Who is the NBA’s MVP?
The MVP race, for all intents and purposes, is down to James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Yes, in any ordinary year, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard would be runaway victors. But this 2016-2017 season has been anything but ordinary. Let’s look at the numbers:
Harden: 29.1 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 11.2 APG on 44%/35%/85% shooting
Westbrook: 31.9 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 10.4 APG on 43%/34%/84% shooting
Those numbers, in particular the efficiencies, are eerily similar. Yes, Russell averaged a triple-double which is almost unprecedented, but Harden was right there with him. The MVP race is tight, real tight.
I have said it before, and I will say it again: Westbrook is the MVP. I have struggled to find a way to articulate what I have instinctively felt is the case, but I now can put this feeling into concrete terms. And in fact, it’s quite simple. Harden has been extremely productive because of the system he plays in. Westbrook has been extremely productive despite the system he plays in. You might ask: What difference does it make? Aren’t they both productive? Yes, but that is where the “valuable” in “Most Valuable Player” comes into play. Harden is surrounded by shooters. He plays in a system in which he is able to run infinite pick-and-rolls and play at a rapid pace.
Nobody can argue with the fact that Harden is very valuable to the Rockets, but Daryl Morey and Mike D’Antoni could, and in my opinion should, respectively win Executive and Coach of the Year. The way in which D’Antoni has seamlessly implemented his “Seven Seconds or Less” system in Houston has been mesmerizing. Morey played his role by signing sharpshooters Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, while trading for another in Lou Williams. Oklahoma City, on the other hand, doesn’t quite have the same effective infrastructure. Their system, if you can even call it that, is to give Westbrook the rock. The team is incredibly dependent on Westbrook, and frankly, he doesn’t have the supporting cast that Harden does. It is not debatable that the top two players from the Rockets and the Thunder are Harden and Westbrook, but after that, the Rockets have the four next best players. Yes, the Rockets won 8 more games than the Thunder in the regular seasons and dismantled them in the playoffs, but after losing an all-world talent in Kevin Durant, the Thunder didn’t fall off of a cliff as the Cavaliers did circa 2010. Why did they not just survive, but excel? Russell Westbrook.
Which players selected in the 2017 NFL Draft will prove to be steals?
Here are four players who I think we will look back on and consider them steals based on where they were selected from the 2017 NFL Draft:
#36 overall—Arizona Cardinals: Budda Baker, S, Washington….Budda Baker was an All-American last season. He is a hard-nosed safety, who I believe is almost as good as Jamal Adams, whom the Jets took sixth overall. Getting a player of that caliber in the second round is a steal. Baker joining a Cardinals’ secondary that features Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson has the chance to be absolutely lethal.
#41 overall—Minnesota Vikings: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State….If not for some off-the-field concerns, Cook would have come off the board in the first round. The former Seminole will have some large shoes to fill in replacing Adrian Peterson, but he is certainly capable. I think he has a chance to win the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award based on his undeniable talent in addition to being a superb fit in the Vikings’ offense.
#67 overall—New Orleans Saints: Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee….The value of this third-round selection by Sean Payton and company is tremendous. I view Kamara as Christian McCaffrey-lite. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, run between the tackles, and even return kicks and punts. Saints fans might be reminded of Reggie Bush. In a backfield that already has Mark Ingram and now Adrian Peterson, Drew Brees has been gifted with yet another weapon.
#92 overall—Dallas Cowboys: Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan….Lewis was a projected first-round pick at the end of last season, yet he fell down the order throughout the draft process. I am always a bit skeptical when that happens because the actual football being played becomes valued less in favor of tests and measurements that do not necessarily translate to or limit NFL success. Lewis was on par with teammate Jabrill Peppers in terms of NFL potential yet was selected nearly 70 picks later. I believe that the Cowboys got a steal and a high-caliber starter for years to come.
Who is the heir to LeBron’s throne in the Eastern Conference?
I believe that LeBron has two or three more years of “peak LeBron.” That likely means two or three more Finals appearances tacked on to his current stretch of six in a row dating back to his Miami days. But to answer the question, in my eyes, there are three players in the discussion: Paul George, John Wall, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. All three are All-Stars and franchise players. Wall is faster than the speed of light with the ball in his hands. His ability to go from baseline to baseline is incomparable. Paul George has essentially gone mano a mano with James in the postseason. Even though George and the Pacers have lost every time, he has shown that he is in the same stratosphere as LeBron—and not many players can make such a statement.
With that being said, going forward, I am team Giannis. The Greek Freak’s upside is immaculate. He essentially has the skill set of LeBron James in Kevin Durant’s body. That is frightening! The only missing piece is his jump shot, which needs tightening up since he has connected on only 27 percent of his three-point attempts in the regular season. If he straightens that out, he will literally be impossible to guard. At this point in his career, teams sag off of him, begging him to shoot, and he still manages to drive by them. If he can hone his perimeter game, his offensive efficiency will skyrocket and his team will flourish. Antetokounmpo is the second best player in the Eastern Conference. Within the next couple of years, he will be the best.
Should there be ties in baseball?
Earlier this season, the Mets and the Marlins played a game that went 16 innings, lasting 5 hours and 38 minutes. The teams, combined, used 17 pitchers, with the Mets ultimately coming out victorious at 9-8.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote a column in which he argues that the MLB should have ties if the score remains deadlocked after 12 innings. After much deliberation, I believe that I agree.
Think about it: the baseball season is 162 games long. Exhausting one’s bullpen to the extent that a game of 16 innings does (or maybe even more) is quite taxing. If you were Terry Collins, the manager of the Mets, would you rather lose a game in nine innings or win a pyrrhic victory in 16 innings, rendering your entire bullpen ineffective for the next several games? I think the average fan would take a win 10 times out of 10, but the added stress that extra inning games put on a pitching staff unquestionably hampers a team in their next few games. Thus I would not be shocked if it was found that when mangers were asked this same question, they respond that they would rather lose in nine innings. It seems crazy, but extra-inning games really do have a negative impact on a team in the coming days.
By shortening MLB games to a maximum of 12 innings, a bullpen would never get completely decimated, as is often the case these days. Would ties make baseball more interesting? Maybe. Would it piss off traditionalists who want to see the same bland, non-celebratory game? Certainly. But so what? It would be best for the game. Consequently, I believe that the MLB should adopt this rule. It would add an interesting element to the game while keeping arms out from under the knife.
Who is the best pitcher in baseball?
Seriously? This is a no-brainer. Clayton Kershaw has been utterly dominant over the course of his young career. At age 29, the nifty southpaw already has three CY Young Awards to his name. Since 2013, his ERA for the season has only finished above 2.00 once. There is no other pitcher in baseball who is on or even near his level. But has there ever been a pitcher as dominant?
When pitchers are categorized as “dominant” or “un-hittable,” fans often tend to think of flamethrowers such as Aroldis Chapman or Joel Zumaya. Yet Kershaw is not that. His fastball tends to peak around 93-94 mph. In recent baseball history, I found Greg Maddux, who had similar characteristics to Kershaw. Maddux was by no means a flamethrower, but rather a technician out on the mound. He relied on deceiving hitters with location and change of speed rather than trying to overpowering them. From 1992 to 1995, Maddux won the CY Young Award four times consecutively, an incredible achievement. In addition, Maddux won the Gold Glove an astounding 18 times. Insane!
While Kershaw is making professional hitters look like fools at times, his reign is not unprecedented. Just look to Maddux; he pitched for almost 22 seasons, piling up 355 career wins. Kershaw has another decade ahead of him before we put him on the same sacred ground as Maddux, but if he keeps up his current form, he is undoubtedly on the way.