Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 7 Recap

Ten games in and 23 teams still have legitimate, solid playoff aspirations.  That is not a bad competitive season!  It was a bit of a low scoring week 7, with only 8 teams reaching or breaking the 200 point barrier, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t some associated drama.

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

Game of the Week: New England Patriots 206, PIttsburgh Steelers 202

Well, this one definitely lived up to its billing.  The outcome was in doubt literally the entire weekend.  It wasn’t over until Brock Osweiler staggered home with ten points on Monday night, staving off a combined 12 points by the two Monday night Steeler defenders.  When the dust settled, the Patriots had a four point win behind a combined 100 points from Jamison Crowder, Mike Wallace, Frank Gore, and Delanie Walker.  Talk about some unexpected gems that have been huge contributors for the Pats!  Le’Veon Bell scored 30 in a losing effort for Pittsburgh, and the Steeler defense was outstanding – but without Ben Roethlisberger, a zero at the QB spot was too big to overcome.  With the result, the Patriots stay in front of the Wild Card Line at a nice, solid 7-3.   The Steelers, meanwhile, fall to 5-5.  Still a great team.  Still within striking distance.  But they need to move soon.

 

Teams Rising:

Buffalo Bills: It’s awesome to be undefeated.  But in some ways it sort of sucks to be the favorite and go undefeated.  Because then you never really rise.  You’re always meeting expectations, never exceeding them.  So it seems only fitting that this week we recognize the Buffalo Bills for hitting the 10-0 mark behind a quiet, workmanlike, ho-hum 228-98 thrashing of the Miami Dolphins.  Buffalo is on track.  They’ve scored the most points in the AFC and haven’t lost yet.  They haven’t really come anywhere close to losing.  Tyrod Taylor has been good at QB.  AJ Green and Gronk have been as awesome as expected.  Nobody’s even noticed this team hasn’t had AP.  The defense routinely hits the century mark even on a bad day.  Everything is going according to plan.  And that’s a fantastic plan.  It’s the best plan. Believe me.

Cleveland Browns: We mentioned last week that it was a week-to-week league, right?  Scuffling team?  Pair of abysmal performances in a row.  Facing the division leader who happens to be on a roll.  Tough, right?  No problem.  Cleveland bounces back with a 197-173 win behind huge games from Mike Evans (31) and Michael Crabtree (25).  The Bengals have some uncharacteristic struggles on offense (posting three goose eggs) and Cleveland is back in a tie for first place (and own the tiebreaker in a two-way tie).  Now admittedly, the defense remains a problem for the Browns (only 63 total points in week 7 and the last time the defense hit the century mark was in week 2), but things all of a sudden look a whole lot rosier for this somewhat less tortured than it used to be city.

Philadelphia Eagles: I confess that I’ve dogged Philly a bit and haven’t really bought into the hype.  The Eagles seemed like a mediocre team excelling against a weak schedule.  And to some degree, that’s borne out – Philly has scored the fewest points out of the twelve teams who would currently be in the playoffs.   But that’s two straight wins for Philly with solid point totals, and this recent one, a 235-138 pasting of Minnesota, was the third-highest score of the week.  Most exciting, question mark guys like Lance Kendricks, Brian Quick, Josh Huff, and, especially, Ty Montgomery, showed up to play this past week and seem to be finding real roles in their respective offenses.  Coupled with a pair of consecutive Giant losses, the Eagles stand only a game back (albeit without the tiebreaker) and the unthinkable is an actual possibility.

Honorable Mentions: Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts

Teams Falling:

New York Giants: Speaking of the G-Men, what on earth is going on?  After looking like they might not lose all season, the suddenly vulnerable Giants have lost two straight games, this one to the lowly LA Rams.  In a lot of ways, though, this is simple schedule misfortune and speaks more to the Ravens and Rams than it does to the Giants.  Combined between the two weeks, New York has still averaged over 200ppg – it’s just that the Ravens and Rams have combined for 511.  Way over both of their season averages.  There are genuine concerns for the Giants (again on defense), where only two week seven starters reached double figures.  But they’ll be fine.  This is more a testament to the fantastic game played by the Rams, who got 20+ points from six players.  LA has been knocking on the door, but this was the signature win the program needed.  Now to see if they can build on it.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Yeesh.  After a gift 116-112 win over Minnesota, the Bucs apparently got the message that they could coast and win against lesser competition.  That was the wrong message, and it bit them in a big way in week 7, as the San Francisco 49ers staggered across the finish line in a compellingly ugly 166-161 sloth race.  The Buc defense came to play and put up 122 points behind a 60 point performance from the D-Line of Emmanuel Ogbah, Jaye Howard, Gerald McCoy, and Jadaveon Clowney.  But that offense… something needs to change fast.  It was a 28.5 point “Seahawk-esque” showing for an offense that got legitimate points (14) only from Emmanuel Sanders.  Quarterback issues loom large for the Bucs, and Tampa faces a daunting climb out of the basement in the brutal NFC South.

Tennessee Titans: With a golden opportunity to put away divisional rival Indianapolis for good, the Titans couldn’t muster the juice to get up for the game, struggling to a thoroughly mediocre 216-164 loss.  Both sides of the ball were similarly average, with 72 points on offense and 74 on defense.  The wrong kind of consistency.  Indy won with their characteristically stout defense, but also with a 74 point offensive game – the highest offensive total the Colts have posted since week 1.  As a result, the AFC South falls back into question, with Tennessee maintaining a meager 1 game lead over Houston (who beat Denver) with the Colts hanging gamely around at 5-5.

Dishonorable Mentions: New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars

Games of the Week:

Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers: The good ship Cardinal seems to have righted itself as Arizona has won three straight and caught up to Seattle to restore balance in what had been a bizarre NFC West.  Carolina remains its strong self, though it hasn’t put out a signature performance in a few weeks.  This isn’t necessarily a “need to have it” game for either side – both teams should be fine even with a loss – but it is a bragging rights game and just some good fantasy football between two excellent teams.  Should Arizona win this, it would be a psychological victory declaring their early-season struggles are history.

Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots: This is what you call “a shot at the champ”.  Does Buffalo need this game?  Nope.  Will they win through to top seed and a playoff bye regardless of the outcome?  Sure.  Does New England need this game?  It’s not desperate, but yeah, they could always use more wins.  Nah, this isn’t a “standings game” either.  What this is is is (yep, three is’s in a row and it’s right baby!) a surprisingly game New England team that is getting contributions from unexpected players throwing its best shot at the league bully.  A good game?  Who knows.  A must have?  Not really.  But drama?  Almost certainly.

Detroit Lions vs. Houston Texans: While Detroit calmly and quietly holds on to a two game advantage in the NFC North, beating exactly who they should beat and rarely facing a huge challenge, life has been a topsy turvy roller coaster for Houston.  After a rather uninspiring 150-137 win (still a win!) over the Denver Broncos, the Texans find themselves only a game back of the AFC South crown.  This IS a standings game.  Houston can’t afford a loss here.  Detroit could.  But best not let the Bears get too close…

Indianapolis Colts vs. Kansas City Chiefs: One big win down for Indy, another in the works?  A week after shutting down Tennessee in a must-win game, the Colts get another division leader in the Chiefs.  The key for the Colts will be to maintain their level of offensive play.  That defense can win against just about anybody, so if the offense can continue to score 75, that’s often going to be enough.  It’s been a challenge to point.  Some key pieces are out on both teams, with Indy losing three primary defensive pieces, and the Chiefs likely without Jordan Reed for yet another week and Tavon Austin on bye.

New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks: Now THIS is a standings game.  Both teams sit at a quite respectable 6-4.  Both teams badly need this game.  For New Orleans, it’s a function of a slow start and a tough division.   For Seattle, this is a function of really needing to win A game to slow down a recent funk.  In a big break for the Saints, Russell Wilson looks like he may miss this game, and Sterling Shephard is on bye, so this Seattle offense could look like…  ::haunting music:: last year!  A Halloween special.

Good luck everyone!

Division Previews: Western Conference

NORTHWEST DIVISION

1. UTAH JAZZ

This division is all Utah’s. Every player in the starting eight should be good for at least 30 points a game once Hayward and Zeller are back in full health. There are no star players here – the boring but always solid Horford and Hayward are probably as close as the Jazz get to that – but that doesn’t matter with depth like the type that Utah enjoys. This is a team that could finish very high in the West thanks to weak in-division competition.

 

2. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

Portland enjoys having two of the five Hooper family members.
Portland enjoys having two of the five Hooper family members.

Don’t look now, but this team might be a playoff contender. Reaping the benefits of the Aldridge trade, Portland already has a nice young core of Lillard and Butler. The acquisition of DeAndre Jordan means this team is in win-now mode, and with four 1sts next year, there are plenty of trade chips. Portland could use some more help in the supporting cast, which is pretty lacking outside of Rodney Hood. Regardless of what changes might be forthcoming for the Blazers, this is a team on the rise, and the decline of other teams in this division makes them a playoffs dark horse.

