One-On-One: The NBA Finals and the aftermath

Yardbarker NBA writers Pat Heery and Sean Keane address the hottest issues in the NBA. This week’s topic: the NBA Finals and the future of the Warriors dynasty.

Heery: Sean,  the Raptors are the 2019 NBA Champions. That six-game series was equal parts exciting, bizarre and sad. Game 6 was an NBA classic. We witnessed Kyle Lowry come out like a bat out of hell, scoring 21 points and recording six rebounds and assists in the first half. We saw Klay Thompson put on a Finals performance of the ages before getting injured, then getting carried into the locker room, then coming back out of the tunnel Willis Reed style to make his free throws, then being ruled out for the rest of the game. (He left in a brace and crutches and was eventually diagnosed with a torn ACL .) Finally, we got to hold our breath in the last seconds as Steph Curry got a decent look in the last 10 seconds in a one-point game.

Kawhi Leonard was spectacular all playoffs and took home the title, his second Finals MVP, and some would argue, the Best Player in the World Belt. Fred VanVleet was one of the best five players in this series. Pascal Siakam, who won the Raptors Game 1 by going 14-of-17 from the field and 32 points, had a clutch Eurostep in the final 30 seconds and scored 26 points and grabbed 10 boards in 46 minutes. Lowry and Serge Ibaka were great in the last four games.

Sean, give me your eulogy for the Warriors’ injury-riddled Finals run this season and your thoughts on last night’s game.

Keane:  It’s a woulda, coulda, shoulda kind of ending for the Warriors, who through the playoffs dealt with KD’s Achilles, Boogie’s ruptured quad tendon, Kevon Looney’s shattered collarbone and the injury gods’ repeated assaults on Klay Thompson’s ankle, knee and hamstring. Yet they still had a chance to force a Game 7 with the greatest three-point shooter of all time firing away as the game ended.

If you were trying to make the super-team Warriors interesting and sympathetic again, this is how you’d do it. Take away an All-Star, then take away another one, and see how they react. They managed to beat the Rockets on the road short-handed, came back from double-digit leads against the Blazers and almost pulled out Game 6 with Quinn Cook and Shaun Livingston on the floor.

The weirdest part of the run was their near lack of home-court advantage at Oracle Arena — they were 6-5 at home and 8-3 on the road. It’s almost as if they wanted to pay tribute to the main thing that happened over the years at Oracle — lots and lots of losing.

Pat, what does this mean for the future Raptors and their fans? And is Kawhi going to stick around to be a part of it?

Heery: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this means that about 72 hours after catching flak for cheering the KD injury, Toronto is back! Not sure there are any JR Smith-type parade guys on the Raptors, so get ready for a lot more Drake during the parade.

As for Kawhi, I feel like the postgame celebration revealed a lot about him: There’s actually some personality in there once you peel back the layers, and he clearly has developed a bond with his Raptors teammates, especially Lowry. I now think he stays for at least another year in the Six to defend his crown. If he leaves, which would be unprecedented for a Finals MVP, he might have a built-in excuse if Masai Ujiri takes the money and runs to the Wizards, who are apparently about to back up the Brink’s truck with a $10M/year deal.(He’s worth it too, especially considering Jordan Clarkson makes $12M.)

Speaking of free agency, poor KD and Klay — both free agents this summer and both out for the majority, if not all, of next season with severe injuries. What are some of the ripple effects these injuries have on these two, the Warriors and the rest of free agency?

Keane: It’s likely the Warriors still offer KD and Klay their max deals, but it’s unlikely either plays before the All-Star Game. And if these Finals have proved anything, it’s that rushing back from injuries can have dire consequences, as does not paying the market rate for your training staff. The capped-out Warriors are looking at a season with Draymond Green, Curry and not a lot else. That’s a team that is contending for the six seed, not an NBA title. It could also be a chance for the Warriors to tank load manage their stars, who have played 100-plus-game seasons for five years, get a decent draft pick for the first time since 2012 and reload for a full strength 2020-21 year.

Regardless of what happens, a devastated Warriors team and an uncertain Raptors future means the road to the NBA championship is wide open, and the pool of available free agents is down two Hall of Famers. Milwaukee went all in last year and figures to be 110 percent all in this year. (That math works, right?) Philly is likely to pay all their free agents, after being one crazy Kawhi shot and one Joel Embiid hand wash away from knocking off Toronto. Even though he insists he won’t re-sign there, Boston might be tempted to trade for Anthony Davis anyway — a one-year rental of a guy who wants to play in Los Angeles just worked out great for Toronto!

Davis may be a Laker by the time you read this, and LeBron-plus-The Brow alone may be a legitimate contender in the Warriors-free West next year, provided the team signs better players than Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson this time. To me it also says that Bradley Beal is extremely available now, particularly if Ujiri accepts the Wizards’ giant offer of $10M and his choice of national monuments. It also says that Chris Paul should be unavailable. Two weeks ago, Daryl Morey threatened to trade anyone on his roster. Now the team that beat him four of the last five years has crumbled, and his team is poised to flop its way into the Finals.

What should the Warriors do in this impossible situation? And are there other teams that should be pushing their chips in this summer?

Full Article

By: Pat Heery and Sean Keane

 

Best team fits for players in NBA Draft

Yardbarker NBA draft analyst Brett Koremenos offers the best player-team fits in the June 20 draft. (Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland and the Lakers, anyone?)

Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland and Los Angeles Lakers

During the 2018-19 season, the Lakers ranked 29th in three-point field goal percentage. Garland may be one of the best shooters in the draft. Should major contributors Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kouzma and, of course, LeBron James be on the L.A. roster opening night, Garland will be in a perfect spot. There will be no pressure for him to start right away, a nice transition for a player who missed most of his only season at Vanderbilt because of a knee injury. If he were to land with the Lakers, Garland would play with a ball-dominant playmaker — either James or Ball — allowing Garland to do what he does best: shoot.

Texas’ Jaxson Hayes and Washington Wizards

When the aging Marcin Gortat was traded last year, Wizards franchise point guard John Wall lost arguably the best pick-and-roll partner he has had in D.C. Enter Hayes. Nothing would help a rookie center find his NBA footing like one of the league’s best passers. As for Wall, he’d find new life having a young, lob-catching big man to help him torture defenses.

Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura and Miami Heat

Ever since the Big Three left town, Miami has become the basketball version of the Island of Misfit Toys. From Josh Richardson to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, the Heat has taken players without a clearly defined position and found a way to make them work. For a hard-working but unrefined forward such as the 6-foot-8 Hachimura, Miami would be a godsend. Somehow Miami’s culture would likely find a way to ensure Hachimura becomes a valuable NBA contributor.

Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson and Detroit Pistons

Detroit’s recent mediocrity mostly can be linked to sub-par wing play. Johnson’s game isn’t super-sexy, but he’s an energetic defender with a jump shot that should require respect from NBA three-point territory. 

Tennessee’s Grant Williams and Utah Jazz

With Donovan Mitchell emerging as the offensive star and Rudy Golbert anchoring the defense, the Jazz isn’t desperate for star power. Instead, the team needs role players capable of executing their savvy brand of basketball and hitting open shots. That sounds exactly like what the rugged but instinctive Williams should bring. Although the shooting isn’t quite a sure thing (yet), the Tennessee forward would carve out a rotation spot quickly in Utah.

Arizona State’s Lu Dort and Portland Trail Blazers

Perhaps the biggest flaw in Dort’s game is the decisions he makes with the ball in his hands. When you play for the Portland Trail Blazers, CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard handle those situations. With the Blazers, Dort could emerge as the perfect defensive yin to Lillard and McCollum’s offensive yang. The strong and athletic guard could handle tough backcourt assignments, allowing Portland’s bucket-getting duo to focus solely on tormenting defenses.

Washington’s Matisse Thybulle and San Antonio Spurs

Over the past two decades, the Spurs have developed a reputation. San Antonio will take a raw wing player and, almost under the cover of night, develop him into a crucial cog in their playoff machine. Thybulle has made a name for himself as an athletic, disruptive 6-foot-5 defender oozing potential but lacking refinement. He spent time at Washington playing in a 2-3 zone and doesn’t have much in the way of offensive skills. If any team could unlock Thybulle’s potential and turn him into a two-way force, it’s the Spurs.

Georgia’s Nic Claxton and Brooklyn Nets

After making an appearance in this year’s playoffs, the Nets finally got a chance to show off their innovative offense. It was orchestrated by young players who benefited from the great developmental process in Brooklyn. If you squint hard enough, Claxton has the makings of a rangy, perimeter-savvy center with a respectable outside shot. But like unfinished sculpture, Claxton needs a team to chip away the rough edges. For a Nets offense that likes to have all its players capable of handling themselves behind the three-point line, Claxton would be a perfect addition

Full List

By: Brett Koremenos

Ryan O’Reilly joins Wayne Gretzky in Stanley Cup Final record books

Ryan O’Reilly has joined impressive company in the Stanley Cup record books.

O’Reilly scored the first goal of Game 7 on Wednesday to give his St. Louis Blues a 1-0 lead over the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. That was the fourth straight Stanley Cup Final game in which O’Reilly had scored, something last accomplished by Wayne Gretzky in 1985.

O’Reilly scored on a deflection with just over three minutes to go in the first period.

Alex Pietrangelo added another goal with seven seconds left in the period to give St. Louis a 2-0 lead through the first period.

O’Reilly actually has five goals in four games as he scored twice in the Blues’ Game 4 win. For his performance in the Final, as well as the rest of the postseason, O’Reilly was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Blues hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup for the first time in franchise history.

Original Article

By: Larry Brown

Meet the 2019 U.S. Women’s World Cup Team

The women of the United States soccer team are looking to repeat as World Cup champions. If they pull off the double, becoming the second women’s team to do so after Germany did it in 2003 and 2007, some of these ladies will become household names — well, several of them already are. Let’s meet the 2019 U.S. women’s World Cup team in order of jersey number.

1. Alyssa Naeher

At the last World Cup, Hope Solo was the star in net. No longer on the team, somebody had to step into her cleats, and that job has fallen to Naeher. The Penn State alum and former NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year, Naeher has been the No. 1 goalie for the U.S. since Solo left the squad, and she’s been up to the task so far.

2. Mallory Pugh

Meet the next star of U.S. women’s soccer. Pugh is only 21, but the striker already has 16 goals for the national team in 53 caps. Granted, they’ve almost all come in friendlies, but she got in three games during the 2016 Olympics. She’s not ready to be the top striker yet, but don’t be surprised if she makes an impact.

3. Sam Mewis

Mewis, a midfielder, and her sister, Kristie, played together in the 2008 U-17 World Cup, the first sisters to do that for the United States. Alas, Kristie isn’t on this year’s World Cup team, but Sam is. This will be her first major tournament, unless you are a Tournament of Nations fan. She’s won two titles with her NWSL team. Will she taste World Cup victory as well?

