2019 Heisman Watch: Does Chase Young Deserve Heisman Consideration?

Yesterday marked a day in which this year’s Heisman contenders shined brightest. LSU QB Joe Burrow hit 4,000 yards passing for the season and became the 4thSEC QB to do so after torching Arkansas for 327 yards and 3 TDs. Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts kept playoff hopes alive for the Sooners with 173 yards and 2 TDs rushing, along with 145 yards and 2 TDs through the air in a gutsy 28-24 win over TCU. Oregon QB Justin Herbert ended all consideration for himself winning the award with a loss to the lowly Arizona State, despite his 304 yards and 2 TDs. The biggest standout from yesterday was the most dominant player in college football, Ohio State DE Chase Young, who after a short suspension over a loan from a family-friend cost him a few games, came back in full force, with 9 tackles, including 3 sacks and 4 tackles for loss. Despite his dominance, which has featured 16.5 sacks and 7 forced fumbles for him throughout the season, will he get Heisman consideration, and does he deserve it despite being a defensive player? Here are my 3 candidates for the Heisman and who I believe will win.

Player Profile: Chase Young

College football’s most dominant player has simply everything you could ask for in a defensive lineman. Size, speed, power and finesse moves on the edge, and a strong tackling ability. Well Chase Young has that and then some. As I mentioned earlier, his season has been shortened by 2 games due to the suspension, so he has put up all of these stats in just 9 games. Numbers like that are almost unheard of from any defensive end in college, which brings up the point of the Heisman Trophy. The last defensive player to win a Heisman was Desmond Howard, but him also having played a little wide receiver helped him out in his case for the Heisman. But other than Howard, no defensive player has ever won the trophy, and only 3 non-quarterbacks have won it. So, while he most definitely deserves to at least be one of the 3 Heisman candidates, do not expect him to win it.

Player Profile: Joe Burrow

My, oh my, has Joe Burrow been terrific. Going into this season as the reigning Fiesta Bowl MVP and having led the Tigers to a 10-3 season, the expectation was more of the same from Burrow and Co., but Burrow had other ideas. LSU currently sports the No. 1 rank, an 11-0 record, and the deadliest offense in football, with 1 4,000-yard passer in Burrow, a 1,000-yard rusher in Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and 2 1,000-yard receivers in JaMarr Chase and Justin Jefferson. Burrow also has the 3rd-most TDs thrown by an SEC QB with 41 already this season (he needs 4 more TDs to break the single-season TD record), and his passing yardage total puts him 4thAll-Time amongst SEC passers (he needs just 262 more yards to break the single-season passing yardage record). With these records he is about to break, he is the clear front-runner and should probably win the Heisman. If Chase Young wasn’t suspended for 2 games and he could have a chance to break records, then the race between them would be closer. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.

Player Profile: Jalen Hurts

If you asked me before the season who my Heisman pick was (aside from Tua), I would have said Jalen Hurts, and everyone would have thought I was crazy, but Hurts has had a Heisman-candidate worthy season. He has thrown for 3,184 yards, 30 TDs, 6 picks, is 4thin the nation in QBR, and has run for 1,156 yards and an outrageous 17 TDs, all of these numbers are a career-best in any full season he has played. Oh, and he has been the ‘Comeback King’ of the season, including the illustrious 28-3 comeback last weekend at Baylor. Hurts has proven every doubter wrong and goes into the NFL Draft this coming April as a guy who teams can build around yet wait until the 2ndor 3rdround to get. Very comparable to the career Dak Prescott had at Mississippi State. As far as his Heisman chances, had guys like Burrow and Young had seasons like this in another year, then he would be the frontrunner, but unfortunately not this year.

My Heisman Pick

Joe Burrow. The way he came out of nowhere into the Heisman conversation, the fact that the SEC QB record books will have his name all over it, and the lack of love defensive players get in the Heisman consideration, he’s the clear frontrunner.

2019 NFL Midseason Predictions

The first half of the NFL season has presented us with many surprises, and a surge of a new generation of NFL talent. The San Francisco 49ers remain the only undefeated team in the NFL currently, the Cincinnati Bengals remain the only winless team, and players like Christian McCaffrey are taking over the league and putting on an MVP-worthy performance. Here is what has happened this season, and what will continue throughout the season.

