Sources: Philippines’ 7-4 unicorn Kai Sotto to work out with Knicks

The New York Knicks will be working out the Philippines’ top NBA prospect Kai Sotto next week, per league sources.

The 7-foot-4 Sotto is fresh from playing in Australia’s National Basketball League, where the previous lottery picks LaMelo Ball and Josh Giddey played before entering the NBA.

The 20-year-old Sotto averaged 7.5 points on 50% shooting, 4.5 rebounds and 0.8 blocks in just 15 minutes off the bench for the Adelaide 36ers, the same team that groomed Giddey. His strong finish in his NBL stint has intrigued several NBA teams. Aside from the Knicks, Sotto has 11 more workouts lined up for him despite not getting an invitation to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.

“I got [off to] a slow start but I think as time went by, I played better. The whole process has been amazing,” Sotto said of his NBL stint.

He capped his promising NBL campaign, scoring in double figures in three of his final five games, including a career-high 21 points in 18 minutes off the bench against the three-time NBL champion Brisbane Bullets.

The Filipino prospect has been working out in Atlanta with NBA skills trainer and former Columbia University star Jeremiah Boswell to prepare for the NBA Draft.

“I’m just working on my strengths and weaknesses, trying to improve my all-around game and try to be ready for the NBA Draft in the team workouts,” Sotto recently told Lakersnation.com.

Sotto projects to be a stretch big man in the next level that offers rim protection and decent court vision. He displayed his soft touch from the perimeter in the NBL, albeit in a small sample size, shooting 38 percent from deep.

“(The perimeter shooting) is one of the things I try my best to improve on, and it’s going to be a weapon for me when I master it,” Sotto said. “I just need a lot of reps to have confidence in myself.”

His solid footwork came from studying NBA legends Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan.

A former four-star prospect, Sotto starred for Atlanta-based prep team The Skills Factory. He nixed playing in the U.S. NCAA and instead signed with the inaugural G League Ignite Team. However, conflicts with his commitment to the Philippine national team in FIBA tournaments aborted his G League stint.

Sotto hopes to become the first full-blooded and homegrown Filipino to play in the NBA. Currently, the league has two players with Filipino lineage — Houston Rockets’ Jalen Green and Jordan Clarkson.

New York has the third-largest Filipino immigrants in the U.S., with a 236,000 population, according to a 2019 census.

The Knicks have a stacked frontline with the emergence of last year’s second-round pick Jericho Sims into a serviceable rotation player. Barring any trades, Nerlens Noel and Mitchell Robinson, who has yet to agree to a contract extension, are projected to patrol the paint for the Knicks next season.

The Knicks own the 11th and 42nd pick in June’s NBA Draft.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Rookie tight end turning heads at Giants OTAs

daniel bellinger, giants

The New York Giants are practicing at OTA’s this week. There have been some standout rookies and not just the team’s two hyped-up first-round picks. Late-round guys are already turning heads this summer. Take, for example, fourth-round pick Daniel Bellinger. The tight end out of San Diego State has already captured attention after just a few practices.

With the 112th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the New York Giants drafted tight end, Daniel Bellinger. This fourth-round pick was acquired in last year’s blockbuster trade-down with the Chicago Bears. The Giants drafted a versatile tight end with a well-rounded skillset in Bellinger. They had a significant need at tight end after seeing their top three on the roster depart this offseason. Evan Engram left in free agency while Kyle Rudolph and Kaden Smith were both released. Daniel Bellinger has an opportunity to make an instant impact as a potential starter in his rookie season.

What Daniel Bellinger is bringing to the Giants

Daniel Bellinger reportedly made the “play of the day” in Monday’s practice with a spectacular touchdown catch. This is not out of the norm for the rookie. He had a wide frame and secure hands which allow him to go over the top of defensive backs in the end zone:

Bellinger averaged 14.5 yards after the catch per reception, which ranked first of the prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft class (PFF). Daniel Bellinger is also a willing blocker and a secure catcher. He had 0 dropped passes in the 2021 season to go along with a 4.2% drop rate for his entire collegiate career. Bellinger was utilized a lot on screens and short passes during his collegiate career. Over in Kansas City, new Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka and the Chiefs turned Travis Kelce into one of the NFL’s best tight ends using him in a similar fashion to the way San Diego State used Daniel Bellinger.

Daniel Bellinger is an athletic tight end with a well-rounded skillset. He is 6-foot-6, 255 pounds, and moves quickly with the ball in his hands. Bellinger racked up 31 receptions for 357 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2021. The Giants needed to find themselves a new tight end, and it seems like Joe Schoen delivered with the draft pick of Daniel Bellinger in round four.

