2019-2020 NBA Preview

It feels like it was just yesterday that I wrote my 2018-2019 NBA Season Preview. So much has changed since last year. Let’s rewind through some of the biggest story-lines over the last several months…

  • Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers to team up with LeBron
  • Kawhi Leonard won a title for the Raptors, then bolted for the Clippers in free agency
  • Paul George was shockingly traded to the Clippers to play Robin to Kawhi’s Batman in Hollywood
  • Kevin Durant tore his Achilles tendon and will miss most, if not all, of the 2019-2020 season… oh and he and Kyrie Irving are teaming up in Brooklyn
  • The Celtics lost Kyrie and Al Horford in free agency, but added All-Star Kemba Walker
  • The Rockets decided the James Harden and Chris Paul duo wasn’t working so they traded Paul in exchange for Russell Westbrook

As usual, the story-lines are endless after an incredible off-season. I think most people would agree that this is the most wide-open the league has been, going into a new season, for a long-time. For the last several years, the Heat and Warriors have been heavy favorites to win it all going back to LeBron’s first year in Miami. Let’s get into some predictions…

MVP – Steph Curry

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Photo Credit: SB Nation

It’s easy to forget that it was only a few years ago Steph Curry was coming off back to back MVPs. With the addition of Kevin Durant, after Curry won his second MVP, people seemed to forget how dominant and amazing Curry truly was. It’s for good reason, Kevin Durant has arguably been the best player in the NBA the last few years. Steph began to slowly remind people of his MVP days in the NBA Finals back in June against the Raptors. Although Toronto would go on to beat an undermanned Warriors team in 6 games, Curry balled out in the series averaging over 30 points a game and consistently hitting big shots.

Fast forward to the 2019-2020 season and Curry could be in line for his biggest year yet. Kevin Durant’s now in Brooklyn. Klay Thompson will be out until at least the mid-season with a torn ACL. The West is as deep as it’s ever been. This means the “load management” days, that deeper/more talented teams like the Lakers and Clippers can afford to their superstars, may not be the case for the Warriors. They’ll have to fight harder to make the playoffs.

Despite losing KD permanently and Klay for much of the upcoming season, there is some good news for Steph as they signed All-Star D’Angelo Russell. Russell tends to play a lot of isolation ball, but he will make Steph’s life easier as defenses won’t be able to focus strictly on him.

We all know Curry is probably the greatest shooter who has ever lived. He’s drastically improved his finishing ability around the rim the last several years and is still one of the best ball-handlers in the league. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Curry to improve on his career best 30.1 PPG in 2015-2016, while almost single handily carrying the Warriors offensively to somewhere in the top 5 in the Western Conference until Klay returns. If this is the case and the Warriors finish around the top 4 or 5 in the standings at season’s end, I expect Curry to win the League MVP. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen Steph fully unleashed with no KD, so appreciate the greatness you’ll see this upcoming season!

Rookie of the Year – Zion Williamson

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Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

Do I really have to elaborate much on this one? As much as I’d love to go out on a limb and say someone like RJ Barrett or Ja Morant wins, it’s just not logical. Zion has looked amazing in preseason. He’s averaging 23 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists while shooting 71% from the field… 71 FREAKING PERCENT! While those numbers may regress a little once the regular season starts, there’s no doubt that Zion’s freakish build and athleticism are going to translate well into the upcoming season. When you couple all this with the fact the Pelicans should have a chance to compete for a 7th or 8th seed this year, Zion coming in as a heavy favorite to win ROY at -130 (Per Bovada) makes perfect sense.

Most Improved Player – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

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Photo Credit: CBS Sports

Shai was the prized player the Thunder received from the Clippers in the Paul George trade back in July. SGA just turned 21 in July and is only going into his second season in the league. Some people may argue that I’m a year early on this prediction. He also may be playing off the ball, with Chris Paul running the point for the Thunder this year, therefore taking away some usage/opportunities from him.

There is a lot to love about SGA and his situation this year though. He’s a very well-rounded player who can distribute, shoot the rock, is slippery in getting to the rim, and has a chance to be a stud defensively with his 6’11 wingspan. He’s come out of the gates hot this pre-season averaging 21 ppg., shooting 52% from the field, and 92% from the line.

A lot of people argue that the Thunder’s acquisition of Chris Paul could be bad for Shai and potentially stunt his growth. I’ll play “devil’s advocate” on this. First, I’d say there’s a 50/50 chance Chris Paul finishes the season with the Thunder. If they come out struggling in the beginning of the season, there will be more incentive for the team to trade him. For the time being, he’s going to start the season on the roster and this could be great for SGA.

Say what you want about Paul, but he’s always been one of the best defensive guards in the league. He’s a great floor general and has really improved his jumper from earlier in his career. These are traits that SGA wants to eventually master. Having Paul around to mentor him could help SGA’s game continue to grow even more dramatically this year. I also believe that Billy Donovan will do his best to stagger some of the minutes between SGA and CP3, so that SGA will have the opportunity to have the ball in his hands more often. While in the long run CP3 getting shipped out of OKC may improve SGA’s chances to win Most Improved Player, CP3’s presence (at least in the beginning of the year) will pay dividends toward the development of SGA.