 

3. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

A team no longer in the business of winning division championships, the Wolves are looking for ways to get into the postseason again. Armed with a solid if not astounding core of Kevin Love and Jeff Teague, Minnesota has a lot on its roster in terms of end of the bench guys, but the supporting cast just isn’t anything special, or even average, at this point. Barring an unexpected surge from someone else, Minnesota’s third-best player this season will be either Jared Dudley or Jose Calderon. That’s just not good enough. Fortunately, though, Minnesota has some options here. If they decide to make a run, there are assets to be traded, including one of the two first round picks it owns and intriguing youngsters like the Powells and Kelly Oubre. If, however, they decide to hold off, there are plenty of veterans to auction off for picks and younger, cheaper guys. As presently constructed, the Wolves are just an ok team, but there’s a lot of flexibility here.

 

4. DENVER NUGGETS

Denver is about five good players away from being a contender, but what’s there is pretty good – at least in the backcourt. A trio of Booker, Smart and McCollum is a set-and-forget for at least the next 10 seasons at the top of the order. Beyond that, however, the Nuggets are lacking. Jaylen Brown, while exciting, is a total unknown as an NBA players. Faried may no longer be a double-double machine in Denver as the team continues to slowly phase him out. Horford’s arrival in Beantown mercifully sends Olynyk to the bench, and the talented Motiejunas is buried and unhappy in Houston. The entire bench could be cut and this team really wouldn’t be missing anything. This team is on the right track, but still very much in development.

 

5. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

The once-mighty Thunder are still reeling from a woeful 2015-16 season, during which OKC won just 1 single game. The Durant and Westbrook trades allowed OKC one season of success before rearing their ugly heads; now, it will take years for the Thunder to dig themselves out of this hole and become relevant again. The prognosis for 2016-17 remains grim, but the good news is that things are trending up – even if only a little bit. After a nice draft this month, the Thunder now have a young group that includes Bobby Portis, Tyler Ulis, Denzel Valentine, Furkan Korkmaz, Kay Felder and Cam Payne. None of those guys will develop into top players on a championship team, but it’s something. OKC’s mission this season is to get some more picks – they have no 1st rounders for the next two years and no picks at all next fall, which threatens to stall the rebuild significantly.

 

SOUTHWEST DIVISION

1. SAN ANTONIO SPURS

After taking over this team midway through the league’s first season, the Spurs lucked into the first pick and Karl-Anthony Towns, who is the best first overall pick since LeBron James. Combine KAT with Kawhi and Drummond and you have a lethal trio that should easily average 150 points per game by themselves. And even beyond those three, there’s a lot else to like here. Lin will be the showrunner for the Nets this season. Turner is a weird fit in Portland, but I can see it working. Dieng and Biyombo will collect double-doubles. Jennings and Booker are nice players to have on the bench. The Spurs are one of three teams I see vying for the top spot in the West.

 

2. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS

Trust the process!
Trust the process!

After two seasons of lying in wait, it’s finally time for the Pelicans to have a good season. Kyrie and AD have long been the cornerstone pieces of this franchise, and with midseason additions Eric Bledsoe and LaMarcus Aldridge, this team is looking really dangerous. The starting eight is rounded out by two high-upside players in Embiid (finally!) and MKG, and two very solid guards in Manu and CoJo. Plus, there’s Ben Simmons – but who knows if he’ll actually play this season. This team’s biggest problem will be injuries. AD is already banged up. I mentioned Simmons already. Bledsoe, MKG and Kyrie have all missed a lot of games over the past two years. And Embiid hasn’t played basketball in two years. If everything comes together, this team could be unstoppable. But that might be a big “if.”

 

3. HOUSTON ROCKETS

The Rockets finishing this low is no knock on them. The Southwest is by far the toughest division in the league this year and the two teams above them have just a little bit more juice. This is still a great team led by James Harden, who’s my MVP pick this season. I do have a few concerns about the rest of this team, however, though they are small. Can Deron Williams still be good? Will Barnes be a complete train wreck as a primary option? Will having three starters from the same team (Dallas) hurt the Rockets fantasy-wise? Will Joakim Noah stay healthy? Will Mozgov play under Luke Walton? Will anyone on the bench aside from Henderson contribute anything of consequence? I do think the Rockets will be just fine, but there are enough things about this roster that make me wonder if they can stay on top.

 

4. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

I never know what to say about this team because it’s always been so solid, and it appears they’ll remain so. It just sucks for them that the rest of this division is so good. The Grizzlies would be an easy playoff team in the East, but in the West’s Southwest Division, this team is going to take a pounding from the other top-tier teams. Injuries hampered their campaign last season, and now they’re without Eric Bledose, who’s off playing for a division rival. Still, much like the real Grizzlies, a team backed by Marc Gasol and Mike Conley should do pretty well. For Memphis to do really well, Carroll and Gordon are going to have to stay healthy and Green and Frazier will have to flourish in their new starting roles. Don’t know if I see any of that happening.

 

5. DALLAS MAVERICKS

I really hate ranking Dallas last, but the fact is that the Southwest is absolutely stacked. This team has a lot of really good young players like Noel, Crowder, Jokic and Mirotic, but there are too many unknowns in the starting eight for me to say that the Mavs will realistically be any better than San Antonio, New Orleans, Houston or Memphis. A backcourt of Seth Curry, James Ennis and Patrick McCaw doesn’t do much for me. Dallas might be able to make some moves, but more likely they just might have to ride out a long season.

 

PACIFIC DIVISION

1. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

There’s a lot of reason to think that the Warriors’ title defense will be pretty successful: namely, Steph Curry. Sure, he’ll score less, but with KD in town Curry will pile on more assists because Durant will make good on all the buckets Barnes would miss. He probably won’t score 30 a game anymore, but maybe he’ll average close to 10 assists. Klay’s value takes a hit with KD in town, but the rest of the starters can make up for that dip. KCP should have a big year as Detroit’s primary outside shooter, Plumlee continues to grow as a player, Teletovic will give much-needed spacing to Jason Kidd’s Bucks, Lopez is the only legitimate NBA player on the Nets, and Turner should make that next step sometime this season. The Middleton injury is a huge blow, and Golden State truly has no bench right now, but I don’t think that’s enough to stop them from emerging from the Pacific on top.

 

2. SACRAMENTO KINGS

The Kings might really need this year to be a big one. It’s the last time, probably, that they can count on Dirk and Wade to put up big numbers. They’re in great shape for this year, but it’s time to take the next step. Boogie is the kingpin for what should be a great team, and the supporting cast is quite good. Barton and Dellavedova were great pickups. Beal, if healthy, should continue to be very useful. Rudy Gay is a good fantasy player and that’s all I’ll say there. The bench, however, is seriously weak until Burks comes back. Sacramento might have to bulk up in order to stay near the top of the West, but either way, with Cousins in the middle, this is one of the league’s best teams.

 

3. PHOENIX SUNS

Russell Westbrook is going to absolutely light the world on fire this year, and that’s great news for the Suns, who might have the first player since the Big O to average a triple double (even if Westbrook’s come in the form of points, turnovers and missed 3s). Russ is truly where this team begins and ends: how successful the Suns are this year depends on how good he is. The rest of the squad, led by Thomas, Knight, Deng and a few decent bigs, can keep the Suns afloat if something goes wrong, but Russ is the key to this team reaching its full potential.

 

4. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

The Clippers are an interesting team. Much like the real Clippers, this might have to be this team’s last year rolling Blake and CP3 before some changes are made. Several off-season moves – such as their trade of next year’s pick and the signing of David West – send a message to the league that this team wants to win now. With this roster, I actually can see LA making some noise this year; the dynamic duo is backed by a slew of vets that include Korver, Frye, West and Lee, all of whom should produce reasonably this year. Josh Richardson is all that the team has in terms of youth, unless Luwawu or Onuaku have big rookie years out of nowhere. There’s a lot to like here – but there’s a lot more to like in Oakland, Sacramento and Phoenix.

 

5. LOS ANGELES LAKERS

How can a team that has Kevin Durant continue to underperform? I’m telling you, man, depth really matters in this league. The blockbuster deal that sent KD to LA ended up being a killer for both sides as the Lakers continue to struggle to put the right pieces around their superstar, whose fantasy value is taking a hit, by the way, playing next to Steph and Klay. Robin Lopez might end up being the Lakers’ second-best player. Tony Parker is still ok but has been declining for about five years. DRose could be a revelation in New York, or he could be a disaster. Nobody else on this team offers meaningful production. If I’m the Lakers, I try to get young quickly without letting go of Durant and start building an army, because this division is not getting any easier.

