I Explain Why Every Team Won’t Win The NBA Title

If you’ve read this site over the years you know that we’re huge fans of the National Basketball Association.  On multiple occasions we’ve openly declared it our favorite sport and tried to persuade you to join us on that side of the argument.  It’s with that in mind that I know have a stunning confession to make.  I’ve been cheating on the NBA all year with the National Hockey League, and (!) I haven’t regretted it for a second.

The impulsive decision to partake in this act of sports adultery paid large dividends these past two weeks when the NHL came out firing with the most entertaining first round of playoffs in recent memory.  By my count there have already been 13 first round games that went into overtime.  This included the remarkable Chicago Blackhawks Phoenix Coyotes series that came within last night’s game six of having every single contest go to the extra period.  In addition to that, both Vancouver and Pittsburgh lost in the first round despite being the Vegas favorites to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.  What I’m really trying to say is that the NHL playoffs essentially morphed into a professional sports version of March Madness.  No one has any idea what is going to happen, and like the thrill of attending Mike Tyson’s show in Vegas, it’s fantastic for just that reason.  If the one-two punch of Vancouver/Pittsburgh ever occurred in the NBA, it would be ratings suicide (the equivalent of this would roughly be the Bulls and Thunder both going out in round one).  Instead it’s been a ratings bonanza for Gary Bettman, with the uptick in big hits and fights aiding in hockey’s ratings ascent.

I bring this up because as unpredictable as the NHL playoffs have been thus far, the NBA playoffs are exponentially more difficult to decipher.  It’s the sports version of Lindsay Lohan signing on to play Elizabeth Taylor in the upcoming movie based on the deceased star’s life.  This could be a defining moment for the NBA and Lohan, but nobody has any idea what the final product will look like.  Both are just as liable to pull a John Carter-like flop as they are to produce something iconic.

Consider that LeBron James is about to win his third MVP and has the potential to create an entire new class of NBA underachievement.  Seven people in NBA history have won three or more MVPs.  Every single one of them won at least one NBA title (MJ, Magic, Bird, Moses, Kareem, Wilt, and Russell).  LeBron could become the only person ever to win the award a third time without securing an NBA title and, (gulp), have you seen the Heat play lately?  Not exactly inspiring confidence.

And yet he’s BY FAR the best player in the sport right now.  This is his moment to seize control of the league for the next five years.  There are a number of aging teams that look to be past their championship prime (Mavericks, Lakers, Celtics, and Spurs), a couple of teams that are too young to pull it off just yet (Clippers and Bulls), and a real title contender that just lost maybe it’s most important player to a Ron Artest elbow (Thunder).  The Heat should conceivably have no problem winning.  After all, LeBron’s in the middle of one of the best NBA seasons ever by a player and yet we’re still waffling on his MVP candidacy.  The NBA in 2012, everybody!

It’s with this in mind that I present Gen Y’s official Hater’s Guide to the 2012 NBA Playoffs in which I tell you exactly why each team isn’t going to win the NBA title.  I’ve taken the liberty of ranking them in descending order from the percentage surety we have that the team won’t win it this year.

17. Phoenix Suns

Stereotype: Without Steve Nash, this team would be battling the Bobcats for the rights to the unibrow!

Telling stat: 71.68% defensive rebound rate, by far the worst of any playoff team.  It means just what it says. The Suns don’t rebound well and give opponents way too many second chances on offense.

Why they won’t win: Seriously, the Suns would be nowhere without the Herculean efforts of Nash this year, who deserves a top five spot in the MVP vote if they make the playoffs.

16. Philadelphia 76ers

Stereotype: No star player, no primary scorer!

Telling stat: 51% true shooting percentage, easily the worst of any playoff team.  Their first round opponent will be either Chicago or Miami, the two toughest defenses in the league.

Why they won’t win: Look, the Sixers just won’t be able to score enough points to win a playoff series.  There’s a lot of hope and promise in Philly right now, what with Doug Collins teaching the importance of team play and defense to his young guys, but a historic upset you will not see.

15. Utah Jazz

Stereotype: They still have professional basketball in Utah??!?

Telling stat: 66.6% Field Goal Percentage at the rim, good for second best in the NBA.  The problem? Those points disappear in the playoffs when defenses ratchet up and protect the basket and the referees refuse to give them calls. 

Why they won’t win: While the Jazz do have the potential for a first round upset of the Spurs (they’re curiously built in much the same way the Grizzlies were last year when they upset San Antonio), there is no way they could get past the second round.  Also: they’re not getting past the first either. 

14. Atlanta Hawks

Stereotype: Exactly where you don’t want to be as a franchise!

Telling stat: 0-2, their record this year against first-round opponent Boston when any of the following gentlemen recorded a single minute of playing time: Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett.

Why they won’t win: Something just doesn’t add up with this team and they’re not going to suddenly figure out the equation against the Celtics. This is a team that should have been blown up a long time ago.

13. Orlando Magic

Stereotype: Absolute train wreck!

Telling stat: Magic players not active for this year’s playoffs = Dwight Howard.

Why they won’t win: There is some incredible Ewing Theory potential with Orlando now that Dwight put the finishing touches on one of the all-time worst PR moves by any athlete in the history of sports.  While the possibility does exist that the Magic “upset” the Pacers in round one, Miami will promptly sweep them in round two.

12. Denver Nuggets

Stereotype: All offense, no defense!

Telling stat: 101.5 opponent’s points per game, by far the worst of any playoff team.

Why they won’t win: The Nuggets can’t get a stop to save their lives.  Throw in the added curse of having no players with a “reputation” as a good NBA defender and it leads to a disaster in the NBA playoffs when the referees look for any excuse whatsoever to whistle teams out of games.  The Nuggets win the award as the by far the most entertaining team of the year, but the best they can hope for is to advance to the second round.  That’s entirely possible though, oh by the way.

11. Dallas Mavericks

Stereotype: They won the title last year!

Telling stat: 95.2 points per game average.  So the Mavericks play slow, no big deal in the playoffs, right? Wrong.  Likely first round opponent OKC averages about 103.1 per contest.

