Articles By Athlon Sports
The NBA — like televised sports in general — is racing toward technological perfection. With wide-ranging replay capabilities and an off-site video review center, the league is working to make sure everything is called correctly.
That doesn’t mean they can solve the timeless issue of dissatisfaction. When you lose by a hair, you’re bound to take issue with whatever the referee’s calling — regardless of how precisely officials can zoom in and analyze that hair. That’s what the Sacramento Kings are showing us in their formal protest of a 111-110 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on November 13.
The game ended with a series of shocking plays, ultimately culminating in this game-winning shot by Courtney Lee, drawn up and executed with just 0.3 seconds left in the game:
Was the shot good, or did it come too late? It appears that Lee got the shot off before the backboard went red, and officials concurred by calling it Memphis’ way Thursday night, giving the Grizzlies the win. The Kings' organization is not content to accept this ruling, however, and they’re officially asking the league to take the eraser end of their pencil to that page of recent history.
The NBA says it will make a decision by December 2. Regardless of what they announce, the game will go down as one of the highlights of this season’s first month. The Grizzlies and Kings have been stirring up the already ridiculously difficult Western Conference, leaving contemporary powerhouses like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers near the wrong end of playoff perspectives for now. This thrilling game was a celebration of off-the-radar brilliance.
Assuming the call from the night stands, it’s hard to recall a more scintillatingly tight buzzer-beater. One has to hearken back to Derek Fisher’s stunning shot to beat the San Antonio Spurs in a 2004 playoff game:
— John Wilmes
Alabama is back in the driver’s seat in the SEC West and has moved back into a familiar spot atop the Legends Poll Top 8.
Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide knocked off Mississippi State this weekend, 25-20, vaulting No. 2 Florida State on the way to replacing Mississippi State at No. 1.
Florida State found itself down two scores in the first half yet again — this time against Miami — but managed to come all the way back and notch another road win, 30-26.
Idle Oregon moved up a spot to No. 3.
No. 4 Mississippi State fell three spots, followed by No. 5 TCU, which struggled on the road against Kansas.
No. 6 Ohio State moved up another spot in the rankings, swapping places with Baylor.
And Georgia made its first Top 8 appearance after a resounding 34-7 win over Auburn. The Bulldogs still need a Missouri loss to find their way into the SEC championship game.
Arizona State fell out of the rankings this week following its loss at Oregon State.
|2||Florida State (2)||10-0||90||2|
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
The Denver Nuggets might be turning the page.
It hasn’t been a good start to the 2014-15 season for them. So far, the stumbling squad has looked unanchored, directionless and, well, bad. They allowed 84 points — at home — to the Portland Trail Blazers last week in the first half, and coach Brian Shaw refused to even take questions from reporters afterward. It looked like the end of an era (an era that no one would remember) in Denver. ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz had this to say about the state of malaise and failure:
“Denver is getting smoked nightly. It's a 2-7 team with no discernible identity, redundancies all over its roster and a morose, first-time coach who has expressed frustration with the fortitude of his team. Several sources around the league, a few close to the Nuggets, say the organization is ‘rudderless.’”
But now optimism suddenly seems possible again in the Rockies. The Nuggets not only took down the Indiana Pacers on Friday, but last night they startled the NBA community by taking down LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Ohio. Nuggets general Ty Lawson led the team with 24 points and 12 assists, refusing to accept the grumbles around the league about his team’s demise.
Of course, the Cavaliers aren’t exactly unbeatable right now. Despite having James, the sport’s best player, and massive talent beside him, they’re a young team sucked into some serious growing pains. Turnovers, lack of sharing the ball, and general confusion have been the themes to a lackluster 5-4 start in Cleveland.
Silver linings come seldom for a team as down as Denver, though, and a win like this could potentially reverse the morale for the group. Snagging a victory against the NBA’s celebrity team is a good start to a winning streak — now let’s see if the Nuggets can keep up their strong play at home, Wednesday, against the Oklahoma City Thunder at 9:00 PM ET.
— John Wilmes
You may have mistaken the 38-year-old edition of Kevin Garnett for Skeletor — but the former MVP and NBA champion is still in the league. KG is on the final year of his last big NBA contract, a deal that was signed with the Boston Celtics but eventually traded to Garnett’s current squad, the Brooklyn Nets.
Garnett’s minutes and productivity have shrunk considerably since he landed in New York, but he’s still a valuable personality. Often cited as the league’s best trash talker and a prodigious defensive communicator, he makes every locker room better by his presence. The man was simply born to be around basketball teams, helping them win — and that’s why his latest sentiments come as no surprise. "I want to buy the Timberwolves. Put a group together and perhaps some day try to buy the team. That's what I want,” Garnett told Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports.
Obviously, Garnett is a ways away from making this dream a reality. He’ll probably have to finish his playing career first. But the tiny cluster of NBA players wealthy enough to enter this discussion does include The Big Ticket. In fact, Garnett’s 20-year career has seen him earn more money than any player in league history. He’s made approximately $329 million from player contracts.
It’s hard to imagine an owner who would make the Wolves’ fanbase any happier. Garnett’s 12 years in Minnesota saw him put his team on the map in a way no one had before. And not a soul, including mega-talent Kevin Love, has matched Garnett’s impact on the franchise since. KG stayed loyal to his city much longer than many believed he should, consistently deflecting interest from other teams as he tried to lift the Wolves from mediocrity to the promised land; even as his best teammates were Ricky Davis and Wally Szczerbiak. Garnett bled T'Wolves blue like no one else.
And despite a championship, huge national exposure and an endless list of other accolades with the Boston Celtics, KG had always left a huge hunk of his heart back in Minneapolis. Now, he’s looking to reclaim it.
— John Wilmes
Rudy Gay’s reputation has been on quite the roller coaster ride. The Sacramento Kings’ 28-year-old forward has been a revered scorer and a FIBA gold medalist, but he’s also been an easy target for many analysts of the game, who eagerly underline his offensive inefficiency and bloated contract, which expires this season and pays him $19.3 million for the year.