 

PLAYOFFS

1. GOLDEN STATE

2. SAN ANTONIO

3. SACRAMENTO

4. PHOENIX

5. UTAH

6. NEW ORLEANS

7. HOUSTON

8. PORTLAND

Division Previews: Eastern Conference

Basketball is finally almost here!

Let’s get to some predicting. Here, I give my guesses as to how the divisions will end up, and who makes the postseason.

 

ATLANTIC DIVISION

1. TORONTO RAPTORS

Toronto, for the third straight year, is going to walk into a division title just because it’s the only team in this division that isn’t a complete train wreck or deep in a rebuild. Lowry and DeRozan, as in real life, are a fine if not particularly riveting duo. Randolph and Gortat have historically been the leading second-tier contributors for the Raptors, but Gorat is in decline and Randolph is 35 and now coming off the bench in Memphis. And beyond that, Toronto doesn’t have too much going on. Ahead of a bench with no one particularly useful on it, the Raptors will be counting on big production from the likes of Dion Waiters, Patrick Patterson and Omri Casspi, which doesn’t sound too promising for Toronto’s playoff run – especially considering how good some other teams in the East are becoming.

 

2. NEW YORK KNICKS

New York made one of the biggest off-season trades by trading DeAndre Jordan for the younger hometown kid with more potential: Kristaps Porzingis. A great move for the Knicks, which sets a foundation for them to stay relevant down the road in a division with three long-term redevelopers while simultaneously remaining the second best team in the Atlantic. If things go really wrong in the East’s other two divisions, this team might even sniff at a playoff spot – but don’t count on it. A couple of New York’s role players – Patty Mills, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Joe Johnson – could help the Knicks spoil some games, and there is a slew of promising rookies also present on the roster. This team could be pretty interesting in a couple of years.

 

3. BROOKLYN NETS

My team would finish dead last in any other division, but here we are in the Atlantic, where sub-mediocrity is just part of the brand. Fantrax projects the Nets to have five players put up 24 points per game or more this season, which is actually more than any other team in the division, even the Raptors. Brooklyn is still very much in rebuild mode, but the lack of competition within the Atlantic might push this team over 35 wins and spoil another chance at a high draft pick.

 

4. BOSTON CELTICS

Boston's playoff odds.
Boston’s playoff odds.

Still a long way to go for the Celtics, too. Russell is a franchise point guard and Winslow will be great for a long time in the NBA, but there are still so many holes on this team. Nurkic, Poeltl, Jones and Anderson are pieces worth holding onto, but you can pretty much scrap the rest of this roster. The Celtics missed out on a high draft pick after a stinker season last year, but they should have another pick in the top 5 next fall.

 

5. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

Philly’s new owner has done an admirable job so far of trying to make this team’s future a bit brighter, but for now, this team still stinks. Mudiay will produce fantasy numbers this year, but beyond that, I don’t think any of these players will do anything meaningful this season, except maybe Allen Crabbe. The 76ers had a ton of draft picks this year, but aside from Marquese Chriss, will any of them pan out? I love Diallo’s game, but he’s still a gamble. Brogdon, Papagiannis and Niang are all very low-ceiling, as are other prospects like McDaniels, Bertans and Robinson. Having no 1sts in 2017 hurts this team’s rebuild in a major way and it could be a long few years for the 76ers.

 

 

CENTRAL DIVISION

1. CHICAGO BULLS

I’m not as bullish (pun intended) on this team as I was last year, but I do think they should win the division again. Players 1-8 on this team are all really good, with Asik and Len possibly being exceptions. The rising cap has saved Chicago and given the Bulls a little bit of wiggle room to add some sorely-needed bench depth. Livingston is solid, Abrines could be nice, but I’m not sold on anyone else here. Parsons will be a big addition when he comes back, but when will that be? Regardless, Chicago has the best starting lineup in the Central and should repeat as champs, unless some of Indiana or Milwaukee’s young guys make a big step up this season.

 

2. INDIANA PACERS

Indy shocked the league by making the finals last season, riding hot streaks from its young core. The Pacers don’t have much to worry about – that young core is still the best in the league. However, I do think this team is still a year or two away from sustaining consistent greatness over a full season. A look up and down this roster speaks for itself and I’ve written a ton about this in the past: This is a team built for long-term success. Will they get lucky in the playoffs again?

 

3. MILWAUKEE BUCKS

I was down on the Bucks last season, but recent developments have made this team really interesting – first and foremost, the miraculous emergence of Point Giannis, who might be a top 10 fantasy player this season and is a 21-year-old, 7-foot-tall point forward (NOT A POINT GUARD. STOP SAYING THIS!). Ibaka’s move to Orlando removes him from the role of understudy and will probably make him the focal point on offense for the Magic. Oladipo leaving town will open up a ton of room for Payton to play more effectively and have shooters around him. Solomon Hill will be starting (lol) for the Pelicans. Thad Young will be counted on in Indiana. The Bucks had just one 2nd round pick this year and no more picks until 2018, but fortune may have bought this team a few more good years. The Bucks don’t have many trade pieces to build some depth, which would go a long way, so that limits them a bit this season, but they could make the playoffs.

 

4. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

Man, what happened here? Cleveland began this league as the prohibitive favorite. Now? LeBron is still LeBron, but expect him to play a lot less this year now that he’s finally won a title for his hometown team. Melo might be washed. Green is still great, but KD coming to Golden State will probably push him to play center a lot more and thus have the ball in his hands less frequently. And beyond that big three, there’s not a single player I like here. Morris is still a head case and Pachulia is a terrible fit for the Warriors and will probably get phased out pretty quickly. Maybe the big three will be enough to carry Cleveland to the playoffs, but maybe not.

 

5. DETROIT PISTONS

Things are not looking great in Motor City after the Andre Drummond trade. Detroit got a lot of picks out of it, but Jahlil Okafor might never be given a chance to put up numbers again and this team doesn’t have a lot of help elsewhere. There are some intriguing youngsters – Hield, McDermott, Hernangomez, Muhammad, Nance – but they’re all still a number of years away from big production and this team’s best fantasy player is Tristan Thompson. Could be a long season for Detroit.

 

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

1. ATLANTA HAWKS


This is still Atlanta’s division until someone comes and takes it from them. Depth is still this team’s biggest issue, although the new ownership deserves some credit for assembling some at least decent backups. (Last year’s owner, if you’ll recall, rode the league’s best starting 8 [put together by another – nameless – GM] all the way to the league’s best record and a nice cash prize.) Much of the Hawks’ success will be determined by how three big names – Rondo, Howard and Oladipo – perform on their new teams. Paul Millsap is the league’s most underrated player, both in real life and fantasy, and is easily a top-10 all-around, two-way NBA player. Luckily for Atlanta, all three relocations seem for now to be of benefit to the players in question. Atlanta is poised for another good year, but they’ve got to continue sculpting this roster if long-term success is on the agenda.

2. CHARLOTTE HORNETS

Charlotte was the most unexpectedly good team of last season, and there’s a chance they can be even better this year. It’s likely they can even push Atlanta for the division crown and make another deep playoff run. Kemba and Bazemore both had career years last season; they’ll need to keep that up. Capela, Bogut and Kanter all figure to have increased offensive roles in their new situations. Warren and Porter have to develop and produce this year, and many think they will. Bradley and Aminu are rock solid. Anything the Hornets get from Jefferson, Wroten and MCW is gravy. Plus, that salary cap nightmare is finally sorted out – even if it took a leaguewide bailout. Keep an eye on this squad.

 

3. MIAMI HEAT

Goran want 2nd place, not 3rd.
Goran want 2nd place, not 3rd.

Miami, largely due to the fierce competitiveness of the division, has always been a team on the cusp of the playoffs. This year, I think the Heat can make a leap forward. There are some nice pieces here, starting with Dragic and Collison, who are literally the only competent point guards on their respective teams and will thus play a lot. Valanciunas may take a big step up this season. Iggy, Crawford, Morris and Fournier are money in the bank. Bogdanovic could be a secret weapon. Given the declining state of the Southeast, Miami may be poised for a nice season. And I’m not even considering Chris Bosh.

4. WASHINGTON WIZARDS


From a championship in season 1 to missing the playoffs last year, the Wizards will finish this season with answers that are currently unknown. Are Wall and Randle a good enough one-two punch to repeat as title contenders? Has the competition in the Southeast cooled off enough for this team to have sustained success? Just how dire is the issue of depth with this team? I take a long look at this team’s rotation players – Andre Roberson and his one career good offensive game, Jeff Green and his inconsistent production, Mike Scott and his $23 million contract, the ghost of Tyson Chandler – and I can’t help but think it’s going to be a long year in the capitol. The Wizards might be on the downswing, and looking back, that Bradley Beal trade hurts if that’s the case (Washington did get three 1sts in the deal, but two of those are already made [the low-ceiling Domantas Sabonis and the what the heck is this guy Skal Labissiere], and the other one is two years away).

