New York Giants: Joe Judge confirms long term approach with Saquon Barkley

It’s well known by now that the New York Giants aren’t rushing back Saquon Barkley. The running back’s status has been in the news for months as his recovery is closely watched by fans and the national media, but even after all this time we still don’t have a definite return date. Barkley might be back for week one, or he might sit it out. Barkley claims he doesn’t know the future outcome himself, and the team has backed up that ‘day by day’ approach.

However, we now have some more official confirmation from Joe Judge himself about what the Giants are thinking with their strategy in regards to Barkley. Judge had an interview with ESPN and shot down the idea of planning Barkley’s return around an artificial timeline.

Judge’s statements on Barkley’s recovery

“We’re thinking long term with Saquon; long term in the season, long term in his career. And by taking care of him individually, that is going to help our team long term as well. We’re going to make sure when we get him out there we can keep him out there,” Judge told ESPN.

The long term approach isn’t what some fans will want. After all, the Giants struggled rushing last season without Barkley and moved on from top backup Wayne Gallman. If they don’t get Barkley back in the number one spot right away, the Giants may very well see their early season results impacted by having to rely on an unproven stable of new backups.

But we’ve more or less heard the same story from the Giants every time the issue of Barkley’s timeline comes up. It seems that, unpopular or not, the Giants are committed to the current plan.

“And we’ve got to make sure we do the best thing for him as we go along the way and make sure we make decisions based on his body and not some artificially anticipated timeline,” Judge continued. “When he’s ready to go, that is when he’s going to be out there.”

The hope is that Barkley will be ready to face the Broncos, but that looks like less of a certainty as the offseason continues. With so many statements like this, it’s possible that the franchise is well aware of that and is focused on priming the fanbase to not be alarmed if Barkley turns out to miss the opener.

Report: Yankees making push to land Rockies star shortstop

yankees, trevor story

The New York Yankees already made a trade today, sending minor leaguers Hoy Park and Diego Castillo to the Pittsburgh Pirates for reliever Clay Holmes. However, the team needs go well beyond a bullpen arm.

The Yankees need at least a top bat or two, and there are plenty available prior to the trade deadline: Joey Gallo of the Texas Rangers, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs, and perhaps Max Kepler, a left-handed outfielder who plays for the rebuilding Minnesota Twins.

However, at this point in time, the Yankees’ preferred target may be a former All-Star shortstop who, at 28, is still in his prime: Trevor Story. The soon-to-be free agent can reportedly be had via trade, as he hasn’t given any indications he wants to sign a long-term commitment to stay with the Colorado Rockies.

MLB Network’s insider Jon Heyman reported that the Yankees have already made an offer to the Rockies for Story’s services.

The Yankees already made an offer

“Yankees made a trade offer for Trevor Story. No evidence of any traction there at this point. Rockies haven’t definitively decided to trade him, though it would seem there’s a good chance they do.”

For the sake of their franchise, expect Colorado to move Story before the July 30 deadline. The shortstop will have plenty of suitors, however, and the Yankees will have plenty of competition if they want to land him.

“Brewers also have checked in on Trevor Story. Their Adames pickup has been the best in-season move but they seek another big bat. This would clearly qualify,” Heyman also wrote on his Twitter account.

There are several paths towards playing time for Story if he were to land on the Yankees. The most logical one has Gleyber Torres sliding over to second base and DJ LeMahieu picking up the majority of starts at first base, but there has also been talk about Story playing center field, provided he can make a smooth transition.

The talented infielder is having a somewhat disappointing season, hitting .242 with a .313 OBP and a .737 OPS. He does have 12 home runs, however, and would make for a fantastic addition to the Yankees’ struggling lineup.

 

Can the Yankees pull off a trade and bring Story to the fold?

UFC finalizes rematch between Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington

The UFC has finalized arguably the biggest rematch they can make right now. ESPN was the first to report today that the promotion had finalized the welterweight title rematch between Kamaru Usman (19-1) and Colby Covington (16-2).

The matchup is scheduled to headline UFC 268 which will take place on November 6th. The current plan is for UFC 268 to take place at Madison Square Garden, however, that is not finalized yet and with an ongoing pandemic, things can always change.

However, that is the plan as of now. The fight will be the second installment of this tremendous rivalry between the two best welterweights on the planet. Their first fight took place at UFC 245.

