Saturday, July 20, 2013

Cam Wake

In his four seasons with the Miami Dolphins Cameron Wake has alternated good seasons with great seasons, but I like his chances of following his 2012 great season with an even better one in 2013. Wake was fantastic last season as he led the 'Phins in sacks for the third straight season with a whopping 15.0 quarterbacks take-downs.

Wake has long been the only sack producer on this team, but offseason changes to the linebacker group plus the drafting of stud-in-the-making Dion Jordan should give Miami pass-rush threats all over the field. There will be several times this season where an opposing QB is chased out of the pocket by a blitzing LB or Jordan only to land in the waiting arms of Wake. There will also be times when the team will move Jared Odrick into the interior of the defensive line where he is effective as an additional pass rusher which will also help Wake get to QBs who have been forced off their spot by Odrick.

The signing of Brent Grimes will also help Wake get up to the lofty 15+ sack mark as Grimes Island is a shutdown cornerback who will cause opposing QBs to hold the ball longer than they want too. This provides opportunities for Wake to get an extra second or two to complete his trek to the quarterback.

In the last three seasons Wake has averaged 12.5 sacks while the no.2 Dolphin on the sack sheet has averaged just 5.5, but this season should see a more balanced (and frankly better) pass-rush from this defense. Wake has massive skill and in 2013 will finally get some help as far as attacking the QB goes which should really help the 31 year old veteran get even more opportunities to be the beast that he has become.

I look forward to another massive season with big-time production from no.91 who will surely earn his third Pro Bowl birth.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Mike Wallace

The Miami Dolphins have a ton of money to spend this offseason, and they have a wide receiver group that is underwhelming so they are likely going to be tied to every free agent wide receiver in the coming weeks. Guys like Wes Welker, Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings, and Danny Amendola will be linked to the 'Phins, but according to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald there is more than just rumors when it comes to Miami's interest in Wallace. This is a guy who is looking for a massive payday above all else (winning...who will be his QB...will he be featured in the offense etc).

In his four year career Wallace averages 1,010 receiving yards with eight touchdowns per season which is significantly more production than Miami usually gets from their receivers (especially the scoring). Brandon Marshall had gaudy numbers with Miami, but Wallace can be even better.

Wallace will be 27 when next season starts, and he is a player that has developed in my opinion (and others). This guy was once a deep threat - only - but he has developed into a legit receiver who is dangerous all over the field. What I value about him is he is a guy who opposing defenses have to game-plan for on every play. If Brian Hartline returns he would benefit greatly from having Wallace opposite him, and Davone Bess would surely reap great benefits from adding Wallace.

Wallace will have several suitors, but the Dolphins should very much be in play as they look like a franchise that can satisfy his contract demands (and a franchise that would be fine agreeing to Wallace's massive demands). Miami needs to pair Ryan Tannehill with Mike Wallace as I think the results would be thrilling.

Craig Ballard is a NFL/NBA/MLB writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @craigballard77, and you can find all of his NFL articles HERE

Friday, August 3, 2012

New gig

Greetings! I am now a proud member of the Rant Sports team. I write about the NFL, with my assigned team being the Miami Dolphins. My work can be found there now, thank you for your read!

My articles can be found at  www.rantsports.com/blog/author/craigballard/


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Steve Nash Free Agent

Kid Canada
The Miami Heat & OKC complete what I think could be Round 1 of their Championship battles going forward (Congratulations Heat fans! OKC fans you know your Thunder is just getting started!) we turn our attention to the Off-Season, in particular Free Agency...It will not be the Summer-o-fun like 2010 (Where Big 3 was born in Miami) but their is a major asset that will be a certain factor this summer...

In this entry we will look at the Free Agency of Kid Canada aka Steve Nash

July 1, 2012 Steve Nash becomes a Free Agent...At 38 Nash has seen declining #'s the past 2 Seasons, but this is still a guy averaging double-digit Assists per Game, and shoots at a very high percentage (Fantastic shooter...Foul shots are cash money too)...Nash is still so effective that he has been an All-Star 2 of the last 3 Seasons...This year only Rajon Rondo averaged more than Nash's 10.7 Assists per Game...Nash has been a once-in-a-lifetime Canadian athlete, and at 38 we see he still has extreme skill to bring to the table...What we all love about Steve Nash is he also has extreme Leadership to bring to the table

