Monday, June 30, 2014

Top 50 NBA Free Agents of 2014

Here are the Top 50 Free Agents of the 2014 NBA Free Agency Period, which will be updated as players sign with their respective teams:

1.  LeBron James (RFA - Early Termination Clause)

Previous Team: Miami Heat

After opting out of his contract with the Heat, James becomes the best player on the market since, well, himself, back in 2010.  He is said to be looking for a max contract which pay him $22.2 million per season.  It is possible LeBron only opted out to have more flexibility, then eventually just return to Miami, but it could also mean that he moves on.  As can be imagined, many teams have displayed interest, including Houston, Phoenix, Cleveland, and of course, Miami.  LeBron's decision is most likely the first domino to fall and then most of the other big-name players will sign new contracts.

Most-Likely Scenario: Miami Heat

2.  Carmelo Anthony (RFA - Player Option)

Previous Team: New York Knicks

Carmelo opted out of his contract as well, and looks likely to leave the Knicks.  He is the second-best scorer on the market behind James, and is most-likely looking to go to a contending team where he could be the piece that pushes them to championship-status.  The Bulls have been courting him, as well as possibly Houston or Miami, and of course Phil Jackson wants him to return to the Knicks.  Right now, if the Bulls could clear enough cap space to sign Carmelo, they would be the sure-fire favorite to win the Eastern Conference and possibly the NBA Finals.

Most-Likely Scenario: Chicago Bulls

3.  Eric Bledsoe (RFA)

Previous Team: Phoenix Suns

Bledsoe is an incredibly dynamic scorer and could be the centerpiece on the Suns for a very long time, and they will surely do anything they can to retain him.  They have already extended a qualifying offer to the star point guard, so they will be able to match any contract offered by another team.  Bledsoe wants to stay in Phoenix and they want him, so there shouldn't be much of a problem.

Most-Likely Scenario: Phoenix Suns

4.  Dirk Nowitzki

Previous Team: Dallas Mavericks

Dirk has been the face of the Mavericks franchise for such a long time, it is almost impossible to envision him in another uniform.  Mark Cuban wants him back, and he wants to be back, and it seems as if Dirk will return for yet another season as the Mavericks try to add more pieces (they already traded for Tyson Chandler) to contend for a championship.

Most-Likely Scenario: Dallas Mavericks

5.  Chris Bosh (RFA - Early Termination Clause)

Previous Team: Miami Heat

Bosh opted out of his contract, and now appears to be waiting on LeBron to make his decision.  However, no matter what James chooses, it seems that Bosh will return to the Heat.  He is a dynamic big-man who can shoot from the outside and rebound when needed, so Miami will undoubtedly do what they can to keep him.

Most-Likely Scenario: Miami Heat

6.  Greg Monroe (RFA)

Previous Team: Detroit Pistons

Monroe is one of the best offensive power forward/centers in the NBA, and one who could easily average over 20 points and over 10 rebounds per game for the next several years.  As a restricted free agent, the Pistons can match any offer for him, but might consider letting him walk as they already have Josh Smith to play power forward and Andre Drummond to play Center, so they do not particularly need him if the price of his contract is too high.  He will be well sought-after on the market and will probably earn a max-level contract.  The Lakers have been rumored to be interested and they usually get what they want, so that is something to look out for.

Most-Likely Scenario: Los Angeles Lakers

7.  Chandler Parsons (RFA - Team Option)

Previous Team: Houston Rockets

Parsons is one of the best young wing-scorers around, and is all-the-more special because he was a second-round pick.  The Rockets have been rumored to be planning on declining their team option so they can re-sign him to a longer-term deal, but nothing has happened yet.  If they are planning to sign LeBron or Carmelo, then they may have to let Parsons walk.  Parsons will be an attractive piece to sign after LeBron if not by the Rockets, but they have the last say.

Most-Likely Scenario: Houston Rockets

8.  Dwayne Wade (RFA - Early Termination Clause)

Previous Team: Miami Heat

Wade left over $20 million on the table when he decided to become a free agent with the rest of Miami's Big 3, so the most likely reason for that move is that Wade wanted to give Pat Riley the money he needed to bring in some help to the Heat.  He has some knee problems and seems to be showing more and more signs of age, but can still flash his superstar ability at times and will most likely re-sign with the Heat on a team-friendly deal.

Most-Likely Scenario: Miami Heat

9.  Lance Stephenson

Previous Team: Indiana Pacers

Stephenson has had some off-court issues, but there is no denying his talent and scoring ability.  He brings a lot tenacity on the court and would add a lot to a contender.  It seems unlikely that the Pacers will re-sign him, as he will command a lot on the open market.  Stephenson is a potential triple-double every night, and many teams will be taking a look at him.  It is certainly possible he returns to Indiana, but Chicago, as well as Dallas, are intriguing destinations.

Most-Likely Scenario: Dallas Mavericks

10.  Zach Randolph [Opted-In to Player Option, then Re-Signed]

Previous Team: Memphis Grizzlies

After opting in to the final year of his contract where he will make $16.5 million, Z-Bo signed an extension with the Grizzlies that will pay him $10 million in each of the following two seasons.  Randolph is a rebounding machine who can score and is a centerpiece on a Memphis team hoping to rebound in 2014.

New Team: Memphis Grizzlies

11.  Gordon Hayward (RFA)

Previous Team: Utah Jazz

The Jazz would love to resign Hayward, but he might get offered so much money on the open market that they cannot afford to match his contract.  He is a young wing scorer, which is so rare in the NBA, and has enough size that he can rebound and defend above-average small forwards.  The Suns are reportedly very interested, and if they offer a big enough contract, then the Jazz will have a hard time matching it.

Most-Likely Scenario: Phoenix Suns

12.  Kyle Lowry

Previous Team: Toronto Raptors

Lowry has broken out in the last two seasons, and has become one of the league's best point guards.  He can score, pass, and defend, which is everything a point guard should do.  He will likely follow suit with his former teammate Chris Bosh and be the next Raptors star to score a big contract elsewhere, even though they can offer him the most money.  Lowry has been connected to the Heat, but his former team, the Rockets, have a real need at point guard and if they can deal Jeremy Lin (well, even if they can't) they will make a push for Lowry and end up with a very dynamic scoring team that would challenge for the Western Conference title next year.

Most-Likely Scenario: Houston Rockets

13.  Rudy Gay [Opted-In to Player Option]

Previous Team: Sacramento Kings

Gay opted into the final year of his contract next season, and will make $19.3 million.  This was a no-brainer for him, for even if Sacramento isn't Gay's favorite place, there is no where else that he would make that kind of money.  He hasn't played up to his huge contract since he signed it, although he has provided a nice scoring presence for the Kings and his previous teams.  He will hope to play up to his salary this season.

New Team: Sacramento Kings

14.  Luol Deng

Previous Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

Deng was traded midway through the year, but not because of his talent, instead as a salary dump.  Deng still can score, shoot from the outside, and defend, which is all any team that signs him will ask of him, and he could really help out a contending team and push them over the edge.  The Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks appear interested, but Atlanta recently made a trade that cleared enough cap space to sign Deng, and seem the more likely destination.  They would have a formidable lineup with Deng in the mix.

Most-Likely Scenario: Atlanta Hawks

15.  Tim Duncan [Opted-In to Player Option]

Previous Team: San Antonio Spurs

There was no where else Duncan would go, it was comeback or retire.  Luckily for the Spurs, Duncan opted back in at a modest $10.3 million salary for next season, and will go for one last Championship run and attempt a repeat with the only team he has ever known.