That night, we saw an absolute war between the two men. The fight was fought at a crazy pace and both men had a tremendous amount of success. Heading into the final round the scores were: 3-1 Covington, 2-2, 3-1 Usman.

The fight came down to the final round. In that final round, Kamaru Usman was able to get the stoppage win and retain his UFC welterweight title. The stoppage is something that Covington protests to this day.

UFC 268 at MSG

Now, nearly two years after their first fight, these two will run it back at MSG at UFC 268. Since the first fight, Covington has fought only once and that was last August against former champion Tyron Woodley.

Covington put a beating on Woodley and stopped him in the final frame. Kamaru Usman has successfully defended his title three times since their first fight including twice already in 2021.

It seems that Usman is getting better and better which each fight. His two title defenses this year really showed just how special Usman is. He stopped Gilbert Burns at UFC 258 then knocked out Jorge Masvidal at UFC 261.

Now, the world will get the rematch we’ve waited on. Colby Covington is always going to be the toughest fight for Kamaru Usman given his style. On the flip side, Kamaru Usman is always going to be an incredibly difficult fight for Colby Covington.

Make no mistake about it, these are the two best welterweights in the UFC. I’m very much looking forward to the rematch that we’ve been waiting for, for almost two years.

Knicks News: Interest in DeMar DeRozen, competition for Derrick Rose building

New York Knicks, DeMar Derozan

With plenty of money to spend during free agency, the New York Knicks have her eyes set on a number of different targets. Just about every solid player available has been connected to New York in one way or another, and the latest is swingman DeMar DeRozan, who’s coming off a five-year, $139 million deal with the Toronto Raptors and then the San Antonio Spurs.

DeRozan is a 31-year-old veteran on the verge of 32. With the ability to play shooting guard, small forward, and power forward, DeRozan is a fantastic scorer, averaging 21.6 points, 6.9 assists, and shooting 49.5% from the field this past year. He doesn’t offer much as a three-point shooter, so expecting him to dominate in the paint, driving to the basket — a team like the Knicks would value bully-ball inside and solid defense. Having played power forward this past season with San Antonio, he would likely have to return to his shooting guard status, which is his traditional position.

The Knicks could be intrigued by his services, given his experience with some great teams and scoring prowess.

According to The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears, several teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, and Chicago Bulls, are all interested in DeMar DeRozan’s services.

The New York Knicks could have competition for point guard Derrick Rose:

K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago coined Derrick Rose as a secondary target for the Bulls but is a possibility after a successful season with the Knicks.

Rose is coming off a successful season with New York, averaging 14.9 points, 4.2 assists, shooting 48.7% from the field. He also connected on a career-high, 41% from three, showcasing that he has plenty of gas left in his tank.

If the Knicks are looking to retain most of their cap space for next year, signing Rose to a one-year extension could be a perfect move, if he’s willing to settle on a short-term deal. Bringing back Rose would allow the Knicks to draft a young point guard with upside, who the veteran can mentor and groom for the future. This would be a perfect scenario to allow Derrick to stay in New York, a place he fancies, and to extract the most from Argentinian native Luca Vildoza.

For example, a combination of point guards, including Rose, Davion Mitchell, and Vildoza, could inspire success moving forward. One way or another, the front office needs to allocate resources toward the PG spot, and bringing back Rose would be a welcomed reality for most fans.

What do you think about the idea of signing DeMar DeRozan and retaining Derrick Rose? Comment below!

New York Giants: Freddie Kitchens’s promotion could lead to a more vertical offense

New York Giants, Freddie Kitchens, Cleveland Browns

The 2020 New York Giants offense was pitiful. They averaged a putrid 17.5 points per game, ranked 31st in the NFL. But things might change drastically for the stale dink-and-dunk Giants passing attack in 2021. Joe Judge and the Giants made crucial changes to their coaching staff this offseason to fix their offense, including a key promotion of Freddie Kitchens.

Last offseason, the New York Giants hired Joe Judge as their next head coach. Coach Judge built an impressive staff that included numerous former-head coaches as assistants. In 2019, Freddie Kitchens was the head coach of the Cleveland Browns before being fired and ultimately hired the same offseason by the Giants as a tight ends coach.

