Monday, September 25, 2017

Digesting the Thunder's Melo Theft

Oklahoma City gets:
Carmelo Anthony$26,243,760$27,928,140

New York gets:
Enes Kanter$17,884,176$18,622,514
Doug McDermott$3,294,994
Bulls 2018 2nd

This NBA offseason has been full of stunners, and now that the trade was made official today, Carmelo Anthony choosing to waive his no-trade and trade kicker to move to Oklahoma City is right up there among them. And before you weep for Enes Kanter being traded away from a place he has been very outspoken, remember that the trade kicker he got when signing an offer sheet with Portland bumps his salary this year to $20,566,802 and he has a home in New York. Now let's look at this deal from each team's perspective.

The Knicks were obviously hoping for more at the beginning of this saga, but considering that their hands were tied by Anthony's no-trade clause, this is better than nothing to help them towards a proper rebuild around Kristaps Porzingis. Although they weren't able to pick up an extra 1st round pick, Chicago's 2nd this year should be in the 30's as that team also rebuilds, and it helps make up for the fact that they don't control their own 2nd due to a pick swap. Kanter's bonus means that they're only saving just under $2.4 million this season, but even in the likely even that he picks up his option for next season, which is not affected by trade, they have gained $9.3 million in flexibility for that year. Perhaps they extend McDermott in the next few weeks or retain him in restricted free agency after seeing what they have in him, but the point is that they did well not to take on any long contracts like the Ryan Anderson one Houston was offering. The big man rotation next to and behind Porzingis is a bit crowded with Willy Hernangomez and Joakim Noah already in the fold, but Kanter can put up big scoring and rebounding numbers while his defense, or lack thereof, should help them tank. The same will likely be said about McDermott since he'll have plenty of opportunities at small forward on this team, and maybe more offensive freedom will help him show why he was a highly regarded, albeit overrated due to his lack of defensive tools, prospect coming out of college. They are both just 25 years old, so there is a chance this trade can be remembered for more than just helping the team achieve another high spot in the lottery.

This will take some getting used to.

Friday, September 22, 2017

2017 NFL Week 3 Picks

Last week got off to a good start on Sunday with Cam Newton missing Christian McCaffrey in the end zone leading to my only pick that didn't cover in the morning games, but my teams after that didn't perform up to expectations with the Packers fielding a MASH unit and the Giants struggling in all sorts of ways. Still, a winning week is a step in the right direction, and I'm planning on building on that here.

Last week: 10-6
Season total: 16-15

I had the 49ers +2.5 last night (I swear, I can even show a screenshot of my pick'em pool!) in what had to be the wildest Thursday Night Football game ever before the phantom offensive pass interference call stopped a comeback for the ages. San Francisco's defense looked gassed on just four days of rest after being on the field for 82 plays the previous game, but credit is due to Jared Goff for continuing his second year leap with an impressive performance back in his native Bay Area. Like I wrote before, the situation he's in now is basically a complete 180 from last season with an actual coaching staff, offensive line, and receivers.

Ravens -4.5 "at" Jaguars (in London)

An already decimated offensive line losing All-Pro guard Marshall Yanda is a concern for Baltimore. So is run-stuffing defensive lineman Brandon Williams being out this week. Starting running back Terrance West is questionable, as well. And you know what? You still can't convince me to back Blake Bortles against this ferocious defense in a game away from home, even if Jacksonville has been playing across the pond the last couple of years.
I have a feeling we'll be seeing more Ravens defenders with the ball in their hands.

Friday, September 15, 2017

2017 NFL Week 2 Picks

It wasn't a great start for my picks, and I was reminded a bit of why last season I switched to only posting my preferred plays rather than the full slate. After all, I wouldn't be betting each and every game if I was actually in Vegas since some games are clear stay-aways. I am participating in a picks pool on, though, so for now, I'll continue to write a bit about why I made each pick according to the lines listed there rather than go in depth on a few.
I still can't believe Deshaun Watson ran for a 49 yard score on 3rd and freaking 15 one play removed from getting rocked from Geno Atkins. Tyler Eifert stepping out of bounds before his touchdown hurt, and now with the offense's struggles overall have leading to Bill Lazor now taking over as offensive coordinator, we'll see what this 0-2 team is really made of.

Chiefs -4.5 versus Eagles

I should have remembered how good Andy Reid is with extra time to prepare before laying the points against him last week, and even if this only 10 days rest, I like his chances against his old team back home in Arrowhead. The loss of star safety Eric Berry is devastating, but I think Kansas City can get enough of a pass rush to keep Carson Wentz from improving on his deep passes.

Titans -1.5 at Jaguars

Jacksonville's defense looked even better than I had hoped, which allowed them to take the ball out of Blake Bortles' hands and just feed Leonard Fournette. Facing a much better Tennessee offensive line, I think this will be a much more competitive game and will stick to my guns with the better quarterback here, Marcus Mariota.

Friday, September 8, 2017

2017 NFL Over/Under Picks: NFC, plus Week 1 Picks

Continuing on the first half of my Over/Under picks, I'm including my take on how each NFC team will do this season, how they finished last year, and what their expected win total was based on their points scored and allowed. I have brief picks for this opening weekend at the end, so let the games begin!