New York Giants Day 2 OTAs: Main Takeaways

giants, kayvon thibodeaux

The New York Giants hosted their second day of OTA’s on Tuesday, featuring rookies and veterans alike. Thus far, second-round receiver Wan’Dale Robinson and a few undrafted free agents have stood out the most.

Via the Giants website:

*Wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson has displayed a quick twitch during OTAs. The rookie is already a frequent target of Daniel Jones. The two connected on several passes during 11-on-11 drills, including a sideline grab for a sizeable gain. Robinson is extremely quick in getting to the outside with his cuts and will be a tough matchup for defenders.

It is a great sign that Robinson and quarterback Daniel Jones have already begun developing chemistry this off-season. Robinson offers Jones a security blanket in the short portions of the field, especially given his success in the screen game.

With Kentucky last season, Robinson ranked 3rd in screen catches with 35 and 4th in screen yards with 268. He also caught 16 deep catches, ranking 6th in the league. With that array of qualities, Jones can target him in various portions of the field, which is likely how Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka visualize him being used.

The Giants are seeing what Kayvon Thibodeaux is capable of:

Fellow draft pick Kayvon Thibodeau also stepped up big in a scrimmage scenario, tipping a pass that landed in the hands of Xavier McKinney, who took it the other way. Seeing the Giants’ top draft picks making plays during OTAs is definitely a good sign, but it means nothing until they translate to an actual game.

*Speaking of pass breakups, Kayvon Thibodeaux made a nice play to tip a pass at the line of scrimmage, and the ball landed in the hands of Xavier McKinney, who returned it the other way.

So far, it seems as if the Giants have gotten off to a good start, especially given their successful health reports.

What’s next for Amanda Ribas following UFC Vegas 54 loss?

This past Saturday on the main card of UFC Vegas 54, we saw a pivotal matchup in the women’s flyweight division. Top contender Katlyn Chookagian (18-4) was welcoming top strawweight contender Amanda Ribas (11-3) to the flyweight division.

Ribas was coming off of a win against Virna Jandiroba entering UFC Vegas 54. In that fight, she looked much improved from her previous fight and re-established her stock. However, after the fight, she decided to move up and take on the challenge of top contender Katlyn Chookagian.

To be completely honest, I thought Ribas was really going to struggle in this matchup. However, I was wrong. In the first round, Ribas was able to use her sensational judo to get a big takedown on Chookagian. With her ground control time, Ribas definitely took the first round.

Ribas would go on to land takedowns in every single round at UFC Vegas 54. She really showed that she could hang with the best of the best at 125 pounds. However, she was still not doing the best in the stand up. When they were at striking range, Ribas was getting clipped with the crisp straight shots of Chookagian.

In the final two rounds, Ribas also struggled to mount any offense from her takedowns. Combining that with losing the striking and things didn’t look well in terms of the scorecards. Unfortunately for Ribas, when the cards were read at UFC Vegas 54, two of the judges gave the fight and the win to Katlyn Chookagian.

What’s next after UFC Vegas 54?

The decision was brutal for Amanda Ribas and there were plenty of people who thought that she won the fight on Saturday night. Had she been given the decision, she would’ve vaulted to the very top of the UFC’s flyweight division and could’ve been a win away from a title shot.

However, she wasn’t given the decision and now her career’s in a bit of limbo. She’s not at the top of the strawweight division and she’s not at the top at flyweights. She’s somewhere in the middle of the top fifteen in both weight classes. So what’s next?

Well, after watching her on Saturday night, I think she’ll take another fight in the UFC’s flyweight division. She looked good from a size perspective and she looked strong. Ribas also benefited from not having to cut an extra ten pounds. Assuming she stays at 125, who can she fight?

Personally, I would like to see her against someone like Joanne Wood. Wood is currently ranked tenth and it would be a good opportunity for Ribas to get a top ten win at 125. If she could beat Wood, she would firmly establish herself in the UFC’s top ten at 125.

Nets’ Kyrie Irving reflects on his time with LeBron: We would’ve won more championships

Brooklyn Nets, Kyrie Irving

When Kyrie Irving recently declared he wants to co-manage the Brooklyn Nets, he must have referred to how LeBron James exerted his power to construct rosters around him.

Irving reflected on his time with James and their eventual breakup in the latest I Am Athlete podcast.

“I was just a young kid trying to help Cleveland patch their relationship with [LeBron]. I got drafted the year after [LeBron left for Miami]. So when I first came in, the first question they [media] asked me was, ‘are you going to be better than LeBron?’ So it was mixed emotions the whole time we were competitors and when he came back as my teammate,” Irving said.