4. Becky Sauerbrunn

Sauerbrunn is one of the old heads of this team. The 34-year-old has 158 caps, and this will be her third Women’s World Cup. She started every game at the 2015 World Cup, but will she be able to handle that kind of workload at this point? Her former teammate Christie Pearce played in the finals of 2015 at 40. Sauerbrunn is basically a spring chicken in comparison.

5. Kelly O’Hara

O’Hara and Sauerbrunn are teammates with the Utah Royals as well as with the national team. The 30-year-old is versatile, playing at wing and midfielder for the United States and forward and defense for her club squad. O’Hara has scored only two goals for the U.S., but one of them came in the semifinals of the 2015 Women’s World Cup against Germany.

Brian was a beast in college, winning the Hermann Trophy, college soccer’s equivalent of the Heisman, in 2013 and 2014. That led to her being the top pick in the 2015 NWSL Draft. The midfielder dealt with a head injury in 2018, but she’s healthy now and should be primed to contribute at this year’s World Cup.

7. Abby Dahlkemper

Dahlkemper hasn’t had a chance to compete in a World Cup or Olympics yet, as she didn’t get her first cap until October of 2016. However, she’s only 26, so there’s plenty of time for her. The year 2018 was big for her, as she appeared in a few tournaments with the U.S. and also made the Best XI of the NWSL and was the league’s Defender of the Year in 2017. She’s the kind of player who could help ease the strain for the veterans on the team’s defense.

8. Julie Ertz

Ertz is about to make things tough for attacking players on opposing teams. Since being moved into a defensive midfielder role, her tenacity has made things miserable for opponents. Her play has also earned her the honor of being named the U.S. Women’s Soccer Player of the Year. If her last name sounds familiar, it’s because she’s married to Zach Ertz of the Philadelphia Eagles.

9. Lindsey Horan

Full List 

By: Chris Morgan

Why 2019 is so crucial for Panthers’ Cam Newton

The lengthening of superstar NFL quarterback careers in recent years has thrown out of whack the perspective that once informed where QB are in their arc, and how much time they have left.

In 2019, two NFL starting quarterbacks (Tom Brady and Drew Brees) will be over 40, and at least eight of them — 25 percent of the league’s presumptive Week 1 starters — will be at least 34 years old. Of those, only Eli Manning appears to show signs of decline or readiness to retire.

Once upon a time, a quarterback turning 30, as Cam Newton did last month, might have seemed like a significant milestone. Nowadays, however, it more than likely only means that a passer has another decade left of his career. Obviously, injuries and a few other factors can play a hand, especially for a quarterback who takes so much contact. But short of something catastrophic, there’s little reason to assume Newton should think his days are numbered.

Newton, coming off shoulder surgery in late January, is scheduled to throw in quarterback drills, though on a pitch count and aiming at stationary targets, when the Panthers open mini-camp Tuesday. This isn’t the first time Newton has thrown a football since undergoing the procedure, as the world found out earlier this month when a fan’s video of Newton throwing on a practice field made waves online, much to the dismay of Panthers head coach Ron Rivera.

After eight seasons, it’s fair to presume that Cam is right about at the midpoint of his career. Sadly, he’s beginning the second half returning from a serious injury, one that derailed what had been something of a comeback season for the quarterback. While Newton is among the league’s biggest stars, and has put together moments and short stretches of greatness, he has struggled to produce at the elite level on a year-to-year basis in the NFL.

Newton’s 2015 MVP season, albeit one where he fell just short of a championship, seemed to be a realization of the early career progression. He had reached the zenith and appeared at the time there to stay, until he wasn’t. Newton regressed considerably the following year, and didn’t return to dominating form again until 2018, even if the second half of last season was marred by struggle through injury. That dip in performance wasn’t entirely Newton’s fault, as Carolina has been frustratingly unable to surround its star quarterback with comparable talent in the receiving corps. The hire of Norv Turner last year, as mocked as it was at the time, inoculated life into play-calling that had become stagnant in Carolina.

Hopefully that means Newton can establish some consistency in the years to come. As Turner tells it, Cam has displayed urgency in his effort to be back on the field in time for the start of this coming season. “He’s really attacked this rehab, and he’s done everything he could possibly do physically to get back to where he is with the shoulder,” Turner told SI. “It’s been good for him to concentrate on the mental part of it. There’s only so much he can do, without throwing. And he’s really grown there, without being able to throw.”

That’s a significant leap from initial fears in January that Newton might have to miss a season to recover. Owner David Tepper tried to put a positive spin on it at the time, saying the wait would be worth it to get their franchise quarterback back to 100 percent. But there’s no denying that it would be a frustrating setback to Newton and those who want to see him realize his potential.

With the younger weapons in the Panthers’ offense starting to reach maturation,  there’s reason to believe Newton can make strides again this season if his health cooperates. Receiver D.J. Moore aims to build off an encouraging rookie season and Christian McCaffrey in 2018 proved himself worthy of the first-round pick the Panthers spent on him the year before.

This may not be a make-or-break season for Newton, but assuming he’s fortunate enough not to have his health be a deterrent for the second straight year, it can be pivotal and set him up for a back half of a career that might place him among the greats.

By: Michael Tunison

Original Article

Report: David Ortiz shot during robbery attempt in Dominican Republic

David Ortiz was shot during a robbery attempt at a bar in the Dominican Republic, according to foreign reports.

