- The Season's Over -

If Amir Johnson Can Do It, You Can Do It Too, Anthony Randolph

February 28, 2011

Anthony Randolph Minnesota Timberwolves

By Brian Spencer

Somebody purports to actually want you, Anthony Randolph, and even if that somebody is the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves and their bumbling GM David Kahn, it’s on you to seize the day. To prove the Golden State Warriors and New York Knicks were wrong for giving up on you so quickly. Prove they were wrong, just like Amir Johnson is proving the Detroit Pistons were wrong.

Randolph was mostly an afterthought included in a little under-the-radar trade you may or may not have heard about that sent Carmelo Anthony to New York, and Madison Square Garden’s stock to within about $2 of its NASDAQ 52-week high. He’d spent most of the season wasting away on the end of Mike d’Antoni’s bench, along with career loiterer Eddy Curry, logging mop-up minutes in just 17 games before being shipped to Minnesota.

He played the role of a clunky benchwarmer marvelously during those spotty opportunities in New York, often seeming dazed and confused and looking nothing like the type of intriguing talent with massive upside he’s been billed as since entering the league as the 14th-overall pick in the ’08 draft. Many thought d’Antoni’s uptempo system would be a perfect fit, the magnet that drew out Randolph’s jump-out-of-the-gym skills and honed them into a disciplined, deadly suite of weapons that would pair perfectly with Amare Stoudemire. Whatever the reason, though, it obviously didn’t happen and he clearly didn’t gel with his coach.

Considering his dismal showing, it’s easy to point to a lack of basketball smarts–and maybe that’s indeed the case since, after all, Don Nelson, his coach in Golden State, also made those insinuations–but it could just be that it wasn’t a good fit for either party. He moves on to Minnesota at the still-green age of 21, to play for a GM that claims he’s been trying to land Randolph for nearly 2 years.

I don’t trust his new coach, Kurt Rambis (does anybody?), to give him much burn over the rest of the season, but something tells me Rambis might not be the one calling the shots in 2011-12. One way or the other, Randolph is going to have a shot to earn a spot in the rotation next season and to make a real impact.

The Case of Amir Johnson

Sometimes young, raw players like this with little experience in college (Randolph played just one season at LSU, earning First Team SEC All-Freshman Team honors) and few opportunities to work through their growing pains in the NBA just need time. Toronto Raptors forward Amir Johnson, whose skillset isn’t all that far from Randolph’s, is one such player who bounced around, but kept at it and is finally getting his chance.

Amir Johnson Toronto Raptors

The 6-9 Johnson spent five full seasons as a spot-duty backup, never appearing in more than 62 games or averaging more than 14:41 minutes per. He was drafted late in the second round of the ’05 draft by the then-stacked Detroit Pistons and, like Randolph in Golden State, had to make the most of limited chances. He rarely saw the court in his first two seasons–when he was still a teenager–then failed to make the leaps and bounds expected of him by team brass in his third and fourth seasons, when he averaged 3.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in about 13 foul-plagued minutes per. He was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks following the 2008-09 season, and they flipped him to the Raptors about 2 months later.

Now, after signing a five-year, $34 million extension with the team last summer, Johnson has finally gotten the opportunity for consistent minutes and has made the most of it, averaging 10.3 points on 59% shooting, 6.8 boards, 1.2 assists, 0.8 steals, and 1.2 blocks in about 26 minutes a night through 59 games (41 as a starter). Those certainly aren’t huge numbers, but his performance has been trending upward as the season has gone on and as the Raptors have sunk further and further in the standings and fully looked to the future: in 27 games in January and February, Johnson–who by the way still won’t turn 24 years old until May–has averaged 12 points (62% FG), 8 boards, 1.6 assists, 0.8 steals, and 1.5 blocks.

He’s playing with more confidence and sustained energy than I saw in his first five years, and I think next season we might see him push 15-10-2 averages, especially if he can get on the floor for 30+ minutes a night. I had a mild obsession with Johnson during his years in Detroit, and though I wish he had reached this breakthrough with the Pistons, it’s good to see him finally showing what he’s capable of somewhere.

Will Randolph’s career follow the same trajectory? It could, but though there are a number of similarities between him and Johnson–raw, long and lanky, serious hops, tendency for foul trouble, etc.–Randolph is ahead of where Johnson was at this point in his career, and most would agree he has the potential to be a much more complete and impactful player.

The hype surrounding Randolph stems not just from his dominant stretches at LSU as a freshman, but also from his tantalizing turns in limited minutes during two seasons in Golden State in which he averaged 9.7 points, 6.1 boards, 1 assist, 0.8 steals, and 1.4 blocks in about 20 minutes per. Johnson never got that many minutes in Detroit, and never put up those kinds of stats; he’s just now putting them up, in fact. Randolph can be a special player, but he has to want it.

He’ll have a chance to prove it he does in fact want it. Forget about what happened in New York: let’s see what you can do in Minnesota, Anthony.

Anthony Randolph / Amir Johnson Photos Credit: Icon SMI

3 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Feb. 28, 2011 at 3:13am in ETB Articles, NBA

On a Cold Sunday Afternoon in Chicago, a Quarterback Named Jay Cutler Did Sulk

January 26, 2011

Jay CutlerBy Brian Spencer

The fervor has died down as quickly as it arose. His critics have been slammed by those factions of the Chicago Bears organization, and its fanbase, who weren’t calling for Cutler’s head on a Wisconsin cheese-stuffed platter. His jerseys are not being burned, the trade rumors have been dismissed.

The facts about what happened to Jay Cutler during Sunday’s loss to the Packers have emerged: yes, he actually was felled by a semi-serious ailment: Grade II MCL sprain or partial tear, an injury that typically causes players to miss 3-4 games.

