Paul Goldschmidt is Finally Good Again, and That’s Good

My fellow Sideline Intel writer and somber Orioles fan Ryan Sharp wrote about Orioles first baseman Chris Davis having a historically bad year. He’s at a -1.8 in fWAR (Wins Above Replacement). He’s hitting .153, and he’s only got four home runs on the season. That’s bad. I’m really sorry Ryan has to watch that. Chris Davis is usually very good, and this year, he has been very bad.

On the other side of the country, Diamondbacks first baseman Paul “Goldie” Goldschmidt has, up until the last couple of weeks, had a pretty bad year too.

His last at bat of the 2017 season was the last at bat of the Diamondbacks season, where he struck out swinging at a bad pitch out of the strike zone against the Dodgers in Game 3 of the NLDS. That seemed to stick with him coming into 2018, as he started out barely swinging the bat at all. His shift to a reserved style saw him taking walks more often at the start of the year, but it didn’t do his team, his stats, or his fans any favors.

The month of May was absolutely awful for Goldschmidt, and it brought many to question if his Golden (ha) Years were behind him. He had 8 RBI in 27 games in May, 7 home runs on the year entering June, and was batting .209. It was an awful month for the whole Diamondbacks team as well. It started with their first series loss of the season against the Nationals, and snowballed into an 8-19 month with a series loss to the Mets. The Mets! When Goldie ain’t batting, ain’t nobody batting.

 

Fast forward to June. Goldie has, as of June 10th, increased his batting average to .254, has 10 RBI, hit 2 home runs in 2 straight games, and led the DBacks to win 7 of their last 9 games and reclaim the division title from the Colorado Rockies, whom they outscored by a total of 15 runs in this week’s series. It seems like Goldie’s energy radiates through the entire team. As he’s continued to hit well, guys like Ketel Marte (who had 10 straight extra base hits!), John Ryan Murphy, and even Chris Owings have contributed at the plate lately.

Special shoutout to utility-infielder-turned-slugger Daniel Descalso. I see you, Daniel. You’re putting in work. Keep it up. (.261/.360/.510 is absolutely incredible for him, his .510 slugging percentage is .086 higher than his career average, which was in 2016.)

The Diamondbacks also added outfielder Jon Jay, who has yet to break the seal on his first hit despite hitting .307 upon being traded to the team. Once his bat fires up, Pollock gets healthy, and the pitching staff heals, the Diamondbacks look to be a series threat in the National League. But, there’s still 99 games of baseball left to be played, and a lot of uncertainty down that stretch of time.

All we can say for certain is this: Paul Goldschmidt is good again, and that’s really really good. Hopefully he has time to make a very late All-Star bid and join AJ Pollock in Washington, D.C.

Writer’s Note: As basketball starts to hit a slow point, you’re all gonna see some more MLB content coming from me this summer! But don’t worry, the Suns still do things, and I’m going to let you know about every single one of them.

 

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Chris Davis isn’t good, and that’s bad

Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is having an historically bad year.

In a time when hyperbole is everywhere, this unfortunately is not.

Davis is literally on pace to have the worst season by any player ever.

For those of you who hate, or don’t know about advanced metrics, fWAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a measurement used by FanGraphs to approximately how many wins a player is worth — seeing if team more or less likely to win with or without a specific player in a game.

Davis’s fWAR is currently -1.8. The next worst is -1.2, held by Cleveland Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin. Ian Desmond is the second-worst first baseman with an fWAR -0.9.

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Davis is currently slashing .153/.232/.233. We’re used to seeing a low average and a lot of strikeouts by Davis, but his home run and RBI totals made up for that.

So far in 2018, the two-time former league leader has four homers. That puts him on pace for around 15 this season. The 30 combined homers he’s hit since the start of the 2017 season hasn’t yet matched his 2016 total of 38.

 

There was hope for Davis entering this season. He said he’d been working extra hard to reduce strikeouts and increase contact in the offseason. Apparently, that extra work didn’t happen, according to Hall of Fame pitcher and MASN analyst Jim Palmer, who laid into Davis last month.

If the Orioles’ hitting coach says it didn’t happen, it probably didn’t.

If Davis did try to adjust after Palmer’s comments, it hasn’t created results.

Perhaps the worst part of this situation, is the the Orioles are paying Davis $23M per year through 2022 to drastically underperform. On top of that — he’s still regularly in the lineup, playing in 56 of Baltimore’s 64 games so far.

The contract makes him un-tradable, but it’s not like any team wants him at this point.

It has to be tough on a front office to bench or demote a guy being paid that much. It’s probably even tougher to bench a guy who propelled your offense for four years.

But the Red Sox were in a similar situation with Pablo Sandoval a few years back. They sucked it up and designated him for assignment. It was the right thing to do.

Some time in AAA might not hurt either.

Baltimore’s front office is just as flawed as Davis, though. It’s afraid to commit to a rebuild, or even give younger guys some time in the big leagues.

Personally, I feel bad for Davis. It seems like his struggles started by no fault of his own, but then he did nothing to fix anything, so I don’t feel too bad. It would be great if he turns things around.

Of course, my opinion means nothing, so it looks like the Orioles are just gonna keep losing with no plan on how to win. Love it.

