Thursday, June 26, 2008

NBA Draft Reactions

A hodgpodge of thoughts following one of the best sports night of the year - NBA Draft night.

Best value picks:
- Jerryd Bayless (11) - Had top 5 talent, but slides to 11, and will join an already talented cast of Portland Trailblazers. He can eventually be paired with Brandon Roy in the backcourt... neither guy is probably a natural PG, but both are good enough ballhandlers and passers to run the offense.

- Courtney Lee (22) - I like Lee quite a bit. He's an unselfish player who should in seamlessly with Orlando's Big 3. Playing the 2 spot, he's a lot more athletic than holdover Keith Bogans, and he still maintains 3-point range. He's also better than Bogans creating his own shot off the dribble. Just a really nice pick for a really solid player.

- Kosta Koufos (23) - He's not NBA ready yet, but at 23, he's a talented player to get. Also, he's white, so he should fit well in Utah.

- Mario Chalmers (34) - Chalmers was too good of a player to slip this far. Solid defensively, good outside shooter, unselfish with the basketball... perfect addition to a team with Wade-Marion-Beasley.

- DeAndre Jordan (35) - Not that I love Jordan's game (I actually have serious doubts as to whether he'll ever be a consistently productive player), but at 35, it's a good risk to take for the Clippers. He's got the athleticism and rebounding ability to be a very good player if he can develop some type of offensive game.

Worst value picks:
- DJ Augustin (9) - I was a little confused about this pick for the Bobcats. For one, I'm not huge on Augustin... he's small, doesn't have the quickness of a top-flight PG, and is a bit of a liability on the defensive end. But is he really going to be better than Raymond Felton? And doesn't Brook Lopez fit a big need there?

- Anthony Randolph (14) - Randolph is similar to Brandan Wright, who the Warriors got in the draft last year. What are they going to do with 2 raw, athletic PFs?

- Javale McGee (18) - Speaking of raw... he's a long ways away, and I think a guy like DeAndre Jordan might be a little better risk if you're going for the upside pick. But there were more proven 4 men like Kosta Koufos and Darrell Arthur on the board, both of which seem like they would have made more sense.

- Sonny Weems (39) - It's hard to have too many qualms about a mid 2nd round pick (same goes for Ewing next), but I was a little perplexed by this choice. Weems is freaky athletic, but with the addition of Rose to a backcourt already featuring Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Larry Hughes, and Thabo Sefalosha, I think a big man would have been a better choice. Or if they were going to go this position, Chris Douglas-Roberts was still on the board.

- Patrick Ewing (43) - Ewing is big and pretty athletic, but he doesn't really have any discernible NBA skill. Ewing was a decent 6th man as a senior in college... how does that translate to the #43 pick?

Monday, June 16, 2008

MLB Power Rankings

Here is how I see the top 10 in the MLB as of June 17th... feel free to disagree, as this is what I believe is referred to as an inexact science.

1. Chicago Cubs - No real question about this in my mind. The Cubs are 2nd in the Majors in runs and 4th in the Majors in ERA. This means that their pythegorean record is even better than their Major League best 45-25 mark, which means this hot start is probably not a fluke. We'll see if they keep this pace up even with Soriano on the shelf, but so far they appear to be very legit.

2. Boston Red Sox - The Sox have a blistering 28-7 record at home, but they're only 16-22 on the road. They're also dealing with an injury to an offensive star, as David Ortiz continues to mend. But JD Drew has actually looked like an $11 million/year player of late, meaning the offense has barely missed a beat.

3. Philadelphia Phillies - Led by strong MVP candidate Chase Utley (and don't look now, but Pat Burrell has been awesome this year), the Phillies look like the 2nd best team in the NL right now. Cole Hamels is keeping the rotation together, and the pen is led by Brad Lidge, who has decided to be a great (great) closer again. The Phils actually have the 2nd best pythagorean record in the MLB.