News channel CDN 37 reported on Sunday night that Ortiz was injured during a confusing incident at Bar Vial in Santo Domingo.

CDN 37 says Ortiz was wounded in the leg and taken away by an emergency medical team.

Ortiz’s father confirmed to ESPN’s Enrique Rojas that he was told his son was shot in a burglary attempt.

Ortiz, affectionately known as “Big Papi” to baseball fans, was born in Santo Domingo and signed his first professional baseball contract in 1992. He is a club owner in his native country and also became a U.S. citizen in 2008. The 43-year-old is a 10-time All-Star, 3-time World Series champion, former World Series MVP, and one of the most beloved Boston Red Sox ever.

By: Larry Brown

Original Article

Why Raptors are on verge of delivering knockout blow to Warriors

Before the Warriors dynasty, the two most famous teams of the 21st century, the Shaq-Kobe Lakers and LeBron-Wade Heat, had their historic runs end by way of a 4-1 drubbing in the Finals against an underdog. This iteration of the Warriors is on the verge of suffering the same fate, and the similarities don’t stop there.

In 2014, facing a 3-1 Finals deficit against the Spurs, James told his Heat teammates to “follow my lead ” and threw an absolute haymaker at the Spurs in the first quarter. San Antonio barely flinched and went on to dismantle Miami. Kind of reminds you of what happened to Steph Curry in Game 3 against the Raptors, doesn’t it? Curry unleashed an all-time haymaker on the Raptors, and Toronto was barely bothered by it, easily winning by 14 points.

In 2004, Kobe Bryant guaranteed the Lakers would win Game 5 after falling behind 3-1 to the Pistons. Kobe assumed his team could summon a championship effort out of thin air, and Detroit proceeded to smash LA in Game 5. Kind of reminds you of Draymond Green telling the media the Warriors would win in six after losing Game 3, doesn’t it? In Game 4, the Warriors tried to summon a championship gear they suddenly don’t have, and the Raptors stoically showed them the exit to Oracle Arena, bringing about what appears to be an end to the Kevin Durant era in Golden State.

What am I getting at here? Dynasties in the NBA have a way of ending abruptly. The signs often are right in front of us, but we don’t believe what our eyes tell us. For anyone who still thinks the Warriors can win this series without Durant, you haven’t been watching the same series as the rest of us.

How did we arrive at this point?

“The board man gets paid”

I’m not sure there has been a more on-point story about a superstar than the oral history of Leonard in college by Jayson Jenks of The Athletic. It included a great anecdote about Kawhi’s obsession with grabbing rebounds. He clearly had the right mindset then, but who could have predicted he’d be the best player in the NBA someday?

The “board man” is putting the finishing touches on a playoff masterpiece — he has averaged 31 points, nine rebounds and four assists on 50-39-89 shooting. He’s firmly in Bill Simmons’ 42 Club (add up points, rebounds and assists per game in the playoffs, and if it equals or surpasses 42, that guy is having a pantheon-level postseason).

On the way to the Finals, Kawhi dragged the Raptors through a series against the more talented 76ers with two “ice in his veins” shots — a contested go-ahead three in the final minute of Game 4 with the Raptors down 2-1 in the series and a memorable walk-off series winner in Joel Embiid’s face. Then, just when it looked as if  Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks were ready to run away with the Eastern Conference Finals, Kawhi put the clamps on him. He held Giannis to 21 points in Game 6 and 43.5-percent shooting in Games 3 through 6 -– all wins by the Raptors.

The Finals have been more of the same. Kawhi has averaged 31 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block (and shot 45-40-94) through the first four games. Despite the gaudy numbers, Leonard waited until Game 4 to really put his Klaw imprint on the series. With his teammates playing one of the worst halves they have played all season, Leonard scored 14 of Toronto’s 17 first-quarter points to keep the Raptors within striking distance of the emotionally charged Warriors.

On the first two possessions of the second half, Leonard “came out and hit two big eff-you shots,” as Fred VanVleet so aptly put it, to give the Raptors their first lead. Leonard finished with 36 points, 12 rebounds and four steals on 50-56-100 shooting. His net rating per 100 possessions was a freaking plus-54! He made all the right reads when the Warriors doubled and trapped him on pick-and-rolls. He gobbled up all of the rebounds that Green is usually able to tip-out to teammates. And he did it all with the same Terminator-like, emotionless demeanor that seems to have infected his teammates. Did I mention that he’s doing all this while clearly being hampered by his lingering quad injury?

You shouldn’t conflate Kawhi’s heroics as a failure on the part of Curry and the Warriors though.

These guys are still “eff-ing giants”

Steve Kerr’s quote about the Steph-Klay-Draymond core after the Game 5 win against the Rockets earlier these playoffs still rings true, especially as it relates to Steph and Klay. Curry’s 47-point, eight-rebound, seven-assist effort was damn near as impressive as LeBron’s iconic Game 1 in last year’s Finals (and that was the greatest 48-minute stretch of basketball I’ve ever seen). Even though Curry got gassed a bit in Game 4 (and kept double-clutching on some of his three-point attempts), he has nothing to hang his head over. He’s averaging 34 points, six rebounds and six assists on 45-40-94 shooting in the nine games without Durant this postseason. The Raptors employed a box-and-one defense on him. I can’t think of higher praise than a team playing a gimmicky high school defense on a player in the NBA Finals.

