Saturday, June 26, 2010

Saturday (US-Ghana) Quickie

A few thoughts while idling time between now and the 2:30 kickoff of US-Ghana...

*US-Ghana: I'm picking the US to win -- I mean, how could you not -- but Ghana is arguably the best team that the US has faced this tournament. Yes, better than England.

(I do like the fact that Ghana booted us out in '06 as motivation, but if this team needs that to motivate them at this point, they're in trouble.)

*Quick follow-up to yesterday's post about my suggestion for John Wall's new number: Dan Steinberg actually asked Wall about 44, and Wall was NOT a fan.

(It's all good: It turns out that Wall is leaning toward No. 15, which is my favorite number -- and not just because that's what Tebow wears -- or No. 3, which was my favorite number growing up.)

*Edwin Jackson's no-hitter (149 pitches?! WTF?!) comes about 5 seasons after I thought I was being smart and put him on my fantasy roster before he got called up as a rookie.

(It is also a bit of symbolism of the wrong track that the Rays are on right now. Come on, Tampa.)

*USC is appealing the sanctions: Of course they are. They will not win.

(Did you see that Percy Harvin was pivotal in the NCAA's case against USC? That should make everyone love him even more.)

*Thoughts are with Chad Jones, his family and his fans. What a spectacular player at LSU -- last season, I distinctly remember the way he won the game for LSU at Mississippi State with a sick punt return. Put the NFL aside; I just hope he can recover enough to have a normal life.

-- D.S.

Friday, June 25, 2010

World Cup Picks: Update

Checking in on my World Cup picks for the Group Round:

A: (1) Uruguay, (2) France
B: (1) Argentina, (2) Nigeria
C: (1) US, (2) England
D: (1) Germany, (2) Serbia
E: (1) Netherlands, (2) Cameroon
F: (1) Italy, (2) Paraguay
G: (1) Brazil, (2) Portugal
H: (1) Spain, (2) Chile

10 out of 16 spots predicted correctly, including winner vs. runner-up. Correctly predicted Paraguay would advance, but blew the spot. So that's 11 correct in some way.

Missed entirely on 5 spots, including a big whiff on Italy winning Group F. I know bragging rights are won and lost on picking runners-up, not group winners, but I'm proud of my initial results.

FWIW: From my original picks, I am VERY chalky in the 2nd round, and I'm sticking with it.

I have every group winner advancing (including the US), except I picked B2 to beat A1. (What the hell: Even if I got the teams wrong, let's keep the premise and pick South Korea over Uruguay.)

And, of course, I picked Italy to be F1, which was horribly dumb. But I will stick with the F1-over-E2 pick, Paraguay over Japan.

Also FWIW: I have the US advancing to the semifinals. I'm sticking with it! (Ack: Quickie jinx!)

Now that the World Cup is a straight 16-team bracket, where's the office pool.....

-- D.S.

Jon Scheyer on Wizards Summer Team

Jon Scheyer will be playing for the Wizards' summer league team.

For a Wizards fan with a fetish for Jewish basketball players -- and Scheyer is arguably the greatest Jewish college basketball player ever, and someone I have been in the tank for since he arrived at Duke (despite the fact that I hate Duke!) -- this qualifies as major news.

Latavious Williams Postscript: Presti!

A happy postscript to yesterday's post about Latavious Williams, the first prep to jump to the D-League. He is now the first D-Leaguer to be drafted by the NBA.

Williams went 48th overall. His drafting was notable for two things:

(1) The number of college players -- both early-entrants and seniors -- whom he was drafted before. This includes talented young players like Sylven Landesburg and Manny Harris and championship-draped seniors like Jon Scheyer.

It's not like Williams is some 7-foot prospect. He is a 6-7 small forward who plays with high energy. That makes him indistinguishable from dozens of college prospects, with one massive exception:

While those players spent the past one, two, three or four years playing in a system where the No. 1 incentive is not to get those players ready to be pros, Williams was playing in precisely that pro development system: A league whose mission is to prepare players for the NBA.

