Contract Extension Win-Win For Ryan Blaney, Penske Racing

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You know who appeals to car owners? Young, über-marketable drivers who can win Cup Series races on road-courses, ovals and triangles alike.

You know what appeals to drivers? Penske Racing.

Thus, it was only a matter of time before Penske and Ryan Blaney came to a long-term agreement. The timing, however, is interesting, and speaks to Roger Penske’s class and intelligence.

There was no impetus for Penske to get this deal done early. The huge supply of free agents this winter and limited supply of championship-level equipment gave The Captain all the leverage — he could have easily strung this out until the summer.

But despite leading the point standings after three weeks, Blaney needed the reassurance now.

After all, in a matter of seconds, he went from staring at a potential Daytona 500 win to wondering if his minor mistake triggered a fatal crash. The next week at Las Vegas, he was leading the race with 5 laps to go when an untimely caution and subsequent pit stop led to an 11th place finish. Then, at Fontana, he was running 2nd with 7 to go when a cut right-rear forced a pit stop and 19th place result.

Penske knew that his driver, despite performing brilliantly behind the wheel, was beaten down and drained. What better way to lift him up than this? Classy move by The Captain.

On the other hand, it shows intelligence. Three straight weeks of heartbreak could have triggered a wave of negative momentum. This announcement sends Blaney, Todd Gordon and the entire #12 Ford team this message: Keep doing what you’re doing, and the victories will come.

For this season and beyond, Ryan Blaney will be paid millions annually to pilot a championship-level hot-rod. Meanwhile, Roger Penske gets to watch his homegrown young stud blossom into a yearly championship threat.

“Win-win” might be an understatement.


The Crash(es) That Changed My Life

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I shared this with my family, and it felt so good to write that I had to throw it on here.

There’s no footage of my crash five years ago and I don’t remember it, so it was difficult to put my incredible fortune into perspective. That changed a few weeks ago, when on the last lap of the Daytona 500, this happened.

Ryan Newman got t-boned in the driver’s net at 200 mph. When Fox (unintelligently) showed the slow motion replay, I almost vomited. I knew he was dead. It was an unsurvivable, one-in-a-billion type impact. 

I immediately took Charley (my dog) for a walk and thought of his two young daughters. I’d never witnessed a death in a live sporting event and it was pretty brutal, especially considering I’d been following the guy his whole career. 

But a few hours later it came out that he had a pulse and his injuries were not life threatening. I knew he’d be paralyzed or impaired, but I didn’t care — I was just happy that his kids would have their dad. 

The next day, it came out that he was awake and joking around with the hospital staff. I was in shock. A couple days later, he’s walking out of the hospital hand-in-hand with his daughters.

His precise injuries were never disclosed, but his father said he had a brain injury that left him with bleeding in the front of his head and swelling on his brain. Five years ago, I, too, was t-boned in a car accident that left me hospitalized in serious condition with bleeding in the front of my head and swelling on my brain. I, too, was miraculously joking around a day after the crash and escaped not only with my life, but complete functionality. But unlike Newman, I wasn’t wearing a helmet and wasn’t even buckled in. 

My outlook the last three weeks has been different. On one hand, every day is a blessing, and anything that happens the rest of my life is gravy. On the other hand, I’m only still here because God has big plans for me, and I’m not going to let Him down.

Get well soon, Ryan!

2020 NBA Trade Deadline: Grades And Analysis For the Biggest Deals

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The NBA trade deadline should be a national holiday.

Thursday was electric. The dearth of a Kevin Durant-era Warriors superteam encouraged win-now swings by title contenders sensing a window. Elsewhere, lottery-bound teams swapped huge names in deals that reshape their trajectory. There were two-, three- and even four-team trades involving teams on all ends of the contention spectrum. 

I’ll be analyzing the five largest, most consequential trades, and omitting minor deals around the fringes. I know you didn’t click to read about the Jordan McRae/Shabazz Napier swap. 

Let’s go: 

The D’Angelo Russell/Andrew Wiggins blockbuster

Timberwolves receive:
G D’Angelo Russell
SWING Jacob Evans
PF/C Omari Spellman

Warriors receive:
2021 top-3 protected first-round pick
SWING Andrew Wiggins
2021 second-round pick

Timberwolves: Minnesota finally gets the man whom they’ve lusted after like he’s Michael Jordan. Their interest in Karl-Anthony Towns’ BFF began in the summer and maintained even after the Warriors maxed him out.  

The unwatchable Wolves have belched out the league’s worst record since an unlikely 10-8 start. It was time to shake the snowglobe, if for no other reason than to keep a disgruntledTowns happy. The 24-year old’s body language has ranged from ‘Somebody stole my lollipop and I’m pouting’ to ‘I’d rather make a living bagging groceries in Boise, Idaho than play another minute with Andrew Wiggins.’ Though he’s on a long-term contract, we live in an era where players can force their way to other teams. Placating him is all that really matters; if he wanted D’Angelo Russell, they had to get D’Angelo Russell. 

Andrew Wiggins is toxic; parting with him and his contract is addition by subtraction. Not only did they acquire a young All-Star (Russell), but they acquired air freshener to cleanse the air of Wiggins’ stench. Parting with next year’s first-rounder is painful, but you have to give something to get something.

The Russell/Towns duo should be potent offensively and atrocious on the less glamorous end. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start towards cultivating a healthier ecosystem. 

Grade: B+

Warriors: When I first learned of this trade, I hated it for Golden State. Then I began to understand the thought process and disliked it a bit less. 

First, the Warriors deserve a ton of credit for facilitating the sign-and-trade for Russell during the chaos of Kevin Durant’s departure. While he never made long-term sense in the Bay, he was an asset that could be flipped. After a half-season test drive, the Dubs had seen enough and traded him for a similarly-priced wing and juicy first-rounder. 

That sounds great, until you realize that they traded him for Andrew Wiggins. His contract is so crippling that it renders this trade a loss, despite the attached draft pick.  

We have years of evidence that Wiggins just doesn’t have it. His effort has been consistently lethargic, and it’s not clear if he likes basketball. He’s played with two All-Star teammates, Jimmy Butler and Towns: Both were unhappy with him as a teammate. His inflated scoring totals and jaw-dropping athleticism don’t translate into wins.    

Golden State will argue that they can rehabilitate Wiggins. They’ll ask him to play a simple role like early-career Harrison Barnes: shoot corner threes, cut, run the floor and get the occasional bucket. He’ll be surrounded by the best trainers and shooting coaches. He’s had four head coaches in five seasons; surely, Steve Kerr and his kumbaya locker room can bring the best out of him. 

I see it going the other way. Durant, who like Wiggins is mopey and aloof, didn’t have a good relationship with the Warriors. His relationship with Draymond Green was particularly rocky. If Green couldn’t mesh with KD, how is he going to gel with Wiggins, who unlike Durant did not earn his money and doesn’t work hard on or off the floor?   

The trade isn’t an F. D’Lo didn’t fit, and the draft pick is a gem. But it still wasn’t worth absorbing Wiggins, who has four years and $122 million left on his maximum contract. He and the Dubs are stuck with each other, which could prove disastrous if he doesn’t improve.

Grade: C

Rockets go small, Hawks go big in four-team, 12-player bomb

Rockets receive:
F Robert Covington (from Timberwolves)
F/C Jordan Bell (from Timberwolves)
2020 second-round pick (from Hawks via Warriors)

Hawks receive:
C Clint Capela (from Rockets)
C Nene (from Rockets)

Timberwolves receive:
SWING Malik Beasley (from Nuggets)
SWING Evan Turner (from Hawks)
F Juancho Hernangomez (from Nuggets)
F/C Jarred Vanderbilt (from Hawks)
Conditional future first-round pick (from Hawks via Nets)

Nuggets receive:
F Keita Bates-Diop (from Timberwolves)
G Shabazz Napier (from Timberwolves)
SWING Gerald Green (from Rockets)
C Noah Vonleh (from Timberwolves)
2020 first-round pick (from Rockets)

Rockets: Houston traded it’s only playable center for yet another wing and didn’t bother filling the hole. With postseason matchups looming against Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert and Nikola Jokic, the Rockets will trot out lineups in which their tallest guy is 6’5”. 

I love it. 

As constructed with Capela, the team had no chance of defeating the Clippers or Lakers in seven. Knowing this, Daryl Morey and Mike d’Antoni pushed their ideology to the extreme and went all-in on small ball and threes. It’s a wager placed on variance and randomness: Maybe, just maybe, they catch fire and hot shooting carries them to the Finals. 

I’ve long appreciated the work of Robert Covington. He might have been designed in a lab at the Sloan Analytics Conference: He’s a low-usage, 6’7” wing who bombs threes and clamps on the other end. He’ll be like Trevor Ariza for the Rockets, only a little better shooter. His contract, which has three years remaining, is delicious.     

Do the Rockets have enough defense and rebounding to make the Finals? No, but hot shooting may render those concerns obsolete. They at least have a puncher’s chance, which they didn’t with Capela. If they win the title, I hope there are ambulances waiting outside the TNT studio for Shaq and Chuck.

Trading Capela for Covington makes the Rockets a worse team. It also gives them the best chance to win the title.

Grade: A-

Hawks: One of the pressing questions for Atlanta as they rebuild: Is John Collins a center? By adding Capela, they clearly don’t think so.  

I disagree. The Trae Young/Collins pick-and-roll is unguardable when surrounded by three shooters. The marginal offensive impact of having Collins at the five is greater than the defensive loss. He’s skilled enough to make it work either way, but he’s a five in the modern game.   

The trade isn’t awful. Capela, 25, fits the Hawks’ timeline. He gives Atlanta’s defense an anchor, and he’s a dangerous screen-setter and rim-runner. He’s a good player, and it’s good to have good players. His cost-certain contract is tradeable if things go sideways. 

I just hope he doesn’t impede the development of Collins, who has overlapping offensive skills. Plus, this pushes De’Andre Hunter up to small forward, I presume? Ugh. This feels uncomfortably similar to the Aaron Gordon/Jonathan Isaac/Nik Vucevic frontcourt logjam in Orlando.  

When rebuilding, you don’t want to act like the Knicks and acquire veterans who complicate the development and roles of your young players. Capela is at least young and on a decent contract, but this gets a thumbs down from me. I sense an ownership group putting pressure on the front office to improve right away, rather than being patient. 

Grade: C

Timberwolves: The Wolves did the smart thing and acquired assets for Covington, who at 29 had no use on a lottery-bound squad. 

They targeted Beasley, an intriguing young swingman with a pretty jumper and adequate defensive potential. His low-usage, spot-up offense will mesh nicely with Towns and Russell. Some team might throw a big offer sheet at the impending restricted free agent this summer, but Minnesota will close their eyes and match. 

Hernangomez had fallen out of Denver’s deep rotation, but is worth a look. It feels like he’s been around forever, but is still just 24. Vanderbilt is an interesting flier: He demonstrated unique defensive versatility at Kentucky, and I think there’s a rotation player in there somewhere. The future first-rounder is a sweet bonus. 

In sum, Minnesota sold a 29-year old who wasn’t part of their future for intriguing young players and a pick. That’s solid work. I would have held onto Bates-Diop, though. 

Grade: B+

NuggetsDenver had no desire to pay Beasley’s next contract, so they flipped him for assets that could be used as trade ammo this summer.

Houston’s 2020 first-rounder isn’t itself super valuable, but can be traded during the draft for a future first-rounder to maintain asset liquidity. Bates-Diop is an intriguing combo forward who I’ve long thought was underrated; there isn’t room for him in the rotation, but he’s an asset. 

Beasley was a rotation piece, but the Nuggets’ extreme depth made him expendable. The assets they acquired are potential sweeteners in a trade for a star. They’ll be monitoring the Bradley Beal situation closely. 

Grade: B+

Clippers add Morris to bolster title hopes

Clippers receive:
F Marcus Morris (from Knicks)
G Isaiah Thomas (from Wizards)

Knicks receive:
2020 first-round pick (from Clippers)
F Moe Harkless (from Clippers)
Protected 2021 first-round pick swap (from Clippers)
2021 second-round pick (from Clippers via Pistons)
Draft rights to G Issuf Sanon (from Wizards)

Wizards receive:
SG Jerome Robinson (from Clippers)

Clippers: While the Lakers surprisingly stood pat at the deadline, the Clippers picked up another body to throw at LeBron James. 

Morris upgrades the Harkless spot: He’s a tougher, more physical defender and better spot-up shooter. His sparkling 44% three-point clip is due for regression, but he’s a very good player with playoff experience.  