Now, Gay looks like a bit of a bargain on his upcoming deal, reached November 16 and worth a reported $40 million over three seasons. Behind dark horse MVP candidate DeMarcus Cousins, Gay has been a sharp number two man on a surging 6-4 Kings squad, poised to make the Western Conference playoff outlook scarier yet.
Rudy has scaled back on ball-stopping and bad isolation shooting, as he’s worked smarter to get shots closer to the rim, and found his points within the potent Sacramento offense. Gay’s current 22.5 points per game, on a 22.1 player efficiency rating, come from only a 10-game sample size, but those figures are far better than any line he’s put up in recent years. It’s still early, but 2014-15 is shaping up to be Gay’s best season as a pro.
Like the rest of his Sacramento roster, the University of Connecticut alum has seen enough criticism and doubt to earn something of an underdog mentality. The Kings’ success out of the gates has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the early season, and Gay’s extension means that at least he and Cousins will be around for years more to continue making basketball — dead in Sac-town for nearly decade — a cornerstone of their city yet again.
Watch as they take on Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans at the edge of the Western postseason landscape, tomorrow night at 9 PM ET at the Sleep Train Arena.
— John Wilmes
Few players around college football have grown up as quickly and confidently as Ohio State starting quarterback J.T. Barrett this season. The Buckeyes are fortunate the maturing process has followed an accelerated path. Whatever College Football Playoff hopes may be on the table will be in the hands of the performance of Barrett.
For a moment, take a look back at the beginning of the season. Ohio State went into the season not really knowing just how things would gel after losing Braxton Miller just weeks before the start of the season. Barrett was chosen by head coach Urban Meyer to take control of the offense. It was Meyer’s best possible decision at the time, but one that left many questions to be answered. Ohio State suddenly went form playoff contender to potential Big Ten spoiler without a single game being played. It took time for things to work out. An early home loss to Virginia Tech was a difficult spot for Barrett. Virginia Tech was considered one of the best defensive teams in the ACC, and the Hokies took advantage of a young quarterback making his first big time start in front of a national audience. Since then, however, Barrett has grown up and blossomed to become one of the best players in the Big Ten.
Barrett is now coming off impressive back-to-back road performance in which he passed for 500 yards, six touchdowns and 275 rushing yards and three more rushing touchdowns. He piled up these numbers against teams ranked in the top 25 in cold conditions as well. Against Michigan State a week ago, Barrett had his best game throwing the football. There was never a doubt about whether or not the Buckeyes would go to Minnesota on a hangover. There is too much on the line this season, and Barrett lacks the experience to understand the concept of a letdown at this level. This is not a criticism, just an observation that Barrett is bringing some youthful energy to the offense and is still looking to prove something to any who watch.
Against Minnesota a week later, Barrett had his best day running the football. He did so against a Minnesota defense that has held four opponents under 100 rushing yards and was coming off a dominating performance against Iowa (84 rushing yards allowed to the Hawkeyes). Doing so in the snow is also no small feat.
Barrett’s emergence has coincided with the rise of the Ohio State Buckeyes in the playoff race, and this is not a coincidence. The play of the Ohio State quarterback has not gone unnoticed, and some are even jumping so far as to suggest he should be in the running for the Heisman Trophy. Regardless of where you fall on that debate, there is no denying Ohio State now has a quarterback more than capable of filling in for the injured Miller and Barrett keeps Ohio State one of the legitimate contenders for the College Football Playoff.
Ohio State’s next two games are at home against Indiana (10th in the Big Ten against the run) and rival Michigan (3rd against the run). Barrett and Ohio State look to be on cruise control to the Big Ten championship game, and Barrett is a huge reason why this is even possible this season.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
It seems as though the ACC Coastal has been up for grabs for a few seasons now, so it should be little surprise to see Georgia Tech once again looking to grab hold of the division coming down the stretch. It should also be no surprise how Georgia Tech has been put into this situation. Everybody knows what Georgia Tech will do on offense with Paul Johnson’s triple option schemes, but the defense is coming off another impressive performance in a win over Clemson. It could not have come at a better time.
Georgia Tech may not be typically known for its defense, but helped set the tone Saturday against Clemson. The Tigers lost their quarterback, which certainly had an impact on the outcome of the game, but credit Georgia Tech for seizing the opportunity to take advantage. Georgia Tech’s defense was relentless in holding Clemson to just 190 yards of total offense. It was the first time this season Georgia Tech held an opponent under 283 yards. Once Clemson had to go with Cole Stoudt under center, Georgia Tech pounced in a big way.
Jamal Golden gave Georgia Tech a lead late in the first half when he picked off a pass from Stoudt and returned it 85 yards for a touchdown. Later in the third quarter, Chris Milton picked off another pass from Stoudt. This one was returned 62 yards for a score as well as Georgia Tech padded its lead to 25-6 late in the third quarter.
Once Georgia Tech’s defense gets its hands on a pass, anything can happen. The Yellow Jackets now lead the nation in interceptions returned for a touchdown with five, and five different players (Jamal Golden, D.J. White, Quayshawn Nealy, Chris Milton, Paul Davis) have contributed to that total. Georgia Tech has the luxury of knowing any one player on the field can score at any time, on offense or defense. Only one team in the ACC has picked off more passes (Louisville). Any team facing Georgia Tech has to be careful protecting the football. Just ask any team that has played Georgia Tech over last month. In the last four games, Georgia Tech has forced 14 turnovers. In that same span, Georgia Tech’s offense has six turnovers. Turnover margin is significant, especially in a tight division race. Georgia Tech has had a plus turnover margin in all but four games this season.
Georgia Tech’s defense also got off the field often. Clemson only managed to convert three of 13 third-down plays for first downs. There have been a number of games this season when that was not the case. The only time this season when Georgia Tech’s defense performed better on third downs was in a win against Miami, when the Hurricanes converted just one of five third-down plays.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
To say Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon had an historic afternoon Saturday against Nebraska would be an understatement. Gordon’s 408 rushing yards against the Huskers clearly created some breathing room in his favor when discussing the top Big Ten running backs (Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah being the other candidate). It also threw Gordon to the top of the Heisman Trophy race along with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. Gordon’s day was something incredible to watch unfold, but it almost took away from the bigger picture being painted by Wisconsin here. The Badgers are now a very dangerous team that could stand in the way of Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, and perhaps spoil any potential thought of the Buckeyes playing in the College Football Playoff.
