Knicks FA target Jalen Brunson raises his stocks

jalen brunson, knicks

New York Knicks’ free-agent target Jalen Brunson wants to get paid this summer. His Game 2 performance only raised his stocks to an all-time high.

Brunson dominated the Utah Jazz backcourt of Mike Conley and Knicks trade target Donovan Mitchell with a career-high 41-point masterclass as the Dallas Mavericks tied the series after a 110-102 win in Game 2 Monday night.

Brunson repeatedly pierced through the heart of Utah’s defense, forcing Jazz center Rudy Gobert to retreat to the paint, leaving them vulnerable from the outside. Dallas hit a playoff record 22 three-pointers and beat Utah in the same fashion the Los Angeles Clippers did in last year’s playoffs.

Brunson became the fifth Mavericks player to have a 40-point playoff game, joining Luka Doncic, Dirk Nowitzki, Rolando Blackman, and Nick Van Exel. He was the first player to do that without committing a turnover. His ultra-efficient game included making 15 of 25 shots, six of 10 from deep, and 5 of 7 free throws. He was a game-high plus-15 while adding eight rebounds, five assists, and two steals in 41 minutes.

“The telltale is we can’t have Brunson have the night he had and also be able to kick the ball out for those looks,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “And when those passes are kicked out, I thought we weren’t as sharp mentally in our ability to rotate. And that’s something that we’ve done before.”

Brunson is the type of point guard that Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau would love to have — smart, competitive, and makes winning plays.

He loves contact.

He could post up and attack the rim at ease while possessing a solid midrange and outside game. Over the last two seasons, he’s hovered above the 90th percentile in shots at the rim and short midrange, per Cleaning the Glass. He’s also been lethal in corner threes, ranking at the 95th percentile last season and 90th percentile this season.

His career game was just the icing on a remarkable contract season.

“He’s going to make a lot of money,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said after Brunson carried them without Doncic.

“I don’t know if he needs an agent, but I’m going to put my name in the hat. It’s not just what he did tonight, and it’s not what he’s going to do going forward. He’s already done the work this season.”

Brunson reportedly would seek around $80 million over four years.

The Mavericks hold his Bird rights. But it’s an open secret that the Knicks covet him that they even sent a recruiting team to watch him and Mitchell in the series opener over the weekend.

“He’s shown he deserves to be paid, and he does his job at a very high level, and he’s a winner,” Kidd said.

The Knicks would need to open up cap space (unload Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel’s contracts) or persuade the Mavericks to a sign-and-trade (could be either Mitchell Robinson or Dallas native Julius Randle).

Brunson, a second-round pick in the draft class that yielded Doncic and Trae Young, has a throwback game that belies his 6-foot-1 frame.

He is a power point guard who could post up and attack the rim at ease while possessing a solid midrange and outside game. Over the last two seasons, he’s hovered above the 90th percentile in shots at the rim and short midrange, per Cleaning the Glass. He’s also been lethal in corner threes, ranking at the 95th percentile last season and 90th percentile this season.

He could be the Knicks point guard who is a constant threat, can penetrate and spray out the ball efficiently and consistently that incoming third-year guard Immanuel Quickley would like to become. Brunson’s size, though, could be a problem on the defensive end since Thibodeau wants to employ big guards (case in point:  Burks eventually winning the starting job over Kemba Walker). But make no mistake, Brunson is stronger than he appears to be.

What makes him more likable is he’s a team player. He thrived playing alongside Doncic and has flourished as the primary facilitator without him.

Brunson’s explosion came on the heels of a 25-point performance in Game 1 but in a loss where he missed 16 shots.

“Most importantly, I think in Game 1, I missed a lot of shots that I normally make, so I wasn’t trying to go away from that necessarily,” Brunson said. “I think the biggest takeaway from Game 1 was just kind of staying with it, staying patient, and just playing my game.”

“I didn’t have to change too much besides just slowing down and just concentrating a little more and just continuing to play hard for as long as I was out there.”

Brunson says the right things and makes the right plays. What else does he need to do to prove he’s worth near Fred Van Vleet’s money?