The Panthers are 5-3 Without Cam Newton, and Will Make the Playoffs

Currently, the Panthers are on the outside looking in as the 8-seed in the NFC and 2ndin the NFC South, but their 5-3 record, Christian McCaffrey’s video-game numbers, and the new-look defense has put them in a position to compete with Kyle Allen, not Cam Newton, at quarterback. Allen, who took over for the now-on-IR Newton in Week 3, has gone 5-1 as the starter, losing only to the undefeated 49ers. Allen hasn’t done anything out of the ordinary, just played mistake-free, smart football that has kept his team in a position to win. Sure, they have 2 dates with New Orleans, a home game against Seattle, and tough road games against Green Bay and Indianapolis, they should be able to win the home games, Indianapolis, and potentially one game against New Orleans to go at least 9-7, and considering how teams like the Eagles, Vikings, and Rams have struggled this season, Carolina should be able to get the 6-seed in the NFC.

Like I Predicted in Preseason, Aaron Rodgers Will Be the MVP

Aaron Rodgers got off to, well, a sluggish start in the new Matt LeFleur offense, but Green Bay’s defense stepped up big. Then, Rodgers said that the offense needed to ‘step it up’, and A-Rod and the Pack offense has not looked back since. Currently standing at 6-2 and the 3-seed in the NFC, they will be one of the top NFC Super Bowl contenders along with the Saints. Rodgers is currently 5thin passing yards and 4thin passing TDs, is among the top of the MVP race along with Russell Wilson and Christian McCaffrey, and if he keeps this pace up, he can outpace Wilson in the MVP race and get his 2ndNFL MVP award.

Lamar Jackson Proved Everyone Wrong… and He Won’t Stop Anytime Soon

Lamar Jackson was critiqued by Bill Polian before last year’s NFL draft and was told to convert to Wide Receiver. Jackson was drafted in the first round as a QB by the Ravens and guaranteed that they would get a Super Bowl out of him. He eventually took the starting job from Joe Flacco and led the Ravens to the playoffs. This season, Lamar has been able to use his arm along with his legs and become an elite QB. Last Sunday, he beat the record-setting Patriots defense and the GOAT Tom Brady to end their undefeated season up to that point. Now, he put the Ravens in position to potentially go to the Super Bowl, currently leading the Ravens to the 2-seed in the AFC, good enough for a first-round bye and homefield in the AFC Divisional Round. Expect Lamar to keep playing the way he always does, prove people wrong, and keep winning.

The Eagles Need to Sign Either Dez Bryant or Antonio Brown

So, yeah, Philadelphia, the Super Bowl 52 Champions, have changed a lot roster-wise since then. They have lost LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, Torrey Smith, Trey Burton, a plethora of signings that have not worked out, such as DeSean Jackson and Zach Brown, and many underperforming players, such as Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz, and just about everyone on defense. Oh, and they lost their savior Nick Foles, but everyone knew Wentz would be starting either way. Anyways, the Eagles have lost many games this season due to their poor receiver play, most notably Agholor. Wentz has been let down by receivers dropping passes than I could catch, and has lost many winnable games because of it, like the game at Atlanta where Agholor dropped the ball, the game at home against Detroit where rookie JJ Arcega-Whiteside dropped a wide-open TD. The other games they lost, being to Dallas and Minnesota on the road, they’ve simply been blown out due to poor overall team play. If Philadelphia really wants to compete and be the Super Bowl-contending team they once were, they NEED to sign a big-name wide receiver. They missed out on Josh Gordon, as he went to Seattle to join Russell Wilson and his already-stacked WR core, so now that leaves them with Dez Bryant, who tweeted today that he is ready to reach out to teams soon, and of course, the drama-king of the NFL, Antonio Brown. While both risky due to character issues and health, either would be an immediate impact to a team that desperately needs hands. With AB, the Eagles can challenge Green Bay, Seattle and New Orleans, and with Bryant, they can at least win the NFC East if not contend with Green Bay, Seattle and New Orleans. Whoever they decide out of these two, they need to sign one of these in order to be a legit contender.

