How Knicks’ free agent signings will help RJ Barrett reach a new level

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The New York Knicks did exactly what they needed to do this offseason acquiring two players that can create their own offense: Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker. With the former Boston duo now sharing the backcourt in New York, one can only think that this will greatly benefit 3rd year forward RJ Barrett.

This past season, we saw much-improved play from the 21-year-old from Duke. Barrett increased his scoring, his efficiency, and his FG and 3pt FG %, all while being the second scoring option on a playoff team. He also improved his defense, becoming a reliable option for Coach Tom Thibodeau.

Where RJ Barrett Needs to Improve

If there’s one part of his game that needs the most work, it’s his shot creation. In 2020-2021, Barrett relied mainly on his perimeter game and finishing skills at the basket to generate offense. He only shot a combined 36% on field goal attempts from 10 feet to the 3 point line. Additionally, these only accounted for .156 of all RJ’s attempts. If he expects to take the next big leap as a scorer in 2021-22, he’s going to need to learn how to become more efficient at creating more midrange opportunities for the Knicks.

Barrett has been working this off-season diligently to improve his shot-creating and hesitation moves. Elevating that category will take pressure off Julius Randle to be the primary scorer, and with RJ’s ability to drive the rim, kicking it out to his sharpshooters will become even more lethal.

Fortunately, the presence of Walker and Fournier, two players that demand attention on offense, will give Barrett extra room to create and learn. He could also take after the two guards, who thrive from inside the 3 point line. Last season, Walker (in his worst shooting season since he was a rookie) still shot 41% from midrange, which was down from 47% the season before. Fournier, on the other hand, shot 44% from the same area while also seeing a big dip from previous seasons.

While Barrett’s scoring average may go down due to less usage, the play of the Knicks’ two newest additions will allow him to work on finding other ways to score and help him improve his ability to move without the ball.

There’s certainly a lot to look forward to this season, but how RJ continues to develop as a player will be one of the most intriguing.

New York Yankee Player Profiles: Luis Gil, what will his future be?

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All of the recent New York Yankees Covid encounters have caused the Yankees to do things they might not have done otherwise. Bringing up Luis Gil early was one of those moves.

“It was needed,” Boone said. “We’re expecting Gerrit Cole to be going tonight, and that’s tough news to get when your ace goes down, and you’re wondering how — forget replace him — but how you’re going to cover those innings.”

After weighing the possibilities, the Yankees chose to bring up prospect Luis Gil (pronounced Heel) from Scranton Wilkes/Barre. Many would have thought that the Yankees would bring back up last season’s debuting starter Deivi Garcia, but Garcia is pitching poorly at Scranton, whereas Luis Gil has been making a name for himself.

Gil did not disappoint. In the first inning, Gil took the mound in his debut and flew out Cedric Mullins. Ramon Urias struck out. Ryan Mountcastle reached on a collision with Rizzo. Anthony Santander flew out to Judge in right to end the half and a good first inning for Gil.

At the second, Anthony Santander led off against Gil, and he flew out to center. Austin Hays flew out to Torres. Pedro Severino went down looking as Gil had a 1-2-3 inning. By the end of his sixth innings of work, he had given up 4 hits, walking one and recording 6 strikeouts in his first win as a major league pitcher.

Gil was acquired from the Twins for Jake Cave in March 2018. In his third year with the New York Yankees, he has become an up-and-coming pitcher of the young arms in the Yankee organization. Fangraphs rates him twelfth in the organization, while Baseball America has him fourth among all Yankees farmhands. Both raters point out his fastball that gets into the high nineties. With the Patriots and Railriders, he has gotten numerous swinging strikeouts. He also has a high-speed changeup and a mid 80’s slider. Scouts say his secret to success is his fastball with movement.

Between the two teams this year, he has a respectable 4.13 ERA and a 4-1 record in his last fifteen games. Gil strikes out 33% of hitters he faces but also walks too many players, which has dogged his career.

