Penn State upsets Michigan, Illinois continues strong play: Big Ten Week in Review (2/12-2/17)

This week in Big Ten basketball, Penn State finally pieced it altogether and pulled off a major upset at home over Michigan, and Illinois has now won five of their last six, including wins over two ranked opponents. Joe Wisekamp also hit a huge buzzer-beater to lift Iowa over Rutgers. Let’s get into the games!

Game Scores & Mini-recaps:

6 Michigan vs. Penn State: Penn State 75, Michigan 69

Penn State built a 13 point halftime lead and fought off a late rally in an upset win over Michigan. Michigan shot 5 percent better than Penn State from the field, but Penn State drew 21 total fouls. Lamar Stevens led Penn State with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Charles Matthews had 24 for the Wolverines.

11 Michigan State vs. 20 Wisconsin: Michigan State 67, Wisconsin 59

Michigan State shot 41 percent from three and picked up another solid conference win over Wisconsin. Cassius Winston had 23 points, six rebounds, and six assists. Kenny Goins and Nick Ward were also in double-figures, and Ethan Happ led Wisconsin with 20 points and 12 rebounds.

12 Purdue vs. 24 Maryland: Maryland 70, Purdue 56

Maryland held the number 12 team in the nation to just 56 points as they picked up another big win. Purdue got 24 points from Carsen Edwards in the loss, but shot a poor 8-of-27. Five Terrapins were in double figures, including Bruno Fernando who had a 12 point, 12 rebound double-double.

Rutgers vs. Northwestern: Rutgers 59, Northwestern 56

Geo Baker and Montez Mathis each had 12 points to lead Rutgers to a home win over Northwestern. Eugene Omoruyi added 11 points and seven rebounds. Vic Law had 17 points, and A.J. Turner had 11 points for Northwestern.

Minnesota vs. Nebraska: Nebraska 62, Minnesota 61

James Palmer Jr. hit two free-throws with a second left as Nebraska survived at home against Minnesota. Palmer Jr. had 24 points on the night, and Glynn Watson Jr. had 19 points. Jordan Murphy led Minnesota with 19 points and 13 rebounds, and Daniel Oturu had 16.

Illinois vs. Ohio State: Illinois 63, Ohio State 56

Ohio State was held to just 36 percent shooting at home as Illinois came into town to stun the Buckeyes and continue their strong play. Trent Frazier and Ayo Dosunmu each had 15 points, and Giorgi Bezhanishvilli had 13 points and seven rebounds. C.J. Jackson had 17 points for Ohio State, and the Wessons combined for 21 points and 10 rebounds.

24 Maryland vs. 6 Michigan: Michigan 65, Maryland 52

Despite Cassius Winston being out, Michigan still played well and got a win over a ranked Maryland team at home. Ignas Brazdeikas, Charles Matthews, and Zavier Simpson all were in double-figures for the Wolverines. Aaron Wiggins led Maryland with 15 points and six boards off of the bench.

Penn State vs. 12 Purdue: Purdue 76, Penn State 64

Purdue bounced back from their poor shooting night last game to shoot 52 percent and get a win over Penn State. Carsen Edwards had 21 points to pace Purdue, and Matt Haarms had 18 points and six rebounds. Lamar Stevens had 18 points and Rasir Bolton had 17 points for the Nittany Lions.

21 Iowa vs. Rutgers: Iowa 71, Rutgers 69

Joe Wisekamp hit an improbable baseline three-pointer off of the glass at the buzzer as Iowa stunned Rutgers in New Jersey. Jordan Bohannon led Iowa with 18 points and five assists, Isaiah Moss had 17, and Tyler Cook had 12 points and seven rebounds. Ron Harper Jr. had 16 for Rutgers, and Eugene Omoruyi had 10 points and 11 boards.

Indiana vs. Minnesota: Minnesota 84, Indiana 63

Jordan Murphy had a huge 23 point, 11 rebound double-double as Minnesota blew out Indiana at home. Gabe Kalscheur also had 20 points, While Aaron Coffey had 18 points, seven assists, and six rebounds. Juwan Morgan led Indiana with 14 points and eight rebounds.

Northwestern vs. Nebraska: Nebraska 59, Northwestern 50

Isaiah Roby had 19 points and 16 rebounds, along with five blocks to pace Nebraska in a win over Nebraska. James Palmer Jr. and Glynn Watson Jr. were also in double figures for the winners. Vic Law had 15 points and Derek Pardon had 13 points and 12 rebounds.

Ohio State vs. 11 Michigan State: Michigan State 62, Ohio State 54

Ohio State was held to just 32 percent shooting on the road as they were blown out by Michigan State. Matt McQuaid had 14 points, and Cassius Winston had 13 points and eight assists for the Spartans. Kaleb Wesson led the Buckeyes with 12 points and nine rebounds.

