Inside the process of Aaron Wiggins’ decision to stay in the NBA Draft

Fly, check-in, rest, eat, watch basketball, sleep, COVID-19 testing, workout, play basketball, run to the airport, repeat.

The past three weeks have been a blur for Maryland wingman Aaron Wiggins. Save for the COVID-19 testing, and it’s a routine he has dreamed of as a child.

“It’s always been a dream to become an NBA basketball player,” Wiggins told Empire Sports Media on Wednesday before he was picked up by a Phoenix Suns staff to take him to his eighth NBA pre-Draft workout.

Aside from the Suns, Wiggins has already worked out with the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, New Orleans Pelicans, Houston Rockets and the Toronto Raptors. Michael Whitaker of Next Sports told Empire Sports Media that his client is scheduled to have nine more workouts before the NBA Draft on July 29.

Usually, the pre-draft workout he attended has about six prospects go on through drills and scrimmages. Depending on the team, they usually take them out to dinner the night before the workout. If not, he settles with room service back in the hotel.

Wiggins announced on Tuesday that he would forego his remaining college eligibility to try his luck in this year’s NBA Draft. While he could have returned to a stronger Maryland team with a reloaded roster ready to go on a deep run in the NCAA tournament next year, Wiggins felt it was the right time to make the big jump.

“I just really went with my gut [feel],” Wiggins said. “I made the decision, and I’m happy with the decision I made. My family has my back. My coach (Mark Turgeon) understands, and I thought the time was right.”

The positive feedback he received in those workouts and his strong showing in both the G League Elite Camp and the Draft Combine have factored into his decision. He sought advice from his friend and high school teammate Jaylen Hoard (Oklahoma City’s two-way player) and former Terrapins Kevin Huerter and Bruno Fernando, who play for the Hawks. Then he sat down with his parents, listened to his adviser, and talked to his college coach.

“I’ve got different perspectives and opinions on the entire process, so I think I’ve done a pretty good job of handling all of it. I appreciate all those advice,” Wiggins said.

The 22-year old guard finished his junior season with the Terrapins on a strong note, averaging 18.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game, and shot 40.3% from three-point range over his final 10 games. He saved his best for last when he exploded for a career-high 27 points against Alabama in the second round of the NCAA tournament. In that game, he showcased his full package hitting 11 of 17 shots, including 5 of 8 from deep aside from collecting six rebounds, three assists, and two steals.

Wiggin’s game is as diverse as his personality.

“He’s very talented,” Keith Gatlin, Wiggins’ high school coach, said in a phone interview. “He did acting and he was in the choir. [Aaron] was a very diverse young man.”

Serena Wiggins, a high school teacher, made sure Aaron and his four siblings grew up well-rounded. All of Serena’s kids played at least two instruments. A young Aaron Wiggins took piano and trombone.

But basketball remained a big part of his childhood despite having other extra-curricular activities.

“I have been playing basketball since I can hold a basketball,” Wiggins said.

He grew up idolizing the late Kobe Bryant though he never met him in person. Inspired by Bryant’s scoring instincts and forged by his musical and acting activities, showmanship and performing on the big stage became second nature to him. 

In his final two years in high school, Wiggins played in the state championship with Wesleyan Christian Academy after his transfer from Grimsley High. He was named to the All-State selection and capped off his senior year with a co-MVP trophy in the SC30 Selected Showcase, the Stephen Curry-branded all-star event in California featuring some of the country’s best juniors and seniors. Wiggins went 6-for-10 from 3-point range, scoring 20 points to help his team to a blowout win.

“I didn’t realize that [NBA] was a goal that I can really reach until maybe in high school when I started to get Division I offers,” Wiggins said.

By the time he transferred to Wesleyan from Grimsley, he was already a 6-5 guard. Gatlin, who was the all-time assists leader in Maryland playing alongside the late Len Bias, knew from the start that Wiggins has the makings of an NBA player.

“When I first got him, he had NBA size, and he can shoot it. I thought he has a prototypical body of an NBA player,” Gatlin said. “He was already skilled.”

What convinced Gatlin that Wiggins is made for the NBA was a summer workout with former Knick Dennis Smith, Jr. and his former Wesleyan players — current Knick Theo Pinson and Montay Brandon, who played for Florida State.

“You knew right there once he got the strength and the speed of the game that he’s going to be a really elite player,” Gatlin said of Wiggins.

But what separated Wiggins from his peers is his great character which led to his basketball rise.

“He worked hard on his game and in the weight room. He just put in the work with his ball-handling and shooting,” Gatlin said. “What I liked most about him is he has the desire to get better.”