He played for NBA coaches, in NBA systems. He showcased his talents in front of NBA scouts. He played with NBA talent -- last season saw a record number of call-ups from the D-League to the NBA, where fully 20 percent of the league has spent at least some time in the D-League.

In past years, the D-League might have been a repository for NBA wannabes, ready to single-mindedly gun their way back into the league. But, hopefully, a lot more high school players whose goal is to play and succeed professionally will skip college and enter the D-League; the league's focus can then shift more comprehensively to the development of 18- to 22-year-old players to get them ready for the highest pro level, not unlike minor-league baseball.

(2) He ended up with the Thunder, perhaps the best-run organization in the NBA. I could talk all about how well the Thunder has developed young players, but the strongest argument is this:

Sam Presti -- arguably the best and smartest GM in the league right now -- thought enough of Latavious Williams (and thought enough of the prep-to-pro path he had chosen) to draft him.

Latavious getting drafted was big enough. Latavious getting by Sam Presti and the Thunder is the ultimate affirmation.

For all those undrafted college players (early-entrants and seniors alike), the D-League likely awaits you. Hopefully you can get as much out of it as Latavious Williams did.

-- D.S.

What Number Should John Wall Wear?

UPDATE: Apparently, Wall is thinking about either No. 15 or No. 3.

This is amazing, because I love both numbers -- actually, they have been the very two basketball jersey numbers I have loved most in my lifetime, No. 3 from when I was a kid until I was in my mid-20s, and No. 15 since then; it is my reigning favorite (and not just because of Tim Tebow. I liked No. 15 before that.)

Original post

Excuse the homerism/Wall triumphalism for a moment...

What jersey number should John Wall wear? His preferred number -- 11 -- is retired by the Bullets/Wizards for Elvin Hayes. So unless Hayes is willing to give it up, Wall needs a new number.

It's not an insubstantial thing -- it becomes part of a player's brand, not to mention a part of their merchandise sales. There are a few factors to consider:

*Can you own it? Meaning: Is it already defined by another star? (Examples: 35 is Durant. 24 is Kobe. 41 is Dirk. 23 is Jordan. Even 1 is Derrick Rose. Number 6, obviously, is now LeBron's -- or Arenas's, oddly.)

*Is it a "cool" number? (Example: 39 is not cool. Especially if you are an exciting point guard. You want your number to reflect that.

I think I have it. (Yes, I have given this way too much thought.)


*It has similar numerical alliteration to Wall's old number 11, and it's a cool-looking number.

*It is "owned" by Jerry West and George Gervin, historically, but no star in the NBA currently claims it and no star point guard in league history has worn it.

*It's a unique number for a point guard. (Remember when Jason Williams entered the league with the Kings and wore No. 55? It was one of the league's best-sellers.)

And, most interesting, it becomes a sly tribute to No. 44 in the White House -- the hoops-loving President -- getting work done a few blocks away from where Wall will do his own work. It evokes leadership (something Wall has talked constantly about) and a zeitgeisty D.C. vibe.

Thoughts? By the way: Wall can always change it later. Look at LeBron.

-- D.S.

06/25 Quickie: NBA Draft Mania

Well, it was a great Draft night if you are a Wizards fan (at least, with the No. 1 overall pick... not sure about the rest of the moves).

Tons and tons of NBA Draft follow-up in today's SN column:

*Best non-Wall pick: DeMarcus Cousins, who would be my pick to be Rookie of the Year, if Blake Griffin didn't appear to be a lock.

*Best Dressed (a Quickie tradition!): Wesley Johnson, obviously.

*Most intriguing picks: In the 1st round, Daniel Orton at No. 29 by the Magic, who can afford to bring him along slowly. In the 2nd round, Latavious Williams, the first prep-to-pro D-Leaguer drafted by the NBA.

*Schadenfreude for: Knicks fans, Lance Stephenson, Willie Warren. Stephenson should have gone straight to the D-League last year. Warren should have come out a year ago.

Of course, everything yesterday was framed around the free agency stuff: The Bulls got tons of new cap room. I'm stuck on this: This is all zero-sum. Someone's getting LeBron. Someone isn't. And the team that isn't is going to spend LeBron-sized money on non-LeBron talent.