New Team: San Antonio Spurs

16.  Isaiah Thomas

Previous Team: Sacramento Kings

Thomas is an exciting young player, but for some reason the Kings seem to dangle him in trade offers quite a bit.  He is a guard who can pass but also score, and could be somewhat of a poor-man's Eric Bledsoe this offseason and could have an impact similar to what Bledsoe did to the Suns, although to a lesser degree.  Luckily for the Kings, and quite surprisingly, Thomas isn't garnering that much attention in free-agency, perhaps because of Kyle Lowry's impending decision.  However, if the Kings are smart (and they haven't been too smart lately), they will re-sign their star young point guard.

Most-Likely Scenario: Sacramento Kings

17.  Greivis Vasquez

Previous Team: Toronto Raptors

Vasquez is one of the most underrated players in the NBA, and one who makes everyone around him better.  He is one of the most important reasons as to why the Raptors finished 3rd in the Eastern Conference despite not having the most talented roster around.  Any team that needs a point guard would be enamored with Vasquez's playmaking ability, but the Raptors will need him the most if Lowry walks.  He could become a starter next season and help the Raptors continue their run of success.

Most-Likely Scenario: Toronto Raptors

18.  Paul Pierce

Previous Team: Brooklyn Nets

Paul Pierce is old, but he is not done yet.  He still has some scoring ability and would be a quality player off the bench for a contender.  However, the recent Nets coaching fiasco (thanks, Jason Kidd) has left Kevin Garnett's future in question (he may retire) as well as Pierce's.  The latest rumor is that Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers are players for Pierce, and surely he'd love to move back to his hometown and play for the coach he had played for most of his career.

Most-Likely Scenario: Los Angeles Clippers

19.  Marcin Gortat

Previous Team: Washington Wizards

When the Wizards traded for Gortat, many shrugged it off as a minor move that wouldn't really matter in the long run, but alas, Gortat helped an overachieving Wizards team make a serious run in the playoffs, and they will need to keep him around in order to do so again.  Gortat is a rim-protector who can score when needed, and plays a vital role on the Wizards team that they will not let get away.

Most-Likely Scenario: Washington Wizards

20.  Pau Gasol

Previous Team: Los Angeles Lakers

It seems all but certain that Gasol's time with the Lakers is up, and many teams seem interested in Gasol's talents.  The Knicks, Thunder, and Bulls have all claimed to be interested, but the most intriguing possibility is in Dallas.  Mark Cuban is known for bold moves, and the Mavericks seem to be going all-in this year after trading for Tyson Chandler.  If they target Lance Stephenson and then Gasol, they could really make a push for the Western Conference title.

Most-Likely Scenario: Dallas Mavericks

21.  Avery Bradley (RFA)

Previous Team: Boston Celtics

The Celtics extended a qualifying offer to Bradley, so they will be able to match any offer any team makes.  The Celtics really like Bradley's defense and so will likely try to retain him unless a ridiculous contract is offered by another team.  However, that doesn't appear likely to happen as Bradley has more value to the Celtics than anyone else, and look for him to remain in Boston next year.

Most-Likely Scenario: Boston Celtics

22.  Ray Allen

Previous Team: Miami Heat

Allen is most likely either going to retire or return to the Heat, where he won his second career championship, but he seems like the type of player with such a competitive drive that he would not be able to hang up the shoes before he really has to.  The Heat most definitely want the all-time greatest three-point shooter back on their team, and Allen probably will return in the end.

Most-Likely Scenario: Miami Heat

23.  Mario Chalmers

Previous Team: Miami Heat

Chalmers had an awful run in the playoffs, the Heat have Norris Cole and drafted Shabazz Napier.  Those factors all point to Chalmers leaving the Heat, especially because their hands are so tied with a limited amount of money to spend.  The Lakers have a need at point guard and would love to get their hands on a guy like Chalmers who knows how to play with superstars but still knock down shots when needed, so look for them to court Chalmers in free agency.

Most-Likely Scenario: Los Angeles Lakers

24.  Jordan Crawford (RFA)

Previous Team: Golden State Warriors

Crawford had an incredible first half of the season for the Celtics before being traded, but his upside is limited unless he plays on a bad team so his suitors will probably be limited as well.  However, a team like the Milwaukee Bucks could use a guy like Crawford who could help out in the interim and perhaps be traded at the deadline for some pieces that could aid in their rebuild.  Other than that, there are not many options for Crawford in free-agency, although the Detroit Pistons could be an option if they are looking for help at shooting guard.

Most-Likely Scenario: Milwaukee Bucks

25.  Kris Humphries

Previous Team: Boston Celtics

Humphries was actually a very productive player for the Celtics last year, but will most likely get a contract worth much less than his previous one on the market this year.  There are not many teams who will be looking at Humphries, but the Knicks are one team who could be interested after trading Tyson Chandler to Dallas.  They could get Humphries on a short-term deal without eating up much cap space and still potentially sign one of the superstars available this year and next.

Most-Likely Scenario: New York Knicks

26.  Evan Turner

Previous Team: Indiana Pacers

There are not many teams who want a ball-hogging player on their team, but there are many teams with a need at Turner's position of shooting guard.  The Charlotte Hornets are one team that could be looking at Turner to complement Kemba Walker, and hope that he can mature enough to either be a good player for their team or become an asset they could trade away eventually.

Most-Likely Scenario: Charlotte Hornets

27.  Vince Carter

Previous Team: Dallas Mavericks

The age-defying Vince Carter should receive quite a bit of attention on the free-agent market this offseason, and one team to watch (along with the Heat, Thunder, Raptors, and Mavericks) is the Portland Trail Blazers as one who might go after him.  They have relatively little cap space but Carter could really add a scoring dynamic off the bench or occasionally in the starting lineup that the Blazers could use to get over the hump and make something happen in the playoffs.

Most-Likely Scenario: Portland Trail Blazers

28.  Spencer Hawes

Previous Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

Hawes has always been an underrated player, and will most likely sign for depth-level money this free-agency, and a team who seems to be interested in him is the Clippers, and Hawes is interested in them as well.  He could be a great bench piece behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, which would really help the Clippers' chances in the playoffs as the Spurs showed this year how important depth is in deep playoff runs.

Most-Likely Scenario: Los Angeles Clippers

29.  Rashard Lewis

Previous Team: Miami Heat

At this stage of his career, Lewis will be a veteran shooter at a minimum-level deal who will help team chemistry and likely outplay his salary, and therefore Lewis seems like the perfect fit with almost any team.  He likely only has a few years left, and so will want to spend it on a contending team, and Lewis does have enough left in the tank to contribute to a playoff team as he did with Miami, so he could help keep the Raptors at contender status if he signs with them.

Most-Likely Scenario: Toronto Raptors

30.  Emeka Okafor

Previous Team: Phoenix Suns

The Thunder had some serious problems when Serge Ibaka went down with an injury in the Western Conference Finals, so they will be looking to add depth at the power forward position this free agency.  Okafor is the perfect fit as he will come cheap and will not need to be counted on for heavy minutes, which will allow Oklahoma City to get the most out of this savvy veteran who still brings rebounding and defense to the table.