A four-star recruit in Maryland, Wiggins was a starter from Day One until Turgeon decided to switch him up with Eric Ayala that paid huge dividends. He ended the season as the top reserve averaging 8.3 points, and shot 41 percent of his 3s in 23.5 minutes. In the following season, he was named the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year after averaging 10.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.4 assists in the Terrapins’ Big Ten title run.

A player of lesser character would have taken the demotion differently. But Wiggins accepted it and embraced the role.

“It worked out pretty well because I ended up winning the Sixth Man of the Year, and we ended up the Big Ten champions. It worked out well for the greater good of the team,” Wiggins said. “I understood that it’s for the betterment of the team.”

That right mindset is what he intends to bring to the next level, knowing that he will need to work his way up again.

“I’m a guy that accepts the role that makes the team better. Whatever is necessary for the team. Whatever the coach believes, I am willing to be that guy and step into that role. I’m a guy who listens and does everything the right way,” he said.

Last season, Wiggins graduated from his bench role and returned to the Terrapins’ starting lineup. He was the team’s second-leading scorer behind Ayala. He averaged 14.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.1 steals while shooting 36 percent from deep on a 25.3 percent usage rate.

As the season went deep, Wiggins emerged as the Terrapins’ best player.

“It was definitely a factor for me in stepping foot and going through the process. I think I finish really strongly, and I’ve earned the opportunity to be able to go into the whole deal,” Wiggins said.

Like his high school and college trajectory, Wiggins gradually improved his draft stock from the G League Elite Camp to the Draft Combine. His strong play has generated buzz among scouts and league executives who watched him in the scrimmages.

Needles to say, the feedback he received was so good that emboldened him to decide to keep his name in the Draft.

“Teams have liked me. They love my athleticism, my ability to guard on the defensive end, and everything I bring on offense. They really seem to like what I can bring to their team regarding my positive energy and my talent. I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback and great information,” Wiggins said.

He is also scheduled to attend the massive workout to be co-hosted by the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves this weekend with the same mission.

“My goal is to just continue to prove to the teams that I have a lot more to offer than just what they were able to see when I was with the University of Maryland. I think I was just labeled as a sharpshooter, as a one-dimensional type of player,” Wiggins said.

In between pre-Draft workouts, he squeezes in a packed training schedule in Maryland, which includes watching and breaking down films of his past games and continue to polish his all-around game. On the court, h said his main focus is on improving his ball-handling, his ability to come off ball-screens and make the right reads, whether to create a shot for himself or make a play for his teammates and his shooting. He also keeps tabs on the NBA playoffs to choose and pick some stuff he wants to add to his game.

While Wiggins is one of the older guys in the Draft, Gatlin believes that will work to his former star’s advantage.

“I think he can go as far as he wants to go. He has the right mindset, and he’s determined,” said Gatlin, who is now an assistant coach for the High Point Panthers. “Aaron is just a driven and strongly-minded young man.”

Wiggins projects to be a two-way wing in the pros with his size. He measured at 6-foot-5 with shoes and has a 6-foot-9 wingspan at the Combine and recorded the fourth-fastest shuttle run (3 seconds) and sixth-fastest three-quarter sprint (3.04 seconds).

“Hundred percent [I fit the 3-and-D mold],” Wiggins said. “I think I have the ability to really shoot the ball well on the offensive end and with my athleticism and my creativity to get my own shots. And on the defensive end, I can guard multiple positions with my length and athleticism, footwork, and speed.”

His biggest takeaway from the whole pre-Draft process?

“You gotta be ready to play every single game. You gotta have the mindset of really go out and compete and play your hardest. That’s something that I’ve done my entire life,” Wiggins said.

It’s a routine that he’s enjoying a lot. Wiggins hopes it stays the same until after July 29.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

UFC working on Nick Diaz – Robbie Lawler 2

Dana White broke some UFC news to TSN this afternoon. White told TSN’s Aaron Bronsteter that the promotion was working on finalizing the return of Nick Diaz (26-9, 2 NC). Per White, Diaz would be returning in September to rematch against Robbie Lawler (28-15, 1 NC).

The fight would co-headline a UFC event in September. Worth noting that the fight is not finalized yet and there is not a finalized date. However, we have known for some time that Nick Diaz was getting ready to return to the octagon and Lawler is the perfect opponent.

These two men first met back all the way at UFC 47 in 2004. Both men were extremely young and green at the time. Lawler was the betting favorite going into the fight, but that was the first time we really got to see the striking of Nick Diaz.

Diaz went on to knock Robbie Lawler out and shock everyone at UFC 47. Both men have since gone on to have incredible careers. Lawler rose all the way to the top of the sport by becoming the UFC welterweight champion.