Freddie Kitchens’s role has changed this offseason. Kitchens received a promotion from tight ends coach to “senior offensive assistant.” This promotion will give Freddie Kitchens more responsibility with the offensive line’s connection to the scheme and could also give him a greater influence on the offense’s passing attack.

How Freddie Kitchens can influence the Giants’ offense

Working with the offensive line

Head coach Joe Judge said that Freddie Kitchens’s “primary responsibility is going to be working with the front” in his new senior offensive assistant position. Judge explained, “tying into having two young offensive line coaches with Rob and Ben, I think Freddie is going to be an asset up front working directly with them and helping bring together the game planning, like all of our coaches will, but working directly with (offensive coordinator) Jason (Garrett) with some of the things that are going to happen upfront.”

This move could lead to less miscommunication along the offensive line. Kitchens will work to streamline the communication between the offensive line and the offensive coordinator. Freddie Kitchens will work to help the Giants’ young offensive line develop this year, but his influence in the team’s offensive scheme might be even more exciting.

Creating a more vertical passing attack

It is no question that the Giants want to get more vertical on offense in 2021. They added one of the best vertical weapons in the entire NFL this offseason with they signed star wide receiver Kenny Golladay. The Giants also added speedy wide receiver Kadarius Toney in the draft. These two could create an elite vertical receiving duo.

The Giants’ new wide receivers will go as far as the scheme lets them. The biggest criticism of Jason Garrett’s offensive scheme in 2020 was the lack of vertical passing concepts. That is bound to change in 2021 with the new weapons acquired and the promotion of Freddie Kitchens.

Freddie Kitchens’s influence

Quarterbacks in Freddie Kitchens’s offense tend to have a high average depth of target. Under Todd Haley in 2018, Baker Mayfield’s ADOT was just 6.8 but shot up to 9.1 once Freddie Kitchens took over. According to PFF, Mayfield’s ADOT under Kitchens in 2018 was 9.6 yards, a very deep average. Kitchens again had him over 9 yards in 2019, averaging 9.2 yards ADOT.

Compare this to Daniel Jones’s first two seasons in the NFL. Under Shurmur in 2018, Jones’s ADOT was 8.4 yards. Garrett’s notoriously non-vertical offense in 2018 brought Daniel Jones’s ADOT down to 8.0 yards. Now, as a senior offensive assistant, one must assume that Freddie Kitchens will help Jason Garrett implement more vertical passing concepts and try to raise Daniel Jones’s ADOT in 2021.

Baker Mayfield threw 72 total 20+ yard passes in 2018 and 76 attempts in 2019. Kitchens had him airing the ball deep frequently. Daniel Jones threw 54 deep passes under Shurmur in 2018, playing in only 12 games. In 14 games under Garrett in 2020, Jones threw far fewer deep balls, only 43 total. This is obviously a problem, especially when considering Daniel Jones had a 132.5 passer rating on 20+ yard throws last season, the highest in the NFL.

What this means for Daniel Jones and the Giants’ offense

It’s time to see more Danny Dimes. Daniel Jones was, statistically, one of the best deep passers in the NFL last season. NFL’s Next Gen Stats listed Jones as the top-ranked deep passer in 2020. Next Gen Stats notes that Daniel’s CPOE (completion percentage over expected) on deep passes was +14.8%, the highest percentage in the league.

According to Pro Football Focus, Daniel Jones was the third-highest graded quarterback in the NFL on deep passes in 2020. Jones’s 95.6 deep-passing grade ranked behind only Russell Wilson and Derek Carr last season.

As the Giants’ offense moves toward a more vertical passing attack in 2021, this could be huge for Daniel Jones in his make-or-break third season. Daniel Jones is an efficient deep-passing quarterback. He has not thrown the deep ball very often in his first two NFL seasons. But when he has, he has proven to have elite downfield accuracy. Freddie Kitchens will work to increase the volume of deep passes that Daniel Jones throws this season, leading to a more explosive New York Giants offense.

New York Yankee Player Profiles: Aroldis Chapman, what’s ahead for the closer?

New York Yankees, Aroldis Chapman

The New York Yankees have a host of problems this season; they hope Aroldis Chapman, the Yankee closer, isn’t one of them. He started the season as sharp as ever. He had a 0.00 ERA from the beginning of the season until May 23rd, when he blew his first save against the White Sox. That’s 18 games in a row. Following that, there were a few blips but nothing of concern, but the last month has been very concerning. On June 23, he gave up 2 runs to the Royals; on June 30, he gave up 4 runs to the Angels while only recording one out. Then, on July 4th, he wasn’t celebrating Independence day when he gave up 3 runs to the rival New York Mets, this time without recording an out.