So, great. Let’s give the guy a break. “I’m very disappointed. That, to me, is dirty pool,” said Bears GM Jerry Angelo. ” Tight end Greg Olsen said “[he] thinks it’s insane.” But perhaps most notably, third-string backup Calib Hanie (who let’s all agree performed remarkably well, all things considered) had this to say about his embattled teammate: “He didn’t want to let his teammates down. So if he could have been on the field and been productive for the team, he would have done it.”

I’m sure that’s true: his knee probably felt pretty fucked up, and it probably would have been irresponsible to let him go back on the field. The guy was getting pounded by well-timed blitzers and a bloodthirsty Packers pass rush, and I’m not sure that he would have made enough of a difference in the second half to save his Bears anyway. Though it tightened up at the end, the Packers are clearly the better team.

A MCL tear can be just as big of a deal as a minor concussion, yet nobody would have been questioning Cutler is he’d suffered the latter instead.

No, I don’t have a problem with Cutler not going back in the game. But it’s the second sentence of Hanie’s comment, that if Cutler “could have been on the field and been productive for the team, he would have done it.” Fine, he couldn’t be productive on the field… but he definitely had the capacity to try and be productive off of it. That’s the one thing that seems to have been lost in all this scuttlebutt about his knee: Cutler’s desultory sulking on the sidelines was embarassing.

More than anything, I’m shocked about Cutler’s post-injury demeanor, especially given the fact that injured knee or not he could still walk around, or at least stand on it. Instead, he sat there on the bench, with that… that… I don’t know what to call it: the Things Aren’t Going Well for Jay Cutler Face? You know the one, just like you know what the Things Aren’t Going Well for Eli Manning Face looks like.

He sat there without saying much of anything to his teammates. He sat there, at least from what we could see at home, without giving an enthusiastic brain dump (oh, c’mon, get your head out of the gutter) to Hanie and Todd “We’ve Probably Seen the Last of Him in the NFL” Collins about what the Packers defense was doing, what he saw out there in the first half. The tendencies he’d begun to pick up on, where the rush was coming from the strongest, etc. Maybe he was having spirited discussions with them off camera, but it sure didn’t look like it… and you know they’ve would’ve flashed over there to catch that if it were happening.

Cutler was not rousing his teammates, slapping shoulder pads, rallying them as their figurehead leader! Where was the off-field tenacity? Where was the heart of a winning quarterback? In a similar situation, could you imagine Tom Brady quietly sitting off to the side, cowering underneath an oversized jacket, while his teammates were battling for the AFC championship? Or Peyton Manning? Brett Favre (in his prime)? Drew Brees?

But that’s kind of who we’ve all thought Jay Cutler is, right? A kid with a big arm, and a true playmaker (from time to time)… but not necessarily your rock. In fact, probably not your rock. A wild card upstairs at the most critical position on the team.

Cutler is a fine quarterback who can put up big numbers and help his team win a lot of games. Any criticisms leveled at him about not finishing the 2010 NFC Championship, on the field, are misguided. But, there’s a lot of talk in sports about that indefinable quality found in the best players: you know, “it”. He has “it” or he doesn’t have “it”.

Does Cutler have it?

Based on what I saw on that sideline on Sunday, and what I’ve seen the first five years of his NFL career, I have to say no, not yet. Not even close.

Jay Cutler Photo Credit: Icon SMI

1 CommentPosted by Brian Spencer on Jan. 26, 2011 at 12:02am in ETB Articles, NFL

On Mushy Brains and the Excessively Commercial Nature of NFL Broadcasts

December 29, 2010

bleachers

Photos Credit: Icon SMI

By Brian Spencer

You can do better than this, NFL. A lot better.

I’m referring to the NFL Viewing Experience, which has become somewhat insufferable and nearly demanding of DVR usage. I understand that commercials and corporate sponsorships have regretfully become an accepted part of pop culture, and that all of those god-awful advertisements that are pounded into our heads every Sunday and Monday are, to a degree, a necessary evil: I don’t especially want to pay anything extra to watch football on FOX, CBS, ESPN, and NBC, and I’m guessing you don’t either. (Of course, commercials still run even if you buy the NFL Sunday Ticket.)

That said, the commercial breaks have gotten out of control and are seriously distracting from the on-field product; I’ve never spoken with anybody who disagreed with me. It’s even gotten to the point where corporate entities, like ESPN, have allegedly interfered with the organic flow of the game–or as organic as it can be with plenty of unnecessary commercial breaks already baked in–by asking coaches to use all of their time outs, regardless of the score.

That’s insane. Again, for whatever reason Americans, in particular, have come to accept commercials–and now even celebrate them, which is something I’ll never understand–but enough is enough.

Last night I used a stopwatch to time all of the advertisement time during NBC’s primetime broadcast of the Philadelphia Eagles taking on the Minnesota Vikings. I started with the first commercial break once the game began, and included any and all ads that ran without any mention of football or without the camera on the field or in the broadcast booth; in other words, I kept the timer running when, for example, it cut back to aerial shots of Lincoln Financial Field as Al Michaels ran down a list of the commercial sponsors.

This was a painful endeavor that required heavy usage of the mute button. After all, one can only watch and listen to, for example, Hyundai’s dreadful pair of quirky hipsters dance around and shill for a mega billion-dollar company so many times… and, believe me, if you watched the entire game you had about 100 opportunities to see the ad. If you’ve watched any amount of football since mid-November, you’ve probably seen it 1,000 times.