My Saints-Chiefs Super Bowl Prediction Remains the Same

I still see these two teams meeting in the Super Bowl. In the AFC, do I think that the Ravens are ready? Not yet, simply because the defense has been suspect for the majority of the season. Does New England beat Kansas City in the playoffs again, if they meet up? No because the offense isn’t at the point where they can keep up with Kansas City. Their inconsistency in the run game will outweigh the consistency of Julian Edelman, James White, and Mohamed Sanu’s production. In the NFC, is Green Bay good enough on defense to sustain the play of A-Rod and the offense? To me, this is the very-early frontrunner to win next year’s Super Bowl, but not this year. Seattle lies in the same realm, with their defense not being able to get to the level of Wilson and the offense. The Saints and Chiefs have complete rosters, and defenses good enough to meet the level of the offense and keep them in it. Kansas City has dropped games this year due to Mahomes playing through injury and not because they have regressed as a team. If anything, they are probably better, especially with their run game, and New Orleans, the NFL’s most complete team currently, just has everything you want in a team, with their next-man-up mentality, going 5-0 with Teddy Bridgewater replacing the injured Drew Brees and Latavius Murray replacing the injured Alvin Kamara, and their big-play ability on defense as well. So, expect some fireworks in Miami on February, and expect the Saints to take home the Lombardi.

Antonio Brown vs. NFL: Who Wins the Helmet Dispute?

Over this past weekend, newly-acquired Oakland Raiders wide receiver Antonio Brown made a claim that if he wasn’t able to wear the helmet of his choice, he would retire from the NFL. The NFL established a new rule which would prevent players from being able to wear certain helmets which are too old and do not have the technology needed to protect players from current head injuries. Brown, however, is convinced that his 10-year old helmet is worth wearing and has filed a grievance against the NFL to wear the helmet. Of the 2,016 NFL players that have to follow this new rule of not wearing old helmets, Brown would be the one player that could get the benefit of the rule, it the NFL allows him to. Here I present both sides of the argument, and which argument is more logical:

The Case for AB to Keep His Helmet

Antonio Brown has been wearing this exact helmet that he is pleading for his entire career with no issues whatsoever, so now that a new rule has come, saying that ‘any helmet 10 years or older cannot be used anymore,’ he could say that he should keep it because he has had no issues. While Antonio Brown has only had one serious issue of a head injury, which was due to a helmet-to-helmet hit from Adam Jones in the 2015 AFC Wild Card Game against the Bengals, it is interesting to wonder how this situation would play out if he had gotten injured more. That being said, the only thing Brown has going for him is that he has used the helmet and been healthy, meaning that he could win the grievance by showing the evidence of his lack of injuries against that of the NFL’s saying that his helmet is unsafe. Also, he has the support of his new team, the Oakland Raiders, who will do everything they can to keep Brown on their team and in the NFL, though I don’t know how much value they can add to Brown.

The Case for the NFL to Prevent AB from Keeping His Helmet

Well, this is obvious. The helmet is shown to be unsafe and is over 10 years old. The new helmets have the technology needed to withstand the hits that players now take compared to how they were 10 years ago. The NFL tackling rule changes are the reason why this is an argument. As a result of the rule change, the helmet technologies have to be updated, and we are now at a point where Antonio Brown’s helmet is unsafe. Also, the NFL has a case in which an NFL player has changed helmets after being told of the rule. San Francisco 49ers Offensive Tackle Joe Staley had been using the same helmet since college and used it his entire NFL career until this offseason when the NFL told him to change helmets. The NFL would be extremely unfair to the rest of the players in the league if they said that only AB could wear the helmet of his choice, as it would cause discrepancies in rules, as well as players finding loopholes to get non-approved helmets.

What If AB Gets Injured with the New Helmet?

This is the biggest nightmare of the NFL in this situation right now. If there is a way that Brown wears a new helmet and doesn’t retire, which more recent reports suggest he will do that, but he suffers a head injury, then a whole new debacle starts for the NFL. Because the NFL then would have failed to back up their ’10 year-old helmet rule’, and would have to retest every helmet older than 10 years and see which are still functional or can be updated to be allowed in the NFL.

Should Antonio Brown Really Retire?

Two letters. N-O. No chance whatsoever should Brown seriously retire over a helmet. A guy who is at the prime of his career, has not had major injury problems, is in a new scene where he is happy, he should not even consider retiring. Not to mention, he has yet to win a Super Bowl. All that being said, I do not think Oakland is the place where he will win a Super Bowl, but he has so much more that he can accomplish and do with his career, so the thought of him retiring at the age of 31 is ridiculous.

