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."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

NBA Trash Talk: 'NOT Just What the Doctor Ordered', Los Angeles Clippers Epic Playoff Collapse

Like Doc Rivers said after the Los Angeles Clippers lost Game 7 in Houston, "We were up 3-1 with only one home game left."  Being up 3-1 in a playoff series is better than being down 1-3, yes, but Doc knew what a very dangerous and scary situation his team was currently in: up 3-1 in a playoff series in which Chris Paul missed the first two games; up 3-1 in a series where Games 3 and 4 in Staples Center Los Angeles were 25+ point blowouts in favor of the Clippers; up 3-1 in a series where you get big contributions from Austin Rivers (17 points in Game 1, 25 in Game 3) off the bench.  In this situation, the most dominant enemy is always complacency. 

How easy to go into Game 5 in Houston (after all, the Rockets appeared to be already mentally constructing offseason travel plans following the 128-95 Game 4 blowout) and thinking 'we can win this game sleepwalking, or even if we don't, Game 6 is at home, and we want to win this series in front of the home fans anyway, so they can witness us make the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.'  How easy it looked in Game 6 when the Clippers unleashed a 3rd quarter run that included a circus, no-look 180-degree layup by Blake Griffin, which at the time seemed like the highlight of the game and the Clippers coronation to the NBA semis and rise from the era of yesteryear; away from the Donald Sterlings, Michael Olowokandis, and Danny Mannings.  How easy it all looked until Josh Smith (inexplicably through any form of human logic) transformed himself into the second coming of Earvin "Magic" Johnson, and put the entire Houston Rockets organization on his back in the 4th quarter of that same Game 6, erasing a 19-point deficit faster than Blake Griffin can change the radio station in his Kia Optima.  It's like Kevin McHale channeled Rudy Tomjonavich's 'don't ever underestimate the heart of a champion' speech, morphing Smith into Magic, Dwight Howard into Hakeem Olajuwon, and Corey Brewer into Mario Elie circa 1995. 

The nightmare became reality so quickly for the Clippers.  You could see the look on their faces.  That 'we had a 3-1 lead, and now we have to play a Game 7 on the road' look.  That 'how did we give up 40 points in a quarter that James Harden did not play a single minute in' look.  That 'goddammit J.J. Redick, please hit an open f*#%ing 3-point look!' look.  That 'maybe we're just the same ole Clippers' look.  But these weren't the same Clippers.  Remember in the first round when they beat the defending champion San Antonio Spurs down 3-2, including a huge Game 6 win on the road?  That was supposed to be the curse eclipsing moment.  Paul's one-legged runner on a bad hamstring to clinch the series in Game 7.  The biggest challenge this team ran into was being the favorite and being up 3-1.  Bet they wish they can all go back to Game 5 and really heed the advice of coach Rivers to not get complacent.  Where's Blake's time-traveling Optima when you need it?   

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

2015 NBA Playoffs: 'Walking On Water'

Curry made an NBA record 286 triples.
A lttle bit of water never hurt anybody.

But a monsoon, it could kill you.

That's what life is like for any team going up against Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and the 2015 Golden State Warriors. The outside jumpers start splattering like heavy drizzle. Then it turns into a downpour.

Before you even realize what just happened, you're already facing a double-digit deficit.

Knee deep in a thunderstorm. Drenched. Dishelved. And helplessly soggy.

The rain is gonna fall, and there's really nothing you can do to prevent it. However, there are certain things that you can do to weather the storm. In the case of opponents for Curry and Thompson, the same idea rings true. Those guys are gonna get theirs; we've all seen streaks where both have been absolutely unhumanly unguardable. But they are human (and somewhat guardable) and implementing focus on minor details can give some FEMA-like aid in avoiding a complete disaster. Here are some fundamental ways of weathering the barrage of wetness that is the 2015 GSW.

Find the shooters in transition.

Green can getter under your skin in more than one way.
Most teams in the league demand that you sprint back on defense and defend the paint to deter easy transition scoring opportunities. It's the opposite when facing the Warriors. Priority is defending the three-point line. Depending on who is on the floor at the time, you may need to send only one or two players back to defend the paint while the rest of your team seeks out guys on the perimeter. Draymond Green loves to float towards the short corner or trail to the top of the key on the break.