Eyeballs Rolling Back in Head

I think that’s what gets me more than anything: the sheer volume of ads that are dominated by a very small number of companies. We see the same ads over and over and over again, sometimes within the same commercial break; it’s not good for my blood pressure. After awhile, the repetition lulls you into a semi-comotose state–you’re of course already there if you happen to be watching a Cardinals or 49ers game for some reason–and by the time the third quarter rolls around, your brain feels mushy, useless, a sponge ripe for the pitching.

I guess that’s the point: don’t think, just buy. Buy our products, and buy into the terrible cliches we attach those products to. I know I’m just another voice in the well-established chorus that sings the evil of commercials, but it’s disgusting, it really is, and it impacts society on more of a subconscious level than most realize. That’s a bigger discussion than what I purport to tackle here, so for the purposes of this piece, it comes down to this: we shouldn’t have to feel so fucking dumbed down every time we watch sports.

Maybe you can turn off that aspect of the broadcast and ignore it, but I can’t.

I Cannot Watch

The Eagles-Vikings game kicked off just past 8pm and lasted until 11:20, so including halftime it was roughly a 3:20 broadcast. By the time all the ads touting expensive cars, piss-grade beer, fatty foods, overpriced diamonds, and the new shows on NBC bound to be canceled by the end of spring (Harry’s Law, starring Kathy Bates? Really?) were over with, viewers had been exposed to just under 47 minutes of commercials and advertisements. NFL games last for 60 minutes, at least in terms of the running clock, so technically we only saw 13 more minutes of football than we did commercials.

This is unacceptable, and though primetime games are notoriously dragged on longer than they should be, running over 45 minutes of commercials is not atypical for your average NFL broadcast. I’d assert that this was about average given that there were fewer injury time outs than usual and just a handful of challenges.

Think about that: 47 minutes of commercials. I don’t know how many individual spots that comes out to, but most ads are only 15 – 30 seconds long, tops. Again, I’m not pretending that totally eradicating commercials is a viable action, but the NFL and the networks that broadcast their games are hugely popular and profitable entities, and probably always will be. The advertisements are excessive, insulting, and have much too much impact on the game.

I watched parts of Super Bowl XLII between the New England Patriots and New York Giants from my hotel room in Berlin, Germany. In the United States, millions of people actually can’t wait to see the Super Bowl commercials; it’s not just the super bowl of football, it’s the super bowl of advertising. But guess how many commercial breaks I endured during the broadcast in Germany? Zero until halftime. Zero. It was amazing, the most sedate, enjoyable half of football I’ve ever seen.

Give Us a Break

We don’t need extended stoppages of play and commercial breaks after every fucking punt or kickoff; we definitely don’t need them after the extra point is kicked and after the ensuing kickoff. The camera should stay on the field between most changes of possession, during which the announcers should regale us with interesting facts and stats about the two teams we’re watching; I realize that with guys like Matt Millen, Joe Buck, and Troy Aikman in the booths, that’s a stretch. A coach’s challenge should not always equal a commercial break; an injured player on the field should not always mean an injury commercial break.

These little things add up over the course of an entire game and bring us to that 47 minutes number. What’s a reasonable amount? 30 minutes would be a step in the right direction. That might still seem like a lot of commercials–and it is–but that’d roughly translate to “just” 5 minutes or so of ads per quarter if allowing for more to run during halftime. Something tells me the NFL and its partners would still be pulling a handsome coin if they cut their ad time by 17 minutes. Advertisers would have no choice but to get over the fact that their ad–the same one we’ve already seen all season long–is only going to run 10 times instead of 25 times.

Is this too much to ask, NFL?

For all of your sport’s inherent flaws, rulebook inconsistencies and banalities, etc., god help us we still love the on-field product. We might not always like how it tastes or how it smells, but we live it and breathe it and often obsess about it for months. The commercial nature of the game, however, and the impact you allow it to have has grown tiresome. You can do better, and we deserve better.

9 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Dec. 29, 2010 at 3:47pm in ETB Articles, NFL, NFL Fantasy News

Detroit Pistons Desperately Seeking Direction

November 18, 2010

Ben Wallace Detroit Pistons

Ben Wallace Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By Brian Spencer

Anybody who’s tuned into these early weeks of the NBA season knows that the Detroit Pistons are a ticking time bomb, and that things could get a lot worse before they get a lot better. Players are feuding with coaches, coaches are feuding with players, and judging by all the empty seats at the Palace of Auburn Hills, the fans want nothing to do with the mess.

In the standings reality, however, at 4-8 they fall squarely into the also-ran column and are not yet a true cellar dweller a la the Clippers, Raptors, 76ers, etc… but they’re getting close to joining that rarified sewer air. With a little more luck–and talent–they could easily be 6-6, even 7-5, after dropping their first two games by a total of four points, then blowing a 21-point second-half lead in their third loss. Oh, sure, they’ve looked dreadfully listless and are clearly lacking in chemistry, but don’t believe everything you’re reading: despite all the turmoil, this team has actually been competitive most nights, and in the weak Eastern Conference they probably have enough talent to squeeze into the playoffs.

That said, it’s time to light this bomb’s fuse and blow this feeble version of the Pistons to bits. It should start with Tayshaun Prince, who seems to be doing everything in his power to force his way out. His body language has been embarassing for a guy raking in $11 million on the season and who’s asked to do very little besides hustle and set a good example; so far he’s done neither. There’s no place for Richard Hamilton anymore, either, not with Ben Gordon starting to heat up and be the lights-out scorer we know he can be. He has enough depth behind him.