Standings & Rankings:

7 Michigan, 23-3 (12-3)

10 Michigan State, 21-5 (12-3)

15 Purdue, 18-7 (11-3)

24 Maryland, 19-7 (10-5)

21 Iowa, 20-5 (9-5)

22 Wisconsin, 17-8 (9-5)

Minnesota, 17-9 (7-8)

Ohio State, 16-9 (6-8)

Illinois, 10-15 (6-8)

Nebraska, 15-11 (5-10)

Rutgers, 12-13 (5-10)

Indiana, 13-12 (4-10)

Northwestern, 12-13 (3-11)

Penn State, 9-16 (2-12)

 

 

 

 

New York Yankees: Can J.A. make it HAPPen for Bombers in 2019?

New York Yankees, J.A. Happ

(Yes I know, lock me away for this god awful pun…)

One of the New York Yankees‘ primary offseason needs was to fortify their starting pitching. With the tale of two halves for Luis Severino, the UCL injury to Jordan Montgomery, the age and durability of C.C. Sabathia, and the inconsistency of Sonny Gray, the bombers’ rotation saw up and down results throughout 2018. To counter this going into 2019, the Yankees resigned J.A. Happ, who, the Yankees acquired from Toronto at last year’s trade deadline.

2018 Stats (TOR & NYY):

17-6, 3.65 ERA, 31 Starts, 193 SO, 177.2 IP, 1.131 WHIP, 3.4 WAR

Happ started 2018 in Toronto, being named the Opening Day starter in place of Marcus Stroman against the bombers. Fast forward to July, where Happ is sent to the Bronx for prospect Billy McKinney and Brandon Drury. After that, Happ was excellent, posting a 7-0 record and a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts. His luck would run out in Game 1 of the ALDS against Boston, giving up five earned runs in only two innings.

In addition to his strong couple months in the Bronx, Happ had an excellent 2018, posting 193 strikeouts and a 9.8 K/9 Ratio, both career highs. Now he’s back in pinstripes on a two year, $34 million deal, which comes with an option for 2021.

The biggest question with Happ, now 36, is if he can continue to produce as he gets older. For the past few years, he has been continually producing at a high level, culminating with his first ever all-star selection last year. If he can, along with several other pitchers producing similar results, the Yankees could find themselves finally going back to the World Series.

2019 Stat Predictions:

14-6, 3.27 ERA, 30 Starts, 195 SO, 180.1 IP, 1.123 WHIP

Awards Predictions:

All-Star

New York Knicks: Ranking The Top 2019 NBA Draft Prospects

The New York Knicks are very open about drafting Duke superstar, Zion Williamson.

There’s a line in one of my favorite movies of all time, Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” where Heath Ledger’s Joker explains:

“Madness, as you know, is like gravity, all it takes is a little push.”

New York Knicks fans, a lot of you may be just one push away. So allow me to help you. I’ll be updating this list each month, and it will include the top ten prospects with regard to the Knicks. Before we get into the first edition, I want to get a couple things off of my chest.

Okay, I’ll keep this short. First, these new lottery odds are so annoying. The one year the Knicks properly tank, they have just a 14% chance at the first pick.

I understand that we are trying to prevent tanking, but the team with the worst record should have a better chance at the first pick than the fifth pick. Many of these teams aren’t tanking, they just suck.

It’s not like the Knicks or Suns aren’t playing hard or are intentionally sitting their best players. Actually, those same best players are just not all that good.

Second, how unlucky are the Knicks that the year they do properly tank, the draft is essentially a one-man class? This year, if the Knicks don’t end up with the first pick, they will have the choice of several players who would have been selected around the same time as Kevin Knox or Mikal Bridges last year.

If the Knicks had been this bad last season, they would have one of DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr., or Trae Young. Any one of those would be the clear number two in this year’s class and it wouldn’t be close between two and three. Alas.


1. Zion Williamson, F, Duke

Measurements: 6’7, 284; Age: 18
Stats: 22.0 pts (.680/.298/.673), 9.3 trb, 2.3 ast, 2.3 stl, 2.0 blk
Advanced: 42.3 PER, .704 TS%, .703 eFG%, 13.2 OBPM

There’s not much that needs to be said about Zion at this point. He’s a behemoth of a man, a guy who uses his incredible blend of strength and skill to dominate opponents. He’s a once-in-a-generation type of prospect and would fit in perfectly at the four spot in New York.

Zion’s primary strength is just that – his strength. He uses his overwhelming physicality and finishing at the rim to his advantage. Look at this play below, where Zion goes up and snatches the rebound, and then explodes upon his second jump:

What is so intriguing about Zion is his ability in the full court. He’s almost unstoppable in transition, due to the aforementioned strength and an impressive handle for someone his size. On this play Williamson gets a  head of steam and uses a crossover to beat his defender and elevate to the rim:

But Zion doesn’t stop there. His motor also translates to the defensive side of the ball, something that is rare for a top-ranked player. He is a menace as a weak-side defender, consistently spiking shots as the help defender, like the play below:

He certainly is a gambler and will need to learn how to be more patient. His recovery speed is so quick that he sometimes flies by other players. However, that same recovery speed produces some truly ridiculous moments, like this block. When the shooter catches the ball, Zion is in the paint, but ends up swatting it away:

Zion’s biggest concern is his jumper. He shoots just 30% from three and hasn’t shown a consistent shooting touch. He has a bit of a weird form, and it takes him a while to get set. This can be developed, and if he becomes a knockdown shooter, I’m not sure how you stop him.