Seahawks over 10.5 wins
Last year: 10-5-1. Expected: 9.8-6.2

Although the offensive line is always a cause for concern, Seattle looks poised to make another run at the Super Bowl thanks to an unbelievable defense and a healthy Russell Wilson. Keeping their star quarterback upright will be a challenge now that former basketball player turned tight end turned left tackle tore his ACL and last year's third round pick, Rees Odhiambo, is moving back to his college position after competing for the left guard spot a season ago. Counting on last year's first round pick Germain Ifedi kicking back out to right tackle after failing at guard is also a concern, so Wilson will likely have to rely once more on his mobility that was limited from the start of the season last year due to ankle and knee issues. When he is able to make throws, he could put up the best numbers of his career since Doug Baldwin has proven to be a #1 receiver, Jimmy Graham came back from his torn patellar tendon amazingly well, and Tyler Lockett and Paul Richardson have shown flashes of dynamic playmaking ability when healthy. With running back Chris Carson looking like a seventh round find, Thomas Rawls seemingly fully recovered from his 2015 fractured ankle, and C.J. Prosise a strong third down option, they have options in the backfield in case free agent flier Eddie Lacy can't hit his weight requirements. 

There could be a lot of celebrations this year.
Even if the offensive line limits the amount of points they put up, there shouldn't be many required thanks to what is likely the best defense in the league, especially with the recent trade for defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson making up for top pick Malik McDowell missing time due to a car accident. That could make their pass rush unstoppable when they go into the nickel and shift Michael Bennett inside to bookend Cliff Avril with Frank Clark, who had 10 sacks last year as the third defensive end. Combine that with arguably the best pair of off-ball linebackers, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, shutting down the run and a full year of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor at safety, and it's hard to spot any weaknesses to exploit. The corner depth behind Richard Sherman could be the target with DeShawn Shead still recovering from a torn ACL, but they must feel comfortable with former nickelback Jeremy Lane and third round pick Shaq Griffin since they traded away Tramaine Brock a couple weeks after signing him.

Packers over 10 wins
Last year: 10-6. Expected: 9-7

Green Bay has made the playoffs eight straight years, have averaged just five losses during that sizable sample, and have a certain quarterback named Aaron Rodgers, whom I would consider the favorite for MVP every year, so I'm comfortable taking the Over. Replacing the occasionally spectacular Jared Cook with the more reliable Martellus Bennett at tight end and having Ty Montgomery at running back for the full season should make the offense more consistent without having to rely on Rodgers being a magician. Jordy Nelson remains an elite receiver and is another year removed from his torn ACL, Davante Adams broke out for 12 touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards, and Randall Cobb is in line for a bounce back year after averaging six catches for sixty-five yards the first six games before a hamstring injury limited him the rest of the season.

The improvement of a defense that got torched through the air is what will determine their playoff success, and they used their first two draft picks on cornerback Kevin King and safety Josh Jones, who are both exceptional athletes. Since they have one of the best pairs of safeties in the league, the latter will likely fill the versatile role of the departed Micah Hyde while the former could be a starter opposite prodigal son Davon House. Third year corners Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins should still be in the mix after struggling with injuries and consistency last year, but the most important thing will likely be a pass rush that is trying to replace Julius Peppers with late addition Ahmad Brooks in sub-packages. Mike Daniels provides penetration inside, but they'll need starters Clay Matthews and Nick Perry to be at their best in order to generate pressure off the edge and get off the field.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

2017 NFL Over/Under Picks: AFC

Labor Day has come and gone, so it is officially time for the NFL season to start. That means in addition to cheering for your teams both real and fantasy, it's time for some fun making picks thanks to the good folks in Vegas! I was 19-13 in predictions for teams' win totals last year before finishing 60-44-3 against the spread, so I'm going to start with those again. Along with my picks, I'm including last year's record and Pro Football Reference's Expected W-L records based on points scored and allowed. First up, the AFC with the defending champs.

Patriots over 12.5 wins
Last year: 14-2. Expected: 12.7-3.3

There's a reason they are the heavy favorites to repeat, and after going 14-2 last year despite Tom Brady's bogus 4 game suspension, I have no reason to doubt them. Yes, Julian Edelman tearing his ACL is a painful blow as Brady's most trusted target, but Rob Gronkowski is now fully healthy with Brandin Cooks added to the fold to lift the lid off defenses and Chris Hogan a year into the system. Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead should more than make up for the loss of LeGarrette Blount as part of a deep running back committee with Dion Lewis and James White behind a great offensive line, and unlike other teams who would fall well short of expectations should anything befall their quarterback, New England can count on Jimmy Garoppolo as a backup. This total is so high that I probably wouldn't bet it, but for the sake of this post, I'm comfortable taking the Over.

