff with that win and faced No. 1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in a semifinal game. Jones once again rose to the occasion and the Buckeyes advanced to the championship game. If there was any doubt left that Jones had what it takes to be a championship quarterback, he erased it when Ohio State defeated the Oregon Ducks 42-20 in the CFP championship game, who were led by Heisman Trophy winner and current Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Jones started three games and went 3-0. And he didn't just game manage. He made plays all over the field.

So how did it get to the point that in his final game ever wearing the scarlett and grey, Jones did nothing but wear a headset and carry a clipboard?

The performance Jones put on last year did not go unnoticed by NFL scouts and Jones, who was a redshirt sophomore at the time, was eligble for the 2015 NFL Draft. Analysts and the like projected him to go in the 3rd or 4th round. With Barrett coming back to OSU after breaking records, and Miller also poised for a return, Jones had the decision of leaving for the pros rather than returning to Colombus with the other two guys who were previously ahead of him on the depth chart going back there. But Jones decided to stay in school (irony) and from that point until the first game the next fall, the controversy of who would start at QB in 2015 for the Buckeyes was born. Meyer finally named Jones the starter before the team's first game. Barrett was backup and Miller made the transition to H-back over the summer to utilize his speed and agility as a runner and receiver. To say Jones was lackluster to start the season would be accurate. When you compare it to what he did in the final three games of the previous season, it would be easy to call him a bust. After a particularly poor performance against Indiana, Jones took to Twitter with some rather somber tweets and even changed his bio so that it said "3rd string quarterback." Barrett went back to being the starter the following week and, save for a game where he was suspended for getting a DUI, started the remainder of the team's games and handled almost every snap. Following the Michigan State game, his final game at the Horshoe in Columbus, Jones announced on Twitter (where else would he say it?) that he intended on forgoing his senior season and entering the NFL Draft.

So what is the next step for the legend that is Cardale Jones?

He didn't play much at all towards the end of his career, and definitely will take a hit in his draft projection from last year, but he has the size and the arm to be able to play quarterback at the next level (Cam Newton doing what he's doing right now will help prospects like Jones in the future). What he put on tape this year was brutal at times and he injured himself running the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.  All he can do now is have a good day at OSU's pro day Mar. 11 and hope that he can build off the three spectacular games that he has on tape.

Maybe he gets picked up late in the draft and makes a living as a backup. Maybe he doesn't make it in the NFL at all. Somehow, someway, and sometime, a coach or GM is gonna break out the tape from his first three starts though, and look back in amazement at the next level poise he displayed and the offense he generated.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

'Crab Legs & Crab Dribbles': NBA and NFL Coach Firing Controversy

When former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt got fired last week in lieu of his assistant coach, Tyronn Lue, both Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy and Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle made public comments on how much of a travesty it was that Blatt (who 'coached' the Cavs to the NBA Finals last year and had the best record in the Eastern Conference at the time) got the axe.

LeBron James was the immediate culprit for the sudden change in coaching, accused of coaxing upper management into getting rid of Blatt, who was hired to coach Cleveland before it knew its favorite son would be 'coming home'.  Hoops fans flooded social media with cynical banter, Vines, and GIFs; most of them are comedy, but some of them imply that the problem with today's NBA is the players are whiny and have more power than the coaches.

When something like this happens in the NFL though, why is there not the same clamour and uproar?  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 6-10 this year after going 2-14 the previous year.  No, a 6-win season doesn't exactly make you Vince Lombardi or anything, but when you consider a 25-percent increase in wins, which amounts to a quarter of the season, it would be hard to think that a coach would get fired after such an improvement .  But it happened in Tampa.  The Bucs promoted offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to head coach.

Lovie got the pink slip.  No one said a single word.
The easiest speculation is that Tampa executives fawned over Koetter's ability to implement an offensive gameplan and his development of 2015 No. 1 NFL Draft pick quarterback Jameis Winston during his rookie season.  Out of fear that Koetter would accept a vacant head coaching gig elsewhere, they pulled the plug on the Lovie Smith era after only two seasons.