With a win against Nebraska, Wisconsin now sits in a favorable position to return to the Big Ten Championship Game for the third time in four seasons. Still with games against Iowa and Minnesota to play, there is still some work to be done by the Badgers. However, Wisconsin looks like the heavy favorite to come out of this Big Ten West race en route to Indianapolis. Having a healthy running game appears to be the fuel Wisconsin needs to finish strong in 2014. Having Gordon healthy certainly helps, but so does having a supporting cast of a talented, yet often overlooked defense.
The Badgers lead the Big Ten in scoring defense, allowing just 15.3 points per game. Want to run against the Badgers? Good luck. Wisconsin is second in the Big Ten against the run, allowing just 96.7 yards per game. Even Nebraska’s Abdullah could only manage to run for 69 yards on 18 attempts. The Badgers also allow the fewest passing yards per game in the Big Ten. When a team has a solid defense and a powerful running game, they can be difficult to beat.
And this is why Wisconsin may be generating enough steam at the right time to challenge Ohio State for the Big Ten title. The Buckeyes have emerged in recent weeks and have started to turn narrative in their favor as a result of recent success on the road. At the same time though, Wisconsin has begun to hit its stride and there may not be anything standing in the way of a collision course between the Badgers and Buckeyes.
Wisconsin has everything it would need to beat Ohio State, except for a steadily reliable quarterback. Joel Stave has done enough to keep things going in the right direction lately, but the Badgers may need just a little bit more at some point. If they can get that out of Stave, then watch out for these Badgers. A shot at the College Football Playoff may be out of reach at this point, but a third Big Ten title in four years certainly is not.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
It is hardly a secret to anyone watching Big Ten football that Penn State is getting by this season on the strength of the defense. With an offense struggling to find a rhythm behind a shaky offensive line, Penn State’s defense has had to carry the team to hard-fought victories. On Saturday it was the defense that once again led the way, this time guiding Penn State to its sixth win of the season to clinch bowl eligibility.
Early in the season, Penn State had the final two years of a postseason ban lifted by the NCAA. When the ban was lifted, James Franklin cautioned fans and his team there was still plenty of work to be done in order to be making bowl plans. Fortunately for Franklin, he has one of the top defenses in the country at his disposal.
Penn State was receiving plenty of fight from upset-minded Temple, with the Owls looking for a rare win over Penn State to clinch their own bowl eligibility. Penn State’s offense was once again off to a rough start, but the defense, led by players like linebacker Mike Hull, and defensive linemen Deion Barnes and Anthony Zettel up front, provided all the sparks needed in the second half. Penn State forced five turnovers to squash any upset plans Temple had in mind. This time it was the secondary that came up with the big plays with four interceptions being hauled in by Adrian Amos, Jesse Della Valle and freshmen Grant Haley and Christian Campbell. Through mid-November, Penn State now has the nation’s top passing defense efficiency rating with 15 interceptions and just six touchdowns allowed.
The turnovers turned a tight game into a bit of a blowout in favor of a celebratory Penn State. Not only did the Penn State defense keep a game within reach, it was the defense that helped deliver the knockout blows.
Penn State has allowed just 16.2 points per game, and they have had to play at that level. Penn State’s offense has been a constant work-in-progress with a shaky offensive line leading to quarterback Christian Hackenberg feel pressure to make plays which lead to bad decisions. The running game has had a tough time getting on track as well. Penn State’s defense has been put in some difficult situations all season long, but they have always managed to keep games within reach, with the exception of the Northwestern game.
Penn State’s defense has had moments where it has to resort to a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy, but more often than not that seems to work. This defense also finds ways to get off the field. On 155 third-down situations this season, opponents have converted just 45. Only five schools have a better defensive success rate on third down. Penn State has also limited touchdowns inside the red zone. Opponents have reached Penn State’s 20-yard line 29 times this season, but have scored just 13 touchdowns. They have had to settle for nine field goals as well, leaving seven red zone trips with zero points produced against Penn State’s defense.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
Why do boxers swish and spit out water instead of drinking it? — Jim Brigman, Jacksonville, Fla.
We posed this question to a guy who’s done a lot of swishing and spitting over the years, 49-year-old boxing legend Bernard Hopkins. Here’s what he told us: “Because our mouths can become dry in the ring, and a lot of times you just want to get your mouth moist enough to be able to continue to the next round. We do swallow some water, though, and spit the rest.”
Are there any outdoor games planned for the NHL season? — Joe Rush, St. Paul, Minn.
The NHL Winter Classic — an outdoor hockey game played at an iconic stadium on New Year’s Day — has become one of the highlights of the sports calendar. The 2015 Classic is set for New Year’s Day at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., and will feature the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals. In addition, the NHL is launching a proposed “Stadium Series” with a game at San Francisco’s Levi’s Stadium on Feb. 21, 2015, featuring the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.
Which one player in the NBA, NFL or MLB has spent the most years with one team? I’m thinking it’s either Derek Jeter or Tom Brady. — Nelson Jimenez, Stamford, Conn.
Jeter’s not a bad guess; he holds the Yankees’ record for most games in pinstripes with 2,747, over 20 seasons. But in terms of total seasons...
• Carl Yastrzemski, Boston Red Sox (23 years)
• Brooks Robinson, Baltimore Orioles (23 years)
• Jason Hanson, Detroit Lions (21 years)
• John Stockton, Utah Jazz (19 years)
DraftKings has released their Daily Fantasy college football salaries for the week, and the experts at CollegeFootballGeek.com have hunkered down and scoured all of the data to find the best Value Plays on the docket.
These Value Plays are comprised of players poised to out-produce their DraftKings salaries this week. These are the “diamonds in the rough” that your DFS competitors may overlook. They are the difference-makers you need in your lineup to win one of the big DFS contests!
