Dojo NBA Preview

Finally. It’s almost time for the 2013 NBA season to get underway. It’s time for a preview to get everyone acclimated for the new season. For those that may forget, the Miami Heat are the two-time defending champions. There are new faces in new places, an already highly anticipated 2014 draft class, tons of what-ifs, and a looming free-agent summer with too many names to mention. For a much more comprehensive and specific look at each team, look for Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose’s NBA Preview on Grantland as they countdown the season with video podcasts breaking down each team’s moves this offseason. You can find the link at the end of the page. Now without further ado, here is a short 2013 NBA Preview…Dojo style.

Note:

-Teams listed in their respected groups are in no particular order. The groupings themselves are rough rankings based on playoff chances.

The White Belts

Phoenix Suns

They just pulled off a nice trade. Giving them four potential first round picks in next years draft. This team will make more noise during next year’s offseason than during the actual season.

Orlando Magic

Victor Oladipo, Arron Afflalo, Tobias Harris, and Nikola Vucevic headline a very athletic and young Orlando group. Another rebuilding year is coming, but aiming for a low pick this season isn’t necessarily bad. Lets put it this way, you don’t want to be like some of the teams coming up who are shooting for the 8th seeds and losing first round.

Philadelphia Sixers

Jrue Holiday v. Michael Beasley (Photo Cred: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

Jrue Holiday v. Michael Beasley (Photo Cred: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

There’s a lot to be excited for with the Sixers, but the problem is some people (Philly fans) are impatient. There big move was made on draft night when the Sixers told everyone how they were going to approach the season. Blow. It. Up. They sent their best player over the past two seasons, Jrue Holiday, to New Orleans.  In return, the Pelicans sent Philly; C Nerlens Noel, a 2nd-round pick that turned into Pierre Jackson, and a 2014 first round pick. They will have some nice young talent moving forward. I like this team in three or four years.

Utah Jazz

Look for improvement from Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward, both of whom lead a young team. Once rookie Trey Burke comes back from a minor injury, they should be competitive but lose the close 4th-quarter games.

Sacramento Kings

A team that has DeMarcus Cousins leading them? We’ll see. I do like the athletic guard combo of Isiah Thomas and Ben McLemore.

The Yellow Belts

Charlotte Bobcats

I like Cody Zeller, the addition of Al Jefferson, and a maturing group consisting of Gerald Henderson, Kemba Walker, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. They will have some fight in them and I expect them to win more games than they did last year (21), but nothing higher than 30.

Boston Celtics

It’s another team looking to bottom out. Pierce, Garnett, and Terry are gone. What’s left isn’t much but the addition of Brad Stevens at head coach should show some promise if Danny Ainge brings in the right pieces. The fact that I know the Celtics will struggle makes me happy because I don’t have to stress about them making the playoffs or contending at all. Another reason why I can’t wait for the season to start so I can enjoy it without rooting for one specific team.

Toronto Raptors

The biggest rumor will be where SF Rudy Gay goes. My guess…Houston flips Omer Asik, Omri Casspi, and Aaron Brooks for Gay and Kyle Lowry. Totally not going to happen but that’s the glory of trade rumors.

Atlanta Hawks

It’s now Al Horford’s team with the departure of longtime Hawk, Josh Smith. Jeff Teague’s play at point guard will also be important to any success they may have. At the same time, Josh Smith’s departure could mean nothing, they were the 6th seed in the playoffs last year…

The Orange Belts

Washington Wizards

John Wall is the ultimate factor with this team. I like their athletic potential with Trevor Ariza, Otto Potter Jr., Bradley Beal, and Kevin Seraphin. However, potential means very little for this year, and they lack a counter punch to Wall. With Wall healthy for a whole season it’s easily believable that they will eclipse their season win total from last year (29).

Cleveland Cavaliers

Kyrie Irving and LeBron James (Photo Cred: Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

Kyrie Irving and LeBron James (Photo Cred: Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

Kyrie Irving returns with another season under his belt. The young sensation continues to climb the ranks of the NBA’s elite. Last season, he poured in 22.5 PPG, 5.9 APG, 3.7 RPG and shooting .855 percent from the free throw line. He’s a stud. The Cavs also surprised people when they took Anthony Bennett #1 overall. He’ll be interesting to watch. Also they brought back former head coach Mike Brown. Maybe in preparation for LeBron next summer? (Sorry I can’t resist.)

***Note from Editor: REMINDER TO ALL READERS: email admin@thesportsdojo.com to place your bets against me (Greg) in LeBron’s 2014 destination. He’s gonna be a Cav***

New Orleans Pelicans

They will be a fast energetic team. Jrue Holiday immediately steps in as a dependable scorer and distributor. With Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, and Anthony Davis at Jrue’s side, this team could do a lot of damage for the experience they have. Ryan Anderson provides some much needed veteran experience. It’s just unfortunate that they sit in the Western Conference where they are shooting for a low 7 or 8 seed in the playoffs. Consider the fact that (without spoiling anything and in no particular order), the Thunder, Grizzlies, Warriors, Blazers, Clippers, Rockets, and Spurs haven’t been mentioned, it’s tough to find them sitting in with some of these teams.

Los Angeles Lakers

Simply put, when Kobe Bryant comes back from his achilles injury determines where this team ends up.