Thompson deserves recognition for his gutsy Game 4 performance as well. Klay scored 28 points on 11-for-19 shooting in 42 minutes despite being hampered with a hamstring injury that was so bad, the team wouldn’t let him even suit up for Game 3. Every time he goes down with an ugly injury, he finds a way to not only tough his way through games, but play at a high level, too. Unfortunately for the Splash Brothers, sometimes you just run into a buzzsaw in the Finals and there’s nothing you can do, no matter how well you play.

There are 82-game coaches, and then there are 16-game coaches

Coaching in the Finals is all about making the right adjustments. By that measure, Nick Nurse is having one of the finest Finals coaching performances since Rick Carlisle in 2011 for the Mavericks.

Nurse’s strategy in Game 1 didn’t get much recognition because of Pascal Siakam’s dominance. Thus, the first major sign of Nurse’s brilliance came in Game 2, when he ran a box-and-one defense that held the Warriors scoreless for five minutes, 32 seconds in the fourth quarter (until Iguodala’s dagger-three with seven seconds left).

After losing Game 2 basically because of an 18-0 blitz by the Warriors to start the second half, Nurse decided to start VanVleet over Danny Green in the second half of Games 3 and 4 because of FVV’s ability to chase and deny Curry. Toronto outscored Golden State by a combined 21 points in those two third quarters. Nurse’s emphasis on speeding the tempo in Game 4 -– the Raptors were even pushing the ball off made baskets -– was genius, too, as it led to inefficient shots and undisciplined defense by the depth-less Warriors. (Watch Curry gamble and leave Green wide open on this fourth-quarter three.)

Sticking with the vets

Another coaching move Nurse deserves credit for is sticking with Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry through their early-series struggles.

Ibaka had a horrendous first half in Game 3, highlighted by him inviting an on-fire Steph to dribble into multiple wide-open three-pointers as though he’d never played against him before. He was also out of sorts and clumsy on offense. The stage seemed too big for him. His next six quarters were probably the best six quarters of his life. He had five blocks in the second half of Game 3 and added two more in Game 4. Moreover, he played like an all-star on offense in Game 4, finishing just about everything in the paint, making smart reads while catching the ball on the move in the pick-and-roll, and even hitting a step-back off-the-dribble and a three-pointer just for kicks.

Much like Ibaka, Kyle Lowry struggled a bit early in Games 3 and 4, but was brilliant in the second half of both games. In Game 3, his excellent play was evident in the box score as he had 23 points and nine assists. In Game 4, it was less about his statistics and more about the constant pressure he put on the Warriors’ defense by pushing the pace and driving into the lane, leaning his large backside into defenders and finding open shooters. His fourth quarter was a special display of point guard wizardry -– none of the four assists in this highlight will win an ESPY, but they probably won the Raptors the title.

I said “probably” because …

Poetic Justice 

While I question whether Durant will even be 70-percent healthy if he plays Game 5, this series has broken perfectly for him to write a storybook ending to a confusing, albeit brilliant, three-year run with the Warriors. The layers of irony run deep. He never would have joined the Warriors had the Thunder not blown a 3-1 lead to the Warriors in 2016. He never would have joined the Warriors had they not blown a 3-1 lead to the Cavaliers the next series. The basketball community has spent the better part of three years complaining that Durant was the personification of an embarrassment of riches. And Green even told him earlier this season, “We don’t need you. Leave.”

Full Article

By: Pat Heery

 

Stanley Cup Final: The names to know

The Blues and Bruins not only had success in the standings, but they also looked like championship-level teams with the way they played, controlling possession, playing great defensively, getting great goaltending and finding secondary scoring to go with their dynamic top line players.

Both teams have continued that level of play throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and now they are meeting in a rematch of the 1970 series that was won on Bobby Orr’s legendary overtime goal. With the series set to begin, let us take a look at some of the most important names you need to know.

Those include the star players, the goalies, the coaches and a group of people who do not actually play for either team.

Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins —  Everything with the Bruins revolves around Marchand. He is their best offensive player and one of the most productive in the entire NHL. He is a top-tier goalscorer and an excellent playmaker, and he combines all of that with an outstanding defensive game that makes him one of the most complete players in the league. He is also almost certainly going to do something — maybe even several things — that draw the ire of the Blues and their fans or pretty much anyone that is not a Bruins fan. Along with being a top-10 offensive player, he is also the most effective pest and agitator in the league. Sometimes he takes that heel role a little too far and gets himself in trouble, running the risk of an ejection or a suspension (or actually getting ejected or suspended), but it is a part of his game and it is not going anywhere. One way or another he will be one of the main attractions in this series.

The Goalies: Tuukka Rask and Jordan Binnington —  We mentioned them in our look at the potential X-factors in the series, but they really need to be mentioned again because they will play such an enormous role in who wins this series. Rask is not only playing the best hockey of his career this postseason, but he also is currently putting together one of the single best postseason goaltending performances ever, at least from save percentage and goals against standpoints. He has played on this stage before, backstopping the Bruins to the 2012-13 Stanley Cup Final where they were defeated by the Chicago Blackhawks, but he has yet to be “the man” in net for a championship run. This is obviously his best chance. Binnington, meanwhile, has a far smaller resume and track record at the NHL level but has been one of the most surprising individual success stories in the league. At the start of the year, he was nothing more than an afterthought in the Blues organization and is now one of the biggest reasons the team is playing in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the 1969-70 season.

Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues —  Tarasenko is the Blues’ most dangerous player and is heading into the Stanley Cup Final riding a six-game point streak, finding the score sheet in every single game of the Western Conference Final. Along with being a consistent 35-40 goal-scorer since becoming a regular in the NHL, Tarasenko is also one of the best postseason goalscorers ever. His 0.476 goals per game average in the playoffs is not only higher than his career regular-season total, but it is also second best among all active players and in the top 25 in the history of the league. He had a slow start to the playoffs but has looked unstoppable over the past two weeks.

David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins —  One of the biggest reasons the Bruins’ Stanley Cup window reopened over the past couple of years has been the emergence and development of young players like Pastrnak and McAvoy. They needed another wave of talent to come through their system and complement the core of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Zdeno Chara, and these two have been everything the Bruins could have possibly hoped for them to be. Pastrnak has become one of the top goal-scoring wingers in the NHL (38 goals in only 66 regular-season games this season), while McAvoy is the perfect modern-day No. 1 defender given his skating, ability to jump into the play and lead the rush and overall brilliance.

Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues —  After a disappointing regular season that saw him score just 11 goals in 69 games, Schwartz has put together a Conn Smythe-worthy performance in the playoffs, already eclipsing his regular-season total. He is one of just three players in NHL history to have scored at least 10 goals in the playoffs and exceed his regular-season total. He has two hat tricks and two game-winning goals so far this postseason.

The referees: Gord Dwyer, Steve Kozari, Wes McCauley, Chris Rooney, Kelly Sutherland — The NHL would probably prefer that you did not know the names of this group, but given the way the playoffs have gone so far you might soon become acquainted with them. Officiating has been the sub-plot of the 2019 postseason due to the controversial calls, missed calls and messed up calls that have severely impacted games. Every round has been affected in some way by the officiating, and the NHL has to be hoping that trend does not continue in the Stanley Cup Final.

The top centers: Patrice Bergeron and Ryan O’Reilly —  This series will feature two of the best two-way centers in the NHL when Bergeron (Bruins) and O’Reilly (Blues) go head to head. Bergeron is the standard against whom all other defensive forwards are measured in the NHL right now and is just as dominant with the puck on his stick as he is without it. He will score, he will shut down your top scorer and he will dominate every phase of the game when he is at his best. O’Reilly may not quite be on his level (few players are), but he is not far behind. He, too, blends top-line offense and stellar defensive play and also has the ability and discipline to play big minutes against the league’s best players, play them tough and still stay out the of the penalty box at astonishingly low rate.

Full Article

By: Adam Gretz

The 50 greatest QBs of all time

In April 2018, Adam Steele of TheGridFe.com offered a formula for determining the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. If only the process was so easy. The reality of the situation is that analysts, journalists, beat reporters, observers and fans will probably never come to a consensus regarding the topic for different reasons. As much as those individuals may not want to admit it, personal feelings do affect opinions on the matter.

The men atop the list are either already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or will have their days in Canton not long after they call time on their legendary careers. Who sits atop your figurative mountain? Is it The Sheriff, The Gunslinger, Joe Cool or the signal-caller whom supporters of the New England Patriots refer to as the G.O.A.T.? Maybe, just maybe, you deem someone else the greatest QB of all time.

50. Russell Wilson

Russell Wilson’s stock will either rise or fall between the posting of this piece and his last game in the NFL. The one-time Super Bowl champion should have another ring in his personal trophy case (why didn’t Pete Carroll feed Marshawn Lynch?!?), and that second championship could have propelled him higher up such lists. He’s already the greatest QB to ever play for the Seattle Seahawks.

49. Vinny Testaverde

In January 2010, Jason Lisk of Pro-Football-Reference argued that journeyman QB Vinny Testaverde enjoyed a better career than some realized. Testaverde remains 13th all time in passing yards despite the fact that he hasn’t played since 2007, and he started his career under center for some awful Tampa Bay Buccaneers sides. Whether or not you believe Testaverde peaked later than others or deserved better from the team that drafted him could affect how you rate him.

8. Joe Theismann

In 1978, Joe Theismann earned the keys to the offense of the Washington Redskins when he was 29 years old. His career ended in 1985 following the horrific leg injury he suffered while being sacked by New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Between those two moments, Theismann won a Super Bowl, an NFL MVP award and Offensive Player of the Year honors.

47. Daryle Lamonica

The bulk of Daryle Lamonica’s time as a starting QB occurred from 1967 through through 1972 with the Oakland Raiders. He twice won AFL MVP featuring for excellent Oakland teams, but he was unable to win a Super Bowl with the club. The Professional Football Researchers Association inducted Lamonica into its “Hall of Very Good” in 2013.

46. Bobby Layne

Fans of the Detroit Lions know Bobby Layne for the alleged “curse” he brought down upon the franchise after he was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Supernatural occurrences aside, Layne was a dual-threat QB named to six Pro Bowl squads during the 1950s. “Bobby Layne never lost a game,” Hall of Famer Doak Walker once said of his former teammate, per the NY Times. “Sometimes, time just ran out on him.”

4. Donovan McNabb

Donovan McNabb was largely responsible for the rise of the Philadelphia Eagles during the first half of the 2000s. Statistically, he posted his best passing numbers after the Eagles acquired Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrell Owens. The six-time Pro Bowl signal-caller is one of 10 QBs to accumulate at least 3,000 rushing yards during his career.

