Sunday, April 23, 2017

It's Time to Trade Andrew Wiggins

It's no secret the Minnesota Timberwolves underachieved this past season, winning just 31 games in a season they were expected to compete for a playoff berth. With Tom Thibodeau getting his first full season out of the way and a very young core, the expectation seems to be that next year will be the year the team finally competes for a playoff spot again. For Wolves fans, next year is basically the only hope we ever have. Winning in this state just seems difficult for whatever reason.

Friday, April 21, 2017

NFL Mock Draft 2017

We've updated our 2017 NFL Mock Draft , and have included trades in the most recent version. It can be found here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Minnesota Sports Teams and Mediocrity

I was born in 1988. That means, technically, I was alive when the Minnesota Twins won the World Series in 1991. Of course, my first sports memories wouldn't start for years, so I have no recollection of the MOST RECENT Minnesota professional championship* win. Hell, that's even the most recent appearance! As a life-long Minnesota sports fan, my memories are filled with heartbreak and mediocrity.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

NBA MVP: Westbrook or Harden?

With yet another NBA regular season coming to an end, the league-wide MVP debate is beginning to heat up. While there are a handful of players that have played at an MVP level this season, the award seems to be between former teammates Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Monday, April 10, 2017

2017 MLB Preview: NL West

Here's our final entry in our MLB divisional previews. Today's post covers the NL West, while the entire preview can be found here.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

2017 MLB Preview: NL East

[This is part 4 of our series. We've already covered the AL East, Central and West]


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

2017 MLB Preview: AL West

[This is part 3 of our preview series. Part 1 was the AL East and Part 2 was the AL Central]


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Monday, April 3, 2017

Best NFL Draft Prospects: Group of Five Conferences

Every collegiate football season, the majority of college football fans seem to forget that there is college football outside of the Power 5 conferences. The "other" conferences have been deemed the "Group of Five" and have yet to be represented in the college football playoff. This clear Power 5 bias has led to some great ideas, most notably a separate playoff system for the Group of Five conferences.

The Group of Five in college football consists of the American Athletic Conference (AAC), Conference USA, Mid-American Conference (MAC), Mountain West Conference and the Sun Belt Conference. These conferences are traditionally overlooked during the college football season, but they provide the NFL with plenty of talent on a yearly basis. Of course, the power 5 conferences dominate the first round.

Prior to the 2016 draft, 92% of first round picks over the last 10 years were selected from power 5 conferences. As that article shows, however, players like Khalil Mack (Buffalo), Jason Pierre-Paul (USF) and Chris Johnson (ECU) were all first round picks that developed into stars.

Today, we'll be taking a look at the "Group of Five's" best 2017 NFL draft prospects.

Friday, March 31, 2017

2017 MLB Preview: AL East

With Opening Day just days away, we will be releasing our MLB previews and predictions over the next few days, so keep checking back! Today, we cover the American League East.

American League


Monday, March 27, 2017

Is Tom Thibodeau Ruining Karl-Anthony Towns' Career?

Tom Thibodeau was hired by the Minnesota Timberwolves amid much fanfare and media praise. Thibodeau is by all accounts a defensive genius. He was credited with putting together the defensive scheme that made the KG-led Boston Celtics so good on that side of the ball, and then he became the head coach in Chicago and continued to have dominant defensive teams.

2017 MLB Mock Draft Updated

We've updated our 2017 MLB Mock Draft. It can be found here.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Updated NBA Mock

We've posted our updated NBA Mock Draft this morning. The entire first round can be found here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The NBA's Rest Problem

With NBA teams valuing their players' health more and more as time goes on, it's no surprise that teams have realized resting players during one of the back-to-back games is not only good for their health but their teams long term winning as well. Playing basketball is hard on anyone's joints, but especially someone who is well over 6 feet tall.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Updated NFL Mock Draft: Picks 22-32

Today, we've posted our third and final installment of our mock draft update. Today's post covers picks 22-32 in the first round.

The entire updated mock draft can be found here.

Picks below the break.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Updated NFL Mock Draft: Picks 11-21

Part 1 can be found here, while the final part will be posted tomorrow. Part 2 below the break.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Updated NFL Mock Draft: Top 10

With the NFL Scouting Combine behind us and most of the key free agents now signed, it's time to take an updated look at our 2017 NFL Mock Draft. Today, we'll reveal the first 10 picks of the first round. The remainder of the round will be revealed by Monday. At this point, we are not projecting any trades.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Byron Buxton Poised for Breakout Season

The Minnesota Twins are expected to be below .500 again this season, one year after finishing with the league's worst record and cleaning house with the front office. They have 120-1 odds to win the World Series, although long odds in the past haven't stopped the Twins

Sunday, March 12, 2017

NCAA Tournament Bracket March Madness

March Madness is upon us! Here's a look at my "quick pick" bracket in which I don't look up any matchups and simply make a quick choice for each game.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Quick Hits: NFL Free Agency and other thoughts

With the early NFL free agent frenzy mostly behind us and college basketball conference tournaments making us yearn for March Madness, here's some quick thoughts from around the sports world:

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Bring Back the BCS!