Why they won’t win: We all know this was an intentionally planned off-year by Cuban and the Mavs.  They’re going to try to get Deron or Dwight or both.  I’ve seen the Mavs twice in person this year and the only take I can offer is that they execute horribly, which was their biggest strength in last year’s playoffs (and the key to beating the Heat, hint hint hint).

10. Indiana Pacers

Stereotype: They’re getting overlooked!  They’re total sleepers!

Telling stat: 32.4 free throw rate, good for third best in the league.  Indiana gets to the line, a lot, which is great.  Except when it’s not.  The Pacers are not going to get the calls they’ll need to defeat Miami, Chicago, or Boston in a 7-game series.  They’re just not.  When their primary scoring option is taken away like that, they’ll struggle to execute for points from the field.

Why they won’t win: In the last 20 years, the only NBA team to win a championship without at least one sure thing hall of fame player on the roster was the 2004 Detroit Pistons (and Chauncey & Rasheed are borderline HOFers).  The Pacers have a lot of good players, but no great ones.

9. LA Clippers

Stereotype: Lob City!

Telling stat: 52.2% free throw percentage for Blake Griffin this season.

Why they won’t win: The Clippers have little chance at bringing home the title.  They’re still too immature, rely too heavily on Paul, and have Vinny Del Negro as their head coach.  Look for teams to employ a hack-a-Blake strategy during the playoffs which is going to fluster the young dunker and disrupt the flow of their offense.

8. New York Knicks

Stereotype: This is Amare’s, Jeremy Lin’s, Carmelo’s team!

Telling stat: 16-6, the Knicks record since Mike D’Antoni resigned as head coach

Why they won’t win: Despite boasting one of the best rotations of any playoff team, the Knicks would have to likely defeat Chicago, Boston, and Miami in succession to reach the finals.  As good as Carmelo Anthony is in isolation, as confident as he is against the game’s best, he still has failed to make it out of the first round in all but one year in his career.  Beating three of the NBA’s five best teams to make the finals is about as likely as Jesse Jackson coming out in defense of George Zimmerman.

7. LA Lakers

Stereotype: Kobe shoots too much!

Telling stat: All of Pau Gasol’s declining shooting stats.  There are too many to list here in this space but suffice it to say, Gasol is becoming less and less of a threat with the ball in his hands and he’s moving further and further away from the basket as a shooter.  This could indicate any number of things such as: his shot is now flat, he’s definitively the number three option in Mike Brown’s eyes, his decline is happening faster than we think, etc.

Why they won’t win: When you watch the Lakers play, does it look like Kobe Bryant trusts any one of his teammates enough to defer the necessary amount it will take for LA to win the title?  No way.  Bynum, despite having his best-ever season still has nagging immaturity issues.  With Gasol’s rapid decline, the Lakers could be prime for a first-round upset to the Nuggets.

6. Memphis Grizzlies

Stereotype: The Grizzlies are so sexy!

Telling stat: 16.15 opponents turnover rate, which led the NBA.  On the surface this seems like a great stat to the lead the NBA in, but what it tells me is that the Grizzlies defense relies heavily on a lot of risk-taking.  I’m the first to admit that this can be effective, but in the playoffs all it will take is a whistle-prone ref to ruin the strategy and send this team into foul trouble.

Why they won’t win: Definitely in the battle for best overall rotation in the NBA.  But, do you really think David Stern is going to let a team from Memphis, Tennessee win the NBA title?  Me either.

5. Chicago Bulls

Stereotype: Derrick Rose is great!

Telling stat: 72.2% team free throw percentage, the worst of any playoff team that didn’t have Blake Griffin (52.2%) or Dwight Howard (49.1%) on the roster this season.

Why they won’t win: Proven themes on championship teams: superstars, great defense, and great execution.  The Bulls have those first two ideas down, but I still don’t trust the supporting cast enough to get past a Miami.  Do we even know who their crunch-time five are yet?  I trust Carlos Boozer in the playoffs the way I trust Kim Kardashian to to avoid publicity.  I’m a huge Derrick Rose supporter and adore his approach to the game, it’s all the others that worry me.

4. Boston Celtics

Stereotype: The Celtics keep defying all their critics!

Telling stat: 98.6 points per 100 possessions, the worst offensive efficiency of any playoff team.

Why they won’t win: It’s no secret that the Celtics rely heavily on their all-universe defense.  Count me among the critics who believe that they just don’t have the talent to hang with Miami or Chicago when they’re clicking.  In order for Boston to prove everyone wrong again, it’s going to take some minor miracles like when LeBron quit on his team in Cleveland (entire possibly, by the way).  For the sake of not having to listen to ESPN felate the Celtics all postseason, pray the Celtics go out quietly in the second round.

3. OKC Thunder

Stereotype: The anti-Heat!

Telling stat: Official medical status for James Harden’s head = “Uncertain”

Why they won’t win:  Look, Kevin Durant is the best player on the Thunder, but no player may have been more important to them than James Harden.  He plays a role similar to the one Lamar Odom used to do with the Lakers in that he’s talented enough to facilitate the offense while the stars rested and comfortable enough with his role not to ruin team chemistry.  The comparisons to Manu Ginobli are also spot on.  Harden is an advanced stats freak and one of the best executors of offense in the league.  His injury cannot be overstated.  The Thunder would be number one on this list if that hadn’t happened.

2. San Antonio Spurs

Stereotype: This is the last chance at a title for the Spurs big three!

Telling stat: 90%, chance that Tony Parker or Manu Ginobli gets hurt, again sabotaging a Spurs playoff run.

Why they won’t win:  The Spurs completed yet another remarkable season in which they finished with the number one seed in the Western Conference, despite every writer ever deciding they were past their prime.  To win the NBA title though they’re going to have to get past Memphis in the second round which everyone seems to agree is the only team in the NBA that can beat them in a seven game series.  All of this while somehow going the entire playoffs without the glass bodies of Parker and Ginobli getting hurt.  But if they somehow avoid all that, they’ll be fine!  No really.