Chapman’s struggles were so bad Aaron Boone was afraid to use him to close games, instead, using Chad Green, Nestor Cortes Jr., Jonathan Loaisiga, and more recently Zack Britton. It wasn’t until July 20th that Boone gave him another chance. He got the save (17), but he gave up a home run. In his last two games against Philadelphia and Boston, he seems to have rebounded. Between the two games, he gave up a hit and walked two. Last night he was not available, and the Yankee pitchers Jonathan Loaisiga and Zack Britton gave up a five-run lead causing the Yankee loss. Could that be a preview of life without Chapman?

Pitching coach Matt Blake and the Yankees have to get Chapman right; they can’t continue to have a closer with an ERA over 4.00. He lost control over his put-out pitch, the blazing fastball, and he appears to have lost his confidence as well. In previous saves, he would stare down the final out hitter. In his last save, there was no stare; he just walked off the mound. Aroldis Chapman was never a Mariano Rivera, no one is, but he has been adequate. The Yankees need to get back to the closer that they had at the beginning of the season.  For those that don’t know how Chapman got to the Yankees continue to read; it’s a fascinating story.

Chapman was born Albertin Aroldis Chapman de la Cruz in Holguin province, Cuba, on February 28, 1988. Although he is called the “Cuban Flamethrower or Missle, he is actually of Jamaican descent. His grandparents emigrated to Cuba for a better education. As a child, he played ball with other kids in his neighborhood. At the age of 15, a friend invited him to join the local Hoguin baseball team.

Even at that young age, local coaches noticed that the young boy had the potential to be a pitcher. So in 2003, he switched from first base to the pitcher’s mound.  In 2006 he joined the Cuban National Series League playing for the Holguin Sabuesos. He compiled a 24-19 record as a starter in 327 innings. His ERA of 3.74 with 365 strikeouts. He did make eleven relief appearances.

Chapman wanted out of Cuban and tried to defect but failed. Being a significant star, he met with Castro in 2008. Castro gave him a conditional reprieve but suspended him from the remainder of the season and kept him off the summer Olympics national team. He did allow him to return in 2009 to the World Baseball Classics representing Cuba. Still determined to defect, when playing in Rotterdam, the Netherlands in the World Port Tournament, he did it. One morning he walked out the door of his hotel, not to be seen again until he took up residency in Andora in the Pyrenees.

While in Andora, he petitioned MLB for free agency, which was granted. In January of 2010, Chapman signed a six-year contract to play for the Cincinnati Reds. On August 31 of that year, he made his Major League debut striking out the side with just nine pitches. In 2011 he was solely a reliever and in 2012 named the team’s closer. In 2014 he was hit in the head by a comebacker and underwent surgery to fix a skull fracture above his left eye. A metal plate was inserted into his head to stabilize the fracture.

For the 2015 season, Chapman had the highest average pitching speed in baseball at 100 mph. His record was 4-4 with a tiny ERA of 1.63 and 33 saves on the season. After the season, the Reds traded Chapman to the New York Yankees for four Yankee prospects. Before spring training, the then-manager Joe Girardi named Chapman the new Yankee closer.

Aroldis Chapman becomes a New York Yankee

Chapman didn’t start well for the Yankees; he was suspended for the first 30 games of the season due to an off-season personal conduct policy violation related to domestic violence. Then, in July, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs, bringing Gleyber Torres, Adam Warren, and Billy McKinney to the Yankees. The Cubs were going to the postseason, and the Yankees weren’t. With the Cubs, he had his fastest recorded pitch at 105.1 mph. Then, in the last inning of the last game of the World Series, Chapman went into a game-winning 10th inning, and his first World Series win.

As a free agent, the New York Yankees wanted him back, and he signed a record for a reliever an $86 million contract. His four-seam fastball had the highest average speed of any MLB pitcher’s pitches in 2017, at 99.7 mph, but a reduction from 2015. In 2018 he had a 104.1 mph pitch. Chapman has been successful for the Yankees. His record is 14-6 over five years, with an ERA of 2.54. But no matter how successful, he has failed the Yankees at key times in the postseason. Most recently when Mike Brosseau homered off him, causing the Yankees to exit the 2020 postseason.