NBA Finals – Lakers defeat the Sixers in 6 games

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Photo Credit: CBS Sports

If you had asked me my prediction 2 months ago, I would have said the Clippers beat the 76ers in the NBA Finals. I cannot stress how much I love the team the Clippers have built around Kawhi and Paul George. They have the perfect blend of scoring, defense, and role players. I expect guys like Lou Williams, Pat Beverly, Montrezl Harrell, JaMychal Green, etc. to fill their roles flawlessly for this team.

On the flip side, there’s part of me that has this eerie feeling that Paul George or Kawhi won’t be fully healthy in a Western Conference Finals match-up against the Lakers. I could also see Paul George’s absence in the first month or so of the season, coupled with some “load management” days, costing the Clippers in the standings and then losing in the second round of the playoffs because they don’t have homecourt advantage.

So, I think the 1-2 combo of Anthony Davis and LeBron James will carry the Lakers to their first title since the Kobe and Pau Gasol days. The Lakers made a very smart move this off-season after acquiring Anthony Davis. Instead of using the rest of their cap space to try and bring in a 3rd star like Kemba Walker or Jimmy Butler, they spread their money out to fill their needs for the rest of the roster. They were able to re-sign solid role players like Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell Pope, and Javale McGee, while adding Avery Bradley, Danny Green, Dwight Howard, Jared Dudley, and Quinn Cook in free agency. Many of the aforementioned players are at points of their career where winning a ring is more important than getting their numbers. They’ll be able to play small or big, depending on what other teams throw at them.

Now let’s get to the 76ers. Boy it pains me so much to say this as a Celtics fan and a big hater of the 76ers… but I really think they’re getting to the finals this year (as I always say I’m nothing but fair… don’t call me biased). I believe the additions of Josh Richardson and Al Horford will make them the best defensive team in the NBA. I think that when we look back at the end of the season, one of the best signings in free agency will be Al Horford. His ability to stretch the floor as a big man who can shoot, his defensive smarts, and his leadership will go a long way for this team. He’ll also be able to take some of the weight off Joel Embiid’s back defensively, potentially keeping Embiid fresher at the end of games… and the end of the season. When I envision a potential Eastern Conference Finals of the 6ers and Bucks, I believe the 6ers ability to throw different looks at Giannis, whether it be Ben Simmons, Horford, or even Embiid, is going to be the difference. Giannis is next to unstoppable, but I think the 6ers will be his most difficult match-up in the league.

Should the Lakers and 76ers meet in the finals, I think the pure talent and best 1-2 combo in the NBA in LeBron and Anthony Davis will be too much for Philly. I believe the Lakers have the right blend of talent and experience in guys like LeBron, Rondo, and Danny Green (hell, throw Dwight Howard in there if you want) to be the difference in the series. It feels like this might be LeBron’s best chance at a title for the rest of his career. Between a wide-open league, coming into a season as fresh as he ever has, and getting a top 5 player in the league added to his team, there’s no excuse for him if they don’t compete strongly for a title. The one x-factor in this series could be if Ben Simmons has developed a jump shot. If he can at least keep defenses honest this year, it could change how I feel about this potential series. Until I consistently see it, I’m going to expect that Simmons still can’t shoot and it’ll end up coming back to haunt the 6ers if these two teams meet in the finals.

I hope everyone has their NBA league passes ordered and is ready for an amazing season. Also don’t forget if you don’t want to buy the full league pass package, you can purchase the 4th quarter of NBA games through league pass.

 

 

My Favorite NFL Week 1 Bets

Week 1 is finally here! It all kicks off on Thursday when the Bears host the Packers to get things started for the 100th season of the National Football League. Let’s be honest, everyone needs to get their action on Sunday one way or another. Many of us have our favorite team, fantasy teams, and DraftKings teams, but that doesn’t stop us from putting a few bucks down on some bets as well. Here are some of my favorite Week 1 bets…

Chiefs -3.5 @ Jaguars

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Photo credit: CBS Sports

Most people would say the Chiefs or the Patriots are the best team in the AFC. Meanwhile the Jags are coming off a 5-11 season. Back in March, they went out and signed former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles (still makes me sick saying that as a Patriots fan). It’s important to note that they also lost former Pro Bowler Telvin Smith… and I think this is going to be a big factor in this game. Smith was one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL. He’d constantly be matched-up with RBs and TEs. Other than throwing the deep ball to Tyreek Hill, what does Pat Mahomes love to do? He loves throwing to the best TE in the league (Travis Kelce) and he loves getting the RBs involved in quick screens and wheel routes. Andy Reid teams constantly come out of the gates hot. The Chiefs haven’t lost a game under Reid in September since 2016. They’re also 14-6 against the spread in September since he took over. The Chiefs are clearly among the Super Bowl favorites and to get them as 3.5 favorites, against a new look Jags team, feels like a steal.