1. Miami Heat

Stereotype: LeBron can’t win the big one! The Heat don’t have a go-to guy in crunch time!

Telling stat: 0, the number of NBA championship rings LeBron James owns.

Why they won’t win: The burden of winning this elusive title might just break LeBron James.  He did nothing to inspire us to believe that he’s suddenly going to put it together in close games (the NBA All-Star Game pass off comes to mind).  As much praise as we can heap on him, he has to win the NBA title this year, but he won’t.  The Heat’s rotation is somehow playing worse than last year and that’s horrible news when you don’t roll very deep beyond the big three.  Look for LeBron’s teammates to let him down and look for the Heat to head home disappointed…again.

Happy trolling, you guys.

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Evaluating the 2012 US Olympic Men’s Team Finalists

On Monday, USA Basketball announced the 20 finalists for the squad that will represent the United States in the Olympics this year.  While the Dream Team should presumably cruise to another victory, I have to admit that I found some of the invitations insulting and embarrassing.  The roster eventually has to be cut to 12 players before the squad plays in London, but it still means a lot to these players to be included among the finalists.  With that in mind I’d like to give you my brief thoughts on all 20 of the finalists in regards to their potential contribution to an actual Olympic team.  Keep in mind this is completely independent of how I actually feel about them as basketball players in the NBA.  I’ll go in order from the selections I most agree with to the least.  Finally, I’ll add in a section for notable exclusions.

No Brainers Selections

1. LeBron James – Best player in the world.  Also the most athletic.  He could literally play the 1 through 5 in international basketball.

2. Kevin Durant – Second best player in the world.  Fits with the team’s image of taking advantage of the United State’s superior athleticism and could theoretically play anywhere from the 2 to 5.  It also didn’t hurt that he was the clear alpha dog on the team that won the World Championship two years ago.

3. Dwight Howard – Best center in the world.  He presents the most mismatches for foreign teams as there is quite simply no one like him in all of basketball.

4. Derrick Rose – The reigning MVP of the NBA and he has a claim to the most athletic point guard title along with Russell Westbrook.  Unlike Westbrook though, he’s amazingly consistent and brings no baggage.  Perfect fit for the envisioned identity of this team.

5. Chris Paul – One of the rare great players who lives to make his teammates better.  CP3 will bring a calming influence to a team with a variety of strange personalities and he’ll have no problem making his peers look better en route to the gold.  Injuries are the only question, as always.

6. Kobe Bryant – With Dwyane Wade’s injury-filled start to the season, Kobe is easily the best shooting guard in the world right now.  He’ll bring a work ethic and desire for winning that will permeate throughout the rest of the team.  Another fact that can’t be discounted is that these teams usually tend to have an alpha dog problem with players unsure whether to demand the ball around their peers.  Let’s just say Kobe will never have trouble demanding the ball.

7. LaMarcus Aldridge – Best American-born power forward.  He also will have no trouble playing second fiddle to some of the bigger egos on this team because he’s been in Brandon Roy’s shadow his whole career.  He’ll be superb as a hybrid 4-5 within any offense.

8. Dwyane Wade – If he’s healthy, you can make a great argument to include him over Kobe.  I tend to lean towards Kobe over him though because of the generational gap.  I feel like all the members of that legendary draft class are afraid to stand up to each other and thus they need a guy like Kobe to come in and balance them out.  If healthy though, there’s no way Wade doesn’t make the team.

Good Role Players Who Could Make The Team, And Deserve It

9. Andre Iguodala – You’re telling me there’s an ultra-athletic wing player who has no interest whatsoever in being a number one scorer and takes personal pride in shutting down the opposing team’s best player?  And he’s American?  Get this man on the team, like yesterday!

10. Chris Bosh – He’s one of the top three American power forwards and is perfect for this team because he plays third wheel on his NBA squad.  Bosh learned a long time ago that he can’t be successful playing with an ego which makes him an ideal candidate to fill in a few minutes every game on this team.

11. Chauncey Billups – Every Olympic team needs a token old guy.  The last squad had Jason Kidd, now it’s Chauncey’s turn.  He’s also ideal because despite my insistence that he handles the ball too much in crunch time, there is no doubt that he has a great sense of how to control the pace at the end of close games that need to be closed.  So long as he’s willing to defer the shooting responsibility, he’d make a great contribution to the team, despite being by far the least talented guard among the bunch.  Remember that we’re trying to build a real team, not an All-Star squad.

Guys Who Should Probably Make The Team But Will Probably Be Cut Instead

12. Kevin Love – If there was ever a more ideal candidate for international basketball than Kevin Love, I’ve never met him.  Love is perfect because he plays power forward in the mold of the international stars.  He rebounds the hell out of the ball, he can shoot the three, and basically he’s everything you’d want from a guy who is by no means going to be the star of the squad.  If Love doesn’t make the team, I will be incredibly upset and will be sure to vent strongly on the site.

13. Rudy Gay – He’s a player built in the Iguodala mold and would be a perfect fit to back up LeBron and Durant at the three or as a defender for some of the opposition’s better shooting guards.  His athleticism makes him an ideal candidate, but there are a lot of talented threes who stand in his way of getting on the team.  Too bad.

Guys Who Have No Business On The Team, But Will Likely Be Included Anyway

14. Deron Williams – His reputation is too great at this point to exclude him from the team.  I’d much rather roll with a versatile trio of Rose, Paul, and Billups who each bring unique aspects to the game (athleticism, unselfishness, maturity, respectively).  Deron doesn’t really do anything better than those three in that regard, and his uninspired play in New Jersey put me over the top when it came to the team.

15. Carmelo Anthony – It’s not a good sign about a player when his former head coach comes out and practically brags about how much better his team is now that he finally got rid of his best guy.  It’s also not a good sign when your new team is dramatically worse since acquiring you and that your team leads the league in isolation offense.  I don’t see what he brings to the table over LeBron, Durant, and Iguodala, given his general feeling about his talents and role.