He makes the Clippers better, but what’s his marginal impact in a rotation that already includes Kawhi Leonard and Paul George? Of all the contenders, the Clippers needed Morris the least. You could argue the Clips would have been better served acquiring a ball-handler or Tristan Thompson. 

But how can I view this trade as anything but a win? Provided he accepts his role, he’ll add toughness, versatility, shooting and defense. Those are things worth trading Moe Harkless and a late first-rounder for. Have fun trying to score against a Beverley-George-Kawhi-Morris-Harrell fivesome!

Seeing Isaiah Thomas thrown in to make the salaries work is a sad reminder of his swift, injury-fueled fall from grace. 

Grade: A-

Knicks: The mystery of Morris’ availability was one of the deadline’s X-factors. After insisting for weeks that he was staying put, the Knicks found religion and traded him for assets before the buzzer. The firing of ex-president Steve Mills (who wasn’t very good at his job, as I outlined here) may have had something to do with the about-face.

New York botched this one — shocker! Although Morris is on an expiring deal, he’s good enough to have warranted at least one young piece in return that the Knicks could point to as being part of their future. Instead, they acted too late and had to accept the Clippers’ pu-pu platter. The first-round pick will fall in the late twenties of a bad draft, and Issuf Sanon and the second-rounder are merely lottery tickets. There’s a good chance that the Knicks look back in the coming years and realize they got nothing for Morris. Contrast that with the Grizzlies, who just seized Justise Winslow in return for Andre Iguodala.    

Still, I can’t give them an F. At least they got something for Morris rather than watch him walk this summer. The mere act of trading him is a rare display of competence by this franchise. 

Edit: After this was published, it came out that the Knicks accepted the Clippers’ pu-pu platter over a Lakers’ package that included Kyle Kuzma. Oops! I discussed the Knicks’ moves further in a Twitter conversation with The Ringer’s Dan Devine.

Grade: D+

Wizards: To help make the finances work, Washington acquired a 2018 lottery pick who’d been buried in LA. Robinson never should have been drafted so highly, but that’s beside the point: The Wiz acquired an ex-lottery pick who’s in his second season, and gave up nothing of note. The grader is pleased.

Grade: A

Pistons dump Andre Drummond

Cavaliers receive:
C Andre Drummond

Pistons receive:
Less favorable of Golden State’s 2023 second-round picks
C John Henson
G Brandon Knight

Disclaimer: This trade makes my brain hurt. I’ll do my best. 

Pistons: In return for a healthy 26-year old who has made the All-Star game twice, Detroit received a crappy second-rounder, two veterans whom everyone forgot were still in the league, and nothing else.  

Optically, it’s embarrassing to dump him for such a meager return, but there wasn’t much of a market and they wanted him off their team as they embark on a long rebuild. Sure, they could have kept him until his contract expired in 2021, but like Wiggins and Minnesota, sometimes it’s best to cleanse the stench and turn the page.

That said, if I’m going to hammer the Knicks for mishandling the Morris trade, I have to do the same here. There were earlier opportunities to trade Drummond for a less humiliating return.

Grade: D+

Cavaliers: The stinky Cavs were never going to be able to trade Kevin Love. They’ve miscalculated his value: They expect teams to give them assets for the right to acquire a declining 31-year old who’s guaranteed $120 million over the next four years. Love will remain in Cleveland until Koby Altman gets serious about what it’ll take to get him out.

With Love talks stalled, naturally, Cleveland doubled down on overpriced bigs who nobody wants by trading for Drummond. 

There’s little risk here. They surrendered nothing of value, and he will be an expiring contract next year after accepting his $29 million player option this summer. He’s not a winning player and won’t hurt Cleveland’s tanking efforts. 

There’s also little reward. Drummond doesn’t move the needle in either direction, so all he’s really doing is taking Dan Gilbert’s money. 

Actually, I guess that’s a good thing. 

Grade: B-

Heat (kind of) go all-in

Heat receive:
SWING Andre Iguodala (from Grizzlies)
F Jae Crowder (from Grizzlies)
F Solomon Hill (from Grizzlies)

Grizzlies receive:
F Justise Winslow (from Heat)
G Dion Waiters (from Heat)
C Gorgui Dieng (from Timberwolves)

Timberwolves receive:
F James Johnson (from Heat)

Heat: Miami did a nice job of adding win-now pieces while keeping the bulk of its young talent. 

Winslow was expendable. Working the margins and back of the lottery to perfection yielded Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn and Derrick Jones Jr.; retaining them cushions the blow of losing the former no. 10 pick. Ditching the toxic contracts of Waiters and Johnson is a nice windfall. 

Iggy has lost a step or three, but he adds doses of cutting, playmaking, savvy defense and championship mettle. Crowder’s three-point shooting nosedived after an outlier 2016-17 season, but he’s a scrappy wing option. Those two — particularly Iguodala — make the Heat better. 

By how much, though? Miami’s proposed trade for Danilo Gallinari fell just short of the finish line, and it’s too bad; he would have been awesome in Miami. Despite their depth, nobody offers his blend of size, shooting and defensive versatility.

Iguodala’s immediate two-year, $30 million extension is an overpay, but it’s fine. It’s basically a one-year deal (the second is non-guaranteed), so it won’t hinder Pat Riley’s pursuit of Giannis Antetokounmpo and other star free agents in 2021. 

I appreciate the Heat cashing in Winslow for win-now pieces. They got better Thursday, and did so without mortgaging the future. It’s just a shame they couldn’t come to terms with Gallo, who would have pushed them into another tier. 

Grade: B

Grizzlies: Quick timeline: 

July 2019: Grizzlies trade Julian Washburn to the Warriors in exchange for Andre Iguodala and a protected first-round pick 
Feb 2020: Grizzlies trade Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill to the Heat in exchange for Dion Waiters and Justise Winslow
Summary: Grizzlies turn a 28-year old G-Leaguer into Justise Winslow and a first-round pick. 

That is how smart teams teams accelerate their rebuild. They utilized their leverage to grab a first-round pick for taking Iguodala’s $16 million contract off the Warriors’ hands, then refused to buy him out and flipped him for another asset at the trade deadline.

Winslow is divisive. He’s not a traditional point guard, but is best on the ball and struggles away from it due to a clunky jumper. He’s a good and potentially great defender, but won’t develop if he can’t stay healthy.  

I’m bullish. The dude is 23. He has years to hone his outside jumper and figure out who he is. It’s hard to acquire young, productive wings who have upside, let alone ones on cost-effective, long-term contracts. He’s a great grab for a Grizzlies squad that’s way ahead of schedule. 

Acquiring Waiters and Dieng’s contracts is the tax for getting Winslow. No problem. Dieng, who has added the three-ball, adds center depth until his deal expires after next season. Waiters, meanwhile, is toxic and should be disposed of immediately. 

The Los Angeles teams were hoping for an Iguodala buyout, but Memphis, true to their word, dealt him for a great return. They’ve done an incredible job building over the past two years, and this is a prime example. 

Grade: A 

Timberwolves: A third team was needed to make the money work and the über-active Wolves obliged, sending Gorgui Dieng to the Grizz and absorbing James Johnson from the Heat. 

Good move. Dieng was a malcontent in Minnesota, and the versatile Johnson will play minutes on a shallow team. 

Grade: A

Super Bowl LIV Preview

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“It is very hard for the NFL to halt its self-obsession, but Kobe Bryant has done it. Kobe Bryant is different.” – Kevin Clark, The Ringer

It speaks to Kobe Bryant’s reach that his passing makes the Big Game seem small. Not only is there a Super Bowl happening Sunday, but it’s one of the most exhilarating matchups in recent memory. 

We have to start by acknowledging the historical significance of Patrick Mahomes’ NFL debut. 

If you’re looking for a conservative, modest opinion on the Chiefs’ gunslinger, I’m not your guy. Remember playing in AAU basketball tournaments as a prepubescent seventh grader, looking across the court in warmups and seeing some 6’3” dude throwing down dunks in the layup line? And then the kid drops 40, his team beats yours 93-18 and you go to bed that night realizing that you probably aren’t going to be a professional athlete? Well, the kid who dropped 40 is Patrick Mahomes, and seventh grade Patrick Foote is every NFL defensive back. 

I know, that analogy sucked. I still enjoyed typing it. 

Point is, it seems like the NFL isn’t good enough for him. His unprecedented arm talent is matched by shit, I forgot he could do that- type speed and unflappable confidence; he’s the most transcendently talented QB ever, and his first Super Bowl appearance is significant.

What’s particularly tantalizing is that he’s going up against a defense that actually has a chance to contain him. The Niners’ top-ranked unit is basically the equivalent of Kansas City’s offense, with speed and athleticism everywhere. It’s line, featuring an absurd five first-rounders, generates pressure without the aid of a blitz. That’s critical against Mahomes, who is truly lethal one he gets outside the pocket and ad-libs with his speedy receivers. How the Chiefs’ offensive line holds up against Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead & Co. is critical.

Meanwhile, the Niners’ offense is also a machine, albeit for a different reason: It’s fueled by the league’s premier rushing attack. The offensive line is as physical as the three-headed monster of Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida is electric. It’s a group that’s churned out 471 yards in two playoff games. Relatedly, Jimmy Garoppolo has thrown just 27 passes in the postseason. 

Jimmy G. is the most intriguing player on both sides, and the biggest swing piece in the game. While his comically low usage is partially due to the success of the ground game, it feels like Kyle Shanahan lost some confidence in him after his brutal interception in the first half against Minnesota. Essentially, Garoppolo has been a game manager. If his team falls behind 14-0 early — very possible against the Chiefs — will he be able to sling them back into it? 

I think so. Let’s not forget that Handsome Jimmy threw 27 touchdowns in the regular season, tied for fifth-most in the NFL. In the classic, week 14 Saints shootout, he was asked to keep up and responded with 349 yards and 4 touchdowns against a better defense than he faces this Sunday. Ideally for his team, he won’t have to do this and the running game keeps Mahomes off the field. 

Which team controls the game script is consequential. If the Niners successfully establish the run, control tempo and cap off drives with points, they’ll control the game. Conversely, if Mahomes erupts for two quick touchdowns in the first quarter and forces Garoppolo to play catch up, it’s their game to lose. While it’s possible that Garoppolo would keep pace, it’s not the blueprint you want as a Niners fan.

My prediction? Craziness, memorable moments, and one of the best Super Bowls ever. I’d pick a team, but how can you possibly predict a winner in a game this even? My only rooting interest lies in being thoroughly entertained.

I can’t wait.

Kobe Bryant, In My Words

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Sometimes words are fucking useless.

I’m going to type some anyway, because it’s therapeutic and I need to.

Here’s what Kobe meant to me.
{Disclaimer: I was never a Laker fan, and until his farewell season, never a Kobe fan}

He was drafted in ’96; I was born in ’96. Sports is all I know, and Kobe is all I’ve ever known. I wasn’t around for pre-Kobe, and given his continued relevance after his playing days ended, I’ve never known life without him.

Watching he and Shaq beat Allen Iverson and the Sixers in the 2001 Finals is my first basketball memory. My dad pointed out the three best players on the court; I remember thinking that no. 3 on the black team was really small, no. 34 on the yellow team was really big and no. 8 in yellow was in the middle. He continued making memories right up until his final game in 2016, when he dropped 60 points to drag the Lakers back from a ten-point deficit in the final three minutes against the Jazz.

That game is one of the great sport-watching experiences of my life. For this nerd, it represented the purest form of joy on the planet: Watching something live happening in sports that’s so unbelievable that you’re running around, hugging complete strangers. Everyone in Tap 24 was going crazy, from sports fans to sorority girls who only knew Kobe because, well, who didn’t? When he hit that long-two to take the lead with half a minute left, I sprinted around the bar in a circle; when thinking of his classic underbite while he ran back on defense, I still get chills.

Watching the most immortal athlete of my lifetime deliver that performance in his final game was equal parts mesmerizing and not surprising at all. It was totally on brand, and something only Kobe Bryant could do.

The inevitability of that performance is what makes his death so personal — he didn’t know me, but I knew him. Everyone did. He was pure authenticity; there wasn’t a mysterious bone in his body. He was maniacally strong-willed, fiercely competitive, devoutly hard-working and intellectually curious. Those traits had been apparent since he entered the league, and he never changed. We all knew Kobe, and we all knew that there was nobody — and that there would be nobody — like him. Of course he was going to go ape shit in his last ever game. Why would we expect anything less?