Zion is clearly the best prospect, and we can only pray the lottery ping-pong balls go our way so we can get our hands on him.


2. R.J. Barrett, G/F, Duke

Measurements: 6’7, 202; Age: 18
Stats: 22.7 pts (.447/.338/.669), 7.2 trb, 3.7 ast, 1.0 stl, 2.9 tov
Advanced: 23.8 PER, .531 TS%, .504 eFG%, 4.4 WS

R.J. Barrett came into the season as the number one high school prospect and was projected to be the first pick in the draft. He has largely disappointed NBA evaluators, mainly because of his inefficient play and inconsistent defense and decision-making.

However, it feels like we have ragged on him too much, and he’s still a terrific prospect with elite tools that can absolutely be a star at the next level.

Barrett’s biggest strength is his ability in transition. Like Zion, he’s nearly impossible to stop when he gets a full head of steam. In the clip below, Barrett gets the steal, and is able to hang in the air to make the bucket:

https://twitter.com/BBallSociety_/status/1095535783140823040

Barrett’s shooting has been a topic of concern as well, as he is shooting just 34% from three. However, he has upped that in the last month. Barrett had an impressive 6-10 effort against Virginia in which he hit his first five shots from deep. It seems like he may be able to hover around the 32-38 range in the NBA, which would be completely fine.

He is frustrating because he makes so many small mistakes, be it a poor decision on a drive or lazy ball handling. These things happen far too often for RJ, and he’ll have to be locked in at all times in the NBA. In the clip below, Barrett gets sloppy with his dribble, and the defender easily capitalizes:

https://twitter.com/BBallSociety_/status/1095513966313385985

Barrett is also oft-criticized for his defense. A lot of it comes because he plays next to Zion Williamson, who plays fantastic defense. However, Barrett has too many plays that he either takes off or falls asleep on. You’ll see RJ get backdoor cut, like the clip below, or you’ll see him out of position after missing on a gamble. It’d be nice to see him give maximum effort because he could be a top-notch NBA defender with his physical ability.

Barrett would fit right in on the Knicks at the shooting guard spot next to Dennis Smith Jr. or a potential free agent point guard. He could be a really nice, productive piece on a championship-level team if his aggression is harnessed. While he has his weaknesses, Barrett gets a lot of undeserved hate, and I still think he’s a very solid prospect, albeit a flawed one.


3. Jarrett Culver, G/F, Texas Tech – 6’5, 200

Measurements: 6’5, 195; Age: 20
Stats: 17.7 pts (.505/.330/.672), 6.2 trb, 3.6 ast, 1.1 stl, 2.9 tov
Advanced: 24.8 PER, .577 TS%, 26.6 AST%, 2.4 DWS

Jarrett Culver is one of the highest risers in this year’s class. He showed glimpses last season, but has taken over as the go-to guy for Texas Tech this season. Culver is a very well-rounded prospect, who checks almost all the boxes.

He has lost a little bit of steam after a bit of a slump after the new year, but Culver is equipped with all the tools necessary to be an All-Star at the next level. However, he is also a player who can be a solid role player from day one, so he may entice Scott Perry and Steve Mills if they think the Knicks will be a playoff team after Free Agency.

Culver’s biggest strength is versatility. He is able to slide between positions, and can drive to the basket as well as shoot the long ball no matter where he is playing. Here’s his highlights from a non-conference tilt with Zion, RJ, and Duke played at our beloved MSG earlier in the year. Watch how he is able to score from all three levels:

https://twitter.com/BBallSociety_/status/1076149984276475904

Another aspect of Culver’s game is his vision and passing ability, which is especially impressive given that he plays on the wing. Despite averaging just 3.6 assists per game, his 26.0 assist percentage is high for the position, and he consistently shows flashes that make me think he could easily be a secondary playmaker in the league. This clip from NBA Draft Junkies does a great job highlighting that ability:

Oh, and this dime:

One of the main concerns (though the Duke video doesn’t show it) is Culver’s shooting. His mechanics are slightly unorthodox, and he isn’t a great free throw shooter at 67%. Here’s a good look at those mechanics, and it’s easy to see why some evaluators are concerned:

Culver also has a pretty loose handle, and will occasionally make bad decisions, which led to 2.9 turnovers per game this year. He’ll either force passes, or have the ball poked away because that dribble is high and not tight. Some of that is illustrated in the clips below:

I’m a huge Culver fan, and I think he fits really well on the Knicks. Having a wing who can initiate the offense would be very valuable, and I’m already drooling over the thought of a Culver and Mitchell Robinson pick and roll. Culver can be a versatile playmaker and defender at first, and ultimately develop into a nightly triple-double threat who’s the perfect complementary piece. He is firmly at the third spot right now, and could easily jump Barrett over the next month.


 4. Cam Reddish, G/F, Duke

Measurements: 6’8, 218; Age: 18
Stats: 14.0 pts (.368/.348/.789), 3.3 trb, 2.1 ast, 2.0 stl, 2.6 tov
Advanced: 16.3 PER, .519 TS%, 4.0 STL%, 1.6 DWS

Cam Reddish came into the season as the third-ranked player coming out of high school. He, along with teammates Williamson and Barrett, were supposed to be unstoppable. For the most part they have been, but Reddish has failed to live up to expectations, and has functioned as the floor spacer for Duke.