Even after taking the game-winning shot that gave Cleveland its first NBA championship, it was clear to him that the Cavaliers were still James’ team.

“That’s his home,” Irving said. “That’s not somewhere where he just goes and vacates. He’s from there. That’s like having my family in Brooklyn.”

A big part of the narrative that led to Irving’s decision to leave Cleveland was to be his own man and step out of James’ large shadow. While Irving pushed back with that idea and adamantly said he wanted to experience the league outside of Cleveland and not James per se, it’s still hard to buy that.

“That’s not what I mean — building your own brand, my own thing. Like again, it was, ‘let me go experience the league. Let me experience what my trade value is. Let me go’,” Irving explained.

Five years since that decision, Irving has yet to lead a team to an NBA title. He is now with his second team in Brooklyn, where Durant is viewed as the alpha.

While he had no regrets about his decision when he was only a 24-years-old rising star, he admitted they could have won more championships had he stayed.

“I definitely feel like if I was in the same maturity level now and understanding of who I am, and I look back, we definitely, definitely would’ve won more championships because there would’ve been a better man-to-man understanding about what I’m going through,” Irving said. “I didn’t know how to share my emotions. I didn’t know how to do that. So instead of sharing, I isolated myself.”

The Cavaliers failed to defend their crown in the following season. Irving eventually asked to be traded in the aftermath of the loss.

“I just started pouring myself more into the game — I had one of my better seasons, but I wasn’t connecting with everybody as much during the championship year. So 2017 was a different year for us. We went against Golden State. We went against a great team. When you’re not a great team and not clicking on all cylinders, and together, you’re easily defeated. You’re defeated before you can get to the arena.”

Irving left in the middle of one of the greatest rivalries. While the Cavaliers still managed to go to the NBA Finals without Irving, they couldn’t match the Golden State Warriors’ star power and folded up quickly in four games.

Irving had the urge to experience something different as the Cavaliers’ front office and James had different futures in mind. His only regret is not talking to James right away, as words of his trade demand leaked out while he was on a Nike Tour in China.

“We didn’t talk during that time,” Irving said. “When I look back on what I was going through at that time, I wish I did because it would’ve been a good understanding of what the future will hold for both of us, and we know how much power we both had together. Me and him in the league together running Cleveland, and then being able to put a better team together every single year would’ve definitely been worth it.”

Irving saw first-hand how James wielded his power in roster construction. He admitted that being around James accelerated his understanding of the game and the business that they are in.

“I watched him deal with it in front and off the camera,” Irving said.

But James’ teams from Cleveland to Miami and now in Los Angeles were not built for sustainable success. His previous teams hit rock bottom when he left them.

So when Irving said he wanted to co-manage the team, it raised eyebrows.

During his end-of-the-season press conference, Nets general manager Sean Marks indirectly shut down the idea and cast dark clouds over Irving and his long-term future with the team. Durant was the only player Marks mentioned as part of the stakeholders regarding personnel decisions though he explicitly said that he’s the one making final decisions.

Marks took a jab at Irving when he said they’re looking for “guys that want to come in here and be part of something bigger than themselves, play selfless, play team basketball, and be available.”

During Irving’s exile from the Nets due to his unvaccinated status, the Lakers reportedly thought about reuniting him with James.

Irving has a big decision to make this summer.

He has a $36.9 million player option. If he opts out, he is eligible to extend for up to four years, $183.6 million, or up to five years, $247.6 million with the Nets. At the same time, he would become a free agent and could choose to go anywhere.

With another big decision looming, will Irving finally make the right one this time?

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Yankees promoting dominant left handed starting pitcher to Triple-A

Ken Waldichuk, yankees,

The New York Yankees have enjoyed watching left-handed starting pitcher Ken Waldichuk climb the Minor League system. At 6’4″ and 220-pounds, Waldichuk was a fifth-round draft pick in the 2019 MLB June Amateur Draft out of St. Mary’s College of California.

Waldichuk started his farm system journey in 2021, featuring with Somerset and Hudson Valley. Over 23 combined games, he posted a 3.03 ERA but had a few struggles with Somerset, earning a 4.20 ERA and 12.25 strikeouts per nine over 79.1 innings.

However, this season has been a bit different for the stud prospect, who currently hosts a 1.26 ERA, 14.44 strikeouts per nine, and an 86.8% left on base rate. His 51% ground ball rate is the best in his entire career and has picked up four wins over six appearances.

