The College Football Playoff Preview

Yesterday I previewed the New Years Six, minus the two biggest games of the year: The Playoff Semifinals.  For the first time ever, we have the correct four teams squaring off.  Here’s to chaos.

Peach Bowl Semifinal: No.1 Alabama vs. No.4 Washington

When the matchup was first announced, I thought this was a worse-case scenario for Washington.  I thought they’d be much better suited against Ohio State or Clemson, where they could hope for a shootout and win that way.

But as I thought about it more, the Huskies match up pretty well with Alabama.  In fact, I think there’s a scenario where they win.

Washington and Alabama have similar talent on offense, but they run different systems.  The Huskies can bomb it downfield on a regular basis.  Jake Browning has an incredible arm, and they have one of the best receivers in the country in John Ross.  Thats a guy who you can just throw it up to and he’ll come down with it.

Washington has to get these big plays on the best defense in the country.  The Huskies game-plan should feature a ton of downfield throws, because their run game isn’t strong enough to carry them, especially against this Tide front seven.

The Washington defense is like their offense: They fly around like a bunch of swarming bees.  Its different than Alabama, who have smash-mouth, old fashion-style players.  The Huskies defense is not like anything Alabama has seen this season.

Jalen Hurts has been awesome this year, but he’s the X-factor in this game.  He’s not very complete, and is prone to mistakes.  The same concerns I had before the season are coming back for this game.

If Hurts struggles, the wide receivers struggle.  That leads to Alabama relying on the running game, which isn’t a bad thing.  Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough and others are machines.  But I’m not sure that running game alone is gonna be enough to keep up with Washington.

There’s two ways this could go.  Hurts could play great, and Alabama scores enough while the defense does a good job against Browning & Co.  Or Hurts can struggle, and Washington gets enough big plays against the Tide defense and cruises.

So what happens?

First of all, I think Washington is being massively underrated in this contest.  Las Vegas and others are pounding Alabama, but there is a way this can go bad for them.

However, its too hard to go against them.  Hurts has faced better overall defenses this season than Washington.  While Bama’s offense has struggled in those games (LSU for example), they’ve found a way.  The Huskies might struggle with run defense, and if Hurts flails, then Bama can do their thing and grind it out.

Prediction: Alabama-28 Washington-24

Fiesta Bowl Semifinal: No.2 Clemson vs. No.3 Ohio State

What a great matchup.  Even as I write this I’m truly stumped on who’s the better team.

Both teams have a massive barrage of weapons.  Its really ridiculous.   DeShaun Watson ands J.T. Barrett are both dual-threat quarterbacks, and can make incredible plays with their feat.  Ohio State has a spectacular duo in the backfield with Curtis Samuel and Mike Weber, which the Tigers shouldn’t have a problem stopping with their blitz-heavy defense.  What that aggressive defense does allow is for Buckeyes receivers like Noah Brown and Samuel to get some separation.  Clemson’s secondary is great, but against these receivers, you can’t expect every play to be locked-down.

Since this is gonna be such a close game with little room for error, that separation in the secondary is going to be key for Ohio State.  They have to make plays down the field if they want to win.

For Clemson, they have to get their main-stays the ball.  Watson has to play well; he’s been a tad mediocre in games this year.  If Watson can’t get the ball to guys like Mike Williams and Hunter Renfrow, then the Tigers are gonna be in big trouble.

These teams are so evenly matched.  There is so little room for error on both sides.  I believe this game will come down to the final possession.

But we’ve had playoff games in the past that should have ended like that and haven’t.  Whats caused that?  Well, a lack of preparation, or the mindset of “Don’t worry, we got this.”  This is where coaching comes into play.

Dabo Sweeney is a great coach.  He relates to his players, is fun and goofy, and gets along with the media.

But if you have to choose which team would be more likely to be underprepared for this game, it’d be Clemson.  They’ve been underprepared in multiple games this season.  They’ve been a little mediocre at times.  There were people who believed they maybe shouldn’t have been in the Playoff.

Ohio State, led by Urban Meyer, is a no-BS, no fooling-around team.  They are going to be prepared.  They are gonna be ready to take care of business.

In a game thats gonna be as close as this, those little things matter.  Intangibles, discipline.  I really think Ohio State is gonna have those things in their advantages.  And its gonna allow them to face Alabama once again, this time for all the marbles.

Prediction: Ohio State-38 Clemson-35

Previewing The Big Bowls

This is the first year I’ve thought that we might have too many bowl games.  I’m just not interested in watching two 6-6 teams play each other!

This year, I figured that I would just preview/pick the bowl games that actually matter, meaning they’re being played between two good teams.

Below are previews of bowls that are New Years Six or feature two ranked teams.  A Playoff preview will go up tomorrow.

Alamo Bowl: No.12 Oklahoma State vs. No.10 Colorado

This is always a fun one.  The Alamo Bowl is always exciting and high-scoring, and it looks like we’re gonna get that again.

Colorado plays their game through the air, defensively and offensively.  The Buffaloes’ secondary is one of the best in the nation, and they have one of the nation’s best receivers in Shay Fields.  He is gonna be a problem for Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys have a great offense and lackluster defense.  They gave up a ton of yards this season.  Oklahoma State has to hope this turns into a shootout if they want to win.

Mason Rudolph has been practically mistake-free all year, and that has to continue.  The Colorado cornerbacks are smart.  Rudolph’s best bet to heave up some balls and hope James Washington and others come down with it.  If they can get enough of those, they have a shot, because shootouts are anyone’s game.

For Colorado, they’re gonna be able to do their thing on offense.  They shouldn’t have any problems functioning on that side of the ball.  Defensively, pressuring Rudolph and trusting your secondary should get the job done.

Prediction: Colorado-45 Oklahoma State-30

Orange Bowl: No.6 Michigan vs. No.11 Florida State

This is an icky game.  First of all, how did Florida State get ranked No.11?  Hey, at least the committee got the Playoff right.