NFL 2019 Season Predictions: Preseason Edition

The NFL preseason is just a few weeks away now and the NFL is now seemingly shifting towards a younger generation of talent. While the New England Patriots still reign supreme as the defending NFL Champions, teams like the Cleveland Browns, with Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr, and Jarvis Landry, the New Orleans Saints with Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara helping out Drew Brees, the LA Chargers, with Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon looking to help Philip Rivers get a ring before he retires, and of course the Kansas City Chiefs led by the most exciting player in football, Patrick Mahomes. Safe to say that New England will have more competition than they have had in years, but have other teams eclipsed them yet? Here are my predictions for the season (all these predictions are subject to change based on team health, performance, and other factors that can affect a team throughout the NFL season. These are just predictions are of today):

Aaron Rodgers Returns as the NFL’s Best QB & Wins MVP

Aaron Rodgers last season was said to have the ‘worst season of his career’, yet many do not realize that he had the second-most passing yards in a season in his illustrious career and threw just 2 interceptions. They let the lack of wins, good players around him, and his individual health overlook the greatness he achieved over the previous season. Now, I am not saying that it was one of his best years, but to say it was his worst is a bit overdramatic. Rodgers will have a new coach and system, a healthy receiving core, running back, and offensive line, and a much-improved defense to back him up. Expect him to rival Mahomes for the MVP.

The NFC East, NFC North, and AFC West Will Have Two Playoff Teams Each

These three divisions will come into the season with the most competition out of all of them. The NFC East and North have winners which are up in the air, unlike the AFC West which has Kansas City as the clear favorite. The NFC East has Philadelphia and a much-improved Redskins roster, as well as Dallas (assuming that they can figure out Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott’s contract issues, which I will assume they do not, knowing the Cowboys). The NFC North features the best defense in the NFL in the Chicago Bears and a healthy and vamped-up Packers team, and those will be the teams that go on to the playoffs. However, unlike last year, Green Bay will take back the crown of NFC North champions.

As for the NFC East, I think Philadelphia, having a healthy roster and simpler offense to run around Carson Wentz in order to keep him healthy, similar to how they played with Nick Foles. Coach Doug Pederson knows that with the lack of playing time that Wentz has gotten late in seasons due to injury is because of the gameplan, and he will be able to change it. I think Washington will be the next team in from the NFC East. Rookie QB Dwayne Haskins is in a great position right now, good young receivers on offense, a steady running attack, which will help him as a scrambler, and one of the best defenses in the NFL (when healthy). So, Philadelphia might win the division, but Washington will be the wild-card sleeper in the playoffs that could pull off an upset or two.

Pittsburgh Will Be Better Without AB and Le’Veon

Last season, one of the most talented teams in the NFL was blown out of proportion by one player sitting out an entire season to “protect his body” for his impending free agency, and another player who decided that rather than care about winning and the team he played for, that he would instead only care for himself. These players were Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, respectively. Now, while these are two top 5 players at their position, Pittsburgh also found themselves with two more players with top 5 potentials at their position in James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Steelers also have a much more stout defense this year, and that coupled with no distractions should keep Pittsburgh in Super Bowl contention, although Cleveland will take the division.

While Mahomes May Not Win the MVP… The Chiefs Will Be in the Super Bowl

Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs were a non-offside call and a coin toss away from going to the Super Bowl instead of New England. However, New England won the toss, there was no offsides call, and New England scored a touchdown to end it. This year, Kansas City brings the same slew of weapons in Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Damien Williams, and a defense that looks like they can actually make some stops. They’ll win the AFC West handily, and should steamroll through the AFC Playoffs as well, leading them straight to the promise land where they will face…

The New Orleans Saints Will Be Kansas City’s Opponent

New Orleans also had their hearts ripped out of them during the NFC Championship Game when the most obvious defensive pass interference call was not called by the referees. Every single person in the stadium knew it was pass interference, including LA Rams CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, who got away with the call and even admitted after the game that he was “thankful” for the no-call. This year, however, New Orleans kept the core of their team together and is going to bring the same energy and extra motivation to win it all. The NFC South hasn’t improved enough to the point where New Orleans will have trouble there, and they are the deepest team in the NFC, so they should find a way to be in the Super Bowl. You know what they say, third times a charm. Expect them to get home-field advantage through the NFC, the best record in the NFL, and the ring. A game like this between 2 teams that are so explosive on offense, it comes down to who is the more complete defensive team, and that is clearly New Orleans.