Chapman realizes that his four-seam fastball is losing some velocity and is adding a new old pitch to his arsenal. Last year Chapman recorded an average of 98.7 mph, the lowest average speed for his fastball. I say new old because he used the pitch many years ago when he was a starter in Cuba. Chapman realizes he is getting older, and that missile fastball isn’t quite as fast. That showed up big time at about the same time that MLB began to enforce the no sticky rule. One good sign is that his velocity seems to have returned with some fastballs reaching 103 mph. Now he just needs to find that command.

Like many Yankees players, Chapman is relatively private about his personal life. However, we do know he has one daughter, Ashanti Brianna, with Mendosa Santiestelas. In addition, he had a son named Atticus in 2014. Chapman turned 33 this February.

New York Jets: Zach Wilson, Elijah Moore receive initial Madden ratings

new york jets, zach wilson

If EA Sports’ virtual affairs are anything to go by, the New York Jets are getting an upgrade at quarterback.

Zach Wilson was one of the big winners of the Madden NFL 22‘s original rating reveals, as his debut rating of 75 ranks second amongst incoming professional quarterbacks.

The second overall pick of the 2021 draft sits only behind top choice Trevor Lawrence of the Jacksonville Jaguars and is tied for the fourth-highest rookie overall with receivers Ja’Marr Chase and DeVonta Smith. Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts tops the list at 81.

Initial player ratings for the 35th edition of EA Sports’ long-running football simulator named after Hall of Fame head coach/commentator John Madden are slowly trickling in as NFL teams open their training camps. The reveals are coming through ESPN programming such as SportsCenter, Get Up!, First Take, and NFL Live, as well as EA’s official accounts. ESPN has dubbed the event Madden Ratings Week and a full schedule of unveilings can be found here.

Members of the “99 Club”, those who attain the highest possible rating in a Madden game, will also be unveiled throughout the week. Green Bay Packers receiver Davante Adams is the first such honoree.

Wilson’s reveal came on Sunday during the Kickoff Special hosted by Laura Rutledge and Mina Kimes on Sunday afternoon, which unveiled the rankings for top rookies, as well as veterans in transition. In addition to his overall number of 75, Wilson gains ratings of 94 in throw power (nine points ahead of his New England counterpart Mac Jones), 83 in speed, 79 in passing under pressure, and 70 in awareness.

Of note, Wilson ranks ahead of newly minted Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold, his predecessor in the Jets’ franchise quarterback role.

Elijah Moore’s partial reaction to his original Madden rating was shared on the franchise’s official Twitter account. Though Moore’s overall rating of 73 was not revealed in the video, in which he co-stars with several of his fellow freshmen, it did catch his reaction to the change of direction subsection. Moore gets a little ahead of himself…he believes he should he receive a 100…but he still earns a respectable 93. Moore, however, isn’t pleased with his grade.

“Who is above me?” Moore asks. “Because 93 is kind of low. I really don’t know anything I can do.”

Madden NFL 22 will feature two athletes on its cover (Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes) for the first time since the edition that was released for the 2009-10 season (Larry Fitzgerald and Troy Polamalu). It will be released on August 20 and is available for pre-order on EA’s official site.

Will you be leading Wilson and the Jets to Super Bowl glory in Madden NFL 22’s franchise mode? Follow @GeoffJMags and continue the conversation. 

Cam Thomas is eager to prove he’s more than a scorer I LSU star opens up about meeting with Tom Thibodeau, Knicks

LSU star Cam Thomas is an elite three-level scorer. Will the New York Knicks take a flier on him after a solid workout and meeting?

Cam Thomas is an irreverent scorer. He has irrational confidence reminiscent of the late Kobe Bryant, a cold-blooded scoring assassin in the NBA who went down to become an all-time great.

It’s not hard to see why he wears No. 24 because he grew up idolizing the late Laker legend. Now, he has shifted his eyes on Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker, a known Black Mamba disciple on top of his other current favorite NBA players.

“Throughout the NBA playoffs, I’ve been watching Devin Booker,” Thomas said on Monday during his NBA Draft media availability.

He’s been paying attention to his footwork, the way he glides in the perimeter, and creates space for himself and others. He watches how he launches his threes.