These teams have not been on my good side this year.  I haven’t been too impressed with either this season.  Florida State’s rough start was something I couldn’t get over, and I thought Michigan’s offense wasn’t as good as others.

Now is Michigan’s turn to get some love from me.  I think they have this game easily.

Dalvin Cook is a problem, but their defense flies around enough to contain him somewhat.  He’s also their 2nd most frequent receiver, so if you take out at least one of his two capabilities, then you have a good chance.  Nothing else should scare the versatile Wolverine defense.

There are so many weapons the Seminoles defense is gonna be faced with, that I really don’t think they have a shot.  Michigan can smash-mouth you, or let Wilton Speight throw across the middle of the field.  This is not the same Florida State defense, as we’ve seen throughout the year.  I expected that unfortunate trend to continue into this game.

Prediction: Michigan-35  Florida State-14

Citrus Bowl: No.20 LSU vs. No.13 Louisville

Leonard Fournette not playing in this game doesn’t mean anything.  There is simply no way for LSU to keep up with this Louisville offense.

The Tigers ran an offense this season where it was all Fournette, every play.  He was their whole offense, and if it doesn’t work in general, then its definitely not gonna help you score as many points as Louisville.

LSU can do some things to halt the Cardinals; they shut down Alabama.  But, with the coaching changes, I’ve read about the Tigers wanting to try new things in this game in preparation for next season.  Are we sure you should be trying new things defensively against Lamar Jackson?

That just doesn’t sound smart.

Prediction: Louisville-40  LSU-20

Cotton Bowl: No.15 Western Michigan vs. No.8 Wisconsin

I am very excited about this one.  Its all about matchups this year.

Western Michigan is explosive, while Wisconsin’s defense is stifling.  The Badgers’ offense is barely functional while the Broncos defense can certainly get stops, but not like Wisconsin.

The Broncos can shut down the Badgers.  Alex Hornibrook isn’t gonna do anything special, and Western Michigan can lock up his receivers.  Its gonna take a huge game from Corey Clement for the Badgers to have a shot.

Defensively, the Badgers have to stop Corey Davis.  He’s the No.1 option on this offense, and will be going in first round in the draft.  If they take him out, then Wisconsin’s odds improve greatly.

I think this is a close game.  The matchups are really even.  But Western Michigan has been much more reliable this year, and I think they can get a couple big plays to get them the win.

Prediction: Western Michigan-24 Wisconsin-21

Rose Bowl: No.9 USC vs. No.5 Penn State

This is another game where the matchups are insanely close.  Both defenses are top 30 in the country, and the offenses are very evenly matched as well.

This game is gonna come down to offense.  I see a shootout.

The Nittany Lions have an insane amount of weapons. Saquon Barkley has been incredible this season, and Trace McSorely can sling it.  All of the Penn State receivers are big play threats too.

Sam Darnold has had a good year, and USC has a ton of weapons too.  But Penn State’s offense is extremely explosive.  USC has to hope for a shootout.

Prediction: Penn State-45 USC-38

Sugar Bowl: No.14 Auburn vs. No.7 Oklahoma

Auburn is lucky to end up in a New Years Six bowl, but their matchup was not very lucky.  The Sooners are one of the worst possible matchups for them.

Auburn’s defense has been great this season; they’re top ten in practically every category and in every metric.  But the Sooners offense is so talented.  You have to account for Baker Mayfield’s arm, the explosive backfield duo in Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, and Heisman finalist Dede Westbrook.

I think its too much for Auburn.  And their offense is not gonna be able to bail them out, even against this poor Sooner defense.  If the Tigers want a chance, they have to limit the big plays from the Sooners.

Prediction: Oklahoma-50 Auburn-13

The Bills Are A Mess

There was a little bit of awkwardness when the Bills hired Rex Ryan two seasons ago.  It was even more awkward when he brought in his brother Rob to coordinate his defense.  It felt very “Hey, lets get back at the Jets.”-ish from the Ryan’s and from the Bills front office.

Both are at fault after the Ryan’s firings, and the benching of quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

I’ve never totally been sold on Rex as a coach.  I think he’s always been destined to be a good defensive coordinator, but not a head coach.  For Rex to be a head coach, he’d have to have developed talent offensively, and a good QB.  That has not been the case in New York and Buffalo.

Its bit him in the butt, to be fair.  But, if you’re the Bills, why hire Ryan two years ago when your defense is already good, and the offense is the weaker part of the team?

From the beginning, it seemed as if Ryan was destined to fail in Buffalo.

The Bills have struggled this year because of a tough schedule and a bad defense.  They’re only bad loss was to the Jets in Week 2, which was the first sign of this defense combusting as they allowed Matt Forte to run for three touchdowns on them.  Besides the Week 2 loss, their defeats have made sense.  Oakland, New England, and Seattle have all beat up on the Bills this season.  Those are games you can’t exactly expect to win.

Where the Ryans are at fault is losing this defense.  The Bills defense should be much better than 24th in DVOA with the talent they have.  It really seemed as if the defense quit on the Ryans.  Players have spoken out about its complexity since Ryan’s firing, and have been pretty blunt about the fact that Rex and Rob really did lose the locker room.

So, where is this not Rex’s fault?

He’s never been an offensive coach, and while the Bills have LeSean McCoy (who’s had an awesome season), this offense has struggled to be elite the past two years.  If I’m running Buffalo, I’m okay with that.  Tyrod Taylor is still developing, and the Bills receivers were really banged up this year.  Its not like our defense had our back either.

The problem is that the Bills front office isn’t okay with that.  They clearly thought this was a playoff team, and firing Rex and benching Taylor is the consequences of them not being one.

I disagree with that thinking.  Taylor has been awesome the past two seasons.  He’s not throwing for 35 touchdowns right now; he may not ever.  But he’s accurate and is quite a playmaker.  He’s the type of quarterback that can’t do it by himself.  The Bills have to get more than Sammy Watkins around him.  He needs good receivers.  Blockers?  Not so much.  Taylor’s had some incredible runs this season.  I don’t think its a stretch to say that he’s one of the best mobile quarterbacks in the league.