For your convenience, we have broken the picks down by DraftKings contest game set. Best of luck this week!
(For more detailed Daily Fantasy analysis, picks, player news, player rankings, and stat breakdowns, check out CollegeFootballGeek.com. Learn how to SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE!)
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (EARLY ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee vs. Kentucky ($7400)
Mr. Dobbs was magnificent in his last outing with 467 total yards and five total touchdowns. He is a spectacular runner and could make plenty of big plays against Kentucky.
2) QB Treon Harris, Florida vs South Carolina ($4800)
Harris showed his running ability with 49 yards rushing and two scores last week against Vandy. He has a nice match up this week with a South Carolina defense that is really struggling to stop opponents.
1) RB Aaron Green, TCU vs. Kansas ($5200)
Green filled in nicely for BJ Catalon last week with 171 yards and a score against Kansas State. Green could have a huge day against Kansas with or without Catalon on the field.
2) RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State vs. Minnesota ($5600)
Elliott had 154 yards rushing and two scores last week against Michigan State. He could run wild against Minnesota and comes in at a juicy price. Ride this Buckeye.
3) RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee vs. Kentucky ($4700)
Hurd had 183 total yards and a score in his last game against South Carolina. He could find plenty of room to run against a Kentucky defense that is on the decline recently.
4) RB Wayne Gallman, Clemson vs. Georgia Tech ($4300)
Gallman has back to back games over 100 yards rushing and comes in at a ridiculously low price. He appears to be an outstanding punt option this week.
1) WR Mike Williams, Clemson vs. Georgia Tech ($5800)
DeShaun Watson loves to throw to Mr. Williams. He averaged 116 yards and scored four touchdowns in the three games that Watson started earlier in the season. We like this Tiger this week.
2) WR Cayleb Jones, Arizona vs. Washington ($4600)
Jones comes in this week at a dirt cheap price after a bad game last week. A bounce back effort might be in the cards against Washington.
3) WR Devin Smith, Ohio State vs. Minnesota ($4300)
Smith has scored three times in the last two weeks and is a big play waiting to happen for Ohio State. Another trip to the end zone could be in line for Smith against Minnesota.
4) WR Kaelin Clay, Utah vs. Stanford ($3200)
Clay is a big time play maker and is about all Utah has left at the wide out position due to injuries. He is very cheap this week and could easily exceed value.
1) TE David Grinnage, NC State vs. Wake Forest ($3000)
Grinnage has scored a touchdown in three of the last four games and could score against versus a soft Wake Forest defense.
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (LATE ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Matt Davis, SMU vs. USF ($6600)
Davis showed off his rushing prowess last week with 181 yards and two scores versus Tulsa. He could have another big day on the ground against a soft South Florida defense. High risk, high reward here folks.
1) RB Marlon Mack, USF vs. SMU ($4400)
Mack will be facing the 115th ranked rush defense in the country. Expect him to see plenty of huge holes to run through and pile up the yards.
2) RB Antoinne Jimmerson, North Texas vs. UTEP ($4000)
Jimmerson had a nice game last week against FAU and will be facing the 74th ranked rush defense this week. A score or two seem within reach this week.
3) RB Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State vs. Texas ($4400)
Hill filled in nicely for Desmond Roland last week and could see a ton of carries this week with Roland questionable to play. The Texas rush defense is ranked 84th in the nation and could give up a few big plays to the speedy Hill.
1) WR Andre Davis, USF vs. SMU ($5400)
The SMU pass defense is ranked 112nd and is just pathetic. Look for Davis to have a big game and easily reach value.
2) WR Devante Davis, UNLV vs. BYU ($4900)
Davis is a stud fantasy WR who returned from injury last week and racked up 114 yards and a score against Air Force. He looks like a must play at this price!
3) WR Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M vs. Missouri ($4600)
Reynolds had 88 yards and two scores in last week’s upset over Auburn. He was targeted often by Kyle Allen and that could continue this week versus Missouri.
4) WR Chris Conley, Georgia vs. Auburn ($4200)
Conley scored twice last week against Kentucky and will be going against the 99th ranked pass defense of Auburn. He could have another productive night against the Tigers.
1) TE Josiah Price, Michigan State vs. Maryland ($3500)
Price has scored in three of the last four games. He looks to be a solid option against the Terrapins.
By Todd DeVries & Kevin Mount, CollegeFootballGeek.com
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Is it true that the NFL will require the next Super Bowl halftime performer to pay the league for the chance to play? — Tim Johnson, Phoenix, Ariz.
Not if Katy Perry gets her way, which she usually does. The pop princess and social media phenom (she has more than 58 million Twitter followers) was tabbed for music’s most high-profile gig over fellow finalists Coldplay and Rihanna, but she wasn’t exactly thrilled by reports that this year’s performer would have to pay to play. During her memorable stint as a guest picker on ESPN's GameDay college football preview show, Perry said she’s “not the kind of girl who would pay to play the Super Bowl,” a sentiment she reportedly shared with the other finalists. The NFL doesn’t need more bad PR, nor is the league short on cash, so expect them to withdraw their request for compensation quietly.
Folk heroes in basketball almost always come in tiny packages. There’s nothing more thrilling to the common viewer than watching a veritable David rise up in a league full of Goliaths. Winning big when you’re small, in a vertically oriented game, is lightning in the NBA.
While a lower center of gravity creates a speed and dribbling advantage—almost all of the league’s best ball-handlers are diminutive—there’s still usually a bigger, longer player capable of sticking with the short and nimble. You’ve got to have something more than the chops of a dancer to be mini and thrilling. You need moxie, and these guys all have enough of it to light an arena on fire.
5. Isaiah Thomas
The Suns’ big pickup over the offseason could become 2014-15’s Sixth Man of the Year winner. Isaiah Thomas is a scoring machine, darting through coverage and stopping on a dime to drain sweet jumpers seemingly whenever he pleases.