The 23-year-old is 6′ 2″ and weighs 185 pounds. There is no question that Gil will be a major league pitcher; the question will be if it is as a starter or out of the bullpen. But, on August 3rd, he got to experience something Gil has waited all of his life for, and he was successful.

Gil is of Dominican descent. As an international free agent in 2015, Gil signed with the Minnesota Twins. He debuted in the Dominican Summer League for the Twins. Gil did not pitch in 2016 and was 0-2 with a 2.59 ERA in 14 starts in 2017. Just before the minor league season started in 2018, Gil was traded to the New York Yankees.

Gil will get his next start against the Seattle Mariners this Sunday in an afternoon matinee. He will face the Mariners Yusei Kikuchi. The New York Yankees will hope that he can come close to his debut performance; if he can, he will at the very least become a viable option for starting games when needed. On the other hand, if he bombs like many pitchers do in their sophomore start, he may not be quite ready for the majors. In either case, it appears that Gil has a bright future with the New York Yankees.

Chicago Bears: How Darnell Mooney has improved this offseason

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Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy had nothing but praise for wide receiver Darnell Mooney on Saturday morning prior to the team’s second padded practice of the weekend. After nine starts and 61 receptions as a rookie in 2020, Mooney entered the offseason with massive expectations of taking another major step forward.

With new faces at the quarterback position, consistent wide receiver play is a necessity for the Bears, who feel content about the wide receiver room featuring Mooney and eighth-year veteran Allen Robinson. A year ago, at this exact time, Mooney was an unknown commodity who took advantage of every opportunity, with results translating onto gamedays.

“Mooney right now is on fire with his route running,” said Bears head coach Matt Nagy prior to practice on Saturday morning. “He’s running some routes right now that I really haven’t seen him and A-Rob running those routes.”

More consistent quarterback play should lead to an increase in production who had a standout day on Friday, making a few key catches throughout practice, including a leaping grab over second-year cornerback Jaylon Johnson.

“It’s more routes, he’s putting his own spin and stamp on more routes,” Nagy said. “Last year, he had a couple routes where he was really good at. When we evaluated him last year, we knew in the fifth-round, I’m just telling you, we knew in the fifth round, we were getting a steal.

Mooney’s work ethic has also impressed the coaching staff, something that many have taken notice of. The message coming out of Halas Hall is clear: Mooney just isn’t looking to win matchups with his speed. He’s looking to become a complete wide receiver and make plays in any way possible.

“He’s proven us so far, to be what we thought he was,” Nagy said. “Because he works hard and the other thing is, A-Rob is his mentor. A-Rob’s teaching him a lot of stuff. That’s to his credit for latching onto him and now he’s putting it out there on tape and it’s just it’s fun to see. And he wants to keep growing.”

The Bears returned to Halas Hall for practice on Saturday and will return again on Sunday, giving Mooney an additional two days to continue proving that the former fifth-round pick is ready for a big leap in year two and begin making a name for himself.

NASCAR Xfinity: Can anyone beat Allmendinger and Cindric at The Glen?

After skipping the event in 2020 due to state COVID-19 restrictions, the NASCAR Xfinity returns to Upstate New York and Watkins Glen for the Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey 200.

Austin Cindric will look to win his second consecutive Xfinity Series race at The Glen after holding off a pesky AJ Allmendinger in 2019. To do so, Cindric will have to fight him off again at the site of Allmendinger’s lone Cup Series win.

“It’s going to be fun showing up there knowing what we did last time, but it’s still the same challenge,” Cindric said. “I’m going to learn something about where [Allmendinger] stands, where we stand, [and] I feel we’ve been able to make improvements”.

Allmendinger and Cindric have shown to not only be two of the best road course racers in the Xfinity Series; they stand 1-2 in the overall points standings. The two, along with Justin Allgaier, are the only three drivers who have officially clinched spots in the Xfinity Series playoffs. All three drivers have multiple wins to their name and are serious contenders for the series championship.