 

 

The New Winning NBA Formula: Dynamic Duos for the Win

The 2019 NBA Free Agency was by far the best free agency in NBA history. While it might not have had guys like LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade the way the 2010 Free Agency was, it changed the entire complexion of the NBA and created an NBA which is more evenly-balanced than ever. The number of teams that are now contenders is immensely high, as over half of the NBA is in a position to compete for an NBA Championship next season. Here are my thoughts on some of the best new NBA dynamic duos, how they will actually work, and other predictions for the dynamic duos:

D-Lo Will Get Traded, Steph and Klay Will Attempt to Revive the Warriors

I am not in any way saying that D’Angelo Russell is not an elite player or scorer in the NBA, in fact, he is one of the best, but as great of an offensive team as the Warriors have been for the past few years now, they have always relied on defense, especially against the main perimeter players of teams. Whether it has been Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala or Klay and Kevin Durant, they have always had 2 of their 3 perimeter players be elite defenders to make up for the defensive liability that is Stephen Curry. With Russell and Curry, however, in that backcourt, and no small forward who can be a solid perimeter defender, the Warriors defense simply will not work the same. Draymond Green is a great defender, but you cannot expect him to guard other great perimeter scorer’s night in and night out. Russell will be the one who will have to take the fall for Golden State’s defensive struggles, especially with Thompson out until about March. Not only that, but Russell will not be the leader of the team as he was with the Lakers and Nets, so him being able to defer to Curry and Thompson will not be something he is used to.

Kyrie and KD Will Be the Best in the East, But Maybe Not in the NBA

Kevin Durant suffered an Achilles injury during Game 6 of the NBA Finals which ended his career with the Golden State Warriors and ended his 2019-20 season, in which he will now be a member of the Brooklyn Nets, joining Kyrie Irving. Durant should be back to near his best, if not best form, even coming back from this devastating injury. That being said, it may not be enough to beat teams like the Lakers and Clippers, or even the Bucks, teams with more experience and depth. The Nets, outside of Durant and Kyrie, are very young and have little playoff experience, which may make it difficult for them to win an NBA Championship for a few years but contending shouldn’t be an issue.

LeBron and AD Will Be the Better Duo than PG and Kawhi

Before Paul George had been traded from Oklahoma City to the Clippers for 2 players and an absurd amount of draft picks (5, 4 of which are unprotected), Kawhi Leonard was set on joining the other Los Angeles team, the Lakers, where he would’ve joined LeBron and newly-acquired superstar Anthony Davis, making the next superstar-driven dynasty. However, Kawhi convinced PG to request a trade to the Clippers, and Kawhi joined after the trade. That being said, I think that not only will Davis and LeBron be a better duo, but the Lakers will be the better team. For starters, I think LeBron would be able to defer to Anthony Davis very well and even let Davis be the primary scorer, as there would be less defensive pressure on both of them. While the same would be true for Kawhi and PG, Paul George has struggled in the playoffs for years since leaving Indiana. ‘Playoff P’, as he calls his playoff self, isn’t a very threatening player, and doesn’t compare to ‘Playoff LeBron’. As far as the Lakers being the better LA team, they are simply the deeper and more experienced team, and it poses them as the NBA Finals favorite for years to come. Let the ‘Staples Center Locker Room’ rivalry begin and be the best NBA rivalry for years to come.

 

How the 2019 NBA Free Agency Will Change the NBA For Years to Come

The 2019 NBA Free Agency will begin tonight at 6pm EST, and already there is plenty of shakeup in the league. Kyrie Irving has left the Boston Celtics to go to Brooklyn on a 4-year, $141M max contract, and Kemba Walker has immediately replaced him in Boston, also signing a max contract. Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler will be going to Miami in a sign-and-trade, and Kevin Durant joins Kyrie by going to Brooklyn. Despite that, there are plenty more free agents whose status is up in the air, and here is what I believe will happen to them, and the rest of the NBA:

D’Angelo Russell Prediction: Minnesota Timberwolves

This one is a bit more complicated because the Timberwolves have to trade away Andrew Wiggins to free up the cap, but it makes a lot of sense. Karl Anthony-Towns has talked for months now about the possibility of getting a big name free-agent to Minnesota, and he has often thrown out D’Angelo Russell as the guy he wants. The problem with this is that you have to trade Wiggins, but in order to get back players that have the same worth as Wiggins AND still sign D-Lo, you probably need to find a third team interested. It may take a bit longer than expected and could force Russell to look towards teams like the LA Lakers and Phoenix Suns, who already have the cap and don’t need to make big roster moves. As of right now though, Minnesota seems very confident that Wiggins is drawing interest from teams, and that they can get a deal done soon. Also, although the Warriors want to try to force Brooklyn into a sign-and-trade KD for D-Lo trade, that is not happening. Sorry Warriors, but the dynasty is over.