That said, Ruthless is on a really tough stretch right now. After losing his title to Tyron Woodley back in 2016, Lawler has gone 1-4. The former champion has lost four-straight, but he will look to get back on track and avenge his UFC 47 loss in September.

UFC return for Nick Diaz

For years, Nick Diaz has teased a return to the UFC. We would see him training hard on social media and he would say that he wants to come back. However, a deal never got done and it’s been years since we’ve seen Diaz compete.

The last time Diaz stepped inside the octagon was UFC 183 in January of 2015. Prior to that, his last fight was March of 2013. Since 2012, Nick Diaz has only fought three times in the UFC.

Diaz is getting ready to turn 38 years old and he’s had years to let his body recover from all of his fights. Who knows, we might see the best Nick Diaz we’ve ever seen in September. Either way, the die-hards are going to be glued to their TVs to watch this rematch.

New York Jets: A player at each position in a make-or-break year (Defense)

No one’s expecting much from the 2021 New York Jets, who thus have little to lose. These defenders, however, would beg to differ.

The symptoms of dealing with the New York Jets’ endless search for a franchise quarterback have often been treated with a healthy dose of defense.

Mark Sanchez’s early struggles were offset by the disruptive weather patterns on (Darrelle) Revis Island while the early days of Joe Klecko helped them survive the Richard Todd era. More recently, Jamal Adams gave Jets fans a reason to stay tuned during the first two years of Sam Darnold’s reign before a highly publicized divorce that saw Gang Green earn two first-round assets in the settlement.

This offseason brought about an interesting irony: the Jets appear to have their new franchise man in Zach Wilson under a defensive-minded head coach in Robert Saleh. While they surrounded Wilson with plenty of talented, developmental pieces through both free agency and the draft, the defense is a relatively muddled hodgepodge of veterans both arriving and returning. After all, the Jets waited until the fifth round of the draft to address the defense, using the 146th overall pick on Auburn secondary man turned linebacker Jamien Sherwood.

Though New York has relatively little to lose in 2021 as a team…few expect them to rise out of the AFC East cellar…the defense is full of veterans looking to prove themselves, justifying their metropolitan existence for the potential good times ahead. ESM has a player from each position group to keep an eye on in that regard…

  • For offensive players in a make-or-break situation, click HERE
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – OCTOBER 13: Defensive Lineman Kyle Phillips #98 of the New York Jets makes a stop call against the Dallas Cowboys in the second half at MetLife Stadium on October 13, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

Defensive Line: Kyle Phillips

Phillips was one of the green breakout stars of the 2019 season. During the Jets’ second half mirage…a long-forgotten 6-2 stretch earned mostly against teams in even more dire straits…the undrafted Phillips was particularly impressive as a run-stepper.

Pro Football Focus graded him 17th amongst edge rushers in run defense and Phillips earned further notoriety when he picked up a crucial sack in a win over Pittsburgh in the Jets’ home finale (to date, their last game with fans at MetLife Stadium). His pass rushing skills left much to be desired, but the Jets were very satisfied with the value found in the rookie free agency pile.

Unfortunately, Phillips was unable to capitalize on his rookie success, as he partook in only six games last season due to an ankle injury. In his place, the Jets’ front seven enjoyed a few breakout years amidst the chaos of Adam Gase’s last stands. Most of the attention went to Quinnen Williams but John Franklin-Myers held down the fort in Phillips’ absence.

Phillips is an interesting situation, but the arrival of Saleh and his 4-3 tendencies should provide some stability. While Phillips moved around a lot in Gregg Williams’ 3-4 looks, he should be seen in his traditional role on the line at end more often. But with the Jets bringing in veterans Vinny Curry and Ronald Blair through free agency, immediately getting his primary duties back is no guarantee.

Nov 17, 2019; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions middle linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) runs off the field after recovering a fumble during the first quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Linebacker: Jarrad Davis

Conventional wisdom says that the New York linebacker most desperately facing a make-or-break season is C.J. Mosley, who has appeared in two games over his first two New York seasons due to medical absences. The former Baltimore Raven already faces a tall task as one of the final marquee signings of the Mike Maccagnan era. But even if this year doesn’t work out for Mosley (who nets the Jets $13 million if they trade him after this season), his previous resume (four All-Pro nominations) shouldn’t make it hard for him to find another job elsewhere.

Davis, the Detroit Lions’ 2017 first-round pick (21st overall) doesn’t have quite that luxury just yet. His NFL career got off to a decent start under the reliable watch of Jim Caldwell and Teryl Austin but fell apart amidst the toxicity of the Matt Patricia era. A one-year “prove-it” deal bestowed by the Jets has given him a chance to get his career back on track…and the 4-3 gives him the perfect opportunity to do so.