Many thought he would be a secondary or even primary playmaker, but his disappointing assist numbers have limited his potential in that regard. He has been almost the opposite of a point forward, instead becoming a 3-and-D player who hasn’t shot the three all that well.

However, it’s clear that Reddish’ shooting is a strength despite his poor numbers. He’s shot well from deep over the past month, and it’s particularly impressive how he shoots while moving. He profiles as a potential knockdown shooter at the next level, and he is a player whose potential is more important than his production. The video below is from his most recent game, one where he scored 16 points over the final 9:40. Watch how effortlessly he shoots when he isn’t fully set:

https://twitter.com/MusikFan4Life25/status/1095590151164780544

Reddish has also been able to showcase his defensive ability while not having to shoulder a heavy offensive load. He is incredibly long, and has impressive defensive instincts. I think not having to carry the offense has really helped Reddish on the other side of the ball. He is now a plus defender who also has a knack for stealing the ball from opponents. In the clip below, Reddish executes a textbook defensive play on a tough player, Virginia’s Jerome:

https://twitter.com/RSportscenter/status/1096890934057463808

Where Reddish has struggled however, is inside the three-point arc. He has really been underwhelming as a finisher and has lacked elite-level explosion. In the clip below, Reddish puts up a wild shot. He doesn’t explode over the defender, and he is unable to maneuver his way around the defender. This is a microcosm of Reddish’ season so far:

He’s certainly been much-maligned this year, and for good reason given the pre-season expectations. However, I really like Reddish, and he has shown flashes that make you think he can be a star when he is on his own in the NBA. This play below is one of those such flashes, and it encapsulates his potential as a dynamic wing:

https://twitter.com/ASportsJones/status/1095509833254617091

Reddish will be an option for New York at any spot outside of one in the draft, and if he continues his upward trajectory, could certainly move up this board with a good tournament. His shooting is why he’s above guys like De’Andre Hunter and Ja Morant, because I think that is what the Knicks need badly right now. Cam could shine in New York, first as a versatile 3-and-D wing, and eventually a playmaking star.


5. De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia

Measurements: 6’7, 225; Age: 21
Stats: 14.7 pts (.533/.451/.779), 5.3 trb, 2.2 ast, 0.6 stl, 1.2 tov
Advanced: 25.0 PER, .623 TS%, 7.5 OBPM, 4.8 WS

De’Andre Hunter is and has been one of the safer prospects in the class. He’s had a very solid, if unspectacular, season for the fourth-ranked ‘Hoos. While Virginia basketball doesn’t typically scream “athletes,” Hunter is a very good athlete who has a pretty high floor even if he has a lower ceiling than some.

Hunter profiles as a better version of last year’s tenth overall pick Mikal Bridges. He came into the season as a top ten prospect, and has for the most part solidified his status. While Hunter likely would have been selected around the tenth pick in last year’s draft, he’ll be helped by the lack of enticing prospects around him this year, and I like his potential fit on the Knicks.

Hunter’s best trait is his defensive ability. He’s long and versatile, and while he only averages 0.6 steals and 0.2 blocks per game, Hunter has consistently locked down opposing number one options, and anchored Virginia’s top-ranked defense. This video from Mike does a great job of highlighting Hunter’s ability on the defensive side of the ball:

Another aspect that Hunter has really improved upon is his shooting. While the .451 percentage from three is a bit fluky (he’s only 23 of 51 on the year), Hunter has clearly improved his shooting and possesses smooth mechanics. Another good sign is his .779 free throw percentage, which usually is a good indicator of success from beyond the arc in the NBA. Spencer Pearlman on Twitter did a great job of breaking down this improvement:

Hunter isn’t an elite athlete, and so that hurts his ceiling. He’s also got a slow release, and tends to be a straight line driver and struggles moving laterally. There is some belief that Hunter will never develop an aspect of his game that is truly elite. I would argue that his on-ball, but more specifically team, defense is already elite, and that he can be a dominant defender at the next level. Here’s a clip of that shooting form, as you can see that it is on the slower side:

Overall, I think Hunter comes into play for the Knicks if they fall out of the top five. He’s a safe prospect, but also one that could feasibly score 15-20 points a night for the majority of his career. He may end up as a Tayshaun Prince-like player who has limited offensive ability but excels on the defensive end. The Knicks may be enticed by his ability to contribute from the get-go, and having defensive-minded wings is never a bad thing, especially next to the offensive-minded Kevin Knox. 


6. Ja Morant, G, Murray State

Measurements: 6’3, 175; Age: 19
Stats: 24.3 pts (.497/.325/.808), 5.4 trb, 10.1 ast, 2.0 stl, 5.2 tov
Advanced: 31.6 PER, .606 TS%, 53.2 AST%, 6.1 WS

And now we get to the most polarizing player in the draft in Morant. The small-school star who has taken the college basketball world by storm with his highlights checks in at number six.