And now there’s a good chance he’s gonna be a free agent this offseason.

The Bills are calling this a “business decision” because Taylor has this weird $30 million (!!!) contract guarantee for next season thats only enacted if he is hurt.  With the recent rash of quarterback injuries, the Bills have decided to not risk it with Taylor.  This looks great if you’re running the team, but it doesn’t take someone too smart to see the smokescreen.

Taylor has a team option for next season too.  If they exercise it, he’s locked into a six year, $92 million contract, essentially the going rate for franchise quarterbacks.  If they don’t exercise it, he’s a free agent, and the Bills are looking for their QB of the future.

Benching Taylor isn’t about the contract guarantee.  Its about scouting E.J. Manuel (puke) one last time, and seeing whether he could the guy next season.

Bottom line: It seems as if there was a feud in the Bills HQ over Taylor.  Ryan was for him, the front office wasn’t.

Thats how we ended up here.

So yeah, the Bills were partly right in firing Rex Ryan (and Rob!), but the reason they were wrong in doing it could be the one to bite them later on.

Recapping The Best Of Christmas Day

Celtics-119  Knicks-114

It certainly wasn’t the best game of the day, but it was a good start.

This game was full of runs.  Until about half way through the 2nd quarter, it was pretty back and forth.  Boston missed a lot of shots in the first half.  They were good looks too!  But those shots just wouldn’t fall.  It showed on the box score.  Isaiah Thomas was only 9/23, and went 3-13 on threes.

The Celtics also ran some weird lineups.  Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown form an awesome defensive duo, but the C’s needed as many shooters as they could to match New York’s offense.

Towards the end of the 2nd quarter though, things flipped.  Jae Crowder hit three triples in a row, his only three of the day, and jumpstarted the Celtics offense.  They took a five point lead after that run, and really never lost it.

The third quarter was lowly, so this would be a good time to show you what Kristaps Porzingis did.

And then Al Horford wasn’t happy about it in the 2nd half.

I knew someone would blow it in the 4th quarter.  Boston has struggled in crunch-time all year, and the Knicks have tendencies to take matters into only one pair of hands, not the team’s at the end of games.

Lets just say, the lead Boston had for most of the game was key.  The Knicks got antsy and started firing up bad shots.  Courtney Lee did a little too much dribbling.  And we’ll get to Melo at the end.

As the Knicks usually do, they began the fake comeback.  What is that?  Well, its when the Knicks do a bunch of good things and then waste it at the end of the game.

Porzingis went off late.  He hit two threes, and made a bucket with an and-1.  He also got a steal and laid it in, which made me appreciate his versatility even more.

But when it came time for the Knicks to make a play, they faltered because of greediness.

Melo just can’t take the ball into the corner like that and expect to create a good shot, especially with Avery Bradley in your face.  Bradley’s excellent defense shined there.  But Melo just has to be smarter.

So yeah, the Celtics escaped, but only thanks to another Knicks fake comeback.

Cavaliers-109 Warriors-108

Hands down the best game of the day.  It wasn’t played exactly how I thought it would be, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t entertaining.

Neither team played their best game.  Cleveland played extremely sloppy in the first half, and Golden State didn’t shoot well.  The Cavaliers defense was poor too, but Golden State didn’t capitalize as they missed a ton of shots.  The game was practically both teams trying to catch up with the other’s mistakes.

Side note: The officiating was terrible early on, especially with the two calls on Draymond Green, but Green also has seven technical fouls this season.  There’s been like 30 games played.  Thats a little much, Draymond.

Anyways, this game was grid out by both teams.  Neither Cleveland or Golden State had a three-point barrage, or a long back-and-forth period.  It was gritty, physical, and at times boring, though competitive.

Sunday was Kevin Durant’s show, and it made me realize a couple things about this Golden State team.  We all knew everyone’s production would be dimmed down with KD’s arrival, but what Sunday showed was that KD is the No.1 option for them.  Thats allowed Stephen Curry to take on more of a point-guard role.  Curry only took 11 shots.  Some would argue Golden State lost because of Curry’s limited role, but at the same time, would Curry doing more really help them win?  I mean, they almost won with him taking only 11 shots.

The Warriors’ game-plan was a little weird.  They didn’t try to out-run or out-shoot Cleveland.  They weren’t flashy.  Honestly, they weren’t themselves.  And its not like Cleveland’s defense was spectacular.  Really, Golden State’s effort was a little poor.  They never pulled away, and it cost them at the end.

But first, we need to pay some dues to the fantastic dunks we saw in this game.

This sequence was how we expected this game to turn out.

And then Richard Jefferson turned back the clock 12 years or so.

LET THE MAN TAUNT ALL HE WANTS!

The last thing I expected from this game was Richard Jefferson yamming on dudes.  In crunch-time too!  Those dunks were massive possessions that Cleveland had to have, and gave them energy and confidence towards the end of the game.

Seriously though.  The Cavaliers were down 14 at the time of the first Jefferson dunk.

Then this LeBron dunk, which may or may not have been a technical for hanging on the rim, gave the Cavs the lead with 1:44 left.

Those final two and a half minutes represented how I thought the whole game would play out.  It was such good basketball.

And it had eerie similarities to June’s Game 7.

Once again, Kyrie Irving was there for the win.  I thought it was a terrible shot.  He kinda just did his own thing, driving to the basket, then backing out and taking a terrible mid-ranger with a guy right in his face.

But he drained it, like he did to win the Finals in June.

The Warriors had time left, but KD tripped (That was no foul) coming out of the in-bound and time ran out.

So yeah, the Warriors blew a huge lead once again, and Kyrie killed them once again.  But I don’t think its gonna play out that way in June, assuming we get these two again.

I think its a different game in June.  Both teams are gonna be playing their A-game.  Sunday wasn’t Cleveland’s or Golden State’s A-game, and thats the difference.