16. Tyson Chandler – No idea why anyone would want to give him the amount of money that the Knicks coughed over this offseason.  Yeah, Tyson brings a great defensive presence to the game, but that is literally it.  He can’t finish around the rim to save his life.  If there’s a defender within eight feet of him when he tries to go up for a dunk, it’s not going in.  This is another guy who gets way too much credit for something.  He is also a horrible fit for the international game which tends to take advantage of slower big men.  Can’t we all agree the Mavs won because they out-executed the Heat in the Finals, not because Tyson was some sort of demi-god defender sent down from heaven to prevent a LeBron James title?

The Wild Card

17.  Russell Westbrook – Name me one player in international competition who could stay in front of this guy on a basketball court?  Unfortunately the US is stacked at the guard position and with Westbrook’s alleged reputation for refusing to defer, I say he gets left at home.  It would never surprise me if he made it though.

The Egregious Invites

18. Lamar Odom – Theoretically Lamar makes a ton of sense, given his length, athleticism, and ability to play any of the five positions.  Unfortunately, I think he needs to spend some time away from the game this Summer to get his mind right and his recent play is in no way worthy of this honor.  We wish him all the best as he is definitely one of the all-time good guys in the NBA.

19. Eric Gordon – Definitely the third best American shooting guard.  No way the Americans should include more than two shooting guards (Kobe and Wade) on the roster though, given the plethora of depth at point guard.  There might be a spot for him in the future, but at this time USA basketball could have found a more athletic person to take his spot on this list of finalists.

20.  Blake Griffin – I wrote about this earlier today.  He is only good on the fast break and is in no way reliable enough in an international game which requires big men to stretch the floor with their jump shooting.  Throw in his poor defense and this is my biggest mistake for the team USA roster.

The Egregious Non-Invites

Rajon Rondo – He’ll never get an invite again after an alleged rift happened at the World Championships.  The story goes like this: both Rondo and Rose were battling for the team’s number one point guard spot, with both refusing to relent to the other, both feeling they deserved the starting spot.  It got so heated and competitive that Coach K had to make an executive decision to keep one and send the other home in order to keep the team’s chemistry alive.  I still love his ability to drive and his belief in always making teammates look better.

James Harden – Having his best ever season.  Seems to be the American reincarnation of Manu Ginobli.  Also presents an interesting dynamic, given that he is a lefty.  He’s one of the five best shooting guards in the world right now.

Monta Ellis – Ultra athletic guard having his best ever season.  He might be the most unstoppable one-on-one scorer in the world today as well.

Andrew Bynum – Would have much preferred including him on this list of finalists over Tyson Chandler.  Unforgivable.

Kyrie Irving – It’s always good to get the young blood some experience against the world’s best.  I didn’t expect him to make the final team but he could have used to confidence boost and could very well be on this team come 2016.

John Wall – Ditto.

Kyle Lowry – Ditto.  Quietly having the second best point guard season in the NBA right now.  Seems to nearly complete a triple-double every night.

Predictions On The Final 12-Man Roster

Starters: Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard

Reserves: Derrick Rose, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, and Tyson Chandler.

Alternates: Andre Iguodala, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Love

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Gen Y’s Top Sports Writing Of 2011

I compiled a top ten for you. I used to do a weekly feature each Friday called “great sports writing,” but no one ever read it. Doesn’t mean I’m not still keeping track though! Here are my top ten sports articles of 2011.

Honorable Mentions:

“Bill Simmons And Grantland” by Mobutu

This is easily the most controversial piece you’ll find on the list.  In it, a writer using the pen name Mobutu unloads a brutal and, perhaps, 100% accurate, take down of ESPN’s number one writer/celebrity Bill Simmons.  It’s a tough read for any fan of Simmons but many of the points of the author reign true.  It presents the best arguments against the ESPN offshoot site, so good in fact that the criticism almost seems to morph into the realm of being personal.  Although the identity of the writer Mobutu remains a secret, this was undoubtedly one of the best articles of 2011, whether you agree or disagree with the content.  P.S. my bet is on Deadspin’s resident genius/notorious ESPN critic Tommy Craggs as the author.

The Last Act Of The Notorious Howie Spira” by Luke O’Brien

Fascinating story about the man who got George Steinbrenner banned from baseball.  Spira is a complex character, to say the least, and O’Brien’s story does an excellent job telling his tale.

“The Kiss” by Chris Ballard

This piece should probably crack the top ten but Ballard already finds himself on the list with another piece.  He’s probably my favorite long form sports writer alive right now and don’t miss the chance to read into finding out just how that infamous kissing picture from the Vancouver riots actually wound up occurring.  It was instantly one of the most famous sports photos of all-time and knowing its back story makes it 1,000 times more fascinating.

“A Day With Mike Leach: Sailing Key West’s High Seas With The Pirate Captain” by Spencer Hall

Want to read the best Hunter S. Thompson impression of 2011?  Go no further than this awesome piece where Spencer Hall goes fishing with Leach while the coach was still on the unemployment line.  Great piece for finding the origins of the pirate king of college football.

“Staying The Course” by Wright Thompson

Thompson is ESPN’s best long form writer and has a rightful claim to the throne of best long form sports writer on the planet.  Everyone comes across an individual like Thompson once in their life, a southern man who seems to know everything about everything, knows everyone worth knowing, and has enough tall tales to fill an encyclopedia series.  Thompson is that man but just so happens to be one hell of a writer as well.  Check out this piece detailing one golf pro’s attempts to save a course from “financial meltdowns, voodoo curses, and the inevitable power of the tides.”

And now the Top Ten:

10. “Welcome to the Far Eastern Conference” by Wells Tower

This piece chronicles Stephon Marbury’s bizarre exile/journey to China. It details his grand plans to build a world basketball, clothing, and branding empire and he’s so convinced by his Jordan-like dreams that at times you can’t help but believe he’ll actually accomplish it. It gives you an excellent glimpse into what makes the former NBA star tick and the steep price a person is willing to pay to continue living his dream.

9. “Renegade Miami Football Booster Spells Out Illicit Benefits To Players” by Charles Robinson

Robinson’s piece was arguably the biggest story in the history of college football until a certain school in Pennsylvania was revealed to have covered up child molestation later this year.  While I have personal disagreements with news outlets going after college athletes, there’s no denying the gravity of Robinson’s investigation.  The time and effort that went into reporting this piece is very evident as well.