One of the few things the general public seems to agree on is that the NCAA Football BCS computer rankings system was a disaster. As is often the case when computers are making decisions, a few final rankings over the years had some teams and fan bases very angry. Unfortunately, the current system is heavily favored for the big school conferences, which means small schools are scrambling for solutions.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Vikings To Make a Splash in Free Agency

The Minnesota Vikings are gearing up to make a big splash in free agency, it would appear. The team is clearly in win-now mode, despite missing the playoffs last season. A veteran heavy roster and no first round pick means the Vikings know their window to win with their talented defense is going to close soon, and the fact that Super Bowl LII is in Minneapolis is even more incentive.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Draymond Green Roasts Paul Pierce

Last night at the very beginning of the Los Angeles Clippers-Golden State Warriors game, Draymond Green roasted Paul Pierce in the most hilarious way possible, telling Pierce he was "Chasing that farewell tour" and "You thought you was Kobe."

The Vikings Will Release Adrian Peterson

After a very disappointing second-half collapse, the Minnesota Vikings have an important off-season ahead of them. The team is without a first round pick thanks to the Sam Bradford trade, they have one of the worst offensive line situations in the league, and of course Adrian Peterson has a massive salary due for next season. The team (and Adrian) will need to decide in the near future if they plan to keep him around on a restructured contract or simply cut ties with him.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Wolves Stand Pat at Deadline, Keep Rubio

After days of Ricky Rubio trade rumors, the NBA trade deadline has come and gone with the Minnesota Timberwolves not making a single trade.

The team had been rumored to be shopping Ricky Rubio heavily over the last week, and it seemed like he would be traded somewhere. Thankfully, for whatever reason the Wolves chose to hold onto the Spaniard for at least the remainder of the season.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Derrick Rose Makes No Sense for the Timberwolves

Reports emerged on Monday evening that the Minnesota Timberwolves had been in contact with the New York Knicks about acquiring point guard Derrick Rose.

Rose is a former league MVP and #1 overall pick, so any time his name is mentioned it's note-worthy. Unfortunately, Rose hasn't been a good player since the 2011-2012 season, which was five years ago. Knee injuries have robbed Rose of the explosiveness that made him such a great player.

Monday, February 20, 2017

DeMarcus Cousins Traded to the Pelicans

Hours after the conclusion of the NBA All-Star Game, news broke via Adrian Wojnarowski that the Kings and Pelicans had agreed to a trade that would send superstar DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans.

There had been rumors all day that the Kings and Pelicans were talking, but those rumors were largely debunked by the Sacramento media prior to the All-Star Game. The deal is reportedly Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, New Orleans' first round draft pick in 2017 (Top 3 protected) and Philadelphia's second round pick in 2017 for Cousins and Omri Casspi.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

NBA Championship Roster Construction

For the better part of 30 years, the Minnesota Timberwolves have been considered a "young, up and coming" team. Years of poor drafting and player acquisitions kept our lovable losers in the lottery year after year after year, which allowed the team to add another young talent every season.

With the current Timberwolves roster filled with former lottery picks and the team's young core viewed very highly around the league, it's a popular mantra to say the young Wolves are close to getting back into contention. The theory seems to be that as the teams young talent continues to develop, they will become a winning team. With talents like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, the media thinks it's a foregone conclusion that this team will win soon.

That got me curious as to whether any other NBA dynasties, or even champions, were put together by drafting young players and developing them exclusively. I realize the Timberwolves will have plenty of cap space this off-season to sign a veteran, but I just can't see a top end player signing here with other options available.

The game has certainly changed an awful lot even over the last decade, but we're still going to take a look at how championship teams have been built. We're going to take a look at the past 20 years of champions, starting in 1998.

Monday, February 13, 2017

2017 Minnesota Twins Top 20 Prospects

With the Minnesota Twins not expected to contend this coming season, the hope for the team lands on the futures of the team's minor league prospects. Several publications have posted their own versions of the Twins top prospects, so a few disclaimers about my own:

The players ceiling is very important in my evaluation. A player like Nick Gordon, for example, who's widely regarded as the Twins top prospect, doesn't rank as highly in my eyes because while he's likely to be a major league contributor some day, there doesn't appear to be any skills that will make him more than an average regular.