We also knew how good of a father he was; he loved to mention his pride in his daughters, and specifically, his 13-year old, Gianna. That girl was always with him, so often that I was surprised to ever see him not with her. The relationship was, like everything else with him, transparent and pure. If I ever have a daughter, I hope I’m half as good to her as Kobe was to his.

I just tried to type something about Gianna — and the other young girls whose lives were taken — being on the helicopter with him, but my fingers short-circuited and my eyes welled. Trying to think about how this impacts the families of all involved is impossible. Again, words are fucking useless.

It’s a tragedy that blurs the line between life and death. If the most immortal human being of my lifetime can die young in a freak accident, then death is right there for an average Joe like me, and for all of us. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. You hear that cliche often, but this made it very real.

One of the impossible parts of this is that future generations will learn about Kobe and always associate him with his tragic death. He’ll be The Legend Who Died In The Helicopter Crash, just like Dale Earnhardt was The Legend Who Died At Daytona. It’s hard to reconcile. I hope they know how shocking it was. If you polled sports fans before January 26 which athlete, in any sport, was the least likely to die young, the popular answer would’ve been Kobe. You figured if he got into a plane crash, he’d walk out of wreckage and put out the fire himself. That’s who he was — he was invincible! I can’t believe I’m saying was; this is still fucking unbelievable. Was, as in, he’s gone? What?

While most of my life was spent merely liking him, I knew I loved Kobe during his final farewell season, and the memory of that final game against the Jazz made him a deity for me. Every time I saw or heard of him after his retirement, it made me happy.

I didn’t realize how much I cared, though, until January 26, 2020. It was truly one of the saddest days I can remember. The outpouring of love and support for Kobe and Laker fans made me realize — yet again — how beautiful the sports community is.

Thank you, Kobe.

RIP Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, Christina Mauser, and Ara Zobayan.

Zion Williamson Unleashes Lonzo Ball

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Zo made T.J. Leaf, a non-NBA talent, a first-rounder. What’s he going to do with the best prospect since LeBron?

My buddies often ask me about the weather on Lonzo Island. 

It’s been dark, stormy and the waves turbulent since I built a home here before the 2017 draft. Families have fled and my property value has dwindled. 

Helicopters have circled overhead and dropped me a latter. Rescue teams pleaded with me to evacuate, but I remained. If the island was going down, I was going down with it. 

I’m glad I stuck it out. In Zion Williamson’s debut, Ball had one of the best games of his career, and that’s not a coincidence; Zion liberates Zo to be the free-wheeling, mad-libbing, table setting star that he was always meant to be.  

For much of his three-year NBA odyssey Lonzo has floated around the court, seemingly without purpose. While his size, athleticism and defense still rendered him useful, he was just kind of there on offense in the half-court. Last season Zo averaged just 2.46 dribbles per touch, which was last by a mile among starting point guards (by comparison, league leader D.J. Augustin averaged 6.7 dribbles per touch) . In his rookie year prior, his 3.2 dribbles ranked second-to-last. This confirmed the eye test; it often looked like he was playing hot potato with the basketball. He had no confidence or rhythm. It was painful to watch, and he didn’t look much better earlier this year trying to pick his spots around Jrue Holiday and Brandon Ingram. 

The difference between Confident Lonzo and Passive Lonzo is the difference between a great player and a bench guy. Fortunately, Confident Lonzo is unique — he can be triggered by feeding other guys and controlling tempo. 

If last night’s performance (14 points/12 assists/8 assists/team high +7) is any indication, that version of Zo is unlocked by Zion’s mere presence. The rookie is essentially the Ferrari version of T.J. Leaf. Lonzo turned his former college teammate, who clearly isn’t an NBA-caliber player, into a first-round pick. It’s scary to think about how much better he’ll make Zion, who was already an elite NBA player during his senior year of high school. 

During Zion’s 17-point fourth quarter rampage, it seemed as if they were the only two Pelicans to touch the ball. Here’s how the scoring summary reads:

  • Zion Williamson makes 27-foot three point jumper (Lonzo Ball assists) 
  • Zion Williamson makes alley oop layup (Lonzo Ball assists)
  • Zion Williamson makes 26-foot three point jumper (Lonzo Ball assists)
  • Zion Williamson makes two point shot
  • Zion Williamson makes 26-foot three point jumper (Lonzo Ball assists)
  • Zion Williamson makes 26-foot three point jumper (Lonzo Ball assists)
  • Zion Williamson makes free throw

While Zo didn’t technically get an assist on the fourth bucket, he orchestrated it; Watch as he points Zion to the middle of the key and dumps it in. Having just brought it up the court with tempo, he knows the Spurs’ defense won’t be in a position to help Jakob Poeltl, who’s on an island. Zion gets blocked but gets his own rebound and immediately puts it back. 

Watch on Zion’s fourth three: Zo flips him a little lefty scoop pass and immediately starts backpedaling, essentially saying ‘You’re shooting it again, bro.’ On three of Zion’s four threes, the sequence was this: Zion passed to Lonzo, who passed it right back. The two already have a beautiful chemistry that doesn’t even make sense, because they’ve never played together before. 

Wednesday night was Lonzo at his best: orchestrating with intoxicating, infectious swagger. Confident Lonzo coincided with Zion’s debut, and it’s no coincidence. The two made music in only their first game together, and it’s a sign of things to come. 

Why Hailie Deegan Is The Most Important Prospect In NASCAR History

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In the best case scenario, Hailie will be to NASCAR what Tiger is to golf. Yes, you read that right.

It’s no secret that NASCAR is struggling. 

The 2010s was a decade of decline, both in ratings and attendance. While a myriad of factors fueled downward momentum, the retirements of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. really put the sport at a crossroads. 

NASCAR is unique in that the personalities matter more than the product. Kawhi Leonard and Gregg Popovich can say nothing publicly and rest assured knowing the NBA will still flourish. NASCAR is different — fan interest and attachment is driven by its colorful and controversial drivers. During the 1990s and 2000s, stars like Dale Earnhardt, Gordon, Stewart, Rusty Wallace and Dale Jr. had brands that transcended NASCAR and cut into the cultural mainstream. Their personas helped legitimize and popularize the sport. Those guys are all gone, leaving behind a crippling lack of star power.

This makes Hailie Deegan — the charismatic, charming, controversial daughter of former X-Games legend Brian — the most important prospect in NASCAR’s history. The teenager brings a talent-gender-personality combination that will help drive the sport back into mainstream consciousness. 

There are a lot of layers to unpack here, so I’ll start by debunking the notion that Deegan is anything less than a legitimate prospect. 

After spending years racing off-road trucks, “The Dirt Princess” pivoted to pavement in 2016, and in 2018 signed with Bill McAnally Racing for a full season in the K&N Pro Series West. In her very first race, something happened: Kevin Harvick was also in the field, racing as a one-off to support his hometown track. The two raced side-by-side often that evening. Afterwards, the former Cup champion and future Hall of Famer — who by the way is infamously critical of other drivers — raved about the then-anonymous rookie: 

“If I had to pick one person to say, ‘Alright, that’s the person KHI [Harvick’s sports and celebrity-marketing agency] would want to represent and has the most potential,’ it would probably be Hailie Deegan. She did really, really well.”

Kevin Harvick, per Brad Norman of NASCAR.com

Later that year, she won at Meridian, becoming the first woman to win in the K&N series. She finished the year fifth in the standings and took home Rookie of the Year honors.

The hype train had left the station. Big things were expected in her encore 2019 season (driving the same car), and she delivered: two wins, eight top 5’s, eleven top 10’s and a third-place points finish. She also debuted in the ARCA series, notching 4 top 10’s in six tries driving for Bill Venturini. 

The eye test matches the numbers. She’ll fly out of turn 2 or turn 4 with her foot on the mat and the back end of the car dead sideways, but always hangs onto it. She clearly has an innate feel for the right rear of the race car, which makes sense considering her dirt background. She’s fast, as evidenced by her series-leading three poles. She’s a closer, too — her first win came after moving leader Cole Rouse out of the way with a textbook bump-and-run on the last lap. In her first two wins, she led two laps, combined. She’s completely unafraid to show muscle late in the going.   

Her lap-to-lap consistency isn’t there yet, but she’s only been racing stock cars for three years; most of her competitors had logged thousands of laps on pavement before she ever ran one. With young drivers, you want to see speed and car control; she has plenty of each.   

Her hyper-aggressive is controversial. She cleaned out her teammate to win at Colorado this year. She’s kind of dirty. It’s awesome. One of the biggest issues for women in racing is that male drivers bully them on the track. Hailie’s the opposite — she bullies the guys around. 

So, she has legitimate Cup potential. It’s the other stuff that makes her transcendent. The gender piece is self-explanatory. Danica Patrick (also a recent retiree) was awful in NASCAR, but is still one of America’s most recognizable athletes. The novelty of a woman competing with men at the highest level of a physically demanding sport is an attention-grabber.  

Hailie’s personality is magnetic. It’s fun to just hear her talk. The 18-year old is brash, confident and unapologetic. She oozes charisma (watch her interview after she scored her first win). She’s completely unafraid of going on podcasts and talk shows.

Though she’s yet to make a start in the top 3 series, she already has more Instagram and Twitter followers than any current NASCAR driver and loves connecting with fans. Her family’s YouTube channel “The Deegan’s” has nearly 600,000 subscribers. Quite honestly, she could teach a MasterClass on the benefits of social media and how to connect with people.

After the year, it was announced that Ford had signed Deegan away from Toyota’s crowded development pipeline, and that she’d run for the ARCA title in 2020 with DGR-Crosley. It’s a huge move for her future — though Toyota and Ford are both powerhouses, the latter’s development driver landscape is comparatively barren, meaning Deegan’s journey through the ranks will be shepherded and prioritized. 

Deegan isn’t the sport’s most talented prospect; that goes to Chandler Smith. But she is super talented, and the most transcendent personality to ever appear on the scene. For a sputtering sport in desperate need of star power, her trajectory will single-handedly vault NASCAR back onto the national radar.

The New Orleans Pelicans Being Awful Is The Best Thing That Could Have Happened To Them

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The poor start offers an excuse to redshirt Zion Williamson, market Jrue Holiday, bottom out and prepare for an incredibly bright future. 

On May 14, 2019, the NBA world exploded. The New Orleans Pelicans, a franchise that seemed closer to extinction and/or relocation than prosperity, won the draft lottery despite six-percent odds, and hence, the opportunity to draft the best prospect since LeBron James.

On June 20, The Pels’ fulfilled the prophesy and selected Zion Williamson no. 1. A lot has happened since: 

  • The Lakers acquired Anthony Davis.
  • The Clippers somehow acquired Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
  • Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul were traded for each other.
  • An international imbroglio ensues after Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey tweets his support for protesters in Hong Kong.
  • Tom Brady finally starts playing like a 42-year old man.
  • Antonio Brown mentally implodes and spends the NFL season unemployed.
  • President Donald John Trump is impeached.

Unfortunately, something that hasn’t transpired is Zion Williamson playing a meaningful minute of basketball. After an electric preseason in which he averaged 23.3 points on 71.4 percent shooting, Woj reported on October 18 that the rookie would miss a “period of weeks to start the regular season” after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus. 

Well, it’s almost Christmas and that period of weeks has turned into months. Pelicans’ general manager David Griffin said recently that the rookie is able to bear full weight on his knee but is still “a ways away” from returning, per the Times-Picayune’s Scott Kushner. In the meantime, New Orleans — who has a competitive roster but bad head coach who retained his position only because people felt bad for him during the Anthony Davis Saga — has plummeted to 7-22 and sit closer to the top of the lottery than the eight-seed in the West.

It’s a blessing, really, that the team stinks (sorry, season-ticket holders). It offers an excuse to let Zion rest and recuperate for the whole year, strengthening his body while refining his ball-handling and jumper. It’s an excuse to put veterans Jrue Holiday, J.J. Redick and Derrick Favors on the market* while letting youngsters Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker develop at their pace. It’s an excuse to tank for another top pick to put around a young core that is as exciting as any in the NBA.

*In a seller’s market, all would fetch healthy returns. Holiday is the most interesting; in my opinion, now’s the time to trade him. His value will never be higher (he’s on a run of good health after persistent injuries in the past), and at 29-years old, his timeline doesn’t mesh with the young core. 

More than anything, this is about Zion Williamson. He will be one of the greatest players ever, health permitting. How often has that been said about a rookie? If you are New Orleans, you can’t screw this up — you only have one shot at developing him properly.

Now that the the dream of chasing a meaningless quick-out in the postseason has been vanquished, it’s a lot easier to let the rook take his time and heal properly. It creates the obvious, awesome solution to market the (valuable) veterans, garner additional picks and young players, and draft another future star at the top of next year’s draft.   