His tiny 5’9” frame has been a refuges for Thomas doubters around every corner. He was drafted just No. 60 overall in 2011 NBA draft, and was passed over in free agency by his Sacramento Kings squad in 2014. Let all that be fuel for Thomas, though, as he wows the league in Phoenix on an almost nightly basis in the season’s early goings.
4. Tony Allen
Tony Allen is a mongoose. He doesn’t look like he could kill a king snake, but he does it all the time. Just ask Kevin Durant, who Allen took out of his comfort zone in last year’s playoffs after Durant dominated the league through his MVP-winning season. Despite having a five-plus inch deficit next to KD, the 6’4” Allen had Durant so frustrated with his aggressive defense that an Oklahoma City newspaper ran the headline “Mr. Unreliable” about their star.
That paper's phrasing was (obviously) overcooked, and Allen isn’t exactly on the smaller side of NBA players. But his performance on Durant gave fans the same thrill a true giant slayer brings—he gives up pounds consistently, but makes up for the gap with tenacity and strategy, reliably pleasing the underdog in all of us.
3. Ty Lawson
The Denver Nuggets’ best player is one of their smallest, too—they’ve also got the hummingbird frame of Nate Robinson on board. Lawson is languishing in the Rockies this season, as the Nuggets have been mismanaged into the NBA’s basement. But it wasn’t long ago that he was the engine of a 58-win team coached by George Karl, dazzling the league with open court savvy and impressive dexterity in the pick-and-roll.
Watch this terrific instructional video with Lawson, in which he demonstrates how he regularly makes dunces of big men in PnR actions by “putting them in jail”:
2. Eric Bledsoe
Eric Bledsoe held out all summer to get his money from the Phoenix Suns. After much speculation that things had gone sour and the two signs would inevitably part, “The Bledshow” got paid to the tune of $70 million over five years. Bledsoe is worth it; he’s the very best point guard defender in the game, routinely making fools of bigger point guards and thriving as a shot-blocker of big men.
Bledsoe’s other nickname is “Mini LeBron,” since he’s one of the only athletes who can approximate the versatile athletic explosion that the King brings to the court. The two friends share an agent in Rich Paul, and fans of both should keep their fingers crossed for Paul to somehow get Bledsoe and James on a roster together.
1. Chris Paul
The little general wins the list. The Los Angeles Clippers’ fearless leader is one of the hottest competitors in the league; with the smart conviction he moves with, most fans get too engaged to even notice how small Paul is. At 6’0”, he’s cracked a most unlikely category as one of the game’s best point guards. Regularly going head-to-head with the likes of Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook requires CP3 to do battle with true beasts of the position.
Paul is frequently criticized for his relative lack of playoff success. Real enthusiasts of the game understand that his legacy should be cemented regardless—he’s one of the best to ever play his position. But if he can lead the Clippers to the Western Conference Finals or deeper in 2014-15, Paul will hold the hearts of the everyday fan forevermore.
— John Wilmes
Athlon Sports would be the first to tell you to sit back and enjoy the college basketball regular season from start to finish.
But let’s face it: The big prize — the only prize, it seems — is the NCAA Tournament. And that’s part of the excitement of the season. Essentially every team has a chance to play in the championship event. Finish in last place in your conference? You’ve got the conference tournament to remedy a lost season.
For us, bracketology starts early. Here’s our first projection of the field of 68.
|2||Florida||Wichita State||North Carolina||Kansas|
|4||Virginia||Iowa State||Michigan State||San Diego State|
|11||Rhode Island||Memphis||UNLV||NC State|
|13||Belmont||New Mexico State||Green Bay||Akron|
|14||Northeastern||Stephen F. Austin||UC Irvine||Iona|
|15||Stony Brook||Coastal Carolina||Wofford||American|
St. Francis (NY)/
|NC Central||Florida Gulf Coast|
NCAA bids by conference
ACC (9): Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Virginia, Syracuse, Florida State, NC State, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh
American (4): SMU, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Memphis
Atlantic 10 (4): VCU, Dayton, Rhode Island, George Washington
Big 12 (5): Kansas, Texas, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma
Big East (3): Villanova, Georgetown, Xavier
Big Ten (7): Wisconsin, Michigan State, Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois, Iowa
Missouri Valley (2): Wichita State, Northern Iowa
Mountain West (2): San Diego State, UNLV
Pac-12 (5): Arizona, Colorado, Stanford, UCLA, Utah
SEC (4): Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas, LSU
West Coast (2): Gonzaga, BYU
America East (Stony Brook), Atlantic Sun (Florida Gulf Coast), Big Sky (Weber State), Big Sky (Coastal Carolina), Big West (UC Irvine), Colonial (Northeastern), Conference USA (Louisiana Tech), Horizon (Green Bay), Ivy (Harvard), MAAC (Iona), MAC (Akron), MEAC (NC Central), Northeast (St. Francis Brooklyn), Ohio Valley (Belmont), Patriot (American), Southern (Wofford), Southland (Stephen F. Austin), Summit (IPFW), Sun Belt (Georgia State), SWAC (Arkansas-Pine Bluff), WAC (New Mexico State)
Being bulky in the NBA has taken a much different look in recent years. New defensive rules and evolving basketball bodies mean that a center or power forward can no longer quite take permanent residence in the post. Simply having some extra size on the enemy isn’t going to beguile contemporary teams. Deep shooting, mobility and passing skills closer to the perimeter have all become staples in today’s frontcourt game. Big men who can boast the skill sets of guards and wingmen are an ever-increasing population.
This is not to say that the classic distinguishing characteristics of big men are gone from our world; they’ve just become more marginal aspects of a larger picture. Some exceptions notwithstanding, it takes a kind of new breed of men in the middle to compete at the highest level in 2014.
5. Al Jefferson
Behold the master of the big man past. Big Al—whose nickname is lately becoming “Professor Al”—has a brilliant, hypnotic touch on the block and a sweet touch with his mid-range shot. Even Mister No. 1 on our list can sometimes be fooled by his crafty veteran footwork:
Jefferson is the centerpiece of his Charlotte Hornets' offense, and can spread defenses beyond the block with a rangy jump shot. He consistently draws a double team almost regardless of where he catches the ball, and opens up the Hornets offensive in a way so big it's hard to measure.
