Wednesday, October 18, 2017

2017-18 NBA Opening Night Power Rankings Part 2

Well that was some opening night between four of the top five teams in Part 1 of my preseason rankings. From the terrible Gordon Hayward injury to Kyrie Irving trying to hit another impossible 3 in LeBron James' face to try and sent an unlikely comeback to overtime, the first game had it it all, for better or worse. Then the Rockets weathered a Warriors storm to lead for only the opening and last minutes behind an electric James Harden performance and their defensive additions. Injuries to Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, and Omri Casspi before and during the game jumbled Golden State's rotations a bit; Pat McCaw's foot was on the line for a would be 3 in the final two minutes; and a crucial 0.6 seconds came off the clock on the first inbound attempt before Kevin Durant's near buzzer beater. Still, starting out 0-1 last year obviously wasn't a death sentence for them, and you can clearly tell what kind of team they will be. The bottom half of the league, not so much.

16. Charlotte Hornets (7th in the East) 36-46 
Point Differential: +0.2 (15th), Offense: 106.4 (14th), Defense: 106.1 (14th)

I mentioned often last year how they were 33-29 when Cody Zeller played and just 3-17 when he was out, but now that they added Dwight Howard, I'm curious to see how the big man rotation plays out. Nicolas Batum's injury to start the year obviously puts them behind the eight ball, but fill-in starter Jeremy Lamb has been a solid producer in his minutes, as her per 36 averages are 18.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steal, and 0.8 blocks. They also drafted Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon to further solidify the wing depth, so with a balanced offense and defense, they should return to the playoffs.

17. Philadelphia 76ers (8th in the East) 28-54
Point Differential: -5.7 (27th), Offense: 100.7 (30th), Defense: 106.4 (T-17th)

Like the Clippers in the West, putting everyone's favorite sleeper team as the 8th seed is a hedge against injury concerns for Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and now even Markelle Fultz. Embiid may have only played 31 games last year, but his impact was evident as he had a +3.2 net rating when on the floor, the only Sixer in the positive besides Shawn Long, who only played 18 games. They apparently think enough of his health to give him a risky, partially protected max contract rather than maintaining around $39 million in cap room that already accounted for his $18.3 million cap hold next summer, so hopefully that's a good sign. Fultz's shooting struggles as he deals with his own ailments means he'll come off the bench to start, and that's fine considering the potential 3-and-D fit of Jerryd Bayless next to J.J. Redick. It should also help the playmaking development of Simmons and Fultz as they're split up to run the first and second units when they are at full strength. May the basketball gods be ever in their favor.

18. New Orleans Pelicans (10th in the West) 34-48 
Point Differential: -2.1 (22nd), Offense: 103.3 (T-25th), Defense: 104.9 (T-8th)

The grand big man experiment didn't quite go as planned since they went 11-14 after the trade for DeMarcus Cousins, including just 7-10 when Boogie played. The lineups with him and Anthony Davis were generally positive, though, and in the 376 minutes that they shared the floor with Jrue Holiday, the team had a +2.8 net rating. The utter lack of focus on surrounding them with shooters for spacing is confounding, though, and consider me skeptical that Dante Cunningham's 39.2% mark last season is for real since he only hit 31.2% the previous year after only being 2 for 38 in the first six years of his career. Maybe Ian Clark and Darius Miller will prove to be more than nice end of the bench options or Tony Allen and Rajon Rondo, who currently isn't healthy again, will show they have more left in the tank than what the market dictated, but they're on the outside looking in among playoff contenders for me.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

2017-18 NBA Opening Night Power Rankings Part 1

Well what do you know: with the new elongated schedule, opening night is already here in the middle of October! It feels like just last month that the Warriors completed their dominant 16-1 postseason run, but after one of the most wild offseasons in recent memory, I can't wait to see how the new-look teams perform. My thoughts on each move are pretty well covered in my draft recap and two-part offseason tracker, so I'll keep things short here with an interesting statistic or two for each team, starting with the top half of the league due to who's opening tonight. Last year's final records and points per 100 possessions from are listed for reference, but of course, a lot has certainly changed since then.

1. Golden State Warriors (1st in the West) 67-15
Point Differential: +11.6 (1st), Offense: 113.2 (1st), Defense: 101.1 (2nd)

And despite all of the maneuvering around the league, the defending champs are still the overwhelming favorites to repeat. To follow up on my hot take from June, I'll add the more reasonable prediction that Kevin Durant will join Stephen Curry with a second MVP as this team makes a strong case for the most talented group ever. The seemingly only flaw in his Warriors debut season was his penchant for pull up 3's: he shot just 24 of 92 (26.1%) in those situations compared to 91 of 215 (42.3%) on catch and shoot 3's, per tracking. There's room for positive regression to the mean there since he made 194 of 489 (39.7%) pull ups the previous three seasons, and of course, the biggest shot of his career showed that the regular season shooting was likely an aberration.

2. Houston Rockets (2nd in the West) 55-27 
Point Differential: +5.8 (3rd), Offense: 111.8 (2nd), Defense: 106.4 (T-17th)

The Chris Paul trade made them perhaps the most fascinating team to watch due to the dynamic between him and James Harden, and the additions of versatile defensive forwards P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute provide strong depth to throw at opposing offenses. Besides how the star guards' assist totals are affected by playing together (ranked 1st and 4th in assists per game), I'm curious to see how Paul's mid-range game meshes on a team that famously devalued the shot since 41% of his field goal attempts came from that range last year, shooting an excellent 50.9%.