Friday, February 10, 2017

MLB Off-Season Winners and Losers

Major League Baseball Spring Training is right around the corner, which means we are only 2 months away from meaningful baseball games. And while every team has a chance at this point in the season, some have done a better job than others in building their teams up this off-season. Today, we'll take a look at which teams helped themselves the most, and which teams made some mistakes they could have avoided.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Hall of Fame is Losing it's Luster

Prior to Super Bowl Sunday, the NFL announced it's 7-person Hall of Fame class during their NFL honors event. Each member was deserving, and it's a great honor for those that are fortunate enough to have their name called.

Unfortunately, the omission of Terrell Owens for a second consecutive season is an absolute disgrace. The writers who vote on Hall of Fame candidates clearly have a vendetta against Owens. Whether that's because the writers feel he was a major distraction for his teammates (which is silly) or more likely because they don't like the way Owens treated them, it's an absolute disgrace he didn't get in.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Super Bowl LI: Final Thoughts

Super Bowl 51 was a great game to watch for anyone that isn't an Atlanta Falcons fan. In the event you got so drunk that you forgot what happened, the New England Patriots came back from a 28-3 deficit to win the game, 34-28 in OT. Here are some quick thoughts on the game:

Friday, February 3, 2017

Remaining MLB Free Agent Bargains

With spring training just a few short weeks away, teams are scavenging the free agent market looking for a bargain on a player that the market has undervalued for whatever reason. Today, we'll take a look at a few possible bargains that remain on the market.

It's worth noting that not all of these players will sign for a bargain bin contract just because they remain unsigned at this point.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Around the Association: NBA Thoughts

Just some random NBA-related thoughts on the first day of February:

  • How fun was it watching Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio draining 3's all night on Monday? I wouldn't expect that to happen again the rest of the season, but hopefully Rubio can use it to gain more confidence in shooting open 3's. Even a slightly below average shooting Rubio would be an elite player with all of his other skills. Keep him!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

2017 MLB Mock Draft

With the baseball season just around the corner, and our beloved Twins holding the #1 pick in the draft, it's worth taking a little closer look at the draft prospects. Today, we've posted our first 2017 MLB Mock Draft, with notes on the top 5. We will update this throughout the baseball season.

The Cleveland Indians (Edwin Encarnacion), Colorado Rockies (Ian Desmond) and St. Louis Cardinals (Dexter Fowler) all forfeited their first round picks by signing compensation eligible free agents this off-season.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Change of Plans: Avoid Jimmy Butler

Last week, when discussing the latest Ricky Rubio trade rumors, I mentioned how I wanted to see the Timberwolves make a serious run at acquiring Jimmy Butler. I still maintain that he is and will always be a better player than Andrew Wiggins, but I no longer think Butler would be a good acquisition for this young, impressionable Timberwolves team.

The Wolves are very clearly Karl-Anthony Towns team. He's their best player and he wants to be the leader, so until he shows he can't be a leader, this is Towns' team without a doubt. Watching Jimmy Butler criticize his less-talented teammates along with serial cheater Dwyane Wade last week was a lesson in pure stupidity and how to avoid it.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The New England Patriots: The Greatest Dynasty of All-Time

As we approach the end of the NFL season, it's a little bitter sweet. We all are excited for Super Bowl 51, but what will we pass the time with on Sunday's when football isn't around to do it? With the conference championship games now behind us, the Super Bowl 51 predictions have begun to reveal themselves. This year's Super Bowl matchup is between the NFC's Atlanta Falcons and the AFC's New England Patriots.

Atlanta has never won a Super Bowl, losing their only appearance back in 1998 to John Elway's Denver Broncos. After years of hovering around .500, it's great to see Atlanta put together a late-season run for a fan base that deserves a championship once and for all.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Brian Dozier Update: Unlikely To Be Traded

Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier has quietly been one of Major League Baseball's top second baseman for the last few seasons. Due to the Twins losing records and lack of any real star power, though, Dozier's production wasn't as well known as one would expect.

The power hitting right hander made sure everyone knew who he was after last season. He hit .268/.340/.546 with 42 home runs in 155 games. He also added 18 steals in 20 attempts, and he ranked as the best base runner among qualified 2B. Add in his average defense, and Dozier is a very good all-around player.