Clearly Steve still has legit NBA game, and I feel (as do most) that he would be a welcome addition to a legit Title Contender...Recent word is that Nash is looking at the Raps, the Blazers, or remain with the Suns to finish off his Hall Of Fame career...Let's take a look at those 3, plus a few other that will likely be in the mix
NY Knicks...Easy to start here as this destination will surely get a ton of Press re Nash being re-united with Amar'e...Knicks fans and Knicks Media are sure to be clamoring for Nash...The idea of Lin getting the majority of the PG mins is not a bad one, but having Kid Canada run their show would likely be the thing to get Amar'e back to being Amar'e...Nash breaking down D's and getting easy looks for Melo/Amar'e, and Chandler at the rim, + breaking down D's to find the open shooters (hey there JR Smith...Anyone see how cash money Steve Novak is from Downtown?!?!) sounds pretty sweet for the Knicks Organization

Issue for the Knickerbockers is $$$...Recent ruling went in their favor and gave NY the Bird Rights to Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak (meaning they can re-sign those gents for $ that takes them over the Salary Cap without taking a penalty for going over the Cap)...That leaves the Knicks with their $5 million Mid-Level Exception which they could use for Nash...Would less than half of his 2012 Salary be enough to get Nash to the Big Apple?!?! I would think not...Especially when other suitors will have at least that amount to spend on Nash, and may be more attractive from a Champ-Contender standpoint, and/or a Family standpoint 

Dallas Mavericks...This one writes itself...Re-unite with Cuban...Re-unite with Disco Dirk...Nash/Nowitzki re-kindling their Pick-&-Roll would be devastating for opponents...Championship windows for Dirk and Nash both starting to close so the BFF's would love to re-unite for a Title run...Even long-term the Mavs would have Dirk and Nash's contracts coming off the books at the same time and be able to once again re-load (as apposed to re-build)...Dirk desperately wants another Superstar, and now, but I would think that target would be Deron Williams...Looks like D-Will is looking at Brooklyn or Dallas as his home for the next several years (Williams certainly has a history in Texas)...Nash to Dallas is VERY interesting

LA Lakers...Not long ago David Stern nixed a trade that would have provided Kobe Bryant his PG that he desperately needs to help shoulder the load in Los Angeles...CP3 still landed in LA of course, and the rest is history...For my money, this LA team is the perfect fit for Nash...When I say that I mean from a Champ Contender standpoint...Lakers will have a $3 and $9 mill Exception which could be enough to lure Nash...Despite many peeps calling for the Lakers to trade a big-man it really looks like the 2012-2013 Season will begin with both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in Lakers purple...The strategy will be to move Pau closer to the basket to where he is more comfortable to operate in the flow of the O...The way Nash attacks and penetrates D's will mean less wear-and-tear mentally and physically for Kobe as much of the reigns/responsibilities will be in Nash's hands, and KB would surely trust that scenario...Ramon Sessions is likely done in LA and Nash would be a perfect fit...What I love is the Leadership aspect of both Kobe and Nash on the same roster...I would say the level of everyone's play would be elevated by the Good Cop/Bad Cop that Nash and Kobe would have...Both are driven to do whatever it takes to win, both do it differently, and both would be an amazing duo
Remember, I only said Lakers from a B-Ball standpoint...Not sure a former Suns player will think he is welcome in LA (Kobe hates the Suns!)
Portland...The Trail Blazers are reportedly on Nash's short-list of destinations...Geographically it would be close to Vancouver where Nash owns a piece of the MLS Soccer team there...Nash has shown a zillion times he can be magic when paired with a talented big-man, and LaMarcus Aldridge certainly fits the bill...Word is Nash and Aldridge became chummy at this years All-Star Game...Blazers have a great home crowd, and just endured a Raymond Felton season so they would have a new hero in Nash...Portland definitely has the Cap dollars available to put together a very legit contract (Portland likely has the most $ to offer amongst any legit Nash-suitors)

Phoenix...Shortest blurb...I do not see how Phoenix is legit here at all...They have to be mentioned because of the fact that Nash is such a class act that he will have the Suns as a legit option simply because of professionalism/loyalty...Suns have gone 2 straight years without making the Playoffs (73-75 record) and simply put Nash has numerous options that are better Family options, and Champ Contender options

How about YOUR TORONTO RAPTORS? Kid Canada is now a big-wig for Team Canada Basketball, and word is he would legitimately consider the Raptors as his final NBA team...Obviously Raps fans would love that...Adding a reputation like Nash brings instant credibility to a Franchise that has been on the steady decline for years...How quickly would we have our Raptors jersey's with Nash, # 13?!?!