The Green Belts

Minnesota Timberwolves

I love me some Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. The ultimate big man-little man duo. Rubio loves to dish out the assists and Kevin Love is lethal when healthy. A very entertaining team to watch that sat at the bottom of the Northwest division last season, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Portland Trail Blazers

Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum headline the dangerous backcourt for the Trail Blazers. These two loves to shoot the three at the same rate that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson shoot. J.J. Hickson was traded in the summer, and although many may not know about him, he was a nice compliment to LaMarcus Aldridge down low. What they lost in Hickson, they made up for with Robin Lopez. While Brook Lopez (BKN) may be the better of the two brothers, both are efficient scorers down low. The Blazers 10th pick, rookie CJ McCollum, will miss the first eight to ten weeks with a foot injury but once he returns, it will be a nice blend of guards between himself, Lillard, and Batum. Don’t forget they added Thomas Robinson, the 5th overall pick in the 2012 draft.

Milwaukee Bucks

(Fox Sports Television)

Giannis Antetokounmpo and his GIANT hands (Fox Sports Television)

Don’t sleep on the Bucks! Don’t forget this name: Giannis Antetokounmpo, their 15th overall pick last year. He’s already drawing comparisons to Kevin Durant because of his incredible athleticism and long, lanky arms. They finally gave up on the Brandon Jennings project while also giving away Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick. Brandon Knight comes in as the go to guard alongside new arrival O.J. Mayo. They have the young play of 3 year center LARRY SANDERS (out of VCU) who deserves to have his name spelled in capital letters every time you say it. I also like the guard play off the bench from Gary Neal, who saw minutes in the NBA Finals with the Spurs and Luke Ridnour, the player that everyone feels has traveled his fair share from team to team, but has only been on 3 teams  (Seattle, Milwaukee, and Minnesota).

The Blue Belts

Denver Nuggets

Ty Lawson is a top ten point guard in the league. He’s easily one of the fastest players in the league which is a reason this Denver team is always relevant. They play at a high tempo in an high altitude arena that affects teams late in games if they try to play the run and gun style the Nuggets love. Kenneth Faried is an athletic freak who is only getting better but what hurts this team is what they lost. They lost Andre Iguodala, Corey Brewer, and Masai Ujiri. I’d be surprised if anyone knew who Masai Ujiri was since he’s never played in an NBA game. You may have heard of him because he recently signed a 5 year, $15 million deal to become the GM of the Toronto Raptors. Just know that he won NBA Executive of the Year last year; the guy knows what he’s doing in Toronto. Which is why Rudy Gay WILL be traded… back to the Nuggets. The lost of Iguodala hurts because they just lost their best perimeter defender. They add J.J. Hickson, which I like for defensive rebounding, but his defense is poor. I don’t see this team doing any damage because they’re missing something (aka a legitimate SF or defense in general). Dating back to the 2003-2004 season (so 10 seasons), the Nuggets have reached 50 wins 5 times, reached the playoffs 10 times, BUT they have lost in the first round 9 times. The only time they won in the first round, they made it to the conference finals, ultimately losing to the Lakers who would go on to defeat Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in 5 games.

Detroit Pistons

Don’t be so surprised. This isn’t the Pistons team that has gone a combined 111-201 in the past four seasons. Fresh off of an active summer, the Pistons have immediately leapfrogged into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The key additions to the team are SF/PF Josh Smith, formerly of the Atlanta Hawks, and Brandon Jennings, former PG of the Milwaukee Bucks. The Pistons may boast the best starting front court in the Eastern Conference this season (Indiana’s Hibbert/West/George maybe a tad better, more on them later). With Smith in the SF and two young developing big men in PF Greg Monroe and C Andre Drummond. Drummond is coming off a rookie campaign in which he averaged a modest 7.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG, while shooting over 60% from the field. For Monroe, the team is there for the taking. Entering his fourth year in the league, Monroe is coming off a junior season in which he played in 81 games and averaged 16.0 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 3.5 APG, and 1.3 SPG. How far Detroit can go depends on the play of their bigs. They’re easily one of my favorite teams to watch this year.

Dallas Mavericks

You always love to have Dirk Nowitzki on the team. I don’t like the shooting habits of Monta Ellis or the defense of Jose Calderon. Calderon has exceptional passing ability and averaged 7.1 assists last year so his offensive contribution is important. They can make a run to get into the playoffs but they’re bench play is key (Jae Crowder, Devin Harris, Vince Carter), which is where I lack faith.

The Violet Belts

Memphis Grizzlies

If you want to know how to play defense as a team, watch the Memphis Grizzlies. Zach Randolph and Defensive Player of the Year, Marc Gasol return to a team desperate for some outside shooting. They have a solid defensive makeup when you combine Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince to the mix, but they lack a shooting guard or small forward with long range shooting. Mike Conley is a more than competent point guard but when your bench has names like Quincy Pondexter and Jarryd Bayless, it’s time to hit the trade market. This is one of many teams that missed their window to win a championship. Last year the Lakers were out of the playoffs, the Grizz ousted the Clippers, and defeated the Thunder without Westbrook. If you think about it, everything went right for them, but they couldn’t handle the Spurs in the end. Expect another gritty, physical Memphis team this year.

New York Knicks

You’ll hear me talk about the Knicks enough throughout the season. You have to love having Carmelo Anthony on the team but their competition at the 2-guard concerns me. J.R. Smith was god awful in the playoffs last season and simply won’t stop shooting. I like Iman Shumpert, he plays exceptional defense and he does things like this.

They’re looking at a 4 or 5 seed in the Eastern conference behind the Heat, Pacers, Nets, and Bulls.

The Brown Belts

Golden State Warriors

Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, The Splash Brothers. I love the addition of Andrew Iguodala because now you have a team that is one key player away from contending with the Heat. Don’t think I’m crazy. They have a starting five of Curry/Thompson/Iguodala/Lee/Bogut with Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green providing minutes off the bench. One of the most exciting teams to watch on any random night, this is a team to remember come April and May.