Morant had an impressive freshman year at Murray despite being a little-known recruit, but no one could have seen this year’s offensive explosion coming. He’s carried the Racers to a 20-4 record with highlight-reel dunks and flashy passes.

When you look at Morant, the first thing that jumps out is his ridiculous athleticism. He’s a high-flyer who has no problem putting you on a poster. Morant is always looking to push the ball up the court and glide to the rim. His finishing ability is just average although his leaping ability indicates he could be an elite finisher at the next level. Here’s a couple of those earth-shattering slams for your viewing pleasure:

And an appropriate reaction from ESPN’s Zach Lowe:

Morant’s other standout ability is his passing and vision. He leads the NCAA in assists and assist percentage by a wide margin. He truly has special vision, and could easily average ten assists a game at the next level. What’s most impressive is Morant’s ability to throw every type of pass, be it one-handed, a lob, or a regular chest. This video from Zach below is a great look at that special passing ability:

After watching these clips, and knowing what you do about Morant, you’re probably thinking that this kid is Westbrook, right? Well, slow your roll. He’s got some pretty glaring concerns, most obviously his turnovers. 5.2 a game with a 20.5 turnover percentage is almost unheard of, and he’ll have to fix that at the next level. Granted, some of the turnovers come just because he has a 33.6% usage rate, and the ball is in his hands so much. But, he has shown a propensity to make poor decisions and lazy passes. In the clip below, Morant is the inbound man and simply throws it away:

The other extremely frustrating aspect of Morant’s game, and a big reason why I have him lower than most, is his defense. He has all the tools and plays in the Ohio Valley Conference, and yet he is consistently lazy and out of position on defense. Many of the guys he is guarding won’t sniff the G-League, but Morant is either unable or just doesn’t want to stick with his man. Spencer Pearlman does a great job of highlighting his defense, including his maddening laziness:

The biggest wildcard with Morant that I don’t think anyone has a definitive answer on is his shooting. His percentage isn’t great, and he has a weird form that may not translate. However, he shoots it well from the free throw line (81%), and has had games where he hits multiple times from deep. The clips below illustrate the contrast, and why he’s so hard to decipher as a shooter:

I may get some criticism for having him this low, and he might have been higher on a non-Knicks ranking. However, I just can’t get past the incredibly inconsistent defense, and the high turnovers. Plus, where does he fit in New York? If the Knicks get top-level free agents, they won’t want a ball-dominant point guard who struggles to shoot. If not, the selection would push Smith Jr. to the bench, and maybe kick Frank Ntilikina out of the lineup. I wouldn’t be upset at this pick, but I also think there are players who have significantly less bust potential that are also a better fit for the Knicks.


7. Romeo Langford, G/F, Indiana

Measurements: 6’6, 215; Age: 18
Stats: 17.5 pts (.461/.268/.724), 5.2 trb, 2.4 ast, 0.8 stl, 2.2 tov
Advanced: 21.5 PER, .503 eFG%, 4.4 OBPM, 3.4 WS

Yet another prospect who has failed to live up to what were unrealistic expectations, Langford would be a good fit on the Knicks. He was Indiana’s prodigal son, born and bred in New Albany, IN. He scored over 3000 high school points in the basketball-crazed state.

Romeo was hailed as IU’s savior, but has instead been just good. Because he was hyped up so much, there’s a perception that he isn’t a good prospect. Langford hasn’t lived up to his sky-high expectations, but he is still a very good prospect.

Romeo Langford’s best ability is his finishing at the rim. For a tall guard, his layup package is incredibly impressive. While he isn’t very explosive, Langford does a great job manipulating his body to avoid defenders.  He is able to beat several defenders for a tough, clutch finish at the rim:

Langford has also been able to provide offense with his cutting ability. While that may sound dumb, Romeo has been an elite cutter, getting to the open spot at the right time. It’s not often you see that out of a top prospect, and it highlights his awareness and feel for the game. Spencer Pearlman does a fantastic job of highlighting this in the video below:

But Langford’s primary concern is his long, mid-range, and free throw shooting. There’s no way around it, Romeo has simply been dreadful shooting the ball this year. I don’t have a great video to show, so I’ll use this as my example:

Yikes. Romeo has also struggled to create separation, and it’s clear that he’s a good, but not great athlete.  He hasn’t been able to create at the level required for the NBA. If he can’t find ways to beat college-level athletes, there’s no way he will against the athletes of the league. Below is a clip against Duke where he is unable to create separation and settles for a contested jumper:

Langford has been killed by fans and evaluators alike, but I think if this guy had any kind of jumper he’d be in my top three, and I’m a big fan of his game. I think he fits perfectly at the two for the Knicks. From the jump he could provide impactful finishing and defense on a contending team, and could easily develop a jumper. If he doesn’t ever develop a jumper he won’t have a big impact, but I’m betting he does.


8. Brandon Clarke, F/C, Gonzaga

Measurements: 6’8, 215; Age: 22
Stats: 16.8 pts (.683/.364/.667), 8.2 trb, 1.8 ast, 1.3 stl, 3.1 blk
Advanced: 37.3 PER, .693 TS% ,138.4 ORTG, 6.1 WS

Brandon Clarke came into the season off the NBA radar for the most part. He was coming to Gonzaga from San Jose State and was very old for a junior at 23. He’s been a huge contributor for the third-ranked Zags, and has emerged as a likely lottery pick in the 2019 NBA draft.

