2015-16 Preseason Power Rankings Part III

10. PHOENIX SUNS

Our market analysis confirms that this is indeed a “meme.” Roll it, boys.

Last year, everything went wrong in Phoenix. Just injury after injury. And still, they hung around and almost made the playoffs. This year, things should be different. I’m in on the Suns this year. Westbrook at stretches last year looked like the best player to ever even sniff a basketball, and I like him to continue in beast mode this season with a healthy KD back and making him even better. Partnering him with Knight and IT gives Phoenix perhaps the best backcourt in Real Deal. Davis, Gibson, Kelly and especially Johnson give the Suns a pretty good frontcourt, too, albeit lacking in starpower. Stuckey is a terrific guy to have on your bench. And Langston Galloway continues to be a thing. I still believe Phoenix needs one more star – preferably a big – to push them over the top, but right now I feel good about their chances to be a lot better this year. You can’t count on luck – good or bad – two years in a row.

 

9.LOS ANGELES LAKERS

All eyes on KD.

I might be overrating the Lakers here at 9, given how many question marks there are around this team, but I think this will be Kevin Durant’s career year. He’s motivated to win a title as OKC’s window closes. He’s eager to re-establish himself after a lost season. And he’s in a contract year gearing up to sign the biggest free agency deal ever. If all goes well, he will be the best player in fantasy outside of Anthony Davis. The squad surrounding him is more iffy. Dirk looked like an absolute geezer in the playoffs and I wonder how long he can realistically stay on the court for a Mavs team that looks pretty bad. Tony Parker has looked awful of late – his speed, which was one of the main components of his game, is fading fast. McLemore, Green and Hill could go one of two ways – either flourish in a new role/system or regress to league average or worse. On the other hand, the bench is a deep one with Kaman, Belinelli, Larkin and Cole all capable players. I especially like Belinelli this year and I think he’s the guard to own out of Sacramento. Meyers Leonard in a pick and pop with Damian Lillard will be exceptional, so that’s another bright spot. The Lakers are in for a better year than last just because of Durant actually playing this time, but it might be too late with Parker and Nowitzki falling off a cliff. Los Angeles might have to make a big move to stay in the hunt.

 

 

8. DALLAS MAVERICKS

I Googled “normal picture of a nice basketball player” to find this.

Dallas paid big for Nerlens Noel and Rodney Hood – perhaps too big. Both are cheap, young and very talented, but the Mavs have now tied up so much of an investment of their future in bringing these two players in that they NEED them to contribute. I love Nerlens this year (A double-double with 2 blocks, 2 steals maybe?) and Hood will break out this season, but the price of admission on this attraction may have been too much. This is not to say that Dallas will be totally screwed if those two don’t pan out, because the rest of this team is still quite good. I think this will be the year that Derrick Rose alters his game so that he can actually stay on the court – this is Chicago’s last shot at making the finals with this group, so there’s incentive for him to stick around this year. Ellis will thrive in Indiana’s new offense and has a great chance to score 20+ per game. I like Hibbert to have a mini-bounceback year in Byron Scott’s old-school (read: stale) system, and O’Quinn may finally get a chance to prove himself. Crowder got way overrated this offseason and Jokic is still a mystery, but I’m more optimistic about him. The bench is young and intriguing, but I hesitate to say any of them are reliable. The Mavs made a lot of moves this offseason in an attempt to win now. This team is good, but is it actually good enough to win now?

 

 

7. UTAH JAZZ

This will be the year people recognize this face as that of a star NBA player, and not as that of the president of the Environmental Club at Brigham Young or a live model for a Hitler youth barber.

I’m pretty high on this Jazz team. This is the year that I’m all in on them as the best team in the Northwest and I think their success will be highly sustainable. This will be the year that Gordon Hayward finally gets recognized as an All-Star and his all-around game will be a boon for his fantasy status as he grows into his role as the undisputed leader and best player in Utah. Derrick Favors was an absolute monster to close out last season and I expect much more of the same, especially because I think Gobert is getting way too much hype. George Hill continues to be an underrated fantasy player (is it because of his boring name or because he got traded for Kawhi Leonard?). Gallo will have an enormous year as the best offensive player by a mile in Denver. Ryan Anderson will be better than last year because he can’t possibly be worse. And I told you guys Humphries will be better than Nene this year! The depth is a problem for now, but it will be less so when Shumpert and Ajinca come back and Bjelica gets his butt up from the minors. Utah will be a division winner this year and maybe even a dark horse title contender.

 

 

6. ORLANDO MAGIC


Any team whose fate is in the hands of Kobe Bryant is a team that’s hard to peg down, but there are two things that make me feel okay ranking the Magic this high: 1. Just look how well they did last year, and 2. There are a lot of other really good players not named Bryant. I have my concerns about Gasol just given his age, but I actually think he’ll be fine. He’s a good fit in the Hoiberg offense, even if it means less usage. Word is it’ll be Mirotic starting alongside him instead of Gibson or Noah, and that’s very good for Orlando since it means he’ll still be able to grab as many boards as he wants. Monroe will be the offensive cornerstone in Milwaukee, so he should only get better. Oladipo just keeps getting better and better and Vucevic is an automatic double double machine. The bench is filled with cheap, dependable vets. But Nene is trash – Humphries is the PF to own from Washington and his lazy attitude and inconsistent play might see him fall out of Wittman’s favor for good. His massive salary is a big prohibitor in a potential trade and it could unfortunately bog down this team. Even despite that handicap, Orlando fields a very good and fairly deep roster. They should be a top team in the East once again.

 

5. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

I will never not use this picture for the Grizzlies.

It always kind of bugs me how little I have to write about this team, but it’s so solid and not much has changed. Gasol, Conley and Bledsoe will all continue to do their thang in leading this squad, and DeMarre Carroll will thrive as one of only a few competent players in Toronto. Having Ellington, Sullinger and Shelvin Mack in the starting lineup scares me a bit, but this team is still top-heavy enough to just make the top 5 just a hair above Orlando. I do fear that the Grizzlies will fall off unless they can make some adjustments to improve the bottom of the roster, either through free agency or a trade, but I wouldn’t bet against them.

4. ATLANTA HAWKS

The Hawks were bounced from the Eastern Conference Finals last season. Can they get there again this time?

I have the Hawks just beating out Orlando for the division crown, although their offseason was a massive disappointment. With shaky depth (actually, zero depth), the Hawks waited until basically the last minute to bring in some bench players (actually, one bench player) – and it cost them the team’s two best young players, including Nikola Mirotic, who is one of the best values in the league at minimum salary. Still, despite all that, the Hawks have the best starting eight in the league, top to bottom, and it’s not particularly close. I just worry a lot about injuries. Howard, Horford, Ilyasova and Rondo all have troubling injury histories. This team could derail fast if injuries start to pile up. Luckily, the Hawks have two first round picks for next fall, which are very tradeable assets should they need to use them in that way. Atlanta could have pushed for no. 1 overall and mounted a real title chase this season, but I wonder if they missed the train.

3. CHICAGO BULLS

The scary thing about this Bulls team is that they might not even need their $46 million man to win the East.

I remember earlier in the offseason when I was praising Chicago for having such a cheap young roster. So affordable! I said. So sustainable! Well, that all went out the window in a hurry when the Bulls spent their life’s savings on Hassan Whiteside and Jordan Clarkson, making them the first and third richest players in Real Deal. That Kobe contract doesn’t look half bad now (just kidding, it still does). I have my questions about Whiteside – is he even good, for instance – but I do like Clarkson and think he’ll have the best season in the Lakers backcourt. Do I like him for $27 million a year? No. But I do like him. Even if you take those two guys out – and I think you very well could – this Bulls team is still very deep and very good. They’re my odds-on favorite to make it out of the East this year. Wiggins, Rubio, Harris, Parsons, Len and Gordon are all terrific young talents that will all be contributing right away. Combine that with a bench made up of Stephenson, Asik, Goodwin, McBob and Livingston, and you’re talking about the best bench in the league, no question. I think those two signings were a huge mistake, but the one thing that prevents it from being a total catastrophe is the fact that the rest of the roster is so young and so cheap. Chicago just didn’t need to throw down that kind of cash. It prohibits flexibility in the future and I doubt either will be the deciding factor in pushing them over the top. Still, I really like this Bulls team and expect them to be the best team in the East.

 

2. HOUSTON ROCKETS

Now Kardashian-free!

