Monthly Archives: June 2010

The New Kid on the Block: Mike Leake

Here we are, 72 days into the season, and Nationals’ superstar prospect Stephen Strasburg has only started two games. Seven selections later in the 2009 Draft, the Reds selected Mike Leake, a polished starting pitcher out of Arizona State. Instead of giving Leake time to further develop in the minors, the Reds made Leake only the 20th player to bypass the minor leagues. Now he has a 2.68 ERA and no losses through 12 starts; Leake is clearly the best pitcher on their staff.

This off-season, all the chatter was about Stephen Strasburg and a Reds rookie pitcher. No, not Leake, but flamethrowing Cuban Aroldis Chapman. Leake went completely under the radar and stepped up in Spring Training to seize the final spot in the Cincinnati rotation over Chapman and Travis Wood.

Leake has never been a flashy player. He’s listed at 6’1″ but is really more like 5’11”, rarely hits higher then 92 on the radar, and induces lots of ground balls. Before the draft, a Reds scout went to see him pitch, trying to find a reason to dislike him, but he couldn’t. Leake is athletic, he has a wide arsenal of pitches, and he can pitch deep into games. Most importantly, he gets the job done.

Mike Leake's game as scrappy as his beard

Mike Leake's game as scrappy as his hair and beard

Leake spent three years Arizona State, and ended up as one of the most dominating pitchers in college. The first two years, his ERA stayed in the mid-3.00s and complied 24 wins and two saves. Nothing too special, batters hit .256 off him. But he made a big leap in his junior year. Leake started 18 games as a Sun Devil and won 16 of them. His ERA was more then halved, from 3.59 to 1.71. The opposition only hit .193 against him. His strikeout rate rocketed from 7.17 to 10.27 per nine innings. All of a sudden, Leake became the best college pitcher after Stephen Strasburg.

Leake’s dominance is even more surprising considering his competition. Whereas Strasburg pitched against the likes of Utah, New Mexico, and Wagner, Leake consistently played against the big boys in a major conference. Arizona State is one of the most stories college baseball programs, reaching 22 College World Series and winning five of them.

Whether it was lack of size or elite velocity, Leake fell into the Reds’ lap at #8 in the draft, and they found themselves a great young starting pitcher. Featuring a sinking fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup, Leake has been off to a historic season. He is the first Cincinnati pitcher ever – not just rookie – to go undefeated after 12 starts. Leake owns a 5-0 record and a 2.68 ERA, both a testament to his hard work and determination.

Not only has Leake stepped up to enter the record books, but he has also stepped up into the role of the Reds ace. Leake is the only Reds starter to have an ERA under 4.50, and he is nearly two runs below that! In eight out of twelve starts, he has given up two or less runs, and in seven starts he’s surrendered two or less walks. Leake has even stepped up at the plate, where he is hitting .400 through 31 trips to the plate.

By now, it is clear the Reds made the right decision when they chose Mike Leake for the final spot in the rotation over Chapman and Wood. The common thought on young pitchers is to give them plenty of time in the minors for two reasons: to give them more seasoning and to save money.

Last season, the Braves had a very good pitching prospect, Tommy Hanson. They wanted to prevent him from reaching Super Two Status, so they left him to dominate in the Minors for the first two months of the year. From that point on, Hanson won 13 games and was lights out for most of the year. The Braves finished the season 5 games out of the playoffs. It’s very conceivable that if Hanson had an extra 10-12 starts, the Braves would have made the playoffs. They chose money of winning.

One year later, the Braves were in the same situation. Jason Heyward, the next big thing, crushed major league pitching in spring training and deserved a spot on the 25-man Opening Day roster. Trying not to make the same mistake they made the year previous, Atlanta opted to let the young star play a full season in the majors. Now, they lead the NL East by 1.5 games over the Mets.

The Nationals were in a similar situation at the start of this season when dealing with Stephen Strasburg. They had a choice to make between winning and money. Keep Stephen Strasburg for an extra year at a lower cost or have two extra months of Strasburg. They chose the former, and look where they are now: 5.5 games out of the playoffs. There is no doubt that if the Nats had given Strasburg 12 extra starts over the likes of J.D. Martin and Luis Atilano, Washington could be atop the NL East. So, maybe having Strasburg for two months in his rookie season isn’t as valuable as he will be in 5 years, but winning now is more important then winning later.