Not writing on the other games due to lack of quality…

Part 2: The NBA’s 1st Quarter Report Card

Here is Part 2 of the report card (Which yes, is a day late.  All I’m gonna say is that seven hours of homework is not fun.)

B+: Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies, Utah Jazz

The B+’s are the teams that are one step away from contention.  They’re almost there!  I feel like these are the teams that fit that criteria.

The Thunder are awesome to watch for 35 minutes or so.  Those are the minutes that Russell Westbrook plays.  He’s averaging a triple double right now, which yeah, is pretty good.

The problem with the Thunder is that they don’t have a 2nd pony.  Its all Russell Westbrook.  Its entertaining, but its not efficient, and though they are 16-12, its affecting their win total.

Enes Kanter, by PER perspective, is the Thunder’s best player.  That makes sense, mostly because PER doesn’t take defense into account.  Kanter is lucky thats the case.  I can guarantee you Kanter would not have OKC’s 2nd highest PER if it took defense into account.

Anyways, Steven Adams is really good, but he’s a center, and this isn’t a big man’s league anymore.  Its hard to run an offense through a big guy now.

OKC’s other problem is that they aren’t a good three-point shooting team.  Domantas Sabonis (who’s been awesome and I’m falling in love) is the best three pointer shooter on this team.  He’s showing off his stretch capabilities, but there’s three problems: 1) Thats not what he is best at.  2) A power forward should not be their best three-point shooter.  3) He’s not a high-volume three point shooter.

Westbrook’s three pointer has been an issue his whole career.  It wouldn’t be a problem if he didn’t shoot them, but him and Victor Olidipo are both shooting five a game.

This gets into a deeper problem.  Westbrook’s shooting is holding this team down.  He’s shooting 42.3% on field goals, which isn’t bad, but it should be better for a No.1 option who’s taking 23 shots a game.

Crunch-time is another problem too.  Being the No.1 option, of course the ball is going to be in Westbrook’s hands.  But Westbrook’s erratic behavior is dangerous, and has cost the Thunder some games this year.

This is whats holding the Thunder back.  This might be why Kevin Durant left.  This might be why the Thunder aren’t an A-team yet.  They’re just not efficient playing this way.  Yeah, its entertaining.  Yeah, its amazing to see what Russ is doing.  But in the end, its just not gonna work.

The Grizzlies are having the same issues as always: Bad offense and injuries.

How bad have the injuries been?  Well, the Grizzlies’ most common lineup this season has consisted of…

  1. Andrew Harrison
  2. Tony Allen
  3. Troy Williams
  4. JaMychal Green
  5. Marc Gasol

Yikes.

At the same time though, I’ve became a JaMychal Green fan.  He’s a big physical guy, but is taller and more athletic than say, Zach Randolph.

This Grizzlies team, though completely different from what we’re used to, is still good at one thing: Defense.

Its truly incredible what Dave Fizdale has done.  He’s plugged in guys I’ve never heard of and is still keeping this team’s identity while winning games.

At the same time, its almost impossible to do what Memphis has done.  They’re ranked No.1 in Def Rtf and No.28 in Off Rtg.  How can you possibly win like that?

Its just amazing.  Their leader and best player Mike Conley hasn’t played practically at all.  Chandler Parsons has been hurt like usual.  And yet, they’re still doing what they do:  Grinding out games and winning with defense.  I can’t give Dave Fizdale enough credit.

The Jazz are one my favorites this season.  They have so many guys.  And so many guys are doing well!  They have three players with a PER over 20!

George Hill, though he’s been hurt, has been awesome for this team.  He’s shooting 53.4% on 13 shots a game.  Plus, he’s given this team a competent leader and commander.

Whats keeping the Jazz from being a true contender is their lack of an alpha dog.  They have guys who can take a game-winning shot if needed (Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood), but don’t have that guy who can go into “I got this” mode.  They’re all too unselfish.  Rodney Hood and Gordon Hayward aren’t those type of players.  George Hill might be a little too erratic playing that way.  And Rudy Gobert, though awesome, is a big guy.  He’s not getting the ball if the Jazz need a game-tying three.

The Jazz are awesome, fun to watch, and really good.  They’ve been one of my favorite teams.  But they lack what you need to win in the playoffs.  I’m not sure if a trade is the right answer.  Maybe its just gonna take time.

A: Toronto Raptors, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors

We’ve reached the cream of the crop.  These teams are pretty boring to write about, because they don’t have huge issues.  Their star power carries them, and overpowers their issues.

The Raptors are the 2nd most unlikely team to be an A this early.  I just didn’t see it coming into the year.  I thought their guard play would be mediocre, and watched them bring back the same team as last year, with the same issues.

Turns out, that issue has been solved.  The rookie Pascal Siakiam, though not great individually, has been huge for them at the 4.  He’s given them a much better option than Patrick Patterson, who has had a good year, but isn’t a great spacer.

The Raptors have been able to use Patterson and Siakam creatively in lineups, solving what was a major issue last year.

The Clippers have been rolling, but Blake Griffin is hurt again.  Thats not surprising.  Griffin’s becoming a guy where you just have to count on him missing a least a month per season.

The Clippers won’t be devastated without Griffin.  They can afford a couple losses.  But how does Griffin’s loss affect them?

First, they have to find those rebounds and points that will be missing. Marressee Speights has been pulling in five a game; his bench presence will continue to be huge.  I’d expect Chris Paul to be more aggressive rebounding, and for DeAndre Jordan to have a couple monster games.

Griffin’s injury actually gives the Clippers some flexibility.  It allows them to become more creative with their lineups, something that they desperately need.  Those lineups they experiment with now could help them out greatly in the postseason.

Speaking of injuries, the Rockets were also just dealt a big blow.  Clint Capela broke his leg, and is now out for at least six weeks.  He’s been their 2nd best player by PER, and has given Houston a solution to the Nene problem.  Now, Capela’s 24.5 minutes per game are gonna be turned over to a combination of Nene and Montrezl Harrell.  Nene gets a “Yikes!”  But Harrell has grabbed my attention.