Hamilton and Prince played starring roles in Detroit’s six straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, winning is all they know, and now that they’re losing on a team that’s rebuilding and trying to find its way, their hearts simply don’t seem to be in it. Understandable, to a degree, until you remember, again, that both are being paid handsomely to play a game they love. (Hamilton is guaranteed $12.6 million this season and the next two.) And don’t give me this “money isn’t everything” garbage: of course it’s not. But are we so used to athletes annually being paid more than the GDP of hundreds of small countries that salary, and return on that salary, should no longer be a consideration?

I’ve rooted for both these guys for such a long time, and I want to see them both succeed again–but elsewhere. No, this franchise cannot fully move into the future until it fully lets go of the past. (It’s worth noting, however, that Ben Wallace, the other holdover from the franchise’s most recent golden era, is still doing his best to be the hustling, banging, rebounding, defending warrior he’s always been in Detroit; his impact on the game, however, just isn’t the same at 36 years old. Don’t worry, though, it looks like he’s interested in playing defense even after his playing days are over.)

Of course, jettisoning their longtime stars is just the beginning.

More on the state of the Detroit Pistons after the break….

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1 CommentPosted by Brian Spencer on Nov. 18, 2010 at 7:28am in ETB Articles, NBA, NBA Fantasy News

How About That Thomas Jones?

November 10, 2010

Thomas Jones Chiefs

Thomas Jones Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By Brian Spencer

Thomas Jones just can’t get any respect.

One season removed from his fifth consecutive season with at least 1,110 yards rushing, the 11-year vet has found himself in the unfortunate, totally-not-his-fault position of being the roadblock that’s holding the dynamo that is Jamaal Charles back. When the Kansas City Chiefs signed Jones in the offseason to a two-year, $5 million deal, most of us thought it was both a vote of no-confidence by KC brass in Charles’ ability to be “the guy”, as well as a foolish bet on a fading horse with a lot of miles on his hooves. We’ve said it once and we’ll say it 10 more times: the dropoff for over-the-hill running backs can be a precipitous one, and Jones seemed like he was heading for a LaDainian Tomlinson-like fall.

Well, LT has been borderline brilliant during the first half of his bounceback season for the New York Jets, Charles has proven he’s quite capable when given the opportunity, and Jones, well, he’s been solid, not spectacular, but I’m guessing solid and effective is better than most people figured he’d be. Together with Charles, Jones has helped elevate the Chiefs’ rushing attack to the top of the NFL at 179.6 yards per at the season’s halfway point. He’s ran for 570 yards (4.2 YPC), scored 3 TDs, and has not turned the ball over. That puts him on pace for his sixth-straight season with at least 1,100 rushing yards; folks, it’s time to give credit where credit is due.

I know: Charles needs more touches. I don’t disagree. I’ve already watched more bits and pieces of Chiefs games this season than I probably have the last few seasons combined, and it feels like every time I look up Charles is sprinting between the tackles for 25 yards, taking it around the end for 34 yards, and generally threatening to take it all the way every time he gets his hand on the ball. His 719 yards rushing are good for sixth-most in the NFL, and of the 17 running backs with at least 500 yards rushing, he has the least amount of carries with 113; only two backs in this group, Tomlinson and LeSean McCoy, have less than 130 carries.

Forget about Charles though…

Still, it’s not Jones’ fault that Charles isn’t getting as much burn as he could and probably should be: the guy’s not just going to step aside with a polite curtsy and defer to the youngster. Time and time again, it seems like Jones is the fall guy, the obstacle, the unwanted producer in the backfield who’s to blame for holding somebody or another back. In Chicago, it was Cedric Benson who was given every opportunity to unseat Jones, but failed. Last year in New York, it was Shonn Greene who, until the playoffs, couldn’t usurp a significant amount of carries away from Jones. Now, it’s Charles, though in this case it seems more like coaching strategy, game planning, and depth than anything else.

Drafted seventh overall all the way back in 2000 by the Arizona Cardinals, Jones’ career got off to an inauspicious start. He failed to break 511 rushing yards in any of his three seasons in the desert, then moved on to Tampa Bay for a season. He had the look of career journeyman. Another bust in a long line of first-round running back busts.

Then something happened: a guy who I believe came into the league with a reputation for speed began running harder, stopped going east and west, hit the holes, and became somewhat of a bruiser. At 5-10 and 212 pounds, he’s certainly never been a “power back” in the mold of, say, Brandon Jacobs, but for the sake of the Chicago Bears and Jets, thank God he’s not Jacobs. In three seasons with the Bears, Jones rushed for nearly 3,500 yards and 22 TDs, and in the same amount of time with the Jets totaled 3,800 rushing yards and 31 TDs.

If he stays healthy, in a few weeks Jones will eclipse the 10,000 rushing yards and 70 career TDs marks. Only 24 other RBs in NFL history have exceeded that number, and by the time he calls it a day he could easily find himself in the top-18. That’s remarkable for a guy who’s mostly flown under the radar during his 11 NFL seasons, and to me, he’s worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.

There’s nothing wrong with clamoring for more Jamaal Charles; I want to see it too, but Thomas Jones has earned his carries this season. He deserves every single one of them.

2 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Nov. 10, 2010 at 8:35am in ETB Articles, NFL

Believe It: Oakland Raiders In the Hunt for AFC West After Downing the Chiefs

November 8, 2010

Darren McFadden of the Oakland Raiders

Darren McFadden Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By Joel Martin

It’s rainy season in the Bay Area, and the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders brought sloppy play to match the sloppy weather in Week 9. The game was billed as the coming-out party for two former contenders returning to the spotlight, but I saw two young, undisciplined teams with a lot of talent. Check back in a couple years and we’ll have some contenders. Yesterday, penalties said it all: 14 penalties on the Raiders and 12 on the Chiefs (tying a season high in the NFL).