So after letting their prized prospect just straight to the Bigs, the Reds can only be pleased with what they see. They have a future top-of-the-rotation stud in Leake and are perched atop the NL Central. Cincy made their choice between winning and money, and the decision clearly will make an impact on your season. So which do you want: the money, or the wins?

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Dallas Braden's Fiery Game

It’s not too rare to hear a player call out an umpire, an opponent, a coach, or other personnel in any sport. But to call out a 12 time All-Star who will likely own the career home run record is profound. Dallas Braden called out Alex Rodriguez when A-Rod ran over his mound as he was running from third to first after a foul ball. Braden, clearly more in tune with the unwritten rules of baseball, yelled at Rodriguez and blasted him in the post-game press conference, calling him disrespectful towards the game and more. 17 days later, Braden threw a perfect game, leading to his grandmother attending the game to say, “Stick it, A-Rod.”

According to Rodriguez, he was shocked at what happened; “especially from a guy that has a handful of wins in his career … I thought it was pretty funny actually.” Clearly, A-Rod didn’t care much for Mr. Braden, and the feeling is mutual. So the question becomes, would Braden have said that if Yankee teammate Derek Jeter was the one who ran over the mound. There are two simple answers. First off, Jeter wouldn’t jog over the mound; he respects the game enough to not do that. Second off, we can tell by his family (specifically his grandmother) that he would have yelled at anyone, be it A-Rod, Jeter, or Albert Pujols.

One month ago, no one new who Dallas Braden was, but now he's made a name for himself

One month ago, no one new who Dallas Braden was, but now he's made a name for himself

While a high school senior, Braden’s mother passed away, leaving him to live with his grandmother. Because of this, his grandmother and Mother’s Day means even more to this young pitcher. So on this special day, he showed up big time, proving his doubters wrong, and putting his name out there as one of the better young pitchers in the game.

Fighting is nothing for Braden; he’s had to claw his way to the top of the baseball world. Braden didn’t have the hype that many players have gotten, and he was drafted in the 24th round by Oakland. Drawing comparisons to Jamie Moyer and a lesser version of Mark Buehrle, Braden has never had elite velocity or a hard breaking pitch. But after five years in the minor leagues, he finally secured the second spot in the rotation, beating out highly touted prospects Brett Cahill, Vin Mazarro, and Josh Outman. Now, he’s one of the more fiery players in the game.

So the new kid on the block picked on the bully. Is this more about Braden not shrinking to any foe, or how the bully just doesn’t get the respect that his production would indicate he deserves?

A-Rod has been, well, a lightning rod for attention. Between slapping the ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove in the 2004 ALCS, Yelling at Toronto Howie Clark while rounding third base, and now crossing Braden’s pitching mound, Rodriguez has deservedly acquired a poor reputation among players and the media.

Baseball, as opposed to football and basketball, is a game of tradition. Swagger and showing up opponents is widely frowned upon in baseball whereas in the other two, it is all too common. For example, Rangers’ prospect Engel Beltre stepped up to the plate in the 10th inning and smashed the ball over the right field fence for a walk-off home run. As he rounded the bases, he turned around and taunted the opposition and jogged backwards. From there, a fight broke out and pandemonium broke loose. If Kobe Bryant knocks down a game winning shot, his team goes crazy and they yell at the other team, but that never, ever happens in baseball.

You have to respect the game of baseball. You have to honor its traditions, rules, and even its unwritten rules. The team is bigger then the player. Outside of Stephen Strasburg, you’ll never go to a game just to see one player, whereas you may go to a basketball game just to see LeBron James or Dwayne Wade. Baseball doesn’t sell players; they sell teams and, again, tradition.

A-Rod is one of those rogue players who is oftentimes concerned about his personal image and stats. As Braden puts it, “He’s an individualistic player. He plays for the name on the back of the jersey, not the front. I don’t know if he’s noticed, but he doesn’t have a name on the back over there so he should play for the name on the front.”