More in today's column:

*Does Spain join Italy among World Cup chokers knocked out before the knock-out stage?

*Vlad! Break up the Rangers!

*Getting ready for US-Ghana tomorrow.

*That NBA Draft broadcast was uninspiring. The real action was on Twitter.

Tons more in the column. Check it out here. More later.

-- D.S.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Latavious Williams Defines 2010 NBA Draft

So there are a couple of intriguing storylines heading into Thursday's NBA Draft: Wall to my Wiz... Cousins vs. Favors... Gordon Hayward as Top 10 pick?

But, for me, the most intriguing storyline is Latavious Williams, who skipped college basketball to play in the D-League for the one-year moratorium the NBA put on his draft eligibility.

I posted about him last year: He became the first high school player to jump from prep-to-pros domestically since the NBA raised the age-limit. Williams went from high school to the D-League.

And I think he represents a huge future, as long as the NBA continues to insist that NBA-worthy high school players put in at least a year of college.

I have argued this before, and it is pretty simple: If your goal is to be a professional basketball player, you will get better training -- perhaps far better training -- for your career playing pro basketball in the D-league than you will in college basketball, particularly if you're only spending a year.

You will get pro coaching. You will get used to the pro lifestyle. You will be tracked by NBA scouts. The league's mandate is to position you to get to the NBA.

College basketball's mandate is not to get its players to the NBA. And any coach who says that is their goal is forgetting that their own job security comes first. (Nevermind that any college coach who says his No. 1 goal is to get his players to the pros shouldn't be a college coach.)

Let me put this simply: Even if he is "only" a 2nd-round pick, Latavious Williams is better off for having played a year in the D-League than playing a year in college basketball. Undoubtedly, his draft stock would not be as high as it is now. He wouldn't be close to being ready.

(By the way, this also goes for him going straight to the NBA Draft out of high school; he is better off with a mandatory year in the D-League before draft eligibility, which bridges the gap for me between hating the age limit and wanting to see enhanced pre-draft player development.)

Consider the slew of early-entry college players -- not to mention four-year college players -- who will be drafted after Williams (if they are drafted at all).

Then consider whether they would be closer to their goal of playing professionally if they had -- say -- decided to play professionally from the start.

This is beyond Brandon Jennings spending his one-and-done year in Europe, then showing up for the NBA far more mentally and physically prepared than any college player. This is about shifting the main framework of prep-to-pro player development from college to a domestic pro league.

Here's to many more high school players following the positive experience Williams had in the D-League and following him there.

Let's replace "one-and-done" with "one-and-development."

-- D.S.

UPDATE: Naturally, after I wrote a draft of this yesterday, the New York Times' inimitable college sports reporter Pete Thamel published a story yesterday about Williams. Obviously, it isn't as strident as my position -- but if you read between the lines, it should serve as primary support for my argument.

Annual NBA Draft Like/Don't Like List

Normally, I just post a list of draftees I "like" (project for future success) or "don't like" (think are overvalued or headed for mediocre careers). This year, I decided I'd go old-school "Hot/Not List" style and try to pair players up in related categories:


Like: John Wall
Don't Like: Evan Turner

Evan Turner is the new Emeka Okafor: Best in college. Limited upside. Read this.

Positionless Big
Like: Derrick Favors
Don't Like: Al-Farouq Aminu

Favors could be the next Dwight Howard.

Post Stud
Like: DeMarcus Cousins
Don't Like: Ed Davis

Davis could have been Cousins... a year ago. Don't stay in school.

WAC Small Forward Du Jour
Like: Paul George
Don't Like: Luke Babbitt

George is Danny Granger 2.0. Babbitt is Daequon Cook 2.0.... maybe.

I'm So Conflicted
Like: Gordon Hayward
Don't Like Gordon Hayward

I want to like him. He will not be very effective.

Like: Jordan Crawford
Don't Like: Xavier Henry

Crawford shoots just as well, but way more athletic.