Kawhi Leonard Prediction: LA

As you can see here, I did not specify which Los Angeles team, but I am confident that it is between one of the two LA teams. The only problem that the Clippers have in this case is the fact that KD and Jimmy Butler are likely to snub the Clippers for other teams, and Kawhi wanted to go to the Clippers along with another superstar. That being said, if guys like Tobias Harris or Khris Middleton show up and want to play for the Clippers, than odds are Kawhi would too. On the other hand, it would only seem fitting that Kawhi went to play with LeBron and the Lakers after all the drama from last offseason, where he said he would only play for the Lakers, and that he would consider sitting the season with any other team. Obviously that was not the case and Kawhi went on to win the championship with Toronto, but if you made all that drama to go to be a Lakers, why not just be a Laker?

Klay Thompson Prediction: Stay with Warriors

This is a no-brainer. There is seriously no reason for Klay to leave, and for the Warriors not to offer Klay the 5-year, $190M max contract. Klay is one of the best shooters of all-time, one of the best 3-and-D players ever, and simply a Warrior-for-life. Thompson has been there in the clutch for Golden State so much, especially for Stephen Curry, who is 0-8 on game-winning shots in the playoffs, but Klay continues to catch fire in the clutch. This should have been the first major free agency deal that was made.

Danny Green Prediction: LA Lakers on a Pay Cut

Danny Green is by no means a superstar player in any stretch of the imagination, but he may be one of the greatest role players of all-time. He’s been to 3 NBA Finals, won 2 of the 3, and has been the best shooter on both of those teams (San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors). He is also a guy that wants to win and will do whatever it takes. If that means taking a pay cut and potentially joining Kawhi Leonard, Green will do it and take the mid-level exception contract (a $4.8 million contract per year, which means that he is the one legal, non-minimum veteran contract that the Lakers can use before they go over the salary cap). Even if Kawhi doesn’t go to LA, LeBron will convince him to come join the new superteam.

How Does the NBA Change Now?

The NBA will take a swing in which the East and West will be much more balanced and much more competitive, with it being as wide-open as it has ever been in recent memory. Teams like Miami and Boston have remade themselves into contenders, Milwaukee stays as-is, Toronto could fall massively, Brooklyn is the best team in New York for good, and Philadelphia still stays relevant. As for the Western Conference, Golden State has clearly fallen with the loss of KD and the injury to Klay Thompson, but with LeBron already beginning to create himself the team he wants, it will all depend on Kawhi as to whether or not he takes over the Western Conference for years to come. Not saying that teams like Denver, Portland, and OKC cannot contend, but LeBron always finds a way to get by those teams in the playoffs, like he did in the Eastern Conference. The NBA season will be as wide-open as ever.

What About the Rookies?

Guys like Zion and RJ probably won’t even be talked about anymore with all these familiar faces in new places, as the league is in its prime in terms of the number of contending teams, and guys like Zion and RJ are not in that position. The only rookie-led team that will make a splash is Atlanta, and even that may take a few years to do.

 

