Wednesday, August 26, 2015
It was a "good news, bad news” summer for the good ole Knickerbockers, with the bad news being a little clearer than the good.
To start with the obvious bad news, go no further than the draft. After the nightmare season, they inexplicably went on a winning streak near the season’s end to give up the worst record, which with a little bad luck resulted in picking outside of the top 3 in the draft and missing out on prized prospects Towns or Russell.
Much to my disappointment, the Knicks ended up drafting Kristaps Porizgis over more known commodities like Justice Winslow, or physical specimens more suited for today’s NBA like Emmanuel Mudiay. At the time I believed Porizgis was the classic European prospect who gains too much momentum during the pre-draft hype and who will eventually and inevitably become a bust, while the players behind him turn into All Stars. However, after watching him during summer league play, I have quickly come around to seeing him as the savior of the Knicks and the next great European player, even though Phil Jackson recently compared him to Shawn Bradley in what strangely seemed an attempt at a compliment.
With the Knicks’ history, though, it seems more likely than not that he will be out of the league in three years while Justice Winslow becomes a Paul Peirce/Jimmy Butler/Kahwi Leonard hybrid superstar and Emmanuel Mudiay becomes the next great, physical point guard, unstoppable in transition and the pick and roll a la Russell Westbrook or John Wall. However, I maintain a cautious optimism that he will develop into a great player, with a very unique skill set.
The Knicks somehow were also able to turn Tim Hardway Jr. into a 1st round pick which they used on Jerian Grant, which feels like borderline highway robbery and a very underrated and positive move from Phil Jackson. This could turn out to be the steal of the draft and Phil Jackson’s best move as president.
Free agency was another good news, bad news situation. The bad news was that they missed out on all the top-level free agents. The good news is that the signed real life, legit NBA players, something they were severely lacking in last season. Robin Lopez over the past couple seasons has turned into a legit NBA center who is one of the better defender/rebounding centers in the league. His brother Brook has overshadowed Robin since they came into the league because of Brook’s offensive skills and lottery selection. However, with Brook’s injury history and complete inability to grab a rebound, Robin has transformed into the more valuable Lopez brother.
Kyle O’Quinn is an underrated signing as well. Stuck playing behind Nikola Vucevic in Orlando he never really got to play many minutes, but he is young, big, strong and talented. If you look at his per 36 minutes stats, the guy has averaged 13 and 10 for his career. Given a bigger role this guy has a chance to turn into a very solid player who can play both power forward and center.
Derrick Williams has carried the label bust since he was selected with the 2nd overall pick in the 2011 draft, and deservedly so. To his defense, though, he has played on the Timberwolves and Kings, two organizations that were not exactly models of stability or known for developing talent. The Knicks have been just as bad in recent years, but hopefully with Phil and Derrick Fisher in the second year of their tenure, they can add some stability and confidence to this kid’s life and resurrect his career. He has all the natural talent in the world and is still only 24 years old.
And Aaron Afflalo is just a seasoned vet. The man can shoot, play defense, and bring stability to the locker room, which are three things that the man he is replacing, Tim Hardway Jr., could never figure out.
A lot has been said about whether Carmelo Anthony is a franchise player. I have gone back and forth many times myself. This is the season he has to prove his worth. While this team is nowhere near a championship caliber team, it is in fact a real NBA squad. If Carmelo cannot lead this team to a playoff birth in the East, he deserves every piece of criticism he has ever or will ever receive.
Monday, August 24, 2015
As the older gen in 2gen, I have to say I’ve noticed how really young and really good is the new gen of baseball stars. We are in a golden age of
20-somethings, and most closer to 20 than 30. A list of stars under 25 would of course start with the astonishing Mike Trout – a once-in-a lucky-generation talent – and the nearly as astonishing Bryce Harper, who but for Trout would have been considered the single standout of his era.
And they’re not alone. Without even thinking very hard, a fan can come up with the names of every day players who are anything but everyday: Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson and Maikel Franco. Plus pitchers Gerrit Cole and the Mets tandem of Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. Up the age limit to all of 27, and you can include their fellow Mets ace Matt Harvey.
What accounts for this?
The first obvious thing that comes to mind is the end of the PED (performance enhancing drugs, for the uninitiated) era. With steroids out of the picture, careers no longer stretch into a player’s late 30s and even early 40s. Players once again begin to age in their early 30s, with the predictable decline in performance and stats. Once again, baseball is “same as it ever was.”
But all this really does is create more room and opportunity for younger players. It doesn’t assure that so many will be so good so young. For that, I think we have to look to a few other things. Better teaching and coaching in youth baseball is a good place to start, and a good thing for baseball. But there’s another factor, which is not quite so unambiguously good: the rise of year-round commitments to baseball as a young athlete’s single sport, beginning at a very young age.
Yes, this leads to the development of an astonishing skill set and a baseball precociousness. But it may also be the single most important factor in the rise of young arms needing Tommy John surgery. There’s a consensus emerging among the doctors treating these young arms that their elbows may already be fraying and in danger before they even sign their first contracts. John Smoltz, in his Hall of Fame entrance speech this summer, joined a growing bandwagon in counseling parents and coaches against having their talented young kids throw 12 months a year, as is too often the case today. It’s telling that both deGrom and Harvey have already had Tommy John surgeries.
So where does one come out on all this? I think there’s a fairly easy answer. I’m as delighted as any fan to watch the amazing athleticism and incredible skills of these young players, and the endless parade of pitchers who can throw 95 miles per hour. But, and this is the dad in me speaking out, I’m not convinced those skills would be much diminished in the long run by giving young kids a few months a year off, the same as professional baseball will do for them if they’re lucky enough to make it that far.