Zion Williamson’s injury was a devastating blow to the Pelicans. However, the team sucking in the aftermath is the best thing that could have happened to them.  





Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, LeVeon Bell, David Johnson and Melvin Gordon: Why Paying Running Backs Is Bad Business

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Sorry, running backs: you are screwed.

The devaluation of the position has been widely publicized. In the past decade, ball carriers have seen the smallest percentage increase in salaries of any position, and it’s not close.

It’s a straightforward case of supply, demand and market inefficiency. Due to the banging they take on a per-play basis, ball carriers deteriorate more quickly than any other position. Typically, they are “in their prime” soon after entering the NFL and begin showing signs of decline in their late-20s. Teams get runners’ best production while they are trapped on cheap, rookie-scale deals, and when those players are ready to be paid at contract’s end, they can simply be replaced by cheap, rookie labor who provide as good or better production.

In turn, the league watched with great interest as the Rams, Cowboys, Jets and Cardinals handed out fat, long-term pacts to Gurley, Elliott, Bell and DJ (respectively), while observing the Chargers’ unwillingness to meet Gordon at his asking price. How would the deals (and in the Chargers’ case, non-deal) impact the teams’ ability to construct contenders around their pricey backs?

Todd Gurley

On July 24th, 2018, the Rams inked their star rusher to a four-year, $60 million extension, with $45 million in guarantees. The reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year, then just 23, was coming off a season in which he led the league in rushing scores (13), total touchdowns (19), and yards-from-scrimmage (2,093). While Le’Veon Bell’s holdout that summer highlighted the league’s fears with paying running backs, Gurley seemed like a safe bet; he was still incredibly young, and in theory, years away from the precipitous decline faced by high-mileage ball carriers.

Gurley was named first team All-Pro the following year as his legs carried the Rams to a first round postseason bye. He was held out of his team’s final two regular season games due to “knee inflammation,” but the injury was initially considered minor and the move precautionary.

It wasn’t. In the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl, the $60 million man had 14 combined carries for 45 yards; his backup, C.J. Anderson (signed off the street in mid-December), had 25 combined carries for 66 yards. The league’s most dynamic rusher was used sparingly in the biggest games on the NFL calender; it was a puzzling, startling red flag. In March, 2019, Jeff Howe of The Athletic reported that the Georgia product has arthritis in the left knee that he tore as a Bulldog — this not only explained his diminished role in the postseason, but painted a bleak picture going forward.

Sadly, his arthritic knee has sapped the explosiveness that once made him unstoppable; in 2019, the 25-year old looks like a shell of his former self. As of Week 16, he has failed to rush for over 100 yards in a single game, and his efficiency has plummeted from 4.9 to 3.9 yards-per-carry. The guy the Rams paid to be the best running back in football has been an average-at-best contributor; in related news, L.A. is likely to miss the postseason the year after reaching the Super Bowl.

Gurley’s contract will count $17.25 million against the cap in 2020 and $13.2 million in 2021, before the Rams can get out from the deal in 2022 with a $4.2 million dead cap penalty. Paying that kind of coin to an average running back is a catastrophic misallocation of funds, and will make it difficult for the Rams to build around him.

The former top-10 pick lived up to his billing immediately in the NFL, but his production came while on a team friendly, rookie-scale contract. It’s sadly poetic that his health and production nose dived in this, the first year of his massive extension. Even though Todd was just 23 at the time of signing, the main fear that teams have with paying running backs — namely, the accumulation of wear and tear sapping production — has come to light, leaving the Rams with a cap-clogging albatross who will only decline further with age.

Ezekiel Elliott

Following a prolonged holdout between player and team, Jerry Jones blinked first and gave Zeke a six-year extension worth $90 million ($60 million guaranteed), making him the highest paid back in the league. Evidently, the Cowboys prioritized paying the nose-ringed Buckeye over quarterback Dak Prescott and wideout Amari Cooper, both of whom were (and still are) seeking a long-term pact.

Elliott is unquestionably a great player; in his three seasons, he’s led the league in rushing twice (2016 and 2018) and has averaged a sparkling 4.6 yards-per-tote despite being the focal point of every defensive game plan. He’s versatile, too; his 77 receptions in ‘18 paced the team. He’s an elite pass blocker and never gets injured. Great offensive line or not, the 2016 no. 4 overall pick is easily one of the best backs in football.

But what’s that worth in a league where good running backs are a dime a dozen? His backup, Tony Pollard, has been more productive in limited work, averaging 5.6 yards-per-carry to Zeke’s 4.4. In fact, Pollard is averaging the most yards-per-rush of any running back with 70 or more carries. It’s almost as if Dallas’ league-best offensive line is more impactful to rushing efficiency than are the guys carrying the ball.

Pollard isn’t a better player than Zeke, but how much different would the Cowboys’ record be if he were the starter instead? Is it a $90 million difference? Of course not. Elliott was wildly overpaid relative to the value he brings his team.

In a nutshell, he’s probably better than Prescott, but why does that matter? We’re talking asset allocation here, and the supply market for competent ball-carriers is exponentially higher (and demand exponentially lower) than it is for competent quarterbacks. 

Zeke’s deal is inflated in 2019. It will be even worse in future seasons, when the attrition of thousands of carries in the Big Ten and NFL erodes his effectiveness but does not erode his cap hold. His bloated contract makes it harder for Dallas to pay Prescott, Amari Cooper and other pieces who play more premium positions. And given the physical nature of his play and atrocious off-the-field character, he’s the last type of guy you’d expect to age gracefully, especially once his pockets are stuffed with cash. Good luck, Cowboys fans.

Pollard, by the way, will earn $585,000 in 2020, $675,000 in 2021, and $765,000 in 2022 via his rookie-scale contract.

Le’Veon Bell

After sitting out 2018 amidst a contract holdout and watching backup James Connor do just fine in his place, Bell signed a four-year, $52.5 million deal ($35 million guaranteed) with the New York Jets in March.

In their first year with Bell, the Jets are 5-9. He’s been awful: his 3.3 yards-per-carry is third-worst of the 45 players with at least 90 carries. He did, however, bowl a 251 the day before missing a game with an “illness.”

Bell’s struggles this year aren’t totally on him, but that’s not the point. He’s already 27, and despite missing a year of punishment in 2018, only figures to decline from this point forward. He clearly doesn’t move the needle for a bad football team, anyway. Needless to say, the Jets would have been better off investing that money elsewhere.

David Johnson

In 2016, DJ produced over 2,000 yards-from-scrimmage, proving to be one of the most dangerous and versatile weapons in the game. He sat out 2017 due to a wrist injury, but the Cardinals’ brass still valued him highly enough last September to give him a three-year, $39 million extension with $30 million guaranteed. The extension kicked in this year.

…Whoops. After a bad 2018, Johnson has looked utterly washed up in 2019; it appears the years of bumps and bruises have ruined him. The Cardinals learned midway through the season that backup Chase Edmonds is a much superior player; once Edmonds got hurt the team immediately traded for Kenyan Drake and learned that he, too, is a much superior player. DJ and his eight-figure salary have been collecting dust on the sideline.

Worse yet, because Johnson’s deal kicked in earlier this year, his $10.2 million salary for 2020 is fully guaranteed. If he’s still on the roster by March, then $2.1 million of his 2021 salary is guaranteed. It’s a catastrophic pact for the Red Birds, and another example of a team paying a running back based on what he did for them in the past, rather than what he’ll do in the future.

Edmonds, by the way, will make $660,000 in 2020 and $750,000 in 2021. Rookie wages, man.

Melvin Gordon

Coming off a breakout 2018, Gordon demanded an extension along the lines of Gurley, Elliott and DJ. Despite receiving an offer from the Bolts that would have pushed his AAV above eight-figures, Gordon continued his holdout before eventually reporting weeks into the season.

It’s a blessing in disguise for the Chargers that Gordon turned that deal down; his backup, Austin Ekeler (earning $645,000 in 2019), has easily been the better player. Their rushing has been similar (4.2 yards on 119 carries for Ekeler; 4.0 yards on 139 carries for Gordon), but Ekeler has tallied a whopping 892 yards receiving to Gordon’s paltry 188.

Ekeler is good. Gordon is good. A ton of running backs, throughout the NFL, are good. Why give huge money to one of them when you can easily find similar production from somebody else, and instead spend that money on a more scarce position? The Bolts dodged a bullet when Gordon said no to their money, and Melvin took a bullet — he isn’t going to make that on the open market. 

In each case, the team wishes it could go back are re-allocate that money elsewhere. In the Chargers’ case, they’re thankful that Gordon and his agent screwed up. 

It’s a damning indictment on the running back market — not only will the position continue to suffer relative to others, but it will be further discriminated against as teams realize that paying long-term, high AAV deals to replaceable players is risky, stupid business.







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12 Takes: First Three Days of the NBA Season

This is the most anticipated NBA season I can remember in my 23 years on the planet, so naturally, preseason takes ran amok. It’s obviously too early to make concrete conclusions after three days, but not too early to see how certain concerns or hopes were illuminated in game action.

Welcome to the first installment of my ‘12 Takes’ series, which I’ll be doing weekly (or close to it) for the rest of the NBA season. Let’s go.

  1. Anthony Davis’s reluctance to play center significantly lowers the Lakers’ ceiling.

It’s going to take time for the Lakers’ offense to mesh. The unit has never played together, so the opening night clunkiness in the 112-102 loss to the Clippers wasn’t surprising.

Unfortunately, it also wasn’t surprising to see AD mostly at the four. Davis is a five, but his reluctance to play the position forced coach Frank Vogel to give 36 combined minutes to JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard, neither of whom are good (they combined for 7 points). 

When Kyle Kuzma comes back, will Vogel deploy him as a massive small forward with LeBron at the point, AD at power forward and one of the Washed Brothers at center? Laker fans should hope not — McGee and Howard are negative assets who destroy spacing. There’s zero reason for either to play significant minutes, particularly when Kuz returns.

In the playoffs, Davis will assuredly play mostly at center. Still, the regular season matters for seeding. Davis’ reluctance to play his position could be the difference between a 3-seed and a6-seed; in other words, having home-court advantage against the Mavericks in round one versus not having home court against the Rockets or Jazz. So yeah, it’s a problem.

2. The Lakers are a good point guard short.

It’s going to be difficult to win the West if LeBron is the team’s only competent ball-handler. The ship sailed on the Avery Bradley point guard experiment years ago, and he delivered a 0 assist performance as if to prove it. Alex Caruso is a solid backup (who bizarrely got a DNP-CD Tuesday), but isn’t good enough to play huge minutes. Ditto for late-career Rajon Rondo. 

Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry both could become available via trade, but both make north of $30 million annually; neither will be a Laker this year. Goran Dragic is an interesting name who’d fit, but his $19.2 million salary is also a non-starter.

The Lakers’ lack of financial flexibility and tradable assets will make it difficult to acquire that guard. Finding a difference-making ball-handler in the buyout market seems like a pipe dream. The offense would really benefit from an additional dose of off-bounce creativity, but the avenues to acquire such a player are blocked. Barring a miracle acquisition, the Lakers will remain a distant second to the Clippers in the Battle For LA.

3. Andrew Wiggins remains Andrew Wiggins. 

The Wiggins Experience: 21 points (10-27 FG, 1-2 FT), 0 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks

The Wiggins Experience: Play 36 minutes in an NBA game, have a -26 plus/minus and your team still wins because your backup Josh Okogie was +22 in 14 minutes. 

The Wiggins Experience: Get to the foul line 56 seconds into the game, make one of two, then hoist 27 shots in your remaining 35 minutes without getting to the charity stripe again. 

The Wiggins Experience: Attempt 5 more shots and score 15 less points than your teammate Karl-Anthony Towns (by contrast, he’s good).  

It’s just a game, but barfing up 27 shots and tallying 0 assists shows that nothing has changed. He’s the same old chucker.

4. Jarrett Allen is rightfully getting the bulk of the work in
Brooklyn.

When the Nets gave a washed DeAndre Jordan $40 million contract this offseason to be Kyrie and KD’s friend, I was immediately concerned. The Nets already had a great young center in Allen and Jordan’s deal suggested he’d steal minutes at the five. 

One game in and those concerns are quelled; Allen played 36 minutes* Wednesday night to DeAndre’s 17.