Clarke is a very interesting prospect, and one who I think is worth looking at if the Knicks fall outside the top five. He’s had a great year for Gonzaga, and may continue to rise as the Zags make their tournament run.

Clarke’s biggest strength is his defensive ability. At 23, he is a very wise and cerebral player who is always in the right spot. He’s been the best shot-blocker in the nation this season, and has showed timing and reaction time, as well as the athletic ability to be an elite NBA defender. He’s been a menace as Gonzaga’s rim protector, and he also has the production to back it up. This video from The Stepien shows his shot-blocking prowess, as well as other strengths (and weaknesses):

Clarke is also developing an offensive game. While that may be a bit concerning given his advanced age, he’s shown flashes of a potential 10-15 point scorer who would also be excellent on defense. Clarke has excellent leaping ability and will be able to be put-back specialist. The video below is a sequence against Duke where he demonstrates his shot-blocking, rim-running, and finishing ability. The second video shows Clarke performing an advanced spin move and getting the bucket.

Clarke is still developing in offense as he has little to no creativity on that end. He relies heavily on his face-up game which is very strong, but hesitates to shoot the jumper and is dependent on others to set him up. Clarke will have to develop a more consistent jumper, as well as the confidence to let it go.

He also has his struggles on the defensive end. Clarke is a bit stiff, and while his timing and instinctual ability is elite, he struggles at times with keeping up with guards. Pearlman notes in the video below those same concerns:

Though Clarke is a bit raw, and also 22 years old, I am a huge fan of his game and think he can be a really nice player at the next level. I’m not sure if he has All-Star upside; his offensive game would REALLY have to improve. However, his defense, and finishing can be an asset immediately, and when he and Mitchell Robinson share the court, opposing offenses would have a tough time getting their shot off. For any doubters out there, I leave you with this:


9. Darius Garland, G, Vanderbilt

Measurements: 6’2, 175; Age: 18
Stats: 16.2 pts (.537/.478/.750), 3.8 trb, 2.6 ast, 0.8 stl, 3.0 tov
Advanced: 23.1 PER, .657 TS% , 4.9 OBPM, 24.4 AST%

Darius Garland is the prototypical point guard who is adept both as a scorer and passer. He only played in five games for Vanderbilt this year after a torn meniscus ended his season. Because he hasn’t been playing, he has been unable to move up boards, so he’ll likely get drafted in the 5-10 range.

If the Knicks want a true point guard for whatever reason, and fall outside the top three, Garland could be the guy. Though he’s fallen off of the radar a little but because of his injury, Garland is still a really slid NBA prospect.

His primary strength is his offensive ability. While not an explosive player, Garland shoots the ball well and is an incredibly crafty scorer around the basket. In the video below, his shooting and finishing is on full display. Note that he isn’t explosive, but is still productive: 

Another impressive aspect of his game his the playmaking ability he flashed and elite ball handling ability that was on display at Vanderbilt. His handle is probably the best in the class; he keeps the ball tight at all times and is confident with it in his hands. The playmaking production isn’t there, but as Spencer Pearlman’s video below shows, Garland has a lot of potential:

Garland isn’t perfect, though. His biggest weakness is his tendency to make poor decisions with the ball. He turns the ball over quite a bit, and he is susceptible to taking bad shots. If he is going to be a starter in the league, he’ll have to lower the bad decisions and become more efficient.

The other place Garland has to improve is his finishing around the rim. Because of his slight frame and lack of explosion, he occasionally struggles once he gets in the air around the basket. Garland has to work harder just to get to the rim, so he really has to become an elite finisher at the next level.

This video (6:05) from DraftExpress and ESPN does a great job of highlighting those holes in his game:

Ultimately, it’s unlikely Garland becomes a Knick because they aren’t hurting for a point guard and they will have a pick higher than where he would fall. However, if Dennis Smith begins to struggle or if the Knicks fall to pick six or seven, Garland should certainly be in play. While he likely won’t jump up over the next month because he’s injured, I’ll say this. As of right now, Garland and Morant are neck-and-neck for me. Garland’s shooting and handle are so impressive, and I think he’s become very underrated because of the torn meniscus.


10. Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas

Measurements: 6’11, 220; Age: 18
Stats: 10.3 pts (.745/.000/.734), 5.2 trb, 0.3 ast, 0.6 stl, 2.6 blk
Advanced: 28.3 PER, .751 TS% , 13.3 BPM, 7.8 DBPM

Jaxson Hayes has been perhaps the biggest riser in this year’s class. Going into the season he was a four star recruit who was way off of the NBA map. Hayes has emerged as a key cog for Shaka Smart’s Longhorns, and he’s been one of the lone bright spots in a disappointing season for Texas.