Brooklyn Nets

Without cheating, see if you can name these 5 players based on their salary for the upcoming year:

Player A: $18.4 million

Player B: $21.4 million

Player C: $15.3 million

Player D: $12.4 million

Player E: $14.6 million

(Take a minute to think)

(…)

(One more)

(…)

If you guessed Brooklyn’s starting lineup, you’re correct! (A- Deron Williams, B- Joe Johnson, C- Paul Pierce, D- Kevin Garnett, E- Brook Lopez). That is a ridiculous amount of money for just 5 players. The question here is whether or not this team can compete with Miami, Indiana, and Chicago. If you look at this graphic, I think they are pretty well rounded in all areas of offense. Don’t forget that Williams averaged over 10 assists last season. This team is one to watch for in the playoffs without a doubt.

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 1.06.27 PM

One last hypothetical question here…if Brooklyn gets to the Eastern Conference finals against Miami. Honestly, who do you have winning? Would you take Williams/Johnson/Pierce/Garnett/Lopez or Chalmers/Wade/LeBron/Bosh/Oden? We’ll break down Miami more thoroughly but Brooklyn has huge advantages at PG and C so always keep that in mind; to be continued.

Houston Rockets

There is a lot to like about this team. To get the big guys out of the way (no pun intended), Dwight Howard gets his second fresh start. The Rockets were more of an up-tempo team last year, but with the arrival of Howard, things may slow down. They have great ball handlers in Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, and Terrence Jones. Which will only create space for Dwight down low because if you leave any of these shooters open to double team Dwight, the Rockets will make you pay. Besides the pending trade of Rudy Gay, similar to Bill Simmons, I think that the Rockets other center, Omer Asik, will be traded. He is a great player, don’t get me wrong, but both him and Dwight shoot below 50% from the free throw line…you tell me if you want both of them on the court in the last 5 minutes of a game. Hack-A-Dwight will turn into Hack-A-Rocket. A side note, Chandler Parsons may be one of my top ten favorite players to watch this year. More on this list later.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Two years ago they were in The NBA Finals duking it out with the Heat, but it’s been a long time since then. James Harden is still gone and they received another gut punch when they got rid of Kevin Martin this past offseason (Martin was apart of the deal that sent Harden to Houston). Not to mention Russell Westbrook is going to miss at least four weeks with his knee injury (Update: maybe only two weeks). It’s Kevin Durant’s time to shine. He’s the #2 player in the league behind LeBron, which is how it has been for the past year or so, but it’s time to grow up. Durant needs to carry the Thunder until Westbrook comes back to lighten the load. I’m expecting Sam Presti (GM) to make some sort of move to help bolster the roster during the season. They won’t be making any Finals trips without a little more offensive help from players not named Durant and Westbrook.

Los Angeles Clippers

Chris Paul and Doc Rivers. The team’s success hinges on these two factors but the play of DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin is also imperative. While I love “Lob City”, they falter in the playoffs every year because of an inability to run a half court offense. Will it happen again? Whatcha got, Doc?

The Black Belts

Indiana Pacers

My pick to win the Eastern Conference this year. Paul George will be a top 5 player this year if he competes like he did in last years playoffs. I boasted about the frontcourt of the Detroit Pistons (Smith/Monroe/Drummond) but like I said before, Indiana’s may be a tad better. George/West/Hibbert all played quality minutes during their bout with the Miami Heat last year, which is why I give the edge to them because of experience. Detroit’s frontcourt is extremely talented, but very young as well. Another Indiana themed pick of mine is Roy Hibbert for Defensive Player of the Year. I guess we’ll see.

Chicago Bulls

Hey, did you know Derrick Rose is back? Well he’s back and better than ever; or so it seems. On paper, they have one of the best defensive units in the league. You could talk me into a debate between them and Memphis. They show off a combination of Rose/Butler/Deng/Boozer/Noah and Taj Gibson off the bench and laying crunch time minutes, I’d be legitimately afraid of seeing this team in the playoffs. People make a huge deal about the Bulls and the Heat. Rightfully so because the Bulls are good, but I won’t say they can compete for the East until after I see Rose play in the regular season. People already forget about how the Pacers took the Heat to seven games in the conference finals last year. As of now, if there was a rankings for who would beat the Heat this season, I’d go with 1a. Pacers followed closely by 1b. Bulls.

San Antonio Spurs

My pick to come out of the Western Conference for a second straight year, the Spurs bring back the majority of the core that were 20 seconds away from winning the NBA Finals in Game 6. We all know the story…Chris Bosh was finally in the right place…Ray Allen did his thing…LeBron gets ring #2. It hurt to see a Spurs team go out like that. They are the old veterans boiling with experience but just because its one year later doesn’t matter. NEWS FLASH: The Western Conference is up for grabs. Top to bottom the West has the better teams compared to the East. What is weird is that the Spurs can essentially walk into the playoffs. Kobe isn’t returning for a couple months, and Westbrook is out for a couple weeks. The path to the playoffs may seem easier for the Spurs with injury plagued teams surrounding them. The Warriors can expose them with their speed and outside shooting, but then again the Spurs trumped Golden State in the playoffs last year so I wouldn’t put it past Tim Duncan to be able to do it again. The Clippers will falter one way or the other like they have in the past, leaving me to believe the Spurs have an excellent shot of making it back to the finals.