The positive implications to the Raps roster are obvious, now lets take a look at the Financials...

Scenario #1 is a sign-and-trade which would have to be Jose Calderon (minimum) for Steve Nash...That would likely mean the Raps do not have to lose any Cap Holds (that is where you want to re-sign one of your team's own Free Agents...You must give that player a raise...That Salary is a "Cap Hold"...You subtract that Cap Hold from your impending Salary Cap Space...Must eventually sign that player, or Renounce his Rights)...This would mean the Raps could retain Jerryd Bayless, and do the Calderon/Nash sign-&-trade...Do we see this as likely? I don't (Great for the Raps, but I cannot see any immediate benefit to Suns) 

What about Salary Cap space to add Nash without sign-and-trade? Currently the Raps have in the $6 mill area to spend (potentially on Nash)...If the Raps were to Waive their Cap Hold on Jerryd Bayless (a move some of us would applaud) then that would leave the Cap Space at around $13 mill to spend...Now we are getting somewhere...Nash clearly would get the majority of minutes, so Jose Calderon and his $10+ mill Salary need to go...Raps can trade Jose, or perhaps use their Amnesty Clause (Amnesty Calderon would give the Raps an additional $10+ mill to spend) 

(Amnesty Clause was a big part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement...Teams can Waive any player - just 1 per Franchise, and that player had to have been signed prior to last season - up to the 2015 Season without having that player's Salary hit their Salary Cap, or be included in any Luxury Tax penalties...At that point all NBA teams that are below the Cap at that time can bid on the player...Highest bid wins, and the former team is on the hook for the rest of that Salary...Example Raps Amnesty Calderon - $0 of Jose's $10+ mill goes against Raps Cap anymore...Lakers win bid at $6 mill...Raps pay the remaining $4+ mill to Jose, so Jose still gets his $10+ mill) 

As we can see getting Kid Canada to star for YOUR TORONTO RAPTORS is a do-able scenario...Does that address Nash's desire to play for a legit Contender? Likely not (but we can dream, can't we?!?!)

Surely teams like the Heat and Bulls will want in on Nash too, but they will have extremely little money to offer (all of the above listed teams are the likely destinations IMO)

What team makes sense to you? What uniform do you want Kid Canada to finish his Hall Of Fame career in?


Friday, June 22, 2012

MLB extra WC, 2 Thumbs Down

 MLB new Wild Card "Series" is One-and-Done...Yikes

You know me, I love the NBA and NFL big-time, but a definite #1 for me in sports is MLB...That being said I feel like he word "suffer" applies for a hardcore baseball fan to have a...person...like Bud Selig running the show...For the sake of not taking a lot of time on this let's just say I am not a fan of Bud...This whole business of adding an extra Wild Card team is a source of disappointment for me as well

Growing up the MLB Hall Of Fame was THEE H.O.F. and MLB P-Offs were only for the absolute Cream of the Crop...Up to now both the AL and NL send only their 4 best teams to the PostSeason...

One-&-Done?!?! This scene never happens
Now I am not opposed to the concept/notion/idea of adding an extra Wild Card, but the way MLB is going about it upsets me...The idea that the (now) 2 Wild Card teams will play a 1-Game Playoff to advance to the Division Series seems absolutely ludicrous to me...162 Game MLB season, 6 months of MLB baseball, to come down to a 1-Game Playoff...Uhmm, pardon me?!?! I am not following the logic here at all...If you are old enough to remember the Jays back-to-back Playoffs runs then you know what a legit Playoff run is all about (By the way, 1992 Champ Jays lost their first P-Off game, so if this One-and-Done existed then we would not have had the '92 Title)...These days Cardinals fans know what a legit P-Off experience is, BoSox fans know it, Giants fans know it, Phillies too...Yankees fans always know it...A Playoff run in MLB is a SERIES...Heck, the Grand Prize is called the World SERIES...One-and-done should not be in play for MLB...That is NOT a Playoff experience in MLB...It is in NFL, it is in March Madness, but MLB is a 6 month 162 day g-r-i-n-d, and to qualify for PostSeason only to lose right away and it be over seems off to me 

 I went back through the 2000's World Series Champs...Check this out... 