Most-Likely Scenario: Oklahoma City Thunder

31.  Boris Diaw

Previous Team: San Antonio Spurs
Most-Likely Scenario: San Antonio Spurs

32.  Ed Davis

Previous Team: Memphis Grizzlies
Most-Likely Scenario: Utah Jazz

33.  Glen Davis (RFA - Player Option)

Previous Team: Los Angeles Clippers
Most-Likely Scenario: Los Angeles Clippers

34.  Ben Gordon

Previous Team: Charlotte Hornets
Most-Likely Scenario: Indiana Pacers

35.  Jerryd Bayless

Previous Team: Boston Celtics
Most-Likely Scenario: Detroit Pistons

36.  Andrea Bargnani [Declined Early Termination Clause]

Previous Team: New York Knicks
New Team: New York Knicks

37.  Andrei Kirilenko [Opted-In to Player Option]

Previous Team: Brooklyn Nets
New Team: Brooklyn Nets

38.  Patrick Patterson

Previous Team: Toronto Raptors
Most-Likely Scenario: Toronto Raptors

39.  Nick Young (RFA - Player Option)

Previous Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Most-Likely Scenario: Los Angeles Lakers

40.  Chris Andersen (RFA - Player Option)

Previous Team: Miami Heat
Most-Likely Scenario: Houston Rockets

41.  Nate Robinson [Opted-In to Player Option]

Previous Team: Denver Nuggets
New Team: Denver Nuggets

42.  Mike Miller

Previous Team: Memphis Grizzlies
Most-Likely Scenario: Memphis Grizzlies

43.  Amar'e Stoudemire [Declined Early Termination Clause]

Previous Team: New York Knicks
Most-Likely Scenario: New York Knicks

44.  D.J. Augustin

Previous Team: Chicago Bulls
Most-Likely Scenario: Chicago Bulls

45.  Kirk Hinrich

Previous Team: Chicago Bulls
Most-Likely Scenario: Charlotte Hornets

46.  Danny Granger (RFA - Player Option)

Previous Team: Los Angeles Clippers
Most-Likely Scenario: Los Angeles Clippers

47.  Thabo Sefolosha

Previous Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
Most-Likely Scenario: Houston Rockets

48.  Udonis Haslem (RFA - Player Option)

Previous Team: Miami Heat
Most-Likely Scenario: Miami Heat

49.  Channing Frye (RFA - Player Option)

Previous Team: Phoenix Suns
Most-Likely Scenario: Los Angeles Lakers

50.  Jameer Nelson (Bought Out)

Previous Team: Orlando Magic
Most-Likely Scenario: Atlanta Hawks

The USA's Guide To Beating Belgium

We did it... I told you it would happen and none of you believed it. I also told you that if we made it out of the "Group of Death" I would write another guide for the USMNT, so here I am.
Belgium are certainly a good team, but after watching their group games, it is apparent that they are a more beatable team than their roster would indicate. Despite talented players like Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, and Kevin De Bruyne littering their roster, they still haven't gelled together in this World Cup. Thus, the US should be fairly confident entering this contest, as long as they put out the right players into the right system - that's what I'm here to do.
The tactical situation for the US against Belgium is a bit of a catch-twenty-two; Belgium are most dangerous on the counter, so setting out to hold onto the ball for much of the game could prove deadly, but Belgium are also willing to hold onto the ball themselves, so sagging back wouldn't make sense either. However, if one style has been rewarded in this knockout round, it has been the sit back and defend style (see: Brazil-Chile, Mexico-Netherlands, Germany-Algeria, Costa Rica-Greece). In all the example matches provided, teams with less talent brought teams with much more talent to the brink of elimination by simply defending and hitting on the counter. A team like the US, that is more talented than many of the underdogs listed, should excel using this approach, especially if Jozy Altidore returns to the starting lineup and is able to continue sparking the US counter. If we go with my suggested defend-and-counter style, the most suitable formation would be the 4-1-3-2, which would eventually morph into more of a defensive 4-4-2.
I know, I know, the formation looks rather attack-minded, but in actuality, it's fairly defensive. The four midfielders are all defensive minded, as Jones and Beckerman are traditionally defensive midfielders, Bradley usually plays as a deep lying midfielder, and Zusi is really overlooked when it comes to tracking back. Thus, the entire team, with the exception of Dempsey and Altidore will be sagging pretty deep for much of the game. The defensive is going to be well locked down, but offensively, just Dempsey and Altidore being isolated up top isn't going to get it done, so that puts a huge emphasis on Jones and Zusi being the connecters between midfield and strikers. Jones and Zusi are the perfect players for this job, as Jones has the stamina to run all day, and Zusi has the stamina to run like mad for 70 minutes, at which point he can be replaced by his mirror image, Alejandro Bedoya.
Klinsmann, I hope you read up, because these tactics are the way to do it against Belgium... Good luck USA!!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Johnny Manziel Told to 'Tone it Down' by Browns Owner Jimmy Haslam

Ever since Texas A&M played their final game of the season against Duke in the Chick-Fil-A-Bowl, quarterback Johnny Manziel has had no problem finding time to entertain himself throughout the offseason. The incessant partying has caused Cleveland Browns' owner Jimmy Haslam to talk to Johnny Manziel, telling him to try be conscious of his decisions, especially due to the power of social media.
The Cleveland Browns knew when drafting Manziel that the young quarterback enjoys partying when he is off the football field, but many have begun to question whether or not Manziel is focused enough to take over Cleveland's offense at this point in time. Although  we have seen Manziel partying with models, Rob Grownkowski, and floating swans during the offseason, the final straw for owner Jimmy Haslam was a video on Instagram showing Manziel talking into a stack of money and using profanity. Manziel responded to these rumors at training camp when he said, "I am going to enjoy my time off. I’m very about football and very about my job, which doesn’t get reported or won’t get reported, but I am going to enjoy my time off. That’s I think what everybody else does and that’s what I should do...I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong."

Thursday, June 26, 2014

World Cup Best XI After Group Stage

Here is our second edition of the World Cup Best XI, and this one comes right after the end of the group stages. Once again, so that I can fit as many top players as possible into the starting lineup, I will allow myself a small bit of leniency with the positions.
Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico, Goalkeeper - Ochoa features in the starting XI once again, as he had another brilliant game against Croatia, following two huge performances against Brazil and Cameroon. Ochoa's reflexes and decision-making have been absolutely superb thus far and Mexico will need him to stay at top form if they are going to slip past the Netherlands.

Serge Aurier, Ivory Coast, Right Back - The only person to make this XI from a team who has been eliminated, Aurier has not been incredible so far, but other right backs have been so underwhelming that there are almost no other options. Aurier had two assists in his first game against Japan, but was kept quiet against Colombia and Greece, although he still put in solid defensive performances.

Kenneth Omeruo, Nigeria, Center Back - Omeruo, like Aurier, is a beneficiary of the fact that there have been very few impressive defenders so far in the tournament. Omeruo has led a surprisingly fantastic Nigeria back line, shutting down Iran and then Bosnia (he man-marked Edin Dzeko for much of the game). Though he struggled at times to contain Lionel Messi and the Argentinian attack, his talent was still able to shine through a couple times, as he made several outstanding tackles and clearances.

Johan Djourou, Switzerland, Center Back - After France demolished Switzerland in their second group game, the Swiss back line looked as if they were in shambles. However, Djourou helped them regain form against Honduras, and he looked like the man who we saw in the Swiss opener against Ecuador. Excluding the game against France, Djourou has been undoubtedly the best center back in the tournament.

Daley Blind, The Netherlands, Left Back - Once again, there haven't been too many defenders that have impressed so far in the World Cup, but Blind has probably been the best of all of them. After dominating in the Netherlands' first game against Spain, Blind struggled a bit against Australia, but then was back to top form against Chile.

Arjen Robben, The Netherlands, Right Midfield - Arjen Robben has been, without a doubt, the best player in this World Cup so far. He has tallied three goals and an assist, all of which have been vital to the Netherlands' dominant performances in Group B. Robben's speed, dribbling, and shooting are all fantastic, but the most remarkable thing about Robben's game is that everybody knows that he can only go left but he continues to succeed in doing it.