To Braden’s point, A-Rod and other players like him need to respect the game more and show etiquette. Since Rodriguez is the poster boy for arrogant players who disrespect the game, it is his job to change his behavior, which can only lead to others’ change. “He should probably take a note from his captain over there and realize you don’t cross the pitcher’s mound in between an inning or during the game.” says Braden. “I was just dumbfounded that he would let that slip his mind — being someone of such status. I don’t care if I’m Cy Young or the 25th man on the roster”

So after the A-Rod/Braden feud and Braden’s subsequent perfect game, two things are for certain: A-Rod and players like him need to clean up their act and we need more people like Dallas Lee Braden. In closing, Mr. Braden has offered Mr. Rodriguez a quote to ponder: “I was always told if you give a fool enough rope, he’ll hang himself, and with those comments, he had all the rope he needed.”

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A Rivalry Renewed

No, we won’t see Bird and Magic. No, we won’t see Red Aurbach and we won’t get the old school Lakers. But what we will get is a classic finals matchup. Kobe and Pierce. Gasol and Garnett. Jackson and Rivers. Steve Nash and Dwight Howard aren’t the best the NBA has to offer, its Lakers versus Celtics.

There is a saying used well too much across sports, especially in the NBA: you can’t just flip a switch and turn on your game. Well, the Celtics proved that cliché wrong. The Celtics started out strong (28-13), but finished the year barely at a crawl (22-19). Rasheed Wallace looked like a $19 million waste of space and the Big 3 looked overmatched. Many picked them to lose to Miami in the first round. No one, and I mean no one (except for myself and Skip Bayless) took them to take down LeBron James. And everyone loved Orlando over Boston in the Conference Finals. And now here they are, back in the NBA Finals for the 21st time.

The Lakers, on the other hand, had a much easier path to the Finals. Clearly the best in the West, they cruised through the first three rounds. Oklahoma City was a nice appetizer, but there youth was no match for the been-there-done-that Lakers team. Utah couldn’t do much, especially considering they were missing Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur. The Suns’ zone defense did a number on LA, but Phil Jackson eventually figured it out and Kobe led them on.

Born just outside of Los Angeles, Paul Pierce always makes it a mission to play big in LA

Born just outside of Los Angeles, Paul Pierce always makes it a mission to play big in LA

The teams are different, although their cores have remained the same since they last met in June two years ago. Rajon Rondo has matured into superstar, and Kendrick Perkins has become a great defender. Rasheed Wallace and Nate Robinson provide energy off the bench. For the Lakers, Andrew Bynum has become a force down low and Ron Artest replaced Trevor Ariza. So are both teams better? Sure, but how much of a difference will they make?

Two years ago, the Celtics rode the back of the Big 3 to make the Finals. This year, Rajon Rondo brought them to the promise land. Rondo has been able to take over games, and he will pose a humongous problem to the Lakers. The biggest weakness for the Lakers all year has been at point guard. While Derek Fisher is clutch late in games and in big games, he is one of the worst defenders at his position. Russell Westbrook torched him for 20.5 points per game while Deron Williams and Steve Nash racked up 22 and 17.6 points per game respectively. Rondo is a better scorer then the three of them.

While Rondo has been the best scorer in the East, no one has been as dominant as Kobe Bean Bryant. This man cannot be stopped. Its only if he can withstand all of the injuries he’s had over the last three years, and if he is rested enough after playing nearly three straight years of tough basketball. Paul Pierce will do his best to contain the Bean, but you can’t stop him.

The battle down low will be key to this series. Not too long ago, Andrew Bynum had he knee drained, and the Lakers need him to be playing well to win. Pau Gasol has been historically soft, especially versus the Celtics. KG is fully healthy and should be able to mostly take Gasol out of the game. Kendrick Perkins won’t do much offensively, but should be able to contain Bynum, assuming he doesn’t receive a seventh technical foul and gets suspended.

There are three X-Factors to this series: Rasheed Wallace, Lamar Odom, and Nate Robinson. Whichever player is best off the bench will play a huge role in determining who will win this series. If Rasheed plays like he is 28 and not 35, the Lakers will have no chance. Odom is a two faced player, like a player on a sugar high and low. He can have 19 point/19 rebound performances like in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, or he can put up a 3-12 shooting night like in Game 7. Odom is clearly one of the most talented players in the league, but he doesn’t always have the motivation. Nate will likely only come in when Rondo is on the bench, but he is a one of the most electric players in the league and can provide offense by the bunches.