Rams @ Panthers +3

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Photo Credit: SB Nation

The Panthers were one of the more disappointing teams in the NFL last year. They started out 6-2, and would go on to lose 7 of their last 8 games finishing 7-9. Meanwhile, the Rams are the defending NFC Champions. Vegas is giving the Rams the respect they earned last season as they come into this game as 3-point favorites. I actually like the Panthers in this battle. A big reason for the Panthers downfall last season was Cam Newton’s shoulder injury. He had surgery in the off-season and all indications out of training camp are that he looks back to 100%. The Panthers also added Gerald McCoy to pair up front with stud DT Kawann Short. The combination of Short, McCoy, and Luke Kuechly should give the Panthers one of the better rushing defenses in the league. The Rams love to run the ball and they could run into some issues with the Panthers potentially stout run D and their own offensive line changes. As we saw at times last season, you don’t want to put the game completely in Jared Goff’s hands. Lastly, for people who like trends, the previous year’s Super Bowl losers are 3-16 ATS in their last 19 season openers and an even more putrid 1-12 ATS spread on the road since 2000 (courtesy of OddsShark.com). The Panthers are my favorite under the radar team in the NFC this year. Watch out for them!

Steelers @ Patriots UNDER 50.5 total points

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Photo Credit: International Business Times

As a die-hard Patriots fan, I know a lot about this team and follow them very closely. I also took a big interest in the Steelers this off-season. I’m very curious to see how they look following the departures of AB and Lev Bell. I think that these teams feature two of the most underrated defenses coming into the season… especially the Pats. They are as deep as ever in the secondary, hence the trades of Keion Crossen and Duke Dawson, two 2nd year corners they had to give up due to their depth at this position. I expect Michael Bennett to be a more than serviceable replacement for Trey Flowers. The Steelers have a lot going for them as well on the defensive side of the ball. T.J. Watt became one of the best pass-rushers in the league last year, amassing 13 sacks. They also added STUD! rookie LB Devin Bush out of Michigan to replace the gap left behind by the Ryan Shazier injury. I think T.J. Watt and crew could cause some issues for the Pats O-line. Sunday will be Patriots’ LT Isaiah Wynn’s first NFL game. They’re also dealing with the loss of C David Andrews, who will most likely be replaced by Ted Karras. I expect the Pats to try win this game on the ground and with their defense. The Pats top 3 wideouts in Edelman, Josh Gordon, and DT, all had their first pre-season action last week, so I don’t envision Bill trying to win this game on TB12’s shoulders with 3 wideouts that didn’t have many training camp reps. As I touched on earlier, the Pats have one of the most underrated defenses in the NFL, and I expect Big Ben and crew to have some struggles finding the end zone. I see this game finishing somewhere around 24-17. The Under of 50.5 is one of my favorite plays of the week.

Enjoy week 1 everybody!! FOOTBALL IS BACK!

3 Sleepers to Target in your Fantasy Football Drafts

The NFL season is 2 weeks away. I know I speak for everyone when I say… IT’S ABOUT TIME! I’m sure many of you have your fantasy drafts over the next 2 weeks so let’s get into some sleepers…

  1. Latavius Murray – Saints, RB: When people think about the Saints, they tend to think Drew Brees leading a high powered offense that wants to throw the ball vertically down the field. But times have changed in New Orleans over the last 2 years. Last season, Brees had his fewest pass attempts going back to 2004 with the Chargers. The Saints are a team that wants to win with defense and running the ball. While there’s no denying Alvin Kamara is the leader in the Saints backfield, there’s still plenty of room for another successful RB, as Mark Ingram has proved the last few years. Ingram left the Saints for the Ravens in the off-season, and has been replaced by Latavius Murray. Ingram had 18 rushing TDs combined during the 2017 and 2018 season. He only played in 12 games last year, so the TD number likely would have been even higher had he played the full slate of games. If Murray can get north of 180 carries (Ingram had 230 two years ago), he could become a solid RB2. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for him to flirt with 1100 total yards and double digit TDs. Ingram had 1500 total yards and 12 TDs two years ago, despite the emergence of Alvin Kamara. Also, it must be noted that if Kamara gets injured, Murray could be a league winner.
  2. Donte Moncrief – Steelers, WR: Donte Moncrief has long been a favorite of mine going back to his days in Indy. He has all the tools to be a great receiver in the NFL. He has speed, athleticism, and height. He’s caught some bad breaks the last few years between injuries and bad QB play from Jacoby Brissett and Blake Bortles. He’s always been a presence in the red zone with his ability to go up and win a ball with his 6”2 height. All the stars are aligning for him this year in Pittsburgh. The Steelers threw the ball more than any other team in the NFL last year. Following the departure of Antonio Brown and Jesse James, the Steelers have a whopping 215 targets to account for. Somebody needs to step up as Big Ben’s 2nd favorite target behind JuJu Smith-Schuster. It looks like Moncrief is going to get the first crack. If he can quickly develop chemistry with Ben, Moncrief has a WR2 ceiling this year.
  3. Devin Funchess- Colts, WR: I have to preface this by saying Andrew Luck must be healthy for Devin Funchess to succeed, but I’m going to assume for arguments sake that Luck will be ready for week 1. Funchess had a very disappointing 2018 season following his 2017 breakout season in which he had 840 yards and 8 TDs. Some of his struggles can be attributed to Cam Newton’s inconsistency last year, but there’s no denying Funchess struggled at times. Funchess has a fresh start this year after signing a 1 year deal with the Colts. I think it’s important to note that Funchess’ average annual salary of $10 million was the second highest of any WR signed this offseason (only behind Tyrell Williams). While I think the Colts may have overpaid him a little, I think the contract illustrates that they have big plans for him this upcoming season and believe in his abilities as a player. Some of his buzz was redirected when Indy drafted speedster Paris Campbell out of Ohio St. Unfortunately for Campbell, he’s now missed over 2 weeks of practice with a hamstring injury and doesn’t appear close to returning to the field. Hamstring injuries for rookie wideouts are often very debilitating. Funchess is the perfect complement to the speedy T.Y. Hilton as a possession wideout.  Andrew Luck should target him often. Luck loves targeting big body receiving options in the red area (see Eric Ebron last year). I believe Funchess flirts with close to 1000 yards this year and 7 or 8 TDs, returning to his 2017 form. After all, he’s still only 25 years old.