4. Chicago White Sox - Guys like Carlos Quentin and Alexei Ramirez might lead you to think that hitting has been the main reason for the Sox becoming relevant once again, but pitching has actually been the reason. Their 3.33 ERA is tops in the Majors, and they have been solid from 1-5 in the rotation, most surprisingly with John Danks and Gavin Floyd.

5. Oakland Athletics - The A's were supposed to be rebuilding, but they're 38-31, and the run differential suggests they should be even better than that. They're not ripping it up at the plate, but their 3.34 is just barely behind the White Sox for best in the MLB. If Rich Harden stays healthy (a huge if), the A's have one of the most formidable rotations in the MLB.

6. LA Angels - The Angels lead the AL West, but part of that reason is a little bit of abnormal success in close games, as shown through K-Rod's MLB leading 28 saves. They're in the bottom 3rd of the MLB in runs, however, and they'll need Vladimir Guerrero to start picking it up if they're going to continue at this pace.

7. St. Louis Cardinals - Even with Pujols injured, they're sticking in there with guys like Ryan Ludwick, who's improbably been one of the best hitters in the NL this season. Unfortunately, things haven't gotten easier, with Adam Wainwright on the DL and Todd Wellemeyer undergoing problems recently. Dave Duncan needs to keep pulling rabbits out of his hat.

8. Tampa Bay Rays - One of the feel good stories of the season, the Rays are 11 games above the .500 mark and having the best season so far of their existence. While BJ Upton and Carl Crawford are some of the first guys that come to mind, this has been the result of pitching from Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, and James Shields. Kazmir missed the start of the year because of injury, but he might still be a Cy Young candidate - in 8 starts he has 6 wins, a 1.74 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and 9.41 K/9.

9. Arizona Diamondbacks - The DBacks aren't doing anything special, but they have a large lead over the rest of the West, which has been really bad. Some might consider Justin Upton a disappointment a little for his low BA, but his peripheral numbers look pretty excellent for a 20 year old. He's going to be studly.

10. New York Yankees - The Yankees are just hanging around, like they usually do. The pitching was already mediocre, and that won't be helped by the injury of Wang. The Yankees do have to be pleased with the resurgence of Jason Giambi, who is a power threat once again.

What changes would you make?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Home Run Derby Promotion

State Farm and Major League Baseball have partnered to launch the Call Your Shot consumer promotion taking place the State Farm Home Run Derby. Here's how the promotion works: Fans can enter the promotion daily through June 24 at The grand prize winner of Call Your Shot will win:

- All-expense paid trip for four to the All-Star Game and State Farm Home Run Derby
- First class hotel accommodations in New York
- Tickets to a Broadway show
- $1,000 MasterCard gift card

The grand prize winner will also get the chance to pick a spot where two of the Home Run Derby players must compete to try to hit a ball to. If the first player hits the ball to the called spot, the promotion ends. If either player succeeds, the fan receives a 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe hybrid vehicle and a 2009 season-ticket package for any team.

Additionally, 10 fans will win first place prizes consisting of a $300 gift card and 25 second prize winners will receive $100 gift cards.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Celtics Survive Game 2

Wow. First off, obviously I did not see the Celtics being up 2-0 coming. If I had bet on the NBA Finals, I would be in bad shape right now. Fortunately, I stick to just talking about the games. And after being a bit of a bore for most of the game, the Lakers made things interesting before succumbing the Boston. I was actually going to stop watching without about 8 minutes to go, but with the effort that the Lakers were still exerting (even down 24) I decided to stick around, and almost witnesses something awesome. Obviously I had no inkling that LA would eventually make it a 2 point game, but it goes to their credit that they continued to exert maximum effort. But the result of all of it is that Boston leads 2-0.