The Cavaliers have a lot to do in order to keep LeBron James

The Cleveland Cavaliers could end up being the NBA’s biggest losers of the offseason. Losing LeBron James in free agency would turn this perennial title contender into a mediocre team that could struggle to make the eighth seed in the East.

James is coming off of one of the greatest playoff runs in NBA history. He averaged 34 points per-game with nine assists and nine rebounds per-contest. He led an otherwise struggling Cleveland team into the Finals for the fourth consecutive year. He also scored 51 points in a losing effort in Game 1 of the Finals.

James will have a lot of options to choose from this summer, and the Cavs don’t appear to be the most appealing. The most prominent reason why is because they will have a difficult time improving their roster that got swept by Golden State.

The Cavaliers paid well over the salary cap this season and are scheduled to still be over the cap in 2018-2019, regardless of whether James re-signs or not.

This is because the Cavs owe Kevin Love over $24 million next year, they owe George Hill $19 million, Tristan Thompson will get $17.5 million, J.R. Smith will get over $14 million and Jordan Clarkson will earn $12.5 million.

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The Salary cap sits at $99 million, and those five players will make $87.8 million combined. Another $14 million is owed to four others. There is no money to work with for General Manager Koby Altman, which is a problem since the talent surrounding James this past season proved lackluster in the playoffs.

The most exciting thing they can do this offseason with the roster they have, besides possibly bringing back James, is drafting the eighth overall pick that they received from the Kyrie Irving trade.

Adding one young player most likely won’t be substantial enough to bring back James. The best chance Cleveland has is to try their best to trade some of their big contracts and create cap room.

This could prove tough. Hill is now 32-years-old and had his worst statistical season since 2012.

Thompson also experienced the worst year scoring wise of his career, and his rebounds-per-game were the lowest since his rookie campaign.

Also, there are cheaper options for teams to sign at shooting guard than J.R. Smith, so many teams will likely pass on him unless given draft compensation. Marco Belinelli, same age and position as Smith, scored more points and shot more efficiently for Atlanta this past season. He made half as much money as Smith last season, and he is a current free agent.

Lou Williams was just re-signed by the Clippers for $8 million per year. He scored 22 points-per-game while leading the Clippers in assists this season, and he will be paid just over half as much as Smith next year.

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Now, if James leaves, then the Cavs will need their eighth overall pick. Historically, players like four-time All-Star Tom Chambers, three-time All-Star Detlef Schrempf and three-time Sixth-Man of the Year Jamal Crawford have been selected there, so a high quality young player could fall to them.

Trading future picks could also prove dangerous because if James leaves, then those picks get higher and more valuable.

But, in order to keep “The King,” they will need to deal some of their picks away with some of their big contracts. A rebuilding team could possibly be willing to eat up Thompson or Smith’s deal if that means they get a future pick.

They could use their picks to trade for a star talent to pair with James possibly. Perhaps the Charlotte Hornets would give up 2018 All-Star point guard Kemba Walker for the eighth overall selection, perhaps a second rounder and then a contract like Thompson’s.

Walker is no Kyrie Irving, but he a talented guard on a team who could be willing to sell. He averaged 22.1 points-per-game this past season and shoots well from three.

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Or, perhaps the Cavs could try to trade their picks and contracts for cheap role players and create cap to go after free agents that James may like to play with. But, that would require a lot of maneuvering, and maybe force Cleveland to deal more picks than they are comfortable with.

Altman and the Cleveland front office have a critical summer ahead of them, and they’ll need to be active from the start in order to have a chance to keep LeBron James.

Landing spots for Dez Bryant

The Dallas Cowboys released wide receiver Dez Bryant on April 13, and he remains unsigned for variety of reasons, some known and some not. It’s highly unlikely that Bryant is jobless come kickoff (91 days), but who will employ him?

Let’s take a look.

Green Bay Packers

Jordy Nelson left for Oakland in free agency, leaving a huge hole in the Packers’ receiving corps. However, Green Bay drafted three wideouts, but a veteran presence might be good to have.

Bryant lacks the leadership skills the Packers are looking for, plus Randall Cobb is still around. They also brought in pass-catching tight end Jimmy Graham. Bryant’s role in Green Bay could be minimal, which we all know he would dislike.

Los Angeles Rams

This was my prediction in April. I still like it.

The Rams have definitely been offseason winners, especially on defense with the additions of Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib.

They did however, lose Sammy Watkins, taking away from an already thin group of receivers. Bryant can easily fill in for Watkins, and Los Angeles has shown no hesitation in acquiring guys with big personalities.

New England Patriots

As of today, this one makes the most sense.

Danny Amendola walked and Julian Edelman was just handed a four game suspension for PED use.

The Patriots have a history of taking players we forgot about and turning them into Pro-Bowlers. We haven’t exactly forgotten about Bryant, but you get the idea.

Dallas Cowboys (not really)

I don’t know why this idea is floating around, but it is. If this happens, I’ll eat Campbell’s tomato soup straight out of the can.