I love this guy.  I’ve loved him ever since he was in college.  Though only averaging 13 minutes a game this year, and playing in only 19 games, he has a 20.3 PER, 2nd highest on the team beside James Harden.  Harrell isn’t gonna space the floor much, but he’s a thin body, so he’s able to run well and be more athletic than Nene.  You have to be able to run if you’re playing on the Rockets.

Houston has so many other fascinating things going for them right now.  James Harden is one of the favorites for MVP.  Eric Gordon is a completely different player.  Ryan Anderson is taking six threes a game.  Its insane!

Seriously though, on Gordon…  He’s a completely different player.  He’s taking and making insane shots that didn’t go down in New Orleans.  He’s kind of a crafty ball-handler now too, though the assists numbers aren’t very high.  He’s having a substantial impact that makes the contract he signed look pretty good.

Houston takes the most threes in the league by far, which is weird to say with what Golden State has going for them.  But really, a lot of these threes aren’t smart shots.  Remember: We’re dealing with James Harden, Eric Gordon, and Ryan Anderson here.  They’re just hoisting and praying.  But they’re falling, and thats what counts.

The Cavaliers are kicking butt.  Kevin Love has figured it out in Cleveland (and yes, I’m happy for him).  The Spurs are doing their thing, and they’ve found another under-the radar guy who I’m in love with (Davis Bertans).  The Warriors have a frontcourt issue, but they’re also 24-4 so its clearly affecting them.  These teams are all boring right now, and don’t have any real concerning issues.  Thats what you get from the best.

Part 1: The NBA’s 1st Quarter Report Card

With school practically taking me over, I thought it’d be fun to do a column where we apply a school-theme to the NBA season.  So, we ended up here.  This is a two part series, with the B+ and A grades coming Monday.  For now, we get to make fun of some teams, and offer some help.

F: Dallas Mavericks, Sacramento Kings, Washington Wizards

Dallas gets a F because while I didn’t expect them to make the playoffs, I thought they’d be better than the 3rd worst team in the league.  Practically everything is going wrong for the Mavericks, and its so bad that even Rick Carlisle can’t fix it.

Injuries have killed them to start out.  Andrew Bogut and Deron Williams have battled injuries, and their depth is a serious issue.  Key bench guys like Devin Harris and J.J. Barea have played even less than Bogut and Williams, leading to role players filling in the missing minutes.  It seems like this might be it for Williams.  He took a cheap contract with Dallas in the Summer of 2015, bet on himself, and got rewarded.  But this year it seems to have fallen apart.  When he’s been healthy he’s played poorly.  His usage rate is too high (23%) for a guy who’s shooting 38.7% of field goals and only scoring 12.3 points per game.  You have to wonder what his future is if he doesn’t turn this season around.

Harrison Barnes is not the guy they hoped he’d be.  They signed him thinking he’d be their No.1 option, but the three point shot is just not there.  Come to think about it: Only Golden State can swap Barnes for Kevin Durant.

Wesley Matthews has never been the same since his Achilles tear in Portland.  Thats an injury that affects you forever.  You’re not the same athlete after you go through that (Not to compare myself to a professional athlete, but I tore mine in 6th grade).  Matthews has been one of the worst players in the league this year based off of plus/minus, ranked 408 out of 443.  At this point, I’m happy he got that big contract.  Cause its gonna be bleak for him once its up.

If this is the year Mark Cuban says “Screw it.” and tanks, expect a lot of turnover next Summer.  This Mavericks team is just not in a good place with this core.

The Kings and Wizards aren’t as bad as the Mavericks record wise, but have the same issue:  Their core is just not gonna work anymore.

That mostly applies to Washington.  John Wall just can’t do it by himself.  If I’m running the Wizards, I’m trading everyone.  I’m getting a huge package for John Wall, decent packages for Bradley Beal and Ian Mahimi, and trying to squeeze whatever I can out of Marcin Gortat.  I’m keeping the young wings, Trey Burke, and Daniel Ochefu.  Thats it!  Everyone else is gone.

The stats say otherwise, but Bradley Beal is just not that good.  That is, next to John Wall.  Thats nothing against Wall.  Its just hard to play those two together.  The chemistry is not there.  Marcin Gortat is closer to the bottom than the top when it comes to FG% on post-ups while ranking 7th in post touches.  Yikes!  He’s gotta go too.  Hey, at least Otto Porter has figured it out!

Unfortunately for Washington fans, this gutting of the team won’t happen, because the Wizards front office is too incompetent to realize that they’re wasting John Wall and letting their fans watch a mediocre-at-best team.

The Kings don’t have to go through as large of a blowup because they have less assets than Washington.  To put it in perspective, Sacramento has two players who have a PER above 20 this year:  DeMarcus Cousins, and Skal Labasierre, who’s played in one game all year!  Thats it!  No one else has managed to get themselves to be considered a good NBA player.  They’re all average or worse!

Like Washington, the Kings front office is too incompetent to trade their assets and stop torturing the fans.  Maybe I should run these teams…

D: Minnesota Timberwolves, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers

The teams I’m giving a D-grade are teams that should be much better as we’re a quarter into the season.  Some can save themselves, some might be a lost cause at this point.

We’ll start here in Minnesota, where the mood about the Timberwolves is somber.  Everyone’s confused and upset about the team right now.  I, though not a Wolves fan, am too.  Its disappointing to only have to watch only a half or three quarters of their games, because you know whats gonna eventually happen: They’ll blow a lead or collapse in the 3rd or 4th quarter.

The only real explanation is the fact that they’re young and inexperienced.  There’s also a lack of leadership and experience on the team, which doesn’t help whatsoever.  At the same time, they might be better without it.  Reports over the past three weeks or so hint that Tom Thibideou could be gearing up for a panic trade.  This would include dealing someone like Zach Lavine or Gorgui Dieng in exchange for a veteran who may or may not fit.  If I’m a Wolves fan, that terrifies me.  While I think Lavine may not exactly fit in with this current Wolves team, selling him low is the last thing you want to do.  There are plenty of teams that would give up an insane amount to have him.  Here’s an idea Thibs:  Get rid of Ricky Rubio!