At first, I thought Houston and Memphis would be neck-and-neck this year, but the more I think on it, the more I like the Rockets to once again win the toughest division in Real Deal with relative ease in the Battle of the Dueling Pedros. This team is deeper and has more top-quality talent than any other team in the West. The Rockets begin and end with James Harden, and I think he will have another MVP-type season. Houston is the team I think will have the best regular season in the NBA and that bodes well for Harden as a fantasy player. Surround him with useful guys like Barnes, Noah, Williams, Diaw, Ezeli and Chalmers – plus Mo Williams and Timo Mozgov at the minimum salary (!!!) – and you’ve got yourself a winner here. Anything Wes Matthews can give is a bonus. Houston is set up for success again this season.

 

 

1. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

Will it be Golden State hoisting the Real Deal trophy?

The Dubs are comfortably the best team in this league. Granted, the team was dealt an amazing starting hand of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson at discount deals. Still, though, the roster constructed around them was impressive. Golden State elected to go young from the get-go, and it looks like it will start paying off right about now. Middleton, KCP and Plumlee all figure to have bigger roles this year, and Myles Turner is looking like he could come strong out of the gate. Brook Lopez was a good pickup in the summer and the bench is made up of a bunch of decent and reliable players. Everything about this team just screams “trending up” to me. They’re my pick to win it all.

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 7 Recap

As expected, the Cleveland Browns are in first place, the New England Patriots are tied for a wild card spot, Dallas’ slump continues as the Cowboys fall to 3-7, Green Bay is tied for a wild card spot despite starting duct tape and pocket lint, and the Atlanta Falcons just turned Travis Benjamin into 19 first round picks.  And there’s a three-way tie for the AFC South lead between three 4-6 teams.  Just what we all thought would happen when the season started.  SMH.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 7 Recap

Games of the Week: A pair of close ones in the AFC North provided the highlights of week 7 – and created some serious murk.

Kansas City Chiefs 229, Pittsburgh Steelers 206: The battle of wounded warriors took place with both teams coming in without their best players.  The Steelers were missing Ben Roethlisberger, who tantalizingly suggested he might start before giving way to Landry Jones over the weekend.  The Chiefs had both Randall Cobb and Gio Bernard on bye, and Jeremy Maclin who sat out with a concussion.  Still, both teams performed well and got big plays from the offense (Jarvis Landry 27, TJ Yeldon 21, and Le’Veon Bell 22 paced Pittsburgh, while Jordan Reed returned from the concussion protocol to post a 33 spot for KC).  The difference in this game was the defense, though, where KC won 125-100 – almost exactly the difference in the week.  KC moves two up on unlucky Oakland in the AFC West, while Pittsburgh now faces a three way battle to stave off challengers Baltimore and Cleveland.

Arizona Cardinals 233, Baltimore Ravens 203: Of course, Pittsburgh may not have a lot to worry about, as the Ravens can’t seem to capitalize on Pittsburgh’s missteps to take control of the division. The Cardinals controlled the line of scrimmage in this one, riding a strong ground game (60 combined points between Arian Foster and Darren McFadden) and an outstanding defensive line (59 combined points between JJ Watt, Calais Campbell, and Ian Williams) to the win.  Baltimore countered through the air with 21 from Keenan Allen and 30 from Amari Cooper, but fell just a little short on defense despite a preposterous 39 point effort from LB Telvin Smith (pick six, 9 tackles, two stuffs, and 3 passes defensed!).  The Ravens were hamstrung by Olivier Vernon, Elvis Dumervil, and Nickell Robey, the three of whom together combined for an  entire point.  The Cardinals have now knocked off Pittsburgh and Baltimore in consecutive weeks.  Their reward?  The other North division contender, Cleveland.

Rising:

Cleveland Browns: Speaking of Cleveland, the Browns 168-83 double-up of hapless St. Louis moved them into a tie for first place in the North for the first time in forever.  Mike Evans provided most of the scoring with 41 points, but Gary Barnidge is proving to be quite a catch for the Dawgs, doing more in the TE role than Jordan Cameron ever could.  Excitement is catching on the Cuyahoga, and even more now that the squad has added Michael Crabtree from the 49ers, giving them yet another weapon through the air.  Still, the hard part starts now, beginning with Arizona, as four of the Browns last six games are against teams leading or tied for the lead in their respective divisions (Arizona, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and KC).  Just as concerning, the Browns are only 16th in total points scored with 1786 – for reference, Pittsburgh has scored 2122 (~35 ppg more) and Baltimore has scored 1939 (~15 ppg more).  It’s a special time in Cleveland, but for multiple reasons, the Browns remain the underdawgs in the divisional race.  Seems like that might suit them just fine.

Buffalo Bills: Why Buffalo?  Because they are MASHING people with robotic consistency.  They are like a cyborg with a serrated cleaver.  I might dress up as them for Halloween.  The Bills point outputs this season have been: 197, 217, 274, 220, 219, 223, 234.  That’s right.  They’ve scored 217 or more points in six out of seven weeks, and the lowest output they have had so far has been 197.  That is silly consistency from a team that seems well-poised to cruise into the top seed in the AFC without much notice.  Gronk has been great, and Derek Carr has been a revelation, but it’s been the defense that has truly driven the charge.  The Bills rank 2nd in the league in defense and that is without a single defensive touchdown and only two turnovers – lowest in the league.  When those luck-driven big plays start pilling up… look out.

Green Bay Packers: How the Packers are still here, I have absolutely no idea.  But they are.  Somehow, despite losing a stud a week it seems, the Packers just laid 249 points on a Denver team that simply rolled over (70 points).  Not only are they somehow still scoring at a high clip, but they are, at 6-4, tied with the Eagles for the final wild card in the NFC, and get another game with Denver coming up this week due to a scheduling quirk before an opportunity to overtake Carolina for the top wildcard spot.  Whoda thunk it?  If Lamar Miller keeps throwing down 47 point weeks and TY Hilton is getting 40, this team is going to keep making noise no matter how many guys they lose.

Honorable Mention: New England Patriots, New York Giants, Drama in the AFC South, Kansas City Chiefs, Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals, New Orleans Saints

 

Falling:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Remember two weeks ago when the Bucs were 8-0 and appeared to be cruising towards an easy division championship? Not any longer.  Two straight losses have brought Tampa back down to earth, and this last loss, a 245-193 bludgeoning at the hands of the much maligned Washington Redskins, is a tough one to take.  Coupled with a pair of Carolina Panther wins, a once insurmountable 3 game lead has shrunk to a single game, and Bucs fans are starting to feel a little jittery.  Still, all should still be well in Bucs-ville.  Tampa ranks 6th in overall points, suggesting that their 8-2 record is no fluke, and their closeout schedule of Atlanta, NYG, Dallas, Philly, Chicago, and Indy is quite manageable, aside from the auto-loss to New York.  Simply put, Tampa needs more (and should get more) from its playmakers.  2 points from Vincent Jackson, 1 from Alfred Morris, and -1 from Torrey Smith simply won’t cut it – but when those guys return to producing at decent levels, the Bucs should be fine.

Philadelphia Eagles: Despite having very few actual NFL Eagles, the RDFL Eagles have certainly mirrored their counterparts in the shakiness department.   It isn’t that this week’s loss to Carolina was particularly bad – the Panthers are quite a good team – but it was definitely a winnable game (196-167) and the Eagles couldn’t capitalize, even with Shady McCoy back in the lineup.  Kaepernick has been terrible and shows no signs of reinventing himself, and the defense has been hit or miss (five players with zero or one points last week).  The Packers injury troubles have left openings for Philadelphia, but the Eagles need to turn things around quick.  And Buffalo, who the Eagles face this week, is no one’s definition of a get well game.

Bad Teams: The point totals this week were simply atrocious in a number of arenas.  Anything below 100, even on a bye week, is cause for serious concern, and less than 100 on a non bye-week is cause for straight up embarrassment.  This past week, five teams scored below 100 – Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis, Seattle, and Denver.  Denver scored only 71 points and simply did not insert bye week replacements with strong performances.  The problem is magnified in the AFC South where Tennessee, Houston, and Indianapolis are wearing frilly dresses and half-heartedly whacking at each other with heart-shaped plastic wands rather than playing football.  The three contenders are 18th, 20th, and 22nd in points scored respectively and all are averaging less than 175 points per game.  And one of these teams is going to make the playoffs.