No NFL coach said a single word.

Maybe they understand that it's a just business.  Maybe they understand that Lovie is black, and in a league dealing with minority hiring issues, it's too touchy of a subject.  The NFL is such a conglomerate that speaking out on other organizations hiring practices might hurt you more than it would help you.

Flashback to the 2015 Eastern Conference playoffs between the Cavs and the Chicago Bulls.  Cleveland has a chance to win the game in Chicago and Blatt draws up the final play with 1.5 seconds to go.  He wants LeBron to inbound the ball.  LeBron said hell no, I'm taking the shot.  Whether or not he made the shot is irrelevant (he did, a deep two-pointer from the corner at the buzzer) when you ask simply who was Blatt originally dialing up for that final shot? J.R. Smith?  Iman Shumpert??  Matthew Dellavedova???  (Sidenote: Blatt tried calling a timeout before this sequence. The Cavs did not have any left and this would have resulted in a technical foul.  Lue jumped off the bench to physically pull Blatt away from the referee so he wouldn't see him signaling for timeout.)  The argument can be made that LeBron saved Blatt's job that day.

Blatt was hired to coach Andrew Wiggins; not LeBron.
Ultimately for Blatt, losing to the uptempo Golden State Warriors in the Finalst last summer after being up 2-1 in the series, a 30+ point blowout loss to the Warriors this January where the Cavs looked totally inept, and not being able to get Kevin Love enough touches and exploit his full offensive repertoire, the writing was on the wall.

Lue plans on pushing the ball up the court (a testament to his assistant coaching days under Doc Rivers) more and getting deeper outlets in transition.  Whether or not this new method will help in another meeting with Golden State remains to be seen but it's evident the Cavs don't think their 'ground-and-pound' strategy will work anymore.

Regardless, both Blatt and Smith were indirectly effected by the team's personnel and the person that replaced them was deemed as a better fit for that personnel.

Business as usual.

There's things wrong with the NBA like players coming out of college too early and the intentional fouling rule.

But just like the NFL it's a business and coaches can get dropped just as fast as players do.  Saying that there's something wrong with today's NBA from this standpoint and ignoring what happens in today's NFL is unfair.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

2016 NFL Playoffs Preview: 'Philadelphia Texans?', 'Air-Raid Roethlisberger'

Game: Kansas City Chiefs (11-5, 2nd AFC
West) vs. Houston Texans (9-7, 1st AFC South)
Location: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
Time: Saturday, January 9th, 2016, 4:35 PM
Line: KC -3.0, O/U 

Breakdown: Bill O'Brien can probably rest easy win or loss this weekend after successfully winning the AFC South Division and hosting a home playoff game, but in actuallity, this season for the Texans head coach is borderline Chip Kelly-like. 

After resurrecting post-Sandusky scandal era Penn State University football in the college ranks, the former Tom Brady QB coach with the New England Patriots was viewed as a good fit for an NFL head coaching job. He made a change at quarterback, with Matt Schaub making for a fairly easy drop choice, but bringing in two of his former players to vie for the starting QB job this year (Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallet were both backups for Brady earlier in their careers with New England) was dicey at best. Hoyer has been wildly inconsistent (5-4 as starter) and Mallet flat out flopped (got cut after being late too much and pouting too much). If it weren't for playing in a horrible, awful, terrible division (they got to play the Titans, Jaguars, and Colts twice, going 5-1 in those games) and having a defense that (on paper) is top five in the NFL quality, and has shown signs of their potential at times this year, this team would be at home. But not playing. Just watching. Like the rest of us. [On the other hand: Kelly also played in a slop of a division this year in the NFC East and got crushed in games where it counted, still had a chance to make the playoffs, but ultimately the Philadelphia Eagles imploded, largely in part to too many questionable dismissals and acquisitions by Chip Kelly....like reallly, Byron Maxwell???]