3. San Antonio Spurs (3rd in the West) 61-21 
Point Differential: +7.2 (2nd), Offense: 108.8 (7th), Defense: 100.9 (1st)

Add LaMarcus Aldridge's surprising extension after his much maligned end of the season to the recent list of odd decisions that takes them out of the free agency race next summer despite their sneaky appeal to the top stars. Perhaps his recent sit down with Gregg Popovich focused on the idea of him playing as a lone big man more often since they let Dewayne Dedmon leave, signed Rudy Gay, and have a guard orientated roster. That might be more of a curve ball for the playoffs, though, because Pau Gasol was re-signed to a larger deal than expected, and they were 30-9 when he started last year. Tony Parker coming back from ruptured quad some time in December at age 35 is a concern, but their main lineup of him, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Aldridge, and Gasol had a +7.4 net rating in 392 minutes. Plugging Patty Mills in for Parker actually bumped that up +24.1, albeit in only 86 minutes, while second year guard Dejounte Murray only logged 6 minutes with that group.

Friday, October 13, 2017

2017 NFL Week 6 Picks

Don't look now, but my self-deprecating reverse jinx actually worked to give me just my second Thursday night win in six weeks. Carson Wentz might not be able to keep making plays on 3rd and long for the whole season, but when the defense plays that well, he won't always have to. After basically treading water in my picks pool the last few weeks, hopefully this start will get things going.

Last week: 7-7
Season total: 41-36

Packers -3.5 at Vikings

What else is there left to say about Aaron Rodgers, really? Green Bay's tackle situation is still a concern when facing a defense like this, but as he showed on last week's game-winning drive, he can escape with the best of them. Furthermore, rookie Aaron Jones showed why #DraftTwitter was so high on him and he was a top add on fantasy waiver wires last week, so Rodgers might not have to do it all himself. I'm excited to see similar young running back Jerick McKinnon finally getting more work for Minnesota, but with Stefon Diggs rule out due to a groin issue again, their offense could struggle to keep up.

Texans -9.5 versus Browns

I'm still optimistic about young DeShone Kizer's long term upside once he learns more from the sideline, but Deshaun Watson is already showing why he should have been the first quarterback taken in April. Am I above going down narrative street with the cliche that Cleveland will regret trading with Houston for that pick? Nope, I'm definitely not. Losing both J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus could hurt the Texans defense enough to keep this close, but Hue Jackson is in the midst of a 2-24 head coaching stretch exactly for calls like that 4th and 2 failure in a game they should've won last week.

Falcons -10.5 versus Dolphins

Jay Cutler is 58 of 98 for just 476 yards with 2 TD's and 3 interceptions in his last three games despite great passing matchups and openly admitted when signed out of retirement that he's out of shape. But it's a good thing he knows the offense from his one year with Adam Gase unlike Colin Kaepernick! Please. Oh, and he's now on the road against a team coming off a bye week that helped them get healthy, including star pass rusher Vic Beasley.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

2017 NFL Week 5 Picks

Once again, I hate Thursday night games. Can we talk about how Jameis Winston should have been called for intentional grounding in the end zone on the first play after Bill Belichick surprisingly punted from the 34 yard line? Either a safety or field goal there turns the 5 point win into a cover, but no, my hesitation around the Pats defense proved not to be overthinking it this time. On the other hand, that incredible backdoor cover by the Chiefs on Monday night will go down in Scott Van Pelt's Bad Beats lore, so I can't complain.
Last week: 9-7
Season total: 34-29

Titans -2.5 at Dolphins

I'm changing this one in the morning if Marcus Mariota is ruled inactive, but he got some practice work in throughout the week. If he can give it a go, Tennessee should feast on an unimposing defense, and Miami's inept offense is a bounce back opportunity after the Titans defense was walloped last week.

49ers +1.5 at Colts

San Francisco may be 0-4, but they've lost by just eight points combined the last three games and have covered the spread each time as a result. After improving their point differential at the end of regulation each game, here's their chance to actually be ahead when the clock strikes 0:00 since Andrew Luck is out at least another week. Having the much more athletic Solomon Thomas switch to the Leo defensive end instead of Arik Armstead (as initially expected when he was drafted) has the 49ers pass rush continuing to improve, so Jacoby Brissett might not have the time to put up enough points here.

Lions -3.5 versus Panthers

Despite being 3-1, I still don't trust either of these teams, but Detroit has been more consistent and is at home. Anthony Zettel has provided another pass rushing threat with Ziggy Ansah, and that's helped their pass coverage become a pleasant surprise, giving me some confidence in the cover. Cam Newton looked back to his MVP self for at least one game, but until he proves it consistently, I'm inclined to think it was more due to the struggling New England defense.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

2017 NFL Week 4 Picks

"What is...overthinking it, Alex?"

I'm going to keep it simple with the rest of these.
Last week: 9-7
Season total: 25-22

Saints -2.5 "at" Dolphins (in London)

I don't think either defense is that good, so give me the Drew Brees offense over Jay Cutler's, especially coming off an impressive road win.

Titans -1.5 at Texans

I continue to think Tennessee is the most well-rounded team in their division, and although Houston impressed on the road last week, they've yet to put together an overall complete game.

Bengals -3.5 at Browns

After another brutal loss, this is where Cincy gets their first win after improving every so slightly each week. As expected, OC Bill Lazor stayed committed to his best running back Joe Mixon and fed A.J. Green, whom Cleveland has no one to cover, so I'm looking for a breakout game here.

Vikings -2.5 versus Lions

After being scared off by Case Keenum's first start that was on the road, he inspired a lot more confidence at home last week, and I'm comfortable going with Minnesota's defense and running game anyway.

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 clause 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 ability to veto deals, 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 event 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.