The NBA Playoff teams and players as characters from Avengers Infinity War

Original Comparisons as heard on Man to Man: A Basketball Podcast:

Western Conference:

Houston Rockets: Guardians of the Galaxy

Golden State Warriors: Hawkeye

Portland Trailblazers: Black Widow

Oklahoma City Thunder: Captain America

Utah Jazz: Spiderman

New Orleans Pelicans: Dr. Strange

San Antonio Spurs: Nick Fury

Minnesota Timberwolves: Scarlet Witch

Eastern Conference:

Toronto Raptors: Winter Soldier

Boston Celtics: Iron Man

Philadelphia 76ers: Vision

Cleveland Cavaliers: Hulk

Indiana Pacers: Black Panther

Miami Heat: Ant Man

Milwaukee Bucks: Thor

Washington Wizards: Falcon

 

Post Infinity War Comparisons:

Thanos: Lebron

This one shouldn’t need an explanation, but I’ll give one anyway. Even with only one Infinity Stone, Thanos beat up Thor and the Hulk. Lebron, while not as dominate as Thanos, was still able to win the East with only one other All-Star (Kevin Love) on his team.

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Captain Marvel: Golden State Warriors

At the end of Infinity War, Nick Fury calls on Captain Marvel to assist the remaining Avengers in defeating Thanos. Kevin Fegie and other Marvel Studio executives have confirmed that Captain Marvel will be by far the most powerful hero in the MCU.

As we have seen over the past four seasons, the only team that consistently beat Lebron is the Warriors and with four all-stars and two of the five best players in the NBA today, Golden State in the most powerful team in the association.

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Spider-Man: Houston Rockets

After Civil War everyone fell in love with Tom Holland’s portrayal of the web slinger. Much like how people fell in love with the Rockets as the team that could finally break up Golden State’s monopoly on the West. Much like how Rockets were so close to beating the Warriors, Spider-Man was so close to pulling that gauntlet off of Thanos’ hand but was just a moment too late.

While it may not have been as tear jerking as Holland’s improve performance before fading into ash, it is always sad to see a basketball player such as Chris Paul sit helplessly on the sideline while the Warriors destroy his team and the 3-2 lead he built.

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Star Lord: JR Smith

Snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory.

Something that JR Smith and Star Lord both have in common. Smith, who collected a rebound after a missed George Hill free throw left game one of the NBA finals knotted at 107 with four seconds remaining on the clock. Elected to dribble out the clock forcing the game into overtime instead of passing to a teammate or shooting the ball himself with a chance to win the game.

This lack of situational awareness gave the Warriors a second chance, allowing them to win game one on the way to the 2-0 series lead they have now. This is very similar to when Star Lord hit Thanos in the face, waking him up before Spiderman could get the infinity gauntlet off his hand. That punch eventually cost the Avengers the time stone, giving the mad Titan a 5-1 infinity stone lead at the time.

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Banner failing to turn into Hulk: Rest of Cavs (Expect Kevin Love)

Perhaps the best recurring joke in Infinity War was Bruce Banner’s inability to get the Hulk out to fight after the green giant got curb stomped by Thanos in the opening minutes of the movie.

In that opening scene the Hulk appeared to be a match for his purple counterpart delivering consecutive punches and backing him into a corner. At that point Thanos had just about enough, as he proceeded to defeat the Hulk in hand to hand combat.

At the trade deadline it appeared the Cavs acquired ‘the Hulk’ when adding the talents of Rodney Hood, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr together. While the foursome had their moments during the regular season, landing a few punches, when the rest of the league turned it up to 100% they (and their other teammates outside of Kevin Love) have looked bad and overmatched.

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Hulk getting beat up by Thanos: Toronto Raptors

Going off the last comp, one of the first things we see in Infinity War to demonstrate Thanos’ power is a fight where he takes the Hulk to school. The fight is so traumatic that it turns the Hulk refuses to show up for the rest of the film.

Going off the assumption that in most cases Lebron is Thanos, this opening fight against the Hulk is exactly like his relationship with the Raptors. As mentioned above the Hulk comes out swinging and lands a few blows, just like the Raptors hitting 53 wins this past season and looking unstoppable. But when Thanos decides to get serious, or as we know him ‘playoff Lebron’ the Raptors and the Hulk don’t stand a chance.

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Ant Man: San Antonio Spurs

Ant Man did not make an appearance in Infinity War and his only reference was one liner dropped by Black Widow when she mentioned that he and Hawkeye to a deal to be under house arrest so they could stay with their families. This feels a lot like the Spurs presence in this postseason. Technically they made the cut, but they didn’t really contribute anything.

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Hawkeye: Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota had just about the same impact on this postseason as Hawkeye and Antman did on the events of Infinity War. See the description above for more details.

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Wong: Washington Wizards

At the start of Infinity War it seemed like Wong was going to be a big player, helping defend New York along side Iron Man, Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. Yet the second Strange was hauled off by Ebony Maw (Squidward) Wong bowed out and went back to defend the New York sanctum because Strange was gone.

This felt a lot like how the Wizards entered the playoffs. As the eight seed many wrote them off as a sweep or five game series for the Raptors. Like how many wrote off Wong to be a very minor character in Infinity War. In the first round the Wizards pushed the Raptors to six games but in the end exited the same way Wong did during the first act of Infinity War. Quickly and quietly.