Miami Heat

This is a preview for the upcoming season, so even though both of my predictions to represent The NBA Finals have already been mentioned and I stated at the beginning of this piece that the teams aren’t in any significant order, the Heat have to open at the number 1 spot. People (and by people I mean Bill Simmons) ranked the Bulls ahead of the Heat in their preseason rankings. I love the Bulls don’t get me wrong, but you can’t leap frog the two-time defending Miami Heat in any power ranking poll. I don’t care what star player is returning from injury. Miami will be in the thick of things like always, but I don’t think they will have the energy to three-peat.

LeBron after his first title (Photo Cred: David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

LeBron after his first title (Photo Cred: David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

The season will be filled with ups and downs, so expect the unexpected. Enjoy the buzzer beaters, the comebacks wins, the unexpected losses, the big games, the big names, and above all, enjoy the 2013-2014 season. The Heat have won two championships in a row, so the league is against them. Your move, LeBron.

2013-2014 Predictions

MVP: Kevin Durant…All bias’ aside, for this to happen, a couple things need to align the right way:

1) He needs to post another 50-40-90 line for the second consecutive season: For those that are unaware, a player enters the 50-40-90 club by shooting above 50% from the field, shooting above 40% from three, and shooting above 90% from the free throw line…to give people an idea of how hard this is, it’s only occurred 10 times EVER, accomplished by Steve Nash (4 times), Larry Bird (2), Mark Price (1), Dirk Nowitzki (1), Reggie Miller (1), and Durant (1) last year

2) He needs to win the scoring title

3) Keep OKC in the top 3-4 of the Western Conference…what I really mean is that he needs to show he can play without Russell Westbrook

4) Continue to show growth: every year we see Durant, similarly to LeBron, improve on a different facet of his game. With Westbrook out, his distribution of the ball needs to be on point to involve other teammates.

Defensive player of the Year: Roy Hibbert

Rookie of the Year: Victor Oladipo

He decides if he wants it or not. There aren’t many rookies being thrusted into a starting guard spot besides Trey Burke.

Sixth Man of the Year: Iman Shumpart

This assumes the Mike Woodson starts J.R. Smith, but Shumpart is the better player and it will be clear this year.

All-NBA first team:

G: Chris Paul

G: James Harden

F: LeBron James

F: Kevin Durant

C: Dwight Howard

East #1 Seed: Miami Heat

East team to remember: Indiana Pacers

It’s funny that I say this after the Pacers straight up fought to the death with the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. The Heat will be the Heat, people are going to religiously follow the Derrick Rose comeback tour, and Brooklyn’s new core will be fun to watch. Clearing the way for the Pacers to possibly coast under the radar until the playoffs once again.

West #1 Seed: Los Angeles Clippers

They are built to win many regular season games, remember that the Spurs will give teams wins to rest starters late in the season and the Thunder are going to be without Russell Westbrook, meaning KD carries the workload until then and they won’t start out as hot as they have in recent memory.

West team to remember: Golden State Warriors

Don’t take their run last post season as a fluke. The Warriors added veteran guard Andre Igudola to the mix, giving them the ability to match up well defensively against teams with dynamic shooting guards or small forwards (aka LeBron, KD, Melo).

Eastern Conference Finals: Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers (Pacers in 7)

Western Conference Finals: San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Clippers (Spurs in 6)

Finals Pick: San Antonio vs. Indiana Pacers (Spurs in 6)

2013-2014 Champion: San Antonio Spurs

Duncan, Ginobili, Parker, and Coach Popovich go “Ray Lewis” on everyone; they easily get into the playoffs without caring for their seed, win each round with their years of experience, and go out on top like all greats should.

Links:

Grantland 2013 NBA Previews: http://www.grantland.com/nbapreview2013

Joe Meola

Twitter – @brosephmeola

E-Mail – senseimeola@gmail.com

**Feel free to email me with questions and comments and have a chance to be mentioned in an upcoming article**

 

2014 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide

SportsDojo4_Rev2_Rev1You may have noticed that I am not writing as much anymore. I rarely do Daily Dojos and most of my writings come from the Dojo Sparring, a very casual article. Anyway, this is mostly because as school rolled around most of my time has been taken up by my Bucknell work. I have to do it because if I didn’t graduate (or better yet, graduate with a good GPA), I would be written out of my parent’s will. With the time that I have leftover after school obligations, I have been working on rankings for the 2014 MLB season. I realize it is early, but there are 30 teams and around 30 players on each team, or in each team’s farm system, that should be known to get a full grasp of the significant pieces of the 2014 player pool. It takes time to do 900 projections and boil them down into understandable rankings that can be used for the average fantasy baseball league. The rankings will be constantly changing from now until February as more information is released about the players and most importantly, playing time and batting order position. These rankings, along with a lot of other great information, strategies and ideas, will be released sometime in February. While doing these rankings, I will be releasing some early player outlooks for one hitter and pitcher for each team that I think will be the most interesting. I will do a hitter from each team and then a pitcher from each team, leading up to the release of The Sports Dojo’s 2014 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide (presented by Greg Danchik).

NFL – 5 Things to Watch

With a couple of big previews coming out this week on top of homecoming weekend and writing a scientific journal article and preparing from the 1522 NBA Fantasy Draft, a long email chain for Dojo Sparring wasn’t going to happen this week. Instead, we give you 5 things to remember while watching Week 8 of the NFL.

The Resurgence of the New York Jets

Joe – They beat the New England Patriots this past week on a late OT field goal and a mental mistake on the Pats special teams. Now the Jets sit in second place at (4-3), just one game back of the Pats (5-2). Remember the Patriots and Jets have already played twice this season, so remember this game when the season gets into December and the Jets are still right behind or even in front of the Pats. Next up for the Jets, at Cincinnati (5-2), which has huge implications after the Bengals defeated the Pats in Week 5.