Dishonorable Mention: Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets (besides those already mentioned)

Games of the Week:

Arizona Cardinals vs. Cleveland Browns: Arizona continues its demolition tour of the AFC North looking for the trifecta!  A win and the Cardinals will have beaten Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Cleveland on consecutive weeks – and will officially clinch both the NFC West and AFC North divisional titles.  It’s way too early in the season to say that, but with a six game lead already, the Cards can make it mathematically impossible for anyone to catch them with another W.

Detroit Lions vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Fresh off a surprising and invigorating win at Pittsburgh, the Chiefs run smack dab into a fresh Detroit wrecking screw that just scored 274 points and is cruising towards a bye week in the NFC.  KC gets Cobb and Bernard back from the bye, but Detroit is healthy, good, and barely inconvenienced by any bye weeks.  This one should be another smackdown, and bring the Chiefs right back to earth.

Baltimore Ravens vs. San Diego Chargers: So this shouldn’t really be a game of the week candidate.  San Diego is 2-8.  But this is the weirdest 2-8 team ever.  After a meek, mild 0-8 start, the Chargers promptly traded away their first round pick (in contention for first overall!) and future star Kevin White for a series of “help me now pieces” like Kelvin Benjamin.  In the two weeks since, they have scored 427 points and demolished playoff hopefuls Oakland and Green Bay.  The Chargers still have absolutely no chance to make the playoffs, making their trade a complete headscratcher, but does anybody want to bet against them when they take on yet another playoff hopeful?  Anybody?  Didn’t think so.  This team is the scariest 2-8 team I’ve ever seen in my life.

Buffalo Bills vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Sometimes when you are struggling, you just need a get right game.  You need to play against somebody terrible to work out what ails you and get some confidence back. That’s exactly what Philly does NOT get against the Bills.  Remember that stat about 217 points or more every single week?  The serrated cleaver?  That’s just what the Eagles do not want to see as they seek to stay above the cut line vs. Green Bay.  Even the bye week won’t be much help as Buffalo will field a full lineup that really does not rely much on Bills players to be successful.

Carolina Panthers vs. Indianapolis Colts: We return to the lovable, huggable AFC South for all the games none of us want to watch but have to.  In the first, Indianapolis will try to score some actual points for the first time all year against the steadily rising Carolina Panthers.  An Indy win brings them back to .500 while a loss drops them out of first place.  A Carolina win would give Carolina a nice two game cushion in the wild card, and possibly even bring them even with Tampa Bay for the division.

Houston Texans vs. Tennessee Titans: It’s possible I should have lead with this epic heavyweight show down.  It’s actually startling how similar these two teams are.  Same record.  Houston averages 166 ppg, while Tennessee averages 163.  Similar struggles with underperforming youth.  And a similar opportunity – in all likelihood, the winner of this game seizes control of the AFC South.  Will this game kick off a return to respectability for the team and the division?  Tune in to find out!

Good luck in week 8 everyone!

2015-16 Preseason Power Rankings Part II

20. DENVER NUGGETS

Ty Lawson is charged with leading the Nuggets back into the playoffs.

The Nuggets were a favorite of mine last season after enduring the league’s toughest schedule and yet still managing to squeak into the playoffs at the last possible moment. They played third fiddle in the Northwest as OKC and Minnesota battled it out, and they’re facing a similar fate again behind Minnesota and the Utah Jazz. This ranking seems too low, and I’m doubting it a bit, but I think that most key players on this team will be worse this year than they were last year. Faried has regressed so much as an NBA player that the Nuggets will likely either bench him or ship him off to be someone’s fourth or even fifth big. Josh Smith will maybe see 20 minutes a game behind Blake and DJ with Pierce likely to play some stretch 4. Motiejunas is hurt and Capela is coming for his minutes, and both are still mired behind Dwight Howard. Boston’s roster is a cluster and that limits Smart and Olynyk. Roberts, Inglis, Arthur and especially Granger are barely rosterable. The two players I love this season, though, are Lawson and McCollum. McCollum will finally get his chance to shine and he is everyone’s preseason pick for the MIP this year, and I don’t disagree. The dude was a top 10 pick and can flat out score. He’ll excel. Lawson should easily average 14 and 10 at least feeding the likes of Harden, Dwight and the rest of Houston’s deep team. The Rockets’ overall athleticism is a perfect fit for a speedster like Lawson to do what he does best: score in transition and toss dimes. The Nuggets are sort of like the Western Conference’s Miami Heat: lots of talent, lots of potential, but too many question marks and too much competition in their division. I’d love to see Denver prove me wrong this year.

 

19. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS

Sooner or later these guys have to start winning.
Pelicans GM Jason maintains that he is not competing this year, but I simply don’t buy it, even though I have them ranked just 19th here. There’s just way too much talent on this team for them to stick at the 19 spot permanently. Sure, MKG is probably done for the year and Kyrie is set to miss a big chunk of it, but come on. Anthony Davis is about a year away, give or take, from becoming the head-and-shoulders-above-everyone-else undisputed best player in the NBA, and it’s already translated to fantasy. And when you have a superstar, you have a shot at getting into the playoffs even if the rest of the team is mediocre. We know that from watching the real NBA. And when Irving is healthy, that’s two legit superstars. Sure, they look scarier next year with MKG and Embiid set to come back, but New Orleans still looks pretty damn scary to me right now. They’re in the league’s toughest division and will have to have a lot of things break their way, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility for the Pelicans to sneak into the playoffs should Kyrie come back soon.

18. INDIANA PACERS

But I don’t wanna play power forward!
Don’t look now, folks, but Indiana might be ready to compete already. Paul George and Rudy Gobert are already certified fantasy superstars, and the supporting cast is not too shabby either. Once you get past that top eight, things look pretty rocky, but let’s just run down the rest of the starters: LaVine is reportedly going to start alongside Rubio and Wiggins this season, which will give him so many opportunities to score; Dennis Schroeder is leading a Hawks second unit that could prove to be one of the best in the NBA this year; Parker has an extremely high pedigree and was playing nicely before the injury; David Lee could be a bounceback candidate or at least a leader in some capacity in Boston; Lyles is a capable stretch 4 on a team that desperately needed one; and Mudiay will be given a long leash and full rein over the Nuggets from the get go. We all knew this was going to be a team to watch in the future…but has the future already arrived?

17. MILWAUKEE BUCKS

The All-Limbs Team is back!
I’ve said this before, but I think it warrants repeating: This team is one superstar away from becoming a powerhouse in the East. Serge Ibaka is a guy anyone sensible wants badly on their roster, but he’s just not quite productive enough to lead a playoff team, even in this weak conference. Giannis, Payton and Thad Young make up a great supporting cast, but there enough holes in the roster for me to hesitate to call this team elite or even upper-echelon. (I must add, though: Giannis is truly a freak of nature and is basically limitless as far as I’m concerned. We may see a Rudy Gobert-like surge this year.) Ray McCallum is a wild card, but he won’t usurp Patty Mills. Bucks GM Jeff has also invested a ton in Robert Covington, who will be out of a starting job once the Sixers finally draft someone who doesn’t play center. There is a lot of young talent on this team, which is crucial for two reasons: 1. Maybe they all break out in a big way this year and boost the Bucks into the postseason and 2. The franchise has only one pick until 2018, and it’s a second rounder in a weak draft class. The young talent already here should prevent Milwaukee from trending downward too drastically. The East is weak right now – maybe the weakest it will ever be – so now is Milwaukee’s time to pounce. But do they have the assets to land a ringer? Not ones that you’d want to part with if you’re the Bucks. Milwaukee just kind of feels “stuck” to me at this junction.

16. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

Could this be another empty year for the Clippers?
CP3, Blake and not much else. Korver is far and away the third best player on this team, which is a huge problem for a team that ought to be competing at a higher level. I like CJ Miles as a sleeper to be a major producer – think Covington from last year – since he’ll be starting in Indy and the Pacers want to let the threes fly. Apart from those four players, though, all I really see are useful bench players. Depth may be the team’s saving grace here, but the two superstars are what will keep LA just a touch above mediocrity. I think this season will end in disappointment once again for the Clippers unless something changes.

15. SACRAMENTO KINGS

Boogie, baby.
I was pretty down on SacTown a few months ago, but GM Nick astonishingly turned Gorgui Dieng into Tim Duncan, Marcus Morris and a first round pick all within the span of a few days. This team is now a lot deeper and a lot more talented, and Boogie is definitely big enough to carry the Kings back into the playoffs for a second year. This team is way deeper than it was a month ago and will be competitive every night with potentially three different players grabbing a double-double every time they play in Boogie, Duncan and Lopez. There are no majorly glaring holes, although Crawford and Nelson have some questions about them. Still, though, when you have Boogie, you ought to be competitive. Sacramento has no shot at running away with the division like they did last year, but the Kings are still a pretty good squad.

14. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

A make or break season for Melo and the Cavs.
LeBron and Carmelo, no matter what questions surround them, are still two of the best offensive players in the NBA, and that’s enough to compete in the East. If things go well for the Cavs, they will end up being better than 14th, but there will always be a shadow of doubt and this team hinges on the two stars. Even so, Morris and Dray are both great players and Pachulia is in for a bigger role this season, so that could be enough to keep them fighting if something were to happen to one or both of LeBron and Melo. Cleveland could use some help at guard (Burke has purportedly sucked noodles and could lose his job to Burks; Harris and Meeks are bench fodder) and center, but they’ve got the best group of forwards in the league by a comfortable margin. This will be a hit or miss season for the Cavs.

13. SAN ANTONIO SPURS

What? Only 13th?
One of the more interesting teams, if for nothing else than for the massive turnover. This squad is extremely guard-heavy right now, which doesn’t really bode well in a league that rewards big men on an unbalanced scale. There’s also the matter of injuries. Holiday (who can just never seem to stay healthy) is on a 15-minute restriction until who knows when, Evans just had knee surgery that will keep him benched for two months, Jennings is still rehabbing from a torn Achilles and Mike Dunleavy has Old Man Back Syndrome. Still, there is more than enough talent here to make you look twice – or 10 times. Kawhi Leonard is an absolute legend already, and pairing him with a big like Towns has every GM salivating. What a foundation. The supporting cast is all very interesting, but they do all have their questions. Paul Pierce: How many minutes can this guy realistically play at his age? Dieng: Towns, KG, Pekovic and maybe even Bjelica all probably get the nod over him, right? Turner: How much will he be handling the ball with all the new guards in Boston? Lin: What is this guy, really? Despite all that, I still think that somehow, some way, the Spurs have a decent shot at making the playoffs. With all this talent, there will be a way, however convoluted and complex, to squeeze enough production out of all of them to make for a pretty good team.

12. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

Play to your strengths, ZBo.
Minnesota falls outside the top 10 for a few reasons. Firstly, I think the league has become a lot better, making it harder for the Wolves to get those easy wins they got a lot of last year. Secondly, I have my doubts about this team’s depth. Love, ZBo and Teague are golden, but beyond that, I don’t see anybody doing much more than 25 points a game, at best. Allen, Brewer, Barnes and Bass are all way better real-life players than fantasy players, Pekovic is trending down in a major way and Aldemir and Rivers might just be the two worst players in the NBA right now. The Wolves are still a good team because of that top three, but I can’t help but see a bit of regression.

11. WASHINGTON WIZARDS

Face of the franchise.
Ah, the reigning champs. Outside the top 10? How? Two reasons: Wade and Chandler. Two of the players that were most crucial to the Wizards’ unlikely championship run are both now 33 years old and both have injury histories. I don’t like them this year. That being said, they also have two of the very best young guards in John Wall and Bradley Beal, both of whom I expect to make even bigger strides this year than they did last year, which is really saying something. This will be the year that Wall becomes a true household name, mark my words. And Beal will be an All-Star come February. I freaking love Julius Randle and think he’ll be great this year. I’m even high OJ Mayo, who has lost a lot of weight, looks sharper than ever and is in a contract year – and we all know nobody does better in contract years than shot-happy wing players. What keeps them out of the top 10 is depth. Caron Butler, Shabazz Napier and Luis Scola are not exactly what I would call a reassuring bench, and if Wade and/or Chandler go down, Washington might be screwed.
Next week: The top 10!

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 6 Recap

Week #6 was the week of the upset.  And not just a minor underdog knocks off a favorite.  The week of the massive upset.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 6 Recap

Consider:

  • Unbeaten Detroit was knocked off by 3-5 Chicago
  • Wild card contender Green Bay was beaten by previously 0-8 San Diego
  • Unbeaten Tampa Bay was defeated by Oakland
  • Defending Champion and 7-1 Pittsburgh was smacked by Arizona

Don’t get me wrong – Arizona and Oakland are playoff caliber teams.  But those four teams had a combined record of 28-4 and were beaten by four teams with a combined record of 14-18.  Oof.

Game of the Week: 

New England Patriots 223, Indianapolis Colts 203: Not an upset, but a big game with some serious playoff implications.  New England keeps rocking behind 37 points from Devonta Freeman and an offensive game where every single player scored in double figures.  Impressive.  Just straight impressive.  Indianapolis put up a good fight behind Luck and Edelman (who else) and a startlingly strong defensive performance featuring 33 points from some guy named Shaquil Barrett.  That said, once again, that Indy offense proved to be an Achilles Heel.  The Colts remain in the driver’s south in the AFC Who Cares division, but must find some sort of consistent O to not be an easy wild card out.  Most interesting is what this opens up in the AFC race, where fully four wild card contenders boast records of 6-3 or 7-2 (NE, Cleveland, Baltimore, and Oakland) and the South is likely to be won by a team with a .500 record or below.  It’s going to be a crazy race in the AFC.

Teams Rising:

San Diego Chargers: So THAT is how you get off the schneid.  Make a massive trade for three ballers and then watch those ballers (especially Travis Benjamin) put up a whole lot of points.  You score 241 against a playoff team and make everybody wonder what the heck happened those first few weeks of the season.  It’s too little too late for a team that is not 1-8, but San Diego just became one of the most interesting spoiler threats in the league – and a potential challenger in 2016.

Chicago Bears: Knock off an undefeated team and you get rising points.  Knock off an undefeated team in your own division and you get extra rising points.  Score 242 points to knock off that team when you are sitting at 3-5 and you assure yourself a place in the Rising list.  It wasn’t just that Chicago beat Detroit to hand the Lions their first loss, it was HOW they did it – 140 points on offense and the RETURN of Martavis Bryant, who led the team with 39 points.  And that was with a goose egg from Davante Parker.  Like San Diego, the Bears have the look of a team that could be much more formidable in the second half of the year than they were in the first half.

Arizona Cardinals: Fair’s fair.  I chastised the Cardinals last week for wasting opportunities to beat elite teams.  So they came out and bounced Pittsburgh.  It wasn’t exactly a beautiful game, as the Steelers struggled to their lowest output (144) in literally years and Arizona only put in a pedestrian 189 – but the Cardinals are 7-2, hold a 5 game lead in the NFC West, and now own a win over Pittsburgh.  That’s nicely done.  Rising sign granted.

Honorable Mention: Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints

 

Teams Falling:

Green Bay Packers: Some years, it’s just not your year.  That’s frustrating when it happens in any year.  It’s especially frustrating when you go above and beyond and pull off trade after trade in order to continue to compete in the face of horrific luck.  But man.  Sometimes you just feel snake bit and feel like you need to eat a 40 pound billy goat and hire an exorcist to try and break a curse.  One week after losing Jamaal Charles (Yet another STUD gone for the year for GB), the Packers get mauled by a San Diego team that has been winless all year and misses being the highest scoring team of the week by one measly point.  Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers get to cheerfully waltz past a Seattle squad that put up exactly HALF San Diego’s score and now sit one game up in the wild card.  Life isn’t fair sometimes.

Tennessee Titans: Not necessarily in the category of falling so much as the category of “missed opportunity” here.  The Titans had a golden opportunity to tie for the division lead with Indianapolis’ loss to the Patriots.  All they had to do was beat a previously 1-5-1 Miami team.  Instead, the Titans lost by 3, 202-199, and remain a game back of the Colts at 3-6, tied with the Texans for second place.  It’s not really a downward effort, as those 199 points definitely constitute a step in the right direction, and it might be more fair to classify Miami in the “200+ points out of nowhere” spoiler category.  But this was a week Tennessee could have used to make some serious hay.  They did not.

St. Louis Rams: Not much else to say here.  It’s a bye week, sure.  Not much was expected, sure.  But 77 points?  That deserves mention on the list, particularly with the dearth of utterly terrible performances.

Dishonorable Mention: Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins, Denver Broncos

 

Games to Watch for Week 7:

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Kansas City Chiefs: A pair of 7-2 division leaders square off.  This is an interesting game, because while it could ostensibly be a battle for a buy week, neither one of these teams has locked up a playoff spot yet in a powerful and wide open AFC.  The winner will be sitting pretty at 8-2, while the loser may find themselves fighting for their playoff lives.  Both teams will be a bit weak too, with Pittsburgh lacking a quarterback and KC down Gio Bernard, Randall Cobb, Jordan Reed, and potentially Jeremy Maclin and Tavon Austin as well.