In the end, the Celtics are a more mature team with more winners. They have four Hall of Famers (Pierce, Garnett, Allen, and Wallace) with another potential HOFer on the way (Rondo). The Lakers haven’t faced a defense as stringent as that of Boston in a long time. Players like Ron Artest, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom are too risky to be depended on in the key moments. Now that Kobe has his ring without Shaq, he’s gone into Selfish Kobe mode, more focused on the scorecard then the rings.

Boston has made 20 finals and won 17. Boston has faced the Lakers 11 times in the finals, winning 9. Boston has won 32 road games this season most in the leauge, and they will take one of the first two games in the Staples Center before closing it out on the road. We will see one tough series with lots of hostilities. Boston will take home the hardware in 7.

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NBA Mock Draft 2.0

The Wizards won the lottery, so what does this mean for the rest of the league? This is what I’m here for, your semi-sports expert with insider knowledge. In case you missed my first mock draft, there are many changes across the board. With my beloved Bobcats lacking draft picks, this could just be my least biased mock draft ever. Here is my projected first round with analysis plus the next five picks.

1. Washington Wizards – John Wall (PG, 6’4″ 196 lbs, Kentucky)
Wall is clearly the best talent in the draft with his freakish athleticism, speed, and play making ability. The question for Washington won’t be if Wall can fit in with incumbent point guard Gilbert Arenas, but if Arenas can survive with Wall. Arenas plays more like a shooting guard then a point guard, so the fit should be great.

2. Philadelphia 76ers – Evan Turner (SG, 6’7″ 214 lbs, Ohio State)
The Sixers are ecstatic to jump four places in the draft, nearly ensuring them a star for the future. Turner is the most versatile player in the draft, able to play the point and both wing positions. As long as the Sixers still have Andre Iguodala, Turner will either start at small forward (where he will be undersized) or come off the bench. The Sixers could also take a big man such as Derrick Favors or DeMarcus Cousins here.

3. New Jersey Nets – Derrick Favors (PF, 6’10” 245 lbs, Georgia Tech)
No one was more disappointed after the NBA Draft Lottery then the Nets and their Russian billionaire owner. They didn’t get the top two picks, so they won’t get Wall and likely won’t get Turner. All of that being said, Derrick Favors is a very nice consolation prize. While Cousins is the greater talent, Favors will work better with All-Star caliber center Brook Lopez. Favors has perhaps the biggest upside in the draft with great measurements and a fantastic offensive game.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves – Wesley Jonson (SF, 6’8″ 206 lbs, Syracuse)
DeMarcus Cousins would be a great value pick here, but the Timberwolves have greater needs. Wesley Johnson fills three voids: small forward, star power, and a major scorer. Cousins isn’t on the floor long enough to make the kind of impact Minnesota needs at this pick. With big men like Hassan Whiteside and Donatas Motiejunas potentially available at 16, Johnson is the right pick here.

DeMarcus Cousins is the 2nd biggest talent in the draft, but he's a headcase

DeMarcus Cousins is the 2nd biggest talent in the draft, but he's a headcase

5. Sacramento Kings – DeMarcus Cousins (C, 6’11” 292 lbs, Kentucky)
If Cousins falls all the way to the fifth pick, the Kings will be overjoyed. After Wall, Cousins has the most potential in the draft. When he isn’t in foul trouble, there is no one more efficient on the boards and offensively the Cousins; this man is a beast. The Kings have spent two of their last three first-round picks on big men, but neither Spencer Hawes nor Jason Thompson have truly shown flashes of brilliance. The Kings would really like to get a guard here, but Wall and Turner will be long gone and any other guard here would be a stretch.