Hayes’ best strength is his incredible athleticism. Standing at 6’11 with a 7’4 wingspan, he is a rim-runner who is also a skilled defensive big. In the video from NBA Draft Junkies below, you see that athleticism on full display, with Hayes resembling Mitchell Robinson in the pick and lob offense:

Hayes also has show really impressive defensive skills. He has top-end recovery speed and length, and has displayed advanced defensive positioning or a kid his age. The video below shows two big-time defensive plays from Hayes, one where he has to recover and one difficult blocked shot:

Unfortunately, he has shown no ability to shoot jumpers, despite making 58 of 79 free throw attempts so far. Hayes has yet to attempt a three-point shot, and almost all (66%) of his makes came on dunks.

He also needs to be more physical, and that lack of physicality shows in his low rebounding numbers. At just 5.3 per game and a 13.1% rebound rate, he has to do better. This can certainly improve, as we have seen with Mitchell Robinson over the course of the season.

Hayes is a very similar player to current center Mitchell Robinson. That may dissuade the front office from snagging him if they fall outside the top three. However, being able to rotate two rim-running and shot blocking big men in and out would be extremely valuable. Players like Dennis Smith and Allonzo Trier have shown an ability to throw lob passes, something Hayes would feast on. If New York isn’t in the top five, Hayes would be a solid pick with high upside.


With just 17 weeks until the NBA Draft, it’s time to get excited. Please leave feedback in the comments, and let me know your top ten. The Prospect Rankings will be updated just ahead of the NCAA tournament, complete with new information and reports. Stay tuned for Vol. 2, and let the tank roll on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York Giants: Who Will Start At Cornerback In 2019?

The New York Giants need help at the cornerback position. Starting cornerback Janoris Jenkins has regressed significantly over the past two seasons, and the other players on the roster are young and unproven.

The Giants can not call themselves competitors if they trot B.W. Webb back on the field as a starter in 2019. He was the 77th ranked cornerback in 2018 according to Pro Football Focus. Webb might be most remembered as a Giant for almost blowing the game against the Chicago Bears with multiple pass interference penalties and a touchdown given up.

Janoris Jenkins is not even a lock to make the roster. He could become a cap casualty in 2019. He has regressed to an average cornerback since his dominant season in 2016. The Giants might try to make upgrades (as they should), however, there are not a ton of options out there.

Despite all this, the Giants might have two of their starters on their roster already.

Grant Haley

The slot cornerback position seems to be set for the Giants’ future. As an undrafted free agent out of Penn State, Grant Haley played a solid rookie season for the Giants in 2018. Haley actually outplayed Janoris Jenkins in 2018 from a PFF grading standpoint.

In 2018, Grant Haley posted a 69.3 overall Pro Football Focus grade. That was considered an above average grade by PFF. Janoris Jenkins’ grade was only a 68.0 in 2018. Grant Haley was very impressive in the slot in 2018.

Grant Haley played in 10 games in 2018. In those 10 games, Haley was a contributor in run defense with his 33 tackles and 3 tackles for loss. He also added 2 passes defended.

Considering how much Jenkins gets payed, it would be cost efficient for the Giants to cut ties with Janoris and get younger at the cornerback position with Haley and some other young guys.

Sam Beal

Who is Sam Beal? He’s the best prospect to enter the league’s supplemental draft in a long time. Maybe ever. – Matt Miller

Another young guy who has a good chance of starting in 2019 is Sam Beal. Sam was selected by the Giants in the third round of the 2018 supplemental draft. He was not in the 2018 NFL Draft because Beal chose to stay at school and finish earning his degree.

After his junior season, “many NFL evaluators told agents and media members that Beal was likely a top-100 pick.” Beal is a very talented cornerback who had 2 interceptions and 10 passes defended as a junior. He was a highly coveted prospect in the supplemental draft, and the Giants were lucky enough to select him in the third round.

The Giants will be without a third round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft because they selected Beal, however, they are confident he will be worth the pick. With top 100 draft talent, and 1st round projection by some scouts, Sam Beal was an absolute steal for the Giants.

Unfortunately, Sam Beal missed the entire 2018 NFL season with a shoulder injury. But due to the lack of talent at the position for the Giants, Beal will likely be placed into the starting role in 2019. He has great size at 6’1″ and 185 pounds, along with great athleticism like his 4.40s 40-time.

Sam Beal has all the traits necessary to be a great NFL player. If he can remain healthy in 2019, Beal will start for the Giants and could progress into a great cornerstone player for the franchise’s future.

New York Giants: Should The Offensive Line Or Pass Rush Be Addressed First?

New York Giants, Eli Manning

With New York Giants veteran quarterback Eli Manning still at the helm, the question of who to address – the offensive line or pass rush – should be easy. The immobile passer requires a steady line to efficiently run the offense, as he’s seen his confidence take a dip due to lack of protection.

In 2018, new general manager Dave Gettleman appropriated resources toward the offensive line, signing Nate Solder, Patrick Omameh, and drafting Will Hernandez. Omameh ended up being the odd-man out, failing to make an impact on an upgraded line. Both Solder and Hernandez proved to adjust well to the Giants’ offense.

The New York Giants need to upgrade right tackle:

I would anticipate that a right tackle is drafted or signed in free agency to help bolster the right side of the line. If Gettleman and successfully improve the unit, Manning could finally have enough time to progress through his reads. But, it seems as if 2019 will be Eli’s final season, which makes having a good line even more of a priority.