8. “Immigrant Misappropriations: The Importance of Ichiro” by Jay Caspian Kang

My buddies and I were somewhat giddy about the launch of Grantland this year, Bill Simmons’ new sports and pop culture website.  I have to admit though that it was an early disappointment and that I thought it might actually fail.  This was the first piece on the site that made me sit back and think “wow”  and wonder about the potential of Simmons’ brain child idea for a website.  Kang does an excellent job capturing Ichiro’s cultural importance to Asian-Americans as well as how the Japanese ball player influenced his own life.

7. Blindsided: The Jerry Joseph Basketball Scandal” by Michael J. Mooney

You might know the small town of Odessa, TX because of its legendary high school football obsession as chronicled in Buzz Bissinger’s famous book Friday Night Lights.  Travel back to Odessa to learn of the perplexing tale of Jerry Joseph, a basketball player who may or may not have faked his age to play high school basketball.  It probably wouldn’t have been a big deal if it had only been about basketball, but then there’s the matter of his relationship with an underage cheerleader at the school.  Did Joseph pull this off for a missed chance at glory?  Is he really who he says he is?  You make the call.

6. “College Coachs, Drinking, And The Two Men At The Rail” by Spencer Hall

Spencer Hall is the best writer you’ve never heard of.  He’s currently the best sports blogger in the world, which somehow seems like a backhanded compliment, given his extraordinary talents.  He’s the spiritual descendant of famous SI writer Dan Jenkins and share’s Jenkins’ affinity for and knowledge of college football.  In this piece, Hall responds to a round of heavy drinking allegations that probed new West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen before the season started.  Watch as the writer weaves a fantastic story from the past between his thoughts on the present.  The surprise reveal at the end is one of the best you’ll ever find.  And oh yeah, his poetic analysis of the blessings and dangers of drinking is divine.  You can find more of his stuff at the sports blog “Every Day Should Be Saturday.”

5. “The Confessions Of A Former Adolescent Puck Tease” by Katie Baker

Every member of the Gen Y population probably has an embarrassing story about their early use of the internet.  Former Deadspin, now Grantland writer Katie Baker recounts her journey into the world of early internet hockey message boards and the awkward/scary encounter that came as a result of taking white lies a bit too far.  The brutal honesty and excellent storytelling combine for one of the best pieces I read this year.  Baker is an up-and-coming rockstar in the sports writing world, so much so that she left a job at Goldman Sachs after Bill Simmons pleaded with her to join Grantland.

4. “The Shame Of College Sports” by Taylor Branch

I used this piece as the basis of a semester long research/thesis in a masters course I completed a few weeks ago.  It’s the best ever look into the hypocrisy and sham that is college athletics, going into never before seen details about court cases, back stories, and people who shaped this world.  Branch is a Pullitzer Prize winner himself and that he feels this way about college sports should be all you need to know on the topic.  If ever you were against paying college athletes and keeping “amateur” athletics in place, this is the piece that will convince you otherwise.  A masterpiece.

3. “Punched Out: The Life And Death Of A Hockey Enforcer” by John Branch

Many readers out there could make the case that this three part series from the New York Times was the best sports writing of the year.  I’d have a hard time convincing you otherwise.  Follow the journey of Derek Boogaard, who was at one time the baddest man in the NHL.  Boogard made an unlikely career out of beating the crap out of people, but paid the ultimate price for it with his life.  Branch’s three parts tell the story of how the boy grew up into that role, how he made it to the big time, and how he eventually met his downfall.  It’s an extremely emotional look into the darker side of sports and the measures athletes will go to in order to stay in the professional ranks.  It’s also extremely timely because of the breakthrough research into brain-related injuries for football and hockey players that we learned about this year.  Do not miss out on this one (the three parts are easy to click through if you look at the top of the page).

2. “The Biggest Winner” by Joe Posnanski

My own personal opinion is that the best writing, not just sports writing, always has to involve an element of the writer bearing his soul to the reader.  I guess an easier way of saying that is that the writer either needs to be a part of the story or must speak in the first person in their writing.  The reason I feel this way is that no matter how excellent a person might be at capturing the feelings and emotions of characters in stories, the only truth we can really be certain of in life is what we feel inside ourselves.  The only meaning I can really glean from this life is what I feel, what I find to be true, what I experience.  With this in mind, here’s Joe Posnanski, my nominee for the best sports columnist on the planet right now.  Posnanski’s story focuses on the greatest sports story he ever encountered: Rulon Gardner’s upset gold medal victory at the 1996 Olympics.  Throw in Posnanski’s own personal experience and well, be prepared for the greatness that unfolds.

1. “What Was He Thinking?” by Chris Ballard

This is admittedly an extremely biased pick.  Ballard is one of my favorite sports writers right now and that he chose to do a story on a former Bronco, well, let’s just say he had me at hello.  Do you remember Jake Plummer?  Do you remember how he walked away from the game Barry Sanders-style when there were plenty of teams begging him to come quarterback them to the postseason and continue living the dream life as a starting NFL quarterback?  Well, meet the current version of Jake Plummer, resident of Sandpoint, Idaho.  He loves to play handball.  He loves to drink beer.  And he doesn’t miss the NFL at all.  Perhaps you won’t find this story as fascinating as I did, but you have to be at least a little curious as to how a man walked away from what many people would call the full American dream.  Plummer’s logic and reasoning for doing so are a lot more complex than you could ever imagine.

Happy New Year’s from Generation Y where we’d like to thank you for your continued support of the site.

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Gen Y’s Official NBA Free Agent Rankings

This is my first NBA post in regards to the upcoming season and man, does it feel great.  Many thanks to David Stern and the owners for agreeing to end the NBA lockout this weekend.  There is no “system” being used here other than my knowledge and bias, so you know it’s good.  I’m listing them in the order they should be valued and paid, although we all know that will in no way resemble this after free agency wraps up in a couple weeks. 