Other Sleepers to consider:

  • Miles Sanders – Eagles, RB: The talent is undeniable. I expect him to be leading the Eagles backfield in carries by week 5.
  • Matt Brieda – 49ers, RB: Jerrick McKinnon doesn’t look like he’s going to be a factor for the 9ers this year. Tevin Coleman badly flopped in a lead back role with the Falcons last year, while Breida was 4th in the NFL with a 5.3 YPC… despite battling a high ankle sprain for most of the season.
  • Jameis Winston – Bucs, QB: Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard, look primed for breakout seasons. Couple that with QB Whisperer Bruce Arians as the new head coach of the Bucs, if it doesn’t happen for Winston this year, then it never will.
  • Marquez Valdes-Scantling – Packers, WR: MVS stands at 6″4 and runs a 4.37 40. He also has one of the best QBs of all-time throwing to him. Aaron Rodgers has praised MVS throughout the off-season. It seems as if he’s finally gaining Rodgers’ trust, something that didn’t always seem to be there in the 2018 season. He has a chance to make a big leap in his second year in the NFL.

I’m going to make it a point to do a Start ‘EM, Sit ‘Em column as much as I can throughout the season, so be on the lookout for those posts. Good luck in your drafts in the next 2 weeks!

Red Sox Rest of Season Outlook

It finally feels like the Red Sox season started last week with the combination of big wins against the Rays and Yankees and the offense firing on all cylinders. There’s no denying that Chris Sale laid another egg with his chance to sweep the Yankees, but let’s not overlook the fact that the Sox dominated the Yanks. In the first 3 games of the weekend series, they outscored them 38-13. The bats came alive, Mookie Betts is starting to round into his MVP form, and they got three very solid pitching performances out of their 3 thru 5 starters, Rick Porcello, Andrew Cashner, and Eduardo Rodriguez.

As we head into yet another huge week of games against the Rays, who are .5 games ahead of Boston in the wild card standings, another 4 game set against the Bronx Bombers, and the trade deadline on Wednesday, this is a crucial stretch in determining where this team will end up at the end of the season.

As we evaluate this team moving forward, I think it’s pretty clear they don’t need to make any additions to the offense. Most people know it’s been a bit of a disappointing year for Mookie and Andrew Benintendi, but it looks like both of their bats are finally waking up. We saw Mookie put on an electric performance last Friday night when he slammed 3 dingers and went 4 for 5. Benintendi has raised his average almost 20 points over the last week or so. If these 2 can stay hot and live up to their expectations, their offense is still as good as any team in the league. Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers are in the midst of career seasons and have carried this offense for the most of this year. JD Martinez continues to rake and his batting average is creeping back up close to .300. Couple all this with the return of Mitch Moreland platooning at 1st and Christian Vazquez in the middle of a career year offensively and their offense will continue to carry this team in the dog days of summer.

The starting rotation while inconsistent at times seems like it’s been moving forward after the trade for Andrew Cashner back on July 13th. Eduardo Rodriguez is tied for the AL lead in wins and looks to have settled in as the 3rd starter. David Price has been mostly consistent this year despite his inability to ignore the media (read up on his ongoing feud with Dennis Eckersley if you want to know more about that). Rick Porcello, while struggling mightily at times with his 5.55 ERA, continues to eat up innings per usual. Andrew Cashner looks like a serviceable 5th starter who can be used out of the bullpen if/when they get to the post-season.