James Rodriguez, Colombia, Center Midfield - Everybody knew J-Rod was good, but nobody knew he was this good. Rodriguez has three goals and two assists for Colombia and is the main reason why the team has been so incredibly impressive. Rodriguez just moved to Monaco for about 45 million dollars, but his transfer stock has to be rising even more with his performances in this World Cup.

Neymar, Brazil, Left Midfield - Neymar was left off of our previous XI because, even though he was scoring goals, he wasn't having the consistent effect on matches that we expect out of him. Well, in his last game against Cameroon, Neymar finally showed off all of his talents with a dominant performance all over the pitch and was rewarded with two goals.

Thomas Muller, Germany, Striker - Questions were being asked about the German striker position before the World Cup started, but Muller, who is not a natural striker, has really dominated the role for Germany. With four goals already this year, Muller now has 9 total World Cup goals and is on pace to become the greatest World Cup scorer of all time.

Lionel Messi, Argentina, Striker - Does anybody still think that Messi isn't the best player in the world? The last thing that Messi had to do was to perform for Argentina at the biggest stage, and he has certainly done that so far, with an impressive total of four goals. He wasn't in our last starting XI because he wasn't dominating every facet of the game like he should (much like Neymar) but in his most recent game against Nigeria, Messi showed us why many consider him to be the best.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

2014 NHL Awards Results

Here are the results of the five major NHL awards that were handed out on June 24th in Las Vegas, as well as a brief analysis for each one:

Hart Trophy: Sydney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (Last Year: Alex Ovechkin)

Beating out Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks and Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers, Sidney Crosby won the NHL's most valuable player award.  This is his second career Hart Trophy, and he now becomes the only other Penguin with multiple MVP awards, as Mario Lemieux had three.  He also took home the Art Ross Trophy for leading the NHL in points with 104, and the Ted Lindsay Award for the "most outstanding player" as voted on by the NHL Players Association.  Crosby had 36 goals, 68 assists (league-leading), and totaled 104 points.  He never went more than two consecutive games without obtaining a point, earned multiple points in 30 games, and on November 29th became the sixth-fastest player in NHL history (fastest among active players) to reach 700 career points.

Vezina Trophy: Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins (Last Year: Sergei Bobrovsky)

Beating out Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanch and Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Tuukka Rask won the NHL's award for the best goaltender in the league.  This is his first career Vezina Trophy, and is the second Bruins net minder in the past six years (Tim Thomas the other) to have won a Vezina.  Rask earned a 36-15-6 record this season as the Bruins led the Eastern Conference in team defense, allowing 2.08 goals per game.  He also was the only goalie to rank in the top five of each major statistical category for goaltenders, as he was first in shutouts with seven, second in save percentage with one of .930, fourth in goals-against average with one of 2.04, and fifth  in wins with 36.

Norris Trophy: Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks (Last Year: P.K. Subban)

Beating out Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins and Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators, Duncan Keith won the NHL's award for the best defenseman in the league.  This is his second career Norris Trophy, and is now the only active defenseman with multiple wins.  Keith had 55 assists last season, which led all defensemen, and had 61 points which was second among all defensemen.  He also played a team-high 24:38 minutes per game, which marks the ninth time that Keith has led the Blackhawks in time-on-ice.

Selke Trophy: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins (Last Year: Jonathan Toews)

Beating out Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, Patrice Bergeron won the NHL's award for the best defensive forward in the league.  This is the second time in three years in which Bergeron has won the award, and tonight he also took home the NHL Foundation Player award for the NHL player who applies the core values of hockey to help the lives of people in his community, as well as the cover for EA Sports NHL '15 over rival P.K. Subban. Bergeron won 1.015 face-offs last year, which led the league and also was the most by any player over the past seven seasons, and the Bruins allowed the fewest goals per game at 2.08.  He had a plus-minus of +38 (a career high) and played 1:57 minutes per game shorthanded, which led all Bruins.

Calder Trophy: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (Last Year: Jonathan Huberdeau)

Beating out Ondrej Palat of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Tyler Johnson of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Nathan MacKinnon won the NHL's rookie-of-the-year award.  The #1 overall pick in the 2013 NHL draft, MacKinnon scored 24 goals, had 39 assists, 63 points, 8 power-play goals, 5 game-winning goals, and took 241 shots, all of which either led all rookies or was tied for the lead.  He also broke Wayne Gretzky's record of 12 for the longest single-season point streak by a player age 18 or younger, with a 13-game streak of his own.

2014 NBA Mock Draft #5: Trades Edition

Our Previous Mocks:

6/21/2014 - 2014 NBA Mock Draft #4 (Final Mock Without Trades)
3/28/2014 - 2014 NBA Mock Draft #3: March Madness
1/21/2014 - 2014 NBA Mock Draft #2
12/23/2013 - 2014 NBA Mock Draft #1

With the 2014 NBA Draft now only two days away, it is time for our final mock draft of the year, and this one is extra-special because it includes mock trades!

1.   Philadelphia 76ers (Projected Trade from Cavaliers) – Andrew Wiggins, G/F, Kansas

Projected Trade: 

76ers Get: #1 Pick
Cavaliers Get: #3 Pick, Thaddeus Young

The 76ers have wanted Wiggins all along, and since Embiid's injury, he has become the favorite for the #1 overall pick and therefore has fallen out of the 76ers' grasp.  In order to assure that they get their guy, Philadelphia will offer up Thaddeus Young and the #3 pick for the #1.  They get the most athletic prospect in the draft with the highest ceiling to be added to a very young and talented Philadelphia core.  Wiggins could be the face of their franchise for years to come.

2.  Milwaukee Bucks – Jabari Parker, SF, Duke

The Bucks probably would have preferred Wiggins, but since Philly swooped in and stole him then they will have to "settle" for the most pro-ready prospect in the draft in Parker.  Embiid's health risks are just too much to gamble on with the #2 pick, and Parker will add much needed talent to a very lackluster roster.  Parker is a refined scorer who can play a fast-paced transition game, so hopefully he can be the go-to guy on the Bucks for a long time.

3.  Cleveland Cavaliers (Projected Trade from 76ers) – Joel Embiid, C, Kansas

Projected Trade: 

76ers Get: #1 Pick
Cavaliers Get: #3 Pick, Thaddeus Young

The Cavaliers make this trade because they can pick up a 26-year-old power forward in Young who is very underrated but very talented and only move back two spots.  Young can average a double-double, and on a team trying to entice LeBron James to return, a strong front-court would be a real asset.  Also, they can pick up the guy whom they wanted all along in Embiid, for even though he may miss next season with a foot injury (which is why he fell to #3 in the first place), the Cavs already have Anderson Varejao and were extremely lucky to land the #1 pick in the first place.  They can take a chance on Embiid and hope he becomes the next great center while still managing to acquire proven talent in Young.

4.  Orlando Magic – Dante Exum, PG/SG, Australia

The Magic need a point guard. Exum is a tall, athletic point guard with scoring ability, plus a bit of added mystery and intrigue since he played in Australia. Its perfect for both sides, as Exum will be thrust into a very young and talented lineup that includes Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, and Mo Harkless which is still very raw but full of potential. A backcourt of Oladipo and Exum will cause problems for every defense they play against and should carry the Magic to a much better season next year, and potentially the playoffs in a few if their players progress as planned.

5.  Utah Jazz – Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana

The Jazz have no true positional needs so they have the luxury of taking the best player on the board. Vonleh has great physical attributes for a power forward and is pretty good technically too. If he works on his shot he could be a truly dominant force, but right away he would provide as an efficient rebounder and a good low-post scorer. Eventually, the Jazz could have a fairly formidable front court unit of Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Vonleh.