“I like to pick up some of his moves in the midrange and just really trying to look at his game because we play very much alike and similar,” Thomas said.

Aside from Booker, he’s watched a ton of Kyrie Irving and James Harden and a little bit of Bradley Beal. “I really watch those guys a lot and take from them the most,” Thomas said.

This draft class’ microwave scorer has paid attention to the star bucket getters while scouts have often compared him to Lou Williams, a role player whose instant offense off the bench won him three Sixth Man of the Year awards. While it has some weight to it after emerging as a prolific scorer in LSU and nothing much else, Thomas says he’s more than just a three-level scorer.

“I feel like those analyses were totally wrong. It’s just the system I was in. I feel like nobody really knows the room for [my growth] as a player. I’ll just keep going and prove them wrong. I feel like I can do that [in the NBA] because I’ve done it before,” Thomas said.

As LSU’s go-to guy, Thomas led all NCAA freshmen with a 23.3-point scoring average. It was the fourth-highest scoring average by a first-year player on the LSU team behind only Pete Maravich as a sophomore in 1967-68 (43.8), Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf as a freshman in 1988-89 (30.2), and Bob Pettit as a sophomore in 1951-52 (25.5). His 22 20-point games were the most 20-point games of any LSU player since Shaquille O’Neal in 1992. He had 16 games of at least 25 points, the most by an SEC freshman in the one-and-done era or since 2006.

But despite those accolades, Thomas isn’t viewed as a lottery pick because of his perceived tunnel vision. He averaged 3.4 rebounds and just 1.4 assists.

Thomas insists he has more to show, and that was just a product of the system he was in college.

“[I wasn’t able to show] really playing without the ball in my hand. I feel like I can do that at the next level,” Thomas said. “Again, getting my teammates involved. I really didn’t show that in LSU because my role is to be the primary scorer. I feel like when I get to the NBA, I have to show that first and then build from there.”

Thomas has always been a scoring machine. He left Oak Hill Academy as the program’s all-time leading scorer surpassing Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. But buried under those eye-popping 26.2-point and 31.5-point scoring averages in his two years there were the identical 3.4 assists he dished out per game.

“I feel really good about [my playmaking],” Thomas said. “Being a scorer kind of opens up for me to make plays for others because everybody worries about me putting the ball in the basket and scoring. Me just having that skill helps up my other skills as far as making plays for others. I just try to attack and get quick buckets.”

Sure, some teams need bucket getters. One of them is the Knicks, who struggled to score when they reached the NBA playoffs for the first time in eight years.

Thomas had the Knicks’ attention. He’s one of the many prospects they invited at their Tarrytown practice facility in New York. But they’re also one of the few teams Thomas met ahead of the NBA Draft. So far, Thomas has met with the Lakers, Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Hornets, and the Memphis Grizzlies aside from the Knicks.

“I met with the Knicks, which was my second workout like a few weeks ago. It went really well,” Thomas said. “I see myself fitting in with the Knicks because I was told they needed a bucket getter, a player who can make plays at the end of the shot clock in a game, it’s just a closer type so I see myself coming in, being the scorer I am, I can help the team.”

Thomas can provide an instant boost to a Knicks offense that relied heavily on Julius Randle last season. The LSU standout came away from that meeting, believing he could have a bright future with the Knicks if ever they pick him.

“Coach Thibs was in the meeting so we talked about the good stuff and it was really a good conversation. I don’t know everybody. But it was a good dialogue.” Thomas said. “I feel like I can fit in really well because he believes I can fit in his system and I feel like I can shoot so… we’ll see on Thursday.”

As he prepares for the NBA Draft on Thursday, Thomas continues to work on his game in between the teams’ workouts trying to improve on everything from scoring to rebounding and playmaking. But on top of that, he’s got two priorities.

“[I’m] just trying to get into shape as much as possible. You’re never in too much shape so I’d like to be in top shape so I can be on the court without being tired. Trying to lock in on the ball defensively, I keep working on that and just those two things. I wouldn’t call those weaknesses because it’s just mental stuff,” he said.

Thomas is a certified bucket getter, but he’s eager to prove he has more to offer.

While he has the late Laker legend’s scoring instincts, his irrational confidence comes from his strong work ethic and military discipline cultivated by his mother, Leslie Thomas, an army veteran.