There’s no use trying to pretend like DJ’s ludicrous contract was anything other than a tax for signing his superstar buds. It appears coach Kenny Atkinson and the Nets realize that and remain committed to giving Allen the lion’s share of the work at the five.** 

*KAT kind of demolished Allen, but that’s not shocking. Stretch centers will always be the nemesis of Allen, Rudy Gobert, and any other prototypical rim protector. 

**I couldn’t be much more bullish on him, and not because he went to Texas. If you had to design a modern center, you’d draw up a 7-foot rim-runner with insane length, bounce and rim-protecting instincts. He’s still got another level to reach offensively, too; he’s more skilled than you realize.

5. Justise Winslow is on the cusp.

It’s easy to get discouraged when a touted draft pick struggles initially. Patience can be hard. But as Winslow is proving, it’s necessary. 

In his first three NBA seasons, it wasn’t exactly clear what Justise Winslow was. His defense was mostly as advertised, but there was no identity to his offensive game. 

Last season, Winslow reinvented himself as a point-forward setting career highs with 12.6 points, 5.4 boards and 4.3 dimes with his typical stout defense. Still just 23, his mini-leap planted the seeds for a bigger one in 2019. 

The very early returns couldn’t be more promising. Winslow was a monster in the Heat’s 120-101 W over the Grizzlies with 27 points (10-21/1-2/6-9), 7 boards, 7 assists, and a +22 +/-. He was confident both facilitating and attacking. 

The continued development of his jumper will determine how good he’ll eventually be. As it is, he’s an awesome second banana alongside Jimmy Butler.

I’m starting to get ridiculously excited about the potential of the Heat. They’re firmly in the mix for the 3-seed in the East.

6. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is ready to be a star right now.

The prize of the Paul George trade is the anti-Winslow in that he looked like a future star from the moment he stepped onto the court as a rookie. With extreme size, length and instincts, SGA looked the part of not only a future stopper, but a guy who could one day guard Kawhi Leonard-types.* His offense impressed, too, but he was more efficient than explosive; it looked like it’d take some years of development before he became a go-to-guy. 

Maybe not! OKC’s new guard dropped 26 on opening night (10-23/3-7/3-6). His aggressiveness showed he’s not scared to be “the guy”. 

He’s creative around the basket with unteachable touch, and his length allows him to finish around the league’s best rim protectors: watch him beat Rudy Gobert with this finger roll. He’s going to live at the foul line. His jumper was the question coming out of college, but it exceeded expectations as a rookie and looked pretty good Wednesday night. 

I didn’t expect the 21-year old to come out of the gate ready to be the no. 1 offensive option on a team with Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari. He looks not only ready, but capable. If SGA is going to be this dynamic, it’s possible we underrated the Thunder as a potential playoff team, even without PG in the loaded West. 

*Players who can credibly guard big, wing superstars are among the rarest and most coveted in the league. Currently, the only NBA point guard who stands a chance in Jrue Holiday; SGA is much bigger and longer than the Pelicans’ stopper. His defensive potential is remarkable.

7. Luke Kennard is more than the guy picked above Donovan Mitchell.

I feel bad for Luke, who will always be compared to the Dwayne Wade-lookalike drafted immediately after him. 

The 6’5” Duke product won’t always drop 30, but he’s a tremendous shooter and heady player. His ability to handle the ball and fire off-the-bounce separates him from traditional spot-up shooters; watch him parlay an Andre Drummond ball screen into a clean mid-range step back.

His poor length and athleticism limits his defensive potential, but he’s a long-term rotation guy. We need to stop identifying Kennard as The Guy Who Was Picked Before Mitchell and respect what he is — a good, young NBA player with a bright future. Have I mentioned that I like guys with confidence and IQ?


8. Mo Bamba looked good.

I’m taking special interest in Bamba’s development. He was disappointing as a rookie before suffering a season-ending fractured foot. I was eager to see how the former Longhorn came out of the gates in year two.  

He was great in limited minutes Wednesday, with 7 points (3-5/1-3/0-0) and 7 boards in 14 minutes. The problem: he’s completely blocked in Orlando after the team locked up Nik Vucevic with a 4-year, $100 million contract. 

Smart franchises don’t invest the sixth overall pick into a 7-foot center when their best incumbent is a 7-foot center. Smart franchises aren’t the Orlando Magic. Here’s hoping Mo gets dealt to a more competent organization that knows what to do with his development. There aren’t many 7-footers who combine rim-protection and three-point shooting; his upside remains intact.


9. The Rockets needed Russell Westbrook’s chaos.

Death, taxes, and the Rockets blowing huge halftime leads in front of an indifferent home crowd.

What was new, and incredibly exciting, is the impact that Russell Westbrook had in the first half of the loss to the Bucks. I was initially pessimistic about the seemingly confounding marriage of the league’s two most ball-dominant players, but talked myself into it over the summer. The Harden-led squads of yesteryear have been great but slow, methodical and boringly predictable; Russ adds a fresh dose of athleticism and unpredictability.

That was on full display in the first half against Milwaukee, encapsulated here: snaring a d-board off a missed free throw and catching everybody off guard by flying the other way and finding Eric Gordon in the corner for a wide-open three. It was the perfect unity of two distinct styles: Russ’ chaotic tempo and the Rockets’ three-point shooting. 

There’s a lot to iron out with Westbrook’s inclusion into the Rockets’ system, but game one demonstrated why I’m so excited. The squad sorely needed his improvisational athletic chaos, and his unpredictability elevates Houston’s ceiling.


10. The Rockets will stagger James and Russ as much as possible.

Mike D’Antoni isn’t fooling around; less than halfway into the first quarter, Austin Rivers came in for Westbrook. With three minutes left in the first, Russ re-entered, subbing for Harden. 

We knew the Rockets would stagger the stars. It was still interesting, however, to see it happen immediately in game one. Russ obviously isn’t used to getting yanked so quickly. 

Should they have let Harden and Westbrook play longer together to speed up the learning curve? Eh. There’ll be plenty of time to gel, so I actually like D’Antoni laying down the law early. One of the two will be on the floor at all times, so Russell’s going to have to sacrifice some first quarter minutes.


11. Terrence Ferguson has to do…something.

For a Thunder franchise planning for the future, the development of 2017 first rounder Terrance Ferguson is an underrated variable. The 6’6” swingman made strides last year after a poor rookie season, and it was reasonable to expect a year three leap. 

For some reason, he went 0-0 from the field in Wednesday’s loss despite playing half the game. I mean…no. Shoot the ball, dude. You’re an off-guard with freaky athletic ability and a sweet jumper.  

I’m pretty concerned by this, and the Thunder should be too. You’d think the former first-rounder would be excited at his increased offensive chances in the wake of George’s exit; how do you not shoot once?


12. The dispiriting apathy of Houston’s home crowds.

Maybe it’s because the city is so spread out. Maybe it’s because getting downtown can be a pain.

But every single year, the Toyota Center is half-packed despite championship contending teams.

I thought it’d be different this year. With Kevin Durant leaving the Bay and Westbrook coming, I figured fans would be more excited for this season than ever, and we’d finally get some live crowds.

Wrong.











It’s Time To Overreact About Tyler Herro

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It’s early, but the rookie’s preseason heroics highlight prodigious shot-making and confidence that fuel star upside. 

Yes, it’s only the preseason. No, Heat rookie Tyler Herro isn’t the greatest player of all time, as this article brilliantly articulates.  

That doesn’t mean it’s time to pump the brakes; it’s okay to admit the obvious.* After three preseason games, it’s clear that Herro is great. And despite below-average measureables, his jumper, smarts and swagger will make him a star. 

*For example, it was clear immediately in the 2017 preseason that Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell was special. When the giddy articles came out, they weren’t overreactions but rather early realizations of his greatness.    

In those three contests, Herro averaged 16.3 points on 54.5/53.3/1.000 splits. These weren’t Summer League games against future members of the Ukranian Basketball SuperLeague; Herro is doing special things (like going 5-5 and dropping 14 points in the first quarter) in NBA games. And as with Mitchell, the eye test is as eye-popping as the stats. 

He’s a prodigious shot-maker who’s already comfortable pulling up from anywhere, including off the bounce many feet behind the arc. There aren’t many guards who can leverage a ball screen into a quick pull-up three, and the ones who can are typically stars (Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker, etc.).* 

*Perhaps nothing opens up an offense more than the threat of a pull-up three off the screen-and-roll. If the guy guarding the screener doesn’t hedge high, the ball-handler has a clean look at a three. If he does, either the rolling screen-setter or a wing shooter will pop open. It’s a nightmare to defend; Stephen Curry’s gravity is what makes the Warriors’ offense unguardable.

We knew he was a sniper coming out of Kentucky; what’s been more illuminating is how advanced he already is as a ball-handler. Watch: Herro knifes off a Bam Adebayo ball screen into the teeth of the defense, and pause at 0:59. The guy he’s looking at is DeAndre’ Bembry. If Bembry helps on a rolling Bam, Herro knows Goran Dragic will have a wide-open three, and if he stays on Dragic, Bam has an open rumble. Herro sees Bembry lean slightly towards Dragic and simultaneously feeds Bam with a bounce pass that leads to a layup. This isn’t overly complex by league standards, but demonstrates the ability to make reads as a pick-and-roll ball-handler.

It’s unlikely he’s tasked with high on-ball usage as a rookie. That’s fine; Herro is perfectly comfortable spotting up or flying off flare screens. He’s also brilliant; in that clip, notice how he leans slightly forwards while rising to shoot to create that extra bit of separation. He’s even crafty enough to create space off the ball with head feigns and jabs; watch him get Trae Young leaning with a little jab step before catching and letting it fly. These are advanced nuances for an NBA marksman.  

Herro’s borderline-arrogant swagger, along with his shrewdness, is what gives him a huge ceiling. To be a star, here’s no more crucial pre-requisite than the combination of confidence and basketball IQ*. You can be athletic and fearless, but if you don’t have the hoops IQ you’re Gerald Green. If you’re athletic and smart but lack the competitive arrogance, you’re Harrison Barnes or Lonzo Ball.

*To be an exception, be one of the most ridiculous athletes the game has ever seen; like: Dwight Howard, who’ll be a Hall of Famer despite a basketball IQ that rivals my grandmother’s. To be an exception to this exception, be so utterly clueless and timid that you completely waste your generational physical gifts; see: Andrew Wiggins.  

Provided they have the necessary talents, the unity of intelligence and über-confidence can transcend a lack of athleticism. Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Jason Kidd, and Dirk Nowitzki weren’t great athletes by NBA standards, and Draymond Green can hardly dunk; they became stars in large part due to the unity of those two intangibles.

More relatedly, Stephen Curry, C.J. McCollum, Kemba Walker and Jamal Murray leveraged swagger, smarts, and the ability to launch world-class jumpers off the dribble to become elite guards. This is the broad outline for Herro, who is a similarly underwhelming specimen.

His mediocre physical tools cap his upside short of superstardom. He’s 6’6”, but only has a 6’3” wingspan; he’ll never be a versatile defender or be able to check guys with a size advantage. But to drop a Zach Lowe-ism, he’ll be fine. Maybe not good, but fine on defense. Like McCollum, he’s competitive and smart enough to survive without length, and his offensive talent more than makes up for it.

I see a star in Herro because of his confidence, IQ, capable playmaking and sweet, sweet jumper. The Heat stole him late in the lottery.

 

Danuel House Jr. Is The NBA’s Best Player You Aren’t Familiar With

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The 6’7″ forward is the ultimate complementary wing in the modern NBA, and is statistically one of the best players on the championship-chasing Rockets.

In the NBA, discovering multi-positional 3-and-D role players out of the blue isn’t just difficult, it’s damn near impossible. Due to their low supply and high demand, teams don’t just find these guys in the bargain bin.

Houston Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey has done just that with Danuel House Jr., whose versatility and skillset molds beautifully next to James Harden. He’s also showed signs that he might be more than just a role player. 

Since earning a promotion from the G-League and a two-way contract with the Rockets last December, the 6’7” combo-forward has been a perfect fit. He is switchy on defense and knocks down spot-up threes on offense; he’s the ultimate low-maintenance, complementary piece next to ball-dominant stars. 

Consider: in the 2018-19 season, House scored 9.4 points in 25.1 minutes on 46.8/41.6/78.9 splits (per NBA.com). Of any Rocket who averaged at least 15 minutes per game, his offensive rating of 122.6 was second-highest behind Clint Capela, and his 9.2 net rating ranked third behind Capela and James Harden (Fox Sports). The lineup of Harden-Eric Gordon-House-P.J. Tucker-Capela registered a 14.7 net rating, by far the best of any five man combination that played at least 100 minutes (NBA.com). By contrast, subbing out House for Chris Paul in that group yielded a 7.3 net rating, the second-highest of any combo meeting that threshold. 