This leaves one guy yet to be mentioned, Chris Sale. If the Red Sox end up missing the post-season, much of the blame should be pointed at Sale. His current record now sits at 5-10 with an ERA of 4.26. If he sat at 10-5 like an ace of his normal caliber, the Sox would be in the running to take another AL East crown. Personally, I still believe Sale can return to his dominant form in time for the playoffs and lead the pitching rotation in September and October. There are still positive signs that he can turn the corner. He’s 2nd in the AL in strikeouts which illustrates that he still has his swing and miss stuff. He’s  also 6th in the league in WHIP. If he can cut back on his HRs, and avoid the blow-up inning he seems to have every few starts, there’s no reason he can’t dominate like the past few seasons… it’s just a little scary to say this with the calendar about to flip to August.

Anybody who’s followed this team throughout the year knows adding an arm or preferably two to the bullpen is probably the key to making another run to a World Series. I look at the bullpen and hardly know who these guys are… and for good reason since they’ve been horrible for much of the season. The only guy I really believe in right now is Brandon Workman, who’s been very reliable with an ERA of 2.08 in 47.2 innings pitched. Other than Workman, it’s been a crapshoot as to what you’re going to see from the rest of the crew. I’m hopeful Matt Barnes is starting to turn a corner, as he hasn’t given up a run in July. They also just got Nathan Eovaldi back from the Injured List and have decided to put him in the bullpen (since the pickings are so slim out there). We all saw Eovaldi’s upside last October, so this move could work well in the long run. He’s been rusty so far in his 3 appearances since he was activated off the IL, throwing 2.2 innings and allowing 5 earned runs. But he hadn’t pitched since April 17th and hadn’t pitched out of the bullpen since last October, so some rust is to be expected.

The Sox still desperately need help in the ‘pen. The name they continue to be linked to is Edwin Diaz. Diaz is only 25 years old and is currently the closer for the Mets. New York traded for him in the offseason. He’s been a major disappointment to date with a 4.95 ERA and a WHIP close to 1.5. With that being said, a change in scenery could be good for Diaz. Last year he led the majors with 57 saves and had an ERA of 1.96. He constantly throws in the high 90’s and has a very effective slider. While he would still cost the Red Sox a top prospect, his down season may allow them to buy low on Edwin compared to last offseason when the Mets traded for him, coming off his 57 save season.

There are plenty of other options out there as well, such as veterans Greg Holland who recently got removed from the closer role with the D’Backs, Ken Giles who’s closed for the Blue Jays this year and has an ERA of 1.54, but hasn’t been in many high leverage situations (as the Jays are one of the worst teams in baseball), and Shane Greene who has been one of the best relievers in baseball to date and earned his first All-Star appearance with the Tigers (the worst team in baseball).

At the beginning of last week, there were some whispers that the Red Sox might be sellers at the trade deadline and take calls on studs Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. Or at least look to deal an arm like Rick Porcello to a team who was looking for a veteran starter. Taking 2 of 3 from the Rays, along with the dominating series against the Yankees has helped remind everyone that this team still can return to the World Series and in no way, should the front office consider selling at the trade deadline.

Buckle up Sox fans it’s going to be a wild week/ last 2 months of the season. As old friend Kevin Millar used to say, “Cowboy Up!”

 

NBA Free Agency Winners and Losers

NBA Free Agency is winding down. It’s been arguably the most entertaining Free Agency period in league history. I figured it’s time to dig into the winner and losers of the last few weeks.

Winners

LA Clippers: The biggest winner of free agency, in my opinion, is the LA Clippers. They go from a fringe playoff team to arguably the favorites to win it all next season, with the addition of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. For anyone who wants to give them grief for the haul they gave up to get PG-13, you need to realize this wasn’t a trade just for George. It was the only way they were getting Kawhi. Essentially, they were trading for both players. They now have arguably the 2 top defensive wings in the NBA. Pair them with the re-signed stud defensive point guard Patrick Beverly and the Clippers have a chance to be the best defensive team in the NBA. They didn’t lose the best 6th man in the league (i.e. Lou Williams), or their Most Improved Finalist, Trez Harrell, in the trade for Kawhi. This should be a very scary team next season.

Brooklyn Nets:

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Photo Credit: The Spun

Anytime you land Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in the offseason, you have to feel good about yourself. Let me set the record clear now as a Celtics fan. Over the last week I’ve heard a lot of Celtics fans calling sports talk radio saying, “Kyrie will request a trade in 2 years, I’m not afraid of the Nets. Kevin Durant will never be the same player coming off his injury”. These people are what I like to call frauds. Had the Celtics re-signed Kyrie after everything that occurred this past season and he brought KD to Boston, fans would be going crazy with excitement and for good reason. Is there a chance Kyrie’s ego acts up and causes issues? Of course, but he’s still a top 12 player in the league and at 27 years old he still has his best basketball ahead of him. Is there a chance Durant is never 100% of what he once was? Once again, of course but he’s such an amazing shooter that even if he comes back at 90% of what he was, he’s still probably a top 5 player in the NBA. Nets fans should be feeling very good right now

