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.

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.

Friday, July 7, 2017

2017 NBA Offseason Running Blog, Part 2

Now that the moratorium ended yesterday and the first week of signings and trades produced such a large page already, I decided it's time to start a new post. Again, I'll be including outside links to the reports, adding to it with new moves and my thoughts on them within the day (and usually the hour) of what occurred, and noting whenever any updates came out on previous sections. Free agent salaries are my estimates based on reports and standard 5% or 8% raises while current salaries are from with the colors indicating player optionteam option, or not fully guaranteed.

Celtics and Pistons swap Bradley and Morris (Shams)

Boston gets:
Marcus Morris$5,000,000$5,375,000

Detroit gets:
Avery Bradley$8,808,989
2019 2nd round pick

At long last, there is the required move by Danny Ainge to have enough cap space to sign Gordon Hayward to a max contract after Jordan Mickey's non-guaranteed deal is waived. That would be the easiest corresponding move compared to keeping Guerschon Yabusele stashed or trading Demetrius Jackson's partial guarantee somewhere, especially since Mickey hasn't shown much in just 198 minutes through two years. It is disappointing that Ainge didn't have this contingency trade lined up ahead of Hayward's decision so that he wouldn't be operating out of a desperate position, and he's paying for it now with a 2nd (I would guess they're sending back the Detroit pick they own) attached as a sweetener in a salary dump. Although I'm not surprised that Bradley's the one sent out because he's about to become a lot more expensive next year, I did think that they'd get a better deal out of it. Morris does come with an extra year of control at a cheap price and brings some needed size to a roster lacking power forwards, but his poor defensive rebounding will only make Boston's struggles in that area worse. At least his solid outside shot and passing will fit in with Brad Stevens' offense, and he's only going to be 28 this season.
It's funny, when I looked at the numbers the other day and tweeted what the Celtics could take back in salary to create the required room, the cheap deal for Morris did jump out at me, but I didn't really mention it for a couple of reasons. First, my concerns above about the fit in Boston, but I didn't think Detroit would add an asset to Morris in order to replace Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, whom they could just re-sign. Turns out I was wrong about which direction the extra throw-in would be going! It would seem that Bradley was in fact brought in to replace KCP, though, since they play similar roles as lockdown defenders of either guard spot who can do a bit more offensively than typical 3-and-D players. Between trading for Bradley, signing Langston Galloway, and drafting Luke Kennard, the writing seems to be on the wall, so this year might be a trial run to evaluate what they have before deciding to pay up for Bradley next summer. Furthermore, any match of a large offer sheet for Caldwell-Pope is even more unlikely with them now only around $15 million away from the hard cap that they put on themselves by using the majority of the full Mid-Level Exception on Galloway.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

2017 NBA Offseason Running Blog

Are you not entertained? In a lot of ways, the NBA Offseason really is its own spectator sport with all of the competition, surprises, and drama involved, but rather than live-tweeting it, I'm going to attempt to track what's going on in this post with outside links to who broke the details and information about current salaries from (colors mean player option, team option, or not fully guaranteed). Being posted at 10:15 AM PST on July 1st, I've started to add in my commentary alongside my estimates of what the contracts will look like based on reports (max salaries should be pretty set in stone, though), and I'll be updating it throughout the week. The official salary cap was set at $99,093,000 last night, locking in what max salaries can start at, and now we're off!

Utah picks up Rubio before midnight hits (Jones)

Jazz get:
Ricky Rubio$14,250,000$14,950,000

Timberwolves get:
Thunder 2018 1st round pick (top-14 protected through 2020 before becoming 2020 and 2021 2nd round picks)

Ever since the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night, I tried thinking of what teams have both the need and means to acquire Rubio, and Utah stood out with their 2016/2017 cap space expiring once the new league year starts and the uncertainty around Gordon Hayward, George Hill, and Joe Ingles. Zach Lowe reported shortly afterwards that their was interest there. Deadlines spur actions, as Andrew Brandt likes to say, so when talks heated up yesterday, it seemed like only a matter of time before the Jazz secured at least part of their back court at a fair price that I accurately guessed. Now they have a point guard who is four and a half years younger, a better playmakers, a comparable defender, and cheaper than what Hill, a far superior shooter, would have cost after a failed renegotiation and extension fell through during the year. Although it is complicated with Hayward reportedly wanting Hill to stay but also sharing the same agent as Ingles, who would plunge them deep into the Luxury Tax if re-signed with the other two all at market value, this does make sure they are secured at the position ahead of their pitch for him, and in the doomsday scenario of losing their star wing, they can now rely on Rubio to run the offense with Rodney Hood and either Dante Exum, Alec Burks, or rookie Donovan Mitchell.