The Twins reportedly were willing to listen to trade offers for their star second baseman, due in large part to the fact that the team is likely still a season or two away from even .500, and Dozier will turn 30-years-old on May 15.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

2017 NBA Mock Draft Part 2

Today we'll take our first stab at a 2017 NBA Mock Draft. Draft order based on final standings following the 1/22 games. Traded picks based on Chad Ford's NBA Mock draft notes, so send any complaints to him. Part 1 can be found here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

2017 NBA Mock Draft, Part 1

Today we'll take our first stab at a 2017 NBA Mock Draft. Draft order based on final standings following the 1/22 games. Traded picks based on Chad Ford's NBA Mock draft notes, so send any complaints to him. Picks 1-15 today, 16-30 tomorrow.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Too Many Words on Rubio, Thibs and the Wolves

With the Minnesota Timberwolves struggling again this season despite lots of off-season optimism, it's clear that the organization has decided they can't win consistently enough with Ricky Rubio as their starting point guard.

Rumors continue to swirl around the Spaniard, and it seems he's been on the trade block since the day Tom Thibodeau arrived in Minnesota* and they've only grown stronger in recent days. First there were reports the team was "actively shopping" Rubio, which were followed days later by reports of a potential Reggie Jackson-Ricky Rubio swap with other moving parts. Reggie Jackson doesn't make much sense as a trade target if the team's goal is to get more minutes for Kris Dunn, so the rumor doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Conference Championship Quarterbacks

Happy NFL Conference Championship weekend! With four great teams remaining, I expect we will see two great games on Sunday. But just in case you need something to spice up your Conference Championship weekend, here are some of this weekend's more exciting prop bets.

With the divisional round now behind us, teams are just one win away from reaching Super Bowl 51. Quarterback play is always important, but it seems twice as important in close playoff games. That's why it's no surprise that the four remaining teams all have MVP-caliber signal callers leading them.

Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots are both among the greatest to ever play the position. Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers is only a tier below those players, and perennially underappreciated Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons is an MVP candidate this season.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

2017 NFL Mock Draft, Part 2

Part 1 of our 2017 NFL Mock Draft can be found here.

17. Washington Redskins - Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State

Washington has bigger needs along the defensive line and they could use an inside linebacker, but Lattimore is a potential top 10 pick that would pair very nicely with Josh Norman for the next few seasons.

Lattimore's cheap cap number during the next four seasons also would allow the Redskins to spend money elsewhere in free agency, and by the time Lattimore is due an extension, Norman will likely be retired or ineffective.

18. Tennessee Titans - Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State

While Titans fans would've been hoping Lattimore fell just one more spot, his Ohio State teammate isn't a bad second choice. Hooker showed better coverage instincts all season than LSU's Jamal Adams, and he might be faster as well.

Hooker's not quite the run defender or pass rusher that Adams is, which is why he'll likely grade out slightly below the LSU star. For a Titans team with a porous pass defense, a player like Hooker could step in immediately and contribute.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

2017 NFL Mock Draft, Part 1

Today, we're releasing part 1 of our 2017 NFL Mock Draft. This covers picks 1-16. Tomorrow we will release choices 17-32. Future mock drafts will feature a full first round.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Jose Bautista Won't Be a Twin

For the last few days speculation has been rampant among local Minnesota Twins fans that they might sign outfielder/designated hitter Jose Bautista, formerly of the Toronto Blue Jays. I think it's completely false.

The rumors began because Twins beat writer Rhett Bollinger of reported that the Twins had reached out to several agents in the event they decide to keep Brian Dozier, and one of those agents was the agent of Jose Bautista. I think Bollinger does an admirable job and I'm a fan of his, but he fails to mention that Bautista's agent is also Ervin Santana's agent.

Others picked up the news, and it spread as if the team was seriously considering a run at the slugger. Bautista will reportedly accept a one-year deal, but only if it's for more than the $17.2 million qualifying offer he already turned down.

For a team as far away from contending as the Twins are, there's no way they'd be willing to shell out that kind of money AND give up a top 40 draft pick (as they would have to) to sign a player that may never return to his old form.

With a log jam of designated hitter options already, Bautista isn't likely going to turn the Twins into a contender, even if he returns to the old star he was. I think this is nothing more than the Twins throwing Santana's agent, Jay Alou, a bone to possibly give him more negotiating leverage with Toronto or other teams. It also gives the Twins a little leverage in talks with the Dodgers, as they can point to a solid plan B if they don't get what they want for Dozier. I don't think this is really a great move, and it's not going to work on the Dodgers, but there's no harm in trying.