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Iron Man: Kyrie Irving

Both Iron Man and Kyrie were expected to make big waves throughout Infinity War and the postseason. That was until Iron Man went punch for punch with Thanos and almost lost his life had it not been for whenDr. Strange traded Time Stone to Thanos in exchange Stark’s.

While Lebron was not involved in Kyrie’s season ending injury, the significance of what it meant in the battle for the East was equivalent to giving Thanos another infinity stone. Certain victory for Lebron.

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Dr. Strange: Boston Celtics

During the battle on Titan, Dr. Strange gave Thanos a run for his money, helping almost tear the gauntlet from his hand. The good doctor even went one on one with Thanos and landing a few blows. In the end, Strange gave Thanos the time stone because he was playing the long game.

This is exactly what the Celtics seemed to be doing in the playoffs, while Boston fought as hard as they could throughout the first three rounds in the end they came up one win short. While Boston did not concede the Eastern Conference Finals like Strange conceded the time stone, they seem to be taking a page out of Strange’s playbook. The Celtics are in the long game and next year will be very scary and a threat to Lebron’s chances to make/win the finals.

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Captain America (Falcon and Black Widow): Russell Westbrook (and the Okalhoma City Thunder)

Captain America’s character has been shown as intensely loyal to his friends and his ideals. Infinity war we not only saw those characteristics reaffirmed, but we saw Cap broken away from Iron Man with his own band of ‘misfits’ (i.e. Falcon and Black Widow). However even though he has lost the star on his chest, he is just as powerful as ever holding back Thanos when he had 5/6 infinity stones in the battle of Wakanda and taking two members of the Black Order (Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive) to task in Scotland.

Ever since KD left the Thunder, Westbrook has pulled a Captain America by increasing his strength (with his MVP award last year) and combining forces with a band of misfits in the form of Paul George and Steven Adams (I guess Carmelo Anothony could be included but he wasn’t very helpful down the stretch and into the playoffs).

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Vision/Scarlet Witch: Brian Colangelo/the Philadephia 76ers

It was tough to determine who is Vision and who is Scarlet Witch is this comparison, so I will leave that up to the reader. Clearly both Vision and Scarlet Witch are powerful in the film, we saw Scarlet Witch use her powers to lift ‘the giant razer saws of death’ away from the Wakandan soldiers and Vision was able to kill Crovus Glaive when he and Captain America fought him. Yet at the end of the movie, despite Scarlet Witch’s best attempts to destroy the mind stone, Thanos was still able to obtain it. This could be attributed to Scarlet Witch refusing to destroy the stone earlier at the Avengers compound in upstate New York earlier in the movie.

While many around the NBA feel that the Sixers are not only a good team, but have a promising future, they have been hindered by their GM’s burner twitter accounts (to be fair Colangelo has only said he operated one of the accounts named in the Ringer’s original report). Philadelphia is also catching heat from the fact they have not yet fired Colangelo and not putting an end to these rumors. Much like Scarlet Witch and Vision, the Sixers and Colangelo are a powerful team, but might have just stabbed themselves in the back with their actions (or lack thereof).

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Black Panther: Utah Jazz

Going into infinity war Black Panther was a hot commodity, coming on the incredible success of his first solo film, the newly minted Wakandan king was sure to play a large role in the battle against Thanos. However while Black Panter had a few cool lines there was nothing incredibly memorable about his presence throughout Infinity War.

This is similar to the Jazz throughout the playoffs. Although they were a surprise to many people when they made the playoffs and defeated the Thunder in the first round, they were not as memorable as other second round exits (such as the Sixers).

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Agent Hill: Miami Heat

Hill had one line in the movie and Miami had one win in the playoffs against the Sixers. Both were equally relevant in the grand scheme of things.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo: Thor

As one of, if not the, best young player in today’s NBA the Greek Freak has earned a category of his own. After his team (the Bucks) were disrespected for years, Giannis has willed Milwaukee back into relevance. In fact, many thought (myself included i.e. Hulk vs. Thor comp listed above) that Giannis would be and still is the most suited to guard Lebron James in this year’s playoffs.

While we never saw Bucks vs. Cavs in this year’s playoffs, we did see Thor vs. Thanos during the battle of Wakanda in Infinity War. The result of the match up (or more accurately axe throw) is probably what we would’ve seen in the playoffs had the two freaks of the East gone head to head in the playoffs.

Giannis coming very close to a win, but forgetting to aim for the head.

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Jason Kidd: Loki

Kidd is truly the Loki of today’s NBA, he is a hall of famer but he doesn’t have a ring, and was always a step or two behind the elite point guards of his era (Nash and Iverson). Then Kidd turned to coaching, where he did some good for his former team (the Nets) but then you have the water spilling incident.

When he was traded to the Bucks all of that seemed to be behind him until he struggled to keep the Bucks over .500 and was fired after the team was 23-22 as the front office felt he was holding back Giannis. The team then went 21-16 in their final 37 games boasting a 0.567 winning percentage, over 50 points over Kidd’s winning percentage of 0.511.

Much like Kidd, Loki has hurt characters around him (in the first Avengers movie and betraying Thor at the end of Ragnarok) but has a few things going for him as well (occasionally fighting with and working with Thor). With all the rumors surrounding Kidd’s dismissal and how the front office felt vs. how Giannis felt, it might be best to just paraphrase Thor here:

“You really are the worst brother(coach) ever.”