6. Golden State Warriors – Greg Monroe (PF/C, 6’11” 247 lbs, Georgetown)
The Warriors are set for the future in their backcourt between Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis, but their frontcourt is horrendous. Towards the end of the year, undrafted Anthony Tolliver and career backup Ronny Turiaf were starting. Georgetown big man Greg Monroe has two things that Warriors’ coach Don Nelson absolutely loves: size and great passing ability. At Monroe’s size , he will start at center and be a perfect fit in Nelson’s fast-paced offensive system.

7. Detroit Pistons – Ed Davis (PF, 6’10” 227 lbs, North Carolina)
This is an unfamiliar situation, landing in the lottery the first time since they messed up in 2003, drafting Darko Milicic over Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade. Of the biggest needs for the Pistons is front line depth. With Ben Wallace and Jonas Jerebko starting down low, a big man will be order with the seventh pick. Ed Davis is the best remaining power forward, although things could turn awkward if Davis gets playing time over the Pistons $55 million man, Charlie Villanueva. Kansas center Cole Aldrich could be an option here, but inside sources shot down this idea. Al-Farouq Aminu has much better potential, but the last thing the Pistons need is another 3-4 forward scorer.

8. Los Angeles Clippers – Al-Farouq Aminu
Despite what most fans say, the Clippers actually have a bright future with some great young talent. Between Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin, and Chris Kaman to go with veteran point guard Baron Davis, all they are missing is a small forward. With the departure of Al Thornton, Aminu is a perfect fit. His freakish athleticism and upside are tremendous for this pick.

9. Utah Jazz – Cole Aldrich (C, 6’10” 236 lbs, Kansas)
Utah will face the departures of Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur this off-seasonm so they’ll need to pick a big man here. Utah probably is hoping that Greg Monroe will be around, but more then likely he will be gone. With Paul Millsap as a more then capable backup, drafting a power forward like Ekpe Udoh may not be productive. Kansas center Cole Aldrich was just about the most dominant big man in college, but he is being undervalued by scouts.

10. Indiana Pacers – Ekpe Udoh (PF, 6’10” 237 lbs, Baylor)
After failing to make the playoffs and falling below expectations, the Pacers are now in no mans land: not in the playoffs and no high draft picks. Danny Granger needs a side kick, and Ekpe Udoh won’t cut it for a worthy side kick. Sadly, Ekpe Udoh is the best they’ll be able to get. High upside swingmen Gordon Hayward and Xavier Henry won’t work well alongside Granger and Brandon Rush, so Udoh will be the pick.

11. New Orleans Hornets – Gordon Hayward (SF, 6’8″ 211 lbs, Butler)
The Hornets could use help down low, but drafting Hassan Whiteside or Daniel Orton would be a stretch here. Peja Stojakovic is getting old and the Hornets need help on the perimeter. Hayward plays more like a guard then a forward, so he could end up playing the 2-guard in the pros, plus he won’t have to guard athletic small forwards like LeBron and Carmelo. Hayward really needs to bulk up and could have really benefited from another year in college. Xavier Henry or Avery Bradley could be another pick here, but they would be a bit of a stretch.

12. Memphis Grizzlies – Eric Bledsoe (PG, 6’2″ 192 lbs, Kentucky)
The Grizzlies have lots of problems to address. Of them, point guard and small forward (assuming Rudy Gay leaves via free agency) are the biggest shortcomings. While Bledsoe is a slight stretch at #12, he is an elite talent that was smothered in Kentucky in the massive shadow of John Wall. Bledsoe would immediately become the starter, splitting time with incumbent Mike Conley. Bledsoe is a great talent that many people are overlooking, and he could be the greatest value in the draft.

13. Toronto Raptors – Avery Bradley (SG, 6’3″ 180 lbs, Texas)
When he signed with the Texas Longhorns, Avery Bradley was the fourth biggest recruit. He never became that big time scorer, only putting up 11 points and 2 assists per game. However, the Raptors need a scorer with the departure of Chris Bosh (I am going to assume Bosh is traded to the Lakers for Andrew Bynum, so the Raptors won’t need to stretch to pick Hassan Whiteside or Donatas Motiejunas). Bradley will start as the first guard off the bench, but may eventually evolve into the point guard of the future or compete with DeMar DeRozan for starting shooting guard duties.