There’s not really a lot else to say about the Timberwolves.  Karl-Anthony Towns is a monster.  Andrew Wiggins, though struggling lately, has improved his offensive game.  Kris Dunn looks awesome.  There’s still a lot to like.  They’re just young and inexperienced.  They’ll get there eventually.  Everyone needs to relax.

The Pacers are in a funky spot.  They have a lot talent, but can’t seem to get the pieces to fit together.

The morning before I started on this column, Jonathan Tjarks decided to put a spotlight on the Pacers and explained them so perfectly that I’m not gonna even try to.  Here’s Jonathan’s piece for The Ringer.

All I can say is, this is big news for us on the Glenn Robinson lll bandwagon.

Actually, I have a couple things I need to add.  First of all, I think Nate McMillan has a huge impact on the decline of this Pacers team.  Thats not to say he’s a bad coach.  Its just, going from Frank Vogel to McMillan is a huge downgrade, and its playing out in front of our eyes.

Secondly, if the Pacers don’t figure this out, expect the Paul George trade rumors to start.  I’m not sure if Indiana should do it, but there will be teams (like Boston) that will make the call.

On to the Nuggets, who have been one of my favorite teams to watch this season even though they’re struggling a bit to open the year.

Denver has a lot of guys.  The problem, similar to Minnesota, is that they’re all very young.  But its not the experience issue like we see with the Timberwolves.  The Nuggets are simply raw.  Its a raw collection of talent, and you can tell when you watch them.  Emmanuel Muiday is a guy I think is really good, but he hasn’t fully developed the ability to shoot consistently and defend well enough.  Muiday knows what he’s doing out there though.  He has that command.  As a point guard, you have to have that immediately.

The Nuggets have a ton of different lineups they can play too.  No lineup of their’s has played more than 64 minutes together.  Thats an incredible number, and shows off their versatility and unpredictability.

The fact that Denver has a lot guys but also has holes creates an interesting question: Who should they trade for?

The obvious answer?  John Wall.

Why is that?  Well, as much as I love Muiday, you have to wonder whether the ability to shoot will ever come.  In Wall, you’re getting a do-it-all point guard who’s experienced and has team control.  Plus, he’s your alpha-dog.  Denver lacks that right now.  They don’t have anyone who can takeover a game when needed.

A package for Wall probably looks like Muiday, the Wizards choice of Jusuf Nurkic or Nikola Jokic, and a draft pick.  Thats two nice pieces (as I mentioned above) for Washington to reboot.  For the Nuggets, you’re getting one of the 20 best players in the league while keeping your uniqueness.

If Denver pulls off a big trade, I think this is an A-team and an immediate title contender.

I’m very close to calling Portland a lost cause.  They are lights out offensively, as they’re 6th in Off Rtg and score the 6th most points per game.  But the defensive side of the court has been just a disaster this season.  The best Def Rtg on their roster is Shabazz Naiper at 107, which is ironic because that was the one thing he sucked at in college.  Napier has only played in 14 games though.  Out of guys who have played at least 20 games, the best rating is 110 by Noah Vonleh.  Good to know Vonleh is doing something right for once.

Its hard to solve Portland’s problem.  They have a lot of guys, but I don’t think anyone is gonna offer you too much for Moe Harkless or Allen Crabbe (Who’s been a disaster after signing that big contract).  The Trail Blazers’ assets besides Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are too spare-part-sy.  Trading McCollum is something they should consider.  His chemistry with Lillard is questionable, and they could get a lockdown D-and-3 guy (and more!) out of him.

C: Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics

This part of the C’s is the average teams that should and will be better later on.  Whats the difference between these teams and the Ds?  Well, these teams are just average.  They all have a “meh” to them.  That categorization doesn’t get you anything special.  A C-grade is nothing special.

Detroit is pretty confusing so far.  They have a lot of talent, and their talent is playing well.  So whats the problem?

I think there’s two parts to it.  1) They aren’t dynamic enough offensively.  2) They’ve lost a lot of really bad games.

First off, Reggie Jackson getting back in the groove should help them smooth things out offensively.  He’s only played five games so far, so the advanced metrics can’t prove anything.  While I’d never thought I’d say Reggie Jackson is an upgrade over anyone, he certainly is over Ish Smith (What a world).  I warned of this in my season preview with the Pistons.  They might struggle a bit early on, and they have.  I think Stan Van Gundy is a good enough coach to get them on the right track.  However, there is something wrong with this team that does fall on his shoulders.

Detroit has lost a lot of really bad games so far.  This includes losses to Phoenix, the 76ers, Brooklyn, and the Magic.  Those are games they have to win.  Those are critical if you want to make the playoffs.  All four of those losses have came in crunch-time, and its the coach’s job to make the team stays in check throughout the whole game.

I think what also ties into that is that this roster is full of guys who haven’t really played in big games.  Meaning, they just lack experience.  Its kinda similar to Minnesota’s issues, but with a different cause.

I have confidence the Pistons will turn this around though.  They’ll be fine.

Atlanta is the definition of “meh”.

The Dennis Schroder experiment has not gone well.  The Hawks are just in a worst place with him running their offense.  He doesn’t know what he’s doing out there.  The stats show the decline too.  While Atlanta is one of the best defensive teams in the league, the offense ranks 25th in Off Rtg.  Schroder has a 16.1 PER on the season, compared to Teague’s 18.7.

Its disappointing.  I liked Schroder, and the Hawks believed in him.  There’s still plenty of time, but for now, the Teague -Schroder swap isn’t looking so hot, and Atlanta’s suffering because of it.

Milwaukee getting a C is going to raise some eyebrows.  The Bucks have been one of the league’s surprises early on.  Not to me though.  In my eyes, they’ve underachieved.  While Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing out of his freaking mind, the surrounding cast isn’t helping him out much.  But its only in certain aspects.