Davis’ best showings have come in the 4-3, first under Geoff Collins as a Florida Gator before working in Austin’s system in the Motor City. It provides a chance to not only post some strong stats but showcase his leadership skills, as his experience in Saleh’s preferred set can be used as a safety blanket. But if he struggles this time around, it will probably become difficult to extend his NFL career further.

New York Jets, Bless Austin
New York Jets, Bless Austin

Cornerback: Bless Austin

For all intents and purposes, Queens native and Rutgers alum Bless Austin was born to succeed as a New York Jet. He overcame injury issues in Piscataway (limiting him to five games in his last two seasons as a Scarlet Knight) to become an NFL draft pick and did well for himself when some veterans ahead of him weren’t up to snuff. He partook in 11 games last season, the most since a sophomore season that saw him finish second in the Big Ten in pass breakups.

Over his first two NFL seasons, Austin has developed a reputation as a strong hitter but has struggled in coverage. Those issues could prove especially deadly in year one of Saleh and new defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich’s watch, as the duo have been known to run zone schemes. Austin has fared slightly better in man sets, but hasn’t shown anything to suggest he’s ready for full-time starting duties at the NFL level.

The Jets were in such a macabre situation after last season that they had to sacrifice some areas in their 2021 renovations. Cornerbacks are by far the most exposed group. Free agent arrival Justin Hardee is expected to contribute more on special teams while returnees Corey Ballentine and Bennett Jackson are low on experience. The Jets did spend a majority of the draft’s final day on secondary help, bringing in Jason Pinnock, Michael Carter II, and Brandin Echols, not to mention the undrafted Isaiah Dunn.

Austin is currently set to be the top man next to Bryce Hall. While the second-year Hall has time to develop, Austin is facing a more desperate situation with younger prospects behind him.

Cole Beasley of Buffalo and Marcus Maye of the Jets make contact after Beasley made a catch in the second half as the Buffalo Bills met the New York Jets at Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on October 25, 2020.
The Buffalo Bills Vs The New York Jets At Metlife Stadium In East Rutherford New Jersey On October 25, 2020

Safety Marcus Maye

Once the necessary Adams divorce was finalized, Maye was tasked with not only being a defensive leader but for keeping the ensuing season at least somewhat tolerable. Maye did that and then some, enjoying a strong season that at least kept the Jets in the SportsCenter Top 10. The 2020 campaign also ended with his name on the Curtis Martin Team MVP Award.

The issue with accolades, especially club-based honors, in a two-win season is the question of whether the award says more about the honoree or the team. It seems like Maye has the talent and skillset to remain an NFL staple for the foreseeable future. Pro Football Focus’ Sam Monson in fact ranked Maye as the seventh-best safety in football entering 2021…three spots ahead of Pacific Northwest-dwelling friend and former teammate.

Jets management apparently still isn’t convinced that Maye, one of only two Maccagnan draft choices slated to start on defense this (Austin is the other), is the future. Long-term contract talks appear to have broken down and there have been no developments with the deadline eight days away. In the meantime, Maye’s desire for a big payday has been temporarily satisfied through a franchise tag granting him just over $10 million, making him the sixth-best paid safety this season (tied with Marcus Williams in New Orleans).

A big season thus lies ahead for Maye, who will be looking to prove to both the Jets and their 31 brothers that he can be a vital contributor on a respectable NFL squad. If he carries on the promise of last season and makes MVP endeavors the new normal, he won’t have to worry about the desired money and stability for a long time. But if he falters, his price tag could take a slashing.

Who else is facing a make-or-break season? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Report: Knicks eyeing Mike Conley in free agency, represent biggest threat

knicks, mike conley

As the New York Knicks begin to put a list together of who they will consider in free agency, one name that has bubbled to the surface is Mike Conley of the Utah Jazz. Conley earned his first All-Star appearance this past season at 33 years old, averaging 16.2 points, 6.0 assists, and shot .444 from the field. He also connected on 41% of his shots from range over 6.6 attempts per game.

Conley is an intriguing option, but it has taken him quite some time to become a legitimate impact player who could be worth targeting in free agency. He helped lift Utah to their best regular season since the John Stockton era, and if not for an injured hamstring, it is possible they would’ve been in the NBA finals.

Based on his veteran leadership and wealth of experience, the Knicks could consider Conley as a plug and play point guard next season on a multi-year deal.