Arizona Cardinals vs. Baltimore Ravens: Who plays big games every single week?  The Arizona Cardinals do!  Startling, given the state of their division.  Two weeks after a loss to Detroit and a week after a big win over Pittsburgh, the Cardinals get the other challenger for the AFC North for the first of two matchups, and will attempt to provide some balance in the division.

Carolina Panthers vs. Philadelphia Eagles: The two most likely wild cards in the NFC tangle this week in a compelling matchup.  The winner will have a nice cushion (including H2H tiebreaker) in the wild card standings, while the loser will slip a game closer to the ever lurking, never say die (but still pretty damn cursed) Packers.

 

2015-16 Preseason Power Rankings

Another trite cookie cutter column? Another trite cookie cutter column.

 

Things really shook up this offseason – more than I expected them to – and the end result is that the rich got richer, the poor got poorer and that somehow, in spite of that, competition overall is on the rise. When assembling these power rankings, I truly felt that very few of these teams are actually BAD – but then again, we all feel that way before the season actually starts, don’t we?

 

Another thing I noticed is that, holy crap, the Eastern Conference absolutely blows compared to the West. Eight out of the 10 teams listed here are from the East. Yikes. We could have multiple sub-.500 teams make the playoffs from the East, while there will be a lot of good teams in the West who will miss out.

 

So without further ado, I present to you, dear readers, my preseason power rankings. I’ll start by listing the bottom 10 here; stay tuned in the next weeks for the top 20!

 

P.S. Don’t get mad, it is not worth it to get mad.

 

30. BROOKLYN NETS

Swag off the charts.

Parting, as they say, is such sweet sorrow. The Nets experienced a near total overhaul, giving up all but four players from the original roster. But I’d do it again. Evans and Lopez were tough to part with. Real tough. I love both of those guys as players and they are both in for big seasons. However, they were my only players capable of contributing anything of note this year, so there was little point in having them hang around on this dog of a squad. I’d say flipping them for two picks in the top 10 in a deep draft class was the right way to go. It’s going to take a long, long time to rebuild the Nets, but there is some intriguing young talent already in place here that I’m hoping can develop nicely for me. Stanley Johnson, Mario Hezonja and Willie Cauley-Stein are now tasked with leading this team into the future, along with whatever player it is that gets drafted next year with what will undoubtedly be a top 5 pick – and all but certainly the no. 1 if not for the lottery system.

 

29. BOSTON CELTICS

The future.

Boston has a lot of terrific assets for the future, but it’s unlikely that they’ll all start paying dividends right now. D’Angelo Russell and Justise Winslow set a solid foundation for a decent team in three or four years, and Justin Anderson and Jusuf Nurkic should emerge as key role players, but for now there will be growing pains. However, with useful vets like Terrence Jones hanging around, I can see Boston playing spoiler in a few key matchups this season. Boston will be a fun team to watch down the road, but don’t expect much this season.

 

28. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

Luol Deng is the undisputed leader in OKC, but how long will he stick around?

Oklahoma City is now admittedly in full rebuild mode. Out with the old and in with the new has been GM Ric’s motto of late, as the team dumped grizzled veterans Pierce, Lee and Duncan for a slew of new young faces. It might take a while for anything to come of this, but at the very least OKC has a bunch of low salary, low risk, low ceiling players and a ton of tradeable assets. Deng, Zeller and Portis and Payne are the players to watch here, but I don’t think the rest help out the Thunder too much this season. Deng in particular, given his age and contract, is a prime candidate for a midseason trade to some team hunting a playoff berth. OKC had a terrific campaign last season, but with the loss of Whiteside and no cap room, it was time to hit the reset button. Knowing how this team operates, though, it probably shouldn’t take long for things to change and for the Thunder to become competitors again.

 

27. DETROIT PISTONS

Is Andre Drummond capable of shouldering the load in Detroit?

Detroit made it to the playoffs a season ago on the backs of their free agency pickups. They could very well do that again if they hit bingo like they did last time, but for now, there isn’t a ton of upside in the Motor City. Andre Drummond is a stud, but he’s the only player on the roster who averaged more than 20 points a game apart from Tristan Thompson (who might hold out well into the season), KJ McDaniels (whose production unfortunately plummeted upon being traded away from Philly, which was a real shame because god damn is he fun to watch) and Gerald Henderson. The Pistons are going to have to rely on a lot of good minutes from the likes of Jonas Jerebko, Isaiah Canaan and Kosta Koufos, and that just really isn’t an exceptionally comfortable look. On the positive side of things, though, Detroit still has about $50 million in cap space, so a midseason move or two isn’t out of the question, and Detroit could make some noise if other teams in the East fail to meet expectations. There is certainly a lot of room for upward mobility in the East.

 

26. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

Danny Green and Michael-Carter Williams are fine players, but Philadelphia must surround them with bigger, stronger talent to claim the Atlantic crown.

The Sixers are a team that strikes me as being on the cusp of being the best team in the Atlantic, but right now they’re kind of in a no man’s land. The team still does not have a starting power forward (although that should change when Fantrax realizes Frank Kaminsky is not a center). Philly has a good bunch of players – MCW, Green, Frank and Grant – who are either already contributing meaningful minutes or are about to start doing so, and Chandler and Morrow are intriguing role players whose roles could become big for their teams depending on how things shake out (I personally think the Nuggets will trade Chandler at some point this year). The squad needs to add a lot more depth and some true, dependable talent before they even start to think about being considered anything other than an “interesting” team, but keep an eye on them (someone has to).

 

25. NEW YORK KNICKS

All up to you, DJ.

DeAndre Jordan can only do you so much good. Beyond Joe Johnson, I don’t see anyone here being anything more than a role player. New York is actually on the verge of building something nice here, with emerging youngsters like RHJ, Zeller and even Beverley, but with old guys like JR Smith and borderline NBA players like Jeff Ayres and Nate Wolters still hanging around, this roster confuses me a bit. Jordan will keep doing his thing, but you just can’t hang your hat or rely on anyone else.

 

24. CHARLOTTE HORNETS

Otto Porter must take the next step if Charlotte is to succeed this season.

After a snafu in the offseason, the Hornets are left in a rough spot. They brought in a bunch of young talent, but yikes, on some pretty questionable contracts to say it as politely as possible. Kemba and Jefferson, the core foundation of the team, should have nice seasons again, but beyond them I have some questions. People are raving about Otto Porter, and I agree he has looked like he’s improving, but can he really handle that starting small forward role that has been so critical in Washington of late with Paul Pierce and Trevor Ariza manning that spot? I have my doubts. Bogut, of course, is a monster when he’s on the court – but he’s just not on the court enough. The rest of Charlotte’s notable players – Aminu, Bazemore, Kanter and Bradley – are either almost-there-but-not-quite in terms of reaching their peak talent or in a logjam at their positions on their teams. Ironically, the players I like most on this team – Wroten, Grant and especially Capela – cannot be brought onto the active roster without cutting someone else and incurring significant salary cap hits that will last for years. I love a lot of the talent in Charlotte, but unless the Hornets get creative with some roster moves, they unfortunately won’t make a difference this season.

 

23. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

At least they’re still teammates somewhere…

Boy, it’s really hard to rank a team with Lillard, Aldridge and Butler this low, but for me there’s literally nothing else here for the Blazers this season. Guys like Porzingis and Harkless, while both intriguing prospects, are still total question marks. Ross has utterly failed to deliver in Toronto. Snell has looked awful this entire calendar year. Splitter has been relegated to a deep bench role on a $10 million salary. And the rest of the players are not worth mentioning. Portland’s stock could rise if Butler can take another big step forward (can he? I think he’s reached his ceiling), Aldridge proves to be a good fit as the main man in San Antonio (he absolutely will) and Lillard thrives as the undisputed lead player in Portland (though I think a crumble is more likely than a surge ahead), but right now, I don’t see it.

 

22. MIAMI HEAT

Things can go one of two ways in Miami this season.