4. Marc Gasol
It comes as no surprise that one of the poster boys of modern, versatile big men comes from abroad, where the frontier of NBA strategy has exploded past the bruising style of the 1990s. Paired with the more vintage, down-low approach of Memphis Grizzlies teammate Zach Randolph, Gasol is allowed to freelance and put his uncanny stamp on the game in myriad ways. Watch Gasol toss the ball to the perimeter with the arc of a league-leading shortshop:
There's almost too much to account for, from the defense's perspective, when a player as big and skilled as Gasol is on the floor. It doesn't hurt his resume being one of the very best defenders of the lane, either—Gasol had a remarkable 5.23 defensive real plus-minus in 2013-14, second in the league for all centers.
3. Joakim Noah
The spirit animal of his domineering coach Tom Thibodeau, Noah is a relentless emotional and intellectual beast who overwhelms the opposition with a critical mass of hustle plays and his vision for seemingly invisible passing lanes. Often referred to as a “point center” as he ran the Chicago Bulls’ offense from outside the lane in 2013-14, Noah is one of the most unique players in the game.
Joakim inspires something like culture shock every time his towering frame takes the ball down the court with an authority and fluidity nearing that of Chris Paul’s. Despite coming in at 6'11", Noah’s comfort on offense has never been as a backdown man. His savant passing, clever off-ball motion and advanced understanding of spacing make for a package that no team wants to deal with.
2. Dwight Howard
Along with then-coach Stan Van Gundy, Dwight Howard formed the template for contemporary rim-protection with the Orlando Magic. A spry, hulky enforcer who can chase sharper-shooting bigs to the perimeter and fall back to the basket fast enough to squash slashers, Howard’s “Superman” moniker is what results from an impressive athlete also mastering the complex tenants of a thorough defensive system.
There’s never been a shortage of Dwight criticism from his predecessors, however. The desk of Shaq and Charles Barkley has long been a petri dish for misunderstandings of a big boy’s role in today’s game, as both beloved figures never miss an opportunity to snipe at Howard for his shortage of aggressive, butt-first action on the block. Howard often kowtows to such rhetoric and stalls his defense trying to perform so to match the moves of yesteryear. But when he blocks out that nostalgic babble and relishes his strengths as a pick-and-roll finisher and defensive demon, D12 points the way toward the paint action of tomorrow.
1. Anthony Davis
Meet the future. The 21-year-old Davis is already putting his New Orleans Pelicans squad on his back for a playoff push in the spiky Western Conference, and doing it by playing basketball like no one has before him. His 6'10" frame makes most people call Davis a center, but the unibrowed phenom’s game can fit into any positional box—but his role probably shouldn’t be squeezed into any of those categories.
AD played a dominant point guard as high-school sensation in Chicago, and his court awareness and coordination frequently remind us how that looked. He’s a threat from any part of the floor not just because he’s bigger, faster and stronger than most of the league, but also because he’s smarter. And he’s made an unparalleled art out of the act of swatting a shot while recovering the ball—a corralling takeaway that acts as a telling symbol for just how singular Davis’ value is. Anthony is the league’s best big man now, but in a few years or less, we might be talking about him as the very top specimen in the game.
— John Wilmes
More than halfway through the NFL season, most “experts” have already thrown their preseason predictions out the window. But the predictions back then weren’t as ridiculous as they seem now. They were probably based on reasonable expectations.
Then teams, units or players started falling woefully short.
That’s just how it goes in sports. Disappointments are a big part of the games. So with only seven weeks left until the NFL playoffs start, here’s a look at the league’s biggest disappointments. They’re either disappointing teams in general, or the units, players or coaches that have caused their teams to fall short:
The Chicago Bears offense
They are unbelievably loaded with weapons to make Jay Cutler’s life easier. There are few receiving corps as talented as Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey. Martellus Bennett developed into one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league. And whatever Matt Forte lacks as a runner, he makes up for as a dual-threat as a receiver out of the backfield. Yet the Bears are 3-6 and their offense ranks 15th in the NFL. Cutler’s numbers aren’t even terrible, but clearly the Bears should be scoring a lot more than they are.
The New Orleans Saints
They were a trendy pick to win the Super Bowl because they seemed to have it all, including a rejuvenated Rob Ryan defense. Then they stumbled out of the gate in part because that defense (now ranked 19th) turned out to be much worse than expected. The Saints are still in good position in the awful NFC South, but at 4-5 they are hardly the NFC power many thought they would be.
Redskins QB Robert Griffin III
Finally back to health and free of any Mike Shanahan-caused controversy, this was supposed to be RGIII’s breakout season. But yet another injury – a dislocated ankle – has limited him to only two full games this season. He’s back now and maybe things will get better. But he still has just one TD pass in his two starts, which is less than anyone expected given all the weapons around him.
Panthers QB Cam Newton
The fourth-year quarterback’s numbers took a dip last season, but he became a winner and showed signs of maturing into the franchise quarterback many expected him to be. But this year he’s become a little more erratic, his interceptions are surging, and he’s been far more sack-able behind a suspect offensive line. Maybe it has more to do with the crumbling cast around him, but Newton is taking steps backwards this year.
Bucs coach Lovie Smith
The confusion and controversy of the Greg Schiano era was supposed to be vanquished by the arrival of Smith, an ultra-professional coach who had plenty of success in Chicago. The Bucs were supposed to be underachievers in the past, which seemed to set up a successful quick transition. Instead, the Bucs began the season mired in a quarterback controversy and now they’re 1-8, searching for talent and an identity. It looks like it’ll take Smith a lot longer than expected to turn this mess around.
The Atlanta Falcons
They were the biggest disappointments in the NFL last season, plummeting from one of the best teams in the NFC to one of the worst. But they had so much talent – especially on offense – that last year could easily be excused as an anomaly. It wasn’t. The offense is a little better, but their defense is the second-worst in the NFL, leaving them at 3-6 and barely holding their heads above water in the worst division in the NFL.