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Giants could target linebacker in 2nd round to fit Wink Martindale’s scheme

leo chenal, giants

The New York Giants entirely reworked their coaching staff this offseason. After firing head coach Joe Judge, Brian Daboll took his place and hired Mike Kafka as offensive coordinator and Don “Wink” Martindale as defensive coordinator. Kafka and Martindale are exciting hirings expected to shift the Giants’ schemes significantly. On the defensive side of the ball, Martindale is a proven coordinator who achieved great success for years with the Baltimore Ravens. The Giants need to build their roster to fit Martindale’s scheme, though, and linebacker prospect Leo Chenal might be a perfect fit in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Leo Chenal is an exciting linebacker prospect out of Wisconsin. Chenal is a premium athlete with a refined pass-rushing skillset. Wink Martindale is known to run a blitz-heavy defensive scheme. Linebackers are frequently sent as extra pass-rushers in Martindale’s scheme. The Giants could target Leo Chenal in the second round of this year’s draft and perfectly fit him into Wink Martindale’s defensive scheme.

What could Leo Chenal bring to the Giants?

The New York Giants are in need of reinforcements on defense. Linebacker is a huge need for the Giants with Blake Martinez coming off of an ACL tear and little talent on the roster behind him. If the Giants are targeting a linebacker in the 2022 NFL Draft, Leo Chenal out of Wisconsin makes perfect sense. Chenal is a phenomenal pass-rushing linebacker whose “scheme fit” according to TDN is in a “blitz heavy, aggressive defense with quality coverage options in the secondary.” The scheme described sounds a lot like Wink Martindale’s defensive scheme.

Leo Chenal earned incredibly high grades on Pro Football Focus’s scale. His 92.1 overall grade makes him the highest-graded Power 5 linebacker since 2020. In the 2021 season, Chenal recorded a 91.5 PFF Grade, the highest by a Wisconsin defender since 2014. Leo Chenal totaled 115 tackles in 11 games this past season. He also racked up an insane 18.5 tackles for loss to go along with 8 sacks on the season.

Chenal is a premium athlete at the linebacker position. He recorded a 9.99 relative athletic score (RAS) at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine. Leo’s score ranked 4 out of 2188 LB from 1987 to 2022. In fact, his athletic score compares very similarly to former Carolina Panthers All-Pro linebacker Luke Keuchly.

Leo Chenal comes in at 6-foot-2, 250 pounds with 31-inch arms and 9.75-inch hands. Comparatively, Luke Keuchly was 6-foot-3, 242 pounds, also possessing 31-inch arms and 9.75-inch hands. Chenal and Keuchly also scored very similarly in the 40-yard dash, 10-yard and 20-yard splits, 3-cone, and the shuttle.

Video Analysis

For further analysis on Leo Chenal and the way he fits into the New York Giants’ defensive scheme, check out the episode of Fireside Giants below!

What’s next for Vicente Luque after UFC Vegas 51 loss?

This past Saturday in the main event of UFC Vegas 51, we saw a pivotal matchup in the welterweight division. The main event featured a rematch between top six contenders Vicente Luque (21-8-1) and Belal Muhammad (21-3, 1 NC).

These two men first fought back in 2016 at UFC 205. That night, Luque was able to get the better of Muhammad with a first round knockout. However, both men have progressed so much in the last six years that this promised to be a much different fight and it was.

From the opening bell, Luque was pressing forward while Muhammad was circling on the outside. Strikers will often pressure wrestlers to try and force the shots which usually makes it easier to defend. Combine that with Luque’s takedown defense and it was a good strategy.

However, that takedown defense wasn’t really on display at UFC Vegas 51. Throughout the fight, Muhammad was able to land takedowns and score points on Luque. There was really only one time where Luque had momentum by hurting Muhammad.

Outside of that one moment, the fight was controlled by Muhammad. In the end, all three judges gave the lopsided decision to Belal Muhammad at UFC Vegas 51.

What’s next after UFC Vegas 51?

The loss to Belal Muhammad was just Luque’s third loss in the last seven years. Every time he’s lost inside the octagon, he’s bounced back strong with a big winning streak and I wouldn’t put it past him to do it again.

That being said, it’s time to reset after his loss at UFC Vegas 51. With that in mind, what should be next for Vicente Luque? There are a couple of different avenues the UFC can pursue in terms of Luque’s next fight.

My favorite option would be a fight with Jorge Masvidal. It’s a fight that makes sense for both men and it would create a very entertaining scrap for the fans. That being said, Masvidal’s legal situation is up in the air after he punched Colby Covington outside of a Miami restaurant so we don’t know when he’ll be back.

Another option for Luque could be a fight with Sean Brady. Brady is in the top ten and he’s unbeaten. A fight with Luque would be a good test for him. One other option could be a rematch with Wonderboy Thompson with both men coming off losses to Belal Muhammad.