For Minnesota, it is unfortunate that they had to move on from a valuable player that was often the heartbeat of the team, but with Tom Thibodeau never seemingly a fan and the need for shooting around Butler, Andrew Wiggins, and Karl-Anthony Towns, the writing was on the wall. Getting a 1st for next year, albeit with protections, is important since they owe a similarly protected pick to Atlanta from the failed Adreian Payne trade, and they have playoff aspirations next year that would mean losing it. Although Rubio had an undervalued contract for the next two years, moving him also brings their max possible cap space to over $32 million as they seek a new point guard and more shooting at forward.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Fascinating Mechanics of the CP3 Trade

Rockets get:

Chris Paul$22,868,828$24,268,959

Clippers get:

Lou Williams$7,000,000$7,000,000
Patrick Beverley$6,000,000$5,513,514$5,027,028
Sam Dekker$1,720,560$1,794,600$2,760,095
Montrezl Harrell$1,045,000$1,471,382
DeAndre Liggins$1,015,696$1,577,230
Darrun Hilliard$874,636$1,471,382
Kyle Wiltjer$543,471$1,312,611
Houston's 2018 1st round pick (top-3 protected)
$661K in cash

These are the final details of this morning's #Wojbomb that Chris Paul has decided to join the Houston Rockets, but there were a lot of steps to get to this point in the waning days before the new league year starts. Chief among them was Paul facilitating the trade by opting into the last year of his contract and reducing his trade kicker from $3.6 million to $661K, which LA technically has to pay but is being offset by the cash Houston is sending. However, after trying to grasp the idea of CP3 playing with fellow top-10 player James Harden (we'll get to that), my next thought was that the initial terms of the trade weren't legal from the Rockets' side of things. And then more details emerged that demonstrated the salary cap genius of Daryl Morey and the Rockets front office that I'll try and summarize here.

Friday, June 23, 2017

2017 Draft Week Review

You have to love the NBA offseason, which is almost its own sporting spectacle. A wild draft night saw a blockbuster trade go down and set records with 16 freshmen and just two seniors drafted in the 1st round, and that was after a few trades already went down earlier in the week! I'm here to run through all the details and review what it means for each team, in order of which of them acted first.
Congratulations to all the players fulfilling their dreams!

76ers trade results:
#1 pick

Celtics trade results:
#3 pick
2018 Lakers 1st round pick if it is #2-5, otherwise the better of the 2019 Kings or 76ers 1st round pick, protected for #1.

I already touched on this after the news broke, but the official press release on Monday revealed the detail about the possible 2019 pick being the better of Philadelphia's or Sacramento's, unless it moves to #1. That's interesting that Philly wanted to make sure in each draft they didn't risk losing the top overall pick, and Boston theoretically protected some value by making sure the pick isn't outside the top-5 for next year at least. Even if the Lakers and Nets both improve, the Celtics could have a decent chance between the two of them for Luka Doncic, Michael Porter Jr., DeAndre Ayton, or Mohamed Bamba, the current top prospects in the DraftExpress 2018 mock draft.

By pushing in one of their valuable trade chips to move up, the 76ers landed Washington combo guard Markelle Fultz, as expected. They also traded another future 1st they had from the Thunder via the Jerami Grant trade (top-20 protected two years after OKC conveys a 1st to Utah; if protected converts to 2022 and 2023 2nds) and an extra 2020 2nd for the #25 pick: Anzejs Pasecniks, Gran Canaria (Spain) C. In the 2nd round, they used #36 on Jonah Bolden, Radnicki Basket (Serbia) PF; then apparently sold #39 to the Clippers AND #46 to the Bucks; and finally used #50 on Mathias Lessort, Nanterre (France) PF/C. I already discussed Fultz and how he fits in so well with this team in my mock draft, and I do like them turning a future 1st that may become two 2nds into a pick now. Both Pasecniks and Bolden are really skilled bigs that can score from multiple areas, so even if they need to polish up their defensive tenacity among an already crowded front court, you can't deny their value as Euro-stashes at those spots, with Bolden a particular favorite of mine as a versatile athlete. However, it's frustrating that they simply gave away two picks in still valuable spots for straight cash, especially since one of them was the result of the Nerlens Noel trade since that "first rounder" was never going to convey. At least drafting Lessort provides someone who will play with a high motor and tough defense whenever he comes over, even if he is yet another big body. For now though, Fultz should combine well with point forward Ben Simmons to invigorate this offense and push for a winning record. They have a hoard of cap space to help that cause with some possible shooters, but they would be wise to be smart with only short term deals or a shrewd renegotiation and extension for Robert Covington as he's in the last year of his underpaid contract.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