The Mike Miller “We’re Likely Going To Get Vastly Overpaid For A Singular Talent, Despite An NBA Lockout That Was Meant To Prevent My New Owner From Doing So” Division

26. Kris Humphries –

Mr. Kardashian just pulled off the classic “I overachieved in a contract year to get some dumb front office to sign me for $30 million too much” season.  Fearless prediction you can bank your mortgage on: Humphries’ numbers will drop across the board next year, and he’s going down with a knee injury by February.

25. Glen Davis – Capable big man, nothing more, nothing less.  That won’t prevent some NBA owner out there for following the time-honored NBA tradition of overpaying for size.  His departure from Boston will also make the Celtics bench more shallow than it already is going into what is likely the big three’s last shot at a title.

24. Carl Landry – Ditto.  Would be an excellent fit to stay in his current situation in New Orleans but there’s no way his team will be able to match the outlandish offer he’s bound to receive from someone like Mark Cuban.

23. Nick Young – Some NBA GM is sitting out there drooling over Young right now thinking he’s getting a steal in the young Wizards guard.  He averaged over 17 ppg last year, after all.  What that delusional front office guy is really getting is one of the least efficient players in the league (think: Iverson needing 30 shots to get 30 points, only Young needs 35 shots to get 25 points).

22. Jason Richardson – Again, some NBA GM is sitting out there right now thinking he’s getting the 2005 version of Richardson.  His actual thoughts: “ZOMG look it’s Jason Richardson!  Here’s a long-term midlevel exception, sign it quick!”  It’s unfortunate that he’s going to end up somewhere as the number two scorer, when he’d be best-utilized spending his last days in the association as a sixth man/three point specialist for a fringe NBA title contender.  This is why we can’t have nice things!

21.  J.J. Barea – If you want to see the best unintentional comedy of the NBA season, wait and see the ridiculous offer Barea is going to sign with a random team when free agency starts.  Mark my words, a useless GM is going to pay Barea like a number one point guard based on the previous season’s playoffs.  Everyone knows he’s a third guard, at best, and yet he will likely walk out with one of the five biggest contracts after it’s all said and done.

The “Daryl Morey Definitely Knows That We Are Undervalued Assets” Division

20. Grant Hill – Still an extremely useful piece, if only from a leadership/knowledge of the game standpoint.  I’m hoping OKC lands him or the next guy…

19. Shane Battier – The most intelligent player in the league.  He completely understands the advanced stats movement and would be a great chip for a Celtics, Bulls, or Thunder team looking to make a run at a title.  The good thing about Battier and Hill is that they’ll likely receive what they’re worth in the market because only the smart teams understand their true value.

The “Our Agents Need To Be Fired For Getting Us Stuck In China, Like Yesterday, Also: We All Just So Happen To Be Soon-To-Be Former Denver Nuggets” Division

18. Kenyon Martin – I feel bad for K-Mart, the Nuggets front office really screwed him over this past year.  There was allegedly a promise that if he played in the 2009-2010 playoffs against the Jazz, despite huge knee problems, that he would get a contract extension.  Martin played, and played well, but the Nuggets offer never came.  Now he’s likely lost a year off his career and will spend his last days on non-playoff teams.

17. Wilson Chandler – My least favorite Nugget from last year.  Clearly hated the idea of playing on Denver’s “we have no number one scoring option, which is exactly why we can win” squad in the post-Melo era.  The way he mailed in the last two games of the Thunder series is reason enough to let him walk and also to point a finger and laugh that he’s stuck in China till March.

16. J.R. Smith –

My biggest regret will be seeing J.R. sign with some unsuspecting team in March and the inevitable series of “did anybody have any idea J.R. Smith was this good?” columns that come as a result (this is me raising my hand).  Take me seriously when I say he has the talent to be a top twenty player in this league.  I don’t know if a coach will ever give him a chance to prove it, but watch out if he gets his shot.

The “We Hope We’re Not Getting Ourselves Into A Gilbert Arenas Situation With A Bad Long-Term Contract” Division

15. Mario Chalmers –

Call me crazy, but I saw something in Chalmers last year that I’d be willing to take a risk on in the upcoming season or three.  He’s definitely a starter on the “irrational confidence guy” squad, proving multiple times during last year’s playoffs that you could count on him for a big bucket.  I doubt he stays in Miami because they can’t afford him and might be worth the risk for a team looking for a solid point guard on the (relative) cheap.

14. Jeff Green – One thing I love about the NBA is that guys like Green make excellent pieces on championship squads, if they’re signed to their rookie contracts or contracts in which they agree to take far less money so they can be on a good team.  That’s the dilemma facing Green and the Celtics here.  He’s going to get paid, the only question is what team is willing to take the risk on him?  Or, can he be convinced by the veterans to take far less than his market value?   Boston would be banking that he’s the guy who can help the big three win one last title and would have no room to add any other player, should they sign him.  What if he fails though?  Also: can they afford not to sign him from a PR standpoint after trading Perkins for him?  Big decisions to make in Boston!

13. Thaddeus Young – Classic candidate for this class of player.  He’s got the physical tools to be a serviceable small forward in this league, but has been stuck behind Iguodala and Philly’s decision to draft Evan Turner.  Would you be willing to take a risk on Young?  He proved he can play in last year’s postseason.  Still a risk to spend middle class money on though.

12. Andrei Kirilenko – He would be higher on this list, except that he just signed a three-year deal to play for CSK Moscow back in Russia.  I am going to say there is no way he plays in the NBA again, unless Mutant Russian Mark Cuban in New Jersey pays him a max contract (which is totally possible).

11.  Tayshaun Prince – Another really intriguing free agent.  The reviews are mixed on whether Prince is just washed up or whether he only plays hard for teams that are good.  No NBA fan can forget the remarkable one-on-one defense he provided during the Pistons mini (emphasis on mini) dynasty during the mid 2000s.  No NBA fan can forget the seasons since that dynasty ended either though.