In the Division Series...
2000 Yankees lost Game 1 to A's 
2002 Anaheim lost Game 1 to Yanks 
2003 Marlins lost Game 1 to Giants 
2011 Cardinals lost Game 1 to Phillies  

In the Championship Series... 
2004 BoSox lost to Yankees 
2005 ChiSox lost Game 1 of ALCS to Angels 
2006 Cardinals lost Game 1 vs Mets 

That is a lot of recent Champs who lost Game 1 of a series...Thankfully One-and-Done was not a threat to them, and for us fans thankfully we were able to watch these teams battle through Playoff SERIES which showed that they were in fact the cream of the crop...1-Game, after 162 Games?!?! Crazy talk IMO...

Does the NBA have teams play a quick game of H-O-R-S-E to allow one to get in the P-Offs, while the other goes home?!?!? Does the NHL allow 2 teams to shoot on the Shooter Tutor?!?! First team to score on all 5 spots is in the P-Offs?!?! 

Check out this (extremely possible) scenario...YOUR TORONTO BLUE JAYS qualify for P-Offs as a Wild Card team...The other WC team is Seattle (not likely) or Texas/LAA (very likely)...The Jays P-Off "experience" is a 1-Game event on the West Coast, starts at 10:30pm and ends at 2am...You and I may see it, the kids will not...And what about a 3-run HR by Pujols, then a few batters later Torii goes yard for a 2-run shot...5-0 Angels in the first...Right away the Jays are in huge trouble, likely going to lose, so right away our P-Off experience is dashed...Sound good to anyone?!?! In a 162 Game sched a team uses anywhere from 6-9 Starting P's to get through the grind, in this new format you need just 1?!?!

Agree? Disagree? Something in between? Please feel free to hit me up at craigballard77@myself.com ...On twitter @craigballard77

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

MLB up-and-comers

Less than 100 games to go in the 2012 MLB Season, and already we see some of the Future stars already getting their careers rolling in '12...In this Blog entry we will highlight some 1st and 2nd year players that are here to stay, and producing at a level that should already have their fanbases excited...All 9 positions, let's do this...

1B...I would have thought that Royals 1B Eric Hosmer (22) would be our guy for this position, but his MLB start is slower than I anticipated...Readers know that I have written before about Kevin Durant and the fact that he was born to score the basketball...Well Hosmer was born to hit the baseball...HUGE future for this young man IMO...Hosmer finished 3rd in Rookie Of The Year voting last year on the strength of a .293, 19 HR's, 72 RBI's, but those #'s have all dipped significantly in his 2nd go-around with MLB Pitchers...Average down to a paltry .218, 8 HR's with 32 RBI's...2012 struggles have him not quite making our cut...

Our 1B will be Freddie Freeman (22)...Like Hosmer, Freeman had a better 2011 (Runner-up in NL R.O.Y. voting)...#'s are slightly down (.250 avg...8 HR's...37 RBI's) but his play at 1B (zero Errors) gives Freeman the nod as our 1B on our list...Freddie's 2011 also started slow, but he picked it up as the season progressed and we will look for that again in 2012...Freeman has a pretty good eye at the plate and should become a consistent line-drive hitter
2B...I would have thought that Mariners 2B Dustin Ackley (24) would be our guy, but Batting Average...On Base %...Slugging %...& OPS all way down from his rookie 2011 campaign...Ackley K's once per game as well which is significantly too high for him

Astros 2B Jose Altuve (22) was a definite candidate to be our up-and-coming 2B... .317 BA, 4 HR's, 22 RBI's...Only Jeter/Bourn/Melky have more hits in all of MLB than Altuve...12 SB's, Caught Stealing 4 times...For a franchise struggling as mightily as Houston, Altuve has been wonderful...Only his 8 errors kept him off the list as our starting 2B...