43. Roman Gabriel

Roman Gabriel evolved into one of the better QBs of the second half of the 1960s after the Los Angeles Rams entrusted him with starting duties in 1966. Gabriel won MVP honors that season, and he was named Comeback Player of the Year in 1973 for his play with the Philadelphia Eagles following a trade. Per the Pro Football Researchers Association, Gabriel’s 3.3 career interception percentage was the lowest of all time, among eligible QBs, when he retired.

42. John Brodie

According to Daniel Brown of the Mercury News, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback John Brodie was third all time in passing yards behind only Johnny Unitas and Fran Tarkenton when he retired after the 1973 season. The two-time Pro Bowl QB and one-time NFL MVP led the league in passing yards on three occasions. Unfortunately, he also played for some forgettable teams.

41. Ken Anderson

Per KC Joyner of the NY Times, Hall of Fame head coach Bill Walsh once explained how he helped “pad” the stats of quarterback Ken Anderson when Walsh was an assistant with the Cincinnati Bengals. Ironically, Walsh served as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers team that defeated Anderson and the Bengals 26-21 in Super Bowl XVI. In Anderson’s defense, he won NFL MVP, Offensive Player of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year in 1981. In July 2018, Boomer Esiason told the official Bengals website Anderson should be a “no-brainer” Hall of Fame inductee.

40. Cam Newton

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton turned 29 years old in April 2018. At that time, he had Offensive Rookie of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, an MVP award and a conference championship on his resume. Newton’s inconsistent play frustrates Carolina fans who know what he can achieve when in his top form. His ceiling remains high heading into the second half of his career.

39. Jim Everett

Some may immediately think of Jim Everett’s infamous altercation with sports talk personality Jim Rome whenever they see or hear the QB’s name. As Jason Lisk of The Big Lead pointed out, Everett is relatively underrated for somebody who led the NFL in touchdown passes in back-to-back seasons (1989, 1990). Per Pro-Football-Reference, he’s 28th all time in passing yards and 40th in career passing touchdowns.

38. Tony Romo

Tony Romo never took good Dallas Cowboys teams past divisional rounds of postseason tournaments, and that could prevent him from entering the Hall of Fame without a ticket. Romo earned four Pro Bowl nods during his lengthy career, and he is fourth all time in career passing rating, per Pro-Football-Reference. Plenty of teams around the NFL would have loved having Romo under center for regular-season games between 2007 and 2014.

37. George Blanda

Via Pro-Football-Reference, George Blanda is one of eight men to toss seven touchdowns in a single game. The 1961 AFL MVP led that league in pass completions on three occasions, and he twice led that league in passing yards. His kicking skills allowed him to extend his career once he could no longer earn roles as a starting QB.

36. Randall Cunningham

Well before the Michael Vick Experience took the NFL by storm, Randall Cunningham electrified fans as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. As of the end of the 2017 NFL season, Cunningham is second only to Vick in QB career rushing yards, per Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk. He was named to four Pro Bowl squads between 1988 and 1998.

35. Matt Ryan

Like the previously mentioned Cam Newton, Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan has several personal pieces of silverware in his trophy case. It’s possible Ryan, who should cruise to 50,000-plus career passing yards before he retires, would be higher on the list had the Falcons not blown a 28-3 lead to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. The 33-year-old one-time MVP needs several additional good seasons, and maybe a ring, to cement his Hall of Fame status.

34. Rich Gannon

The Oakland Raiders acquired QB Rich Gannon before the 1999 regular season. He was 33 years old when he began a run that included four consecutive Pro Bowl nods, first-team All-Pro honors on two occasions and an MVP campaign in 2002. Gannon led the NFL in passing yards that same season. If only he and Jon Gruden found each other sooner.

33. Boomer Esiason

Former coach Sid Gillman, an offensive mastermind credited for helping make pro football the pass-first game it is today, referred to Boomer Esiason as “technically the most perfect” QB when speaking with Sports Illustrated’s Ryan Zimmerman in 1991. The 1988 NFL MVP was named to four Pro Bowl squads between 1986 and 1993. He matched 13 touchdowns with only two interceptions in 1997, his last season with the Bengals and as an active player.

32. Phil Simms

Had Phil Simms not suffered a broken foot late in the 1990 season, he, not Jeff Hostetler, probably would have guided the New York Giants to a Super Bowl XXV win over the Buffalo Bills. Simms may have even won a second Super Bowl MVP award. Imagine how much higher he’d be on such lists in such a scenario.

31. Norm Van Brocklin

QB Norm Van Brocklin led the Philadelphia Eagles to a victory over the Vince Lombardi-coached Green Bay Packers in the 1960 NFL Championship Game. That, in itself, is enough to earn him a spot here. Van Brocklin was one of the top quarterbacks of the decade beginning in 1950, when he was named to the first of nine Pro Bowl teams. Van Brocklin won the MVP award in 1960.

30. Philip Rivers

Unless his fortune changes, Los Angeles Chargers QB Philip Rivers will go down as the greatest QB of the 2000s, to date, to never win a Super Bowl. Rivers has been a fantasy football hero for the bulk of his career, and he’s a no-doubt Hall of Famer. Championships, or a lack thereof, matter in these types of discussions and debates.

Full 50

By: Zac Wassink

One-on-One: If Troy Aikman’s in HOF, Donovan McNabb should be, too. Right?