Just know that it's extremely unlikely that Jose Bautista is wearing a Twins uniform next season.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Clemson Wins National Championship

Last night, in the best National Championship game since USC-Texas, the Clemson Tigers scored with 1 second remaining to beat the Alabama Crimson Tide 35-31.

It was an amazing game to watch, with Clemson refusing to give up despite trailing the entire game. I've never watched a Clemson game where Hunter Renfrow doesn't make a difference somehow. That kid is a great player and it was fantastic that he scored the game winning touchdown. He deserved it.

Nick Saban was gracious and classy in congratulating Clemson after the game, and even though he failed to match Bear Bryant by winning his sixth national championship, his legacy is untouched in my opinion. Saban is the greatest college football coach of all-time. Some people will disagree with that.

However, Saban could have cemented his status as the greatest coach ever without a doubt in my opinion had he done something creative at the end of the game. After the pass interference penalty that allowed Clemson to move to the 2 yard line with 6 seconds left, Saban and his defensive coordinator should have been telling his entire defense to pass interfere, hold, anything that wasn't cheap to make sure Clemson did not score a touchdown on that next play.

I don't mean once they realized they weren't going to stop them; I mean the plan the whole time should have been to interfere enough to make sure Clemson could not score a touchdown no matter what. Clemson trailed 31-28 with only six seconds remaining. Clemson was clearly going to either score a touchdown on that play or throw an incompletion within 5 seconds to allow for a field goal opportunity to tie the game.

So if Saban had simply told his players to take the penalty, Clemson would've obviously had a first down from the one yard line, but the play would've taken at least 3 or 4 seconds. That would've meant Clemson would've either had to choose to go for the game-winning score or kick the game-tying field goal, since with 2 or 3 seconds left at most there'd only be time for one more play.

Admittedly, for Saban to think of that while on the field making a million decisions in the last minute would've been difficult. However, someone as intelligent as Saban is in most situations would usually be prepared for that situation.

Alabama may still have lost in overtime, or maybe Clemson would've gambled and scored a touchdown on that final play, making Saban the scapegoat. However, if the goal was to win the game, which obviously it was, having every corner tackle every receiver before they ran their routes would've been the smart coaching decision.

As a fan, I'm glad they didn't and we got to see that game-winning touchdown. Alabama fans likely feel different this morning.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

2017 NFL Draft Running Back Rankings: Top 10

With the majority of the college football bowl games completed, and most NFL teams already planning toward next year, let's take an early look at some running backs that might be available in this year's draft.

With the Minnesota Vikings likely (or at least possibly) to move on from Adrian Peterson, the local team could be in dire need of a starting running back. Without a first round pick, however, the team will need to find value somewhere in the draft. Luckily, teams seem to find mid-round gems at running back more often than other positions, so it can be done.

Keep in mind these rankings will change as the combine and pro day workouts take place.

Curtis Samuel from Ohio State will be ranked as a wide receiver.

1. Leonard Fournette, LSU

While the big, bruising back didn't quite live up to expectations this past season, he's still a physical freak of nature with a body that is capable of taking hit after hit. Fournette's injury issues this year will cause some teams some concern, but they seem more like fluke injuries than a sign of things to come.

Fournette has the potential to be the best player in the entire draft class, and could possibly carry an offense from day one if he can stay healthy. It will be interesting to see exactly where he goes in the draft, as most teams picking near the top of the draft need offensive playmakers badly. Expect him to be a fan favorite wherever he goes.

2. Dalvin Cook, Florida State

Cook is expected to be among the fastest running backs in the draft, and if he runs an eye-popping 40 time it's certainly possible Cook could leapfrog Fournette by draft day. His speed is the real deal, as he consistently ran away from speedy defensive backs and made them look like defensive lineman.

Had the Vikings not made the trade they did for Sam Bradford, I think Cook would have been an ideal target for them. Unfortunately, they'd need to get very creative to find a way to land the FSU standout at this point. He should have a very successful NFL career.

3. Christian McCaffery, Stanford

The Stanford superstar wasn't quite as electric this season as he was last year, and he didn't seem to get quite the same kind of hype from the media. McCaffery is arguably the most complete running back, although some teams undoubtedly will have concerns about McCaffery holding up as a 3-down back.

He's a dynamic playmaker with the ability to line up outside, and that's led to a lot of people projecting him to New England. I think he's likely to be drafted before the Patriots even get a chance at him, and to be honest they just don't seem to target offensive skill players this high in the draft.

He's going to make some team very happy, but I'd be surprised if it's New England. He'd be a great fit in New Orleans.