Clearly, this was enough to convince the Yankees brass to call him up to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he will feature alongside Luis Gil and a few top-end prospects who are looking to make a jump to the Major Leagues.

Waldichuk is on the fast track to becoming a Major League player, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make an appearance this year at the top level if he continues his phenomenal performance with Scranton.

The Yankees are always looking for a bit more diversity with their pitching and considering he’s a lefty, if anything were to happen to Jordan Montgomery, he might get an opportunity to start this year. At just 24 years old, he’s well on his way to making an impact in the future with the top team.

After edging Amanda Ribas at UFC Vegas 54, what’s next for Katlyn Chookagian?

This past Saturday on the main card of UFC Vegas 54, we saw a big time matchup in the women’s flyweight division. Consensus number one contender Katlyn “Blonde Fighter” Chookagian (18-4) was taking on the popular strawweight contender Amanda Ribas (11-3).

Ribas was moving up in weight and she was going right in against the top contender. Heading into UFC Vegas 54, I really liked Katlyn Chookagian to pick up the win. Not because I didn’t like the skillset of Ribas, but Chookagian has proven over and over again how good she is.

Will her performances leave you begging for more? Probably not, but she’s incredibly effective and she always seems to get her hand raised outside of taking on the best of the best. However, the fight didn’t start well for her at UFC Vegas 54.

In the first round, Ribas was able to use her judo to take Chookagian down. With the amount of control she had, I felt comfortable giving the first round to Ribas. In the second round, Ribas was able to land a takedown as well. However, this round had a lot of striking.

Chookagian was able to piece up Ribas on the feet and Ribas did nothing with her takedowns. The third round saw a more even standup battle and Ribas did land a takedown. However, Chookagian still looked to land the bigger shots. In the end, by split decision, Katlyn Chookagian got the win at UFC Vegas 54.

What’s next after UFC Vegas 54?

Once again, Katlyn Chookagian was able to show why she’s the top contender in the UFC’s flyweight division. No, she didn’t run through Amanda Ribas. But, she did what she had to do and ended up winning a decision. Another win in the win column is what she wanted and it’s what she got.

This latest win makes it four in a row for Katlyn Chookagian. Blonde Fighter is 5-1 since her UFC title shot with the lone loss coming against former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade. After this latest win, Chookagian might have setup her next fight.

I think that she even recognizes that she will need one more win before getting a second crack at UFC gold. With that in mind, she called out Manon Fiorot. Fiorot is currently ranked sixth in the division and she’s unbeaten in the UFC.

After losing her professional MMA debut by split decision, Fiorot is a perfect 9-0. Inside the octagon, she’s 4-0 with two stoppages. This is an excellent callout for Chookagian and if she’s able to beat Fiorot, I don’t see how you could deny her of another shot at the title.

Yankees dig the long ball: Bombers continue their slugging ways

anthony rizzo, yankees

It’s not a secret to anybody that the New York Yankees are built to hit home runs. It’s in their DNA, and it’s the lineup’s calling card: Joey Gallo, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rizzo, Gleyber Torres, and others are built to hit the ball a mile.

In 2022, the Yankees have shown that they dig the long ball. As of Tuesday afternoon, they lead the majors in home runs with 52, three more than the second-place team (a three-way tie between the Houston Astros, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Los Angeles Angels, with 49), and they also have the highest isolated power, with .180.

Those numbers are extremely impressive considering the current offensive environment in MLB, where runs, and home runs to be precise, are scarce.

Three of the top four players in home runs are members of the Yankees’ roster: Aaron Judge (12) leads the league, and Giancarlo Stanton and Anthony Rizzo have ten each, with Astros’ slugger Yordan Alvarez (11) sandwiched between them.

Everybody is hitting homers for the Yankees

They are even getting home runs from unexpected sources: in the Yankees’ 6-2 win against the Orioles on Monday, they got a key home run from Jose Trevino, and Donaldson and Rizzo also went yard.

“You have guys that have hit a lot of home runs in this game for a long time,” Rizzo told MLB.com. “I don’t think we’re really trying to go up there and slug. We’re trying to just pass it on to the next guy, and that’s the best part.”

The Yankees, who have gotten 51.4 percent of their runs out of the home run ball, have won 21 of their last 25 games.

“Our offense is going to give us opportunities throughout the game, and we know that,” Donaldson said. “We know that if we don’t get the job done early on, we’re going to have more opportunities to do that.”

The Yankees really dig the long ball.