Chiefs Running Backs

The lead story of this one has to be the Chiefs’ running back situation. We all know that head coach Todd Haley’s been playing an odd game with how he distributes the workload between Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles, but until now it hasn’t cost them a game.

Yesterday against one of the worst run defenses in the league, a week after Charles went off for 238 total yards, he was again the clear backup. This makes no sense at all. Thomas Jones is a fine back, but he’s not in the same league as Jamaal Charles. The latter goes for at least six yards on 60% of his carries, and averages 6.5 YPC overall. Jones gets you two or three yards, with the occasional run of 5-10, for 4.0 YPC overall.

The Chiefs should have Charles as the feature back with Jones coming in to rest him, not the other way around. You saw it Sunday every time KC touched the ball. The commentary crew kept talking about how the Raiders had really “shown something” with their run stopping on Sunday, but that was only true with Jones carrying the ball. When Charles ran the ball, they looked porous and slow. For the game, Charles ran 10 times for 53 yards (5.3 YPC), while Jones ran 19 times for 32 yards (1.7 YPC).

If you reverse the carries and assume the same YPC, the Chiefs run for a healthy 118 yards instead of a pedestrian 85 and probably win handily instead going to overtime again, this time losing. Now obviously that’s a big assumption, but 45 extra rushing yards means a couple of extended drives, possibly a field goal or touchdown, and less time at the end of the game for Oakland to mount their comeback.

Either way, Chiefs win.

The only thing I can think of to justify the carry distribution is keeping the veteran happy. That works as long as you keep winning, but now that it cost them a game, I have to imagine they’ll see the light.

Raiders’ Running Backs

The first possession for Oakland was three runs to Darren McFadden, all to the outside. If he gets around the corner or catches a pass in the open he’s great, with good speed and leaping ability. But they didn’t go to the middle, and there’s a reason. He’s tall (6’2”/210lbs) and runs with a very upright style. This works for Adrian Petetrson (6’1”/220lbs) because of his strength, but I haven’t seen the same from McFadden. Power sweeps to the outside were his bread-and-butter in college, and the Raiders seem to have finally figured it out.

It often seems like McFadden has been disappointing us for years, but he’s actually only 23 years old. If offensive coordinator Hugh Jackson can tailor the offense to his abilities, big things will continue. That said, the Raiders should keep Michael Bush involved through the middle, and if they do he’ll stay a viable fantasy option. (The Raiders also have a delicious playoff schedule for running backs – @JAC, DEN, IND – so he’s a good target for a cheap trade if you’re looking ahead to December already.)

Coaching

These coaches are part of a new breed in the NFL, proving it on consecutive drives in the first quarter. On fourth down at the Oakland 45, Todd Haley was in his “four-down mode” (he tells the team on first down that they’ll go for fourth-and-short) but the Chiefs were pushed back by a false start. Instead of taking his medicine and punting, Haley calls fake punt and switches to the wildcat formation. The play came up short, but just barely.

Coming back the other way, the Raiders came up empty on three downs. Fourth down arrives, and Tom Cable calls fake punt. Again, they came up short, but the exchange was telling. I think we’ll see more of this in the coming years. For fantasy owners, this might make offensive players on these teams more attractive. The math says this approach gives your team a higher chance of scoring, which is good news for their skill players.

More on the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs after the break….

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No CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Nov. 8, 2010 at 5:18pm in ETB Articles, NFL, NFL Fantasy News

NBA Notes One Week into the 2010-11 Season

November 3, 2010

Dorell WrightBy Andrew Thell

- I was excited when Dorell Wright got a fresh start through free agency, signing with the Golden State Warriors back in July. He’s always been a pet player of mine who just couldn’t seem to put it all together in terms of health and consistency in his limited chances. The former preps-to-pros 19th-overall pick has all the talent in the world, but throughout his six years in Miami he had a hard time cracking the starting rotation and staying on the floor. When he’s been out there he’s always flashed athleticism and range though, topping out in the 2007-08 season with modest, but efficient, totals of 8 points and 5 boards with nearly a steal and block per on 49% FGs and 83% FTs in just 25 minutes a night.

Even with Don Nelson out of town, I can’t think of a better landing place for Wright’s versatile and up-tempo talents than Golden State. He won’t keep this up, but so far the results have been good: 20 points, 5.5 boards, 4.5 threes, 1.3 steal and 1.3 block on 51% FGs in 37 minutes a night (the most of his career by a long shot). Again, this shooting won’t keep up (especially from deep), but Wright is a rangy 6-8 athlete who can score and put up hustle stats on this fast-paced offense. I’m taking a flier on my fantasy teams, and as one of my 30 Players I Want to See More Of from last season I’m happy he’s finally getting tick and producing.

(Dorell Wright photo credit Yahoo!/AP)

- Listen, I was a big Chris Bosh fan. He seems like a nice, affable guy and he’s a great basketball player – or at least he was. But when Bosh signed with LeBron and Dwyane this summer he basically threw in the towel on being his own man and a franchise leader (same goes for LeBron) and signed up to ride coattails and be a role player. I know winning is what this game is all about, but I have a hard time respecting his decision. It’s like when Karl Malone made his last-ditch bid for a ring with the Lakers in 2003, except even more pathetic with Bosh having his whole promising career ahead of him. I would have really liked to see Bosh get it done somewhere as “The Man,” and maybe we will someday, but I don’t have a whole lot of interest in watching this 13 points and 6 boards on 10 shots a game business.