Ok, this is where things started getting very tricky. Despite being in my bottom 10, Miami is not a bad team in my opinion – it’s just not a very good one, either. There’s a lot to like here – Bosh, Okafor and Dragic, for example. But there are also a lot of guys – Collison, Marvin Williams, Iguodala and Wright, for example – who are in for reduced minutes this season. Miami is the rare type of team in this league that has a lot of depth, but not a lot of meaningful depth. Somehow it just doesn’t feel right to rank the Heat this low, but I think their floor is a lot lower than the teams ahead of them because of playing time situations and potential injuries (this team has a lot of injury-prone dudes). Two players I like a lot on this team: Alec Burks and Jonas Valanciunas. Burks was killing it before getting injured last year and could take over at the point when Trey Burke inevitably disappoints. I believe this team has a lot of potential, and I can see them making me eat my words and faring much better than I have them ranked here. But for now, this is where I see this team at.

 

21. TORONTO RAPTORS

Will the new and improved Lowry bod be enough to take Toronto to the next level?

Yup, all five Atlantic Division teams are in the bottom 10. This division is a stinker, but the Raptors remain king of the stink. This team was in grave danger of falling into a bad place for a while there, but credit GM Ben for pulling off some moves and keeping this team relevant. Like I said in the summer, I see Toronto repeating as division champs, but only just. From everything I’ve seen and read, Kyle Lowry looks like a new man, and if he is, the Raptors walk away with the Atlantic. The jury is out for me, though. And there are still enough question marks in the starting lineup for me to hand them the crown outright. I think the key aspect of this Toronto team that will shape how things go for them this year is the rookies. The Raptors have four of them, all with nice potential, and they could be flipped for a more NBA-ready asset come crunch time to help them compete with much tougher competition in the playoffs. If the Raptors can land a solid frontcourt player, I think things can go well for them in the postseason. But for now they’re in danger of being a one-and-done team once again.

 

Thanks for reading, pals, and as always, I want to hear your comments! Who is ranked too low here? Who isn’t in the bottom 10 but deserves to be? Let’s hear some opinions!

Real Deal (Football) Report Recap Week #5

So I took my bye week earlier in the year than I usually prefer to – my sincere apologies about that!  It’s been for very good reasons (or bad ones, depending on your take) – something in the realm of 105 hours of work in the span of 7 business days.  Yech.

But we’re back to recap week #5 just in time for week #6.  And as we often see at the midway point, teams are settling into clear “have” and “have not” buckets.  By my highly scientific calculations we have 9 AFC times with a legitimate shot at the playoffs and 7 NFC teams.  That also means that there are 16 teams that have basically been eliminated – half the league.

Finish Reading: Real Deal (Football) Report Recap Week #5

AFC Teams with a shot: Buffalo, New England, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland, Kansas City, Oakland

AFC Teams with little shot: Miami, NY Jets, Cincinnati, Houston, Jacksonville, Denver, San Diego

NFC Teams with a shot: NY Giants, Philadelphia, Detroit, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Carolina, and Arizona

In truth, it’s worse in the NFC where the four divisions have already basically wrapped up.  The Giants, Detroit, Tampa, and Arizona are going to win their divisions.  And Philly, Green Bay, and Carolina are competing for two playoff spots.

So, there will be a lot of drama… but also a lot of meaningless games moving forward. Here’s hoping next year that there’s more competitive balance across the league!

Game of the week: Ummm…. I’m going to give it to you straight.  Last week was possibly the most underwhelming, boring, and uncaptivating week in the history of RDFL.  There was only one game where both teams scored over 200 points (Pitts 234 – SD 209), and one of those teams was 0-8 prior.  The closest score was 18 points (GB 142 over St. Louis 124).  We had a couple of divisional games (Oak 205-Den 169, Cle 225-Bal 149, Ind 170-Hou 147), and a division leader matchup (Det 197-Ari 172).  Anyone find any of those particularly compelling?  Me either.  No dramatic close finishes.  No great games.  Meh.  NO GAME OF THE WEEK!  DO BETTER!!!!!

Teams Rising:

New England Patriots: So I’ll be honest.  I did not expect at the beginning of the year that one of the teams that would be competing strongly for an AFC playoff spot would be New England.  And if you had told me that they would have beaten Dallas by SEVENTY, I would have laughed you out of the room.  But there they are.  5-3.  One game back in the East and tied for the second wild card spot, coolly obliterating the reigning NFC Champions.  Tyrod Taylor (22), Devonta Freeman (39!), Thomas Rawls (31) and Jamison Crowder (19) led the way.  The Patriots moves don’t always make sense on the surface, but finding these gems is strong work.  Now the question is, can the young guys keep it going into playoff town?  Particularly as Beast Mode returns and Tyrod seeks to hold onto the Buffalo QB gig?

Cleveland Browns: Welcome to the portion of the show where I eat crow.  Again. I feel like I eat crow every week.  I must like the stuff.  Cleveland was a team that I saw competing for the AFC North basement.  Instead, like New England, they just busted out a strong performance to obliterate a competitive team – in this case a competitor in their own division.  Cleveland’s 225-149 shellacking of the Ravens came behind Gary Barnidge (33), Blake Bortles (30), and Isaiah Crowell (15), another set of rising folks entering into nice situations.  I tend to think that Cleveland’s game is a little less replicable than New England’s – but that their Baltimore win is a little more impressive.

Indianapolis Colts: Every.  Single.   Year.  Every year I say I just can’t see it for Indy.  Every single year they end up at the top of their division.  I don’t get it.  It doesn’t make sense.  I cannot figure out how on earth the Colts are scoring any points.  But voila.  After a 170-147 win over Houston with Andrew Luck putting up a nice, purdy goose egg, the Colts are in familiar territory, a game up on Tennessee in the AFC “Does anybody want to win this?  Anybody at all?” division.  Julian Edelman continues to put up insane numbers, and the defense is keeping the Colts in it.  If New England, Cleveland, and Indianapolis all make the playoffs, I will… well… let’s be real here.  I won’t do anything differently.  I already know I’m no good at this prediction nonsense, but I’m honored to be constantly wrong for your reading pleasure!

Honorable Mention: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, New York Giants

Teams Falling:

Baltimore Ravens: Karma.  Regression to the Mean.  Whatever you want to call it, it’s hitting Baltimore right in the face.  And by face, I mean fantasy scoreboard.  After being the luckiest of teams in its 6-0 start, the Ravens have run out of luck the last couple of weeks and hit an absolute luck wall in week 5. You can argue that it was a bye-week blitz for Baltimore, who only played 17 players in their loss to Cleveland, but after back to back divisional losses and a downward scoring trend, the Ravens really need a bounceback game to stave off all of the AFC’s wildcard hopefuls who are chomping at their heels.

Denver Broncos: Denver has stayed near the top of the AFC West all season, and has been a perennially good team since the founding of the league.  But Manning’s decline and the Broncos in RDFL seem to be happening in lockstop.  Besides Anquan Boldin’s 29 pointer, the once high powered Denver offense managed only 26 points against division rival Oakland.  What’s worse, the Broncos fall a game back of the wild card and to third in the West, and are only 19th in total fantasy points.   Denver’s point totals by week thus far this season are: 150, 212, 136, 158, 169.  Week 2 is looking like the anomaly rather than the trend, and the Broncos don’t get any favors from the schedule – the next time they play one of the 15 other eliminated teams is Chicago in week 11.

Arizona Cardinals: I could definitely go other directions here (New Orleans and Atlanta both leap to mind), but I’m going to stick with a team that I still think is a lock for the division – largely because I’m not sure when I’m going to talk about them for the rest of the year.  The 6-2 Cardinals have already clinched their division with a massive talent gap over SF, St. Louis, and Seattle, all rebuilding squads.  But they are also a solid two games back now of the rest of the undefeated NFC power players.  6-2.  #4 seed.  It’s basically already a done deal for the Cardinals.  Not a bad place to be.  But they had a chance for more this week against Detroit and a benched Matthew Stafford, but couldn’t get it done, despite the triumphant return of Arian Foster to fantasy relevance.  The Cardinals scored only 162 points and had too many zeroes in the lineup for anyone’s comfort.  Arizona will have a few more shots at relevance as they run the AFC North gauntlet the next four weeks (Pitts, Cleveland, and two vs. Baltimore), but their shot at a bye may already be history.

Dishonorable Mentions: New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, and Parity

 

Games of the Week: Can it get better this week?  Here’s hoping!

New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Or, otherwise known as “When the Giants officially win the AFC East.”  That’s not a knock on Philly by any stretch of the imagination.  But the Giants have played the role of “massacre all comers”, Philly is coming off a couple of merely fair performances, and Jason Witten is chilling out on his bye week.