4. Joe Mixon, Oklahoma

Based strictly on talent and future NFL ability, Mixon ranks 4th in my opinion. Due to the horrible video that surfaced last week of Mixon punching a female OU student during his freshman year, teams are going to be doing a lot of behind the scenes work on him. He's likely going to fall to the fourth round, at least, I would guess.

However, he's a great player. That doesn't forgive what he did, but someone is going to let him play in the NFL. If he can prove that incident was a one-time mistake instead of a sign of things to come, Mixon has a chance to be the steal of the draft and a potential difference maker as soon as his rookie year.

5. Wayne Gallman, Clemson

The Clemson junior doesn't seem to be getting enough love. He's obviously overshadowed by the spectacular DeShaun Watson, but Gallman is a great player in his own right. He's got the size and speed to be a great downhill runner at the next level, and he should be a solid option in the passing game as well.

His 40-yard-dash time could move him up or down several rounds, and there's no guarantee that he'll leave Clemson early to enter the draft anyway. If he returns to Clemson, I think he could be the best running back in college football next year. I'd prefer he leave, though, as running backs earning power is very limited.

Next Five:

6. D'onta Foreman, Texas
7. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
8. Alvin Kamara, Tennessee
9. Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State
10. James Connor, Pittsburgh

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Andrew Wiggins Conundrum

On Friday Night, the Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Milwaukee Bucks rather easily, 116-99. It was just the second time all season the Wolves didn't trail at all.

As is often the case in Timberwolves wins, Andrew Wiggins played very well. He scored 31 points on just 18 shots, and made 11 of 13 free throws. Even more impressively, he had 6 assists and just 1 turnover. It was an incredibly efficient performance.

The 21-year-old has scored 29 points or more 8 times already this season. It's clear he has elite scoring ability at times.

And while Wiggins has been a well below average defender since entering the league, even a marginal improvement would be fine if he plays like he did Friday night on the offensive side of the ball. His athleticism is spectacular, but his basketball IQ isn't nearly as good. That's not all that surprising considering Wiggins has always been able to use his athletic gifts to gain an advantage. 

Unfortunately, it seems every time Wiggins has a great game,he follows it up with a poor one. The Wolves lost on Sunday night to the Portland Trail Blazers, 95-89. Wiggins was able to score 24 points, but he only had 1 assist and turned the ball over 5 times. He just needs to make better decisions with the ball in his hands.

I don't buy into the notion that Wiggins demeanor doesn't allow him to be a consistently great player; I think it's more his understanding of the game that will hold him back. People love to talk about Kobe Bryant's competitive fire being a good thing, and there's no doubt sometimes it was, but there's just as many times Kobe did the wrong thing when his emotions got the best of him. It's okay to be laid back, especially since it's crystal clear that Andrew Wiggins is a very competitive person. He wants to win.

I think the floor for Wiggins development is basically Rudy Gay. An athletic, talented scoring wing that just can't seem to put everything else together. Wiggins is likely going to be a better player than Gay, I concede, but how much better? I've seen people say he could be a poor man's Carmelo Anthony, which I guess is possible. Gay is basically a poor man's poor man's Melo, so I can see it. Is that the best case scenario? Or could Wiggins develop into a Carmelo-type player?

I honestly have no idea. It seems more likely he'll be somewhere between Gay and Melo, which will leave the Wolves with a difficult decision: Keeping Wiggins will almost certainly require a maximum salary--is that a prudent use of the team's money? To be clear, Wiggins has plenty of value and the Wolves should in no way simply let Wiggins leave as a free agent. 

I would like to see the team offer Wiggins, a draft pick (Not this year's likely top 10 one) and Pek's retiring contract (or another matching salary if one makes more sense) to Chicago for Jimmy Butler. Undoubtedly, some fans will think Wiggins alone is worth more than Butler, but thankfully their understanding of basketball doesn't matter in this situation.

 Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has always been seduced by athletic wings, and Wiggins certainly fits the bill. Hoiberg was a huge OJ Mayo fan when he worked in the Wolves front office. If adding Rubio and Rondo makes the deal happen, I'd do that as well. I love Rubio and think he gets an unfair shake from the media, but Dunn is the future.starter it would appear and next year's draft is very point guard heavy.

Butler's defensive ability alone makes him a great fit for this current Wolves team, and while he's not a great three point shooter he's a similar offensive player to Wiggins but with a better understanding of ball control. It's possible the Bulls would have no interest in this kind of a trade, but if they truly want to rebuild quickly they might see Wiggins as a player with a higher ceiling at a cheaper price than Jimmy Butler. 