The battle between the AFC and the NFC

Joe – Coming into the NFL season, the majority of fans and analysts were preparing for the NFC to showcase the best teams (49ers, Seahawks, Saints, Falcons, Packers) compared to the AFC (Broncos, Patriots, Texans, Ravens). The NFC team’s combined record is 50-55; compared to the AFC’s 57-52 combined record. We’ve seen good and bad surprises in Kansas City (7-0) and Houston (2-5) in the AFC. Similarly, traditionally strong NFC teams like the Atlanta Falcons (2-4) and the New York Giants (1-6) have surprisingly struggled. Three weeks into the season, the AFC was 12-2 against the NFC. Through seven weeks, they’re now 20-15. The NFC gave the edge to start the season but established a variety of competitive teams. Thanks in large part to the NFC North, with two teams at 4-3 (Detroit/Carolina) and one at 4-2 (Green Bay) and the NFC West, contributing Seattle (6-1) and San Francisco (5-2). Don’t forget about New Orleans and Dallas either. I guess it’s safe to say the NFC is wide open. As for the AFC; Denver, Kansas City, and Indianapolis (moment of silence for Reggie Wayne) are all looking dangerous. Sitting closely behind them are Cincinnati, New England, Baltimore, and the Jets. The AFC boasts better individual records thanks in large part to KC and Denver, but I think what wins this conference is defense. The Chiefs have a nasty defense, Denver’s was exposed against Indy this past week (among other things: a shaky O-Line/pass protection). The Pats’ defense is too injured with the absence of Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Aqib Talib. The more and more I think about defense in general, the more I like Baltimore’s D, as weird as it sounds coming from me. They’re currently ranked 15th and 16th in passing and rushing yards allowed per game. I will not be saying that again this season. You’re welcome.

Can Miami contain Gronk?

GronkowskiJones_crop_340x234Greg – The Dolphins have the privilege of going into New England the week after the Pats lost a game because a penalty on a missed field goal in overtime. The Patriots also have Gronk for the second straight game for the first time since Weeks 9 and 10 last year. In Gronk’s first game back, Brady’s trust in (or lack of trust in the rookie receivers) was noticeable as Gronk received 17 targets and all the wide receivers combined go 24 targets. Brady loves Gronk, and what quarterback wouldn’t? He is clearly a top 2 tight end in the league when healthy. You can’t differentiate him from Jimmy Graham; they are 1a and 1b. The big question is how will Miami deal with Gronk? Through 6 games, the Dolphins have giving up 27 receptions for 401 yards and 4 scores to tight ends alone. Those games include the Ravens and Bills, whose passing game (at least this year) does not revolve around the tight ends in any way, shape, or form. Will Dolphins be able to contain Gronk, who will easily get 10 plus targets? I doubt it. Whoever the Dolphins decide to put on Gronk is in for a looooooong day on Sunday.

Is RGIII really on the road to returning to his historic rookie form?

Greg – RGIII has played 6 games this season and has already thrown the ball more than 39 times 4 times. He threw the ball 39 times ONCE last year. Of course, his completion percentage is going to drop! Of course, he is going to throw more interceptions! If he was able to be that efficient throwing the ball as he was his rookie year while throwing the ball as much as Andrew Luck, do you think he would have been drafted behind him? Obviously not. Now, the stats are the stats, but anyone who has watched the Redskins play knows he had been a shell of himself before his bye week in Week 4. He didn’t look good in Week 6 against the Cowboys either, but he finally looked to have regain confidence in his knee by the Bears game. Keep in mind, him regaining confidence could have just been an allusion to us because the Bears defense is not good. It was swiss cheese last week. I think Christian Ponder could shred that defense right now. At this point, it is hard to judge if RGIII is back. This week will be a big test. Can RGIII run away from Von Miller when he is under pressure? Can he scorch the Denver defense much like Andrew Luck did? I don’t know, that’s why it is something to watch for.

Prediction

New York Jets @ Cincinnati Bengals

Joe – 20-13 Bengals

Andy Dalton AKA The Red Rifle (Photo Cred: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Andy Dalton AKA The Red Rifle
(Photo Cred: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

They’ve played extremely well at home, already defeating the Steelers, Patriots, and Packers. Geno Smith played very well against New England in the second half last week but one of the Patriots’ problems is generating pressure, something that the Bengals defensive line didn’t have a problem doing when they played against the Pats in Week 5. Andy Dalton has led the Bengals pass offense to 9th in the league (averaging 262.3 ypg), whereas the Jets pass defense ranks 21st in pass defense (allowing 219 ypg). If Dalton can get the ball out of his hands quickly to avoid the pass rush, a healthy dose of AJ Green and a two tight end set should immensely help the Bengals out.

Greg – Bengals 21-20

Sheldon Richardson and Geno Smith have, arguably, been the best rookies from the 2013 NFL Draft class, but they won’t be enough to bring down the Bengals on Sunday. The Jets’ fearsome defensive line will most likely be a mute point this week against PFF’s First Quarter Offensive Line Ranking’s number 1 offensive line. The Bengals are a dominant offensive line that will limit the Jets’ defensive line like they’ve limited defensive lines this whole season. They have given just over 2 sacks a game and will continue that trend this week. Dalton has time to throw and takes advantage. 2 of Dalton’s 3 TD passes go to AJ Green, and the last one comes late in the 4th quarter. Geno can’t get it done late this time. Bengals win a close one.