Dirtbag aka Jason Kipnis

Cleveland has our guy...2B Jason Kipnis (25) is hitting .284 with 11 HR's and 41 RBI's...Kipnis is fantastic on the basepath...17 SB's and caught just once...Just 3 errors...Kipnis has very good bat-speed, works counts well too...Nicknamed "Dirtbag" because this guy hustles and has a dirty uniform on the regular...Kipnis grew up as an OF, and was a highly regarded football player too (WR) so his transformation to everyday 2B has been impressive (good potential on D)

SS...One day perhaps we will see Flash Gordon's son Dee Gordon (24) as our SS of the future...His speed is off the charts (21 SB's already, vs 6 Caught Stealing) but already at 13 Errors, and a horrid .286 On Base % keeps him on our bench

Our "next" guy at SS will be Zack Cozart (26) from the Reds...Batting Average at .264 and his 7 HR's put him 2nd amongst all Rookies...As far as MLB SS go Cozart is Top 6 in HR's, Top 3 in Runs (39) plus has 17 Doubles...Cozart had Tommy John surgery in Aug 2011 which makes his play in 2012 even more impressive...His 1st MLB HR was off University of Mississippi teammate Lance Lynn (Spoiler Alert...We will see Lynn mentioned again later!)...Cozart will hit at the MLB level, has an excellent arm, and is a very good base-runner

Brett & sister Danielle Lawrie
3B...This is a position that is in good hands going forward...Brett Lawrie (22) certainly gets Honorable Mention...Brett has a clear passion, and I would say great understanding of the game...HIGH baseball IQ to go with his passion...As with most 22 year old's there is certainly maturing that needs to be done (already immature incidents with Ump's, media, etc)...Already 9 errors, but in fairness he is learning the 3B position at the MLB level, and there have been flashes of greatness on D at 3B for Lawrie (this young man has a cannon instead of a right arm)...If your sister looks like Brett's then you can get an Honorable Mention on any list I am doing!

Ann Lux

Our 3B of the future is going to be Will Middlebrooks (23)...What impresses me about this guy is that his play has been so good that the BoSox are actively shopping long-time fan fave Kevin Youkilis...I very much expect Youk to be traded as Middlebrooks has shown he is a legit everyday MLB 3B...This SS-turned-3B was graded as the BoSox #1 prospect entering this season by Baseball America...If Lawrie gets props for a hot sister, then surely a hot Fiance gets a mention...Guys, here is Ann Lux...You are welcome...Back to baseball, Middlebrooks killed the 1st month of the season at AAA, and since his MLB promotion he has hit .289 with 6 HR's and 24 RBI's...Like most Rookies he certainly needs to Walk more and Strikeout less, but this guy's bat is legit

Definite Honorable Mention here to Mike Moustakas (23) in KC...As far as 3B go in all of MLB Moustakas is Top 10 HR's (10)...Top 10 RBI's (33)...Top 10 Hits (62)...Top 5 Batting Average (.278)...Top 5 OPS (.825)...Again, those ranks are amongst all MLB 3B...I love Moustakas, but Middlebrooks got the nod as our Starting 3B because he is making Youk expendable which will surely add an asset(s) to the BoSox through a trade, and of course Ann Lux :)

Heck, 3B even has Trevor Plouffe (26) in Minny getting it done and showing he is up-and-coming too...Plouffe plays 1B/2B/SS/LF/RF, but gets most of his action at 3B...BA of .243...14 HR's...24 RBI's...Almost 1:1 for BB/K

C...In Colorado Wilin Rosario (23) has 9 HR's which is more than any Rookie in MLB (Top 8 for all C's)...9 runners of the 30 that have tried to steal have been thrown out by Rosario and he Catches for the worst Pitching Staff I have ever seen, but the Power #'s have been good for this Rookie...The days of Coors Field being a launching pad are back and Rosario can and will take advantage of that...Rosario's Catching skills (Defense) are improving

Jesus Montero (22) has a big future ahead of him, but A) he plays DH way more often than Catcher...and B) his #'s are nowhere near what they should be/will be (.266 with 8 HR's and 28 RBI's)

OF...I had to have Bryce Harper (19...WHAT, 19?!?! yep) on this list because I am so damn impressed with him, plus he is a Rookie...His "Household name" status made me wonder if I should have him on this list, but again the young man is a Rookie so he had to be included...This guy is awesome...Accomplishments are already through the roof for this 19 year old stud...High School Player of The Year / All World Team / Babe Ruth Award / Golden Spikes / #1 pick / SWAC Player of The Year...wow...1 month into the 2012 season the Nationals had to put Jeff Zimmerman on the DL which created a roster spot that Bryce Harper took...This guy took the ball and is running with it...How about Top 5 for all MLB Rookies in HR, Batting Average, Walks, Triples, Runs, OBP, Slugging %, and OPS...Again we say wow