O'Brien's job is safe for now, but you gotta like the Chiefs (11-5) -3.0 riding a franchise-record 10 game winning streak here. They are due for a loss now if you're looking at the other side of it, but there's no reason to believe that Alex Smith and Andy Reid game-managing plus a hot Chiefs defense (12.8 points per game allowed, +16 turnover margin in last 10 games) shouldn't be enough to win by atleast a couple of field goals.

Pick: Chiefs, 26-16

Key for Texans: Find ways to get DeAndre Hopkins aka 'Nuk Da Bomb' the football early and often. It will be a difficult task with talented rookie cornerback Marcus Peters likely to be matched up with him most of the game, and all-pro linebacker Justin Houston returning to the lineup to help harrass Hoyer.

Key for Chiefs: Don't turn the ball over and wear out the Houston defense. Short gains that move the chains early will open up deep shots down the field late. There will be plenty of possessions to rely on as the Texans offense is pass heavy and doesn't have a ball control identity.

Game: Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6, 2nd AFC North) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4, 1st AFC North)
Location: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
Time: Saturday, January 16th, 2016, 8:15 PM
Line: PIT -1.5, O/U 44.5
Breakdown: Most of the top AFC teams were breathing a sigh of relief after the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) somehow lost its matchup Week 16 to the lowly Baltimore Ravens (5-11), and it looked like they, boasting the NFL's scariest passing attack, would miss the playoffs.

The New York Jets (10-6) couldn't close the deal in Week 17 against the Buffalo Bills (8-8) (Rex's revenge game) however and the Steelers jumped back in to the picture, putting frowney faces on all defensive secondary players and coaches in the AFC. The reason for that is Pittsburgh has put up 30+ points per game in seven of its last nine games and Ben Roethlisberger looks back to normal health. The Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) were hot to start (started 8-0) then clung to the division lead after Andy Dalton (broken thumb) went down against these very Steelers in Week 14 and are currently trying to find an offensive rhythm under backup quarterback A.J. McCarron (2-1 in three starts, wins were against the 5-11 San Francisco 49ers and Ravens) at a time when you least want to be trying to find an offensive rhythm. 

The -1.5 line isn't as curious as it first seems when considering the Bengals are at home, it's technically a division game, and DeAngelo Williams suffered an ankle injury in Week 17 that initially looked serious, although he is listed as day-to-day and will probably give it a go in this one (The Steelers desperately need Williams in the lineup to maintain offensive balance since Le'Veon Bell is on injured reserve and the next viabale option at running back is Fitzgerald Toussaint). But when you add in to account that the Bengals' playoff life was tenuous even with Dalton as the starting quarterback, and Roethsliberger's history of playfoff success, there is no reason to believe that the Steelers can't win by a touchdown against a McCarron-led offense despite being on the road.

Pick: Steelers, 30-17

Key for Bengals: The defense is gonna have to gamble and come up with some big plays. Carlos Dunlap leads the front seven and will do his job putting pressure on Big Ben but it won't hold up if Cincinnati has to play from behind, limiting pass rush opportunities.

Key for Steelers: Keep everything in front of you on defense at don't allow any explosive plays. McCarron is less likely to beat you in the intermediate passing game as he simply hasn't had the experience needed to break down defenses beyond his first pass option.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

2015 MLB Update: 'The Two Escobars', 'Papi Don't Take No Mess', 'Yung Joc Pederson'

Alcides makes every play look routine.
The Washington Nationals and the Kansas City Royals might not be where they are right now (each leading their respective divisions) if it wasn't for two Escobar's, Yunel and Alcides (no relation).  Yunel, now an everyday third baseman (spent most of his first nine MLB seasons at shortstop), is batting .315 on the season, which if it holds up, would be his highest batting average since his rookie year in 2007 (.326 in 96 games for the Atlanta Braves, 355 plate appearances).  The 6-2, 215-pound Cuban already has three five hit games this season. No other MLB player has more than one. Alcides is a smooth fielding shortstop that has solidified his place at the top of the reigning AL champion Royals batting order. The Colombian lead-off man won't hit many homers (only 23 total in eight seasons) but he's good for grinding out at-bats and either drawing a walking or shooting one into a gap that finds outfield grass.  The fans elected Alcides to start at shortstop in the 2015 All Star game, the first all-star selection of his career.