5. ORLANDO MAGIC

This team's in so much trouble that they get a watermarked stock photo.
This team’s in so much trouble that they get a watermarked stock photo.

This is a team in crisis mode. Despite a stacked front line, the one-mighty Magic are suddenly staring at an immense uphill battle to reclaim glory for the city of Orlando. One look at the roster is all you need to get a sense of where this franchise is. Orlando will quickly have to flip some pieces for a couple of guards, or they’re staring a Steve Blake – Jason Terry – Kevin Martin – Tayshaun Prince starting lineup dead in the face – and three of those guys aren’t even on an NBA team. Trading high-intrigue pieces like Dragan Bender, Ivica Zubac, Tyreke Evans and some picks may be the only way out of dire straits, unless the Magic decide to hope for the best in free agency this season. There’s a lot of work to be done here, and it’s gotta be done fast.

 

PLAYOFFS

1. ATLANTA

2. CHARLOTTE

3. CHICAGO

4. INDIANA

5. TORONTO

6. MIAMI

7. MILWAUKEE

8. CLEVELAND

Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 6 Recap

We begin this week’s recap with a hearty helping of deliciously foul (fowl!) crow.  Roasted in cinnamon, oregano, and cayenne paper and soaked in pickle juice for extra nastiness.

I wrote last week that the Baltimore Ravens had absolutely NO chance against the Giants and predicted a 100 point win for the G-Men.

Let’s see exactly how that turned out for me:

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

Game of the Week: Baltimore Ravens 267, New York Giants 220

So let’s be clear.  This wasn’t a great game for the Giants.  Easily one of their lowest outputs of the season.  A mere 220 points.  They aught to be ashamed of themselves.  Imagine scoring only 220?  But no.  That’s not it.  This was not a game the Giants lost.  This was a game that the Ravens went out and won handily with an epic 159 point offensive performance.  It wasn’t just that Baltimore scored a ton of points on offense, though.  It was WHO.  An unsung offensive cast exploded!  Christine Michael got 26.  Amari Cooper (ok, he’s sung) got 30.  Terrelle freaking Pryor got 31, and Kendall Wright got 35.  Mercy.  The Ravens are now 6-3, averaging more than 200 points a game, and if the season were to end today, would be in the playoffs – and a team nobody would want to see on the opposing line!

Teams Rising:

Cincinnati Bengals: Time to give the Bengals a little credit as they ascend to sole possession of first place in the AFC North at an absolutely flabbergasting 7-2.  Cincy’s latest triump was an 184-175 win over fellow playoff contender New England.  With Cleveland suddenly scuffling and Pittsburgh suddenly without Ben Roethlisberger just as they Steelers were starting to get hot, it looks increasingly likely that Cincy and Baltimore might need to duke it out for the North division title – and the loser may well grab a wild card.  The Bengals defense was the story in week 6, with 6/11 players scoring in double digits and a 20 point performance by one Zachary Orr.

New Orleans Saints: And boom. The Saints are back!  248-201 over divisional rival and Super Bowl Champ Carolina.  This win puts the Saints in a three way tie for the wildcard with Atlanta and Philadelphia, and, just as importantly, only one game back of Carolina.  After a brutal start, New Orleans is baaaaack.  Fittingly, Drew Brees led the way with an absurd 44 point outing, but was paced by Golden Tate (38) and CJ Fiedorowicz (21) on offense.  The Saints knew they were going to have to find some role players to step up and answer some question marks, and boy did they ever this week.  A pick six from Malcolm Jenkins (28 points) added to the cause, as the Saints overcame 30 points from Cam and 23 from some guy named Nick Bellore.  It’s getting crazy again in the NFC!

Houston Texans: Aight, Houston.  Aight.  I see you. After a cool 226-183 win over divisional rival Indianapolis, the AFC South is starting to sort itself out with Houston and Tennessee gaining a little separation from Indy and Jacksonville.  David Johnson scored 38 points on a three score game and nearly outscored the hapless Colts offense by himself to pace the Texans.  Still, there’s no forgetting a defense where 7 players scored in double figures and an 8th got nine.  Houston’s two-back in the division and still a game out of the Wild Card, so they need to keep on moving, but this is a very nice divisional win for an embattled squad.

Honorable Mentions: Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Tennessee Titans, Minnesota Vikings.

 

Teams Falling:

Cleveland Browns: Another brutal week for the Browns.  Another loss against a contending time.  Another game where the team simply didn’t look competitive.  Another week where division rivals posted wins to knock them farther back in the race.  46 points on offense with a high score of 10 from Blake Bortles simply isn’t going to be good enough to win most weeks.  Cleveland still leads the AFC North in points scored.  They can still right the ship.  But with Cincy and Baltimore playing as well as they are, they had better do it quickly.

San Diego Chargers: As recently as a couple weeks ago, San Diego looked like they could be a contender in the West, or at least make a solid push for second.  Two losses later, not so much.  The offense failed the Chargers utterly as they managed only 36 points on the offensive side of the ball, and fell to the Denver Broncos (who have suddenly won two in a row!).  At 3-6, the Chargers face a huge hole to climb back into contention, and may not make it this year.

Minnesota Vikings: Yeeouch.  The Vikings have looked better and better this year, posting competitive game after competitive game, but not posting a whole lot of wins.  Well, they got their chance in week 6 as Tampa Bay posted only 116 points.  The problem?  Minnesota posted only 112.  Sure, they had bye issues.  But 45 points on defense is not going to get it done, as everybody not named Andre Branch combined for exactly 32 points.  It’s a culture issue in Minnesota, where the Vikings now have talent – but have to figure out how to win.

Dishonorable Mentions: Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars

 

Week 7 Games of the Week:

Welp, unless we get some upsets, this could be another rough week for good games, unfortunately!  Only four that really seem to me to feature much competition.  But some should be excellent.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns:  It’s a week to week league.  One week you can be on the top of the world, only to come brutally crashing back to earth the next.  Or you can be on the outs, facing a lost season, only to bounce back, dominate, and right the ship.  Right now, big Mo (that’s momentum) is all on the side of Cincinnati, and the Bengals are poised to knock out their rivals with a brutal hook.  But Cleveland isn’t done yet.  And this could be the game that rights the Browns ship.  Lots at stake in the battle of Ohio.  We’ll see who prevails

Indianapolis Colts vs. Tennessee Titans: This is what you call a run away and hide game.  A win by the Titans would move them to 8-2, keep them solidly in control of the AFC South regardless of what Houston does, and pretty much put a nail in the punchless Colts coffin.  Of course, see the above about a week-to-week league.  If the Colts win, all of a sudden the South is right back in play.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. New Orleans Saints: The Chiefs are smarting from a 3 point loss to the Raiders and losing an opportunity to put their own division away.  No time for woundlicking though, because the high-octane, rejuvenated Saints come roaring into town fresh off their demolition of the Panthers.  Both teams are close to full strength, so this game should tell us a lot about the relative prospects of each team – and things are going to be looking pretty rosy for the winner.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots: A tough and tricky game for two teams who need to rebound.  After a nine point loss to Cincy, New England has fallen three games behind the unbeaten Bills and into a tie for the wild card.  They need some wins to stay afloat, particularly given the competitive AFC landscape.  The Steelers, after a brutal start without Le’Veon Bell, have rediscovered their world-beating mojo and posted several fantastic wins.  Of course, they also just lost their quarterback.  How will Pittsburgh fare in a non-Ben world?  Both teams need this win.  Only one will get it.  Drama in the AFC Wild Card!

 

Good luck this week everyone!

 

Real Deal (Football) Report: Week 5 Recap

Ok y’all, that sucked. Week 5 sucked.  We all, in week 5, collectively sucked.  And I think we all need to come together as a league and vow to try harder and do better.  Because honestly, that was really, seriously terrible.

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

First off, there were NO good games.  Zero.  I can’t even pick a game of the week because this week’s games were so damn bad.  Do I pick New England’s uninspiring 166-141 snoozefest against Cleveland where both teams underperformed their season averages massively (not on a bye week)?  Do I choose San Diego’s almost sort of maybe kind of exciting 179-162 Monday night triumph over the Raidres because it had the most drama (not all that much) and pulled the two squads into a 3-5 tie in the standings?  Denver’s 174-140 upset of a cornswaggled Atlanta franchise for its first win?  Buffalo’s utterly irrelevant 227-181 win over the Rams because it had the most points?  I’ve literally got nothing, y’all.  That was the WORST set of games I’ve ever seen.