Warriors-Raptors: (Finally) An Entertaining NBA Finals

The Golden State Warriors will now make their 5thstraight NBA Finals appearance tonight, though for once, they will not have to face the Cleveland Cavaliers or LeBron James. James leaving Cleveland left the Cavs with one of the worst records in the NBA, and a new team to finally take over the throne of the Eastern Conference. Once LeBron left, it became a race between the Toronto Raptors, who had traded for Kawhi Leonard this past summer, the Boston Celtics, who had just made the Eastern Conference Finals and challenged LeBron the season before on his way to his 8thstraight NBA Finals appearance, and the Philadelphia 76ers, who were led by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and during the season traded for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. No one expected the Milwaukee Bucks, led by Giannis Antetokuonmpo, to have an MVP-caliber season and lead them to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they would play Toronto. Toronto, however, having been down 2-0 to start the series, won the next 4 to take the series in 6 and go to the NBA Finals. The Warriors had a somewhat difficult path to the Finals this year, with a near first-round scare from the LA Clippers. The Warriors had a 1-0 lead in the series and were looking to make it 2-0 when they were up by 31 in the 3rdquarter, but lo and behold, the All-Star-less Clippers won that game. Then, when the Warriors were up 3-1 and looking to close it out in their building, the Clippers won again. Since then, the Warriors beat the Rockets in what was a surprisingly short series against the Rockets, where they won in 6 games (short considering how the Rockets were expected to take the series to 7), and then they swept the Portland Trail Blazers. Along the way, they ended up losing DeMarcus Cousins in the first round, who will be back tonight, and Kevin Durant in the Western Conference Semifinals, who will be out for at least tonight and Game 2 (I do not expect him to be healthy and playing this series). Here is what I think will happen in this intriguing NBA Finals.

The Series Depends on Kevin Durant

In the last 32 games that Golden State has played without Kevin Durant and with Stephen Curry, they have a 31-1 record. The last 32 games with them both, the Warriors are 21-11. Yet despite all the crazy thoughts and ideas that people have, saying that the Warriors are better without Kevin Durant as opposed to with him, they are definitely better with Durant in the lineup. With Kevin Durant, there is less movement without the ball by the players, and more movement with the ball, which stems from Durant’s ability to create separation from defenders and get open shots. Durant being there allows for Golden State to play slower, but play more effectively, and put more value into each possession, with his bonafide scoring ability. While I do not expect Durant to play, but if he does, and he does before Game 7, the Warriors will be overwhelming favorites to win the series.

Marc Gasol Will Outplay Demarcus Cousins

It has been no secret that Demarcus Cousins’ injury history has finally taken a toll on him, and that should be an area where Toronto should have the advantage. The Warriors have the advantage right now at shooting guard with Klay Thompson being better than Danny Green, point guard with Curry being better than Kyle Lowry, and then power forward and small forward matchups are close to even, with Draymond Green and Pascal Siakam being rather evenly matched, and Kawhi and KD being evenly matched as well. But what can give Toronto a huge boost is the defensive prowess and improved shooting of Marc Gasol, who can also tire out Demarcus Cousins very quickly due to his lack of movement and speed due to his injuries. I fully expect Raptors Coach Nick Nurse to use Gasol as the second scoring option behind Kawhi, and I fully expect Gasol to take advantage.

The Warriors Bench Needs to Play Valuable Minutes… and Make Valuable Use of Them

The Warriors bench, I think everyone can agree, is certainly not better than that of Toronto, led by Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet, and Norman Powell, but the Warriors do have experience in NBA Finals games. The bench, led by Andre Iguodala, who has been with the Warriors for all of the past 5 years, will need guys like Quinn Cook, Alfonzo McKinnie, and Damian Jones to match up with the likes of Ibaka, VanVleet, and Powell. As good as Curry, Green, and Thompson have been these playoffs, this is the NBA Finals, and these guys will need rest each game, so these guys better be ready. I know Toronto’s guys will be considering how much they have relied on this postseason. Golden State’s bench better match that.

Drake Will Frustrate Golden State

The NBA’s greatest fan currently is certainly going to be a big discussion point in these Finals. Drake was arrogantly called out by Bucks Coach Mike Budenholzer in the Eastern Conference Finals and said Drake was a ‘distraction’. So, are guys like Spike Lee, who has been at Knicks games for 20+ years, not? Just because Drake is a passionate, flamboyant fan, does not mean that he is a distraction. That being said, the world is full of petty people, and Golden State will feel frustrated by the antics he pulls during this series.

Despite All That…

The Warriors will probably still win. Simply put, there is no way that Kyle Lowry and Danny Green can stop Curry and Thompson. IF Durant does not come back and IF Toronto doesn’t lose any home games, they will win in 7. My expectation is that Golden State will lose Game 5 at Toronto, go back home, and win in 6. So yes, my prediction is Warriors in 6, but I sure hope I am wrong, and it is Raptors in 7. This will be a great and entertaining series, and certainly a series where you cannot count Toronto out.