2017 Lottery Mock Draft

It's NBA Draft week! Now that I've had a few days since the Warriors triumphed over the Cavaliers in the Finals, I've refocused my attention on this year's prospects, and now there is already a blockbuster trade at the top. Reminiscent of the last time they held the #1 pick in 1980, the Celtics are trading down to #3 and surprisingly only getting one future first round pick from the 76ers to do so, reportedly either the Lakers' 2018 pick if it lands in the 2-5 range or the Kings' 2019 pick. That's an intriguing pick protection that provides both sides a fair chance at next year's star studded draft since LA's young squad could improve or toil at the bottom of the pack again, and it's not too exorbitant for Philly to move up and get their guy. Now that they had him in for a workout and medical check yesterday before finalizing the trade, I think it's time for a mock draft of how the Lottery portion of the draft will play out before trades really affect the back half of the first round.

1. 76ers: Markelle Fultz, Washington PG/SG

Those LA and Sacramento picks that Sam Hinkie acquired are two of the best assets in the league given the state of those franchises, and now Bryan Colangelo is cashing one of them in to get into position for the clear-cut top prospect, who should fit in perfectly with his new team. With the variety of skills Fultz possesses, he's like a longer, more explosive C.J. McCollum: capable of playing on or off the ball to drain shots from all over the floor while also being an unselfish playmaker. Physically, he might not be quite the same level athlete as Dwyane Wade, but he displays similar capabilities with his 6'4", 195 lb frame and 6'10" wingspan as he blocks shots at a surprising rate and snakes through defenses. Although he has a ton of potential on defense, he still needs to show a more committed consistency on that end of the floor, so I'm curious who the fifth starter will be with him, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Robert Covington. Most would assume Dario Saric takes that spot given his upside and strong end to the season, but I'd like them to explore having him as a high usage 6th man in favor of potential 3-and-D wing Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. They both shot 31.1% from deep as rookies, but TLC saw his percentage go up to 33.0% over 19 games as a starter and wouldn't need the ball in his hands as much as Saric. They could have Simmons run the offense as the point guard with Fultz helping him as the secondary facilitator around Embiid's inside/outside game as Covington and TLC spot up, and although I may sound like a broken record, a player like Simmons allows for versatile lineups defensively. Having a swingman like Luwawu-Caborrot in the lineup provides a 6'7" perimeter defender for the opposing team's best small while Covington can guard the most threatening forward, and then Fultz and Simmons can match up on the lesser threats. Of course, the most important thing is that this young core stays healthy because they have the potential to become something special as they develop together.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Kevin Durant's New Decision In This CBA Landscape