And frankly, we all sucked as well as being noncompetitive.  There were literally only FOUR teams that broke 200 points (Buffalo, Pittsburgh, the Giants, and, surprisingly, Chicago).  FOUR.  With the exception of the always fantastic Giants, the highest point total was 227.  17/32 teams (more than half the league) scored 166 points or less.  There were two games (only two!) where both teams scored more than that.  I could go on.

Consider this the equivalent of an expletive filled Rex Ryan-esque freakout.  There’s no excuse.  Do better.  Play better.  Be better.  Or I’ll be the first mother-effer out of here!*

Game of the week: NONE.  No game of the week.   Y’all don’t deserve a game of the week.  No participation trophies just for showing up.  Damn millennials.
Teams Rising:

Chicago Bears: Gotta give credit where credit is due.  The Bears break the 200 point threshold and are one of the few teams that didn’t embarrass us.  They played above their season average and beat a decent Indianapolis team to get back up to .500 and keep pace with the Lions.  Great game by Brian Hoyer.  Great game by Brandon Marshall.  Great game by the un-concussed Kevin Minter.  There’s more to be done, but this was a step in the right direction.

Denver Broncos: So that’s one team that is off the schneid!  After being epically terrible for the first weeks of the season, the Broncos came out and knocked off Atlanta, scoring more points than well over half the league and actually looking like a competitive squad.  Paxton Lynch to Demaryius Thomas looks like it could be a thing, and that Cole Beasley pickup is looking very shrewd.

New Orleans Saints: Rumors of the Saints demise have been greatly exaggerated it seems.  After “thud” performances from Tampa and Atlanta and a win over the beatable but 6-1 Seahawks, the Saints are suddenly tied for second at 5-3 – and more importantly, tied for a wild card birth.  It’s hard to get too excited about a 171 point win where Sammie Coates (38) and Kiko Alonso (21) made up literally more than a third of their points.  But the Saints have to be thrilled at where they sit after having struggled this year.

Sort of honorable mention: Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers

 

Teams Falling: 

Cleveland Browns: Man.  I don’t know if the Indians stole the Browns mojo to use against Boston, but damn that was a thud performance when the Browns could least afford it.  Not only did Cleveland lose 166-141 to wild card rival New England, they scored a grand total of 52 points, had their lowest output of the season by 50 points and saw all three of their divisional rivals notch key wins.  Suddenly in second place in a hard-charging division, Cleveland has to hope this was an abberation as they face a tough game with the Titans.

Seattle Seahawks: They are who we thought they were.  It seems unfair to say that about a 6-2 team.  But frankly, this team could be 2-6 based on their points outputs and just laid a 132 point egg in a need-to-win game.  They’ve lost to every good team they’ve played, and the next time they play a team that is under .500 is NEVER.  Literally.  Every single team they play for the rest of the year, with the exception of Tampa Bay in week 12, is over .500, and Tampa is 4-4.  It’s about to get bad, folks, and I think there’s a serious chance the Hawks don’t win another game all year.  Sell, sell, sell and sell some more.

Atlanta Falcons: You are in a tough division.  You’ve just scored 282 points to whack the defending Super Bowl champions.  You’re one back in the division and feeling good about yourself.  Your all world receiver has just posted a 70 spot.  And you have the winless, hapless, punchless Denver Broncos coming up.  Complacency?  Guess just a little bit.  The Falcons posted the most uninspired performance since Trump’s first debate, getting handled by the winless Broncos by 35 points.  Julio Jones scored 5.5 points, the highest scoring player had 17 points, and Eddie Lacy might be injured.  Bottom line – the Falcons have the talent to beat anyone.  But they have the talent to lose to anyone on any given night too.  And in a division like the NFC South, you HAVE to beat the Broncos.

Really dishonorable mentions: Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins, Indianapolis Colts, and anybody picking anybody besides Buffalo or NYG in this year’s Super Bowl.

Ok guys, here’s our chance.  A few decent games this week.  Let’s do better!  REDEMPTION!

Week 6 Games of the Week: 

Atlanta Falcons vs. Seattle Seahawks: Umm… errr… angry, good, Atlanta team.  Revealed Seattle team… Ummm.. Nope.  Atlanta.  By 150.

Baltimore Ravens vs. New York Giants: Baltimore has looked really good, and now we get to see a powerhouse battle of… No.  Stop it.  C’mon.  Just stop.  Giants by 100.

Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints: Interesting battle here.  Carolina still looks fantastic at 7-1, and I’m inclined to think they put the skids to New Orleans’ resurgence.  The Saints have gotten wins and not points, and they could run into a buzz-saw here, particularly if Cam is back.  But this wouldn’t shock me if it went the other way.

Chicago Bears vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: Ok, maybe I’m reaching a little bit, but it’s possible.  A pair of 4-4 teams wavering on the edge of contention.  The winner could ostensibly move within a game of the division.  The loser could be in some trouble.  Nicely, both teams look pretty close to full strength for this one, so may the best team win!

Cincinnati Bengals vs. New England Patriots: Now this is an interesting matchup.  The Patriots have gotten a lot of love in cruising to 6-2 and the first wildcard spot in the AFC behind a revamped offense and a better than expected defense.  The Bengals have likewise surprised, leading the AFC North at 6-2 and having scored over 1600 points, averaging over 200 per game.  The jury is still out on both squads, but the winner is going to have a very serious case to be not just a surprise team, but a force to be reckoned with in the AFC.

Cleveland Browns vs. Tennessee Titans: Yet another fantastic matchup in what will hopefully be a bounceback week for them.  The Titans are another 6-2 team in first place in the AFC South, while the Browns seek to bounce back from an uncharacteristic dud of a week 5 performance.  The pressure is on Cleveland here, due to the rough week 5 and the strong division, but the Browns have also outscored the Titans by 250 points, so we’ll see where this one falls.  I like the Browns to bounce back with Bortles returning from bye.

Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts: Another “war of the desperate”, both the Texans and Colts have lacked consistency this year, ping-ponging between nice wins and bad losses.  Both teams are sitting mired at 4-4, though interestingly enough, the Texans have scored only 9 points less than the 6-2 Titans this year.  While I’d usually go with Houston, one key development in this week’s game is that the Texans lose Jameis Winston to the bye.  I think Indy sneaks this one out.

Good luck this week everyone!  Let’s all score 200 – except for Oakland 😉

 

Real Deal Report: 2016 Draft Recap

So, this is a little bit late, I apologize. But I do actually have an excuse because I moved to a new state at the beginning of the month and the job search has been priority one. Taking a break today to do this.

With the 2016 draft complete, it’s time to sit back and get ready for the season after a long few months of no NBA basketball. But first, let’s take a quick look back at all 60 picks from the weekend’s draft.

Last year, I gave draft grades to teams, but there were too many that either had like 10 picks or no picks at all. So this year I’m grading pick by pick.

 

1. New Orleans Pelicans: Ben Simmons
Grade: A
Even with the news that Simmons is going to miss two months or more, this was the obvious pick. Simmons is a potential generational talent and could be the best player in the NBA in five years. He’s ideal from a fantasy perspective, too, because of his ability to rack up triple doubles. Adding Simmons to a base foundation of Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving and Joel Embiid gives New Orleans a crop of potential mega-stars – that is, if they can all stay healthy and reach their potential.

2. Brooklyn Nets: Brandon Ingram
Grade: A
This was also an obvious pick. Ingram is rail thin and will get bullied in his rookie season, but he’s the best pure scorer in this draft and I don’t think the Durant comparisons are too far off base. Ingram becomes the centerpiece for a team whose supporting cast is slowly becoming better and better.

3. Indiana Pacers: Kris Dunn
Grade: A
Yet another obvious pick. Dunn is an ideal replacement for Mudiay and clearly the third best player in this draft. He’s also someone who can step in right away and start producing results for a Pacers team that made the finals last year after finishing dead last in year one. Even if Thibs hates rookies, it’s only a matter of time before Dunn replaces Rubio as the starting PG for the Timberwolves, which is coincidentally a young team rapidly on the rise just like these Pacers.

4. Detroit Pistons: Buddy Hield
Grade: A-
I’ll be honest: at first, I hated this pick. I think Hield is supremely overrated as a basketball player and that he can’t do much besides shoot. But the more I thought about it, the more the pick grew on me. The Pelicans are going to be a disaster again this season so they’ll be bound to let Hield loose and see what they’ve got in him. Clearing out Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson will leave a lot of 3s open for Hield.

5. Orlando Magic: Dragan Bender
Grade: A-
I’m actually one of the few people that doesn’t think Bender needs a few more years of development before he can make an impact. His basketball IQ is NBA-level already and his skills are pretty advanced for a teenager. But I hate, hate, hate his situation. Drafting Bender and Chriss just seems like a careless experiment to see who their future PF will be. Neither of them can play any other position yet – Bender because he’s too slim and weak to play C and Chriss because his defense is horrendous. Outside of Simmons and Ingram, I think Bender has the most potential in this draft class, but I was a bit surprised to see Orlando pick him over someone who will make a more immediate impact.