- You’ve read it everywhere else already, but here’s the obligatory “Rajon Rondo is ridiculous” report: after dropping 17 dimes with 0 (zero) TOs against the Pistons on Tuesday and 15 more on Wednesday the wily son of a bitch is averaging 16.4 assists per game and set an NBA record with 82 assists in his first five games. He’s officially in the discussion for NBA’s best point guard, and if you’re booting free throw percentage on your fantasy team he’s easily one of the most valuable players in our imaginary game.

- I think Mike Conley‘s new five-year contract worth $40 million surprised everybody, but the kid has been playing lights-out so far this season. The astronomical 3.4 steals per game will come down, but if he can maintain that 16 points and 9 assists per game while playing heady defense he might just be worth it. When draft night rolled around in 2007, who woulda thought Conley have the best career of the Ohio State products on the board?

- I really like Larry Drew’s new motion offense in Atlanta, and at 5-0 the early returns have been good. With so many young athletes who can dart around the court in the half-court and without any plodders on the roster is makes a lot of sense for the Hawks. Al Horford‘s numbers have been pretty similar to last season thus far, but he looks good. In the games I’ve caught Horford is showing improved moves and footwork on the blocks and better touch on his intermediate jumpers.

- The early returns on Blake Griffin are promising, but perhaps not as great as the hype machine would lead you to believe. Don’t get me wrong, the guy is extremely explosive and attacks the rim and glass with reckless abandon. He oozes potential, but he’s also putting up big numbers on a very bad team and is still as lacking in polish as many of the pessimists thought. The 17 points and 10 boards per are great, but 46% FGs and 52% FTs aren’t so great and in five games Griffin has blocked just one shot. If he can stay healthy big things are coming, but it’s going to take some time. Or maybe I’m just bitter I traded him before the season on my keeper team …

Checking in with John Wall, Brook Lopez, Mike Fratello and more, after the jump …

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No CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on Nov. 3, 2010 at 10:24pm in ETB Articles, NBA, NBA Fantasy News

You Are What You Are in the NFL, Except When You’re Not

November 2, 2010

Kyle Vanden Bosch Detroit Lions

Kyle Vanden Bosch Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By Brian Spencer

Detroit Lions (2-5): In years past, a 2-5 mark in the standings next to the Lions likely meant two things: they were lucky to get those two wins, and they were probably on their way to 2-10. Not these Lions. The offense has suddenly become explosive, and is ranked first in the NFC at 26.1 points per. Perhaps more importantly, they’re fielding the NFL’s best defensive line–yep, I said it, the best–and superstar rookie DT Ndamukong Suh (27 tackles, 7 sacks, 1 INT, 1 fumble recovery, 1 TD!) is running away with Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl honors.

This just might be the most exciting young team in the NFL. At 2-5, all indications are that the Lions are on their way up–nobody will be looking forward to playing them in the last half of the season.

Oh, shades of “the same old Lions” still haunt and threaten this team–the special teams coverage against the Redskins last week nearly killed them, and the inopportune fumbles are troubling–but unlike in years past, this group has proven they are not quitters and they are not going to be rolled over by just anybody. If there was any justice in the world they’d be posthumously awarded the win they deserved in Week 1 over the Bears, and at 3-5 actually be harboring realistic playoff hopes in the weak NFC; technically they are still in the hunt, you never know, but it’s unlikely. They still need another strong offseason, and history shows GM Martin Mayhew has it in him to make the right moves.

Don’t laugh, but this week’s home tilt against the New York Jets is the first legitimate measuring-stick game this franchise has been involved in for years. Vegas has only installed the visiting Super Bowl contender as 3.5-point favorites; could the Lions actually pull this one out? Yes, yes they can. They might not, but they can.

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-4): So remind me again what the plan is here this season? Next season? Five years from now? Are the Jags trying to build around Maurice Jones-Drew? Are they or are they not confident in David Garrard? What kind of team are they trying to build? Can anybody outside of Jacksonville name more than one player on that starting defense? Can anybody in Jacksonville name more than one? I didn’t think so.

In this parity-driven league, the bland, directionless Jaguars are .500 and still firmly in the playoff picture, but I’m not sure I’ve seen a worse, more discombobulated-looking team than this one is. Kudos for their 35-17 thrashing of the Dallas Cowboys, and a job well done to the much-maligned Garrard for absolutely lighting up that porous ‘Boys defense (17-21 for 260 yards, 5 total TDs), but on most weeks this team is just brutal to watch; their -61 point differential on the season is proof.

The second half of their schedule should bring the Jags back down to earth, and that’s the best thing that could actually happen for this franchise. Outside of MJD there really aren’t many building blocks here, and they desperately need to start accumulating some. Head coach Jack Del Rio needs a playoff berth to keep his job, but even that might not be enough. Two things I still can’t figure out: how they managed to beat the Indianapolis Colts in Week 4, and why this franchise hasn’t been relocated yet.

Thoughts on the Bears, Cowboys, Chiefs, Saints, and Vikings after the break…

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3 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Nov. 2, 2010 at 7:20am in ETB Articles, NFL

I (Sort of) Like What I’m Seeing, But Detroit Lions Still Giving Fans Honolulu Blue Balls

October 19, 2010

Ndamukong Suh

Ndamukong Suh Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By Brian Spencer

Progress, as it relates to the Detroit Lions, lies truly in the eye of the beholder.

At 1-5 heading into their Week 7 bye, the Lions are clearly no longer a laughable doormat. Casual observers perusing the standings are likely to think “same ol’ Lions”, but this team is no pushover. With a little luck, they could be anywhere from 3-2 to 4-1… again, depending on your point of view.