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Rest of Bucks: The other half of Asgaurd

In the first round of the playoffs, it seemed like a lot of the Bucks were MIA as the seven seed looked to pull an unlikely upset over the injured but still surprisingly good Celtics. Yet one of the main (if not the main) reason why the series went to seven games was the play of Giannis as his teammates did their best to ride his coattails.

When Infinity War opened we saw Thor’s ship (from the end of Ragnarok) in ruins and a scene play out with the God of Thunder, Loki, Heimdall and the somewhat incredible Hulk play out. Yet we were missing Valkyrie and Korg (the guy made of rocks from the last Thor movie). Both of these characters, and half of Asguard, have been confirmed to be alive by the Russo brothers so where were they?

A good guess would be shaking off the attack from Thanos which nearly killed Thor but they will be showing up in future MCU films. On the other hand, Bucks fans can only hope that their entire team shows up in future NBA playoffs.

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The AFC South might be competitive this year

The headline is kind of misleading. The AFC South was competitive last year, too.

The Jacksonville Jaguars won the division with a 10-6 record, and made a run to the AFC Championship game. A questionable down by contact call prevented them from putting the game out of reach and a trip to the Super Bowl. Instead, Tom Brady took the Patriots on a game winning drive like we all expected.

Those same Patriots beat the Tennessee Titans a week before that in the AFC Divisional round. Tennessee finished the 2017 campaign with a 9-7 record, good for a Wild Card spot. They stunned the Chiefs by coming back from a 21-3 halftime deficit on the road.

Until Deshaun Watson‘s season-ending ACL injury before Week 9, the Houston Texans were also in the mix. They were 3-4, so it would have been difficult, but Watson had started to figure it out and was a frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. He threw for 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns in 7 weeks as the starter, plus the second half of the opening game.

I’m really looking forward to his return. He has the potential to have a Carson Wentz-like sophomore season.

The Indianapolis Colts were bad, but that’s a good place to start looking ahead to 2018.

Andrew Luck turns 29 during the season, which isn’t that old for a quarterback. He’s had an entire season to rest his shoulder, and took a nice trip to Europe for treatment. That wasn’t even the weirdest shoulder injury/recovery of 2017. Looking at you, Sixers.

Aside from the nagging injury, Luck’s biggest problem was getting sacked, often by no fault of his own. He was dropped in the backfield 41 times in 2016, and the Colts allowed a league high 56 sacks in 2017.

To address this, they added the best offensive lineman in the draft, Quenton Nelson. He should make an immediate impact on the Colts’ line. I’d compare him to Jake Long before his injury problems. They also took Braden Smith from Auburn in the second round.

To take some of the pressure off of Luck (all kinds of pressure), the Colts drafted running back Nyheim Hines from NC State. Frank Gore was never bad for Indy, but he probably shouldn’t have been the RB1. Hines and fellow rookie Jordan Wilkins from Ole Miss should improve the run game significantly.

A healthy Andrew Luck is a Top 10 quarterback, and a good quarterback puts any team in the playoff conversation.

For the past few years, intra-division games have played an important role in deciding the AFC South champion, but it’s never been between all four teams. That could change this year.

Things are finally on track for Tennessee and Jacksonville, with Houston not far behind. Indianapolis isn’t quite there, but improved its roster in the offseason.

8-8 can win a division, and sometimes a wild card spot if the rest of the conference is bad enough. The entire AFC south is capable of winning at least 7 games, which in theory, puts everyone in the playoff hunt. That probably won’t happen, but hey, it’s fun to think about.

Do the Suns have a Power Forward?

This is a question I ask myself quite often. They obviously have a few on the roster. Dragan Bender (who was the recent punchline in a very funny John Oliver joke), Marquese Chriss, Alec Peters, Jared Dudley (I love you, Jared), Alan Williams, and even Josh Jackson on occasion are all guys that can play that 4 spot. But, when it comes to power forward talent around the league, these guys aren’t necessarily top notch. Chriss struggled all year with his shot, and seemed to just be lost for a majority of his time on the floor. Bender started to come into his own, but he still has a long way to go on the offensive end (note: I really like it when Bender hits threes early in games, because that opens up a pump fake and slash game that he doesn’t have if he’s offline early on). Alec Peters had the best game from the power forward position all year, but obviously isn’t a consistent choice to start (not for a sane coach, anyway). Alan Williams usually gets his time at the center position, and Josh Jackson usually gets his at the small forward. So, I’m not really sure if the Suns have a power forward for the future. Let’s look at some options.

 

  1. Kenneth Faried

This one is a long shot. Faried is far removed from starting, as Paul Millsap basically absorbed all his minutes in Denver. Obviously, the Nuggets want to move Faried, his $13 million contract (yikes), and open up his spot on the roster. It feels like year after year, up until the Suns drafted Chriss and Bender, there was always a rumor that the Nuggets were going to trade the Manimal to the Suns. Obviously, Faried has only gotten older and lost some of his famed athleticism, so this really isn’t the best solution unless the Suns are really desperate to move a guy like Marquese Chriss, who may be bad for chemistry. Faried can rebound and operate closer to the basket, but he has no outside shot. He struggles anywhere outside the painted area, which isn’t something many teams are looking for anymore. The only incentive to pick up Faried is that he’s a veteran, something the Suns need, and rumblings around the league say that Denver is willing to part with the 14th overall pick if someone wants to take Faried off their hands.