My fave player on this list (one day it will be Lawrie) is Mike Trout (20) of the Angels...1st month of the Season Trout was swimming in the Minors...Then the Angels decided that Bobby Abreu was done and they called-up Trout...Despite missing 1 month of MLB action this guy is Top 5 for Rookies in RBI's, Hits, Doubles, Triples, Runs, Walks, and Slugging %...Already impressive, but there's more...#1 amongst Rookies for Batting Average (impressive .323) and #1 for OPS...Also #1 for Stolen Bases, and this one isn't even close...Trout has 19 Steals, while the next highest Rookie has 5!...I love that Trout is already seeing over 4 Pitches Per At-Bat (impressive)

Trout's Anaheim teammate Mark Trumbo (26) is on our list too...Trumbomb finished 2nd in AL Rookie of The Year voting in 2011 (Rays P Jeremy Hellickson won, so of any Position Player Trumbo was #1)...2012 Trumbo is Top 10 in all MLB for HR's (16), Top 20 for RBI's (42) and in the AL only Paul Konerko and Josh Hamilton have better Batting Average (Trumbo is at .319)

In New York, Kirk Nieuwenhuis (24) has provided a spark for the surprisingly competitive Mets...Kirk is a legit CF...As far as Rookies go Kirk is Top 5 for Hits, Average, HR's, OBP, RBI's, Walks, SB's...Nieuwenhuis is #1 for Rookies with K's, and Top 5 in all of MLB for K's so clearly that is an area of his game that requires dramatic improvement

P...Stephen Strasburg has been a stud-in-the-making for a while now so he did not make this list...

6'6" big man Lance Lynn (25) has burst on the scene for the Cardinals...10-2 record is one of the absolute best in MLB...2.42 ERA with an impressive WHIP of 1.09...Lynn has just 15 MLB Starts, 13 this season, but he is establishing himself as a top-of-the-Rotation stud...Lynn ranks in the Top 10 in the NL for WAR, ERA, Wins, Win %, Hits per 9 Innings, K's per 9 Innings...Lynn started to get more and more work in last seasons Playoffs, and he is off-and-running in 2012...Fastball well in the 90's with an effective Change-up, improving CurveBall, and very good Sinker

Wade Miley (25) Arizona...8-3, 2.30 ERA with 1.06 WHIP...The D-Backs are struggling mightily in 2012, but Miley has been extremely good...Top 5 in NL for WAR, Wins, ERA, HR per 9 Innings...Miley has a good 2-seam, and 4-seam Fastball and throws an effective Change-up to Righties...His Out-Pitch is his Slider

Chris Sale is awesome
Chris Sale (23) has been a delight as a SP for the ChiSox this season...He is a huge reason why the White Sox lead the AL Central...8-2, 2.46 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, while batters hitting a measly .197 vs the Lefty...Sale has a legit Fastball (mid 90's with late movement) with a good Slider...As a Starter he will have to develop his third Pitch even more (Change-up)...His delivery is very sneaky/deceptive which makes picking up the ball out of his hand very tricky for hitters

Wei-Lin Chen (26) Baltimore...Honorable Mention...Chen spent numerous years Pitching for the Chunichi Dragons so he does have Pro experience...His MLB debut season has been so-far, so-good...How about a 7-2 record with a 3.36 ERA and 1.29 WHIP...Chen is a major reason why the O's are in legit contention this season...Chen's accuracy plays in any Continent...Fastball in the low 90's with a very good Breaking Ball

In the Bullpen I love Aroldis Chapman, but he is already a well known and legit MLBer...Let's take a look at Ryan Cook (24...A's)...Cook has already appeared in 28 games, and check the #'s...In 30 Innings Pitched he has allowed just 2 runs and 9 hits...Over 1 K per Inning...An amazing WHIP of 0.84...wow...Cook throws a 2 and 4 seam Fastball (mid-high 90's) with a sweeping Slider and a sharp Sinker...Righties are eaten alive by his Fastball and Slider combo