If you take a statistical and eye test perspective, the Bucks are great.  Greg Monroe has found himself again.  Jabari Parker is turning into a really good scorer.  The Greek Freak might have just turned into only “The Freak”.  Malcolm Brogdon is showing us what he did in college so well.  Everything seems to be working.

But, the Bucks are having issues that other teams I’ve mentioned above are having: Crunch-time.

Once again, its a lack of experience and, more so to this Bucks team, a lack of guys who’ve played in big games.

Every time I’ve watched Milwaukee, they’re blowing it at the end or are discombobulated.  Thats literally the only problem.

I don’t think this team needs a trade.  I think its gonna take some time for them to acclimate and play well when it matters.  But man, once they do figure it out…  Watch out, other NBA teams.

Boston is another team that you could make a B-case for.  A lot of their current loses can be blamed on the fact that Jae Crowder and Al Horford missed a good amount of time.  The Celtics were a mess when those guys were out.

The Celtics are really fun to watch.  I’ve came around on Jaylen Brown, and I turned that corner really fast.  I just like watching him run.  He’s so athletic and runs so nicely.  Jonas Jerebko has stepped up big time this season.  Avery Bradley is getting a ton of rebounds, which is awesome and I have no idea where it came from.

Boston’s problems are big though.  They struggle in crunch-time too, and have an issue at center.  Al Horford has been awesome for Boston.  He filled a huge need, but he’s not exactly the best rim protecter in the world, and he isn’t gonna do the dirty work.  Boston lacks a competent dirty-work/rim protecter.  Its not Kelly Olynyk.  Its definitely not Tyler Zeller, who’s been just terrible every time I watch the Celtics.

I smell a trade.  But it depends on how big Danny Ainge wants to go.  Boogie is sitting right there for them, but they could swing low and grab someone like Andrew Bogut (???).

The problem Boston is not gonna be able to solve without swinging for the fences is the crunch-time issue.  Their superstar is Horford, but he’s not a guy who you can put the ball in hands every possession and tell him to make something happen.  For Boston to not have these issues, its gonna take a superstar trade.  That in itself is a whole ‘nother conversation.

Boston’s win total is gonna climb for now, but come playoff time, these issues might catch up to them.

C+: Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat, New Orleans Pelicans, Orlando Magic

This part of the C’s gets the extra points because while these aren’t good teams, they’re doing exactly what they should be doing.  That is: Tanking or developing while being bad.  The reason why these teams can’t hop into the B’s is due to their watchability.  The case can be made for the 76ers though.  Joel Embiid has been awesome this season.  Hollis Thompson has came out of nowhere and proved himself competent.  But besides that, this 76ers team is still pretty brutal.  They’re not as fun as I thought they’d be.  Dario Saric and Timothe Lawawu have struggled.  The Gerald Henderson and Sergio Rodriguez experience has not been fun.  All I know is: Ben Simmons needs to debut ASAP.

None of these teams, even my own Suns, really have my interest.  Its just boring watching them.

B: Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks

These teams land right in the middle.  They’re better than average, but aren’t quite in that top tier yet.

I really like this Hornets team.  I enjoy watching them.  They move the ball well, and don’t turn it over.  Charlotte earns only a B though because Kemba Walker is their best player this year.  That has its pro and cons.  Its a con because he really shouldn’t be their best player.  Nicolas Batum has struggled this year, shooting only 39% on field goals.

They’re making due, but Charlotte could be much better.

The Bulls are somehow afloat right now, which is hard to believe since Rajon Rondo has turned back into himself after playing well early, and since Nikola Mirotic is an out-of-control maniac with his decisions and is STILL being played ahead of Bobby Portis.

Whats going right for Chicago?  Well, Jimmy Butler is a superstar, and is playing like one with a 27.2 PER.  Dwyane Wade is shooting extremely and abnormally well.  I’m also starting to really like this Christiano Felicio kid.  He’s always there making plays.

Chicago can keep this up.  But I’m not sure how much better they can be.  This is where the offseason concerns start to come back into play.  This team is just not built for contention.

However, Chicago can make themselves more watchable.  Giving Bobby Portis minutes over Nikola Mirotic is where they can start.  Portis has played extremely well in the short time he has.  C’mon Fred Hoiberg!

Also, Jerian Grant has been enjoyable.  He’s not a shooter by any means, but serves as a pretty good 2nd or 3rd guard.

Oh, the Knicks.  So many pros and so many cons.  I’m just gonna list them.

Pros:

  • Kristaps Porzingis is a freaking animal and this is HIS team now
  • Kyle O’Quinn proving himself worthy of that insane contract
  • Brandon Jennings serving as a good backup point guard
  • Mingdaus Kuzminskas coming out of nowhere and turning into one my favorite players

Cons:

  • Carmelo Anthony not respecting that this is Porzingis’ team
  • Joakim Noah being almost unwatchable
  • The constant isolation ball between Melo and Derrick Rose
  • (Sometimes) Not being able to watch Porzingis takeover

So yeah, the Knicks are frustrating, and its why they earn a B and have the record they have.

The Porzingis experience is on a whole ‘nother level this year.  The guy is absolutely killing it every game, and is almost killing other players.

On the other end, Melo just needs to take a backseat.  I’m so tired of watching him dance around with the ball in crunch-time as opposed to moving it around, or feeding Porzingod.

Kyle O’Quinn gives this Knicks offense a new identity, and its for the better.  Joakim Noah has been simply atrocious this year.  The dude is a center and he’s not even shooting 50%.  The Knicks are a disaster collectively on the defensive end, but Noah’s Def Rtg is much worse O’Quinn’s.  If I’m the Knicks I’m doing all I can to get rid of Noah.

Brandon Jennings, while the numbers don’t support it, has been a competent backup point guard this year, and I enjoy the Knicks much more when he’s out there as opposed to Derrick Rose.  After coming back from a torn achilles, all you can ask for is to be competent.  Jennings has been.