The New York Giants defense
They spoke before the season of how they could carry a still-growing offense and even be one of the Top 5 defenses in the league. Instead, as their rebuilt secondary crumbled around them, they plummeted to rock bottom. The Giants rank dead last in the NFL in defense right now, and they earned it with a horrendous performance in Seattle on Sunday when then gave up an incredible 350 yards on the ground.
Bengals QB Andy Dalton
In August, Dalton signed a six-year, $115 million contract which seemed to solidify his place among the best up-and-coming quarterbacks in the game. But he has taken a nosedive, especially lately. More than halfway through the season he’s even thrown more interceptions (nine) than touchdown passes (eight). Now there are serious questions about whether the Bengals invested in the right quarterback, and whether they’ll need to find a way out of that deal in a couple of years.
Packers RB Eddie Lacy
When Lacy rushed for 1,178 yards as a rookie last year it seemed to be only the beginning. He was on a terrific team with the pressure off because of MVP-candidate Aaron Rodgers. His performance has been fine – especially since it can be argued he’s been underused – but fantasy owners surely are dissappointed in his 478 yards and four touchdowns through nine games. It’s not that he’s having a bad season. It’s more that expectations were much, much higher than what he’s done.
Lions RB Reggie Bush
The last three years Bush finally was starting to live up to his potential and looking like a former top draft pick. And this year, even at age 29, he figured to build on what he had started on a team loaded with offensive talent. Instead, with injuries slowing him down, he’s starting to show his age and no longer looking like anything other than a part-time running back. With 191 rushing yards and 169 receiving yards, he actually looks like a guy playing his way right out of the league.
—By Ralph Vacchiano
It’s November and that means the college hoops season is knocking on the door. Next thing you know we will be engulfed in January conference play. Come March, we will all be filling out our brackets, looking for the perfect 12-5 upset, seeking out the the dark horses and searching for Cinderella.
We’ve got the top 10 mid-majors to keep an eye on throughout the college hoops season and heading into March Madness.
A bit of a disclaimer: The lines between mid-major and high-major programs are always blurred. Though teams like Wichita State, Gonzaga and VCU may may in the so-called mid-major conferences, we consider those perennial NCAA contenders and top 25 teams to be high-major programs.
After three NCAA trips in six seasons, the Zips are to a spot where 21 wins qualifies as a down season. Akron won 20 games for the ninth consecutive season but failed to reach the MAC title game for the first time since 2007. All-MAC power forward Demetrius “Tree” Treadwell returns, but the Zips will need to find scoring punch to complement him.
Longtime coach Rick Byrd is a basketball institution at Belmont. Byrd loves to use his backcourt’s depth, ball handling and shooting ability to leave opposing team’s defenses baffled. Guards Craig Bradshaw, Reece Chamberlain, and Caleb Chowbay have big shoes to fill as they have to replace last year’s OVC Player of the Year J.J. Mann.
A No. 11 seed, the Flyers were one of the last at-large teams in the field but made it count with upsets of Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford on the way to the Elite Eight. Coach Archie Miller is already a hot contender for other programs even if he has his work cut out for him this season. Two starting forwards are out of eligibility, and his starting point guard transferred. Leading scorer Jordan Sibert is back, and sophomore Scoochie Smith should step up at the point.
Even without leading scorer Maurice Creek and forward Isaiah Armwood, George Washington has three players who averaged in double figures a year ago, plus starting point guard Joe McDonald. If Kethan Savage and Patricio Garino stay healthy, the Colonials could have a second consecutive NCAA Tournament team.
It’s hard to say a team that went 17-1 in conference play has unfinished business, but Georgia State has unfinished business. After winning the Sun Belt regular season title by five games, GSU was one point shy of a bid to the Big Dance last season when the Panthers lost to third-seeded UL Lafayette 82-81 in the conference tournament final. Reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year R.J. Hunter and all-conference first-teamer Ryan Harrow, a Kentucky import, highlight a GSU team bound for spot in the field.
Returning conference player of the year Keifer Sykes and the rest of the Phoenix have their sights set on much more than a Horizon League title. Guard play is what wins in March, and Sykes can be that guard that turns heads at the Dance. Green Bay also returns four starters from last year’s team that went 24-7. The one departure is a big one in 7-1 center Alec Brown.
After NCAA wins in each of the last two seasons, coach Tommy Amaker is looking to keep the Crimson’s March hot streak rolling. In three consecutive NCAA appearances, Harvard has been known for its backcourt and deadly perimeter shooting. This season, Amaker has plenty of frontcourt depth, easing the burden on returning guards Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers. The Crimson are again the clear favorite in the Ivy.
First-year coach Jon Coffman is looking to build upon last season’s 25-win breakout. The Mastodons will lean heavily on 6-foot-9 forward Steve Forbes and Gardner-Webb transfer Max Landis will be critical to shoring up the backcourt. While IPFW might not be the belle of the ball come late March, the Mastodons are more than capable of winning the Summit League.
The Bulldogs are early Conference USA favorites because they not only return four starters from last year’s squad that won 29 games, but coach Michael White turned down a chance to go to Tennessee to return to Ruston. Bulldogs fans should savor this season because White is going to be one popular fella to bigger schools come March.
Keeping up with Wichita State will be tough, but the Panthers could make the Missouri Valley a two-bid league again. The Valley has been a one-bid league five times in the last seven seasons. Ben Jacobson’s team returns five seniors and loses one role player from a team that went 10-8 in the Valley a year ago. This is Northern Iowa’s best squad since the 2010 Sweet 16.
The Rams haven’t won more than five Atlantic 10 games since 2011 but the rebuilding project is in full swing under Dan Hurley. The roster was full of transfers and freshmen a year ago. Now, Rhody is hopeful that group will come together around rising A-10 star E.C. Matthews.
Stephen F. Austin
The Lumberjacks might be the Southland Conference team to beat for the next decade if head coach Brad Underwood isn’t scooped up by a higher profile program. The 32-win team of 2013-14 will be hard to top, but SFA returns plenty of talent, including the conference player of the year, Jacob Parker, Thomas Wallup and point guard Trey Pickney.