6. Dallas Mavericks: Jamal Murray
Grade: A
There were four guys at the top of this draft that I thought stood out as the players with the most potential by a wide margin over the rest of the class: Simmons, Ingram, Bender and Murray. This kid can straight up ball, folks, and he has confidence in spades and the ability to score in bunches. The Nuggets have a great young guard rotation with Mudiay and Harris starting and Murray and Barton behind them. I’m not convinced Murray and Barton can coexist because their usage is so similar, and I’m also not convinced that Murray can ever be a point guard in this league. But Murray has star written all over him, and those guys usually figure out a way to succeed. Great pick by Dallas.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder: Denzel Valentine
Grade: C
A bit of a reach. The Bulls are going to be a mess that is going to take a long time to figure out, and I’m not sure here Valentine ultimately settles in. Hoiberg will love his high basketball IQ and passing ability from anywhere on the court, but his ceiling as a fantasy player is limited and he has a lot of guys ahead of him on the depth chart. For an OKC team that is rebuilding from the ground up, I respect the decision to go for a solid player here rather than a high-risk, high reward type, but there were guys on the board who would’ve been a better choice, I think.

8. New York Knicks: Thon Maker
Grade: B+
The enigma! Is he 19 or 35? It might not matter because he may end up being the starting center for the Bucks on opening night. We all remember this kid (adult?) from his insane mixtape a few years ago, but unfortunately he hasn’t really progressed much in terms of skills since then. Maker remains, for the most part, a soul that occupies an ideal basketball body but just doesn’t quite know how to play the game. Jason Kidd doesn’t exactly strike me as a top-notch talent development guy, but there’s no question that Maker fits in with the Bucks’ wacky all-limbs lineup. Maker’s potential is sky-high, but it actually has to start manifesting itself pretty soon or this is not such a great pick. For now, given his potential, I think it was an all right choice.

9. Denver Nuggets: Jaylen Brown
Grade: A-
Brown also kind of fits the mold of having supreme talent with not so supreme basketball skills and IQ. He is a phenomenal athlete but at this point he can’t do much beyond driving to the bucket, and even then his finishing is pretty subpar. He finds himself in a perfect situation in Boston, where Brad Stevens will have time to mold and teach him.

10. Philadelphia 76ers: Marquese Chriss
Grade: A
This is a good pick based on potential alone. The most explosive player in the draft, Chriss is yet another guy who has yet to put it all together and play basketball properly. He’s got time in Phoenix, but it’s worth monitoring this guy and seeing if anything happens there this season. His ceiling may be Shawn Kemp, but his floor is Thomas Robinson.

11. Washington Wizards: Domantas Sabonis
Grade: A-
Would have liked to see the Wizards go for a wing player here, where they need help the most, but adding a presence as solid as Sabonis to their transforming core seems like a good move. Much like the real Wizards, Washington surprisingly plummeted out of the playoffs and suddenly doesn’t have much talent on the roster besides Wall and Beal (OK, and Julius Randle). Sabonis doesn’t strike me as an ace fantasy player, but this is far from the worst pick so far.

12. Dallas Mavericks: Juancho Hernangomez
Grade: A
Juancho Man Randy Savage will probably end up being the Nuggets’ backup 4 to start the year, and could quickly become the starter if Denver trades Faried. A skilled stretch 4 with good all-around talent, Hernangomez would be a nice fit anywhere.

13. Sacramento Kings: Wade Baldwin
Grade: A
Being Mike Conley’s understudy will be great for Wade Baldwin, who runs the risk of becoming just a defensive specialist if he doesn’t have the chance to learn to play offense. It might behoove him to become a 2 and play alongside Conley, taking over the Tony Allen role. Either way, this guy is a monster physically for a guard and a really fun player to watch. Memphis kind of seemed like his destiny to keep the grit and grind alive for one more year.

14. Boston Celtics: Jakob Poeltl
Grade: B-
I don’t like this pick and I don’t like Poeltl as a player. Watch his game against Sabonis in the NCAA Tournament to see why. I think Poeltl’s ceiling is pretty low and I don’t see him getting a lot of playing time in Toronto, at least right away.

15. New York Knicks: Caris LeVert
Grade: B-
At this point in the draft, all of the actual good players were gone, so any pick looks like a reach here, but this one was a bit of a head-scratcher. Caris LeVert is made of glass and, despite what you hear from most analysts, does not have lottery talent. He’s an old school style player that doesn’t fit ideally in the modern NBA and Brooklyn isn’t exactly the most nurturing environment. Maybe this pick pans out, but for now I don’t see it.

16. Memphis Grizzlies: Taurean Prince
Grade: B+
I like this pick for Memphis. It gives them another DeMarre Carroll type player and is just overall very solid. Fits in well with the rest of the Grizzlies’ squad of solid but not flashy players.

17. New York Knicks: Henry Ellenson
Grade: B
Will Henry Ellenson ever make it in the NBA? I’m not sure. His skills are enticing – a legit 7 footer who can shoot threes is always of interest – but his defense will likely never be NBA level and his game has a long way to go. This pick was purely a prospective one for New York, as Ellenson isn’t going to get any playing time this year in Detroit behind Harris, Morris, Leuer, Drummond, Baynes and Boban.

18. Orlando Magic: Ivica Zubac
Grade: A+
One of the best picks in this year’s draft. Zubac is already a tenacious post player and a solid defender down low who will grow into a perfect player to complement the Lakers’ young big trio of Ingram, Russell and Randle. I would have taken Zubac in the top 10, and for Orlando to get him here at 18 was a coup. Luke Walton won’t hesitate to put this guy in ahead of Tarik Black and Timo Mozgov (seriously, why is this guy on this team?).

19. Oklahoma City Thunder: Tyler Ulis
Grade: A
I freaking love this pick by OKC. Ulis is a straight up baller who would have been a top 5 player in this year’s draft if he wasn’t 5’8″. His height didn’t stop him in college, but it will obviously be a greater obstacle in the NBA. Still, Ulis is a terrifically smart basketball player who’s lightning quick and is a phenomenal passer and floor general who can also shoot threes. Ulis will have a long and successful NBA career.

20. Los Angeles Clippers: Timothe Luwawu-Caborrot
Grade: B-
I’m not a huge fan of Luwawu. His game has a long way to go and he may never surpass a Thabo Sefolosha type of role. He also has the misfortune of being stuck in the Philly logjam behind Covington, Henderson, Grant, Thompson and Stauskas. A lot of people think he can turn into a very nice three-and-D guy, but I just don’t see it.

21. Houston Rockets: Jake Layman
Grade: D
The first pick in this draft that really took me by surprise. Layman may not even make Portland’s roster and was a mid second round pick. There are rumblings that Layman can eventually turn into a Chandler Parsons type, but I think that’s a longshot. If he does make the roster, there aren’t really any minutes for him behind Turner, Crabbe, Aminu, Harkless, Davis and Vonleh. I think Houston would have been better off trading this pick to help shore up its thinning bench.

22. Sacramento Kings: DeAndre Bembry
Grade: B
A safe pick, if not an inspired one. Bembry was a late riser in the draft this year and is probably not a first round talent, but he does figure to be a solid bench piece. Sort of a poor man’s Denzel Valentine, he can do a little bit of everything including passing, shooting and rebounding. There were definitely worse things to do with this pick.

23. Minnesota Timberwolves: Damian Jones
Grade: A-
Nice grab for the Wolves here. Jones is a really nice defensive center who probably won’t be asked to do much this year, but could find his way into some playing time if Zaza doesn’t work out (he kind of doesn’t fit what the Warriors are all about), McGee stinks as usual and Varejao gets hurt (he will). He’ll grow into a really good backup center in time.

24. San Antonio Spurs: Dejounte Murray
Grade: A
I really like this choice by the Spurs, who are a guard away from title contention. Not that Murray is that guard, but it’s a nice gamble: low-risk, high reward. If anyone can make use of Murray’s wild game, it’s Popovich.

25. Philadelphia 76ers: Cheick Diallo
Grade: A+
Home run of a pick. Diallo has always had lottery talent, but because he didn’t fit in Bill Self’s system, the entire NBA forgot about him. Sure, he looked horrible at Kansas, but the physical profile is there. He’s an explosive leaper who shows a ton of promise as a shot blocker and rim runner, but one thing many people don’t know about him is that he also has a pretty sweet short range jumper that’s in development. Diallo was the definition of post-hype sleeper in this year’s draft and I think he’s a great piece.