It’s easy to understand why he fits. His 1.22 points per possession on spot-up jumpers landed him in the 92nd percentile league-wide (NBA.com). His motion is compact and quick; watch how quickly he transitions from catching this Paul feed to letting it fly. He launches confidently from all over the floor; he isn’t confined to the corners like Tucker. Defensively, his size offers flexibility and he takes on tough matchups to let Harden rest on weaker players. 

He’s arguably the most malleable type of player in the league. Big wings who can shoot, defend, and slide down to power forward without surrendering much on the glass fuse with any lineup, and particularly well next to stars. 

The problem: those dudes are so rare that they’re paid like stars. The Kings just gave $85 million to Harrison Barnes. 

On June 30, the Rockets signed House to a 3 year, $11.1 million contract. For a team paying a combined $245 million over the next four years to James Harden and Russell Westbrook — and thus in perennial salary cap hell — you have to hit on the margins, and Morey nuked a homer with this deal.

While the current version of House is good, the 26-year old showed some off-the-bounce verve that points to additional upside. Watch him catch a Harden pass, pump, and hit a step-back three. He gets even fancier here with a between the legs step-back bomb. The pump-dribble-stepback three is an advanced move for an NBA shooter, and an Eric Gordon staple. 

He even used garbage time to show off his isolation chops. Mike D’Antoni won’t draw this up, but it’s an intriguing bonus that gives the unit another late-clock bucket-getter, and a skill that past wings Trevor Ariza and James Ennis couldn’t provide. 

Watch the instincts as he jumps a passing lane, catches it in the corner in semi-transition, goes baseline on a closing Jusuf Nurkic and finishes with an up-and-under. Simply put, this is the kind of play that you only see from ultra-competent, two-way wings. Even compared to the pricey Barnes, there’s a fluidity and craft on both ends that just looks natural. 

That improvisational creativity makes me think there’s an elite role player here. House is smaller and less athletic than Barnes, but his game has a high-IQ improv that makes me think he could develop into a more impactful player.  

The stats and eye test demonstrate that he’s already effective on both ends, but he has so much more to offer. As it is, he’s a good 3-and-D guy and key piece of Houston’s most potent lineups. As it could be, he’s a poor man’s Khris Middleton. You may have heard of him.

By the way, Middleton just signed a $178 million contract; House just signed for $11 million. Can we shelve the talk about dismissing Daryl Morey because he supports democracy in China?*

*I know, it’s a super-complicated issue, and one that I’m not qualified to fully dissect. But dismissing the best GM in the league for the crime of sharing his support for democratic ideals in China would be a punishment that doesn’t fit.

The Jaguars took Leonard Fournette with the 4th Overall Pick…and Whiffed

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He was a freak in high school and a monster in college. The NFL isn’t either, and the former top prospect has proven to be a massive disappointment.

Nobody scolded the Jaguars when they selected Leonard Fournette #4 overall in the 2017 draft. He arrived at LSU as arguably the most touted high school back ever and spent the next three years shredding the SEC for 3,830 yards (6.2 ypc) and 40 touchdowns. He was a man amongst boys. 

Now that he’s a man amongst other men, he’s been exposed as an average professional. The eye test reveals a plodder who lacks the ability to make defenders miss, a deficiency that was masked in college due to some dazzling displays of raw power and speed. 

Plays like this dominated Fournette’s college tape. It’s legendary stuff, but only doable on college corners and safeties.

Here’s what happens when he tries that in the League. This play was all over SportsCenter but wasn’t actually effective; Mike Mitchell tackled him in the open field. While it’s one example, it’s emblematic of why Leonard struggles in the NFL; he can’t run over defensive backs anymore, and he doesn’t have the elusively to counter. And unlike Ezekiel Elliott, Fournette needs a head of steam before’s able to generate power, meaning if he gets hit at the line of scrimmage, he’s going down. 

The highlight of his career was this 90-yard touchdown run. Here’s what he did: run through a wide open hole in a straight line. I’m sure there are dozens of other NFL backs who could have run a 90-yard dash (Fournette’s fast but not a 4.4 guy), but because of the hype value, it was proof to some he’d tear up the NFL. 

Statistically he’s been unimpressive. In the 2017 season, 18 running backs amassed 200 or more carries; Fournette’s paltry 3.9 ypc ranked tied for third-worst among them. In 2018, he was awful; while battling injuries, his 3.3 ypc average was third-worst among the 49 runners with 100 or more carries.

This season, he’s been okay (4.2 ypc), but still hasn’t looked good. Against the Titans last Thursday, he’d run for an embarrassing -7 yards on 11 carries before breaking a 69-yard run in garbage time in which he — you guessed it — made nobody miss and ran through a gaping hole. He didn’t make anyone miss all game and kept getting humiliated by cornerback Malcolm Butler. 

I’m not suggesting that the Jaguars have put Fournette in an optimal position to succeed. His quarterbacks (pre-Minshew) have been a joke, and his offensive lines spotty. Defensives stack the box against him. But when you draft a back in the top-five, the kid is supposed to be transcendent, and generate consistent, positive plays due to sheer greatness. This is what Saquon Barkley does; despite similarly poor QB play, blocking and defensive attention, the #2 pick in the 2018 draft manages to excel, because he’s a special player. Unlike Fournette, he doesn’t need excuses. 


When a team invests the #4 pick into a running back, the guy better be exceptional for the franchise to get a return on value. Fournette isn’t even a top-five back in his own class. Here are RB’s drafted in 2017 who I’d rather have, along with their overall draft position:
Christian McCaffrey (8)
Dalvin Cook (41)
Alvin Kamara (67)
Kareem Hunt (86)
Marlon Mack (143)
Chris Carson (249)
Close omissions: Joe Mixon (48), James Connor (105), Tarik Cohen (119) and Aaron Jones (182); you may argue that all three are better players than Fournette. The #4 pick might not be a top-10 back in his draft class.

Yep. The Seahawks drafted a better running back with the 249th pick than the Jaguars did with the 4th. That’s why this is such a disaster. Even if he improves, he’ll never deliver anywhere near the expected value of a top-5 pick due to the depth of runners in this class.

It’s hard to imagine him improving. While there are a few exceptions, most runners are who they are upon entering the league. Likewise, Fournette is a traditional, bigger RB whose style of play is counter to the pass-happy direction of the league. He isn’t a creative playmaker like Kamara or Barkley, and isn’t dynamic like Cook or Cohen. 

Fournette infamously called the NFL “easy” after his first preseason game. Hopefully, the Jaguars find it easy to sucker some team into trading a high pick for the high school-hype train. And it’d be best to do so quickly before the rest of the League realizes he isn’t very good.






The 2019 NFL Season Won’t be Complete Until the First Gardner Minshew II ‘Hulu Has Live Sports’ Commercial

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The gunslinging QB and his mustache are taking the world by storm.   

Gardner Minshew II is here.

Let’s get the less interesting stuff out of the way: the dude’s legitimately good. From the moment he stepped onto the field against the Chiefs, the rookie sixth-rounder looked like a 10-year veteran; he displayed NFL-level timing, touch, accuracy, enough arm strength, and more than enough mobility and escapability. And imagine Nathan Peterman’s confidence, only the inverse. Minshew finished his first game 22-25 for 275 yards, 2 touchdowns and a pick, setting multiple NFL and franchise records. It’s easy to overreact after a game, but you know a quarterback with staying power when you see one. 

His first career start last Sunday was less remarkable, but only slightly. With the Jags down 13-6 with just three minutes left, he displayed his HCE (Horse Cock Energy), orchestrating a 14 play, 68-yard drive capped by a TD strike to D.J. Chark. It was no surprise that coach Doug Marrone went for two and the win, but he mistakenly called a running play for Leonard Fournette — the second-best RB in the game behind the Texans’ Carlos Hyde — who came up short. 

Now, onto the important stuff: He’s a dick warlock, a gold-standard cocksman of the highest order. A gunslinging samurai who fears nothing in orbit. Everything about him is mesmerizing absurdity, from his ‘stache to his name to his “eerie” confidence. He’s the most ludicrous personality sports has seen since Dennis Rodman or Tim Richmond, and an unapologetic wild card in an era dominated by sensitive athletes. 

His dad’s name isn’t Gardner Minshew I or Gardner Minshew Sr., but rather Flint, who just thought throwing ‘II’ on his kid’s name would be cool. His grandfather wanted to name him Beowulf; I’m almost positive that our heads would have exploded had this happened. He stretches pregame in only a jockstrap and deboards the team plane wearing aviators, a gold chain and an unbuttoned red shirt that I can’t even describe. He’s been offered $1 million to wear penis puppets for a porn site.

The best thing about Minshew is that none of this is an act. Unlike a Johnny Manziel, Minshew came from obscurity, starting his collegiate career at Northwest Mississippi Community College before transferring to East Carolina and then to Washington State as a graduate transfer. He was a low-round pick who prepared, worked hard and proved himself to earn an NFL roster spot. Marrone has raved about his ability to “go from the classroom and really take it right onto the field.”  

Nick Foles will reclaim the starting job when he returns from a broken clavicle, because, well, they just gave him $88 million. But whether in Jacksonville or elsewhere, Minshew will be in our lives as America’s favorite QB1 for the next decade-plus. I’m not pumping the brakes on my take on this guy; I’m smashing the gas.

And the ‘19 season won’t be complete until he tells us that Hulu has live sports.


LSU vs Texas – 2019 College Football Preview

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College football is baaaaack, and so is Texas as a powerhouse. After the school’s first preseason top-10 ranking since 2010 and thumping of Louisiana Tech in Week 1, there hasn’t been this much buzz about the Longhorns in a decade. 

Tomorrow, #6 LSU enters to face #9 Texas in arguably the school’s biggest home game in half a century. While the environment will be hostile, most think the Tigers will have no trouble beating the ‘Horns (the point spread has moved to 6.5, and ESPN’s FPI gives LSU an 80% chance to win). However, fans of the burnt orange have reason for confidence; after all, the nation laughed at our* chances the last time we lined up against an SEC monster, and then watched as Ehlinger, Tom Herman and co. hoisted the Sugar Bowl trophy in New Orleans.  

*That’s right, I use pronouns like “we” and “our” as if I’m on the team.

This is also a reason for overconfidence. As talented as Georgia was, they were deflated after being squeezed out of the CFB Playoff. The difference in effort was apparent; the ‘Horns were thinking Sugar Bowl, while the ‘Dawgs were thinking Bourbon Street.   

Tomorrow will be nothing like that. LSU is similar to Georgia from a talent perspective, but they’re hungrier. Along with a psycho-fast defense featuring three projected top-15 picks in the upcoming draft (per Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller), the offense is also loaded and scored touchdowns on seven out of eight first-half drives last week against Georgia Southern. Cupcake opponent or not, the offense looked as good as the defense, and that’s scary. 

Sammy Ehlinger is a star, but this will be his toughest test. Grant Delpit is one of the best college safeties I’ve seen, and a legitimate top-5 pick in next year’s draft; edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson and corner Kristian Fulton aren’t far behind him. They just have so much speed, and offensive coordinator Tim Beck will have his hands full keeping them off balance.  

All signs point towards LSU in this game, but there’s no trump card like an elite college quarterback. Sam’s developed into a superstar, and he’s shown that he can make magic in big games. He’s not Baker Mayfield, but inspires a similar level of confidence.

We’re only a game into the season, so there isn’t a ton to go by here. Both teams are talented — LSU maybe a little more so, but Texas has Ehlinger. I can’t wait. The buzz has seeped into the city’s veins and everybody is feeling it. I can’t hop into an Uber without the driver bringing up the game. It’s pretty fucking awesome. I always wondered what it’d be like to go to college at a national championship contender when I was actually a fan of the team, rather than pretending to be a fan while actually despising them. I guess that rules out my freshman year at Alabama.

LFG.

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Shaka Smart has Destroyed Texas Basketball

“I think that when it’s 92-92, and you look up at the clock and there’s 1:50 left, that [building a culture] goes to a different place outside of exclusively execution. I think that when…somebody’s shooting a free throw, and you [as a coach] can look across at somebody and have some level of trust and symmetry, that matters. I’ve seen it.” – Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown on The Lowe Post podcast

The University of Texas will always be a football school, no matter what its basketball program manages to accomplish. That’s terrific news for Shaka Smart, whose utter ineptitude and perennial underperformance has flown under the radar.