10. Jamal Crawford – To me, Crawford is the biggest risk in the entire free agent crop.  What this tells me is that teams should stay as far away as possible.  That won’t happen though.  It’s hard to resist a two guard capable of getting any shot he wants on the floor at any time, because there’s very few of them in the league (Kobe, Wade, Manu, and Tyreke are the only other shooting guards that come to mind).  But that team also takes on all the baggage Crawford brings.  I’m hoping Chicago doesn’t overpay for him, but that’s my guess at where he ends up right now.

The “Oh My God, You Never Know What In The Hell Can Happen With These Players’ Injury History” Division

9. Greg Oden – Portland is in a tough spot with this one.  They really never got a taste at what their number one overall pick could do.  It just doesn’t seem fair that he would be allowed to play somewhere else.  But then again, can you actually pay money to a guy that has only 82 games total under his belt?  Someone will take a risk on him.  I’m praying it’s not my team.

8. Caron Butler –

Coming off major knee surgery.  Before that though he was a more-than-proven number two scorer.  I have a feeling Cuban will re-sign him, wondering how much better the Mavs could have been last year with him on the team, despite the title.  It’s going to kill all the Dallas fans though when they commit major dollars over the next four years.

7. Tyson Chandler – Totally the reason Dallas was finally able to get over the hump last year and win the title.  He was the best defensive presence we’d seen since Kevin Garnett in the 2008 playoffs.  Unfortunately, it’s also hard to forget that this could have happened in New Orleans only a couple years prior, had he been able to stay healthy.  This is why it sucks to be an owner or a GM in the NBA.  Chandler deserves the big money, but I’d be willing to bet my entire salary in 2012 that he gets hurt before the playoffs this year.  Good luck, future NBA team that signs Tyson Chandler.

6. Yao Ming –

This is out of respect, I do realize he’s retired.  RIP to the second greatest career that never was allowed to happen (Walton is #1). Here’s hoping he tries to come back like Walton did with the ’86 Celtics.

The “You Need Not Worry, Your Money Is Well Spent” Division

5. Arron Afflalo – He’s secretly become the reincarnation of Shane Battier.  He’s an excellent one-on-one defender and quietly became one of the most efficient scorers in the league playing behind Melo all these years.  Luckily for the Nuggets, he’s a restricted free agent and I see no way in hell they let him walk.  It’s quite possible George Karl will rely on him as the number one scoring option next season, and given every interview/conversation I’ve read, he’s more than ready to rise to the occasion.

4. DeAndre Jordan – I don’t see how he’ll leave the Clippers.  It’s too much fun playing in the LA market and he’d be incredibly stupid to give up the opportunity to play with Blake Griffin the next couple years.  It doesn’t hurt the Clips that he’s also best friends with Blake off the court.  Jordan is secretly becoming one of the better defenders in the league and if he continues to develop his post game, it’s not inconceivable that he’s a top five center before the year is over.

3. David West – Only fell this low because of the injury this past season.  It also likely means that he’ll end up staying in New Orleans.  Watch out though, there are definitely teams out there that have money to spend, and one of them might unnecessarily splurge on him in the hopes of satisfying the fan base.  West will always be a fringe All-Star at power forward, and a guy you can rely on in the playoffs.  The injury risk is a necessary topic of conversation though now.

2. Marc Gasol – As far as true centers go, there’s only three or four better players in the league right now.  He’s going to get a max contract.  It’s one of those “it might not be worth it, but it really is” kind of deals where he’s going to be good for a 20-10 the next four years.  I don’t think Gasol is a guy you can rely on to win you a playoff game, but he’s just about as close as it gets.

1. Nene – The object of every GM’s affections right now.  Denver, Golden State, and Houston are going to woo him with everything they’ve got, knowing that he’s the greatest advanced stats player in the league that no one knows about.  To give you an example, Nene receives an And1 call on 9.9% of his attempted field goals, an absolutely impossible stat for a guy with his work load.  When you throw in the fact that a free throw is the most efficient shot on the floor, well, you can see why all the smart teams want him so badly.  I say a prayer every night that Denver is able to keep him.  Things we’ve got going for us right now: we can pay him more money over a longer term than any team, his wife is from Colorado, and he can be the number one scoring option.  Things we don’t have going for us: players to put around him in the long-term, not a desirable free agent location, and he didn’t seem pleased with the Nuggets front office last season.

Whoever gets Nene is going to have a very, very happy fan base.

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The First USA Today Coach’s Poll Released Today

Poor Boise.  Already getting shafted.  From USA Today:

Rank
Team (first-place votes)
2010 record
Points
Final 2010 ranking
1.
12-2
1,454
6
2.
Alabama (13)
10-3
1,414
11
3.
Oregon (2)
12-1
1,309
3
4.
LSU (2)
11-2
1,296
8t
5.
10-4
1,116
16
6.
12-1
1,101
4
7.
12-1
1,065
7
8.
11-2
933
10
9.
Texas A&M
9-4
885
21
10.
11-2
829
8t
11.
Nebraska
10-4
814
19
12.
9-5
779
22
13.
11-3
767
15
14.
10-3
750
12
15.
13-0
687
2
16.
12-1
631
5
17.
Michigan State
11-2
536
14
18.
Notre Dame
8-5
440
NR
19.
14-0
329
1
20.
9-4
301
17
21.
Missouri
10-3
266
18
22.
Georgia
6-7
260
NR
23.
8-5
240
NR
24.
Texas
5-7
162
NR
25.
Penn State
7-6
161
NR

 

[USA Today]

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TCU Baseball Ranked Number One In Preseason Poll

From Baseball News:

Texas Christian University is ranked No. 1 in Collegiate Baseball newspaper’s NCAA Division I pre-season baseball poll.

The Horned Frogs finished third at the College World Series last season and return a deep and experienced ball club for 2011. Seven position player starters are back along with three Louisville Slugger Pre-Season All-American starting pitchers in LHP Matt Purke (16-0, 3.02 ERA, 142 K, 34 BB), RHP Kyle Winkler (12-3, 3.39 ERA, 92 K, 36 BB), and RHP Steven Maxwell (11-2, 2.70 ERA, 93 K, 34 BB).