Big Who Can Contribute
Like: Patrick Patterson
Don't Like: Hassan Whiteside

I have a blind spot for PP.

First-Team All-Big East Star
Like: Greg Monroe
Don't Like: Wes Johnson

Johnson will be very solid, but no star. Monroe more valuable as passing big man.

One-and-Done Point-ish Guard
Like: Eric Bledsoe
Don't Like: Avery Bradley

At another school, Bledsoe is All-American.

Big man
Like: Keith Gallon
Don't Like: Craig Brackins

Gallon is like a plus-sized DeJuan Blair.

Like: Jon Scheyer
Don't Like: Lance Stephenson

Scheyer has clear NBA role; Stephenson doesn't.

Like: Latavious Williams
Don't Like: Elliot Williams

Go D-League!

Stiff-ish Big Man
Like: Cole Aldrich
Don't Like: Solomon Alabi

Aldrich will have a very solid career. Alabi? Eh.

Finally, a few words about Daniel Orton, who might be the most polarizing player in the draft.

(1) There will be a backlash to the backlash before the day is over.

(2) Please think back to the pre-draft doubts about Andrew Bynum.

(3) Orton not having an agent killed him in the pre-draft media-spin game. NBA writers get their info from either team execs or agents. Without someone repping his case to influential media people, Orton had no chance. NBA info guys were more easily spun by execs; I guarantee you at least a few with late-1st-round picks were dogging Orton in the hopes he falls.

(4) Draftniks seem to ignore the concept of "expected value": If Orton has a, say, 20 percent chance of being the next Andrew Bynum, isn't that a much much better risk for a team picking in the 2nd half of the 1st round than a player with an 80 percent chance of being a mediocre-to-solid role player?

Given his limited college experience (and, to be fair, he was playing alongside four NBA 1st-round picks), Orton is the closest thing we have seen to a prep-to-pro center since Bynum. That turned out pretty well. Draft Express currently has Orton going to the Wizards with the 30th and final pick of the 1st round. As a Wizards fan, I would love to see that happen. I'll take my chances.

To recap, the players in this draft I like: Wall, Favors, Cousins, George, Patterson, Crawford, Monroe, Bledsoe, Scheyer, Latavious Williams, Gallon, Aldrich, Orton, Hayward.

And the players I don't: Turner, Johnson, Aminu, Davis, Babbitt, Hayward, Henry, Whiteside, Bradley, Brackins, Stephenson, Elliot Williams, Alabi, Hayward.

-- D.S.

NBA Draft: Happy Birthday, Brother

It's my brother's birthday today, so happy birthday to him. That his birthday coincides this year with the NBA Draft reminds me of a story from 17 years ago:

On the day of the 1993 NBA Draft, I was home from college for the summer and my brother was a rising high school senior.

We shared a room -- we always did, which I highly recommend for parents raising sibling brothers, even if you have the room in your house for each kid to have their own room. (I can't speak for sibling sisters, but hopefully someone else can.)

That night, the Bullets drafted Calbert Cheaney, and I thought the guy was going to be a superstar. (Yes, really. I thought he was going to be a pure-shooting 2-guard with the size and skills to dominate. Yes, really.)

I was sure of this. So sure that I wanted to tell Bullets fans everywhere.

And so I called into Ken Beatrice's nighttime sports-radio show. I waited on hold for at least an hour to get my turn.

I then got on the air and proclaimed that Cheaney would not only be a star, but had the potential to be "the next Michael Jordan." (Yes, really. Don't ask. Yes, I regret saying it.)

Here's the thing: My brother taped the call. And, for years, it gave him no end of entertainment. For the the little brother of a would-be sports pundit, it was the ultimate trump card.

We both believe that it is still in our room somewhere, buried in a box of cassette tapes. I have no idea how we will listen to them to find it -- there is an old boom box in the room, but neither of us ever are home long enough to sift through the tapes to find it.

As an artifact of my youth, it is probably worth looking. (Pretty good foreshadowing of my future career as a superlative-spewing sports pundit!)

