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2017-2018 NBA Season Preview

The NBA summer was the most interesting and fascinating offseason in recent memory due to the amount of transactions and the significance of these deals. Multiple Hall of Famers, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, and Chris Paul, changed teams this offseason, which partially switched the power dynamic in the NBA. In addition to these future Hall of Famers, current stars in their prime, Isaiah Thomas, Jimmy Butler, Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving, and Paul Millsap, all changed teams this offseason. Along with the number of stars that switched sides this offseason, many of these players were traded, which has never been done before to this height.

Favorite: Golden State Warriors

Even though the Warriors did not add any new components to their team, they are the overwhelming favorite to win the NBA championship and are vying for the title of the greatest team of all-time and become a dynasty. Though the Warriors did not acquire another star, they were one of the winners of the offseason because they were able to keep their key supporting parts, Andre Iguodala, David West, Zaza Pachulia, and Shaun Livingston, while acquiring valuable scoring bench players such as Nick Young and Omar Cassapi. The Warriors do not have any flaws on their team because even though they lack a true center, they are able to play small and avoid the issue. Their “death lineup” of Durant, Curry, Thompson, Green, and Iguodala has not been stopped and there is no team with the capabilities to overcome their combination of great defense and explosive offense. In addition, they are all willing to share the ball and play as a team, which eliminates the possibility of “hero ball” and stagnate offense. On defense, outside of Curry, they are all extremely athletic, lengthy, and willing to play together as a team. Even though some will speculate that other teams can compete with the Warriors to drive viewership, no other team can compete with the Warriors and they will win their second consecutive title and third title in four years.

Other Contenders: Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, and Oklahoma City Thunder

Outside of the San Antonio Spurs, each of these made major offseason moves in an attempt to better themselves and increase their chance at dethroning the defending champions. The most interesting move of the offseason was the Kyrie Irving/Isaiah Thomas deal between the Cavaliers and the Celtics. The additions of Dwyane Wade, Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Jeff Green should make the Cavs a better team and give them a higher chance of defeating the Warriors. While they improved their depth, they still do not have a good defense and the will severely miss Irving’s ability to create offense against any defender. IT and DWade have great offensive talent, but IT looked exposed against elite defenses and Wade is too old to be consistently relied upon to run the offense. The Cavaliers have their flaws, but they remain the class of the Eastern Conference as long as James dawns Cleveland on his jersey. The other side of the deal should help the Celtics close the gap between themselves and the Cavaliers in the East. Kyrie gives Boston an elite scorer who can dominate a game. In addition to Kyrie, Hayward is a star in the league and the trio of him, Irving, and Horford will keep the Celtics as a top two team in the East. Unfortunately, they will not be able to overcome the Cavs unless one of their talented young players, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, or Jayson Tatum, take a significant leap forward and become a dependable star. Due to the added storylines, the series between the Cavs and Celtics will definitely be more exciting and closer than last years Eastern Conference Final.

In the West, Houston  made the first big move of the offseason when they convinced Chris Paul exit the City of Angels and join Houston. The combination of Paul and James Harden may be the most exciting 1-2 combo in the league. Although there will be questions about who is running the offense since they are both ball dominant players, they are too talented and driven to succeed to not figure out the problem. However, the Rockets will likely not climb higher than the third best team in the West because a lot of other star power. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela, and Ryan Anderson are nice players, but they are not at the level of the other contending teams. Even though the Spurs did not acquire a marquee player during the offseason, the combination of Popovich and Kawhi Leonard is too dangerous of a duo to not be one of the best teams in the West. The Spurs’ style of play will guarantee the team 50+ wins, but they look like nothing more than a second round team, unless Aldridge return to his past dominant self and become a superstar once again. Finally, the team with the best opportunity to beat the Warriors is the Oklahoma City Thunder. Sam Presti has done an incredible job of recovering from the Durant departure and exchanging picks and spare parts into Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. Carmelo is an aging star, but he is still a fabulous offensive player and will be determined to win a championship. George is one of the preeminent players in the league as he is one of the best two way players in the league. George and Anthony will give the Thunder the capability of keeping up with the Warriors on offense. Steven Adams is a solid fourth option and will add toughness and defense to the starting lineup. However, the rest of the team is subpar and will ultimately be their undoing. The team’s biggest asset and the player that gives the team the best chance of beating the Dubs is Russell Westbrook. The reining MVP would like nothing more than defeat Kevin Durant and the Warriors. Although this determination may drive him to work too hard and attempt too many breath taking plays, he has a lot of talent around him and must rely on his teammates.