 

  1. Aaron Gordon

This one makes more sense. He’s likely to be a restricted free agent, but he’s looking for a max deal, something the Suns might not want to offer to someone as injury-prone as Gordon. But, when he’s healthy, he’s incredibly athletic. He’s an electrifying dunker, he’s developed a decent outside shot, and if (that’s a BIG if) the Suns choose to keep Elfrid Payton, there’s already existing chemistry between the two. Gordon has the makings to be the Suns’ power forward of the future if they can hash out the details. Most of Gordon’s stats have taken an unprecedented jump this year, and he has the makings to be a superstar. He’s scored 5 more points per game, upped his 3PM by one whole make per game, and pulls in 2 more rebounds per game. His improvement on the defensive end is notable as well. But (that’s a BIG but), he only played 58 games this year. The Suns medical staff is known for being able to help out injury-prone guys, but it’s certainly a gamble to give him a max contract. If I’m Phoenix, I would try and negotiate a nice two or three year deal and go from there, see if Gordon really is a good fit with Booker, Jackson and (hopefully) Ayton, and see where he is as he reaches his prime at 24 or 25.

 

  1. Nikola Mirotic

He’s got one year left on a $12.5 million contract. He can shoot the longball. He can grow an excellent beard. He’s Nik Mirotic. I’ve always been a fan of Mirotic’s game, and he was an integral part of the weird stint of Bulls success in December upon his return from being decked in the face by Bobby Portis, as well as being a reliable guy for New Orleans down the stretch of the season. From 2015-2017, Mirotic was a guy you could depend on for a few points, maybe some decent defense, but I think 2018 was the year he became a really complete player. Not a superstar worth a max contract, mind you, but a guy you can comfortably start and say he’s one of the better starting PFs in the league. He’s a guy that can stretch the floor and stay in front of guys well enough, and he’d be an improvement for the Suns at the power forward position. The Pelicans would probably be looking for a guard or small forward in that trade, though, something the Suns may not be able to give up. Put it in the “maybe” column. Just think about it a little.

 

  1. DeMarre Carroll

Okay, hear me out on this one. I know it doesn’t make much sense. He’s an older player, a little undersized for the power forward position, and his health is definitely a question. But, he scored 13.5 PPG last year, he put up the best numbers of his career for passing and rebounding (though they’re still not super impressive), and he’s only got a year left on a bad contract. He could be the temporary fit while the Suns develop, draft, or trade for a better player. He could plug the leak. I wouldn’t mind it, at least not for a while.

 

  1. Ryan Anderson

Ryan. Anderson. He’s the perfect solution, in my opinion! Mike D’Antoni didn’t give him playoff minutes, and I really don’t know why. He’s tall, but quick enough to stay in front of smaller guys, he sets a good pick and can make shots close to the basket or from beyond the arc, and he’s definitely better than the guys the Suns have right now. And, lest we forget that he ENDED ALEX LEN’S CAREER this year in Talking Stick Resort Arena! This is the perfect opportunity to get Anderson the minutes he deserves. His contract is a little steep with 2yrs/$20 million coming his way, but he has a chance to be very, very worth it. If the Rockets won’t use him, the Suns certainly have a spot for him.

 

If anything, the Suns could even work with what they have. Who knows how coach Igor is gonna work with Dragan Bender? I think Bender’s ceiling is pretty high, and if anyone is going to get something out of him it’s someone who knows the European game and the European players like Igor does. Marquese Chriss has a long offseason ahead of him, but if he puts in the work from behind the line, gets more muscle to work inside, and works on his basketball IQ and instincts, he could be good too. Who knows? The Suns have a lot of options, and there’s a very good chance that they’ll look at all of them in the quest to grant Devin Booker passage to the playoffs this year. But first, they’ll need a power forward.

What does the bizarre ending to Game 1 mean to Game 2?

Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals was unlike anything people expected.

The spread in Las Vegas before the game favored Golden State over Cleveland by 13 points, the largest odds against LeBron James in a single game in over a decade.

Despite the odds though, Cleveland, backed by James’ NBA Finals career high 51 points, outplayed the Warriors in the majority of the game. The Cavs even led by as many as 11 points in the second quarter.

This was largely due to LeBron’s brilliance as well as the fact that Cleveland was the more physical team. They dominated the boards, especially on the offensive end.

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Photo via @KingJames

But, Golden State did not turn the ball over and shot better from three, which kept them in the game.

Still, in the last minute, the game was Cleveland’s to lose. And three things went horribly wrong for them.

The first was with just 36 seconds left. The officials overturned a very close block/charge call thanks to a fairly new rule that those plays are reviewable. Instead of Cleveland retaining possession up by two, Kevin Durant got to knock down two free throws to tie the game.

The next was with 4.7 seconds left. Cleveland was down by one and James rifled a pass underneath the basket to George Hill, who would have an open layup if he weren’t grabbed by Klay Thompson.