14. Houston Rockets – Donatas Motiejunas (PF, 7’0″ 220 lbs, Lithuania)
The Rockets lacked height last season after missing Yao Ming for the entire season; they had to start 6’6″ Chuck Hayes at center. Motiejunas is a very skilled forward (similar to big European forwards Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol) and will add much needed size to Houston’s front line. Motiejunas can either get stronger in Europe or play off the bench under the wings of Yao, Luis Scola, and Jordan Hill.

15. Milwaukee Bucks – Paul George (SF, 6’9″ 214 lbs, Fresno State)
The Bucks shocked the world last year when they made the playoffs last year, thanks mostly to explosive rookie point guard Brandon Jennings. With Andrew Bogut emerging as a great center, the Bucks now need a quality forward – at least one better then Luc Richard Mbah a Moute or Carlos Delfino. Paul George is one of the players with the biggest upsides, he has size with range on his shot.

16. Minnesota Timberwolves – Hassan Whiteside (C, 7’0″ 227, Marshall)
Minnesota seems to be set on playing Al Jefferson at power forward and letting Kevin Love come off the bench, so after drafting a wing scorer, a big man will be in order. Hassan Whiteside not only is tall, but has a freakish 7’7″ wing span. If he can improve his offensive game, he could end up being a force on the boards. Otherwise, he could be the next Alexis Ajinça.

17. Chicago Bulls – James Anderson (SG, 6’6″ 210 lbs, Oklahoma State)
Chicago needs a scoring sidekick to Derrick Rose, and James Anderson is the perfect fit. Anderson was one of the best scoring guards in all of college basketball last year, and he’s one of the most NBA-ready prospects in the draft. With a young core of Rose, Anderson, and Joakim Noah, the Bulls will be set for the future. Chicago will still have cap space to land a max player like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, or Carlos Boozer.

18. Miami Heat – Daniel Orton (C, 6’10” 269 lbs, Kentucky)
Miami needs a post presence after the corpse of Jermaine O’Neal leaves via free agency. Even though he only average 3 points and 3 rebounds per game at Kentucky, he big body makes him one of the more sought after prospects in the draft. With his 7’4″ wingspan, Orton can become a dominant big man, albeit being a little undersized.

19. Boston Celtics – Xavier Henry (SG, 6’7″ 210 lbs, Kansas)
The Celtics’ Big 3 is aging, and Ray Allen is a free agent. They need another wing scorer and will be ecstatic if Xavier Henry falls this far. Henry has an adult body with a mature game, although he is only 19 years old. Henry could step in to be a major contributor next to Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce.

20. San Antonio Spurs – Damion James (SF, 6’8″ 227 lbs, Texas)
Richard Jefferson was one of the biggest disappointments this year, so the Spurs will need to pick up another forward. Damion James is one of the most mature and polished players in the draft and going under the radar. James won’t have to start at the beginning of the year, so there won’t be the pressure of higher drafted players placed on James’ shoulders.

21. Oklahoma City Thunder – Patrick Patterson (PF, 6’8″ 245 lbs, Kentucky)
For the first time since moving from Seattle, the Thunder won’t be picking in the lottery. OKC really needs a center, but there are no centers available here. Luke Babitt will be enticing here, but they don’t want to hurt the progress of Kevin Durant. Patrick Patterson will bring more maturity to the Thunder and will provide insurance off the bench behind Durant and Jeff Green. His inside and outside presence are both above average plus he has a big body which is key on defense.

22. Portland Trail Blazers – Luke Babitt (SF, 6’9″ 214 lbs, Nevada)
Portland would be shocked if Babitt fell this far, and they’ll find great value in this big-time scorer. Drawing comparisons to Adam Morrison (for better or for worse), Babitt is an immediate upgrade over Nicolas Batum and Martell Webster. Babitt is lacking on defense, but he can make the Blazers instant contenders next to Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge.

23. Minnesota Timberwolves – Kevin Seraphin (PF, 6’10” 258, France)
The T-Wolves will be taking their third player in the first round, so they can take a big swing here (and not another point guard). Seraphin will likely remain in France for another year or two, so Minnesota will stash him with Ricky Rubio in Europe in hope that they will get a Boris Diaw- or Joakim Noah-like return. While they don’t necessarily need another big man after Jefferson, Love, and now Whiteside, Seraphin could be a key piece in their future plans.