Greg Danchik and Joe Meola

2013 World Series Preview

SportsDojo4_Rev2_Rev1You may have noticed that I am not writing as much anymore. I rarely do Daily Dojos and most of my writings come from the Dojo Sparring, a very casual article (until I unleash the fury about how the Red Sox have been lucky the whole ALCS). Anyway, this is mostly because as school rolled around most of my time has been taken up by my Bucknell work. I have to do it because if I didn’t graduate (or better yet, graduate with a good GPA), I would be written out of my parent’s will. With the time that I have leftover after school obligations, I have been working on rankings for the 2014 MLB season. I realize it is early, but there are 30 teams and around 30 players on each team, or in each team’s farm system, that should be known to get a full grasp of the significant pieces of the 2014 player pool. It takes time to do 900 projections and boil them down into understandable rankings that can be used for the average fantasy baseball league. The rankings will be constantly changing from now until February as more information is released about the players and most importantly, playing time and batting order position. These rankings, along with a lot of other great information, strategies and ideas, will be released sometime in February. While doing these rankings, I will be releasing some early player outlooks for one hitter and pitcher for each team that I think will be the most interesting. I will do a hitter from each team and then a pitcher from each team, leading up to the release of The Sports Dojo’s 2014 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide (presented by Greg Danchik). Now, I will stop writing about how I don’t write and give you a 2013 World Series preview.

World Series Trophy (Photo Cred: Charlie Riedel/AP)

World Series Trophy (Photo Cred: Charlie Riedel/AP)

The World Series might be the most improper way of determining a champion. Teams compete for 162 games, but must win 3 straight series in order to become champion. The consistent teams, the Athletics for example, are not built for this type of champion determination. They are rarely on a hot or cold streak, but are always well above the average. That’s how a team like the 2007 Rockies made it to the World Series. One crazy hot streak at the right time put them through to the World Series. The reason they lost the series is they had to wait for the Red Sox to put away the Indians in 7 games. If you get baseball players off their rhythm, there’s no telling how long it will take to get it back because baseball is a game of timing and consistency. If you fail to have those things, and you will fail to win games.

The playoffs also require a lot of luck. Fortunately for the Red Sox, luck was on their side in the ALCS. No one was “clutch”, as clutch doesn’t truly exist. It’s a word used by the talking heads on stations like ESPN to create heroes and stories that they can rerun all day and night for weeks. The most “clutch” player on the Red Sox would be David Ortiz. Little known fact… Ortiz, over his career, IS BETTER IN THE REGULAR SEASON! Not by much but he is. His regular season and postseason slash lines are .287/.381/.549 and .272/.383/.516 (AVG/OBP/SLG).

Now that my clutch rant is over, just a basic stat that everyone can understand is that two swings (the two grand slams) accounted for 8 out of 19 runs the Red Sox scored in the ALCS. To see more on my rant about how the Red Sox sucked ass, check out the final exchange I send to Joe in last week’s Dojo Sparring (link at the top).

Anyway, that was a little rant that needed to be thrown out there. My point about the introduction is that this year, despite all of those things, the two best teams ended up in the World Series. The Cardinals and Red Sox both had home field advantage en route to a pennant and had the best regular season records of their respective leagues. I’ll give a breakdown of their starting pitching, bullpens, and position players to try a determine the best team and who will win the World Series.

Starting Pitching- Advantage Cardinals

Michael Wacha (Photo Cred: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Michael Wacha (Photo Cred: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The St. Louis Cardinals’ ability to scout and produce pitchers is masterful. Every starter that will pitch for the Cardinals will be a former Cardinals’ pitching prospect. Their two best relievers right now, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal, are both Cardinals’ products as well. These guys are not like Orioles pitching prospects, no sir. I mean the Orioles’ pitchers are mostly former O’s prospects… but they ain’t good! The Cardinals staff is filthy. Adam Wainwright, homegrown, is an absolute stud muffin. He is a Cy Young award candidate, and deservingly so. He is top in the league in IP, 3rd in K’s, 3rd in FIP, and 2nd in BB/9. He has been dominate this year and he is back to his pre-Tommy John form. This is not Wainwright’s first rodeo either. He was the closer in the Cardinals’ 2006 World Series championship team. Michael Wacha will be the Game 2 starter for the Cardinals. The NLCS MVP has been ridiculous this year, especially in the postseason, posting 0.43 ERA in 21 innings and racking up 22 strikeouts while he is at it. He has no sign of slowing down, but you never know how the pressure of a World Series will get to a rookie, a rookie from the 2012 MLB Draft no less. Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly are the starters for the Cardinals once the series heads back to St. Louis. Lynn and Kelly both have had their ups and downs this year, but have been good enough to get the Cardinals this far in the postseason. Oh, and even if one of their starters falter, Shelby Miller waits in long relief to save the day. The former top prospect was dominant in stretches of the year, but was a liability at various points. He could easily come in as a replacement when a starter fails to have success early in a game, and continue to let in runs. However, his fastball/curveball combo (two pitches that are considered, by scouts, to be a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale) should allow him to be dominant in a relief role until the Cardinals’ true bullpen can step in (I say true bullpen because Miller was a starter most of the year).

For the Sox pitchers, they have 2 homegrown starters and 2 that were acquired from other teams, but not developed through their farm system. Quite frankly, the Red Sox starting pitchers are fascinating to me. There are 3 Red Sox starters that have struggled in recent years or have failed to play because of injuries. This year, ALL 3 decide to turn it around (except Bucholtz couldn’t resist the DL). The 2013 FIPs of Jon Lester (3.56/4.11), John Lackey (3.86/4.71), and Clay Buchholz (2.78/4.07) are all lower than their career FIPs (If that doesn’t signify how everything has gone right for the Red Sox, it gets crazier with their position players). Jake Peavy is the exception. His FIP is higher than it has been over the course of his career, but that is because all of the injuries he has acquired throughout his career have severely hampered his pitching abilities as compared to his abilities when he was a Padre. Peavy has also been the pitcher that has be least successful in giving the Red Sox a chance to win, costing them a game in the ALCS. I think that for the AL East, the Red Sox’ pitchers have been very good, but are not at the level of the Cardinals starters.