According to Evan Massey of the NBA Analysis Network, the Knicks could be eye Mike Conley as a potential fit at point guard:

“The Mavs are a team to keep an eye on for Conley, however, the Knicks are viewed as the biggest threat to sign Conley away from Utah in free agency.”

With that being said, The Athletic’s Tony Jones reported that Utah “will make every attempt to keep the All-Star in a Jazz uniform.”

There is a concern when it comes to Mike; he will be 34 next season and is already considered an injury liability. Compared to Chris Paul, who has played back-to-back years of 70 games, relying on the Jazz star to be available every night is optimistic.

If the Knicks go that route, they would be smart to bring in another point guard, preferably in the NBA draft. They could develop an option like Davion Mitchell or Tre Mann behind Conley, who they might be able to land on a two-year contract. Considering Utah has $134 million committed to players next year, with Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert seeing their extensions kick in, offering Conley big money will likely be difficult.

Given the issues they face in the payroll category, the Knicks have plenty of money to throw around, but they also have loads of options they will be considering.

What do you think about the idea of signing Mike Conley? Comment below!

Oliver Wahlstrom has chance to be a major piece for the Islanders next season

The sting of knowing how close the Islanders were to playing for the Stanley Cup won’t go away. The sting of having a healthy Oliver Wahlstrom and knowing the possible effect he could have had as the team’s run got deeper will last as well.

Wahlstrom, the team’s 21-year-old sniper, didn’t appear for the Isles in the final two rounds after a strong start to the playoffs. Instead, he spent most of the postseason in the press box watching after getting hurt in the third period of Game 5 against Pittsburgh. Wahlstrom had collided awkwardly with the Pens’ Mike Matheson in the corner and suffered a lower-body injury.

“Obviously, it’s really tough to get injured,” Wahlstrom said to the media during exit interviews. “You want to play with all your brothers and it was tough but at the same time it was a good learning experience to go through that. And mentally, to work on my mind a little bit, so it was really tough.”

That narrative of Wahlstrom’s absence didn’t seem to affect head coach Barry Trotz who said he had “no regrets” about keeping the rookie forward out. Even as Wahlstrom was considered fully healthy by the time the Tampa series started, Trotz decided to stick with veteran acquisition Travis Zajac, who did a commendable job in his place.

Now while Trotz said his two-cents, there’s no question Wahlstrom’s absence was felt on a number of important fronts. The obvious being the Islanders’ offense and their power play, both of which could have used the rookie’s shot and energy. The Isles only score 11 goals in the entire series and went a dismal 1-for-17 with the man advantage.

Wahlstrom can say that sitting out was a good learning experience, and the Islanders and their fans can keep thinking “what if?”. But with the shift towards next season in full gear, Wahlstrom has the chance to be an even bigger presence.

Next year will technically be year three for him — Wahlstrom did play over 40 games this year and handful the previous season — and his role in the offense is most likely to expand. Wahlstrom is one of the youngest players/forwards of an Islanders attack that’s not getting any younger with a lot of their core forwards in their late 20s, early 30s. The potential loss of a Jordan Eberle in the expansion draft could also open up a big hole in the top-six.

Wahlstrom did become a lot more confident with and without the puck this past season. That can help with gaining Trotz’s trust. But it’s that scoring prowess which is more crucial.

The Isles haven’t had a true sniper for years. Wahlstrom changed that narrative this year and it should be a major sticking point when training camp begins. At the moment, he is the team’s bonafide sharpshooter. No one has the shot or hands he does, which was clear from the majority of the 12 goals Wahlstrom tallied during the regular season.

Then there’s dynamic he brings to the Islanders’ power play.

There was a point during the season when the team’s power play turned the corner, and it came from Wahlstrom becoming the go-to guy. Once the opposition figured out how to defend him — and lost Anders Lee as a net-front presence — the Islanders lost that mojo. But it was easy to tell you how much just having Wahlstrom as a threat changed the entire feel when the Isles were man-up.

The expectations for the Islanders and Wahlstrom going into next season will be high. And rightfully so. Both have the chance to do big things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yankees lose key reliever with another injury

yankees, darren o'day

The New York Yankees signed Darren O’Day late in the offseason with the hope of covering some important, high-leverage innings. They hoped his recent success outweighed his advanced age (38), allowing him to stay healthy and effective.

So far, that hasn’t been the case. When he has been on the mound, he has been good, with a 3.38 ERA in 12 games, and a 1.22 WHIP. The problem is that he has hardly pitched because of injuries.

This week, the Yankees placed O’Day on 10-day injured list with left hamstring strain. It’s still not clear when he suffered the injury, but all signs point at the moment being on the weekend, in the series against the Mets.