It always made the most sense last summer for Kevin Durant to sign a one year contract with a player option for a second year in order to have as much guaranteed money as possible while maintaining his flexibility this coming summer. As I wrote at the time, that allows him to sign his long-term deal after having 10 years of NBA experience, which means he's eligible for a maximum salary of 35% of the salary cap rather than the 30% he could have signed for at the time and in a summer with a higher salary cap (currently projected at $101 million) than last year's $94,143,000. However, he will now have to decide whether it's smart to take the same approach again and wait another year for that massive new contract that's coming or go for as much guaranteed as possible right now even though the Warriors only have his Non-Bird rights. Since there's such a long break before the start of the Finals this Thursday and already a ton of great preview pieces for that, I decided to take a look at KD's options and how they will affect what the team can do this summer under the new CBA and cap projections.
Durant and Andre Iguodala go all the way back to the 2010 Team USA squad with Stephen Curry.
The Warriors were diligent in their signings after Durant like I said they would need to be in order to not have any other new contracts locked in this year. Because they don't have his full Bird rights yet, they'll need to use cap space in order to give him the max salary possible. Quick primer on those special rights to re-sign your own free agents: you gain Non-Bird rights after one year with a team (can exceed the salary cap at up to 120% of the previous salary on a deal of 1-4 years with 5% raises), you gain Early Bird after two years with a team (can exceed the cap up to 175% of the previous salary on a deal of 2-4 years with 8% raises), and you gain full Bird rights after three years with a team (can exceed the cap up to the max salary on a deal of 1-5 years with 8% raises). Thus, he can only sign a four year, $152,005,000 contract this summer if they clear the space for his $35,350,000 starting salary by renouncing their rights to all other free agents aside from Stephen Curry, who needs to be the last player to officially re-sign since his cap hold is much lower than what he'll actually sign for (likely $205,030,000 over five years as he's eligible for the Designated Veteran Extension). That would only leave a little over $4 million in cap space to give to anyone else, though, and that's a problem since Andre Iguodala is also a free agent and a core part of the team. He's embodied their selfless culture with his passing mentality and willingness to come off the bench over the years, and there's a reason he was in the room for the recruiting pitch to Durant as they were teammates on both the 2010 and 2012 iterations of Team USA. Out of all the role players, the former Finals MVP is clearly the priority to retain.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

2017 Lottery and All-NBA Implications

The Summer of George has already started with last Tuesday's Lottery drawing and Thursday's announcements of the All-NBA teams impacting the future of Paul George, with Gordon Hayward affected to a certain extent, as well. I want to flesh out certain ideas about all of the possibilities the Celtics might do with the top pick now that they've been eliminated from the playoffs, but first, here are some of my thoughts on the implications of the ping pong ball results:
  • This is now the third straight year that the team with the best lottery combinations has won the #1 pick, ending a previous streak of never ending up with the top pick in the current format that started in 2005. Thanks to their trade with Brooklyn in 2013, Boston won this pick the night after making it to the Eastern Conference Finals, and although a top team getting their choice of top prospects for unfair reinforcements might seem crazy, the 1979, 1980, and 1982 #1 picks also went to the Lakers and Celtics due to previous deals. 
  • Before you get started with conspiracy theories that favor two of the league's most storied franchises, take a look at the actual drawings below and try to figure out how the results might be (illegally) rigged. Because a 1 kept getting drawn, the Celtics, whose 250 combinations make up the majority of the 286 results that include 1, remarkably won the first three drawings before the 14-5-3-12 drawing gave the Lakers the #2 pick, and none of those numbers matched the initial winning combo of 7-1-9-10. New GM Rob Pelinka would also give his doppelganger Rob Lowe a run for his money with his acting chops if that wasn't genuine relief that he showed around the 12:49 mark here:

Thursday, April 27, 2017

2017 NFL Draft Live Blog

It's draft time! 2017 continues to fly by, and the craziness of the NFL draft is already upon us. Rather than bombard my twitter feed with pick by pick thoughts, I decided to take a page out of The Sports Guy's book and do a running diary of what's going on. There will still be some tweets embedded in here from stuff I see on my feed, but for the most part, this will be my immediate, unfiltered thoughts.

4:50 PM:'s Mary Kay Cabot has reported earlier today that Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett is going to be the #1 pick, and I'm still recovering. I knew I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up again with the recent reports that North Carolina QB Mitchell "don't call me Mitch" Trubisky could still be in play with the top picks. My beloved 49ers won't be getting a generational pass rusher to play the Leo spot in their new 4-3 Under after all.

4:55 PM: Ian Rapoport comes on to reiterate that the 49ers are (wisely) exploring options to trade back from their #2 spot, and now the Bears are open to it, as well. This is what I've been clamoring for once Garrett proved at the combine that he is in a tier of his own atop the rankings and shouldn't be there with with second pick. This is a strong draft, but there isn't a clear cut #2 player since a bunch of players are all great between the 2 and 15-ish range. The problem is that you need a partner, so hopefully the smokescreen of interest in a QB or RB will generate enough interest for a trade with someone like the Jets, Panthers, or Browns with their other first round pick.