Projected Starting Pitchers by Game

  1. Adam Wainwright vs Jon Lester
  2. Michael Wacha vs John Lacky
  3. Clay Bucholtz vs Lance Lynn/Joe Kelly
  4. Jake Peavy vs Joe Kelly/Lance Lynn

Bullpen- Push

They are both just unbelievable.

Koji Uehara at Tropicana Field (Photo Cred: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Koji Uehara at Tropicana Field (Photo Cred: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

For the Red Sox, the main pieces of the bullpen are older players having career years. Koji Uehara, former Oriole great, has had one of the best seasons a reliever could have. He had a microscopic ERA at 1.09 while racking up 101 strikeouts and giving up 9 walks. He was also able to do this while pitching 7.2 more innings than in any of his previous seasons. Needless to say, Uehara will shut down the Cards in the 9th and give the Sox a victory if they have the lead. However, the key to the Red Sox bullpen has to be Craig Breslow. A pitcher that has given up 3 hits in 7 IP in the first postseason action of his career. He is a lefty pitcher that is better at getting righties out than lefties. Righties have a .205 batting average this season against Breslow, while lefties have a .253 batting average. This could be inflated by the fact that Breslow would have been brought on to face really good lefties and would stay in the game to face poor righties. I don’t know, I don’t have the time to figure that out for sure. Anyway… If this is a true indication of Breslow’s ability to get righties out, I cannot wait to see him pitch against Allen Craig. Craig is coming back from a foot injury (more on this later) and is going to give the Cardinals a much needed righty that can take on left handed pitching. I hope we get to see Craig’s 2013 .340 wOBA go up against Breslow. Either way, Breslow teaming up with Junichi Tazawa to get to the 9th inning will be key for the Red Sox. A bullpen that put up a 3.08 ERA in the second half will have to do even better than that to beat the Cardinals. If they can dominate like they did in the ALCS, the Sox will be in good hands once John Farrell walks out to the mound the first time.

The Cardinals have a different type of make-up. Unlike the Red Sox, the key pieces to the Cardinals’ bullpen are all young guns. The 3 main cogs are Trevor Rosenthal (A.K.A. Adam Wainwright 2.0 – 23), Carlos Martinez (22), and Kevin Siegrist (24). Siegrist is a lefty that brings some heat, but their main lefty specialist is Randy Choate. All 3 of these relievers could easily be stretched out for next year. These three relievers have given up only 3 runs throughout the whole postseason. The best of these relievers is Trevor Rosenthal. Rosenthal has become the Cardinals’ closer after the implosion of Edward Mujica over the course of the season. However, Mike Matheny recognizes that Rosenthal is his best reliever. He will use him in tie games for more than 1 inning if needed. To be 22 and have the trust of a manager to pitch in high leverage situations in the postseason, you have to be great. Rosenthal is great and will be the next great Cardinals’ starter. Cardinals have had 2 postseason games where only 22 (and younger)-year olds pitched. Expect another one of those this series if Wacha keeps up his dominance. Much like John Farrell, Mike Matheny knows that he will be putting the fate of the game into good hands when he comes out to the mound.

Position Players-  Push (Offense – Advantage Red Sox/Defense – Advantage Cardinals)

Boston Red Sox starting lineup in Game 1 of the 2013 ALCS (Photo Cred: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Boston Red Sox starting lineup in Game 1 of the 2013 ALCS (Photo Cred: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

To add onto the narrative of EVERYTHING has gone right for the Red Sox, most of their hitters increased their WAR from 2012 to 2013. These players include Jacoby Ellsbury (1.4 to 5.8),  Dustin Pedroia (4.4 to 5.4), David Ortiz (2.9 to 3.8), Shane Victorino (2.9 to 5.6), Mike Napoli (2.0 to 3.9), and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (1.9 to 3.6).Since these games will have a DH in Games 1,2,6,7, the lineups could be constantly changing, especially for the Red Sox. The Red Sox are built with a full time DH, David Ortiz, so they will have a normal lineup at home, but will have to move things around on the road. Will Napoli catch? Does Napoli go to the bench (plenty of scenarios where this is useful)? The Red Sox had the dominant offensive force that finished top 2 in BA, OBP, and SLG. However, their line up has gone cold in the postseason. To pull from last week’s Dojo Sparring…

Now the Red Sox… they have no excuse except they have been dominated. When I made my “The Red Sox have been horrendous this series” claim, they had a stellar batting average of… .133! That’s super duper if you’re a pitcher! Except, the Red Sox are all top notch hitters, not a lineup of pitchers. Now with Game 4, they were able to raise that to .186. Still below the Mendoza line (.200, for those who did not know). Now get this, the Red Sox have a BB/K of .21 this postseason. In other words, they have 53 strikeouts to 11 walks. That’s not good. They can’t get on base or put the ball in play to even get sacrifices. Those 53 strikeouts in 140 plate appearances give them a K% of 38%! That means about 3.42 batters strike out every time the Tigers pitchers go through the lineup!

Obviously, the Red Sox went cold in the ALCS. I realize this is a small sample size, but if this continues, they will not succeed against the Cardinals. The Cardinals have more depth in their lineup than the Tigers and will score more runs. Their bullpen won’t give the Red Sox a chance to win each game like the Tigers’ bullpen did.