“I think (it cramped up) a little bit when he was getting ready to potentially come into the game late in Game 2,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said, per NJ Advance Media. “I had him in there originally (Tuesday), but he’s still feeling it a little bit, and so just decided to hold him out.”

The Yankees could use O’Day’s reliability

On Sunday, he pitched 0.2 innings, allowed a home run and two walks while striking out just one. It was clear something was not right with the submariner.

Sunday marked his second appearance since returning from a right rotator cuff strain on June 29. That injury ended up taking significantly more than the minimum 10 days to heal.

Judging by Boone’s words, it doesn’t sound like this injury will take more than a couple of weeks to heal, but hamstrings are extremely tricky, so the team will likely give him all the time he needs.

Fellow reliever Zack Britton also injured his hamstring recently and is currently out, so the Yankees’ bullpen is a bit shorthanded right now.

As far as other injuries, the team didn’t have shortstop Gleyber Torres yesterday, also with left hamstring cramping. He is not expected to hit the injured list at the time but it will all depend on his evolution in Wednesday afternoon.

 

Yankees’ Jameson Taillon throws much-needed gem

New York Yankees, Jameson Taillon

The New York Yankees started their week on the right foot by pummeling what could be a direct rival in the quest for the second Wild Card spot, the Seattle Mariners. The offense finally woke up and put 12 runs on the scoreboard against just one by the M’s.

The offensive explosion was nice to see, but Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone is even happier that much-criticized right-hander Jameson Taillon was able to finally throw a gem from the mound.

He completed seven innings and surpassed the 100-pitch threshold for the first time in the season. He only conceded a single run on four hits and a walk, while fanning nine Mariners.

“That was a big pick-me-up,” the Yankees’ skipper told Betelhem Ashame of MLB.com. “I thought he was probably as good as he’s been. And the mix of pitches, the quality of really all his pitches … pounding the strike zone but mixing up his looks all the time. I just thought that was an exciting outing. He was in complete control out there. We definitely needed it.”

The Yankees’ pitcher had everything working

The offensive performance gave Taillon an early lead and the opportunity to calmly work his way through the Mariners’ order. According to the league’s site, the righty used his entire repertoire last night: his fastball (44 pitches), curveball (22), slider (17), sinker (10) and changeup (8).

“We had everything working tonight,” Taillon said. “We used the heater up, we used it down, we got ahead in a lot of counts with curveballs. I was able to throw my better curveball later in counts for the finish. There were a few good changeups. … When I have those pitches going, it takes some pressure off my slider; I don’t have to be quite as perfect or as nasty with it. So I thought everything just coupled together and paired really well.”

It was a night the Yankees and Taillon needed, as he has a 5.05 ERA for the season.

Conor McGregor’s Legacy Is On The Line At UFC 264; But Will The Former Two Belt Champ Be Able To Rise To The Occasion?

Conor McGregor, UFC

UFC 264 is going to be special. With two of the biggest names in lightweight history coming together for a third time to determine their destiny on the night of July 10th, the level of anticipation and excitement is going to be ecstatic as greatness unfolds before our eyes.

Some fighters strive their whole careers trying to generate and instill this kind of stimulation and exhilaration, just to fall short due to their lack of success, unpopularity, or quiet, reserved personality presence in the media. But for others, it comes quite naturally. And it so happens that two of the best fighters to produce this kind of effect are none other than “The Notorious” Conor McGregor and “The Diamond” himself, Dustin Poirier.

However, what makes this tale of the tape so intriguing is far greater than both of these lightweight fighters and the raw talent they put on display every time they set foot in the octagon. When legacy, greatness, and ambition collide together all in one night in an epic showdown within the octagon, the atmosphere, energy, adrenaline, and intensity, elevates to a whole other dimension. This is a sensation that’s not new to UFC fans who have had the privilege of experiencing this feeling with several other iconic fighters across the sport’s history. But what UFC fans will experience on July 10th is going to be entirely different and for one big reason: Conor McGregor.

Whether you hate him or love him, McGregor has a special place in the UFC history books, achieving a level of success and glory many MMA fighters only dream of accomplishing in their careers. Making his UFC debut on April 6th, 2013, McGregor took full advantage of his opportunity and flat out dominated the Featherweight division for the next two years (ESPN). Starting with his debut, McGregor won his first seven fights in the UFC, which included his Featherweight Interim Title showdown against Chad Mendes in 2015, followed by his legendary knockout against Jose Aldo to solidify his grip on the Featherweight belt that same year (ESPN).