“I put in a lot of work and for how much I’ve put in, I should be confident,” Thomas said.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Mets Game(s) Preview (7/26/21) vs. Atlanta Braves (48-50)

The New York Mets and Atlanta Braves begin a critical five-game series with a doubleheader starting today. As the trade deadline approaches, this series could clarify the type of moves each team needs to make this week. The first pitch of the seven-inning twi-night doubleheader is scheduled for 5:10 p.m. ET.

The Mets took two out of three from the Toronto Blue Jays over the weekend and kept a four-game lead in the NL East. Pete Alonso led the way in the series with three home runs and is in the middle of a nine-game hitting streak. During the hot streak, Alonso is slashing .368/.442/.789 with five home runs and ten runs batted in. Jeff McNeil should see his way back into the lineup for the doubleheader after pinch-hitting in Sunday’s win. McNeil delivered a two-run double, which gave the Mets the lead in the sixth inning.

The Braves come off a series split with the Philadelphia Phillies and sit four games behind the Mets. After Ronald Acuna Jr.’s season-ending injury, the Braves have not rebounded to charge up the standings. With the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers destined to play in the wild card game, the Braves’ only hope is to win the division. Should they lose the series to the Mets, they may become sellers.

Pitching Matchups

Game 1

Marcus Stroman takes the mound for the Mets and was stellar in his last outing. He threw eight shutout innings, allowing just one hit, and struck out seven against the Cincinnati Reds. The Mets will need Stroman to go deep in the game once again with the uncertainty of their starting rotation for the rest of the week. Stroman’s 2.59 ERA is the 10th best in all of baseball.

Kyle Muller starts for the Braves and has managed to survive in the Braves rotation. He has only gone deeper than five innings in one of his outings but has only allowed more than two runs once. In his start against the Mets earlier this season, Muller pitched four no-hit innings, allowing one run on two walks.

Game 2 

The Mets will likely use a bullpen game in game two as they have no options for a regular starter.

Bryse Wilson gets the start for the Braves in game two and is making his first start in the big leagues since June 20. In two doubleheader starts this season, Wilson has pitched four innings in each start and combined to allow eight runs. Wilson typically throws plenty of strikes, but this has resulted in seven home runs allowed in just 28.2 innings pitched.

Matchup To Lookout For

Marcus Stroman vs. Ozzie Albies: 4-for-10 (.400), Strikeout

Could the New York Yankees acquire two players from the Minnesota Twins?

Today is expected to be a busy day for the New York Yankees front office. The team has an off-day and Brian Cashman is expected to be making calls throughout the day checking in on potential trade pieces.

One of those trade pieces is Max Kepler. MLB Network’s JP Morosi reported this morning that the Twins have started having discussions about trading the left-handed hitting Kepler. The Yankees have checked in with the Twins in recent weeks regarding Kepler’s availability.

Now, at this time it’s not entirely clear how interested they are in Kepler. What we do now is how bad the Yankees have been from the left side of the plate this year. They are one of the worst teams in baseball when it comes to left-handed production.

Kepler would not only assist them in that area, but he would also aid them in the outfield. Not too mention the fact that Kepler has a very team-friendly deal and would be under control for the next few seasons.

While Kepler’s numbers haven’t been sensational this year, we are just two years removed from him hitting 36 home runs. The Yankees could really use him at the plate and in the outfield.

The Yankees interested in reuniting with a Twins pitcher?

It is also being widely reported that the Twins are interested in moving Michael Pineda this week. Pineda is scheduled to start this week and there are expected to be a lot of eye balls on that start.

I wouldn’t rule out the Yankees as one of those teams interested. Obviously, the Yankees are very familiar with Michael Pineda. Pineda spend four years in The Bronx and made a total of 89 starts while he was with the Yankees.

So far this year, Pineda is 4-5 and pitching to a 3.93 ERA. Pineda is set to become a free agent at the end of the year. It’s widely known that the Yankees are also looking at pitching targets this week and perhaps they would entertain reuniting with Pineda.

At this time, there’s no word on if there’s any traction there. This is purely speculation considering the needs of the team and what Minnesota has available. I would expect the Yankees to remain engaged with The Twins throughout this week and perhaps a deal could materialize.

Sound Off: Would you be interested in the Yankees acquiring both Max Kepler and Michael Pineda from the Twins?