When the series shifts to St. Louis, the Red Sox lineup will take some turns. David Ortiz will play first base; John Farrell already announced this. The question is who plays catcher? I would say Napoli would be the better choice, but will his poor defense screw the Red Sox? I mean Ortiz is no defensive wizard at first base so maybe the Sox have given up on those spots defensively and will try to out slug the Cardinals. I would say this is their best bet, but they need to realize that they will probably give up a run or 2 because of the defensive weaknesses.

The Red Sox also have plenty of speed. They had a SB% (SB/{SB+CS}) of 87% this season. However, they will be running against the active leader in catcher CS%, Yadier Molina (45%). I think that the Red Sox will still run (if they are on base), but not as well as they have been this season. Molina is a difference maker on offense and defense and would have been NL MVP had he not hit the DL this year.

For the Cardinals lineup, they get to go to Boston with an advantage over most NL teams. They have enough bench bats to have a AL-quality DH. Allen Craig comes back for that role, specifically. Recovering from a mid-foot sprain, Craig will DH for the games in Boston. It gives the Cardinals the ability to put all of their best offensive weapons into their lineup. Craig had a slash line of .315/.373/.457, much better than your average player (.252/.316/.394). He also gives the Cardinals a righty in the lineup that they will need to have success against Boston’s best lefties (Lester and Breslow). Craig’s bat gives the Cardinals the DH they need to compete with Boston’s offense. I tweeted at Jonah Keri on Sunday.

 

Obviously, the Sox didn’t listen to my suggestion. I understand this though. It goes back to my beginning points about how baseball is a game of timing and consistency (see… it all comes full circle). Lester is on schedule to pitch Game 1 and Allen Craig’s timing will be off because it will be his first game since September 4th. Keeping Lester’s timing on schedule and taking advantage of Craig’s timing adjustment is the best decision for the Red Sox.

Carlos Beltran is a postseason monster. I know I said there is no such thing as a clutch player. I have no explanation for Beltran’s postseason slash line of .337/.449/.724  except sample size. It is only about 1/3rd the amount of at bats a player will get during a full season. I am sure over the next 400 at bats it would regress towards his career averages, but we will never be able to see that because he is so old. Who knows how he will perform. If you put a gun to my head, I would say he dominates his first (and only) World Series.

The Cardinals don’t lose much going back home because that is how they have functioned all year. Their defense will be much better than the Red Sox in St. Louis even with Matt Adams at first base.

Final Thoughts and Series Prediction

Overall, I think there is way too much information about each of these teams to digest at once. I can’t give everyone’s slashline and stats on these teams. I picked some key stats and threw them out there. It’s too much to go through to get the best possible prediction. However, I think all of this information I have gathered can be boiled to a good prediction. Lets realize that a World Series is a short series to determine a baseball champion. It creates a high amount of variability in the prediction because the season averages won’t determine the champion. Red Sox could win in 4-7 and so could the Cardinals. There is no definite answer.

Also, Vegas has the Red Sox as the favorites to win the World Series. Remember, Vegas bookmakers’ job is not to pick the correct outcome. It is to put a line out that gives equal betting on both sides, so the sportsbook always wins. This is why the Patriots were like 12 point favorites during the Week 2 clash against the Jets. The public LOVES the Patriots, and the bookmakers knew that they could place a huge line and get close to even betting. I suspect a similar thing is happening here. I think the public knows the Red Sox best (Thank You ESPN) and will bet more on the Sox. I would say the smart money is on St. Louis. I think the Red Sox advantage on offense may not exist anymore if their cold streak continues, but the Cardinals’ pitching advantage will shine bright throughout the series.

Basically, this series comes down to this… Can the Boston starters contain the Cardinals’ bats? If not, can the Red Sox bats go back to mid-season form and score runs off the Cardinals’ starters?  I think the answers to both of these questions is no. The Cardinals will be your World Series Champion.

Finally, for the part you are waiting for…

The Way Too Specific Prediction That’s Way Too Likely To Be Wrong

Cardinals take both games in Boston. Their starting pitching advantage will shine and hold the Red Sox scoring down. Series shifts to St. Louis. Cardinals take a 3-0 lead and prepare for a sweep. Lester comes in and pitches Game 4 and takes advantage of no Allen Craig in the lineup. 3-1 Cardinals going into Game 5. To surprise of every viewer in America, Lacky outduels Wainwright in Game 5. The game goes to the 9th at 1-0 because of a Jacoby Ellsbury triple and Pedroia sac fly. Koji comes in. Kolten Wong pinch hits for Pete Kozma in the 8 hole. He draws a walk. Everyone remember Kirk Gibson

Allen Craig pinch hits for Trevor Rosenthal and hits his first 2013 Postseason home run. It wins the Cardinals the series in 5. They celebrate in front of a top 5 baseball fan base in America. Carlos Beltan is your 2013 World Series MVP.

Greg Danchik

Top 5 Fantasy Basketball Team Names

The quickly approaching basketball season and a temporary lull in my midterm schedule have afforded me the perfect opportunity to help the readers prepare for the upcoming fantasy basketball season. I will address the most important element of any team. The team name. Provided are my top five suggestions for team names and accompanying logos. Enjoy.

Disclaimer: I have no basketball knowledge whatsoever. If you are in my league I have already claimed the name Duran Durant. Deal with it.

5. 50 Wades of Grey

fifty shades of wade

4. James and the Giant Peach

jamesandthegiantpeach

3. Bosh Spice

boshspice

2. Admiral General Hardeen

admiralgeneralhardeen

1. Duran Durant

DuranDurant

Daniel “Leonardo da” Dicce has no formal training in Photoshop.