Jeb Burton and Myatt Snider each have won once this season and can clinch a playoff spot with a victory. Burton can also clinch with a repeat winner.

Although Cindric and Allmendinger are the clear favorites on Saturday, many hungry drivers without a 2021 victory have the potential to steal a victory. Harrison Burton, Justin Haley, Noah Gragson, and Brandon Jones are all winless this season despite each driver winning multiple times in 2020. Daniel Hemric, Jeremy Clements, Michael Annett, and Riley Herbst are also in the playoff mix and without wins this season. Herbst even ran Friday’s ARCA race at The Glen with his regular crew servicing the car, finishing 6th.

Like Kyle Busch has done multiple times this season, Cup Series regulars Austin Dillon and Erik Jones could shake up the Xfinity Series bubble. Dillon is racing the No. 23 car for Our Motorsports, while Jones is racing the No. 31 car for Jordan Anderson Racing. The two drivers start the race 33rd and 36th, respectively.

Other notable starting positions include Herbst (10th), Gragson (11th), Ty Gibbs (15th), and Michael Annett (18th).

Coverage of Saturday’s Xfinity Series race begins at 3:30 pm ET on CNBC with the race expected to go green around 4:00 pm ET. The race is on CNBC due to coverage of the 2020 Olympic Games.

 

New York Yankees: Takeaways from an unusual Yankee win (video)

New York Yankees, Brett Gardner

The New York Yankees won their first game against the Seattle Mariners and went into last night’s game without a starting pitcher to face Marco Gonzalas. Instead, the Yankees relied on the bullpen to get them through an eleven-inning game. But the Yankees found a way and won the game 3-2 in the 11th inning due to a walk-off single by the oldest tenured Yankee, Brett Gardner.

The largest crowd enjoyed the exciting 11 inning game the Yankees have played in front of this season. 43,180 fans jammed Yankee Stadium as their team has found new life in its chase of a 28th World Championship.

3 up 3 down, 8 to come!

Wandy Peralta started last night’s game throwing eleven pitches and going 3 up and 3 done in a quick first inning. Little did Peralta, the Yankees, or fans know that it would take 9 pitchers to win the Yankees game last night and six of the last seven games.

With no starting pitcher available to start last night’s game, the New York Yankees asked the bullpen to provide 9 innings of work; they did that pitching for 11 innings.  It was a herculean effort that played out magnificently. If the Yankees had lost last night’s game, it would have been a devasting blow to a bullpen that did everything asked of it.

Giancarlo Stanton and 4 multihit games

Aaron Judge drove in the first run off the game in the eighth inning for the Yankees. Before that, the New York Yankees could do nothing against the Seattle starter Marco Gonzales. Gonzales had one of his best games of the season. Although no home runs, Giancarlo Stanton had a big impact on the game, having his 4th multi-hit game in a row.

The Yankees only had 6 hits in the eleven inning game, but Giancarlo Stanton had two of those hits, and they were impactful. After the Yankees tied it and had hoped to pull ahead, Stanton hit into an all too familiar double play ending the inning. The Mariners tied it up in the ninth, forcing the 10th inning in which they retook the lead. But in the bottom, Stanton hit a weak single to right, driving in  Gardner to tie up the game at 2 apiece and forcing the eleventh inning.

Brett Gardner still can contribute

Fan-favorite, yet the lowly Brett Gardner didn’t start the game for the Yankees last night, but he did finish it for the Yankees with the 9th walk-off win of his long-tenured career. Gardner is the only holdover from the 2009 World Series-winning team.

Gardner came very close to not being a Yankee in the 2021 season, but in the end, he was signed up for another year.  It has been a year where he has not been very productive, to put it lightly. His batting average entering last night’s game was just .197. Yet, even though he had not been hitting, he hasn’t lost a step in the outfield, still making spectacular plays.