Interesting Teams to Watch: Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Philadelphia 76ers

Due to an incredible inflow of young talent, these three teams have the potential to take a large step forward and make the playoffs. The Bucks took a major step forward last season and it was mostly due to the emergence of Giannis as a legitimate superstar. Giannis should continue to improve his game as he learns to develop a jump shot and adds muscle to his slight frame. Along with Giannis, the team has solid young players such as Jabari Parker, Thon Maker, Malcolm Brogdon, and Khris Middleton. With Jason Kidd as their head coach, the team will continue improving and enacting a position-less system. Due to the team’s versatility and athleticism, they can continue to overwhelm their opponents on both sides of the court. The team will need to develop a second star to partner with Giannis, but they have the potential to become the next great team in the East, when LeBron decides to either retire or head west. The other team in the East that will be fascinating to watch is the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers have been terrible for years, but they are finally ready to see the benefits of “The Process”. During his brief stint last season, Embiid looked like an absolute force that can dominate a game offensively and defensively. Ben Simmons has looked extremely talented during the preseason and some believe that he has the skill and size to play like Magic Johnson. First overall pick Markelle Fultz has been dealing with injuries this preseason, but he was the number one overall pick for a reason and has superstar talent.

There may not be a team in the NBA that can boast more young talent than the Minnesota Timberwolves. The combination of Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins will put fear into opposing teams for years. KAT may already be the best big man in the league because he can do so many different things on the court. The team has the potential to make the playoffs this season because of the additions they made during the offseason. The additions of veterans Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague will make the team more savvy and intelligent, which is dangerous because of their great talent.

2017 AL MVP Prediction and Analysis

The AL MVP has been an exciting race the entire season and it is still undecided who will win the award. Although Mike Trout posted the best per game statistics in the American League, he missed a good amount of time with an injury and plays for a team that will not be playing in October. The contest will be between Yankees’ right fielder Aaron Judge and Astros’ second baseman Jose Altuve. There are so many interesting story lines between the two players, mainly due to their difference in size. Jose Altuve is the smallest player in baseball and has incredible contact and speed while Judge is the biggest player in MLB history and possesses the most power in baseball.

Why Judge should win?

Aaron Judge has been an incredible story as it was unknown if he would even make the team before the season. During a brief stint in the Bronx last season, Judge struck out 50% of his at bats and hit an abysmal .174. However, Judge grabbed the bull by the horn and put together one of the greatest rookie seasons in MLB history, breaking numerous records along with way. A few of the records that he broke were the most home runs by the rookie, 52, most home runs in Yankees Stadium in a season, 33, and most walks in a season by a rookie, 127. Judge had one of the most up and down seasons in baseball this season as he batted .330 with 30+ home runs before the All Star break, went through a terrible stretch in July and August, but ended the season extraordinarily strong in September, which catapulted him back into the MVP race. Along with Judge’s impressive power, AL-leading 52 home runs, he hit a respectful .284, while leading the AL in On-Base Percentage, .422, OPS, 1.049, walks, 127, runs, 128, and finishing second in the AL in RBIs, 114. In addition, he leads in WAR, depending on the WAR statistic that you are looking at. Outside of batting average, steals, and hits, Judge leads Altuve in nearly every offensive category. Along with great offensive statistics, he was one of the better right fielders in baseball as he posted a positive DWAR. In addition, his demeanor and leadership abilities cannot be neglected as he helped the Baby Bombers mature quickly and compete against more experienced teams. Judge’s importance to the Yankees cannot be more evident. When he was crushing the ball in the first half of the season, the Yankees led the AL East and were one of the best teams in the league. However, during his struggles, New York lost their AL East lead and had difficulty scoring. The combination of his offensive power, defensive ability, and leadership is the reason why he was vital to the Yankees path to the playoffs and should win the 2017 AL MVP.

Why Altuve should win?

Jose Altuve may only be 5’6″, 165, but he is one of the three best players in the league because he can literally do everything on a baseball field. Due to his size, position, and skill, Altuve reminds many of 2-time NL MVP second baseman Joe Morgan. Altuve has been progressively improving over the past five years and deserves this accreditation. Altuve can do it all on the field, whether it hit for average, blast balls out of the park, use his speed to score, and play incredible defense. For the fourth straight seasons, Altuve led the league in hits while leading the league in average in three of the past four years. In addition to his incredible ability to hit for contact, Altuve has a lot of power for someone who is dramatically under 6’0″. This season, Altuve accumulated 67 extra base hits, 24 home runs, 39 doubles, and 4 triples, which led him to a .547 slugging percentage and .957 OPS. His ability to get on base and use his speed, 32 stolen bases, has enabled him to become one of the best run producing players in the league and a perfect lead off hitter. This season, the young Astro scored a total of 112 runs. Altuve’s statistics are undeniably amazing, but he is the heart of the Astros, the second best team in the AL and a team that won over 100 games. Altuve is the catalyst of one of the best offenses in baseball and should be recognized for his greatness as well as the Astros success.

 

Who should win the award?