24. Atlanta Hawks – Larry Sanders (PF, 6’11” 222 lbs, VCU)
One of the biggest reasons the Hawks couldn’t take one game from the Magic was their size. Starting 6’10” Al Horford at center and 6’9″ Josh Smith at power forward, they couldn’t match up with Dwight Howard. Larry Sanders will add size to their front line and fits perfectly into the Hawks’ system. He is extremely long with great athleticism and can run along with Smith, J-Smooth, and Joe Johnson. Solomon Alabi would add more size, but he isn’t a great fit with the team.

25. Memphis Grizzlies – Quincy Pondexter (SF, 6’7″ 220 lbs, Washington)
With Rudy Gay’s impending departure, the Grizzlies will really need to find an heir apparent. They like Luke Babitt, but the twelfth pick was too early and he’ll be gone by this pick. Pondexter was one of the top seniors in college with a great scoring ability while still crashing the boards.

26. Oklahoma City Thunder – Solomon Alabi (C, 7’1″ 237 lbs, Florida State)
When it comes to top-line centers, Nedad Krstic and Nick Collison hardly ever come up. Therefore, Solomon Alabi is the perfect pick here. Alabi and Serge Ibaka should step up this year to form a big man rotation. Alabi is a nice value here and adds size to a team that desperately needs an inside presence.

27. New Jersey Nets – Lance Stephenson (SG, 6’6″ 227 lbs, Cincinnati)
Assuming Evan Turner doesn’t fall to the Nets with the third pick, the Nets will need a swing man who can flat out sore. Lance Stephenson is a slight stretch at the end of the first round, but he has something that the Nets really love: starpower. Stephenson was a highly sought after recruit that ended up going to Cincinnati because the coach essentially lets his players run wild. He will bring his streetball back to the place he grew up (Brooklyn) and take the Nets’ fan base by storm.

28. Memphis Grizzlies – Craig Brackins (PF, 6’10” 229 lbs, Iowa State)
At this point in the draft, the Grizzlies have already addressed their needs at point guard and small forward, so all they have left is at power forward. Zach Randolph was a force last season, but he is crazy and could be facing a suspension for drug charges. Memphis is fairly thin at the 4, so Craig Brackins and Keith Gallon would be the best fits here. Brackins is more polished and has a better shot, plus he is a high character player.

29. Orlando Magic – Willie Warren (PG, 6’4″ 210 lbs, Oklahoma)
Although the Magic don’t necessarily need another 3-point shooter, Warren is quite the steal at the end of the first round. Coming into the year, Warren was a projected lottery pick, but due to injuries and a rift between he and his coach, his stock has fallen dramatically. That being said, he is a lights out shooter who can play the point or go out to the perimeter. Orlando will need a backup point guard and a spark off the bench and a spark off the bench, especially if they don’t bring back J.J. Redick.

30. Washington Wizards – Keith Gallon (PF, 6’10” 302 lbs, Oklahoma)
The Wizards have plenty of needs to address; they are really just a mess of a franchise. They have plenty of selfish scorers between Gilbert Arenas, Josh Howard, Randy Foye, and Mike Miller, so they need a big man down low who can rebound and alter the opposition’s shots. Keith Gallon had a poor year considering his expectations coming out of high school, but he has a gigantic body and a solid offensive game.

Next 5 off the board: Stanley Robinson, Devin Ebanks, Elliot Williams, Dexter Pittman, and Jordan Crawford

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NFL Draftermath, Part I

What if I told you the you could have a quarterback who was a model citizen and a true winner? In the age of high profile players getting into big problems (Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick), role models are essential, but hard to find. But not only does this man steer safe of trouble, he gives back to the community. He is the definition of a winner and has the competitive drive of no play in college football in a long time. He has size (6’3″ 245) and he has a strong arm. He can even run when the pocket starts to collapse. Shouldn’t every team want this player? And shouldn’t everyone love him?