Last night he had redeemed himself to many Yankee fans. Pinch-hitting for Davis late in the game, he got a hit and scored two of the three Yankees runs. And that one hit was a single at the bottom of the eleventh, driving in ghost runner Joey Gallo for the Yankee win.

 

New York Jets: Elijah Moore takes things personally in new motivation

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The New York Jets’ showstopping rookie receiver has found a special form of motivation going into his NFL debut.

Michael Jordan took things personally and it appears Elijah Moore is about to do the same.

Speaking with The Athletic’s Connor Hughes, the New York Jets’ rookie receiver unveiled a new brand of motivation going into his first professional campaign. Before Moore descends upon Jets training camp, his focus lingers on his hotel room’s bathroom mirror, where the names of five fellow first-year receivers dwell on a piece of paper. Each was chosen ahead of him during the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland.

Moore was labeled a first round choice out of Mississippi in many mock drafts going into April’s proceedings but was not among the five receivers that went within the first 32 picks. Those honors instead went to Ja’Marr Chase (Cincinnati), Jaylen Waddle (Miami), DeVonta Smith (Philadelphia), Kadarius Toney (NY Giants), and Rashod Bateman (Baltimore).

These names are the last things he sees before he departs for Florham Park. Hughes’ report dictates that Moore will also speak them aloud before he makes the short trip to One Jets Drive.

“A chip (on my shoulder)? You could say that,” Moore told Hughes. “I think I’m the best. God doesn’t make any mistakes, but yeah, I’m going to show them why I should’ve gone first.”

Chosen 34th overall, the second pick of the second round, Moore’s selection is nonetheless historically high from a Jets perspective, as he’s the highest receiver the Jets have chosen in the draft since Santana Moss went at No. 16 in 2001. He’s been well worth the wait, turning into one of fellow rookie Zach Wilson’s favorite targets as training camp rolls on.

Moore’s early returns have yielded positive reviews both domestically and abroad. An agile victory against cornerback Corey Ballentine in training drew Instagram praise from both Odell Beckham Jr. and A.J. Brown. The latter is quite familiar with what Moore can bring to the table, as they spent a season together in Oxford, while Beckham labeled Moore “special” in a tweet from March.

The Jets are all too pleased with what the Moore experience has done to their offense in the early going.

“He wants to be as good as he could possibly be,” offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said of Moore this week, per notes from the Jets. “He’s just ultra-prepared, he knows what he’s doing. He’s extremely detailed, that’s what’s cool about him because when he makes a mistake or he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he just flat out doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

“He rarely makes the same mistake, if ever. He’s just on top of his stuff, he’s a talented young man. It’s cool because as he’s learning this scheme you can tell that he’s getting comfortable and his skillset can really shine through.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Does Evan Fournier, Kemba Walker make the Knicks top seed contenders?

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The New York Knicks utilized their remaining cap space to sign point guard Kemba Walker after he finalized a buy-out with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Knicks started off free agency, retaining some of their own, spending the majority of their available funds on three-year contracts with Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks, and Derrick Rose.

The front office had a straightforward approach, show loyalty to the players who impacted them the most during a play-off worthy 2020-21 season, and fill weaknesses with strengths. Having secured the 4th overall seed in the Eastern Conference last season, the Knicks are looking to take the next step forward, and their newest additions should contribute toward that goal.

Evan Fournier’s impact:

When the Knicks signed Fournier, they saw an upgrade over Reggie Bullock, who signed a three-year contract with the Dallas Mavericks. Fournier, who is capable of playing shooting guard and small forward, has the ability to create shots and drive to the basket, whereas Bullock was more of a catch and shoot specialist.

Fournier averaged 17.1 points last season, including 3.4 assists, and shot 45.7% from the field. However, his most important statistic is his three-point percentage, which lands at 41.3%.