Hill was 81 percent from the line this year. After tying the game with the first free throw, he missed the second, missing the opportunity to go up one and force the Warriors to hit the final shot.

And the final was the blunder heard around the world, where JR Smith grabbed the offensive rebound after Hill’s miss and dribbled the clock out.

According to Cleveland Head Coach Tyrone Lue, he though the Cavs were ahead and was running the clock out.

If one of those three things does not happen, Cleveland probably steals Game 1. Instead, they lost in overtime. Golden State Head Coach Steve Kerr said that his team got “Lucky.”

With the wacky ending to the first one, how will both teams come out on Sunday? Did the bizarre fashion that Cleveland lost game one sink them for Game 2? Or could it motivate them?

With that, let’s look at history.

LeBron James teams have won the first game of the Finals once… in 2011. In all of his Champion seasons, he trailed in the Finals from the beginning.

In this year’s playoffs, the Cavaliers lost Game 1 twice, to Indiana and Boston. In 2016, Cleveland’s championship year, the Cavs dropped the first two games. He won all of those series in seven games.

Obviously, this year is different, with James having perhaps his worst Finals supporting cast yet and going against Golden State with Kevin Durant who wasn’t there in 2016. There is more of an uphill climb this year.

Nonetheless, after seeing his opponents in Game 1s, James has scored 43, 46 and 42 in his three Game 2s this year. Especially after Thursday’s loss, a similar performance to those seems very likely.

Andre Iguodala usually guards Cleveland’s superstar when these two met in the past, but he has missed the past few games and has been ruled doubtful for Game 2.

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Without Iguodala’s help, James can continue to take advantage of his matchups, especially when Golden State switches.

What will James get from “the other Cavs” though.

Kevin Love was solid coming back from his concussion, another double-double will be needed from him. Sometimes defensively against the Warriors, Love has gotten exposed on switches. But, offensively and on the boards, he should be able to duplicate his Game 1 efforts.

JR Smith is going to need to make up for his error. The criticisms of him should lead to him being aggressive in Game 2.

If he catches fire, it can give Cleveland a huge tool. But he has shot very poorly this postseason, especially on the road. With that, we could see a lot of bricked threes coming his way.

For Golden State, Kevin Durant was not productive on Thursday. He took a lot of contested mid-range shots and shot a poor 8-22.

Durant was great throughout the playoffs mostly, but he is in a funk right now. He has shot under 40 percent in three of the past four games. If Cleveland defends him well again from the get-go, his rhythm could continue to be thrown off.

Golden State’s “Splash Brothers” Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson did their part in opening game, they shot 10-21 from deep.

Heading into the next game however, Thompson has a sprained ankle and bruising. According to Bleacher Report, he plans to play, but the discomfort can limit him defensively and perhaps hurt his shooting rhythm.

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Anything can happen in Game 2 from a gritty Cavs win to a Warrior blowout.

In order for Cleveland to win they will need “The King” to dominate once again. They will need to control the boards and limit their turnovers to create more shots. They will need another productive game from Kevin Love. The will need another role player to step up, whether that is Smith redeeming himself, Korver playing more than 16 minutes and hitting his threes or Jeff Green playing like he did in Game Seven at Boston where he scored 19. They will need Durant or Curry to struggle. And they will need a little luck.

In order for Golden State to win, they just need to play their usual game, with good production from their stars and solid defense on everyone except James since that is close to impossible. If he is the only one hurting the Warriors, then they are in good shape.

The odds are stacked against James’ Cavaliers, but as we saw in Game 1, they can beat Golden State. Just a lot has to go right. And they have to come out with an intensity we have yet to see.

Manny Machado to Arizona makes a lot of sense

Manny Machado could be the biggest name moved during the 2018 season.

 

The Baltimore shortstop has gotten off to the best start of his career. As of June 2, his 17 home runs are just one behind the league lead. His OPS is also fifth best at his career high 1.024.

 

The Baltimore Orioles, besides their three-time All-Star, have been disastrous thus far. They are already 21.5 games back in their division with a 17-40 record, the worst in the MLB.

 

Machado is an upcoming free agent, and he can most likely get his desired salary in a place where he can compete for the postseason somewhere else.

 

That said, Baltimore trading him sooner rather than later for young assets seems to be the most logical action.

 

There is a plethora of teams that are looking to load up for a playoff run. Machado’s ability to play shortstop and third base makes him versatile enough for more teams to fit him into their lineups.

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Plus, his expiring contract will make it so the Orioles will have to compromise as many teams surly will not be willing to deflate their farm systems for a possible rental.

 

One team that could possibly be a good fit for him could be the Arizona Diamondbacks.

 

Heading into June, Arizona is 1.5 games back of NL West leading Colorado, and hitting has been a massive struggle in 2018 for the DBacks.

 

Arizona has scored the second fewest runs in the league and are dead last in team batting average.

 

To make matters worse, their best hitter this season, A.J. Pollock, is on the DL for breaking his thumb.

 

Inexplicably, former five-time All-Star Paul Goldschmidt has had a horrendous 2018 thus far, batting just .209 with seven home runs in 54 games.