Don't go under screens in pick-and-roll situations.

If you don't plan defensively on switching every screen in pick-and-roll situations, the on ball defender should fight for his life to get over the top of the screen. Yes, it leaves the defense susceptible to the roll man (usually Andrew Bogut, Green) getting alot of free space to the basket but would you rather take your chances with the backside of the defense, or getting burned by one of the Splash Bros. on a wide-open, in-rhythm look at a three-point jumpshot?

One shot.

He scored 37 in a quarter...a quarter!
The last thing you need is to give Curry or Thompson a second chance at a three-point shot on a single possession. Defensive rebounding is important in every game but it's paramount against the Warriors. These guys never met a shot they didn't like and won't hesitate to jack multiple three-point attempts on a single trip if you give them the opportunity.

Get you're umbrellas ready.

Be prepared for a Curry or Thompson epic scoring run. These guys are consistently on heat-check mode and won't hesitate to fire a shot off early in the shot clock. The worst thing you can do is try match their efforts with quick shots that takes you're own offense out of its rhythm. Keep trudging and eventually some of the flood will subside. Just remember that even with an umbrella, if you stand in the rain for 48 minutes, you're bound to get wet.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

NBA Breakdown: 'King of Dimes'

After last year's playoffs nightmarish ending for the L.A. Clippers and Chris Paul
Paul is a lockdown man-to-man defender.
 you knew he would come back with a vengeance to start this season.  Paul pushed the limits of point guard efficiency in the first 20 games of the season, dishing out 187 assists with only 29 turnovers.  And in the past month, without Blake Griffin (elbow) in the lineup, Paul has put up several MVP-like performances while going up against some of the top point guards in the Western Conference.

Points (3pm)(fga-fgm)(fta-ftm), rebs, ast, stls, tov

vs. HOU, Patrick Beverly (Mar. 15)
CP3: 23(¹)(7-21)(8-8), 3, 5, 2, 3
PB: 11(¹)(3-7)(4-4), 2, 3, 1, 2

vs. OKC, Russell Westbrook (Mar. 12)
CP3: 33(5)(11-19)(6-7), 4, 9, 2, 5
RWB: 24(³)(5-14)(11-13), 9, 7, 2, 5

vs. GSW, Steph Curry (Mar. 8)
CP3: 14(7-17), 5, 11, 2, 5
SC: 12(²)(3-9)(4-4), 1, 4, 3, 4

Paul is averaging 10.0 APG vs. 2.4 
vs. POR, Dame Lillard (Mar. 5)
CP3: 36(²)(14-29)(6-6), 6, 12, 2, 5
DL: 5(1-13)(3-4), 18, 4, 0, 5

vs. MPHS, Mike Conley (Feb. 27)
CP3: 19(¹)(7-14)(4-4), 4, 13, 2, 1
MC: 4(2-11), 3, 2, 0, 2

vs. SAS, Tony Parker (Feb. 19)
CP3: 22(²)(9-16)(2-3), 5, 16, 1, 4
TP: 21(¹)(8-17)(4-4), 3, 13, 2, 0

Friday, March 13, 2015

ADEDS All-Stars: 'OG Russell Westbrook'

Steve Francis was ahead of his time in this
Francis had all the tools of today's top PGs.
'attack mode' PG era. The former Maryland Terrapins guard was not highly recruited and played at two junior colleges before exploding onto the scene in College Park, MD in 1998. Francis was selected No. 2 overall in that draft by the Vancouver Grizzlies and traded to Houston, where he would spend his first five seasons. He turned the ball over way too much, and perhaps the physical nature of his style of play didn't allow him to have longterm NBA success, but was a prolific scoring guard nonetheless.  Francis, the 2000 NBA Rookie of the Year, made the Western Conference All-Star team three times (2002-2004) in his career and, in comparison, his numbers for first five years for the Rockets are right there with current beast-mold guards Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook.


Derrick Rose, CHI 08-14: 20.8ppg, 3.8rpg, 6.8apg, 0.9stls, 2.9tov

Russell Westbrook, OKC 08-13: 19.9ppg, 4.8rpg, 6.9apg, 1.6stls, 3.5tov

Steve Francis, HOU 99-04: 19.3ppg, 6.1rpg, 6.4apg, 1.6stls, 3.7tov