Yankees’ Gerrit Cole has message for team’s offense after early season struggles

Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees

The New York Yankees sit at .500 on the season through 10 games. The Bombers are preparing to face off against the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday afternoon, a team that hosts a similar record and is coming off a loss against the Kansas City Royals in their most recent game.

So far this year, the Yankees’ offense has enjoyed 328 at-bats, tallying 75 hits and a collective .229 batting average. Despite GM Brian Cashman remaining confident in his roster, they’ve hit 10 homers and 28 RBIs, showcasing minimal production.

The pitching has been mostly fantastic, limiting opposing teams to six runs or less in every game this season. However, without proper run support, the Yankees once again find themselves in a tough spot.

Starting pitcher Gerrit Cole mentioned recently how impressed he’s been by the team’s pitching efficiency, but a bit of help from the offense would go a long way in handing over a comfortable lead to the bullpen.

“From a starting pitcher’s perspective, we want to keep going as long as we can,” Cole said. “We want to try to push our pitch count and our games as deep as we can go to keep [the relievers] as fresh as we can so they can continue to perform at their level. At the same time, from a team aspect, I think it’s important to get on the board early so that we can turn a lead over to those guys.”

Diving into the more detailed metrics for the Yankees lineup, they have been abysmal against left-handed pitching, hosting a .206 average with one homer over 68 at-bats. They’ve been a bit more efficient against right-handed pitching, but still nothing to write home about. The Yankees haven’t scored more than six runs in each of their first 10 games, being blanked by a terrible Baltimore Orioles team on Sunday.

At some point, the sluggers need to come to life since Cashman has invested so much of his time building a power-heavy lineup. The problem with this approach is that when the team goes cold, they are simply ineffective. They don’t have speedy base-runners, and they feature a small number of contact hitters. Despite DJ LeMahieu featuring a batting average above .300, everybody around him continues to strike out, which makes his production irrelevant.

From an objective standpoint, the Yankees seem to be the same exact team from 2021, if not worse, given they didn’t provide the starting pitching with any support, and shortstop is still a huge liability. Unless the sluggers can turn things around quickly, the team could be facing some increasingly real struggles.

After regaining featherweight title at Bellator 277, what’s next for Patricio Pitbull?

Patricio Pitbull Freire

This past Friday night at Bellator 277, we saw a rematch for the featherweight title. The former champion Patricio Pitbull (33-5) was looking to regain the title from AJ McKee (18-1) after losing the title to him last July.

When these two men first fought, the fight wasn’t competitive. McKee hurt Pitbull badly on the feet and submitted him with a standing guillotine in the first round. It was a shocking fight to watch considering the promotional greatness of Pitbull.

Nobody has had more wins in Bellator than Patricio Pitbull and nobody has defended a title more than him. Entering Bellator 277, Patricio Pitbull had a 5-0 record in rematches throughout his career in the promotion.

He intended to keep that perfect rematch record on Friday night and that is exactly what he did. Pitbull came right out calm and composed while McKee came out with an aggressive posture. While McKee was looking to the knockout shot, Pitbull was touching him up with leg kicks and racking up points.

While McKee had some moments in the later rounds, Pitbull had done enough in the early rounds to get ahead on the scorecards. When the final scores were read, all three judges awarded the fight and the Bellator featherweight title to Patricio Pitbull.

What’s next after Bellator 277?

Now that Pitbull has avenged the loss to McKee, it seems like there is a clear path to his next fight. It seems rather obvious that Bellator would book the trilogy fight with AJ McKee and Pitbull to settle who is truly the best at 145.

However, after the fight was over, McKee said that he was done with featherweight. For a while, McKee has said the weight cut was getting to be too much and he wasn’t loving the idea of staying at 145. He said he would love to fight Pitbull again, but only at 155.

That is not something that Pitbull seems interested in despite being the former lightweight champion. Pitbull said that if McKee wants the trilogy, it has to happen at 145 pounds. If McKee sticks to his guns, it appears that this series will conclude with each man having won one.

If McKee isn’t next, who would the Bellator champion face off against? Well, to me there’s a clear choice. That choice would clearly be Adam Borics (18-1). Borics has won four in a row and he’s the top contender after McKee. If McKee is done at 145, it’s time for Borics to get his title shot.

Giants eyeing Virginia prospect to potentially fill void at tight end

jelani woods, giants

The New York Giants brought in TE Jelani Woods for a top-30 visit this week:

You would be hardpressed to find a tight-end prospect with a bigger frame than Virginia’s Jelani Woods, who stands at a towering 6’7″ and 259 pounds. Woods was a former top-25 quarterback in high school before making the transition to tight end, where he’s become an intriguing NFL prospect with great upside.