Even though the race for AL MVP will be undeniably close, the winner of MVP should be Aaron Judge. Aaron Judge combines statistics with the wow-factor that is rare in a player and unheard of in a rookie. Judge leads the league in jersey sales, becoming the first rookie to ever accomplish that “feat”.  In reality though, Judge possesses better numbers than Altuve, was more valuable for his club, and Judge produced in an inferior lineup. Although Judge recorded less hits and a lower average, his ability to draw walks enabled him to surprisingly score more runs and produce a higher on-base percentage than Altuve. In addition, even though Altuve is lauded for his great defense, Judge has produced a higher WAR. Although one can argue second base is a more important position than right field, it is not like Altuve is playing catcher, shortstop, or centerfield. Thus, Altuve has posted more hits, but Judge is still scoring more runs, driving more runs in, and hitting for vastly more power. In addition, Judge has done more in a lineup that is worse than the Astros lineup. The Astros paced the American League in runs, hits, doubles, total bases, average, on-base, slugging, and OPS. Although the Yankees were top three in many of these stats, the Bronx Bombers do not have the same fire power as the Astros. The combination of Carlos Correa, George Springer, Alex Bregman, Josh Reddick, Brian McCann, and Marwin Gonzalez represent a stronger core than the Yankees can post. Although it would be criminal to diminish the talents and production of the diminuative second baseman, Aaron Judge deserves to be the third rookie to claim both the Rookie of the Year Award and the MVP.

2017-2018 NFC Division Preview

NFC East

Winner: Dallas Cowboys

The NFC East should be the most exciting division in the NFL. Not only do they have some of the most heated rivalries in the entire sport, they possess four solid teams that could all make the playoffs and win the division. However, the Cowboys are still the favorites even with the loss of Ezekiel Elliott for the first six games. There is no doubt that Zeke is one of the best running backs in the NFL because of his combination of power and speed, but the Cowboys have one of the best offensive lines, which significantly contributed to his success. In addition, Darren McFadden represents a solid backup who should be able to handle the role for the first third of the season. Without Zeke, the Dallas defense, which was underrated last season, and Dak Prescott need to elevate their games and prove that their success from last season can be repeated. If the Boys do not claim the division for the second straight year, the next favorites are the Giants. The Giants have a plethora of talent on both sides and on paper may be the best team in the division. However, their shaky offensive line and injury history are factors that could keep them from matching their talent.

NFC North

Winner: Green Bay Packers

Seemingly every year the Packers are predicted to win the division, but always find a way to either make things interesting or lose the NFC North title. With only Mitchell Trubisky, Matthew Stafford, and Sam Bradford as the other quarterbacks in the division, Aaron Rodgers has a huge leg up on the competition and should win the division every year. The amount of weapons on the Green Bay offense is never questioned, but the offensive line must be able to keep Rodgers up in the pocket for him to exploit his matchups. In addition, their acquisitions on defense, especially in the secondary, should improve a unit that consistently ranks toward the bottom half of the NFL. If the Packers are unable to claim their second straight division crown, it will be due to injuries on the offensive line and defense, improved play from Minnesota’s quarterback whether it be Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater, or significant enhancement of the Lions’ defense to complement Matthew Stafford and his offensive barrage.

NFC South

Winner: New Orleans Saints

Outside of the NFC East, the NFC South has the potential to be one of the most interesting division because of the quarterback depth.  The Saints have been mired in mediocrity for years and Drew Brees is nearing the end of his legendary career.  The Saints’ offense is blessed with multiple options such as former All-Pro Adrian Peterson, Willie Snead, Mark Ingram, and Michael Thomas, while the defense has slowly been improving over the past few years. The Saints are never going to have one of the best defenses in the league, but their great offense and home-field advantage should let them complete for the NFC South. Last season, the Falcons were the undisputed best team in the division and nearly won the Super Bowl, but they are destined for a setback this season. The Panthers recently made the Super Bowl, but they do not have a reliable offensive line to keep Newton upright in the pocket. The Buccaneers are also a team on the rise, but Winston has not shown an ability to lead a team to the playoffs.

NFC West

Winner: Seattle Seahawks

Last year, the NFC West was one of the weakest divisions as the Cardinals did not live up to expectations and the 49ers and Rams were awful. The Seahawks beefed up their team this offseason with the addition of Sheldon Richardson, one of the premier pass rushers in the league. On offense, the team has the potential to be elite if Eddy Lacy and Jimmy Graham can return to form, Russell Wilson continues his progression as an elite quarterback, and the offensive line stays healthy. On defense, they are still one of the best with Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Michael Bennett, Sheldon Richardson, and Cam Chancellor. In addition, the Seahawks still have the best home field advantage in football at CenturyLink Field. The Rams have the chance to step forward, if Goff can make significant improvements in his second year. The Cardinals were a dark horse candidate to win the Super Bowl last season before everything fell apart, but they still have the talent with Carson Palmer, David Johnson, and Larry Fitzgerald to compete for a playoff position.