6.  Minnesota Timberwolves (Projected Trade from Celtics) – Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona 

Projected Trade: 

Timberwolves Get: #6 Pick, #17 Pick, 2015 76ers Lottery-Protected1st Round Pick, 2015 Clippers 1st Round Pick, Kelly Olynyk, Brandon Bass, Keith Bogans
Celtics Get: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin

The Timberwolves know that they will probably lose Kevin Love for nothing in free agency after this season, so they will do the smart thing and trade him for the best offer available.  While there has been much debate over what the best offer is, no team offers more in potential through draft picks than the Celtics, and with this trade the T-wolves get two first round picks this year and next year while also adding a promising young player in Olynyk.  With the first pick they acquire they will select Gordon, who is athletic enough to be the replacement for Love for a long time.  He can defend and run the floor and his shooting will improve with time, but he is exactly the type of player that GM/Coach Flip Saunders would love to coach up to become a star (he is only 18 years old).

7.  Los Angeles Lakers – Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky

The Lakers and their fanbase will certainly be enticed by the “big-name” commodity that Julius Randle is, regardless of his injury status and pro potential. If the Lakers want a quick, one year rebuild, Randle might be the man, because he has the technical ability to contribute right away unlike some other players in this draft. However, his potential is also much lower than many players in this draft, as his physical skills and build are not quite as impressive as others. The Lakers are certainly pretty high on Randle, but if he slips past them it could be a fairly long fall for him.

8.  Chicago Bulls (Projected Trade from Sacramento Kings) - Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State

Projected Trade:

Bulls Get: #8 Pick, Jason Terry
Kings Get: Taj Gibson, #16 Pick, #19 Pick 

The Bulls are attempting to attract Carmelo Anthony this free agency, but they will need cap-space to do so.  They also have a problem surrounding Derrick Rose's injury issues that seem to impede their playoff chances every year.  This trade solves both of those problems, as they can unload a very good but expensive player in Gibson while acquiring the #8 pick, with which they can draft Derrick Rose's insurance policy.  Marcus Smart is an athletic, tall point guard who makes the players around him better.  Even if Rose is healthy, he could play along side Rose and Jimmy Butler could come off the bench, as the Phoenix Suns have shown the two point-guards can be effective (Eric Bledsoe & Goran Dragic).  This trade and this pick seem like no-brainers for the Bulls considering their situation.

9.   Phoenix Suns (from Pistons via Projected Trade from Hornets) – Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton

Projected Trade: 

Suns Get: #9 Pick
Hornets Get: #14 Pick, #18 Pick

The Suns have three first-round picks, and have made it clear that they are looking to unload one of them.  This trade accomplishes that by packaging their first two picks in order to move up into the #9 spot, acquiring it from a team in the Hornets who already have two first-round picks themselves.  The Suns get the best player off the board in McDermott, who could potentially replace Gerald Green in the starting lineup and become the Sun's go-to scorer, as that is what he does the best.  McDermott can certainly fill up the bucket but there are serious questions about his potential, as it is possible that he only becomes a solid role-player or a below-average starter, which is slightly underwhelming for a lottery pick.  The thing about McDermott, though, is that he does have the maturity to provide right away, which might make him appealing to the Suns front office.

10.  Philadelphia 76ers (from Pelicans) – Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State

The Sixers already grabbed Wiggins with their first pick and now add a two-guard to complement Michael Carter-Williams. Harris can shoot and is tall, giving him a matchup advantage against many shooting guards throughout the league. He consistently made big plays for Michigan State and would add a lot to a young and talented lineup that could seriously make a run at a playoff berth next season. That trade with the Pelicans that set away Jrue Holliday is looking incredible now as the Sixers have effectively created a whole new talented (and young!) starting five in only two years.

11.  Denver Nuggets – Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan

Stauskas shot up the draft board as a result of his heroic performances in the NCAA tournament. He is a knock down shooter on the perimeter and his knack for producing in big moments will help his draft stock but there are questions about other parts of his game. His defensive ability is suspect and it is unclear whether he will be able to run a pro offense.

12.  Orlando Magic (from Knicks via Nuggets) – James Young, SF, Kentucky

Young was an extremely inconsistant player throughout his college career, but at times we got to see what a special player he can be. When at his best, he is a dynamic three-point shooter with slashing ability and more than enough athleticism. Unfortunately, he is not always at his best, although teams will likely let him off the hook a bit because he is also the youngest player in the entire class. The Magic could really use an explosive scorer, and, even if they should’t expect Young to be that guy right away, he eventually could be.

13.  Minnesota Timberwolves – T.J. Warren, SF, NC State

After taking Gordon with their first pick, the Timberwolves aim to get another athletic player with their original first-round pick, although this time they get a true scorer.  In drafting Warren they get a guy who can defend well, score, and is never shy to run the floor.  He will fit perfectly in with Aaron Gordon and complement him well, so that these two can form the core, along with Ricky Rubio, for Minnesota to build around for a long time.

14.  Charlotte Hornets (Projected Trade from Suns) – Zach LaVine, PG, UCLA

Projected Trade: 

Suns Get: #9 Pick
Hornets Get: #14 Pick, #18 Pick

The Hornets complete this trade with the Suns because they have so many needs to fill, one player at #9 was not going to cut it.  They get two mid-round picks out of this trade, and with their first one they get perhaps the most athletic player in the draft, and that’s saying something in a draft class that includes players like Andrew Wiggins and Dante Exum. His technical skills aren’t bad either, as he is a better-than-average three point shooter, a great dribbler, and an impressive passer. All of the questions about LaVine will be about his brain. However, the reality is, you can teach a player some things but many of LaVine’s qualities are unteachable, which is why he is so valuable.  There is added value in that he can play both point guard and shooting guard, and could either complement Kemba Walker or eventually replace him if all goes well.  No matter what the Hornets are getting a ton more athletic with this pick.

15.   Atlanta Hawks – Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse

Ennis is probably the most NBA-ready point guard in the draft, as he is a smart player who can distribute the ball while shoot when necessary, and doesn’t make too many mistakes.  The Hawks have a talented roster but have a lot of holes, one of which is at the point-guard position, where they have been looking to get younger for a long time.  With Ennis, the Hawks get a guy who can come up big with clutch shots in big moments, and would love to have a player who could potentially become the leader and captain of this team that is searching for its identity at the bottom of the playoff standings every year.

16.  Sacramento Kings (from Hornets via Projected Trade from Bulls) – Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana Lafayette

Projected Trade: 

Bulls Get: #8 Pick, Jason Terry
Kings Get: Taj Gibson, #16 Pick, #19 Pick

Payton has shot up draft boards from nowhere to become the 5th point guard taken, and falls right in the thankful hands of the kings who snatch up this potential superstar with the first draft pick they will have received from the Bulls by trading down.  Payton is an incredibly fast, penetrating point guard who could be a real asset to a Kings team that has so much talent but is struggling to harness it.  With Isiah Thomas’s future in question, the Kings would be glad to have a young and talented point guard who can get the ball to Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins while still score on his own, as well as a proven commodity in the big-man Gibson.  These two factors, plus the final pick they will receive, make this trade a no-brainer for the Kings.