Philadelphia 76ers: This one might surprise people a little considering they lost Jimmy Butler and JJ Reddick, two key players from last season. In my opinion, Reddick was one of the most underrated players in the league last year. Butler was the best player for the 6ers at times in the playoffs last year. With that said, I think the additions of Al Horford (man that burns as a Celtics fan) and Josh Richardson will help the 6ers take a huge leap on the defensive end of the court next season. Most people know how versatile Horford is on both ends of the court. He should be an absolutely phenomenal fit next to Embiid in the front court. JJ Reddick is a much better shooter than Josh Richardson, but Richardson is the better all-around player. For those who haven’t seen Richardson play the last 2 years, he’s looked very good. He’s also a big upgrade over Reddick defensively. He can handle the ball at PG when Simmons is out of the game and can still shoot and score the ball a little. Combine these additions with the re-signing of Tobias Harris (who will be able to take a little more control offensively with Jimmy Butler gone) and I think the 6ers should be the favorites out of the East.

Honorable Mentions: Indiana Pacers and Utah Jazz

Losers

Toronto Raptors: Pretty easy one here. You lose arguably the best player in the league and are left with no back-up plan, you get put in the losers column. Had Kawhi returned, I don’t think any team in the East had added enough to unseat the Raptors as the favorite. Instead, Kawhi has bolted and you’re now left with a core around an aging Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry, along with up-and coming star Pascal Siakam. The Raptors ceiling at this point is an exit in the second round… and their floor might be getting bounced quickly out of the first round. Had they not just won it all, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see them shopping around Lowry and Gasol to start to re-tool. All in all, I don’t feel that bad for Raptors fans nor fault them for going all in on Kawhi for one year. Clearly their plan worked and I think they made Kawhi’s decision to leave, much more difficult than anyone could have imagined. No one will forget their special season.

Houston Rockets: Image result for chris paul james harden

Photo Credit: Uproxx

Let me preface this by saying that if they can find a way to get Russell Westbrook, then they would be removed from the losers column. That doesn’t mean I would love the move.  We heard chat that the Rockets really wanted Jimmy Butler, and they were also linked to Celtics first team all-defensive guard Marcus Smart in trade rumors. After reports came out that there’s a huge rift between James Harden and Chris Paul (although they’ve denied it) it appeared to become clear that something needed to change with this team. Couple that with the fact that their nemesis the Golden State Warriors lost Kevin Durant and will be without Klay Thompson for much of next year, the Rockets had a chance to mix things up a little and maybe go into next season as favorites in the West. Instead their challenging salary cap situation and inability to get creative with it has pretty much left them with the same team. I think it’s been proven by now that the Mike D’Antoni ISO ball system doesn’t really work come playoff time.

New York Knicks:

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Photo Credit: NY Post

Why not save the best for last? Boy oh boy, I have to say there’s actually a part of me that feels bad for Knicks fans. Before the lottery back in May, fans were dreaming about the potential of Zion Williams, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving all coming to New York next season. Fast forward a month and a half later and the Knicks went 0-3 in securing these players. Obviously, the lottery was out of their hands and no one can blame them for not getting Zion. Kyrie and KD on the other hand, that’s a tough hit losing them to the other team across town, the Brooklyn Nets, a team with no tradition, history, or superstars. It has to burn big-time for Knicks fans. They’re now left with no kind of back-up plan other than letting their young players Kevin Knox, Mitch Robinson, and RJ Barrett develop. These guys are good young players, but won’t make the Knicks serious title contenders anytime soon. The Free Agency class next year is very weak, so there are no superstars they can try and lure. Even if they attempt to trade a package of their young core for a superstar in the next 6-12 months (should one become available), they won’t be able to pair that guy with anyone. It’s a tough time to be a Knicks fan. On the bright side, at least they didn’t go overspend on second tier FA’s like Tobias Harris, Boogie Cousins, or Nik Vucevic. For now, all the Knicks and their fans can do is stay patient and hope their young guys develop into something special.

Honorable Mentions: Charlotte Hornets and Minnesota Timberwolves

U.S. Open Course Preview and Picks

Well well well… it’s U.S. Open week and they return to the historic venue we know as Pebble Beach in California. As some people may know, they play the “AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am” here every year in February. The winning score usually ranges between -17 and -20. In other words, the course is usually very easy. It’s a par 72 course with four par 5s, and the rough is not very difficult.

The course layout will be completely different this week for the U.S. Open. Driving the ball in the fairway will be essential. The fairways will be much narrower than we usually see at the Pro-Am. As is the case with most U.S. Opens, if you drive the ball in the rough, it’s going to be long, thick, and nasty. Although Pebble Beach is much shorter than a normal U.S. Open track, the rough can still be very penal.  Many times players will have to lay up to a number they like for their 3rd shot, to try and get up and down on the longer par 4’s and par 5’s.