Then again, the public claim was so preposterous that it is probably best left buried in history.

Happy birthday, Mark.

-- D.S.

06/24 Quickie: Biggest Day Ever?

In the 2+ years I have been writing the daily column for Sporting News, I cannot remember a more loaded column, with no less than a half-dozen topics that could lead the sports day.

All I can do is send you to it and hope you enjoy the whole thing. Here is my director's cut:

*Yes, yesterday absolutely was the biggest moment in US soccer history. Don't let the soccer snobs fool you with talk of "Mexico 2002." That changed nothing. "Donovan 90+1" changes everything.

*Isner-Mahut 59-59. So unprecedented as to become one of the defining moments in the history of tennis. I only wish they had enough time to play to conclusion, because a big part of the charm was the slog; a good night's rest is almost going too easy on them. Almost.

*In 25 years of being obsessed with the NBA Draft, I cannot believe that on the morning of the draft, this is the 3rd-biggest story. But I lay out my top 5 draft storylines in the column (with more coming here later): Wall, Nets at No. 3, Gordon Hayward, Latavious Williams, Trades.

*Phil Jackson retiring? OK.

*Stephen Strasburg losing? Not his fault!

*Ubaldo getting batted around by the Red Sox? Hmm...feels like a pretty important data point.

*CP3 getting traded? Not going to happen.

*LT indicted? A minor story today, because of everything else.

*World Cup Today, Group E: Japan-Denmark is a de facto play-in/knock-out game.

*World Cup Today, Group F: Does Italy get knocked out today? We can only hope.

*Hey, Albert Haynesworth is going to report to training camp! (Zzz.)

*Landon Donovan. Landon Donovan. Landon Donovan.

See the complete, jam-packed column here. A lot more NBA Draft stuff coming later this morning and throughout the day. I think I have at least 4-5 extra posts planned.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

US Soccer Pulls Off 91st Minute Miracle

"The Miracle at 91": At least, that's what I'd like to call it. One of the most joyous moments in the history of US sports -- certainly national-team sports -- and, at the same time, one of its most improbable.

If everything that happened leading up to this -- the fluky goal to tie England, the robbery that denied 3 points vs. Slovenia -- allowed for this most extreme of sports miracles, I am thrilled that they happened, because they made the moment all the more sweet.

It is one of the most stunning sports results of all time. Not an upset.

Just so improbable as to feel like one of the great moments in the country's sports history.

-- D.S.

06/23 Quickie: US Soccer, NBA Draft, Ubaldo

It's not crazy to call today the biggest soccer game in US history. Bigger than 1950 vs. England. Bigger than 2010 vs. England.

In today's SN column, I argue that winning would be huge and losing would be -- well, not quite devastating, but one of the bigger national sporting buzzkills we've seen in a while. (As was the goal-robbery from last Friday, by the way.)

By noon, we'll know whether things get extraordinarily exciting for the weekend -- or whether the World Cup will go on with the rest of the world caring, but many many fewer in the US caring.

More you'll find in today's SN column:

*Count me among those who like DeMarcus Cousins' NBA potential. (Not sure I see the logic of the Nets drafting Wes Johnson ahead of Favors or Cousins. Johnson may be better now, but isn't finding a small forward easier than finding a talented power forward? I guess in this free agent year, maybe not.)

*Much more on the draft later today and tomorrow. I'm obviously very very excited about John Wall joining the Wizards, but there's a player I am equally intrigued about. (Curious? Aaand, as usual, the NYT's Pete Thamel is all over it. This is why he's the best.)

*Is Ubaldo Jimenez vs. the Red Sox lineup today the most intriguing (non-Strasburg) match-up of the MLB season so far? Absolutely.

*That said: Strasburg's start vs. the Royals tonight is as must-see as the other three starts he has made.

*Is it really so crazy to acknowledge that Chris Johnson is the most underpaid athlete in sports and deserves a massive pay raise from the Titans? The team won't win this battle.

*Really recommend "The Two Escobars," the latest 30/30 documentary from ESPN. Very well done.