17.   Minnesota Timberwolves (from Nets via Projected Trade from Celtics) – Rodney Hood, SG/SF, Duke

Projected Trade:

Timberwolves Get: #6 Pick, #17 Pick, 2015 76ers 1st Round Pick, 2015 Clippers 1st Round Pick, Kelly Olynyk, Brandon Bass, Keith Bogans
Celtics Get: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin

Hood is an extremely unique player, but he won’t necessarily benefit from this uniqueness in the NBA. He has the height of a small forward but the shooting ability and body build of a shooting guard. On offense, this creates a nice matchup situation, but on defense, he will likely struggle to guard either position at the NBA level.  The Timberwolves survived last season with Kevin Martin who is a very similar player, and it is safe to say that they T-Wolves would be happy to grab someone hear who is similar to Martin as he can be a dynamic role-player but with a higher ceiling, as he has age on his side.  He would add that offensive dynamic to pair with Warren that Minnesota will need as the rebuild.

18.   Charlotte Hornets (from Wizards via Projected Trade from Suns) – Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia 

Projected Trade: 

Suns Get: #9 Pick
Hornets Get: #14 Pick, #18 Pick

With the second pick they receive from the Suns, the Hornets take a chance on the second-best center prospect in the draft (which is not saying much as behind Embiid this is a very weak center class).  However, Nurkic has the height and size (6’11”, 280 lbs) to be considered by any team high in the draft who needs a center.  His stock does take a hit though, as he playd in Bosnia and it is unclear how his game will relate to the NBA. But the potential benefits will outweigh the potential risks in this case because, even though Nurkic is not the most athletic, the Hornets could surely benefit from a huge force in the middle of the paint who could end up playing much better than his draft position.  Players like Nurkic are why teams trade back as the Hornets do in this scenario, and it could really pay off for them.

19.  Sacramento Kings (Projected Trade from Chicago Bulls) – Dario Saric, PF, Croatia

Projected Trade: 

Bulls Get: #8 Pick, Jason Terry
Kings Get: Taj Gibson, #16 Pick, #19 Pick

With the Kings' final draft pick from Chicago, they also take a chance on an international prospect, although this one is quite bait different as Saric just signed a deal with a Turkish team that will likely leave him unable to play in the NBA for at least two years.  However, before that news broke, Saric was considered a Top-10 pick and to possibly have a better career than anyone who was available when the Kings would have picked at #8.  Saric is as intriguing as international prospects are, and would add a great scoring dynamic to a team that already has a talented lineup.  If Saric comes over in a few years and plays up to his potential, the Kings would have an absolute steal with this pick, as well as Payton at #16 and Gibson from the Bulls, making that trade one of their best ever.

20.  Toronto Raptors – Jordan Clarkson, PG, Missouri

With Kyle Lowry most likely gone in free-agency, the Raptors desperately need a point guard who can make the players around him better, and Clarkson certainly fits the bill.  He could use a little work on his shooting, but he is a great passer, leader, and ball handler, who could step in right away and give the Raptors quality minutes. This pick certainly isn’t an attempt to hit a home run but there’s no doubting that Clarkson would make an immediate impact on the Raptors backcourt.  The Raptors are looking to stay atop the standings and hope to be getting a player who will mesh well with their core of DeMar Derozan, Greivis Vasquez, Jonas Valanciunas, and Terrence Ross, giving them a very good chance at competing in the East again next season.

21.  New York Knicks (from Rockets via Mavericks & Lakers & Projected Trade from Thunder) – P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends (D-League)

Projected Trade:

Knicks Get: #21 Pick
Thunder Get: Iman Shumpert, Cash

The Knicks have been targeting Hairston for a while, as Phil Jackson seems to really like him, the only problem is that they have no first round pick as they traded it away for Carmelo Anthony (who might not even be on the team next year).  They can get rid of an overrated player in Shumpert to a team who would be willing to trade one of their two first round picks in the Thunder, plus adding in some money that the Knicks are always willing to spend to make sure the Thunder will make the trade.  The Thunder can get a proven defender in Shumpert while the Knicks take the more offensive approach, as Hairston is an extremely talented scorer.  Before leaving North Carolina, Hairston was on course to being a definite lottery pick. A year later, now in the NBA D League, Hairston’s stock has dropped a bit. However, his stock has not dropped because he has played poorly, in fact, he has absolutely dominated the D League. The reason his stock has dropped is because he is because he is playing in the D League itself.  But there is no denying Hairston's scoring ability, something that the Knicks so desperately covet.

22.  Memphis Grizzlies – Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan

The future of Zach Randolph and the rest of the Grizzlies' aging front court is in question, so they would be smart to take an NBA-ready player who might even propel them back into the playoffs.  Payne is about as NBA-ready as they come, having dominated as a veteran player for Michigan State this past season.  He would provide them with some immediate front court depth, and although he doesn’t have huge amounts of potential,  Payne could come in right away and help both on the boards and on offense.

23.  Utah Jazz (from Warriors) – Kyle Anderson, SF/PF, UCLA

Anderson was one of the players that I was most impressed with during March Madness this past year. Despite not leading UCLA too deep into the tournament, Anderson’s incredible skills were on display for every single minute. He played every position except for center for UCLA and honestly has the physical and technical tools to play the same amount of positions in the NBA. At 6’9” he certainly is sizable enough to play at SF and PF but he proved all season that he also has immaculate dribbling and passing skills that allow him to play PG or SG too. The Jazz don’t have any dire needs so taking a chance on a unique talent like Anderson makes a lot of sense here.

24.  Brooklyn Nets (from Trail Blazers via Projected Trade from Hornets) – Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland

Projected Trade:

Nets Get: #24 Pick (from Hornets)
Hornets Get: Marcus Thornton (from Nets), #39 Pick (from 76ers), #54 Pick (from 76ers)
76ers Get: Marquis Teague (from Nets)

The Nets are another team with no first round pick (and not very many picks in general for the next several years), but with such a talented roster will be looking to get back into the first round.  In order to do so they will need to give Marcus Thornton to the Hornets (who are willing to because they already had two first rounders and Thornton is young with potential), whom they acquired mid-season last year, as well as backup point guard Marquis Teague to bring in the 76ers who have the second-round picks to give the Hornets enough to make the trade.  With the pick they receive, the Nets take an insanely athletic but somewhat unknown foreign prospect in Clint Cappella.  He has seen his stock fall recently as he has shown in workouts to be a little raw. He is tall and lanky for his position (6’11”, 222 lbs) and a supreme rim-protector and overall defender as well as a rebounder. However, his size and athleticism are extremely rare intriguing to many teams, and he is in a similar situation to Giannis Antetokounmpo last year: an overseas prospect who is athletic but hard to project.  Capela could potentially play well above his draft position and make this trade look like a steal for the Nets who really could use one.

25.  Houston Rockets – K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson

The future of Chandler Parsons is in question as the Rockets may not have enough money to keep him, so they take his potential backup or replacement with their first-round pick in K.J. McDaniels.  McDaniels could take some time to develop his overall game and shooting ability, but he has a lot of potential, and if he refines his skills he could become something special.  The Rockets don't have many needs so they aren't under much pressure, and this seems like the safe pick for them here.

26.   Miami Heat – Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut

After dreadful play from their point guards in the NBA Finals and Mario Chalmers entering free agency, this would be the perfect opportunity for the Heat to take a big name player late in the draft who could dish the ball to Miami’s stars while score a little when needed. Taking Napier would keep Norris Cole on the bench, a role in which he thrived last year, and would also prevent LeBron James or Dwayne Wade from having to play point guard while they should be getting open to score. Napier would be a perfect pick this late in the draft and would add much needed defense, ball handling, and a scoring punch from the point guard position. He has made a career of defying his disbelievers, and on a team like Miami the sky would be the limit for Napier.