In fact, the New York Giants brought in Woods for a top-30 visit on Monday, per Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. The Giants have been doing their due diligence on TEs this off-season after allowing Evan Engram to walk in free agency and cutting Kyle Rudolph.

Engram signed a one-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars after years of polarizing play in East Rutherford, specifically regarding his inconsistent hands. The Giants aren’t looking for a one-trick pony at tight end anymore, but rather a do-it-all player with receiving prowess but also blocking upside. Ohio State’s Jeremy Ruckert also stands out as a 3rd round possibility, but Woods may also be around on Day 2.

 

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com isn’t extremely high on Woods but notes his undoubted upside:

Woods is an ascending in-line tight end with good size and length, but he needs to keep filling out his long frame and getting stronger as a point-of-attack blocker. While he looks lumbering in the early stages of the route, he plays with good physicality throughout and does a nice job of shielding defenders from playing the football. His hands aren’t great as a blocker or pass-catcher and both will need work, but his breakout 2021 could foreshadow more to come as an in-line backup with upside.
In his best collegiate campaign, Woods tallied 598 yards and eight touchdown receptions last season. Showcasing a great frame in the open field to battle corners and create leverage, Woods displayed solid body control and the ability to use his frame to his advantage. Having just run a 4.61 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, there’s little concern about his speed off the line of scrimmage and on seam routes.
Looking at Jelani objectively, he’s a raw prospect with physical upside. With the right coaching, he could be something special, but there are other options at the position that may present more of an immediate impact. The Giants likely love his size as a security blanket for Daniel Jones, but can he handle the quick fastballs within 10-yards? Some question his hands and consistency, noting his production this past season was surprising.
Providing the offense with a big body in the passing game and the red zone should be beneficial, but as we saw last year with Rudolph, it ultimately boils down to schematics and pass-protection for Jones.

Yankees face serious problem at shortstop after first 10 games of season

isiah kiner-falefa, yankees

The New York Yankees currently host a 5–5 record on the season, but their issues appear to be very similar to the 2021 campaign. General manager Brian Cashman made it clear that the team needed to upgrade the shortstop position, but after the first 10 games of the regular season, there is no sign of improvement, despite trading for Isiah Kiner-Falefa from the Minnesota Twins.

Kiner-Falefa was a priority for Cashman, who believed his contact-hitting and better defensive traits would translate to above-average shortstop play, but he’s been replaced on multiple occasions this season due to inefficiency.

The expectation was that Gleyber Torres would move back to second base, despite DJ LeMahieu being a far better player at the position. LeMahieu has moved around the infield, being used as a super-utility man to supplement a myriad of issues. However, field manager Aaron Boone has called upon Torres to play shortstop multiple times this season, already making two appearances at the position over four innings.

The more interesting shift has been pinch-hitting Kiner-Falefa in big moments, which the Yankees hoped they could avoid considering his .271 batting average last season.

From an objective standpoint, the shortstop position remains a significant problem, and the Yankees missed out on an opportunity to land Carlos Correa on a short-term deal, having signed with the Twins this off-season. By most accounts, Cashman struck out on multiple fronts, failing to upgrade SS and going into the season without an extension for Aaron judge.

There’s a legitimate question to be asking regarding Torres and his value to the team, given he’s hitting .161 this year with one homer over 36 play appearances. Of course, the season is young, but Torres struggled similarly with his power last year, hitting just nine homers over 127 games compared to 38 over 144 in 2019. Looking at his slugging metrics, Torres’s wOBA sits at just .247 this year, a career-low. His barrel percentage is down 1.1% compared to 2019, despite his exit velocity increasing.

The analytics simply don’t tell the full story with Torres, who may be facing mental hurdles rather than physical and fundamental ones.

However, Kiner-Falefa is a whole different ball game, considering he’s barely effective as a power hitter. In fact, he recorded a 1.8% barrel rate last year and hit just 28.6% in the hard-hit percentage category. With a measly exit velocity of just 85.5 mph, the Yankees shouldn’t expect Kiner-Falefa to be an impact player in the home run category but rather to get on base frequently and provide RISP.

The issue is that neither Falefa nor Torres have shown the consistency and production the Yankees desperately need. Both have dropped to the back-end of the batting order, a section that has plagued the team’s offense to start the year.