Giants may have landed UDFA steal at safety out of Kentucky

yusuf corker, giants, kentucky

While everyone is focused on first-round picks Evan Neal and Kayvon Thibodeaux, the New York Giants are trying to find value with their undrafted free agents. Everybody knows what the top talents in the draft offer, but it’s the gems you find afterward that could be the difference between having a good or great team.

In fact, most of the NFL is composed of undrafted free agents, so finding quality players on the open market is an essential part of every team’s strategy. That is why the Giants brought in so many this off-season with new management taking over.

One player who has stood out thus far is Kentucky safety Yusuf Corker, who was expected to be drafted in the mid-rounds.

“I think that happens every year, where this guy should’ve got drafted in the fourth or seventh or sixth, he’s a free agent or this guy should have been a seventh, and he was a second-round pick,” head coach Brian Daboll said of Corker, via Giants Wire. “We’ll see. He’s a good kid. I think he’s got a good skillset. Put him back there, see how he does.”

Corker is an intriguing player at 6-foot, 203 pounds. He doesn’t have extraordinary size, but he plays an aggressive brand of football.

As a hard-hitting DB, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will probably love him in the run game. Corker is known for his ability to get to the line of scrimmage and make stops before the runner can hit the next level. He picked up four tackles for a loss last season, running downfield and showing off his physicality.

Overall, Corker produced 82 total tackles, and eight passes defended in 2021. Despite being projected as an average backup or special teams player, he was at least expected to be drafted, which should provide the Giants with ample value as a UDFA.

Another positive — Corker was a three-year starter for Kentucky, and while he has missed a large number of tackles over the past few years, the Giants can work out that deficiency with good coaching. Being over-aggressive may have hurt him in the past, but if the Giants can create a more balanced approach and help him develop his tackling technique, he could end up being a solid box safety. I expect him to be a special-teams contributor to start his career with Big Blue.

Yankees slugger reacts to constant boos and negative fan attention

joey gallo, yankees

Over eight seasons, the best batting average Joey Gallo has ever recorded was .253 back in 2019, with the Texas Rangers over 70 games. However, that was during the age of juiced baseballs, and since then, his average has never cracked .200 over an entire season. The New York Yankees don’t care about batting average, though, they care about home runs and how hard you hit the baseball in the strike zone.

Their primary mantra at the minor and major league level: “hit strikes hard.”

Gallo does that specific task incredibly well, making contact with the baseball at 74.4% when the pitches are in the strike zone. Interestingly, pitchers have danced around Gallo, forcing him to chase balls dipping out of the zone. Gallo has seen 38% of his pitches inside the strike zone, one of the lowest numbers of his career. In fact, there has been an interesting difference in pitches to Joey this year, seeing an increase in breaking balls instead of fastballs. 55.5% of pitches thrown to him in 2021 were fastball variations, but that number has dipped to 49%. Now, pitchers throw their breaking balls 31.8% of the time and offspeed at 19.2%, which is a hefty increase.

Gallo recently spoke about his struggles hitting the baseball, indicating that he is incapable of being a contact hitter and must rely on the long-ball to produce at the MLB level.

“This is what happens all the time when you’re slumping,” Gallo said, via Randy Miller of NJ.com. “I wish I was DJ LeMahieu. I don’t get how he hits the ball so much. A lot of times, I wish I was a contact hitter, but I [am playing] the hand that I was dealt.”

One ways for sluggers to provide more value is to walk, which Gallo is doing 13.8% of the time this year. However, that number is considerably down from 18% in 2021.

“I have to find value because I’m not able to get more hits,” Gallo said. “I had to work on my walk rate and take more pitches. Defensively, I knew I had to improve, too, because I don’t want to be just a slugger.”

The story is slightly different from the ones fans detail on social media by most advanced metrics. Gallo’s making phenomenal contact with the baseball, he’s just simply getting unlucky. Gallo’s barrel percentage, hard-hit percentage, and walk percentage are all in the 90th or better percentile, indicating he’s making solid contact but failing to get it over the fence.

Interestingly, his launch angle has decreased tremendously to 16.8°, down from 22.7° last year. That would indicate he needs to get more leverage underneath the baseball, but that could be a result of pitchers changing their sequence against him.

“It sucks to hear, but I was like, ‘I know I’m hitting the ball well,’” Gallo said. “There are different ways to look at it. Sometimes it might look on paper like you’re struggling and the advanced metrics will tell you that you’re hitting the ball really well and you should be getting rewarded.”

Against the Baltimore Orioles on Monday night, Joey struck out four times but has been performing a bit better in the month of May, hitting .212 with three homers and four RBIs. He would like to be getting on base a bit more often, but he’s getting on base on 35% of his at-bats this month compared to 27.5% in April.