Part 2 coming Monday!!!

State Of The NFL Standings

Its been a weird NFL season.  The Texans are currently in the playoffs.  The Lions are the best team in their division.  Tampa Bay is making noise.  But all these surprises are results of something that isn’t great:  There’s not enough good teams!

So, with Week 14 wrapped up, and the playoffs coming fast, I thought we’d take a dive into the standings rather than write about games, and figure out who really deserves to make the playoffs, record aside.

We’ll start in the NFC…

  1. Dallas
  2. Detroit
  3. Seattle
  4. Atlanta
  5. New York Giants
  6. Tampa Bay

  7. Washington

  8. Minnesota
  9. Green Bay

Realistically, here are the NFC teams in the playoff hunt.  Arizona, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Carolina and New Orleans are all in it mathematically, but are all at least two games behind Green Bay with three weeks left.  Yeah, talk about a long shot.

The Lions sitting in the two-seed is still kinda weird, but its making a little more sense now.  Matthew Stafford is getting some MVP buzz by completing 66.7% of his passes.  His success can largely be attributed to the addition of Marvin Jones, who has 797 receiving yards this season.  Golden Tate’s having another great year, and Anquan Boldin has become their biggest red zone target.

Detroit can move the ball well offensively by short passes and Stafford making good decisions, but their defense isn’t very good.  The reason they’ve gotten away with it?  Well, its not like anyone else in the division has a better defense.  The Vikings’ defense is extremely flukey right now; it seems like Harrison Smith’s injury is having a huge impact on them as a whole.  The Packers defense has been atrocious most of the year; they got helped out majorly Sunday by Russell Wilson laying an egg.

So yeah, when you look at it as a whole, it does make some sense that Detroit is the No.2 seed.  They’re in, but have a tough schedule the rest of the year.  The Packers play the NFC North in their last three games, so its very possible Detroit falls to a Wild Card if Green Bay runs the table.

This where the scenario of the NFC North getting three teams vs. the NFC East getting three teams comes into play.  I think Minnesota is probably the worst team out of Detroit, Green Bay, Dallas, Washington, and the Giants.  Thats a statement most, even Vikings fans, can agree with.

The Vikings beat Jacksonville Sunday.  Congratulations, I guess.  It wasn’t pretty either.  That game was competitive.  The Vikings secondary got torched by Marquis Lee, and they couldn’t even get Blake Bortles to turn the ball over!  Minnesota’s offense is still their biggest issue.  Matt Asiata only ran for 37 yards, and Jerick McKinnon was stuffed by Jacksonville’s front seven.

The question that we have to answer regarding Minnesota’s playoff chances (in the scenario that NFC North gets three teams) is…  Are they better than Tampa Bay?

The Buccaneers are probably the most confusing team in the league.  I had them making the playoffs at beginning of the season, but Tampa Bay is kind of a roller coast right now.  Though they are the hottest team in the league on a five game win streak, they’ve sustained bad losses to Arizona, St. Louis, and Denver.

The biggest difference between them and Minnesota?  They can actually throw the ball.  They have targets.  Minnesota’s offense is hindered by Sam Bradford and a lack of explosive weapons.  Jameis Winston can throw it, and while he has an occasional bad game, the maturity he has gained over this season will eliminate the possibility of a meltdown.  This isn’t Eli Manning we’re talking about.

So what do I think happens?  Well, to make it easier, here’s my ranking of the Wild Card-hopeful.

  1. Washington
  2. Green Bay
  3. Tampa Bay
  4. New York
  5. Minnesota

Yeah, records don’t agree.  But I think Eli Manning is too susceptible to having a bad game at any time, and Tampa Bay lacks the playoff experience.  Washington is slightly ahead of Green Bay because I trust their defense more.  And Minnesota, well, sorry guys.  Sam Bradford is not someone I’d want starting in a playoff game.

On to the AFC, where more teams are alive than in the NFC, but the quality of those teams is much lower.

  1. New England
  2. Kansas City
  3. Pittsburgh
  4. Houston
  5. Oakland
  6. Denver

  7. Miami

  8. Baltimore
  9. Tennessee
  10. Indianpolis

Mathematically, Buffalo, Cincinnati, and San Diego are still alive, but their playoff chances are so slim they’re not worth mentioning.

I truly think, seeding aside, this is how the AFC plays out.  I think these six teams deserve the playoff spots.  Kansas City may find themselves at the 5th or 6th seed, or even at the No.1 seed.  New England could fall a bit.  Pittsburgh may move up, but all in all, I think these are the six teams.

Denver is the team that is gonna catch eyeballs on this list.  Their offense seems to be stalled out right now, as Trevor Siemian has experienced a fall from grace since his great start to the season.  The Broncos can’t run the ball to help him out either, and the Denver defense looks extremely vulnerable (though they did get in Marcus Mariota’s head Sunday).  Plus, they have a brutal schedule to close out the year.

However, are we sure a team like Miami or Baltimore is better than them?  You never know what to expect from Miami’s defense.  Their front seven can terrorize an offensive line or their shaky back seven can let up big plays.  Baltimore has a great defense, but couldn’t stop the Patriots running back platoon Monday night.  They concern me for a couple reasons: 1) Their offense is not explosive enough.  Thats a problem against the league’s best defenses. 2) I worry that what happened to them against LeGarrette Blount could happen in a playoff game against a better and faster back.  That would be a recipe for disaster.

Denver gets the nod because we know what their defense is capable of, even though they haven’t played like it recently.  They also have experience, and know what it takes.

The only reason Tennessee and Indianapolis are on the list is because their division is a complete flameout.  Houston might actually bench Brock Osweiler if they make the postseason, or at least thats what I would do.  He’s been just atrocious this year, but their decent defense and running game has bailed him out.  Come the offseason though, I’m not sure it will.

Houston’s probably winning the AFC South, but the Titans are frisky and the Colts have Andrew Luck.  The Titans or Colts would certainly be a lot more fun than Houston come January.