We all remember what happened in Week 1 against the Chicago Bears, so theoretically, at worst, this team should be a semi-respectable 2-4, with 10 more chances to exceed last year’s final haul of 2-14. In Week 2, they lost a nail-biter at home to the Philadelphia Eagles, 35-32, were soundly beaten the next week in Minnesota, then squandered a chance to win in Green Bay for the first time in nearly two decades in dropping a very winnable game against a very beatable team, 28-26. That led to a 44-6 thrashing of the St. Louis Rams (the team’s biggest win since 1995), then, finally, to a heartbreaking 28-20 loss to the New York Giants in Week 6. At least they covered the 10 1/2 spread on Sunday; appreciate that, guys.

If you’re adding up the carnage at home, that’s 4 losses by a combined 18 points. In the feeble NFC North, if this team had simply been awarded the win they deserved against the Bears, then pulled it together long enough to steal one of those other winnable losses, they’d stand a hopeful 3-3 and be right in the thick of things. Specifically, they’d likely be tied for first place. All it would have taken was one less missed tackle there, not turning the ball over here, not getting flagged there. Considering this franchise is just one season removed from their historic 0-16 record, and came into the 2010 season sporting a 3-37 record over their last 40 games, these close calls have to be considered progress.

But let’s be honest: most teams in the NFL can point to one or two key moments in a game in which they came short as the difference between a win and a loss. That’s called parity, and the NFL has cornered the market on it; the cliche “on any given Sunday” truly defines this league. (See the moribund Arizona Cardinals, who at 3-2 in the NFC Joke West could actually be on their way to the playoffs.)

So welcome back to the NFL, Detroit Lions: you’re just like all the other lower-rung teams now. You’re good enough to be in most games, but still not good enough to win most games.

Woo hoo!

Jahvid Best

Jahvid Best Photo Credit: Icon SMI

The Befuddling World of the Detroit Lions

My Lions have racked up all kinds of interesting, maddening stats on this noble march to the bye week:

- Last year only the Tampa Bay Bucs and St. Louis Rams scored less points than the Lions in the NFC; through five games this season, the Philadelphia Eagles are the only NFC team that’s put up more points.

- So far the Lions are one of 16 teams who’ve scored more points than they’ve given up: of those teams, the Lions and San Diego Chargers (2-4) are the only ones with losing records.

- Last year the St. Louis Rams were the only NFC team that had less interceptions and less sacks than the Detroit Lions defense; this year, so far the Lions have both the fourth-most sacks (one behind the Rams, ironically enough) and fourth-most interceptions.

- The Lions have been penalized more than any other team in the league (59).

- Lions starting left tackle Jeff Backus has only given up 3 sacks so far on the season, a respectable number given some of the names he’s been asked to block (Jared Allen, Julius Peppers, Osi Umenyiora, etc). Those three sacks, however, have resulted in two quarterback fumbles/turnovers, and one strained right shoulder on a franchise quarterback, Matthew Stafford. Stafford has not played since the second quarter in Week 1.

- Rookie running back Jahvid Best burst onto the NFL scene (and into fantasy football circles) in Week 2 with a scintillating performance against the Eagles, gaining 78 yards on the ground, 154 receiving yards, and scoring thrice. Lofty comparisons to former Lion greats like Barry Sanders and Billy Sims ensued; for all the hype, though, Best has yet to rush for more than those 78 yards in a single game, is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry, and his Lions are the second-worst rushing team in the NFL.

And Yet…

In the absence of wins, however, there is something to be said for simply being competitive–just ask the Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers. There’s also something to be said for having a plan in place and young cornerstones to build around–just ask the Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers. The Lions are in a much better place than they have been in the last decade, and are getting closer, but we’re all going to have to endure a few more twists of the nuts before this team truly turns it around. Hey, they’ve already given you honolulu blue balls every year since 1957, what difference does another year make?

beastman

You love seeing rookie Ndamukong Suh dominate this early in his young career and look every bit like the best player in his draft class; the kid is a first-year Pro Bowler if he keeps this up. Remember that pseudo-debate leading up the draft about who was the better defensive tackle prospect, Suh or Gerald McCoy? If you do, forget it. It’s early, but I haven’t heard a peep about McCoy, taken third overall, down in Tampa Bay. Through five games, McCoy has 8 tackles compared to Suh’s 21 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 interception, and all kinds of pressure and hits on opposing quarterbacks.

Call him Beast Man.

You drool at Calvin Johnson’s casual, quiet, explosive start to the season, despite the modest stats (29 catches for 437 yards, 5 TDs). Make no mistake, Megatron has been stellar when he’s been targeted and is catching almost all of the catchable balls thrown his way; the problem is that he still isn’t seeing as many as he should be. It’ll be a thing of beauty when the offensive coaching staff realizes that he needs to run a fly route and get the target, poor coverage or not, when he’s gifted with single coverage. There’s a better-than-average chance he’s going to come up with it.

You see the potential for guys like Stafford and Best to be special players, and see the makings of a solid core on defense with playmakers like Louis Delmas and, lately, Alphonso Smith, a second-round pick in last year’s draft who was cast off by the Denver Broncos but has played his way into the starting lineup in Detroit. After seeing limited action the first few weeks, he’s already logged 16 tackles, 3 INTs, and 1 return TD capped off by the Carlton Banks. We still haven’t seen second-year starting middle linebacker DeAndre Levy in action yet, either, due to lingering injuries. He too is apparently somebody this team feels confident is somebody to build around.

Brandon Pettigrew (25 years old) and Tony Scheffler (27) are locked up for the foreseeable future as the team’s top tight ends, and so far this year have combined for 59 receptions, 553 yards, and 2 TDs. They comprise what so far is looking like the top tight-end combo in the NFL.