Holla at your bwoy... craigballard77@myself.com

Sunday, June 10, 2012

2012 NBA Finals

Hommies, the NBA Finals is upon us...Are you excited?!?! I certainly am...We will label this Heat/Thunder the 1st...Seems to me these 2 teams, and these 2 megastars (KD and Bron Bron) are destined to meet in the Finals multiple times over the next few seasons 

While the East Champ Heat are no stranger to the Finals, the West Champ Thunder will play for the Title for the first time since guys like Payton, Kemp, Schremph, and Sleepy Sam Perkins wore the Seattle SuperSonics jersey with George Karl patrolling the sidelines...That group lost to Jordan's Bulls in 6...It has been well over a decade since the Western Conference was not represented by one of the Mavs, Lakers, or Spurs...That is the same trio of teams that got Thunder struck this Postseason...Heck, the Spurs went 50 days with zero losses, then fell 4 times over a one week span to coach Scott Brooks' squad...

Amazing to remember that OKC entered Jan 1, 2009 with a 4-29 record and finished that season with up-and-coming Kevin Durant + up-and-coming Russell Westbrook, and the #3 pick in the draft...That pick became James Harden...Also added was defensive monster Serge Ibaka who came over from the ACB League in Spain...Fast forward to these days and we see a phenomenally impressive core for OKC, none of whom have even turned 24 yet... 

KD has become one of my faves...This young man was born to score the basketball...Youngest Scoring Champ ever, and by the way also 3-time Scoring Champ!...What impresses me with KD is we saw guys like MJ and Kobe have unreal gifts, but they had to grow and mature into great leaders...KD seems to already display a team-first attitude and just seems to "get it" if you know what I mean...

Westbrook saw his Assists dip this season, but for a 4th straight campaign his scoring increased...Like Westbrook, James Harden also has increased his scoring every single season, Assists too...Extremely few teams have a reliable instant O off the bench guy like Harden...MAJOR luxury/advantage for Coach Brooks...

Republic of Congo native Ibaka has established himself as a hustler, and a major deterrent at the rim...Block after block, altered shot after altered shot with Ibaka in the paint 

While youth is certainly being served in OKC, there surely is a Veteran presence too...C Kendrick Perkins is a long-time nasty type of physical player down low in the post...Thabo Sefelosha and Derek Fisher (nice Vet addition mid-season for OKC) give the Thunder experience/veteran minutes too...This teams attitude about belonging in elite conversation, IE Championship conversation can be summed up for me by Vet Nick Collison...KD and Collison are the only Thunder who also played for the SuperSonics...Collison said recently he is not as excited to be in the Finals as he thought he would be...I think that is because this group seems to really believe that they can beat any team 4 times before that team beats them 4 times...aka Champs, not just happy to be there...

Brooks' Thunder are wonderful on the Offensive end...To have sustained success in the NBA these days you need to be athletic and have ways to get "easy" buckets...OKC does that in full-steam-ahead mode...Truly their team speed is impressive and they use it so consistently to queue comebacks, and/or to smother teams with an aggressive onslaught...

Another reason for their success is they are the best in the business from the Foul Line (spoiler alert...This is a definite factor in why I think OKC will be the 2012 NBA Champions)...

As a team OKC is very good on the glass...If there is anything to nit-pick this team with it could be that in the P-Offs they seem to have regressed slightly on the Offensive glass 

On D the paint and dirty work is spoken for with the likes of Perkins and Ibaka, + OKC does play good Team D...A key in this series will be OKC's ability to get out on the Heat shooters...OKC is decent-at-best guarding the perimeter and a sure fire way to get in trouble vs Miami is to allow the guys like Chalmers/Miller/Battier to contribute 3-balls, as we know the Big 3 are VERY likely to get theirs...
Just for comparison sake let's mention that the Heat Big 3 average 67 Points Per Game, the same as OKC's Big 3 so we see the role-players will go a long way in deciding a 2012 Champion

Speaking of the Big 3, let's check out the trio from South Beach...I will start with this...The fact that LBJ/D-Wade/CB4 took $16 mill per year each will be historically significant IMO...Yes they all left about 1.5ish million per year on the table, but if you are going to leave money on the table why not make it a legit amount that helps Pat Riley surround you with pieces that, all due respect to the 2-Time East Champs, likely improve your roster from where it is now...The Big 3 put a historic bulls-eye target on themselves when they guaranteed a trillion Championships upon signing, and it could well be the role-payers that don't measure up in this Championship series for the Heat for the 2nd straight year...