As you have probably figured out, this man is Timothy Richard Tebow. But for some strange reason, Tebow is the most hated college player since J.J. Redick. When Denver traded up to the 25th pick in this year’s NFL Draft, the crowd erupted in boos. Mel Kiper’s face turned visibly red. Steve Young looked ready to punch someone. But Jon Gruden was ecstatic. That sums up the feelings for Florida’s star quarterback. Most people either loved it or absolutely hated it. As for me, I like to say, “Why not?”

One of the biggest concerns for Tebow going into the draft was his release point. Throughout his college career he had a near sidearm motion, something scout absolutely hate. But if you remember, Philip Rivers had the same “problem” when he was drafted #3 overall out of N.C. State. Now, Rivers is a Pro Bowl quarterback with a $40 million contract and an even bigger pay day coming up.

As for another quarterback with poor mechanics, look no further then Tony Romo. Often criticized for a terrible release point and strange throwing motion, Romo has still found great success in the NFL. Making three Pro-Bowls with an average QB rating of 95.6 and over 3,700 yards per season. Even though Romo has only one playoff win in four games, he has gone from an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois to an NFL superstar. Tebow will never go from nothing to something, but he could prove his doubters wrong in the same way Romo had to.

At Florida, Tebow was under the greatest scenario possible in college. He had a great college coach who can turn anyone into a star (Chris Leak and Alex Smith). He was surrounded by great players at receiver (Percy Harvin, Louis Murphy, Aaron Hernandez, and Riley Cooper). Although he had plenty of weapons in his arsenal, Tebow was able to take plenty of matters into his own hands. No one in college was more competitive; no one wanted to win more the Mr. Tebow.

Now, Tebow is on a team in the Broncos that wants him to be the man. Instead of him having to completely re-do his throwing motions, the Broncos can change their offense to suit him. With speedy receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eddie Royal along with second year running back Knowshon Moreno, a spread offense wouldn’t be out of the question, especially with an innovative coach like Josh McDaniels.

Unarguably, drafting Tebow with the 25th overall was the most risky pick in the draft, especially at the price they have to pay for him. While Tebow has the upside to be an elite quarterback in this league, he could just as likely have to become a running back, full back, or tight end in the future. This was a risk, however, that McDaniels needed to take considering the short life of an average NFL coach and how important it is to have a great quarter back. If Tebow is great, McDaniels is a genius and he has job security for the next five to ten years. If Tebow is a flop, the Broncos still have another high-upside young QB on the roster, Brady Quinn. If either of them pan out to their expectations, the Broncos have struck gold in star-power from the most important position in football.

Already, Tim Tebow has broken records without taking a snap. Tebow has the highest selling jersey in the league, more then Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady. While Tebow is a new commodity, and the latter three quarter backs are still on the same team, its shocking that someone would buy a jersey of someone who may not touch the field this season, nor stay a quarterback for his entire career.

In the end, it comes down to character. He is a great guy who does everything right. He commands respect without asking for it, and there is no reason for anyone to hate him. People are searching for great character guys while they fume about what Ben Roethisberger did to a college student, yet overlook this great young man.

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"You will never see any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season."

More then anything, Tebow doesn’t want his team to lose. In the 2008-09 season, Florida lost to Mississippi 31-30 in the fourth week of the season. He didn’t take this loss lightly. After the game, he made a speech that has since been immortalized on the Gators’ campus. He said “I promise you one thing, a lot of good will come out of this. You will never see any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season. You will never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of the season.” And his promise came to fruition as Florida reached the pinnacle of the BCS, beating Oklahoma in the championship game 24-14.

During Spring Break in 2008, Tebow had a choice to make: go to the beach with his friends or do something bigger. Deciding that going to the beach would not benefit himself more then helping the community would to others, Tebow decided to return to his home country of the Philippines to do community service. This man is more then just a star quarterback; he cares for others and is one of the least selfish players in the game. Players these days are all about the paycheck, volunteering for publicity and improving their image. Tebow is different. Tebow is special.

People shouldn’t overlook great character players because of good off-the-field interests, whereas they should be concerned about people with off-the-field issues like Pacman Jones. Because a player loves his religion or has smarts shouldn’t prevent teams from giving them a chance, especially when they showed that they are as good as anyone in college. So, teams, who do you want: a questionable character with potential or a great guy with proven talent?

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