Allowing a young quarterback to start with good protection will only help his confidence build – look what happened to Josh Rosen with the worst ranked OL in the league last season. He threw three more INTs (14) than touchdowns (11).

But is the offensive line more important than the pass rush at this point?

You could make the argument that the Giants’ pass rush needs significant help, after a season where they recorded 30 sacks, ranking 31st in the NFL. If the Giants are in a position to grab a solid O-lineman or D-lineman in the second round, they should go with the offensive side of the ball.

Defensive coordinator James Bettcher uses the linebackers as blitzers more than most, which makes the significance of an edge-rusher much less valuable. He likes his interior lineman to also have a pass-rush ability, and with B.J. Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson manning the nose-tackle position, he doesn’t need too much help on the line. Additionally, Olivier Vernon missed a solid portion of the season but managed to make the Pro Bowl with seven sacks and 30 tackles in 11 games.

It’s possible the Giants go after a pass-rusher in free agency, but I expect them to retain Vernon for the remainder of his contract instead of cutting him. He has an out this year that would cost the Giants $8 million in dead-cap if he were cut, which is far too much to give up. They would only retain $11.5 million of the $19.5 he is scheduled to make in 2019.

New York Yankees Hoping Starting Pitcher Can Dominate Second Half Of 2019

New York Yankees, Jordan Montgomery

The New York Yankees have a solid starting rotation in J.A. Happ, Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, and CC Sabathia. While the five included will set the tone for the Bombers, they will receive reinforcements in the second half of the season.

Starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery underwent Tommy John surgery last May, missing the remainder of 2018 and hedging his bets on the season ahead. These days, most pitchers suffer this type of injury, returning to full health with about a year of rehab.

The Yankeed will need Montgomery in the second half:

The inevitable fatigue of pitchers usually sets in right after the All-Star break, and it will be no different for the Yanks in 2019. Montgomery will be much needed with veteran CC Sabathia featuring in the lineup – he’s sure to see various complications with his health and recent heart surgery.

Jordan stated in regard to his injury, according to ESPN:

“I’ve got four more months to get [the left elbow] as strong as I can and try to work on anything I want to: my mechanics, clean those out, get my legs stronger,” Montgomery said. “Just to get in better shape and come back a whole new pitcher is the plan.”

What should we expect for the starter?

As stated before, a lot of pitchers suffer from this injury – Happ went through the process as well, finishing 2018 7-0 with the Yankees with a 2.69 ERA. Montgomery made 29 appearances in his rookie season, winning 9 games, striking out 144 batters and earning a 3.88 ERA. That’s a solid debut for a rookie pitcher. His second season, he was 2-0 with a 3.62 ERA.

Improving upon his rookie year, despite a small sample size, provides optimism for the future. The lefty will provide immediate support upon his return – hopefully, Severino and Happ, the Yankees’ top two pitchers, can remain healthy and efficient. Severino struggled after the All-Star break due to tipped pitches, but a refinement in his technique should be able to eradicate that issue.

I would expect Montgomery to ease Sabathia’s work-load as the No. 5 starter in the rotation but act as a No. 6 man in the unit as well. Most teams don’t have a 6-man rotation, which indicates the quality/talent on the Yankees in regard to pitching.

 

 

New York Yankees Should Consider Using Slugger As Leadoff Hitter

The New York Yankees have several options to choose from in regard to a leadoff hitter in 2019, but the safe route would be either Aaron Hicks or Brett Gardner.

Hicks is an average batter, slashing .248/.366/.467 last season, but he performed well in certain categories, racking up 90 walks and 27 homers – it was the second-best season he’s ever had getting on base. Utilizing him as the leadoff would certainly be a good idea, but what if the Yankees chose to move him down to the No. 2 spot?

Just to be clear, I don’t expect Brett Gardner to make many appearances in the No. 1 spot, but rather at No. 10. His hitting has dropped off significantly in recent years and will likely be used as a rotational/leader piece to improve the team. His playoff experience is essential for a roster featuring a lot of youth in important positions – outfield, first-base, second-base, third-base, and catcher.

The New York Yankees should consider their slugger:

What if the Bombers put Aaron Judge in the No. 1 spot in the lineup?

Last season, he performed well at No. 2, but imagine the intimidation factor he presents if leading off? His home run rate is far above Hicks or Gardner’s, which could put the Yanks at an advantage if he can hit a few long balls at the beginning of games.

My concern would be the consistency and flow of the lineup, as manager Aaron Boone seemed to prefer a heavy hitting core (No. 2-5) than diversifying the hitters throughout the order.

The Yankees can certainly try this idea out, as it will either prove to work or they can go back to their original plan. Judge has a team-high .919 OPS which might indicate potential success in the leadoff position but having him start a five-batter string of sluggers certainly doesn’t hurt either.

Additional information:

While Boone has left the leadoff hitter spot open for change, we can’t deny the success Hicks has had there in the past. At No. 1 he slashed .276/.372/.585 and had 11 homers. He racked up 4.28 pitches per plate appearance in 2018, finishing as the most efficient leadoff hitter on the team. His patience at the plate and ability to make contact have earned him the first crack come the start of the regular season.