After going undefeated in the Featherweight division, McGregor felt he needed a new challenge and turned his eyes towards the Lightweight division as he sought to make UFC history: Becoming the first Two-Belt UFC Champion. After receiving his first UFC loss to Nate Diaz in his Lightweight debut on March 5th, 2016, McGregor quickly bounced back, beating Diaz in an immediate rematch followed by his history-breaking Lightweight Title victory over Eddie Alvarez a mere two months later (ESPN). To achieve all of this in just three and a half years was flat-out astounding and unheard of. And despite being as young as he was, McGregor had already stamped his legacy in UFC history.

However, the power of legacy is longevity. When you look at some of the greatest mixed martial artists in UFC history, past and present, not only are many of them decorated with various title defenses within their respective divisions. But for those that we truly consider some of the best we’ve ever seen, they’ve maintained their success for not just one, two, or three years, they’ve maintained it for several years over the vast majority of their careers, if not, the entirety of it. Whether it’s Anderson Silva, who wreaked havoc on the Middleweight division for 6+ years, to Georges St-Pierre obliterating the Welterweight division for 6+ years as well, to Amanda Nunes, who’s been dominating the best female mixed martial artists since 2015, greatness and excellence have always been determined based on how long it’s maintained (ESPN). And even considering McGregor’s success, his three years of glory came and went pretty quickly, with his prominence taking a massive blow ever since.

Following his victory against Alvarez in 2016, McGregor not only went through his fair share of legal troubles but he also got mauled by Khabib Nurmagomedov two years later in 2018, conceding his Lightweight belt to the undefeated champ. After suffering a crushing defeat and running into more legal issues, leading him to take a leave of absence for another two years, McGregor managed to get an impressive KO/TKO against Donald Cerrone in his return to the octagon earlier last year. But just about a year later, McGregor endured a vicious KO/TKO in the second round to Poirier, confronting another major setback yet again in the heart of his career. In short, after coming off a three-year time frame between 2013 and 2016 where he was logging in 2-3 fights almost every year, McGregor has only accumulated a total of three fights since 2017, a severe drop in activity in comparison to the phenomenal run he had (ESPN). When that happens, you lose your touch and feel for not only the level of competition in your division but also for the sport as a whole. And McGregor’s last two losses really brought that concern to life.

So, with all of this in mind, does McGregor still have that “it” factor in him to get the job done and uphold his fading legacy against the man who knocked him out six months ago? Believe it or not, the answer is no, and it really comes down to a few key reasons. To begin with, when you stand Poirier and McGregor side-by-side, and you look at the distinguishing differences that separate them as the fighters they are right now, the biggest and most significant discrepancy is that Poirier has evolved into a much better fighter whereas McGregor has not. And you can even argue that McGregor already peaked following his fight against Alvarez back in 2016. On the contrary, Poirier is debatably in his prime right now and has been logging in 2-3 fights at the bare minimum since 2016 (outside of 2020), whereas Conor is competing in only his fourth fight in four and half years (ESPN). To put it simply, McGregor’s touch and feel for the sport, more or less his division, is not nearly the same than it was 5-6 years ago. And this will directly impede upon his success against a much-improved Poirier.

Secondly, McGregor has not diversified his arsenal of skills enough to the extent that he needs to. Outside of being a deadly striker and nasty in the clinch, McGregor is not good on the ground and has yet to record his first submission victory in the UFC. On the other hand, Poirier is an elite grappler and wrestler and has even spent time training with Amanda Nunes to prepare for his trilogy fight against McGregor. If he chooses to take the fight on the ground, McGregor could struggle immensely and hasn’t proved he can withstand tough, exhausting wrestling matches.

Lastly, McGregor’s physical endurance and ability to go five full rounds has been virtually non-existent throughout his career. Outside of his rematch against Diaz, which went five rounds and resulted in a nail-bitingly close majority draw, McGregor has usually ended his fights in the first or second round and has hardly ever fought long bouts that have surpassed the third round. As a result, not only is he dealing with a lot of pressure to execute that one clean shot he needs in the first round against a really good counter striker in Poirier, but if the fight goes any further than the first two rounds, McGregor’s lack of endurance will cost him, it’s just a matter of when. Poirier, on the contrary, is a workhorse and has been in two big, five-round fights over the last two years. And if he needs to rely on that option to secure this victory against McGregor, he very well can.

Either way you look at it, Poirier has the upper hand in a variety of different ways entering this fight, and significantly so. And despite McGregor’s waning legacy, these core advantages are precisely what will allow Poirier to secure this decisive victory on July 10th as he continues to pursue his destiny in the Lightweight division.