Complete SN column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

06/22 Quickie: AL East, World Cup, LeBron

It will never happen, but baseball needs a realignment to eliminate divisions and simply let the top 4 (or 6 or 8) teams from each league make the playoffs. That way, we don't end up with ridiculous outcomes like 3 teams over .600 in the AL East, with one guaranteed to miss the playoffs. (If it's the Rays, it is also the team with the most stacked pitching to actually win in the playoffs.)

Today's SN column is a bit of a baseball catch-up after two weeks of NBA Finals, CFB expansion and World Cup. I talk AL East, Strasburg and hand out premature mid-season awards (Ubaldo, Price, Cano, Adrian Gonzo -- with Strasburg and Carlos Santana earning Rookie of the Year awards eventually, because they haven't played enough yet to really qualify.)

There is a bunch more:

*I dissect the CP3-LeBron connection. It's a fair question: Can the Hornets get a package of players that make them better than without those players plus Chris Paul? (I also float the question of CP3 for Derrick Rose, straight up. Seems fair to both sides.)

*I lament the end of the 7:30 a.m. World Cup schedule, but the 10 a.m. games today are great: Mexico-Uruguay in a "win and you win the group; tie and you both make it but one of you has to play Argentina next" match-up, or France imploding, which is just fun.

*I mock Steve Smith (and Brett Favre, naturally), praise Alejandro Falla and rip BP -- that was the easiest rip of the month, to be sure.

See the entire column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Monday, June 21, 2010

06/21 Quickie: World Cup, US Open, More

If you're like me -- or like the US Soccer roster -- you're probably still a little bitter about Friday's screw-job at the World Cup.

"Well, it could have been a loss" doesn't really help. However, in today's SN column, I point out a few situations from this weekend that really should make you feel better:

*Tiger at the US Open.
*Dustin Johnson -- oy! -- at the Open.
*European soccer, more generally. (Say: Italy's humiliation)
*Ivory Coast
*Baseball fans now staring up at the Yankees in the AL East

I do feel a little better, with 48 hours to get ready for US-Algeria. A win there fixes a lot. (A loss? Don't even want to think about that yet.)

Meanwhile, it's a big week:

*NBA Draft (the "Wall Draft" for we Wiz fans)
*More World Cup (get up for Wednesday!)
*The iPhone 4 (did you pre-order?)
*Trying to pull my fantasy baseball team out of its tailspin.

Complete SN column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday (Father's Day) Quickie

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there.

We celebrated in my house with two homemade gifts my kids made in daycare, followed by my wife re-creating my favorite Brooklyn brunch treat: Bacon, egg and cheese on biscuits.

For the rest of the morning, we all watched World Cup, capped by New Zealand's stunning tie of Italy -- arguably the most shocking World Cup tie (if not most shocking result) of all time.

I wanted to offer my condolences to the Bol family on the loss of Manute Bol. His NBA career was marked by life as an oddity, but he was a tireless humanitarian.

Bol joined the Bullets when I was 12, and the team put on a promotional "Meet Manute" event in Bethesda at a local toy store. I had recently sprained my ankle and was on crutches. I remember getting to skip the entire (long!) line to get my picture taken with him. I remember being shocked at how tall he was -- he was incredibly reserved. I hope he felt appreciated. Bol became one of the biggest fan favorites in Bullets history.


*France at the World Cup has gone from humiliating to a farce. Is Moliere on Twitter?

*Seems like a terrific pick-up for the Redskins to get OT Jammal Brown.

*OK, once the must-see Brazil-Ivory Coast game is over, I'll flip over to the US Open. I'd like to see Tiger make a run at it, although I still don't expect him to win.

*Is Phil Hughes (now a 10-game winner) going to be an All-Star?

*After 10 weeks of careful attention to my fantasy team (including 8 weeks in 1st place), I have gotten drilled in the last two weeks, and yesterday, I left Felix Hernandez on my bench by mistake, just in time for him to throw a 9K shutout, a lowlight of Week 11. I deserve the second-division status I am headed for as of tomorrow morning.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there! More tomorrow morning here and at SN.

-- D.S.