To say the once-renowned head coach has disappointed in Austin would be an understatement. Despite boasting NBA talent on an annual basis, the ‘Horns have oscillated between adequate and awful for the entirety of his four-year tenure.

Fresh off a 65-57 defeat at the hands of Kansas in the opening round of the Big 12 Conference Tournament*, Texas boasts a 16-16 overall record that perfectly embodies the lifeless mediocrity Smart has brought to this program. The Longhorns “earned” a 2-seed in the NIT for their efforts; meanwhile, former Texas coach Rick Barnes’ Tennessee Vols earned a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

When a school boasts some of the nation’s premier talent and is paying its head coach the 11th-highest salary in the country, failing to make the Big Dance in 2 out of 4 Shaka seasons is unacceptable. Smart has failed to a dazzling degree on The Forty Acres, and if the athletic department cared about the program in any meaningful way, he would’ve been gone yesterday.

*Note: Star center and projected lottery pick Jaxson Hayes went down with an ugly knee injury late in the Kansas game. Hayes appeared to be tearing up as trainers examined his ACL/MCL. It was a devastating end to a beautiful freshman season for the 18-year old, and we can only pray that, like Zion Williamson’s injury, it isn’t too serious and won’t impact his career long-term.

Recruiting Prowess versus On-court Performance
Talent is the most important barometer for success at any level. Nobody is confusing John Calipari for John Wooden, but the former’s Belfort-like recruiting makes him statistically one of the greatest coaches ever.  

That said, here’s the shortlist of programs that have lured top-10 recruiting classes in each of the past three seasons: Texas, Duke and Kentucky.

Let’s compare results over that span:

Overall Record Conference Record Conference Titles NCAA Tournament Record
Texas 46-53 20-34 0 0-1
Duke 87-22 41-16 2 4-2
Kentucky 85-22 42-14 2 5-2

Woof. These universities have accumulated more talent than anyone else the last few years; two are yearly national title threats (with eerily similar records, by the way), while the third is either irrelevant or a laughingstock, depending on who you ask.   

Smart can point to the recruiting trend as evidence that he’s “building something” — that would be false. The ‘Horns figure to lose arguably their top three players in the offseason (Jaxson Hayes to the NBA; Kerwin Roach II and Dylan Osetkowski to graduation) and the current reserves, other than Courtney Ramey, don’t instill confidence that they can fill the shoes. This season, which is bad, could be the best it’s going to be for a little while.

Unprecedented Late-Game Collapses
As poor as the results are, the eye test is worse. We have a running joke here that Texas needs a 15-point halftime cushion just to have a chance. The Smart-led ‘Horns consistently come out of halftime flat and fail to close out games.

Consider: over the past two seasons, the ‘Horns have blown a halftime lead and lost 11 seperate times; they’ve come back from a halftime deficit to win just twice. This season, Texas fans have witnessed seven halftime leads go poof and zero halftime comebacks.

Not surprisingly, the majority of the disasters have come when it matters most. Last year, Smart fumbled away a 14-point lead against then #1 Duke, blew leads in key conference games against Baylor and Oklahoma State, and finally choked away another 14-point advantage against Nevada in the NCAA Tournament.

Early in this season, Texas took a commanding 36-21 first half lead over powerhouse Michigan State; the Spartans then outscored Texas 42-24 in a predictable second half debacle that resulted in another L. They also blew halftime advantages in home games against almighty Radford (a disgusting loss that probably kept them out of the Tournament) and in conference clashes versus Texas Tech, Kansas and K-State. Most damningly, on Feb 28 against Baylor in a crucial game for Texas’ Tourney hopes, the team lost after leading 55-36 with 14:57 left. That’s right — a 19-point lead with 15 minutes left. The degree of late-game ineptitude is almost impossible.

There’s a nervous energy in general with the Longhorns — while some coaches inspire confidence in players, Smart inspires hesitancy and confusion. In program-defining games against Duke, Nevada and Michigan State, the team blew a 14+ point lead in every one. In said Baylor game, the cushion was 19. Not only does Texas under Smart fold like a plastic chair when it matters most, but they do it in devastating, debilitating fashion.

The ‘Horns have the talent to compete with anyone in the country, but also a head coach who’s a 100-pound barbell wrapped around their ankles. While it’s hard to rip a man of Shaka Smart’s character, he’s just an awful coach who’s torpedoed the college basketball experience for myself and other Texas fans. While the program has obvious potential, the ceiling is capped as long as Smart is roaming the burnt orange sidelines.

“There’s nothing new under the sun”: A$AP Rocky and Mercedes Chief of Design Gorden Wagner talk Design at SXSW

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A$AP Rocky and Mercedes Benz Chief Design Officer, Gorden Wagener talked cars, culture, music, art and luxury this morning at SXSW featured session called “Using Design ‘Differently’ to Make a Difference”. In the rapidly changing world of design, this unexpected pair stands together at the intersection of cars, culture, music, art and luxury.

Photo by Anne-Marie Halovanic

“I’m in a place to dictate what’s cool right now,” says Rocky. “This collaboration is natural. Mercedes has been at the pentacle of luxury especially in the hip hop world.” With so much change happening in the auto industry (i.e. car sharing, driverless cars, etc.), Wagener says “designing automobiles is just as much about designing experience.” Together A$AP Rocky and Wagener, who is in charge of Mercedes’ vehicle design and brand identity, will permanently impact hip hop culture’s influence on the world of luxury design. “The future is not written,” says Wagener, “We can design it. And it’s much easier to design it when you actually live in the future.”

Both shared their perspectives on the challenges of innovation. Rocky, who has experience in apparel, accessory and brand design in addition to his music and music videos, spoke about unveiling his SRLo sneaker during his live performance art piece Lab Rat. “Lab Rat was a play on the experimental sound in my last album,” Rocky said, “[I’m exploring] feeling like a fish in a bowl, with so many bystanders and onlookers watching and peering in while you create.” The SRLo sneaker, a skate shoe redesigned for raves, was yet another way to continue experimenting and mixing cultures, “just like hip hop is transcending into pop culture.”

Wagener operates in a different space of innovation with Mercedes’ rich heritage and reputation as one of the most desired cars of its time behind him. He said “the car will change in the next 10-15 years more than it has in the last 100.” That said, they face “significant staging challenges trying to keep complexity under control.”

Rocky views himself as part of a group of artists who are the crash test dummies, putting themselves in radical environments and taking risks for those who’ll come up next. Of entering the realm of luxury cars, Rocky says, “I wouldn’t step into anything just to conquer it; it’s all about execution.” Good execution is the absolute design goal for both Wagener and Rocky, who share a key element: the crash test dummy.

To Rocky, the crash test dummy aesthetic “symbolizes a person who pioneers.” It’s heavily present throughout his latest album Testing, which included a collab with Mercedes for the “Gunz N Butter” music video. Rocky chose to redesign a 30-year-old Mercedes rally car—30 years vintage because he’s 30, too. “I’m in the metamorphosis of my life and of my career so I didn’t want to go with anything ordinary.”

“There’s no future without heritage,” Wagener says, “[and the vintage rally car] is a cool example of taking something from Mercedes’ heritage and interpreting it in a new way.”

“There’s nothing new under the sun” is a beautifully simple piece of wisdom Rocky and Wagener both reference as a driver of their creativity. They’re not fueled by a desire to create something no one else has, rather to experiment and explore new paths so they can execute better than anyone before them.

The last audience question requested advice for young designers. Rocky, who initially felt a lot of resistance when the Mercedes partnership was in its beginning stages, says, “stick to your guns. Don’t compromise. I won’t compromise my integrity when it comes to design or just beliefs in general. Sometimes people won’t see your vision until the world says it’s the shit.” Wagener, who became Mercedes’ Chief Design Officer when he was 30, says “have fun! In car design we are still the little boys in the sandbox playing with cars—just on a bigger scale and with better pay. Enjoy yourself and stay foolish.”

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Top 10 Female Artists to watch at SXSW 2019


SXSW is finally here — Austin’s annual film, interactive media, and music festival. With a chance to discover new and emerging artists from all around the world, the SXSW music festival is a must for music enthusiasts everywhere. This year, there are over 2000+ (official) artists performing for the festival. While no doubt you are guaranteed to uncover some hidden gems wherever you go, if you are like me, you are hoping to discover some fresh femme talent. To get the most out of your time at the festival, here are my top 10 female artists you don’t wanna miss.

  1. AYELLE — Electronic R&B

With a mix of electronic beats and sultry lyrics, Ayelle spreads messages of self empowerment and feminine influence. Her music is similar to that of artists like Alina Baraz or Banks.

@ayellemusic

Songs: NBDY, Obvious, Stay Calm

    2) FLOHIO — Grime Rap

Flohio is a South London rapper who infuses a blend of hip-hop and techno sounds to create grime rap (electronic dance music that derived from the UK). Named one of “10 women changing our future” by model Naomi Campbell, Flohio is known for her powerful and poetic lyrics.

@flohio_

Songs: Pounce, Wealth, Fights

    3) ROBINSON — Pop

New Zealand native Robinson has reached the NZ top 40 singles charts after releasing her first single “Don’t forget about me” back in 2017. She has been receiving even more attention since releasing her newest single “Karma.”

Songs : Karma, Crave you, Nothing to regret

   4) NADIA TEHRAN — Electronic

Filled with bold and outspoken lyrics, Nadia uses her music as commentary of her identity. She explores topics such as immigration, race, and equality that continues to capture the audience’s attention.

@nadiatehran

Songs: Refugee, Cash flow, I see you

   5) NATALIE NORTE — Latin Pop

Singer-songwriter and dancer from Chile, Natalie uses influence from Chilean expressive dance and African beats to create her music. She is part of a new generation of experimental Latin-American artists.

@natalianorte

Songs: Siesta, Mayami, Corro con los lobos

 6) KING PRINCESS — Pop

Advocator for the LGBTQ+ community, Mikaela Straus, “King Princess,” uses her stage name and social platform as a means for queer representation in media. She is known for making love songs such as “Talia,” which make references to relationships with women.

@kingprincess69

Songs: 1950, Pussy is god, Make my bed

 7) SIR BABYGIRL — Bubblegum Pop

Taking inspiration from artists such as Grimes, Sir Babygirl, creates music she calls “controlled chaos.” She uses a mix of pop beats and 90s alternative rock, to create a unique genre of music.

@sir_babygirl

Songs: Heels, Flirting with her, Crush on me

  8)PINKY PINK — Indie Rock

From Los Angeles, California, the group of three best friends take inspiration from 60s garage rock. Complete with a guitarist, bassist, and drummer, the girls create a modern contemporary sound with vintage influence.

@pinkypinkytheband

Songs: Robber, Hot Tears, Ram Jam

 9) GABRIELLA COHEN — Indie

Australian artist Gabriella Cohen records and self- produces her music, finding inspiration from her travels. Her music is filled with dreamy vocals and electric guitar, mixing L.A. style with world music.

@gabriellaacohen

Songs: Baby, Music Machine, Beaches

10) TIERRA WHACK — Rap

Recognized for her unique style, Tierra Whack doesn’t fail to show it in her music. She is best known for her album “Whack World.” She has been featured on Jimmy Kimmel Live and music platforms like Genius.

@tierrawhack

Songs: Hungry Hippo, Flea Market, Pretty Ugly

Concert Series Gives a Whole New Name to “Soul Music”

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Perhaps no experience defines Austin better than an evening at Threadgill’s Old No. 1, watching a three-piece Folk/Country/Americana band featuring a double bass, two acoustic guitars, striped pants, and a name like Denim Bridge. But if you were there, you’d already know that.


Singer-songwriter Jennifer Jackson (or Jennifer Jackson and Denim Bridge, as she’s known when playing with her trio intact) treated a packed Threadgill’s to an evening of new music and an insight into her artistic process on Feb. 24. The evening was part of the “Soul of a Musician Series”, a series of live concerts hosted by Reverend Merrill Wade of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church.


“Musicians are the crux of our cultural scene here in Austin. And when we can come together, sit with them, listen to their music and give them something in return, that’s just remarkable,” said Wade. The series, which is entering its seventh year and has featured musicians such as Guy Forsyth, Matt the Electrician, and Jackie Venson, is an attempt to support Austin’s musicians while exploring the soulful themes of their work.

Jackson, like many of the musicians which have graced the Soul Series’ stage, showcased several new songs from her upcoming and as-of-yet unnamed album. To finish her first set, Jackson played “Easy to Live”, a love song at once nostalgic and breezily light. Audience members read the lyrics (printed out and dispersed to each table) as she sang, and then engaged with her in a Q&A.