With similar shooting percentage is compared to Bullock, Fournier was offered a four-year, $78 million deal because of his ability to open up the floor and take pressure off of Julius Randle. He’s head and shoulders above Bullock as an offensive weapon, which should elevate the Knicks’ offensive production, therefore giving them a better opportunity to move up in the standings.

Kemba Walker’s impact:

Relying on Elfrid Payton to get the job done last season was a tough reality for head coach Tom Thibodeau, who quickly replaced him with Derrick Rose upon his acquisition. Payton averaged 23.6 minutes per game, and Walker will undoubtedly steal those minutes and provide more efficiency as a shooter and floor general.

However, Kemba has dealt with injury in the past, specifically with his left knee. He missed 45 games over the past two seasons, including 29 last season and two in the playoffs. However, he was fantastic after returning during the second half of the year, so it is clear he can still play at a high level when healthy.

Paying him an average of $8 million per season, they are getting him on a steep discount, similar to the contract Payton signed last year to stay with the Knicks for one season.

Splitting minutes between Rose and Walker will help mitigate fatigue and injury, providing the Knicks with two more than capable point guards who can lead the offense and take even more responsibility away from Randle.

Last season, Randle was double-teamed frequently, especially during the postseason. Pulling assignments away from him and toward other playmakers should increase their efficiency, hopefully allowing them to secure an even higher seeding and home-field advantage for the postseason.

So can the Knicks compete as a top seed in the Eastern Conference? Absolutely, but it all boils down to health at the end of the day.

Giants’ rookie corner leaving big impression as he looks to steal roster spot

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With several units struggling with injuries, one group has been standing out during practice for the New York Giants. The secondary, who have worked all off-season together to improve their chemistry and fundamentals, are dominating thus far in camp. Ranging from veterans to rookies, they’re working off one another and taking to coaching well.

One player who has made an impact is Oklahoma State rookie Rodarius Williams, who was a sixth-round pick in the most recent draft. Williams is a 6’0”, 195-pound man coverage corner who relies on physicality and instincts in coverage.

During practice on Friday, Williams recorded an interception and pass break up, which was intercepted by Jabrill Peppers, featuring with the first team. Veteran Adoree’ Jackson took the day to heal and rest after a string of physical practices. While William showed out in a big way, he knows there’s a lot more work left to do.

I’m definitely not where I want to be, but we definitely take it each day at a time and getting better. Each day, I go in the film room and I don’t only watch the good plays, I watch every play that my technique is bad and stuff like that. There’s mental errors. Just learning from (CB) James (Bradberry) and learning from (CB) Adoree’ (Jackson), small technique issues that I’m working on every day.

Veteran corner James Bradberry spoke about Williams and his adaptation to the NFL:

“I think he has a lot of skill. Now, it’s just him getting adjusted to the speed of the NFL and also learning the system. Once he learns the system, I think he’ll be able to play even faster,” Bradberry said of Williams, who already has an interception in camp.

Williams has the internal flame to become a contributor during his rookie season, and he’s not letting opportunities pass him by:

It just put a fire inside me competitively and I think every DB had the same fire underneath their butt in the room. We’re a deep group, so everybody is looking for their one opportunity. Every day, I just show up and take advantage of whatever opportunity I get. I’m in Coach’s ear like, ‘Coach, I’m ready.’ Whenever my moment comes, I’m going to take advantage of it.

The Giants have an extremely deep secondary, as Williams is simply looking to land a spot on the active roster. He will have to find a way to make an impact on special teams and impress Joe Judge, potentially as a gunner on the punt unit.
If he can use his speed and athleticism in that fashion, he can improve his chance of securing a spot on the roster, but simply having a few good days at training camp isn’t enough to guarantee his stay. He’s competing with players like Isaac Yiadom, Madre Harper, Jarren Williams, and Sam Beal for a spot. This is one of the more overlooked position battles on the team, but Williams making the headlines is undoubtedly a good sign of his performance.