This is all well and good. The Lions are no longer more than likely to be down by 20+ points at the end of the first half, in every game, every week. They’re competitive, they’re making plays, they have core pieces of the puzzle in place, they probably wouldn’t be defeated by the top-10 college football teams.

Does that make the losing any more palatable? No, not really. But in my eyes, I see progress. And for now, I’ll just have to take it.

4 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Oct. 19, 2010 at 12:30am in ETB Articles, NFL

Surprise! Four Early-Season Fantasy Football Overachievers at Quarterback

September 28, 2010

Kyle Orton Broncos

Kyle Orton Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By Brian Spencer

Kyle Orton, Denver Broncos - We have a saying around here to explain inexplicable randomness such as Orton’s early-season fantasy domination: Football! Woooooo football!

Orton came into the season, his second in Denver, with a career 75 QB Rating and was considered one of the least sexiest starting quarterbacks in the entire league (if you throw out Carolina, Cleveland, and Buffalo since we all know they don’t have a fucking clue what to do about the position). Lord knows nobody wanted Orton on fantasy draft day: he went undrafted in ETB’s 12-team league, and his Yahoo! public league ADP was a rousing 132.7, or early in the 14th round. To reiterate, that was behind studs like Matt Leinart (ugh), David Garrard (yuck), Matt Moore (haha!), and… Tim Tebow (amen).

Well, the joke has been on us wiseasses so far: after shredding the Swiss-cheese Colts secondary on Sunday (at least in terms of yardage), Orton is sporting a healthy 97.4 QB Rating, has completed over 66% of his pass attempts, and has thrown for 1,078 yards, 4 TDs, and 2 INTs. That makes him the sixth most valuable fantasy quarterback after three weeks, 0.28 points behind Drew Brees. Geez.

Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles - You may have heard hushed whispers and murmured rumors that Vick has taken over the starting job for the Iggles. You know that, right? Story hasn’t gotten many legs just yet, but something tells me that once ESPN sniffs this, like a dog in a crotch, you might start hearing about this heart-wrenching story of redemption before too long.

I’m sure Vick has turned his life around, loves dogs, spends his free time doing non-required charity work, and takes the blind for walks while reading books to the deaf; just ask ESPN. That’s great, good for him and good for the world at large. Most fantasy players are simply concerned with the bottom statistical line: this guy has come out of nowhere and is playing the best overall football of his career. If he keeps this up, Vick is a shoo-in Pro Bowler and possibly, all things considered, the fantasy MVP of 2010.

Through three games, the 30-year-old vet has an astounding 110.2 QB Rating (career: 76.2) thanks to 750 yards passing, 170 yards rushing, 7 TDs (6 passing, 1 rushing), and 0 INTs. He’s yet another fantasy draft-day afterthought who was scooped up on waivers after incumbent Kevin Kolb was knocked out of the game–and the starting job–with a concussion in Week 1. Sure seems like there are a lot of undrafted guys kicking ass this year, eh?

Let’s keep Vick’s early-season performances in perspective though: the bulk of his eye-popping stats have come against the Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars. You won’t find secondaries much worse than the ones those respective squads are trotting out there this year. We’ll find out more about Vick in the coming weeks as the Eagles move into the meat of their schedule, but for now, only Peyton Manning and (barely) Philip Rivers are more valuable fantasy quarterbacks.

Mark Sanchez, New York Jets - Just for the record, ETB are not “Sanchise” fans. Not at all. We didn’t like him last year as a rookie (though begrudgingly gave him credit for his solid postseason performances), didn’t think he’d be any better the second time around, and thought he came across as an unprepared, petulent brat in HBO’s Hard Knocks; a player who reads and believes his own headlines.

Geez, between Pierre Garcon, Darren McFadden, Visanthe Shiancoe, and now Orton and Sanchez we are having to eat a ton of crow, and it’s only Week 3. (Football!) Let’s see how he holds up over the entire season before anointing him the King of New York, but so far Sanchez has been steady-handed and fantasy productive as he carries a 104.9 QB Rating into his team’s Week 4 cake walk against the Buffalo Bills.

What’s most impressive to me is the touchdown-to-interception ratio: a year after throwing 12 TDs and 20 INTs, through three games he’s tossed 6 TDs compared to 0 INTs. That’s golden for a ball-control team like the Jets, and speaking as a Santonio Holmes owner that has me tentatively patting myself on the back for drafting Holmes and sitting on him as he serves out his four-game suspension. Holmes returns in Week 5 at home against the Denver Broncos; I’m predicting, oh, 15 catches for 325 yards and 4 TDs.

Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle Seahawks - Another “just for the record” caveat: Hasselbeck sucks. He sucks so bad, in fact, that despite the fact that he’s put up the tenth-most fantasy points of any quarterback in the NFL, he’s still on waivers in ETB’s league. It’s embarassing to start him, much less carry him on your bench, unless your name is Tim Hasselbeck, his brother and onetime NFL quarterback who also sucked.

But, anyway, Hasselbeck finds himself on this list because, well, I guess he hasn’t sucked quite as much as expected: his Seahawks somehow have a winning record at 2-1 (which is especially depressing to Lions fans like myself), and he’s somehow been just good enough to be fantasy relevant again, I guess, in accruing a 75.4 QB Rating and throwing for 623 yards, 4 TDs, and 5 INTs… wait a second. Those numbers are terrible.

What’s going on here? Oh, right: he has 8 carries for 30 yards and–the fantasy kicker–2 touchdowns. Woo hoo! Or should I say… football! Wooooo football!

2 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Sep. 28, 2010 at 5:20am in ETB Articles, NFL, NFL Fantasy News

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