Short-game is also going to play a crucial role this week. The last time a U.S. Open was played at Pebble Beach, the winning score was won with an even par score by Graeme McDowell. The average percentage of greens hit in regulation by the field was 51%. To give you some perspective on just how low this number is, the worst player on the tour ranked 209 out of 209 players for greens in hit regulation, is Seamus Power who hits 59.47% of GIR. The 100th ranked player in the statistic is at 66%. In other words, people are going to miss greens this week as Pebble has some of the smallest on the PGA Tour. This course will really test your short game and this tournament will be won by someone who has a great short game and can grind out pars vs. the birdie fest we usually see at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

The most important statistic/trait a golfer needs this week is a sharp iron/approach game. This is the case at many tournaments on the tour, but it’s much more pivotal this week. As I mentioned earlier, it’s tough to hit these greens in regulation. If you’re hitting good approach shots, you’re going to relieve a lot of stress from your short game and won’t have to grind as much to save pars. On top of that, Pebble is not like a normal U.S. Open, where you really need to hit the ball far and straight. A lot of players will be clubbing down off the tee and it’s much more of a second shot course compared to places like Shinnecock Hills and Erin Hills (which put a premium on length off the tee).

One last thing I want to mention before I get into my power rankings is that wind has the potential to be a big factor this week. The course is played right along the ocean. If the winds really pick-up, it’ll make the course much more difficult and favor the guys with lower ball flight.  So, if you’re into that sort of narrative, it might be worthwhile to pick some guys who play well in the wind, in your office pools, DraftKings teams, and bets (you can reach out to me for advice on what players I like in that category).

Alright let’s get into my Top 5 Power Rankings…

5. Jason Day – Day has a lot going for him going into the U.S. Open, yet is under the radar. He has good history at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am including a T4 back in February. Although the course is going to be much different, I think playing here previously with strong course history, has the chance to lead to success this year. More importantly Day is one of the best wind players on tour with his low ball flight. We know he’s one of the best short-game players and putters in the world as well. If this turns into an absolute grind fest, like it was in 2010, it would be a great benefit to Day. The concern that gives me a little pause with Day, is that he’s not the strongest iron player. I’ll choose to bet on his short game prowess and grinder mentality this week and overlook his spotty iron stats.

4. Tiger Woods – People who know me well, know that yes I like Tiger Woods, but I’m not your ultimate Tiger Woods fan who can’t look at him with an unbiased point of view. I truly think this is a great chance for him to win another major. We know Woods can win here (or anywhere) as he dominated here in the 2000 U.S. Open. Looking at the bigger picture though, out of all 156 players in the field, over the last 50 rounds, Woods ranks 4th in SG Approach, 5th in Greens in Regulation Gained, 19th in SG Around the Green, and 9th in SG on Par 4’s between 400-450 yards. He actually ranks as the number 1 overall player in my statistical model over the last 50 rounds. I see no reason why we shouldn’t see him in his Sunday red, in contention on Sunday night.

3. Jordan Spieth – It took me about 4 months but I’m finally back on the Spieth train. If you read my Masters blog back in April then you know that my number one story-line was how bad Spieth was playing and whether or not he could put it together for the Masters. He ended up finishing 21st that week and is now coming into the U.S. Open with 3 straight top 10’s. If you’ve been paying close attention the last few tournaments, Spieth has been otherworldly with his putter and short game. He’s also gained strokes off the tee in 3 consecutive tournaments. As I mentioned before, distance is not a key factor this week and Spieth will be able to club down off the tee and focus on hitting fairways. Although his iron game has still been a little off the last few months, it appears his improvement off the tee has given him utmost confidence in the 2 traits that we’ve always known him for… the putter and short game. Should that continue this week, Spieth could be in store for a great finish at Pebble. Spieth is one of the best grinders on Tour as we saw with his U.S. Open win back in 2016 at Chambers Bay and his 2017 win at The Open. I should also mention that Spieth won the Pro-Am back in 2017. Watch out folks Jordyyyy is back!

2. Hideki Matsuyama – Sick of me writing about this guy yet who has never won a major and hasn’t won a PGA event since 2017…well too bad because I’m still riding on this train. Deki’ rates out in the top 5 in pretty much any timeframe you run my statistic model, from the last 12 rounds to the last 100 rounds. Other than the PGA Championship, in which he lost 0.8 Strokes off the tee (yet still finished 16th), he has gained strokes Off The Tee, Approach, and Around the Green in every…single…tournament… he’s played in going back to January. The guy has been on absolute fire with his irons all year. His short game which had abandoned him a little back at the end of last season has been spot on all year as well. He is DUE for a major win here sooner rather than later. He’s also coming off a 6th place finish at The Memorial 2 weekends ago, his 4th top 10 of the year and second best finish of the season. He’s peaking at the right time and you know that I already hit his 38-1 odds to win the tournament pretty hard.