“There are so many interpretations that are possible,” Jackson said. “I can’t even tell you mine, sometimes. But everyone finds their own meaning.”


Jackson and Denim Bridge finished the evening with a setlist laden with unpretentious Americana virtuosity reminiscent of John Fahey and Leo Kottke, and nature-inspired lyrics both simple and refined. Through it all, one could feel the communal, spiritual contemplation by the audience and the deep appreciation for Austin artistry.  Undoubtedly, everybody in attendance left feeling a bit happier to call Austin home.

This season’s series features shows every Sunday (except Easter) through April 28. Upcoming artists include Water and Rust, Matt the Electrician, and Beat Root Revival. The shows are always free and open to the public. More information can be found here.

Are We Sure That Christopher Bell Is More Talented Than Erik Jones?

Ask any Nascar fan, and they’ll tell you that it’s only a matter of time before Erik Jones makes way for Christopher Bell at Joe Gibbs Racing.

However, is Bell actually the superior talent?

The easiest comparison to make between drivers is when they drive the same equipment. Thus, comparing the two — who both drove the #20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the Xfinity Series — is easy. Right?

Not in this case. Extreme rule changes in the Xfinity Series renders a straight, statistical comparison between the two imprecise. In this article, I’ll isolate the extenuating circumstances that made performing significantly easier for Bell and give a revised statistical comparison that more accurately relates the drivers’ results.

In 2016 — Jones’ lone Xfinity season — there was no limit on the number of starts that Cup drivers could make. Competitive “Buschwhackers” — Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, etc. — made 133 combined starts and won 23 times in the 33-race schedule. Only Road America was free of Cup drivers.

In Bell’s two seasons combined, Buschwhackers made 81 attempts and won 20 of them. In 66 races, exactly half — 33 — were free of Cup drivers.

Clearly, it was easier for Bell to win races. To accurately compare, we must inspect how each did against their respective Xfinity opponents, while also observing their performance against Cup drivers.

Let’s get the controls out of the way: The strength of Gibbs’ Xfinity equipment was the same (the best) for both. Bell faced a tougher crop of Xfinity talent — the group of Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric is superior to Jones’ class, headlined by Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon and Bubba Wallace. Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler were also present (in JRM equipment) for both. It’s difficult to quantify an exact, weighed difference in the level of competition, but we’ll observe the bias.

Of Jones’ four wins in 2016, he beat Cup drivers in all of them. At Bristol, Jones (then-19) beat Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Austin Dillon; at Dover, he beat Joey Logano; at Iowa he triumphed over Brad Keselowski; at Chicago, he defeated Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer, and Paul Menard. Meanwhile, there were seven additional races where he lost to a Cupper but finished first relative to his Xfinity competitors. Thus, we’ll say he “won” 11 races.

Of Bell’s seven wins in 2018, he beat Cup drivers in two of them*. He defeated Kyle Busch at Kentucky and outclassed Brad Keselowski the next week at Loudon. There were four additional races where he was Buschwhacked but managed to beat his Xfinity regulars, so he, too, scored 11 “wins.”

Note: He also defeated Ross Chastain at Richmond when Chastain was piloting Chip Ganassi’s #42, no small feat.

Of Bell’s eight wins in 2019, three came against Cup competition, but those Cuppers were Ryan Preece, Paul Menard and Matt DiBenedetto. The only Cup driver to win in Xfinity last season was Kyle Busch, and in his four wins, Bell was the top Xfinity driver in none of them, so his eight win-total is accurate.

The results: Jones “won” 11 races in 2016, while Bell “won” 19 over his two years.

That would tilt the scales in Jones’ favor, but remember, the other regulars in 2016 weren’t as talented as those that Bell competed with. Both drivers had impressive wins over Cup competitors. On speed, it’s pretty much a wash.*

*Note: Erik Jones’ average start in 2016 was 3.1, which is insane, especially given the presence of Cup guys in nearly every race. Bell’s average start was 8.5 in 2018, and 4.2 in 2019.

On the flip side, Bell’s formative racing years were spent on dirt, while Jones has been on pavement his whole life. Thus, you would think that Bell has more potential to grow as a paved-oval driver.

But wait! Jones is 18 months younger than Bell. So shouldn’t he — in theory — have more upside, despite having spent more years on pavement?

My head is spinning. When you really dig into it, these two are so, so close. Both have the talent to win a Cup championship one day.

Bell’s raw Xfinity statistics exceed those of Jones, leading many fans to believe that he’s unquestionably better and more deserving of the #20 Joe Gibbs Toyota in the Cup Series. A deeper dig reveals that, all things equal, it’s very difficult to declare one superior.

Bonus: There are seven drivers in NASCAR history to win multiple Cup races before turning 24: Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Erik Jones. Five Cup champions, and two future ones.

All statistics via racing-reference.info.

Nascar Cup Series at Phoenix: Eight Laps

Welcome to my first installment of my Eight Laps weekly series, in which I fire off eight quick takes from the weekend’s Cup race.

Let’s go:

1. The new, 2020 short-track aero package looks like a massive success

After a breathtaking Daytona 500 and pair of races at Las Vegas and Fontana that exceeded expectations, Phoenix put on another great show Sunday, continuing Nascar’s upwards momentum.

The races at this track were borderline unwatchable last year, due primarily to the massive rear spoiler that made passing damn-near impossible at short tracks. Given that the championship race in 2020 (and likely beyond) will be held here, it was imperative that the sanctioning body make aerodynamic tweaks to try to better the product.

Success! The combination of a smaller rear spoiler (designed specifically for short tracks in 2020) and PJ1 sticky traction compound forged an exciting, competitive race in which there were comers, goers, multiple lead changes and action all around the one-mile oval.

Last year, the thought of a title-deciding race at Phoenix hatched a sense of dread. Now, not only are fans pumped to go back to the desert this fall to decide a champion, but we can also look forward to Martinsville, Richmond, Dover, and all of the short-tracks that will undoubtedly be made more exciting by the new aero package.

2. The Penske crew swap is working wonders.

You know who’s really good at life organizational decision-making? Roger Penske.

Last season, his three drivers and teams combined for six victories and all finished inside the top-8 in points. Despite the success, The Captain made the bold choice to reshuffle the deck: Todd Gordon and his crew would go from Joey Logano to Ryan Blaney; Paul Wolfe and crew from Brad Keselowski to Logano; and Jeremy Bullins and co. from Blaney to Keselowski. On its face, it seemed the risk outweighed the potential reward.

And this is why we should never doubt The Captain. After Sunday, the Logano-Wolfe pairing has won two of the season’s first four races and looks like an easy title favorite. Blaney has been equally as fast, and may have two wins himself if not for some brutal luck. Keselowski, the supposed odd man out, led 82 laps Sunday and has led 118 for the season, fourth-most in the series.

The decision to swap the teams — and in theory, fix something that wasn’t broken — now looks brilliant. Penske Racing looks like the best team in the garage right now, and Roger deserves immense credit.

3. Tyler Reddick is electric.

Of the “Big Three” Cup rookies, Reddick entered 2020 with the lowest expectations. Though he had won back-to-back Xfinity championships, he would be driving for a declining RCR Cup program that hadn’t won a race on pure speed since Kevin Harvick in 2013. Moreover, his #8 car scored only two top 10’s last year with Daniel Hemric.

But on Sunday, he put on an absolute show, wheeling his Chevrolet from a 29th starting spot all the way to 2nd. It was a breathtaking performance, particularly considering that Phoenix is a tricky, technical track that typically lends itself to veterans. Unfortunately, a blown right front tire led to a crash and early exit, but Reddick made a loud statement that he’ll be a force to be reckoned with, even as a newbie.

Frankly, he’s looked electric all year — the ex-dirt tracker ripped the top at Fontana en route to a solid 11th place, and was good at Vegas and Daytona as well before incidents hurt his finishes.

He’s a beautiful driver. It’s difficult to discern talent when you’re watching at home on TV, but Reddick rips the top of the race track with a fearlessness and smoothness that translates to corner-exit speed and quick lap times. Like Kyle Larson — another dirt-track shoe — his skill bleeds through the television screen.

Lastly, unlike Custer and especially Bell, he carries himself with a swagger and fearlessness that belies his rookie status. This dude’s got competitive arrogance in spades, and I love it. He’s going to be fun to watch, and a borderline playoff contender this year if the bad luck subsides.

[Note: I’m not trying to suggest that Reddick will be the best rookie this year. It’s too early to make that claim, especially given Bell and Custer’s respective talents and teams. But I’m ready to say that Reddick is a special young driver, and will be ripping the top-side in the Cup Series for our viewing pleasure for a long time.]

4. The Clint Bowyer-Johnny Klausmeier duo makes a statement

Given his advancing age, media talents and expiring contract at Stewart-Haas, my gut has been telling me that this will be Clint’s final year as a full-time Cup driver.

At the same time, I wasn’t optimistic about his new pairing with new crew chief Johnny Klausmeier. Though offbeat personalities between driver and strategist can sometimes work, Clint’s explosive fire didn’t seem a fit for Klausmeier’s more reserved, engineering-based approach.

But the #14 Ford was quick Sunday and earned a solid 5th-place finish. After qualifying well and then free-falling through the field at both Vegas and Fontana, it was encouraging to see Bowyer and Klausmeier take a car that wasn’t great when they unloaded (qualified 18th) and turn it into a top-5 horse by the end of the day.

Very inspiring run from this group. Excited to hear Clint and Dave Portnoy discuss it on the next Rubbin’ is Racin’ podcast, which everyone needs to subscribe to immediately.

6. The sleepy start to the season continues for Erik Jones

A year ago, Jones was lightning quick every week, but too often bad luck led to sub-optimal finishes that masked his performance behind the wheel.

Speed is down across the board for Toyota this year, and Jones seems particularly affected. The #20 ran like dog meat at Vegas, and was only adequate at Fontana with a 10th place finish that overstates how the car ran for most of that weekend.

At Phoenix, the car was poor again — Jones floated around the back-end of the top-15 before crashing after trying to overcompensate for some questionabl pit strategy from Chris Gayle. He finished three laps down in 28th.

It’s no secret that Jones needs a big year. In his fourth Cup season, it’s time for the 24-year old to turn elite talent into elite production, especially given his expiring contract at Joe Gibbs Racing and noise about Christopher Bell taking his seat at the table.

It hasn’t been an encouraging start. He typically catches fire in the summer months, but it’d be nice to see him put together consistent, good runs early in the season before the chatter about his contract accelerates.

[Note: Ryan Blaney has taken off after the swap to Todd Gordon, and part of me wonders what would happen to Jones if he, too, were given a championship-caliber crew chief.]

7. Ryan Preece finally scores a top-20.

The Cup series is loaded with more good drivers than there are competitive seats. Given this inefficiency, Preece’s grip on a semi-competitive Cup seat feels tentative at best.

After an unimpressive rookie year, the 29-year old (he’s not as young as you may think) was off to an abhorrent start to the season, and sat 35th in points after three races. At Phoenix, he finally scored a top-20 (18th), which should help him sleep a little better tonight.

Still, it’s not clear if Preece is a Cup-caliber driver, and he needs to start stringing together solid results if he wants to stay at this level. I’m sorry, but that’s just the reality of the Cup Series, particularly when a driver comes without attached sponsorship. It will be interesting to see what happens to both him and the #37 JTG-Daugherty Chevrolet in 2021.

8. Ross Chastain still can’t buy a finish.

As chairman and CEO of Ross Chastain Is A Cup Champion Hiding In Plain Sight Inc., I’ve been frustrated by his performance as Ryan Newman’s substitute in the #6 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford.

Has the speed been there? Of course, because Chastain always has the speed. But he’s trying too hard and overdriving the car, which has led to incidents and disappointing finishes. Sunday, he was on the verge of a top-10, but got too aggressive racing with William Byron and Cole Custer and spun out with 12 laps to go.

I’m not selling any Chastain stock. As the old adage goes, it’s easier to slow a driver down than to speed him up. But for the sake of his finishes, Ross needs to take a chill pill and stop getting into these minor incidents. It’s better to bring it home in 11th than bring out a caution and finish outside the top-20.

Secretly, I’m enjoying this. I’m so confident in Chastain’s talent that I’m going to enjoy this brief period in which everyone wonders if he’s overrated. Here’s a hint: he is not, and he’ll rip off a few top-10’s before Newman comes back. This, of course, before stepping into a Chip Ganassi seat in the coming years and competing for wins and championships.

That’s all I got! For this week, at least.

Get well soon, Ryan!