This Heat team changed what it wanted to do, what it wanted to be about, multiple times this season...An up-tempo team for a spell, but they did not like what that did to their Team D...So then the became a D-first team who was going to beat you with their Team D...Currently, for my $ anyway, watching the Heat in these P-Offs has boiled down to one thing every damn time...It is currently all about LeBron...He has been in attack-mode, beast-mode, MVP-mode...This guy is over 30 ppg, and 9.5 Rebounds per game in the P-Offs, and his Game 6 performance at Boston will not soon leave my memory...D-Wade owns South Beach, but we have seen the Heat mature/evolve into being LBJ's team to put on his back...

I thought that a key factor to Miami losing last years Championship was Coach Erik Spoelstra's inability to make the necessary game-to-game adjustments that P-Off series' insist on...Well this Finals that needs to start with LBJ...I would like to see the Heat make a concerted effort to start possessions with Bron Bron in the Post...LBJ can facilitate from the Block and get some good looks for himself, and/or find a cutting Wade or one of their spot-up shooters if/when the double-team comes...One challenge for Spoe will be to get D-Wade in a better rhythm...Wade's #'s certainly are good, but he does need to find one more level...His FG% has been in decline since the P-Offs started...Too many examples of him looking to the Refs for bailout calls IMO...

To Spoe's credit he has already made nice adjustments and found the way to get Chris Bosh back integrated into the rotation, and in rhythm too...If I am calling for Wade's numbers to have to increase to another level then surely the same has to be said of Bosh...Again, not to say Wade or CB4 have not been very good, I just think to have a chance vs this Thunder team the Heat need the Big 3 to be GREAT...

The supporting cast need to step up their consistency at least one more notch too...A guy like Mario Chalmers has increased his scoring slightly, but his 3-Point % is on the steady decline in the P-Offs and he must catch fire for the South Beach crew to score and hang with the Thunder...Shane Battier had a good Celtics series, and clearly he is a guy on both ends of the floor that the Heat require a contribution from...Mike Miller has seen his effectiveness, and his minutes decrease quite a bit through the P-Offs...The Big 3 were enough last year to get to the Finals, but not enough to overtake the Mavs for the Title (ROLE PLAYERS REQUIRED!!! Ask MJ...Ask Kobe...Ask Magic...Ask Bird)...The Big-Man scenario for the Heat outside of CB4, and contributions from veteran Udonis Haslem, is u-g-l-y...Big Up to Joel Anthony because he is a good Canadian! BUT...having either him or Ronny Turiaf split about 30 minutes per game may cut it in the East, but can you afford such non-factors getting those minutes vs an on-fire OKC group?!?! I personally doubt it...

This years Heat look similar to me...A sensational Big 3, but playing against a team with its own collection of talent that is very likely deeper, and surely faster than Miami is... The Foul Line could, actually likely will, be a factor in this series...The Heat are good-at-best from the stripe, while the Thunder are terrific

KD 3-time Scoring Champ, Oden not so much
Ultimately we see a Franchise that built through the Draft, sure they got lucky (Portland taking Greg Oden instead of KG for example) but not even possible to get to an elite Championship level without a solid chunk of good fortune...The other Franchise got themselves into relevance with a Free-Agent bonanza, the likes of which had historic significance for the Association...One has a Coach who is as up-and-coming as his team is...The other has a Coach that had better win an NBA Title or he will be removed from South Beach...Both have a terrific Big 3...Only one though is playing at the breakneck speed and firing on all cylinders on O and that is the team I feel will win the Title...I think the Thunder could romp in this series...Remember the NBA Finals is the only Finals where the format changes...The series will go to a 2-3-2 format meaning Game 5 will be in Miami, otherwise I would take OKC to wrap up the Title in Game 5 at home...With this format I will take OKC to win their 1st Title in 6 games in front of a fan-base that is becoming one of the best in basketball...The Heat simply have not faced an animal on O like this Thunder team, and ultimately (even though they say D wins Championships) I think the high-powered OKC O will be enough to get them 4 wins before Miami can get 4 wins

Loved the post? Hated it? Something in-between? What is your prediction?!?! 
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