Image result for cantlay

Photo credit: Golf.com

1. Patrick Cantlay – People who know me well will tell you this is another guy I bet almost every week (except 2 weeks ago when his odds were as low as I’ve ever seen and of course he goes on to win). If you still haven’t heard of Patrick Cantlay, then he’s probably the best golfer on the tour you’ve never heard of. I’ve been talking him up for over 2 years now. He’s been arguably the most consistent golfer on tour this year. Take a look at his last 12 starts on tour…

Cantlay

Photo credit: Fantasy National

9 top 10’s in his last 12 starts… not too shabby. So we know he’s coming in with good form. Another guy who’s grading out in the top 10 of my overall statistical model, whether I sort it by the last 12 rounds or last 100. If you could build an ideal golfer, Cantlay might be your guy. He really doesn’t have any weaknesses in his game. He hits the ball straight and long, is strong around the greens and one of the best iron players in the world. Pebble is set-up perfectly for Cantlay due to his strong all-around game. If the winning score is around -10 he’ll have no issue getting there and being in contention. If it’s an absolute grind-fest with the winning score around par, that can suit Cantlay as well considering we just saw him at the PGA Championship grind to a 3rd place finish with a final score of -2. I expect him to breakthrough and win his first major.

There’s nothing like a west coast U.S. Open! You get home from work around 6 o’clock and are able to watch golf until 9 p.m. As always feel free to reach out to me for advice or if you just want to talk about the tournament in general. Good luck in your pools, DraftKings teams, and bets!

tiger woods GIF

The Nightmare is Finally Over for the Celtics

The Celtics’ season has finally come to an end. I have to say there’s a slight part of me that’s relieved. This team made me want to throw my remote through the TV numerous times throughout the season. I’ve been saying for months that quite frankly, this just hasn’t been a fun year. They weren’t a likeable team… especially after the run they had last year falling just short of the NBA Finals. It felt like every time they faced adversity, they just rolled over and tapped out. It never felt like the team was on the same page as a collective unit. I don’t want to go as far as to say they didn’t like each other, but I think it was evident that they weren’t exactly all best friends and inseparable on and off the court.

Now the questions in the coming days will begin with, “Who’s most to blame?”

Is it Kyrie Irving, who constantly threw his teammates under the bus early in the season and seemed to have had a change of heart regarding his commitment to resigning with the Celtics? Did it rub off on his teammates that he just “didn’t care”? (see his post-game conference after game 4)

Is it Brad Stevens who seemed to be unable to mesh together a team with egos and high expectations? This was a challenge he hadn’t been tasked with as yet, in his tenure as the Celtics head coach.

Is it Gordon Hayward who looked like a shell of his former All-Star days in Utah? As most people know by now, this isn’t exactly a fault of his own after his catastrophic injury back in 2017.

Is it Danny Ainge who didn’t try and cash in on the all-time high value of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier by trading any of them to land a star like Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler to team up with Kyrie? Was it because he didn’t try to trade a package for Anthony Davis in the middle of the season, once Davis made his trade demand?

For me the blame starts with Kyrie Irving. He wanted the challenge of being “the guy” after forcing his way out of Cleveland, so he didn’t have to play in LeBron’s shadow. Unfortunately, Kyrie displayed multiple times throughout the season that he’s just not ready to be a leader.

Whether it’s on the court, field, or office, a team is always going to feed off their leader. Back in February, when the Celtics were struggling, he was asked if he’s worried that the struggles would continue into the playoffs. He responded with, “Nah we’ll be fine, because I’m here.” What about the players surrounding him and his coaches?
He then went on to have arguably the worst 4 game stretch of his entire career in the playoffs against the Bucks, shooting 25-83 from the field, looking disengaged, and playing lazy defense.

Earlier in the season, he took the liberty in announcing to the media that he called LeBron to apologize for his antics as a young guy. “I had to call ‘Bron and tell him I apologize for being that young player that wanted everything at his fingertips,” said Irving. The funny thing is I actually don’t think he meant for his comments to come out as indirectly taking a jab at young guys like Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and crew, but it just goes to show he doesn’t have the mental awareness to lead a team.
When your leader deflects the blame in tough situations on his or her peers, doesn’t show up in the biggest moments of adversity, and starts answering questions with “who cares” in playoff post-game press conferences, then teammates aren’t going to follow your lead.

So now the next question for Kyrie, Brad, and the Celtics is, “What’s next?” The first matter of business is whether or not Kyrie will re-sign. I know that if you currently asked most Celtics fans whether or not they want him back next year, the answer would be no. For me, I can still EMPHATICALLY say I want Kyrie back in green next year. Did he deserve a lot of blame this year? Yes, of course, but like I mentioned earlier, there were plenty of other people to pin blame on. Who knows where this season would have gone had Gordon Hayward returned to his All-Star caliber days in Utah?

Although, it feels like a long time ago (and it was), let’s not forget when Kyrie was healthy in the 2017-2018 season, the Celtics were a top 2 or 3 team in the NBA. Hell, they won 16 straight games at one point.

One thing appears clear, this Celtics team must choose a direction moving forward. Do you build around Kyrie and unload some of the young assets and draft picks for an All-Star (Anthony Davis please), or does Kyrie leave and you commit to building around Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and the young core moving forward? Time will tell and you can bet that the media will beat this story-line to death in the coming months.