How have they done it? Well, obviously defense has been huge. Up until the 4th quarter of Game 2, they had frustrated Kobe Bryant just like they did in the regular season, and nobody else was really picking up the slack. But then again, we knew going on that the Celtics were the best defensive team in the NBA, and their help defense was great. The big reason that Boston is up 2-0 and in control of the series is because they have been so good offensively, which is what I did not expect.

Boston shot 53% in Game 2 and got to the foul line 38 times. Those are winning numbers. For as bad as they looked against Cleveland offensively, they have turned things around quite nicely. They are getting out and picking up the tempo (which we thought the Lakers would be doing), and Rondo is running the break like a seasoned pro. Rondo considers to be extraordinarily effective considering he does not have a jumpshot. 16 assists, 6 rebounds, and constant solid defense? That's more than enough to make up for only 4 points on 1-4 shooting.

The other big thing for the Celtics was the play of the bigs of the bench. Once again, PJ Brown was just solid. He knows his role and his game so well... hit open midrange jumpers, and always be in the right place defensively. He's been monumental for Boston. The reason Boston is so great defensively is because of their help defense, and Brown is the epitome of that. He's always in the right position to help on guys driving to the hoop, or to take charges. Then, of course, there is Leon Powe. His aggressiveness on the offensive end was big in the first half, when the Lakers jumped out to a quick start. Just taking a look at his numbers - 21 points in 15 minutes. Leon Powe might never play a better game in his life.

For the Lakers, they have to figure out how to slow Boston down, and to decrease the disparity in free throw attempts. As noted, Boston took 38 compared to LA's 10. It doesn't take a basketball mastermind to know that you're not going to win a lot of games with a 28 free throw attempt difference. The easy answer is to say that LA needs to be more aggressive and take it to the hoop more, but Boston's defense makes that a tough proposition.

Obviously I have to stick with my prediction of LA to win the series, but it goes without saying that Game 3 is a must-win for the Lakers. At home, with the momentum of a near comeback, they need to get out to a good start in game 3 and exert control over things in LA.

Just a final note, and I know that the refs not calling traveling is a bit of a running joke in the NBA, but come on, how do you not call that travel by Vladimir Radmanovic on the fast break dunk that cut the lead to 104-100? I actually really don't have a problem with them letting borderline travels go, but Vlad Rad's travel there was rather egregious, and on a fast break to boot. It definitely helped the entertainment factor that nothing was called, but he blatantly travelled on a fast break. Got to be called.

Final final note, but Jeff Van Gundy making fun of Mark Jackson for comparing Leon Powe to Dr. J was the highlight of the game for me in terms of the announcers. I had a good laugh. Bravo Jeff Van Gundy.

Monday, June 02, 2008

2008 NBA Finals Prediction

Time to give my prediction for the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers!

While both teams are pretty evenly matched, I like Los Angeles to win this series based on the matchup advantages they have. First, Boston has nobody really to match up with Kobe Bryant. Paul Pierce has done a very good job defensively this postseason, but he is simply not the player that Kobe Bryant is. Look for Bryant to exert himself, especially late and in close games, which is a huge edge in their favor. In so many of these closely-matched series', the team that has the best player wins, and Kobe Bryant is the best player in this series.

Up front, I think LA has the edge with their athleticism. While Kevin Garnett can match up well with either Lamar Odom or Pau Gasol, I think it will be much tougher for Kendrick Perkins to match up with them. They are both athletic big men that can get up and down the court. Plus, they are both skilled with the basketball, and I'm not sure how effective of a defender Perkins is 15 feet from the basket. I look for LA to exploit that.

Lastly, the Lakers have a huge coaching edge. Phil Jackson is one of the best coaches of all-time, looking for his NBA record 10th Title. Doc Rivers was on the chopping block as recently as the end of last season, as many Celtics fans openly pined for his firing. Look for Jackson to exploit the Lakers advantages. So I think the Lakers will be victorious in this game. I like the teams to split the first 2 in Boston, and the Lakers to take the next 3 at home.

Lakers in 5.

What's your pick?