Arizona Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Cardinals get another chance to knock off a division powerhouse, albeit one in the AFC when they play the Steelers this week.  Pittsburgh is doing just fine riding Le’Veon Bell to an inevitably victorious conclusion and don’t seem particularly vulnerable, even with Ben Roethlisberger out.  They will have a short-handed defense due to the bye, but can Arizona muster the firepower to prove its record is a function of true talent and not a weak division?

Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots: I am not going to watch this game because it is going to make me feel like a dope, but this is a very real game with very real playoff implications for both teams.  The logistics of this game favor the Colts, as New England faces life temporarily without Tyrod Taylor, and potentially without Thomas Rawls if Marshawn Lynch truly can make it back.   Moreover, Andrew Luck should be back for Indianapolis and should have to throw quite a bit against the Patriots.  Moreover, while NE is losing players, the Colts added Charcandrick West on a massive 10+ million salary.  Big game, with the tangibles trending towards Indy.

Oakland Raiders vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Two Bays.  Only one winner.  Tampa Bay doesn’t need this game nearly as much as Oakland does, but would certainly like to keep the streak going.  This game is fascinating as it features a bye week game between two teams who rely very little on their franchise players to put up points.  Oakland still leads in the star power department, but has struggled to put together breakout performances.  The Raiders are also lacking their entire special teams for this one.

Good luck in week 6 everyone!

 