TCU is the only team in the nation with three pre-season All-American pitchers. Offensively, the team hit .334 last season with 178 doubles and 101 homers. The defense turned 71 double plays while pitchers and catchers picked off 15 runners.

TCU suffered two big losses in All-American catcher Bryan Holaday, Easton’s NCAA Division I Defensive Player of The Year last season (7 pickoffs, threw out 23 runners in 50 stolen base attempts over 68 games, .355 BA, 17 HR, 24 2B, 53 RBI) and 1B Matt Curry (.339, 18 HR, 26 2B, 65 RBI).

“I’m excited about our 2011 club,” said TCU Head Coach Jim Schlossnagle.

“We return our entire weekend rotation of pitchers and seven of eight position player starters who helped us go deep into the College World Series. Our starting pitching is superb with Matt Purke, Kyle Winkler and Steven Maxwell. If we can keep them healthy, it gives us a chance most weekends. We have other pitchers who are outstanding as well.”

Schlossnagle said that he has two quality catchers to fill in for the loss of Holaday in Jimmie Pharr and Josh Elander.

“Jimmie hit .363 in 39 games for us last season with 7 homers and 9 doubles. If you average that out over an entire season, those numbers would have been outstanding. Josh played outfield for us last year, but he was drafted as a catcher. So he is outstanding as well. Replacing a guy like Holaday is almost impossible. But if we can get 70 or 80 percent of what he did, then we have a great chance of success. Losing Curry also hurts because he was an exceptional hitter. Both Holaday and Curry were elite defensive players as well.”

One other loss is RHP Kaleb Merck (2-1, 1.47 ERA, 22 APP) who had a great summer in the Cape Cod League and was being looked at to be the closer. Unfortunately, he underwent Tommy John surgery and is out for the season.

As far as pro potential, three TCU players are expected to be picked in the first three rounds of next June’s Free Agent Draft in Purke (1stround), Winkler (2nd-3rd round) and OF Jason Coats (1st-3rd rounds).

Schlossnagle said that sometimes handling success is more difficult than failure.

“We have been having success for a long time at TCU. Being at the College World Series magnified that. Our motto last Fall was to keep the blinders on and try to stay focused every day.”

This isn’t exactly surprising news as the Frogs return their best pitcher Matt Purke, a former number one pick of the Rangers who mowed down the competition in Omaha last year before the Frogs fell in the semis.  TCU can only be content with a run to the finals at this point, given their huge success in recent years.

Go Frogs!

[Baseball News]

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Obligatory Column Bashing College Football

Chris Dufresne, you just gained a fan.  Great stuff here from the LA Times columnist who pointed this out:

“At least you know where AP voters stand every week. Of course, the most credible poll is no longer part of the BCS process.

This veil of secrecy only raises suspicions and strains credulity as it threatens credibility.

It makes the Oliver Stone in you wonder why Alabama would stay ranked ahead of South Carolina. Is it a backlash against Gamecocks Coach Steve Spurrier, who has long rankled many of his fellow coaches?

It gets worse, though, almost comically worse.

The AP is the only major poll this week that has Oregon State, No. 24 this week, ranked in the top 25.

You read that right.

The yearslong joke called the USA Today poll unveiled a list and two-loss Oregon State wasn’t on it.

But two-loss Florida was?”

He goes on to blast the human element as being the worst part of the BCS formula and quite frankly I agree with him.  TCU just shut out their last two opponents.  Read that again.  Zero points allowed.  Zero.  Although the Frogs’ competition wasn’t stiff, they still didn’t allow a single point over the course of the last two weeks.  Even Ohio State gets scored on by the lesser teams in the Big 10, and yet, the Frogs have actually fallen in the rankings!

And don’t give me that crap that the TCU’s and Boise’s of the world couldn’t handle the pressure of a yearly BCS conference schedule.  TCU wiped the floor with Baylor about a month ago and Baylor promptly went on and crushed KU by 50 and lost a close, close game to Texas Tech over the weekend.  They also beat Oregon State who knocked off the ninth team in the country last week.

It’s a tragedy that Alabama only fell to eighth because come December, mark my words, you’ll hear Nick Saban pleading his case for his three loss ‘Bama team to make it into the BCS over an undefeated TCU or Utah team that would easily take care of the Crimson Tide and that inexperienced unit he is trying to pass of as a defense.  And Dufresne is right, how in the hell does South Carolina not pass Alabama?  These idiots involved in the polls don’t realize that just because a team won the title last year doesn’t mean that they’re obligated to be given respect this year.  Alabama is just not that good this season.  They barely beat an even more horrific Florida team and they let the ole’ Ball Coach stick it to them with a joke of a QB under center.

Boise State will of course come out as the BCS number one when it is first released next week but it’s just setting up the Broncos for a tragic fall when they eventually will get passed by a one loss team that won its conference title game.

Let’s all pray Ohio State can manage to ruin their season.

[LA Times]

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TCU Better Than Texas This Year?

That’s what Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News thinks in these ranking released yesterday by the newspaper.  “1. TCU: The Horned Frogs have been building a case for years, and this is their best yet. Seventeen starters back from an 12-1 team. A Heisman candidate in Andy Dalton. The nation’s top-ranked defense two years running.   Losing Jerry Hughes at defensive end certainly hurts, but Gary Patterson has a way of turning up players.  By the time the Frogs play a game outside Dallas-Fort Worth, in October, Patterson’s biggest concern will be whether the bandwagon runs him over.”

[Dallas Morning News]

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USA Today Released The Coaches’ Poll

You can check out the official vote tally here.  This is how they ranked them:

1. Alabama

2. Ohio State

3. Florida

4. Texas

5. Boise State

6. Virginia Tech

7. TCU

8. Oklahoma

9. Nebraska

10. Iowa

11. Oregon

12. Wisconsin

13. Miami (FL.)

14. Penn State

15. Pittsburgh

16. LSU

17. Georgia Tech

18. North Carolina

19. Arkansas

20. Florida State

21. Georgia

22. Oregon State

23. Auburn

24. Utah

25. West Virginia

[USA Today]

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