 

Third baseman Jake Lamb and outfielder Steven Souza Jr. (30 home runs each in 2017) have battled with injuries all season long. They have played in just 15 and 14 games respectively.

 

Nick Ahmed and Ketel Marte have spent the most time at shortstop, but combined the two infielders are batting under .210.

 

Yet despite these offensive problems, the Diamondbacks are still above .500 and near the top of the NL West. Adding Machado could lead to a powerful lineup if the team can get healthy and Goldschmidt snaps out of his season-long funk.

 

Arizona made a similar move last season when they traded three prospects for former Detroit slugger JD Martinez. With his offensive dominance, the DBacks scored the fourth most runs in the NL and made it to the NLDS before falling to Los Angeles.

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Baltimore desperately needs pitching for the future, so a higher end pitching prospect like Taylor Widener (2.74 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 49.1 innings in Double-A this year) and a couple of mid-level prospects could do the trick to get Machado to the desert, and possibly make Arizona the team to beat in the NL West.

NBA Finals: Who will win?

At various points throughout the season, it seemed nearly impossible that we’d be faced with yet another incarnation of the Warriors vs Cavaliers saga which has engulfed the NBA for almost half a decade. Entering June, however, here we are. The league appears to be stuck in a Groundhog Day-like cycle from which it may never exit, but there are plenty of reasons to be excited for this matchup. Though the two teams are an incredible mismatch on paper, this rivalry has created some incredible moments in the past. It would take a monumental effort from LeBron James and his supporting cast to make a series out of this edition, but this is sport, and stranger things have happened. Many may think that the outcome of this series will depend solely on whether LeBron can defeat four All-Stars single-handedly, and while this is true to an extent, it isn’t the only thing worth discussing in the lead up to the 2018 NBA Finals.

Keys to the NBA Finals

When does Iggy return?

As strange as it seems to talk about Andre Iguodala before any of Curry, Durant, Thompson or Green, the health of the fifth member of the Hampton’s Five will have a huge impact on the series. Iguodala is the ideal final piece of the Warriors starting lineup, particularly against the Cavs. He is a competent enough ball-handler and passer to warrant attention and help to space the floor at the offensive end, and he is comfortably the Warriors’ best option to guard LeBron James.

A report by ESPN highlights just how much impact Iguodala’s defense can have on LeBron’s effectiveness. In last year’s Finals series, James managed only (“only” being by his standards) 31 points per 100 possession on 52.9% effective field goal percentage when Iggy was guarding him. Durant is the Warriors next option to take the King, and these numbers jumped to 42 points and 64.7% with this matchup.

LeBron’s supporting cast

Obviously LeBron himself will be the single most important player for the Cavs by an absurd margin. If the Cavs are to stand any sort of a chance though, he will need some serious help from his teammates. LeBron will perform to an incredible standard, that is a guarantee, but that alone won’t be enough against the juggernaut that is the Warriors.

Love is comfortably the most competent “other” on the Cavs, and his availability as he recovers from concussion will be a huge factor. He shouldn’t miss more than a game though, and his return will be a welcome one for Cleveland. For all of the criticism he cops, Love is a five time All-Star; a legitimate scorer and an excellent rebounder. He may have his flaws, but he is a far better player than he is often given credit for, and he will need to stand up this series.

Guys like Hill, Thompson, Korver and Smith won’t provide consistent offense for Cleveland, but all are capable of having big games and big moments. If the Cavs manage to win any games, they will be accompanied by a box score in which at least a couple of these guys come up big.

The big dogs

Of course, for all the discussion of the Iguodala’s, Love’s and Hill’s of the world, it’s the stars who will have the biggest say in the outcome of the series. Fortunately for the Warriors, of the five such players in this series, four belong to them. LeBron is the number one guy, but Golden State have numbers two, three, four and five. Essentially, what this means is that if they play to anywhere near their best then they will win the series. Certainly not a statement which elicits a whole lot of excitement for the matchup, but a valid one nonetheless.

LeBron has shown a remarkable ability to put a team squarely on his own shoulders and carry them to victory, and to even steal a couple of games in this series, he will need to do something phenomenal. Expect multiple 40+ point games and very few minutes on the bench as he tries to achieve what would probably be his greatest accomplishment yet.

After disappointing performances in Games 2, 3 and 4 against the Rockets, Thompson reminded everyone that he is far from an afterthought on this incredible team, putting up 23 points in Game 5 before exploding for 9 3-pointers and 35 points in Game 6. With Curry also hitting decent form, these kind of performances make it nearly impossible to beat the Warriors. Highlighting this point is the fact that in the past two games of the Rockets series, the Splash Brothers combined for an incredible 24 3-pointers on 60% shooting. With Durant also chugging along for a lazy 30 points a game and a very well-rounded defensive lineup, it’s easy to see why Cleveland are major underdogs.

As unsatisfying as it is to say, at the end of the day the Warriors will win this series in a canter if they play anywhere near their best. Having said that, the Rockets showed that they are not the unbeatable force they are generally purported to be, and even if Houston is a far better all around side than Cleveland, this is enough to at least add a little excitement to this matchup. The Warriors will win this one in five, but I hope I’m wrong and the Cavs can make a series out of it.