I don't expect the Wolves to trade Wiggins at all, so I realize it's little more than a pipe dream. Here's to hoping the youngster is able to continue to improve his game, and that one day everything (or even just a few things) clicks. Nothing would make me happier than Wiggins being a great player, as he seems like a great kid, but his body of work to this point leaves a lot to be desired. He's basically a volume scorer, albeit a fairly solid one at an extremely young age. Adding other pieces to his game is going to be instrumental in him developing into a star player, and my opinion is he won't be able to do it. I hope I'm wrong.

Monday, January 2, 2017

A Quarterback Strategy for NFL Teams, especially the Vikings

A franchise quarterback is arguably the most important position in any sport. If your team is lucky enough to have one of the few true superstars at the position, you are a super bowl contender basically every season. 

Of course, there are exceptions and some teams have won Super Bowls without a true franchise quarterback, but that's usually because they had a truly dominating defense and avoided major injuries. However, you'd obviously prefer to have an elite quarterback and build the rest of the team around that player.

Quarterback play has improved from even a decade ago, there's no doubting that. Several "average" quarterbacks today have more velocity and more raw talent than most quarterbacks did in the past. Defenses have also evolved into very complicated schemes, tricking quarterbacks and making the game as much mental as it is physical. That strategy isn't new, but the way it's being employed today by defensive coordinators is much better than it's ever been (except if you're a Ryan brother, yikes)

Despite every NFL team being fully aware of the value of the quarterback position, teams routinely screw up their strategy when it comes to acquiring that kind of a player.

To be clear: It's very difficult to land a top tier quarterback, in any fashion. They are often top 5 picks, but first round quarterbacks bust ever year. So not only do you need to be bad enough to be in position to draft one, you also need to be bad in the right year. Luck plays a huge part in finding that player.

When NFL teams think they have a future franchise QB, for whatever reason, they often refuse to draft another quarterback. I don't know if teams think it would be a "wasted pick" because they already have their young, developmental quarterback or if they don't want to send mixed messages to their young starter, but either way these teams are doing it wrong.

One example that comes to mind is when the Washington Redskins gave up a massive bounty to trade up and draft quarterback Robert Griffin the 900th from Baylor. The Redskins first pick after they took Griffin was all the way in the 4th round, and with so many holes to fill many expected the team to target an offensive weapon that could develop with their new young quarterback.

Instead, Washington drafted... another quarterback! Kirk Cousins from Michigan State. The talking heads during the draft basically just lost their minds. They had just given up a ton of picks for a quarterback, their future franchise quarterback, and now they had just wasted ANOTHER pick on a quarterback? There was no way Kirk Cousins was ever going to be anything more than RGIII's backup, what a wasted pick... blah blah blah.

Obviously, you know by now how that turned out. RGIII failed as Washington's starting quarterback, and eventually Kirk Cousins not only replaced him but became their franchise quarterback. That "wasted pick" turned out to be a franchise changing decision for the better.

And while the Redskins and Mike Shanahan deserve credit for their pick, Shanahan's stubbornness is really what led to them taking Cousins, not some league-changing strategy. Shanahan reportedly was very angry that the ownership was going to trade up for RGIII, as he liked Cousins more and wanted to take him with a mid-round pick. When Cousins was still on the clock with Washington's 4th rounder, Shanahan picked his guy more as a "screw you" to Daniel Snyder. I'm not a Shanahan fan, but he was right.

The correct strategy NFL teams should employ to find a quarterback, in my opinion, is as follows:

Find a starting quarterback: Obviously, this is step #1. Because even average starting quarterbacks don't grow on trees, teams are likely to sign a veteran stop gap. Teams picking in the top 5 will likely draft a QB, which is fine. But the team needs a clear starter going into off-season workouts. If you have a "competition" in the off-season, you might as well just be saying "We plan to suck next year."

Draft a quarterback EVERY YEAR, until you have a top 5 QB: This is the part NFL teams fail at year after year. Despite scouts insisting which QBs can't play in the pros and which can, they're proven wrong almost every season. 

When the Minnesota Vikings drafted Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick in 2011, they felt they had drafted their future starter. The 2011 team had the right idea, like most NFL teams: Donovan McNabb was brought in as the veteran starter, and they would develop Ponder behind him until they felt he was ready. For a rebuilding team, that strategy is fine. It may not always work, but it seems to give the young quarterback time to get acclimated with the complexity of the NFL. 

Where the Vikings screwed up, as most teams do, was the following season. McNabb had been terrible, so he was gone. Ponder was entrenched as the team's starting quarterback, which made sense after drafting him 12th overall and letting him get his feet wet in 2011. Unfortunately, the team decided to use Joe Webb as the backup quarterback; a player that some teams felt had to move to wide receiver. Webb was certainly a "development" quarterback and the kind of guy I liked to see the team develop, but he should've been the third quarterback. With Ponder still an unknown, drafting a quarterback until Ponder proves he's the guy would've been the optimal strategy.