2015 Draft Grades

One of the worst annual sports columns members of the national media write are draft grades. Seriously, we have no idea how a lot of these guys will turn out. Like, remember when Michael Jordan was the third pick in the 1984 draft? Or how Kevin Durant was picked after Michael Beasley? How can you grade something based entirely on unknown qualities? Draft grades are so dumb.
Anyway, here’s some draft grades.
ATLANTA: C+
PICKS: Aaron White (57)
An ok pick for value, though not an immediate helper and not a particularly exciting prospect. White will play in the German league for a year before theoretically coming back and playing in the NBA. He would have definitely been better served to stay home and play in the D League, but whatever. An ok stash pick, but there were better options on the board to stash, and given Atlanta’s depth issues, the right choice here would have been to go for someone who at least had an outside chance of being on an NBA roster this season.
BOSTON: A+
PICKS: DeAngelo Russell (2), Justice Winslow (10), Justin Anderson (18), RJ Hunter (29), Montrezl Harrell (30), Rakeem Christmas (33)
Lots of picks here, lots of good ones. I’m not personally a fan of Winslow but he was the clear-cut choice at no. 10. Russell could thrive or crumble in LA, and I’d have taken Okafor at that spot, but there’s no doubting Russell’s upside, passing and shooting ability so I can’t critique the choice. You’d have to think Byron Scott limits him somewhat because he’s Byron Scott, but if Russell ever gets in the right system he could be a Mike Conley type with way better shooting and slightly better passing. Anderson, Hunter and Harrell were all great choices. I like Anderson to start contributing right away and can see him evolving into a hyper-athletic Danny Green type. Hunter is a bit inconsistent with that shot but he can drain it from anywhere on the court when he’s on. Harrell somehow slipped way further than he probably should have. And I love Rakeem Christmas. He might never play more than 15 minutes a game in his career, but Indiana signed him to a four-year deal this summer with three years guaranteed, so you have to believe there’s some hope for him within the organization. Well done here by the Celtics, who got both quality and quantity.
BROOKLYN: A
PICKS: Stanley Johnson (5), Mario Hezonja (7), Willie Cauley-Stein (9), Kevon Looney (31), Cedi Osman (37), Jarell Martin (40)
Some believe Stan may have been a reach at 5, but he’s my favorite player in this draft class and should be great in the NBA right off the bat. Plus, getting Hezonja and Trill at value helps justify the pick. These three immediately become the best players on a real dog turd of a team. But they’re a solid foundation and I’d make these picks 100 times out of 100. I was also quite glad to nab Looney in the second round. He’s out until February with an injury, but he’s far better than the 31st best player in this draft. Osman is a stash player who I think would have been close to a lottery choice if more people knew about him and if he were going to be in the league sooner. And I was also very happy to grab Martin 15 spots lower than he went in the NBA draft. He’s iffy and not particularly a master of any one skill but the hope is he can put it all together under the strict tutelage of the Memphis coaching staff. Hopefully I’ve done a better job here than my predecessor, who last fall owned two of the top three picks and failed to show up to make either selection. And that’s how Wiggins ended up in Chicago. Oh well. It’s been a tooth-and-nail process so far clawing back up from the very bottom of the league in terms of value and assets, but hopefully I’m on the right track. Talk to me in 2021 or so.
CHARLOTTE: C
PICKS: Larry Nance (39)
Nance was a weird choice here, but not as weird as it was when the Lakers drafted him in the first round. This is a guy who could have easily gone undrafted and might not be in the league this time next year. Charlotte needed another big for the future, sure, but there were still guys like Hernangomez, Holmes, Martin and others on the board.
CHICAGO: N/A
PICKS: none
Chicago, with a full roster, smartly traded out of the second round.
CLEVELAND: F
PICKS: 2-23 (skipped)
Not showing up is an automatic F.
DALLAS: N/A
PICKS: none
No choice but to give an incomplete here, but worth noting that Dallas was once the owner of picks 5, 6 and 13 this year.
DENVER: A
PICKS: Devin Booker (16), Nikola Radecevic (46)
Wow, what a great value pick Booker is here. I definitely buy into the Klay Thompson comps that Booker is getting and he’s a steal at pick 16. Could have easily gone top 10; I was strongly considering him at no. 9. Radicevic is a nice stash pick. I have no idea when he’ll come to the NBA, but he’s one of the better Euro prospects in this draft.
DETROIT: C
PICKS: Terry Rozier (20), Arturas Gudaitis (50)
I’m not a big fan of Rozier’s game to begin with, and I’m not sure I see how he helps this Detroit team. He’s in a terrible situation in Boston; he’s essentially a worse version of Marcus Smart and he’ll be stuck behind him in the rotation until one of them leaves. Smart, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Evan Turner, RJ Hunter and even James Young should all play ahead of him, leaving virtually no room for Rozier. If grabbing a point guard was the idea, Delon Wright, Cameron Payne and Tyus Jones were all still available. Personally, I thought Rozier would have fallen to the second round – both here and in the actual NBA draft. Gudaitis was a better choice and a good stash prospect, but we probably won’t see him for a while.
GOLDEN STATE: A
PICKS: Myles Turner (6)
Very slick move by Golden State here to trade up and nab Turner, who a lot of people think will have the best rookie season out of anyone. I’m not one of those guys, but I do love his sky-high potential and the promise of multiple threes and blocks per game is very tantalizing. Injury concerns are a problem – just look at the guy – but worth noting that he never got banged up at Texas. Definitely worth the gamble for Golden State, who has the best looking roster, top to bottom, in the league.
HOUSTON: N/A
PICKS: none
INDIANA: A
PICKS: Emmanuel Mudiay (4), Trey Lyles (15), Chris McCullough (25), Dakari Johnson (32)
I spent all summer clamoring to get more high picks because I was targeting Mudiay. A great pick for Indiana at no. 4. Don’t you guys remember when Mudiay was the undisputed number 1 prospect in his draft class a year ago? Just because he played in China doesn’t mean all that talent went away. I love the pick and I expect big things out of Mudiay. He reminds me of a bulkier John Wall and could produce similar numbers, if at a slightly lower tier. I’m not huge on Lyles and it could take a while for him to get enough playing time in Utah’s deep frontcourt, but there’s no way he was getting past Jazz fan Mike at 15, where he was ultimately a good value pick. Plus, there’s always room for a stretch 4 in today’s game. Nets coach Lionel Hollins referred to Chris McCullough as the team’s “2016 lottery pick” since he’s out injured for a while, but that is honestly very optimistic. Still a good pick for a rebuilding team that doesn’t need him to be good right away, though. And Daraki Johnson could developed into a very nice backup center. Nicely done by Indiana.
LA CLIPPERS: A
PICKS: Josh Richardson (44)
Word out of Summer League is that the Heat love Josh Richardson and are trying hard to carve out minutes for him, which makes him a smart pick by Clippers GM Howard 44th overall. Miami is extremely deep on the wings (Wade, Deng, Winslow, Green) but there is some hope of Richardson playing significant minutes. A great shooter and a good defender.
LA LAKERS: B+
PICKS: Robert Upshaw (36), Richaun Holmes (45)
Upshaw could be the steal of the draft if he keeps his shit together, but he could also end up totally busting. It wouldn’t be the end of the world to have a second round pick turn out to be a zero, though, so he was well worth the gamble for LA. Richaun Holmes should have no problem finding minutes in Philly, either, so I’m a big fan of that pick.
MEMPHIS: A-
PICKS: Joseph Young (21), Luka Mitrovic (51)
Joe Young is a scoring machine and I was hoping to swipe him in round two. Great pick here by Memphis. Young should play a big role in an Indiana offense that is rapidly evolving toward speed and shooting. Mitrovic is a terrific stash. He’s an ideal modern power forward in terms of size, speed and ball handling ability. Two very smart picks by the Grizzlies.
MIAMI: A
PICKS: Jahlil Okafor (3), Sam Dekker (11), Juan Pablo Vaulet (44)
No choice but to give an A here because I just think Okafor is great value at third overall. He should make an impact right away solely by virtue of the fact that he’s the only player in Philly who can do a damn thing on offense. Dekker was a bit of a reach at 11, but it’s a good pick when you factor in that he will be playing right away and helping Miami compete. Vaulet is a decent stash. Miami looked iffy heading into the season, but these two rookies make the team better right away.
MILWAUKEE: A-
PICKS: Delon Wright (22), Cliff Alexander (49)
Given his age and experience, Wright should be able to contribute instantly as a very good backup point guard; I can see him filling the Greivis Vasquez role in Toronto perfectly from day one. Cliff Alexander I’m not so sure about – he’s kind of a bum – but as a second round flyer, he’s certainly worth taking the small risk on.
MINNESOTA: B
PICKS: TJ McConnell (55), Andrew Harrison (58)
Two ok grabs here at the end of the draft. I loved watching McConnell play in college, but I just don’t see him panning out in the NBA at all. Harrison, however, might be a different story. I think people got pretty down on him over the past season or two to the point where he’s now almost underrated. Playing in Memphis will be great for his attitude and learning from Mike Conley can only be a good thing. For value, he was a good pick at 58th overall. I’d like to see him find success as a pro.
NEW ORLEANS: N/A
PICKS: none
NEW YORK: C
PICKS: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (17), 2-17 (skipped)
I’m averaging out how much I like the Hollis-Jefferson pick (A) with how much I hate skipping the second round (F). Rondae is going to become a fan favorite in Brooklyn and will be a significant part of the Nets’ next chapter as the team transitions to more youth and athleticism. RHJ was one of the best defenders in this draft, but his offense has a long way to go. He should play a lot of minutes this year and help the Knicks compete for the division title.
OKLAHOMA CITY: B+
PICKS: Bobby Portis (13), Anthony Brown (23) Pat Connaughton (26), Guillermo Hernangomez (42) 2-22 (forfeited), Ryan Boatright (54), Terran Petteway (59)
OKC GM Ric’s offseason goal is pretty clear here: quantity over quality. The Thunder made a ton of free agent signings and then elected to bring five rookies into the mix, raising the total number of players on the active roster to 20, with four more injured and in the minors. OKC will have to cut seven players by opening night. Luckily, almost all of these new faces have low enough salaries that cutting them will incur no penalty, and there are some easy cuts to make here for sure. As for the quality of the picks, I like all of them except Pat Connaughton, who I think was a stretch at 26 and is more of a mid- or late-second round talent. However, I love Bobby Portis, and it appears OKC does too, as the team sacrificed Tim Duncan and a first rounder next year just to grab him. Portis had a great Summer League, posting 14.5 points and 8.7 rebounds (albeit on a shaky 42 percent shooting). He’s a great prospect with elite size and athleticism and pretty nice shooting range. Definitely fell way too far in the real NBA draft and it’s awesome to see him get some recognition here. However, I’m not totally in love with trading up that high for the pick – especially when it involves giving away as much as OKC did. Summer League stats are often a trap (remember when Glen Rice won Summer League MVP two summers ago?) and Portis will struggle for minutes against Gasol, Gibson, Noah and Mirotic, all of whom are much further along in their careers and are arguably a lot more talented. I’m a big fan of Anthony Brown and was hoping he would fall to me in the second round. Boatright and Petteway are two undrafted rooks who will definitely make rosters and could play a role on their teams this season. Hernangomez is a very nice stash who reminds me of a softer Tiago Splitter. The Thunder have some work to do with chiseling out this roster, but like I said, there are some very easy cuts to make right
away and I applaud the idea of building the team up via the draft.
ORLANDO: N/A
PICKS: none
PHILADELPHIA: A
PICKS: Frank Kaminsky (12), Jerian Grant (14), JP Tokoto (35)
Trading away their own first rounder hurts pretty bad, especially because it ended up being the third overall pick. Ouch. Still not a bad haul here at 12 and 14 for Philly, but that will sting for a while. Kaminsky is a guy with a lower ceiling than most other lottery picks, but also a pretty high floor. You know what you’re gonna get from Frank the Tank and he will start contributing from day one on a Charlotte team with no other big shooters worth mentioning. Jerian Grant should also thrive in New York’s stupid triangle offense. He’s a big guard who will primarily be passing and/or driving with the ball, which suits his game perfectly. JP Tokoto was a decent grab too, if a bit early, and best case scenario could develop into an ok energy guy off the bench. These picks make Philly a very intriguing team and a lot more competitive in the Atlantic Division. With established players like Michael Carter-Williams, Danny Green and Wilson Chandler already on the roster, I’d be a bit nervous if I were Toronto or the Knicks. The 76ers could be a few moves away from making a push for the division crown, and no, I’m not kidding.
PHOENIX: N/A
PICKS: none
PORTLAND: A-
PICKS: Kristaps Porzingis (8), Jordan Mickey (38)
Was grabbing Porzingod at pick 8 a homer reach or a savvy value pick? I have no idea. I really have no idea about this guy. He could be the next Dirk or he could be out of the league by January and a distant memory this time next year. There were definitely safer players here, Porzingis’ upside is appealing. I love the kid’s attitude and would like to see the big Latvian make waves in the NBA, but the jury is still out for me. If I had to guess, I’d say he ends up being somewhere between Andrea Bargnani and Pau Gasol. Wide gap, I know, but sheesh this guy is hard to project. Jordan Mickey has a much more projectable game and will probably turn into a pretty ok NBA player. It’s just a shame he’s stuck in that logjam of mediocre big men in Boston.
SACRAMENTO: A-
PICKS: Rashad Vaughn (34)
Sacramento cleaned up on draft day with some masterful trading down. Essentially, the Kings transformed Gorgui Dieng and a future 2nd round pick into Tim Duncan, Marcus Morris and a future 1st round pick. Not too bad at all. It was quite a savvy set of moves as the roster improved in a big way both for the present and the future. This team looked a bit shaky before the draft but now I’d say they’re ready to go places. Duncan is a huge upgrade over Dieng for this season and Morris was a nice pickup too. Sacramento gets an A-, not necessarily for their pick, but for how smooth their moves were on draft day. Well done. (For what it’s worth, I am not a fan of Rashad Vaughn’s game, but I like the pick at that spot because of his youth and potential as a scorer.)
SAN ANTONIO: A
PICKS: Karl-Anthony Towns (1), Branden Dawson (43)
Towns was the obvious choice and should emerge as the best player from this draft class in due time. Trading away the 5th and 6th picks was a bold choice, but their top eight looks a lot better now than it did a week ago because of that. The Spurs are miraculously back under the cap and looking like a competitor in the West.
TORONTO: B
PICKS: Kelly Oubre (19), Norman Powell (28), Christian Wood (48), Jonathan Holmes (56)
I’m a big fan of Oubre’s game and think he can blossom into a special player. Powell was a decent choice and looked great in Summer League, but there were definitely more talented players on the board there and he might have been a stretch in the first round. Neither really fills a position of need. The Raptors are in need of a big man and it’s not likely that either first round rookie will make a big impact on the wings for them. Wood is well worth the gamble at 48th overall and I think Holmes can turn into a nice role player, but it’s a shame for Toronto that all of the good bigs in this draft were already spoken for.
UTAH: A-
PICKS: Tyus Jones (27)
Utah smartly traded out of the 10th pick – nobody there really could’ve helped the team this year – and grabbed Tyus Jones, who I think is pretty underrated and has more promise for the future than, say, George Hill. Pretty good move there.
WASHINGTON: F
PICKS: 2-30 (skipped)
Even for Mr. Irrelevant, you have to at least show up.