27.  Phoenix Suns (from Pacers) – Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee

Stokes is a very capable defender and rebounder, which is pretty much what team’s are going to get this late in the draft. He can play in the low post, and would be a good developmental piece to put next to Miles Plumlee and the Morris brothers who could hopefully become more than that.  Although Stokes is a little small for a power forward (6’9”), he has extremely long arms (7’1”) and those could well make up for it. For a team like the Suns who are comprised of many young, athletic players, adding a guy like Stokes to fill in the holes and help out in the non-flashy aspects of the game will really benefit their team.

28.  Los Angeles Clippers – Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse

Grant has all the athleticism and physical attributes that you want to see in a small forward, but because his technical ability is lacking a bit, he may project as more of a long-term selection.  The Clippers have a very deep and talented roster, so Grant would have time to develop his skills. Additionally, Grant can play at both the small forward and power forward positions, and the Clippers are in need of some depth at those two positions.

29.  Oklahoma City Thunder – Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State

Cleanthony Early has the talent alone to be a lottery pick in this draft, however, at the age of 23, the general consensus is that he may not have as much potential as other players in the class. The good news for Early is that the Thunder are in win-now mode, and a rookie that can come in and immediately add something to the team is extremely valuable. The Thunder are packed at the small forward position, but that shouldn’t be a problem for Early either, as he has the ability to play power forward too, and would be a nice offensive big-man to contrast Serge Ibaka’s defensive tendencies.

30.   San Antonio Spurs – Artem Klimenko, C, Russia

As previously noted, this year’s center crop is extremely weak as only three are projected to be taken in the first round, but they are all full of potential. The second of two international center prospects is Klimenko, who is a HUGE (pun intended) unknown because of the league in which he played in Russia. However, at 7’1” he is the tallest player in the draft and is a very good defender, two qualities which are very important in centers. He is small for his size (228 lbs) and therefore may not be strong enough to guard some of the bigger centers in the league, but all of his upside is exactly the reason why the Spurs would take a chance on him. Gregg Popovich has made a name for more international players than one can count, and this could be his next great accomplishment. The defending champions have such a deep roster that they can afford to take a developmental player with the last pick in the first round, and perhaps he will learn from Duncan and Popovich and realize his insane potential.

LeBron James Opts Out of Contract With Heat

          Since news broke that Carmelo Anthony would be entering free agency this offseason, LeBron James has announced to the Miami Heat that he will be exercising his early-termination clause.  Despite Pat Riley's public attempts to keep James in Miami, he seems determined to have the same flexibility that he was afforded after the 2010 season.  As James is the best player in the world, there will obviously be many teams interested in acquiring him, and the way he deals with all the attention this time around will go a long way towards the way he is viewed across the country (hopefully there is no "The Decision" this time).
          James has been connected to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Houston Rockets, and even the New York Knicks.  It is still possible that LeBron returns to Miami, but at this point the future of the "Big 3" is in serious question.  Things are really starting to heat up around the NBA, thats for sure.

Monday, June 23, 2014

World Cup Best XI After Match Day 2

Each team has played two games and the landscape of the World Cup now appears much different from what it was just a couple weeks ago. Thus, here are our updated picks for the best XI of the World Cup so far. Because I am trying to fit as much talent into a single XI as possible, I will give myself free reign over positional decisions - for example, even though Arjen Robben has played striker for the Netherlands, there have been many impressive strikers and fewer outside midfielders, so I will play him at right midfield, where he plays for Bayern Munich.
Guillerme Ochoa, Mexico, Goalkeeper - Put on one of the best individual performances by a goalkeeper that we have seen in a long, long time. He made three separate point-blank saves to help Mexico to a huge tie against Brazil.

Serge Aurier, Ivory Coast, Right Back - Was The Ivory Coast's best offensive outlet against both Japan and Colombia down the right flank. Aurier had two assists, both on beautiful crosses, against Japan and was equally as dangerous (but perhaps not as lucky) against Colombia.

Jalal Hosseini, Iran, Center Back - Iran's back line has been absolutely superb through two games against Nigeria and Argentina, and that is largely due to the play of Jalal Hosseini. Hosseini is the veteran man on the Iranaian back line, and it has showed, as he has made countless brilliant tackles and clearances.

Mario Yepes, Colombia, Center Back - Mario Yepes is 38 years old and still dominating on the 
world stage. Yepes dominates on the ground and in the air, both of which are expected of him, but also has been impressively ambitious in starting counter attacks and moving forward.

Daley Blind, The Netherlands, Left Back - Blind was not nearly as influential in the game against Australia as he was against Spain, but his two-assist game versus Spain is enough to get him into this starting XI.

Arjen Robben, The Netherlands, Right Midfielder - Without a doubt the best player in the tournament so far, Robben has three goals to his name, all of which were outrageous solo efforts. He has played at striker for the Netherlands so far but I'm using my creative license to move him to right midfield, where he traditionally plays for Bayern Munich.

James Rodriguez, Colombia, Center Midfielder - Rodriguez has been the midfield mastermind behind Colombia's recent success; he has two goals in two games as well as countless key passes and dribbles, but I'm not even sure if we've seen the best of him yet, which is a scary thought for Colombia's upcoming opponents.

Mathieu Valbuena, France, Center Midfielder - The French have great finishers and equally impressive holding midfielders, but the question coming into the world cup was whether anyone could connect the two. The answer: yes. The man: Mathieu Valbuena, who has been the most creative player for France thus far, registering a total tally of one goal and one assist.

Alexis Sanchez, Chile, Left Midfielder - Chile has experienced a surprising amount of success so far, and that is largely due to the fantastic play of Sanchez. He is not only the creator for this Chile team but is also the main finisher for them. He has played up top for Chile in the World Cup, but I'm putting him on the wing, where he traditionally plays for Barcelona.

Robin Van Persie, The Netherlands, Striker - He will be disappointed to have to miss the Netherlands final group game against Chile, but Van Persie had a brilliant first two games regardless. His diving header in the Netherlands' game against Spain is one of the best goals of the tournament so far and his total of three goals is tied for top in the tournament.

Karim Benzema, France, Striker - Benzema has a fantastic tally of three goals so far, but he should honestly have several more. He missed a penalty, was denied a goal against Switzerland due to the final whistle, and has refused to take a couple chances himself by passing them off to teammates (he has 2 assists). Benzema has been absolutely every where for France, who now look like legitimate title competitors.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Ranking NFL Rookies Who Will Have the Best NFL Careers

1. DE Jadeveon Clowney: Clowney, the first overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, joins a defensive line that has JJ Watt on the other side, which means offenses can not prepare solely for the South Carolina alum. Clowney recorded 24.0 sacks throughout his career in college, where more than half of the sacks came during his impressive junior season. Houston's defense is bound to be one of the league's best in due time thanks to the addition of Jadeveon Clowney, and Clowney's raw talent will make him the best player from this draft class.

2. WR Sammy Watkins: Although I don't see quarterback EJ Manuel becoming a Pro-Bowler anytime soon, his new wide receiver Sammy Watkins is destined for stardom. Watkins had the best season of his college career by far in 2013, with 101 receptions, 1,464 receiving yards, and 12 touchdowns, as well as an absolutely dominating performance against Ohio State in the Orange Bowl.

3. TE Eric Ebron: Ebron, clearly the most talented tight end of the 2014 draft class, will be playing for a team that relies heavily on their passing game. At 6'4"and 245 pounds, it will be difficult for an average cornerback to defend the North Carolina alum. To make matters worse for defenses, it will be impossible for them to double team Ebron seeing how the best wide receiver in the game, Calvin Johnson, is setting up on the opposite side of the field.

4. LB Khalil Mack: Despite playing for a small college in Buffalo, Mack gained a lot of publicity directly before the NFL Draft, as he became the fifth overall pick. His 40 yard dash time of 4.65 ranked fourth among linebackers, but his most impressive achievement from the past year came when he recorded 2 sacks against Ohio State in the season opener. Offensive lines can not double team Mack due to other talented pass rushers on the Rams' defensive line, so Mack is bound to pick up many sacks throughout his career in St. Louis.