Yardbarker NFL writers Michael Tunison and Chris Mueller address some of the hottest issues in the league. This week’s topic: Does Donovan McNabb have a compelling case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

Mueller: There exists an old saying in sports talk radio that, on a slow news day, all a host must do, in any city, is say, “Pete Rose, Hall of Fame, yes or no?” Then watch as the callers flood in, taking care of several hours of airtime in one fell swoop.

We love to debate whether or not Player X does or doesn’t belong in their respective sport’s Hall of Fame because anyone good enough to be on the cusp can have a compelling case made for either side.

Typically, fans or media are the ones who bring up these arguments, but Donovan McNabb decided to cut out the middleman recently and make his case. That he used three-time Super Bowl champion Troy Aikman as his foil made things interesting, and even a little spicy.

Here’s the thing, though — if individual numbers matter, then he should be in over Aikman every day of the week and twice on Sundays. In fact, if the story compelled you, like me, to look up Aikman’s stats, you were probably shocked by how pedestrian they are. I grew up as a kid in the early 1990s thinking that Aikman was great, but maybe he was more along for the ride than anything.


                 Comp.- Att.  |   Yds.  |   Pct.  |   TDs   

McNabb   3170-5374       37,276     59.0      234

Aikman    2898-4715       32,942     61.5      165


Three Super Bowls is three Super Bowls, but McNabb didn’t have Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and an offensive line that dominated virtually every defense it came across. McNabb had Terrell Owens and Brian Dawkins, both in the Hall of Fame, and … Freddie Mitchell. Give him the former group, and something tells me he would have found a way to get over the hump.

So sue me, I think McNabb is right. It looks uncool to advocate for your own worthiness, yes, but the man still has a point.

The bigger discussion is also relevant here. What exactly is the best criteria for evaluating someone’s Hall of Fame candidacy? Do stats matter more than titles? And when one player at a position is clearly superior to another, but the man with inferior stats got to the top of the mountain three times, how much should that matter?

Mar 13, 2018; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Philadelphia Eagles former quarterback Donovan McNabb in attendance of the Phoenix Suns game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Tunison: I do feel for McNabb, even after his multiple DUIs and post-career propensity to be a social media irritant. He was a good to very good quarterback. What he truly excelled at, however, was making the right enemies, whether it was Rush Limbaugh calling him overrated as a result of the media’s desire for black quarterbacks to do well, or Eagles fans never quite embracing him or just being outright hostile to McNabb.

And, yeah, his numbers were better than Aikman’s. So what? The Hall has always been desirous of star players from dynasties. Steelers receiver Lynn Swann’s career numbers kind of suck (336 receptions, 5,462 receiving yards, 68 TDs), but he won four Super Bowls and made some exciting plays in them. It would ridiculous to claim championships don’t play a role in voters’ decision-making. I’m not saying it’s right. It just fits into several fairly arbitrary things that can decide borderline cases.

McNabb was certainly good enough to win a championship, and came awfully close once. What gets remembered about that Eagles’ Super Bowl appearance, though? T.O. playing through injury and having a great game, and McNabb allegedly throwing up and moving the ball too slowly in the fourth quarter. It’s a shame, because 2004 was by far McNabb’s best season (300-469, 3,875 yards, 31 TDs), and his only MVP-caliber one.

That McNabb’s numbers were on the whole better than Aikman’s has to also be put in the context that McNabb started his career just as Aikman’s ended, and offenses in the 2000s were opening up more than those of the ’90s. Awareness of concussions was still only burgeoning, but there were efforts by the league during McNabb’s playing days to make it harder for defensive backs to jam receivers.

Finally, here’s a good example to posit: Carson Palmer has comparable career numbers — see here —  to Donovan McNabb. Do you want  Palmer in the Hall of Fame?

Mueller: McNabb being a target of some of the worst people around never made me feel any sympathy toward him, probably because I was attending Penn State during his prime years, and had to deal with that obnoxious E-A-G-L-E-S chant because the team was very good.

If anything, I feel like reconsidering his Hall of Fame credentials is a mea culpa on my part, because I used to just make fun of him for throwing the ball at his receivers’ feet too often, and never winning the big one. If I overestimated Aikman’s greatness, I underestimated McNabb’s.

Oh, and he could run, too, especially early in his career. That feels pretty relevant to his candidacy, given that he piled up 3,459 yards and 29 touchdowns on the ground. He was so dangerous as a passer that he never got slapped with the “running quarterback” label applied to any black quarterback who moved faster than a statue.

The Super Bowl is obviously important, and making huge plays on the way to victory should count for something, but not everything. The list of quarterbacks with similar careers to McNabb has a pretty striking line of Hall of Fame demarcation — if you won at least one title, congratulations, you’re in. If you didn’t, sorry, you’re not. Unless you’re Jim Kelly, in which case smashing into the same wall four straight times earns you a sort of lifetime achievement award.

Perhaps if McNabb had better NFC title game luck, or if he hadn’t very literally puked in the biggest moment of his career, he’d already be in. Neither factor should keep him out any longer.

Do I want Palmer in? No. He was a compiler, and ran the show for a handful of very good teams, but some truly mediocre to awful ones. Most of all, he doesn’t pass my most basic Hall of Fame worthiness test; did I watch him and say, “This man is one of the all-time greats?”

During his playing career, McNabb didn’t pass that test either. Unlike Palmer, I’m now ready to admit the error of my ways.

Tunison: Don’t feel too bad. After all, neither of us are actually HOF voters. I’m sure Canton will ask me  once I get 30 years’ experience happily granting NFL GMs anonymity to say nasty things about their players. 

Original Article