He was a tough out for every pitcher in the 90s.
Who does Mariano Rivera and Pedro Martinez both say is the toughest hitter they ever faced in their hall-of-fame careers?  The answer to that would be Seattle Mariners legend Edgar Martinez. The hard-nosed, sweet swinging Puerto Rican played 18 seasons, all with the Mariners, and is widely considered the best designated hitter of all-time.  Martinez is still the only DH to ever win a batting title, leading the AL with a .356 batting average in 1995.  Always a fan favorite, "Papi" was hired by the Mariners in mid-June as the team's hitting coach, in part to bolster the fan base with a big name and to help Seattle's MLB-worst .229 team batting average.
Correa already looks like the next big thing at SS.
The youth movement is booming around the entire majors this season as several top prospects have already been called up from the minors and are making impacts for their respective big league ball clubs.  The list of call ups include Kris Bryant - Chicago Cubs, Carlos Correa - Houston Astros, Byron Buxton - Minnesota Twins, and Joey Gallo - Texas Rangers.  Correa might be the most intriguing prospect of them all (No. 1 pick, 2012 draft) as his skill set is reminiscent of Alex Rodriguez circa 1996.  At 6-4 and 210 pounds, he's already showing what he can running on the basepaths.  He had a three-steal game on June 18th that made him the the youngest player (20 years, 269 days) to have three swipes in a single outing since Rickey Henderson in 1979.  Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson started the season in the majors but he has to be mentioned in this youth movement.  Pederson has showed his propensity to put up big power numbers as evidenced by his HR total (20 through 83 games) and his five consecutive game HR streak earlier this year, making him the first ever Dodger rookie to put together such a streak.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

NBA Breakdown: 'The LeBron Rules'

Kerr has masterminded a gamplan, but will it work?
Heard a lot of, "We just have to stick with the gameplan" coming from the Golden State Warriors players after their 108-100 Game 1 win in the NBA Finals over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday. Head coach Steve Kerr when asked about the team's plan on defending LeBron James, who dropped a Finals-career-high 44 points, he said, "If I tell you, will you promise not to share it with anybody?" It all seemed obvious what the Warriors gameplan really was by that point. Clearly, they are content with allowing James as many isolation situations as he would like, and will rotate multiple defenders on him to give him different looks, but they WILL NOT double or trap him and allow him to be effective as a play maker. This is ultimately the gameplan or 'rule' that Kerr has devised to contain the 'Chosen One'.

How do you stop LBJ? Don't let him PASS.
44 points from LBJ combined with only six assists is a formula that the Warriors look willing to "stick with". Who ever would think that this is the best way to defend LeBron? Kerr, who was not yet a teammate of Michael Jordan when the Chicago Bulls were battling the 'Bad Boys' Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference playoffs in the late 80s (ironically, he was on the Cavs) was a witness to a successful method of stopping an elite scorer. The method was originally to stop Jordan at all costs and physically wear him down.  The opposite scheme worked in Game 1 for Kerr and the Warriors against LeBron, although Kyrie Irving (23 points) had a solid game, J.R. Smith (3-13 FG, 9 points) was virtually ineffective. But on the downside, LeBron did have the ball in his hands on the final possession of regualtion with a chance to win the game. If he makes that shot, hard to say if the Warriors would be willing to continue with that strategy after losing Game 1 at home.

MJ took a beating vs. the Pistons but eventually broke through
There's gonna be adjustments made, and James, normally a model for effeciency, won't normally take 38 shots to get to 44 points. He's probably gonna try his best to get other guys in a rhythm earlier in the game so that when the 4th quarter rolls around, everyone won't be standing and watching just waiting and expecting for him to make a play all by himself. If there's any indication from the Warriors comments following Game 1 however, the 'LeBron Rules' will be in effect for the duration of the series. Klay Thompson summed it up best by saying, "He's gonna have to beat us four times playing like that. Hopefully he wears down."