5. WR Mike Evans: In most years, Mike Evans would have been the best wide receiver prospect in a given draft class, but due to the fact that he was dealing with Sammy Watkins in his draft class, Evans became the second best prospect at his position. Evans is 6'5", with excellent speed that makes him a deep threat. Also, Vincent Jackson will be lining up on the opposite side of the field, so defenses will be unable to focus entirely on Mike Evans.

6. OT Greg Robinson: The second overall pick in the draft gained a lot of notoriety during Auburn's magical run towards the end of the season, especially thanks to the fact that he was protecting star running back Tre Mason. Both of them will now be playing in St. Louis, where Robinson will be an immediate starter on the Rams. St. Louis already ranked 8th overall in sacks allowed this season thanks to stars such as Jake Long and Scott Wells, so there will be less pressure put on this rookie to carry the entire weight of this offensive line.

7. QB Teddy Bridgewater: For most rookie quarterbacks taken in the first round, it is their job to carry the offense on their own for the first few seasons; however, for Teddy Bridgewater, he has All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson to help with the work load.  Bridgewater is very elusive in the pocket, and he is unlikely to be injured throughout his NFL career thanks to his size and infrequent scrambling out of the pocket.

8. OT Jake Matthews: Matthews has experience defending an extremely talented quarterback, seeing how he played on the offensive line when both Ryan Tannehill and Johnny Manziel played for Texas A&M. Matthews is 6'5" and weighs 305 pounds, allowing him to block some of the best pass rushers in football.

9.S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix: As one of the best safeties in this draft class, Clinton-Dix achieved many honors throughout his college career, including All-American honors, two National Championships, and being named to the first team All-SEC. With plenty of experience playing in the spotlight, Clinton-Dix is one of the more NFL-ready players of this 2014 draft class.

10. QB Johnny Manziel: Johnny Manziel certainly has the talent one needs to be a star in the National Football League, but there are two question marks that will determine his success in the league: will off the field issues affect his performance on the field, and will he be able to remain healthy throughout his career due to his lack of size? The Heisman winner has a strong arm with an incredible ability to run the ball. Josh Gordon, Nate Burleson, Miles Austin, and Jordan Cameron make up one of the most underrated receiving corps in football, and Manziel has the potential to be the best quarterback of this year's draft, but it is unclear if that potential can transform into success (also, to see Manziel's highlights, be sure to check out our YouTube video here).

Carmelo Anthony Opts Out of Contract With Knicks

          As Carmelo Anthony has officially told the Knicks that he will exercise his player option for the 2014-15 season, he will become a free agent on July 1st.  The Knicks' president Phil Jackson has publicly voiced many times that he wanted Anthony to opt-in, and has tried privately to convince Anthony that the Knicks can bring in another star in order to compete for a championship next year.  However, they have some salary cap problems as Amar'e Stoudemire will make $23.4 million next year, Tyson Chandler will make $14.6 million, and Andrea Bargnani will make $11.5 million.
          It is still possible that Anthony will return the Knicks, but now other teams have a chance to sign him as well, like the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Boston Celtics, or Miami Heat.  Carmelo has recently been looking into life in Chicago, while Rajon Rondo has publicly voiced his wish for Anthony in a Celtics uniform.  If Pat Riley convinces him to head to Miami, he would have to take a significant pay cut in order to play with James, Wade, and Bosh, as would those three stars.  If nothing else, it will make this summer a whole lot more interesting.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

World Cup Group H Update

Though the teams in this group, Belgium, Algeria, Russia, and South Korea, are not particularly talented compared to the rest of the field, they provided us with two entertaining games. Belgium came back to beat Algeria 2-1 and Russia earned a late 1-1 draw against South Korea.

What We Learned About Belgium - They looked uninventive and sluggish in the first half, but with a number of fantastic changes by coach Marc Wilmots, they looked an entirely different team in the second half. Wilmots brought on Fellaini, Mertens, and Origi, all of whom brought energy and creativity up front that was lacking previously. The struggle with this team is that they have so many players who are at the same skill level and play in the same positions so choosing who to start and who to sub on becomes a dilemma. Wilmots may not have started the right crew but he certainly made up for it with some brilliant second half subs. Another thing to watch in this Belgium team is whether the fullbacks, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who are traditionally center backs, can keep up with pacier wingers. Vertonghen yielded Algeria's early penalty because he was not quick enough to keep up with his man, while Alderweireld was the man who allowed the cross in the first place. In the end, Belgian fans will be relieved that Wilmots finally found the right group of players to deliver a win for Belgium.
Belgium's Best Player - Marouane Fellaini, Center Midfielder - Didn't start the game but came on for Dembele in the 65th minute. Scored Belgium's first goal just five minutes after coming in and was in general a dominant force throughout the rest of the second half.
Belgium's Worst Player - Romelu Lukaku, Striker - Was extremely underwhelming - didn't make any of the right runs and even struggled to hold up the ball at times. Was eventually subbed out for Origi, who, despite not playing particularly well, still outplayed Lukaku.

What We Learned About Algeria - Algeria showed very little desire to break into attack but were decently effective on the off chances that they did. The most impressive thing about their performance, though, was certainly their defending, which was absolutely on point until a myriad of second half changes gave the Belgian side a bit more creativity. In a group that appears to be fairly weak, Algeria could make some noise, having already played the most dangerous team. The question that I have concerning this Algeria team is whether they will continue to favor their defense or if they will instead try to play a more free-flowing attack style against their upcoming opponents.
Algeria's Best Player - Sofiane Feghouli, Attacking Midfielder - Provided a consistent outlet for Algeria and also converted the penalty clinically.
Algeria's Worst Player - Mehdi Mostefa, Right Back - Didn't play horribly, but many of Belgiums second half attacks came down the left flank and Mostefa was unable to do anything about it.

What We Learned About Russia - Russia were favored to beat South Korea fairly easily, but they found themselves being outplayed by a decent margin by the Koreans through the seventy minute mark. This poor performance could have been attributed to the fact three of Russia's most successful players, Kerzhakov, Denisov, and Dzagoev were all oddly left out of the starting lineup. After the three were finally substituted into the game, Russia's attack immediately looked more creative and they equalized in the 74th minute. Hopefully their manager will make the right changes for their next game against Belgium or they could be in trouble.
Russia's Best Player - Alexander Kerzhakov, Striker - Odd that he didn't start but made an immediate impact once he came in and scored Russia's only goal.
Russia's Worst Player - Igor Akinfeev, Goalkeeper - Let in a horrible goal that was reminiscent of Robert Green's horrible mistake in goal for England four years ago. Outside of that he looked extremely nervy in general, as he was making indecisive saves all game long.

What We Learned About South Korea - Korea put on an incredibly rounded performance against Russia, as they had to defend early, which they did well, but also broke into attack and had lots of possession throughout the middle part of the game. As Korea grew into the game, they started to gain attacking confidence and eventually got a bit of a lucky goal that came at the end of a great move. This was a well-deserved draw for Korea, who honestly looked the more likely team to win the game and will be confident entering their next game against Algeria.
South Korea's Best Player - Koo Ja-Cheol, Center Midfielder - Was very effective and fairly creative in possession, especially during the middle of the game when Korea dominated much of the ball.
South Korea's Worst Player - Son Heung-Min, Striker - Actually fairly decent in possession and at times one of the more inventive players on the pitch but was absolutely dreadful when it came to the final product.