Defensively, the surprising choice to splurge on cornerback Stephon Gilmore rather than give Malcolm Butler a new contract or re-sign the reliable Logan Ryan does provide a short term upgrade in a good secondary. They'll need fourth round rookie Deatrich Wise and sneaky late addition Cassius Marsh to help out last year's fourth round find Trey Flowers in providing a pass rush for those DBs, but otherwise the front seven is a stout unit. They finished 3rd in rushing yards allowed and 5th in Football Outsiders' rush defense DVOA, so whether or not they need to blitz in order to get pressure is really the only question about this team overall. In the end, I think history repeats itself, and the most talented team and best coach go back-to-back to make it 3 out 4 like they did in 2001, 2003, and 2004.
Look for these two to connect on the most TDs in the league.
Steelers over 10.5 wins
Last year: 11-5. Expected: 9.9-6.1

The Killer B's are back together now that Martavis Bryant was officially reinstated to provide another threat alongside Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and Ben Roethlisberger, and with a top-notch line in front of them, this offense will be devastating as long as all of them are on the field. That is always the concern given the injury history of Big Ben and Bell, while suspensions tend to loom around the latter and Bryant, as well. Right now, though, it looks like all systems go for this team to put up points early and often.

Playing with a lead will help this defense that came alive after their Week 8 bye thanks in large part to blitzing 43% of the time in the second half of the season. Former first round pick Bud Dupree erupted for 4.5 sacks over the last four weeks of the season after being activated off of IR in Week 11, and they picked T.J. Watt in this year's first round to bookend him as an edge rusher. The defensive line held their own against the run, so if blitzers can tee off in obvious passing situations, opponents will have a tough time attacking a secondary that has some potential with Joe Haden recently joining Artie Burns at corner. Given that there might have been a little luck in going 5-2 in one-score games last year to outperform their expected record, the Over might be a bit close, but I think they'll hit it based on their track record.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Unpacking the Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas Swap

Boston gets:
Kyrie Irving$18,868,626$20,099,189$21,329,752

Cleveland gets:
Isaiah Thomas$6,261,395
Jae Crowder$6,796,117$7,305,825$7,815,533
Ante Žižić$1,645,200$1,952,760$2,281,800$3,872,215
Brooklyn's 2018 1st

Just when I had really switched into football mode and thought my updates were done, the NBA news cycle came storming back to life on a random Tuesday afternoon in August. Now that Shams has confirmed the deal is done, let's peel back the different layers of this trade. Starting with the simple stuff, Cleveland goes from paying about $220.3 million between payroll and the Luxury Tax to just over $197 million by my math. This difference of just $4.2 million in salaries makes a huge difference because they are dealing with the repeater penalty and in such high tax brackets, so it's no chump change they're saving. With the contracts of Edy Tavares and Kay Felder not fully guaranteed, the final number could end up being $184.8 million once rosters are cut down to 15.

In terms of future value, Irving is only 25 years old and has another year left on his contract before he can opt out in the summer of 2019, which left him without a ton of leverage when this trade request saga started since he's not an immediate flight risk. Comparatively, Thomas is expecting a max contract after this season when he'll be 29, and that is a risky proposition for teams given how small guards tend to age. Crowder, who just turned 27 last month, is on one of the best contracts in the league with under $22 million owed over three years, though, and Zizic is just about to start his rookie contract at only 20 years old after being the 23rd pick in last year's draft. The true value of this trade of course hinges on the Nets pick, and I've stated a couple of times that Boston shouldn't overvalue it since Brooklyn is trending upward. They still have the Lakers/Kings premium 1st and picks coming from the Clippers and Grizzlies anyway, and you never know how or when prospects will develop with their Finals caliber team.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Sifting through Kyrie and Melo Trade Ideas

When Brian Windhorst broke the story that Kyrie Irving wants to be traded, it was like the shot heard round the world with all sorts of reactions. Does he have that much of an ego that he wants to leave a team that's gone to three straight Finals and won a title just because he's tired of living in LeBron James' shadow? What leverage does he really have to force a trade since he can't opt for free agency until the summer of 2019? If he wants to be the franchise player again, couldn't he just wait it out until next season with all of the rumblings that James is going to move to LA? That last part might be an underrated factor in his thinking since he saw first hand how bad the roster can be when left in shambles after the King's departure: Irving was just 64-117 in games he played while the team was 78-152 overall his first three seasons. He doesn't want to be the last one left at the party, and after the underrated David Griffin wasn't re-signed (because Dan Gilbert never gives GMs second contracts), the dysfunction of the team led to this request that was even more shocking than his flat Earth take.

The Trade Machine is everyone's favorite toy, so I came up with my own quick 3-team deal like so many on Twitter did, not really expecting a perennial Finals contender to actually break up like this. However, more of these details coming out over the weekend kept adding fuel added to the fire, Zach Lowe indicated that Irving's relationship with the team is almost frayed beyond repair, and Joe Vardon's story on Derrick Rose choosing Cleveland had some damning evidence about the team's intentions. The two sides apparently came to a deal after "discussing how the team will return to the Finals without Kyrie Irving" and with Rose "looking at a potential starting spot in the same lineup with LeBron James, now that Irving has asked for a trade and James is eager to see him off." Yikes, I guess that means we should think of more trade ideas! Even if I think he's a bit overrated and unlikely to be a true best player on a title contender as something of a one-dimensional player, that singular outstanding talent of shot-making is likely enticing to a lot of teams out there.