3 reasons the Knicks likely won’t have a shot at Chris Paul in free agency

New York Knicks, chris paul

The most efficient method for the New York Knicks to upgrade the point guard position would be to allocate their funds in free agency rather than parting ways with significant capital in a trade scenario. One option that could be on the market is Chris Paul, but the hope that he will be available is quickly dwindling as the Phoenix Suns make a legitimate run at the NBA finals.

Phoenix dominated the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday evening, as Chris Paul recorded 32 points, hitting on 12-of-19 shots from the field and 4-of-7 from downtown. He also picked up nine assists in the win, indicating he is a bonafide star point guard at his age.

At 36 years old, Paul is in the final year of a four-year, $160 million deal and has a player option for the 2021-22 season at $44.2 million. The expectation was that Paul would opt out and seek a long-term deal, but his incentive to leave Phoenix is diminishing.

According to SNY’s Ian Begley, the Knicks are in a good spot to make a run at signing Chris Paul, based on the assumption he opts out of the final year of his contract, but that’s seeming more unlikely by the day.

Three reasons the Knicks likely won’t have a serious chance at landing Chris Paul in FA:

1.) What’s his incentive to leave the Suns?

Phoenix is on the verge of winning an NBA Finals series and offering Paul his first-ever Championship. What exactly is his incentive to leave Phoenix, other than joining a New York Knicks team that is still a few pieces away from contending for a deep playoff run.

He can easily stay with a stacked team full of great youth talent that can help him win now, rather than taking an unnecessary risk in New York.

2.) Great relationships with the organization and teammates

Paul reportedly has fantastic relationships with his teammates, including Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton. One of the reasons he requested a trade to Phoenix in the first place was because of what he saw in Booker, a fiery competitor with a similar offensive style to Kobe Bryant.

The fact that the team has so much youth contributing and are still winning games, Paul connects as a veteran mentor and the leader of this team, who are currently in the Finals and dominating. Add in his relationship with head coach Monty Williams, and it is hard to find a reason why he would leave the Suns for East Coast pastures.

3.) A new contract could be inbound

Even if Paul desires an opt-out in his contract, the Phoenix Suns could easily offer him an extension, tearing up the final year of his deal. Considering how much cap space they have available, it would be simple for them to offer him a new deal. Only Devin Booker is making over $20 million per season, with the next highest being DeAndre Ayton at $12 million. If they wanted to tear up Paul’s contract and offer him another two-year deal at $40 million a pop, they could do it quite easily.

If you are a Knicks fan, I would be cautiously optimistic with a potential Chris Paul signing, as he does have a relationship with President Leon Rose, but that may only get them so far considering the great situation he has himself in at the moment.

Yankees News, 7/7: What’s going on with Aroldis Chapman? Yanks blast Mariners in win

aroldis chapman, yankees

The New York Yankees took on the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday evening at 10 PM, facing off against a familiar face, Justus Sheffield. Sheffield was sent to the Mariners in the Giancarlo Stanton trade, and unfortunately, he has been one of the most inefficient starting pitchers this season. Hosting a blasphemous 6.48 ERA, Sheffield was knocked out of the game after just 1.2 innings, picking up his eighth loss of the season.

The Yankees plastered him with five hits and six earned runs in less than two innings, taking it no lighter on the bullpen, which gave up a resounding 13 total hits and six runs.

Bombers got back on track for one evening, posting a season-high 18 hits and recording 12 runs against a +.500 team. This was the performance we needed to see from a Yankees team that has been struggling as of late, winning one game over three against the New York Mets this past weekend. Starting pitcher Jameson Taillon had a great outing, allowing four hits and just one run over 7.0 innings. He struck out nine batters in the process, easily his best performance of the year.

Despite one outlier against the Angels, two of Taillon’s last three games have seen him last 6+ innings and give up only one run. He’s seemingly getting more comfortable this season, and the Yankees need him to reach his potential if they want to make a run at the postseason.

The Yankees don’t know what’s going on with Aroldis Chapman:

One player who has struggled immensely to find his velocity is Aroldis Chapman, the team star closer. Chapman’s velocity is down tremendously after the MLB cracked down on the use of sticky substances to help improve spin rate.

The team is desperately trying to get Chapman back into form.

“It could be closing or it could be in a different situation,’’ Boone said. “We want to get him locked back in.”

“It’s as simple as getting him unlocked from a delivery standpoint,’’ Boone said. “Once we get that going, we’re not that far removed from the best Aroldis Chapman we’ve ever seen.”

Based on the sudden change of his efficiency right when the MLB banned spider attack, this is undoubtedly a curious situation. Unless he can return the form and prove he is just experiencing an anomaly, that could be a bigger conversation to have in a few weeks.