In the 2012 draft, quarterbacks Russell Wilson, Nick Foles and Kirk Cousins were drafted between the third and fourth rounds. While it's impossible to know who the Vikings may have targeted, any one of those 3 would've been a better option than Joe Webb in the playoff game at Lambeau, and even Foles, who burned out quickly, had a better career than Ponder.

Don't Pay Average QBs: Quarterbacks like Joe Flacco and Sam Bradford, who get paid like franchise quarterbacks but aren't at that level, are franchise killers. The Ravens admittedly were in a tough spot, as Flacco's 4 best games of his career came in the playoffs right before his contract expired. It's really tough to let your quarterback, who just helped you win a Super Bowl, become a free agent. But it would've been the prudent decision from a team-building standpoint.

For the salary cap charge that Joe Flacco is costing Baltimore, the team could've signed two or three very good players at less expensive positions. While a starting quarterback is massively important, unless he's good enough to carry a lesser team (Like Aaron Rodgers) you can't afford to spend a huge chunk of your salary cap on one position.
This is another reason drafting a quarterback every year is so important. Starting quarterbacks who are still on their rookie contract are possibly the best bargain in sports, as they make pennies on the dollar for their production and it allows the team to spend big around the talented youngster. Had Baltimore been able to develop just one quarterback in the five years Flacco was around, they could've simply franchised Flacco and traded him following his Super Bowl run, and handed the keys to their other developed quarterback for a fraction of the cost.

Even this past season, the Vikings proved why this strategy can be so beneficial. The team felt Teddy Bridgewater was their franchise quarterback, so they had no reason to draft a quarterback in the middle rounds. Once Bridgewater tore his knee, however, the team had to give up first AND fourth round picks for the one thing NFL teams should be avoiding: Average starting quarterbacks* that have huge contracts. Had the team targeted a rookie quarterback between the third and fourth rounds, as I suggest teams always should, they could have drafted one of Jacoby Brissett, Connor Cook, Cody Kessler or Dak Prescott. Expecting them to draft Dak Prescott is a bit of a pipe dream, of course, as he's been better as a Cowboy than he ever was in college. But even if they had one of the other 3, they likely wouldn't have had to panic and trade for Sam Bradford. A Shaun Hill/rookie combo wouldn't have been a Super Bowl contender, but to be frank neither was a Sam Bradford led team, despite the Vikings insisting otherwise. Losing that first round pick when the offense is in dire need of several playmakers is going to be very costly.

And, interestingly enough, the Redskins have a tough decision of their own, as they need to determine if Kirk Cousins is simply "average" or if they should spend the money to keep him. If I were Washington, I would simply franchise tag Cousins for another season and delay the decision by one more season.

*Despite Vikings fans arguing otherwise, Bradford is nothing more than an average NFL quarterback. Yes, his passer rating and completion percentage look great in the box score, and yes, the offensive line was a mess. But franchise quarterbacks overcome poor offensive lines basically every season; Aaron Rodgers has had a terrible line for the majority of his career. Sam Bradford will never be Aaron Rodgers, obviously.

The Vikings seem to plan on Bradford being the starting quarterback next season, while Bridgewater continues his slow return from that terrible knee injury. Personally, I think Bradford is a little better than Bridgewater, but they're similar enough I wouldn't argue with someone if they liked Bridgewater more.

The ideal scenario would see the Vikings trade Bradford to a team that needs a starting quarterback and values his completion percentage and high draft pick pedigree. I honestly have no idea what Bradford's value would be, especially with his cap hit jumping to $18 million, but a 2nd or 3rd round pick seems like it'd be the least the team could get, in my opinion.

Use any 3rd or 4th round pick on your highest rated quarterback remaining, relative to pick value. Allow the rookie to get most first team reps as Bridgewater continues to rehab. Ideally Bridgewater would be ready by the season opener, giving the Vikings an average quarterback at a massive bargain, instead of an average quarterback that costs way too much. This kind of strategy would also allow the team to potentially add a good offensive lineman, whether it be through free agency or a trade. It's rare to find a starting lineman in year 1 from the draft.

However, there's little chance the Vikings think outside the box to find their franchise quarterback. It's much more likely they will continue to support Sam Bradford, blinded by the cost of acquiring him prior to the season. And it's just as likely we see the Vikings fighting for another 9 or 10 win season next year, at best.