26. Dallas Mavericks: Patrick McCaw
Grade: A+
Great pick. Golden State quietly lost significant guard depth this offseason, so there’s a good chance McCaw plays a lot – especially when the Warriors are winning by 40 at halftime. McCaw is a smart defensive 2 guard who can handle the ball a bit and could emerge as a garbage time king, especially if he improves his jumper.

27. Washington Wizards: Skal Labissiere
Grade: B
I had hope that there was still something left for Labissiere’s potential until he got drafted by Sacramento. Now, I think you can more or less scratch him off. The guy looked clueless on the basketball court in Kentucky, despite (or maybe because of) people calling him a better prospect than Ben Simmons this time last year. There were a few guys Washington could’ve taken here that would provide more immediate help, but this is still an ok value pick if you believe in Skal still.

28. Oklahoma City Thunder: Kay Felder
Grade: A+
Another pick by OKC that I absolutely love. Like Ulis, Felder would be a lottery talent if he wasn’t such a li’l guy. Unlike Ulis, however, Felder possesses immense athleticism and explosiveness: he posted the second highest vertical leap EVER in the history of the combine at 44 inches. That’s almost four freaking feet in the air and like a foot and a half lower than the top of his head. Beyond that, he’s also a smart player and a good floor general. And beyond that, he’s poised to be Cleveland’s backup PG this year. Terrific selection by OKC. Plus, have you ever seen this guy dribble a basketball? It’s awesome. He like slams it into the ground with each dribble like he’s mad at it. He looks like this dude:

29. Indiana Pacers: Deyonta Davis
Grade: A+
Slam dunk of a pick. Davis is perhaps the best defensive player in the draft class but fell to round 2 because he underperformed at Michigan State. He should have been drafted a lot higher and I’m surprised he fell so far in this draft, too.

30. Toronto Raptors: Pascal Siakam
Grade: B
Siakam is one of those African dudes with amazing athletic skills that only started playing basketball when he was like 16. Despite that, he shows pretty good fundamentals, but his game is definitely still centered around his hustle and athleticism. Toronto is really hurting for a PF with Patterson and Sullinger as their only options right now, so they might be hoping to get something from Siakam soon, but his skill level right now is more suited for the D League.

31. Detroit Pistons: Malcolm Brogdon
Grade: B
Brogdon is a really solid player, especially defensively, but I’m not high on him as a fantasy player; he may never be more than a defensive stopper. Still, though, his basketball IQ is top notch – that combined with his defense will get him on the court for this inexperienced Bucks team. Overall a decent selection.

32. Brooklyn Nets: Isaiah Whitehead
Grade: A
The Nets apparently loved this guy so much that they traded up for him, and their guard situation is so bleak that he will probably be on the floor a lot this season. His competition – Greivis Vasquez, Randy Foye, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Sean Kilpatrick, Yogi Farrell and Chase Budinger – don’t exactly put fear in one’s heart. With good coaching, he can carve out a career for himself as a volume bench scorer.

33. Philadelphia 76ers: Georges Niang
Grade: C+
Rumor has it that the Pacers want to use Niang this season, but I don’t buy it. He’s a low ceiling guy who will make the roster, but I really don’t see him playing much. He’s slow and unathletic, which is kind of the opposite direction the Pacers are moving in, but he can shoot 3s which is always good. A second rounder is never going to make or break a team’s future but I think there were better guys here.

34. New York Knicks: Brice Johnson
Grade: A
Really nice value pick. Doc Rivers might have no choice to play this guy because of his elite rebounding skills, even with veterans Mbah a Moute and Bass in front of him. The Clippers’ likely tendency to go small might push him further down the pine, but Johnson will eventually be a rotation player somewhere.

35. Boston Celtics: Malik Beasley
Grade: A-
I don’t know how the hell Beasley gets any playing time this year, but he’s a good prospect. In the right situation he can become a useful 3 and D guard.

36. Los Angeles Clippers: Chinanu Onuaku
Grade: B
Not a bad pick. Onuaku is a classic defense-first energy big. He’s a significantly undersized center with raw (read: bad) offensive skills, so there’s a chance he might not stick on a roster in the NBA, but if he can run, D’Antoni might give him a shot. Plus, he shoots his free throws grandma style:

37. Los Angeles Lakers: Ron Baker
Grade: B+
Baker is a longshot to make it in the NBA from a talent perspective, but actually seems poised to make the Knicks roster. My guess is that Baker will fall somewhere between Linsanity and whatever it was that Jimmer Fredette did for the Knicks that one time.

38. Philadelphia 76ers: Georgios Papagiannis
Grade: C+
This was a throwaway pick for the Kings, but it’s just whatever for Philly. Papagiannis should have gone undrafted and has no NBA talent to speak of beyond his monstrous size.

39. Denver Nuggets: Guerschon Yabusele
Grade: A+
Five years from now, I think Yabusele could be one of the best 10 players from this draft. The dude is an animal. Unfortunately he’ll spend this season overseas. He’s a bruiser with an elite build and physicality, and possesses a nice jumper and even flashes some ball handling skills, even as most of his game is in development. One of my favorite picks in this draft.

40. Toronto Raptors: Fred Van Vleet
Grade: D
Toronto’s next pick was so good, but this one was very much not so. Van Vleet has looked terrible in preseason and is the fifth point guard for Toronto at this point behind Lowry, Joseph and Delon Wright and Brady Heslip, although even that doesn’t really matter because no PG plays beyond Joseph. I’ll be surprised if he makes the Raptors’ final roster.

41. Toronto Raptors: Furkan Korkmaz
Grade: A+
How the hell did this guy fall so far? A lottery talent for sure, and at 18, he’s got lots of room to grow. When he comes to the NBA, he’ll be a lights-out shooter, and he’s also a pretty good athlete. A middle-class version of Mario Hezonja.

42. Toronto Raptors: Ante Zizic
Grade: A
Another nice value pick. Zizic balled out in the Adriatic League last season and is pegged for another season abroad. Great stash guy.

43. Brooklyn Nets: Malachi Richardson
Grade: B
Richardson’s game is all over the place, and he probably only went in the first round because of his tournament performance, but I think this was an ok pick based on value. The Kings roster is a crime against basketball so there’s plenty of room to carve out a role.

44. Washington Wizards: Diamond Stone
Grade: B-
Diamond Stone is a lot like Greg Monroe: a small-ish center who doesn’t defend, doesn’t rebound very well and doesn’t score outside the paint. In other words, a dinosaur. And we all know Doc Rivers doesn’t let rookies play. Many considered Stone a first round talent, but I think the game may have just passed him by. We’ll see.

45. Oklahoma City Thunder: AJ Hammons
Grade: A
Another ace pick by OKC. I freaking love Hammons as a prospect. He’s 23 already, but this dude is a monster physically and can eventually become a starting-level center for a defensive-minded team. Really nice rebounder and shot blocker with an elite physical profile.

46. Memphis Grizzlies: Paul Zipser
Grade: A-
Really nice pick. Zipser has borderline first round talent but fell because he’s 22 and from Europe. Chicago actually gave him a guaranteed deal, so he’ll be on the roster, but I doubt he plays much. From a value perspective, though, this was a good pick.

47. Milwaukee Bucks: Michael Gbinije
Grade: C+
Gbinije is an extremely physical and athletic kid, but he’s already 24 and has no discernable basketball skills, although Syracuse tried using him as a ballhandler with mixed results. A D League stash for now, but I’m not sure he’s a guy who pans out.

48. Portland Trail Blazers: Isaiah Cousins
Grade: A-
I like this pick. Sacramento’s other PGs are Ty Lawson, Jordan Farmar and the suspended Darren Collison. Cousins is nothing special but he could end up getting minutes.

49. Indiana Pacers: Zhou Qi
Grade: A
Love this pick. Qi is another guy with questions about his real age, but I think this guy is super talented and may have star potential. A mobile big who can shoot 3s and block shots, Qi needs to bulk up before he can play in the NBA but I think he can eventually become a bigger, faster Channing Frye who can protect the rim. Qi is a first round talent in my book and I would have drafted him at 1.22 if I didn’t end up trading that pick.

50. Los Angeles Lakers: Ben Bentil
Grade: B
Solid grab here. Bentil is an extremely foolhardy player but does have some talent. He’s a D Leaguer for now but could turn into a bench piece some day.

51. Minnesota Timberwolves: Alex Poythress
Grade: C
Poythress has proven at this point that he doesn’t hold any promise as an NBA player.

52. Cleveland Cavaliers: Gary Payton II
Grade: B
I don’t think The Mitten will pan out in the NBA, but it was worth taking him on potential alone.

53. Minnesota Timberwolves: Cat Barber
Grade: A+
Barber is the biggest sleeper in this draft. This guy might immediately challenge John Wall to claim the title of NBA’s fastest player if he sticks on the roster, which is looking fairly likely. Cat’s game is reminiscent of Ish Smith’s, and we all know how well that went fantasy-wise when Smith was a Sixer. Barber might have to spend some time in the D League, but I really hope Philly gives this guy a shot. I think he can turn into a useful bench scorer in the NBA.