5:04 PM: NFL Network comes back from commercial to show the incredible scene of just how many people are attending the draft live now that it's back in Philadelphia for the first time since 1961. Hope it doesn't get too cold for them since Roger Goodell is just now starting the opening ceremonies in what will likely be a long night.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Final 2017 NBA Power Rankings

Well, it wasn't exactly the last day of 2015 with most of the playoff proceedings already decided, but there was still some drama to close the season, albeit of the lottery variety. Here's a look at where every team ended up ranking with a little tidbit for each, and I put my first round playoff predictions after the lower seeds.

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

They didn't match last season's record of 73 wins, due in part to a 2-5 stretch when Kevin Durant went down and resting their starters down the stretch of Monday's Jazz game that snapped their 14 game winning streak, but I'd say they're actually better overall than last year's squad that was unbelievably good in close games, including a 6-1 record in overtime games compared to 0-3 this season. In fact, they have a higher point differential this year, and it's the fourth best of all time, which is part of why they are the runaway favorites to reclaim the title, especially with KD back.

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

They lost 4 out of 5 to close the season since they limited the minutes of their key players once it was clear they weren't catching the Warriors for the best record, and yet they still ran away from the rest of the field. You can't really go wrong with any of the MVP candidates, but I would give it to Kawhi Leonard for leading this team into the post-Tim Duncan era without missing a beat despite being their only All-Star (although LaMarcus Aldridge had a case). In addition to being the best perimeter defender in the league, he took on a heavier scoring load to increase his career-high again to 25.5 points per game on an efficient 48.5%/38.1%/88% shooting line for .264 Win Shares per 48 minutes and a 27.5 Player Efficiency Rating.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Setting the Stage for the 2017 NBA Lottery

I have to admit: I have an irrational fascination with the NBA Lottery. It's amazing to me that the team with the worst record did not win the #1 pick in the first 10 years of the current format that has 14 teams in the lottery, but it has now happened in back to back years, with last year being the first time in history that no teams moved up at all. In fact, according to Zach Lowe's amazing recaps from inside the drawing room last year and in 2015, the first ping-pong ball drawn was #1 both times, basically signalling right away that the Sixers and Timberwolves had won since the worst record has 250 of the 286 four number combinations that include #1. I've even used the magical Wayback Machine to pull up his now defunct Point Forward blog that described the scene in the 2012 drawing room because I remember how incredible the emotions were in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes and how it got me hooked on the lottery process.

Thus, I wanted to set the stage for a highly anticipated game of chance and take a look at where things stand for the teams that have been eliminated from the playoffs for these final few games. For starters, here are the past results of the 12 lotteries under the current format with where the teams ranked in terms of how many ball combinations they had and their odds of landing in that spot:
The parenthetical notes indicate that's where the team ranked after a tiebreaker.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

2017 NBA Home Stretch Power Rankings

Now that I can breathe again after that incredible Elite Eight win by North Carolina over Kentucky, I wanted to take a temperature check of the pros as we approach the final 7-10 games before the end of the regular season. These will be quick hitters since I went in depth before the season and after the Trade Deadline, and as always, I'm using their overall point differential along with offensive and defensive efficiency numbers from

1. Golden State Warriors (1st in the West) 59-14 (35 H, 38 R)
Point Differential: +11.6 (1st), Offense: 113.0 (1st), Defense: 101.0 (T-1st)

Since losing 5 of 7 after Kevin Durant suffered a sprained MCL and tibial bone bruise during that arduous part of the schedule, they've won 7 straight thanks to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson busting out of their shooting slumps during that stretch. They've had the best defense since the All-Star Break at 99.1 per 100 possessions despite their defensive rebounding percentage going from 75.8% before Durant went down to 73.6% after, which would be the worst in the league. If that overall rating keeps up, Draymond Green needs to be holding the Defensive Player of the Year award at season's end. And there's this to provide optimism for the playoffs:

2.  San Antonio Spurs (2nd in the West) 56-16 (35 H, 37 R)
Point Differential: +7.9 (2nd), Offense: 109.5 (6th), Defense: 101.0 (T-1st)

That slight shooting slump I mentioned for Kawhi Leonard last month has manifested itself in 47.7%/32.5%/83.6% shooting since the Break compared to 48.8%/39.6%/89.9% prior as he's made just 26 of his last 80 3's, but that hasn't stopped him from still doing it all for this team as he's scoring 26.4 with 4.0 assists compared to 25.9 and 3.3 beforehand. Combine that with his usual amazing defense, and he just might be my MVP.