54. Toronto Raptors: Drew Crawford
Grade: F
This pick ended up getting dropped anyway so I don’t mind saying it was the worst one in this draft. A 26-year-old from Northwestern doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

55. Charlotte Hornets: Joel Bolomboy
Grade: A
Bolomboy figures to be kind of a poor man’s Kenneth Faried in the NBA, and the Jazz seem like a good fit. It’s doubtful he’ll play much for Utah but I still like this pick based on his ability to run and rebound.

56. Portland Trail Blazers: Demetrius Jackson
Grade: A
Late in the NCAA season, scout were saying Jackson was a lottery pick. But then he fell to the 2nd round. Jackson ended up in a terrible situation in Boston behind Thomas, Smart, Bradley and Terry Rozier but remains a very good prospect with elite speed, exposiveness and scoring ability. Great value pick, even if it takes a few years for him to end up in a better spot.

57. Denver Nuggets: Petr Cornelie
Grade: B
No complaints about this pick. Cornelie is a sort of fringe NBA guy but has decent potential. Will probably spend the next few years overseas.

58. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jameel Warney
Grade: B-
Warney is an ok pick here, but it probably would have been better for the rebuilding OKC to grab someone younger with a bit more potential instead of a senior from a small school.

59. Indiana Pacers: Gracin Bakumanya
Grade: B
Full disclosure: I have no idea who this guy is. But he’s 19, 6’11” and has a 7’3″ wingspan. So that’s what the picks in the late 2nd are all about: just take a guy on pure potential. If it doesn’t work out, no biggie.

60. Brooklyn Nets: Stephen Zimmerman
Grade: A
Did people just forget about this guy because his name is at the end of the alphabet? He’s a 7-foot 20-year-old with a 9’1″ standing reach and was a top-10 high school recruit who can shoot 3s and block shots. No idea how this guy almost went undrafted, and I’m happy to have him.

2016 Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 4 Recap

I am a terrible person.  I have no excuse.  I failed you last week.  No recap!  And it was a double.  A double.  And I gave you no recap!

I deserve to have Chip Kelly as my coach!  I deserve to have Aaron Rodgers as a father looking down on me for every incompletion with that smirk of his!  I deserve to be sat on by Chris Christie dressed as a clown!

To none do I owe my heartfelt apologies than Ric Nowinsky and his New England Patriots, who threw down a beautiful 2-0 week 3 to move to 5-1.  You should have been my first team rising and I failed you.  I’m so sorry.

This week, it’s Saturday and it’s quick and dirty.  But ya know what, at least it’s something.

Finish Reading: 2016 Real Deal (Football) Report – Week 4 Recap

With no further ado!

Game of the week: Atlanta Falcons 281, Carolina Panthers 269

Was there ever any doubt?  This was one hell of a game!  Carolina had SIX players score more than 20 points in this one – the ageless Eddie Royal, the even more ageless Steve Smith Sr, the still aging Greg Olsen, Mark Ingram, Luke Kuechly (of course), and Kurt Coleman.  They scored 147 on offense, 116 on defense, and put in the #2 score of the week.  And lost by 12.  How?  Well, there’s the obvious answer – Julio Jones scored 73 points on THREE-HUNDRED YARDS receiving.  They literally forgot to cover that fool.  But that’s not the full answer.  The rest of Atlanta’s offense scored only 45 points, leaving the offensive output at 117 – 30 left than Carolina’s.  WITH JULIO.  So what gives?  Defense? Clinton McDonald got 29, Zach Brown got 34, and the kicker/punter combination of Hauschka and Ryan grabbed 24.  On the Carolina side?  5 special teams points combined.  Julio Jones is a boss.  But special teams was this game.  Carolina falls to a still invulnerable 6-1, while Atlanta bounces back from a brutal week 3 to stay in the chase at 5-2.

Teams Rising:

Pittsburgh Steelers:  When you are used to winning the division, it’s weird to start 2-4.  Well, the Steelers put a stop to that nonsense in week #5 with the third highest point total at 252 in a shellacking of Kansas City.  Huge offensive numbers, Le’Veon Bell back in the lineup, Ben Roethlisberger throwing for numbers again, and the defense is clicking for 120 point weeks.  Cleveland and Cincinnati jumped out to big leads in the North and just keep winning – but this week gave notice that the Steelers will not simply go quietly into the night.

Seattle Seahawks: This is still PURE illusion.  PURE illusion.  The Hawks have scored a TOTAL of 1151 points.  This would be good for 4th place in every other NFC division.  However, due to some nice luck and a stunningly easy schedule, Seattle is 6-1 and firmly in control of the NFC West.  This past week’s 151-117 win over the Jets said more about a struggling New York team than it did for the Seahawks.  But when you are 6-1, you have to get a mention!  Also, Zeke Elliott continues to look good and justify the #1 overall pick the Hawks spent on him.

New England Patriots: I owe this one to the Patriots.  Not for this week, which was a tough drop to the still undefeated Buffalo Bills, but for last week, a 2-0 performance with 211 points and wins over the Jets and Texans.  The Patriots remain in the thick of of the playoff race at 5-2, and unsung and unexpected heroes like Cameron Brate, Jamison Crowder, and even Frank Gore continue to keep the Patriots in the AFC Wild Card hunt.  I don’t expect this to be the last time New England is here.

Honorable Mention: Buffalo Bills, New York Giants, Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals

 

Teams Falling:

Dallas Cowboys: Welp, the wheels have officially fallen off in Big D.  A 1-6 start has resulted in a full-scale tear-down and rebuild for the Cowboys.  In are picks and young players who can help for the future.  Out are Aaron Rodgers, Thomas Davis, and Jeremy Maclin.  It’s going to be a long, long year in Dallas who has gone from divisional competitor to total tear down – but hopefully the infusion of youth and talent will lead to good things for a long time to come.

Houston Texans: It’s been a rough few weeks for the Texans, who hung steady early on before a disappointing pair of weeks has knocked them well back in divisional competition.  The latest heartbreak was a 4 point set back to the Tennessee Titans.  Instead of moving into the division lead, the Texans now find themselves two back, albeit with a winnable game against the Texans upcoming.  What makes it all the more painful is the Texans got only a half point combined from Chris Hogan and Vance McDonald – a decent game by either one and they are in first place.

Competition: The state of the league’s competitive balance is down, as are great games.  On the one hand, teams like Buffalo, Carolina, and New York are absolutely dominant.  On the other, there are five teams with 1-6 or 0-7 records, and most of them (Denver, Green Bay, Washington and Miami) have not even come close to winning a game.  While the league has had dominant teams over the past few years, it has lacked the “gimme games” we are seeing this year.  Here’s hoping that we can see some significant improvement in the drama level as the season moves forward.

Dishonorable Mention: Everybody mentioned above, NY Jets, LA Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars, LA Rams.

 

Games of the Week, Week 5: 

Cleveland Browns vs. New England Patriots: A battle of two 5-2 teams in contention for AFC playoff spots, this game is suddenly very, very relevant.  It doesn’t contain the same drama as the real life struggle of Tom Brady’s return, but it does feature a series of some of the most underrated and overperforming players in the league (Mike Wallace, Marvin Jones, Cameron Brate, Michael Crabtree, Frank Gore) – and come on, when else are you going to see a matchup between two playoff favorites featuring a QB battle between Geno Smith and Brock Osweiler?

Detroit Lions vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Philly has bounced back nicely from a brief slump to maintain strong contention for an NFC wildcard spot with a pair of recent wins.  The Lions continue to coast nicely through the NFC North.  In fact, there’s a very good chance these two squads could end up playing in a first round Wild Card game.  To my mind, this one is going to come down to the Defenses, and whether Detroit’s franchise players can make Carson Wentz look like more of a rookie.  Advantage goes to Detroit in this one, as Philadelphia has genuinely struggled to score points despite the gaudy record.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: It’s another matchup of potential playoff teams as KC takes on Jacksonville.  Both teams are missing key bye-week pieces (Travis Kelce for the Jags, Alex Smith and Derrick Johnson for the Chiefs), but this one should also come down to which defense can play best.  Both teams had disappointing week 4’s and are looking for major bouncebacks.

New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks: This could be a “for real” game for the Seahawks, who have cruised through one of the league’s easiest schedules to 6-1.  After a brutal start to the season, the Saints have started to show some life in recent weeks, and could be Seattle’s most potent challenger to date.  A lot rides on this for both teams – if Seattle can win this, they could show that they are truly for real.  In the more likely case, New Orleans gets the “W” and positions itself to try and make a run at Atlanta and Carolina – who may already be too far ahead and too good to catch.