Thirty-five years is a long time to wait for anything, especially an NCAA Tournament berth. But this is the year the Rockets can reverse their self-inflicted curse. Toledo has the senior leadership in point guard Julius Brown, Justin Drummond and J.D. Weatherspoon that could lead this team to their first Tournament since 1980. If Toledo can improve on the defensive end, the rest of the MAC better look out, the Rockets are for real. Fifth-year coach Kowalczyk built the Rockets from 4-28 in his first season to 27-7 season and the best record in the MAC by his fourth.
UTEP will battle Louisiana Tech for the crown of Conference USA and for possibly a bid to the Tournament. With the help of sophomore forward Vincent Hunter and senior swingman Julian Washburn, the Miners have a legitimate chance of upsetting the early favorite Bulldogs or at least making at the case that Conference USA is a two-bid league.
The Terriers have to be the early SoCon favorites going into 2014-15. Coach Mike Young returns essentially the entirety of last year’s 20-win squad including first team all-conference and SoCon tournament MVP Karl Cochran and third team all-conference player Lee Skinner. Two of Young’s best guards, Spencer Collins and Eric Garcia, were just freshmen last year. Look for that backcourt duo to leave their mark on the conference as sophomores.
-By Jacob Rose
Santa Clara, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - The San Francisco 49ers placed linebacker Patrick Willis on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday.
The seven-time Pro Bowler will undergo surgery on his strained left big toe, according to multiple reports.
Willis injured the toe in a win at St. Louis on Oct. 13 and had missed the 49ers' last three games. He registered 49 tackles and one interception in six games this season.
The 49ers signed running back Alfonso Smith to fill the spot on the active roster.
Tempe, AZ (SportsNetwork.com) - The Arizona Cardinals placed quarterback Carson Palmer on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday.
The move comes one day after Cards coach Bruce Arians confirmed Palmer tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee when he was sacked by Rams safety Mark Barron early in the fourth quarter of Arizona's 31-14 win over St. Louis on Sunday.
Drew Stanton threw a late touchdown pass in relief of Palmer, helping the Cardinals improve to 8-1 and remain perfect in five home games this season. Stanton will be under center for the Cardinals the rest of the year.
Palmer, who missed three games earlier this season with a shoulder injury, had reconstructive surgery on the same knee in 2006 as a member of the Bengals. Both of his ACL tears came just days after signing lucrative contract extensions.
On Dec. 29, 2005, Palmer agreed to a six-year extension with Cincinnati. Ten days later, the Bengals met Pittsburgh in the first round of the AFC playoffs and Palmer lasted just one play, injuring his knee on a 66-yard pass to rookie Chris Henry.
Palmer signed a three-year, $50 million contract extension with Arizona last Friday.
Arizona signed quarterback Ryan Lindley off the San Diego Chargers' practice squad to fill the spot on the active roster.
Lake Forest, IL (SportsNetwork.com) - The Chicago Bears released Santonio Holmes on Tuesday to end the former Super Bowl MVP's unproductive nine-game stint with the team.
Holmes signed a one-year contract with the Bears in August to presumably serve as the club's No. 3 receiver, but managed just eight catches for 67 yards over nine games.
The nine-year veteran became expendable with fellow wideout Marquess Wilson ready to be activated from injured reserve/designated to return.
Holmes' numbers have declined since he posted career bests of 79 catches and 1,248 yards with Pittsburgh in 2009. He had only 23 receptions totaling 456 yards with one touchdown in 11 games last season with the New York Jets, who released the 30-year-old in March.
The 2006 first-round pick helped the Steelers to a dramatic victory in Super Bowl XLIII to conclude the 2008 season, compiling nine catches for 131 and scoring the game-winning touchdown in the final minute of Pittsburgh's 27-23 triumph over the Arizona Cardinals.
For the first time this season, the SEC West did not hold the majority in the Legends Poll Top 8.
The top four remained largely unchanged, with No. 4 Oregon replacing Auburn. And the biggest surprise might have been Florida State receiving zero first-place votes for the first time all year while still holding on to its second-place ranking.
But No. 6 Baylor, No. 7 Ohio State and No. 8 Arizona state were all newcomers to the rankings this week, each after prevailing in statement games.
Baylor manhandled Oklahoma, 48-14, in its first-ever victory in Norman. Seventh-ranked Ohio State vaulted to the top of the Big Ten with a road victory of its own, outlasting Michigan State, 49-37. And No. 8 Arizona State continued to roll with a 55-31 victory over Notre Dame in Tempe.
Top-ranked Mississippi State and No. 3 Alabama are set up for a showdown this coming weekend, with the winner in the driver’s seat to take home the SEC West crown.
Auburn, Michigan State and Notre Dame dropped from the top 8 this week. No. 5 TCU moved up two spots.
|1||Mississippi State (10)||9-0||101||1|
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
A list of the NBA’s best trash talkers might also read as “the game’s most old-school dudes.” In our modern, hyper-aware media era, such behavior can quickly become public knowledge, as nearly all affluent Americans carry a phone that’s also a video camera and a microphone. So it takes a truly dedicated verbal bully — a special sort of vinegar-tongued competitor — to keep speaking in dirty, destructive insults when they could so easily be outed for it.
But to those with a genuinely vindictive approach, the possible reputation hit is more than worth it. As our president recently reminded us in his public squabbling with Michael Jordan — who chided POTUS about his golf game, only to be cited by Mr. Obama for poor management of the Charlotte squad he owns — athletic dominance is great, but sometimes, there’s nothing that cuts as deep as the perfectly chosen piece of rhetoric. If you say certain words, and target the most sensitive parts of a man’s psyche with them, you can cut to the quick. Here are the best of the best at doing so.
5. Lance Stephenson
Forget language for a second. Lance “Born Ready” Stephenson tries diving into the brain of his adversaries through more visceral means. In his attempt to rattle LeBron James in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals (when Stephenson was still with the Indiana Pacers and not Jordan’s Hornets) one of the silliest, most unforgettable acts of the contemporary NBA occurred when Lance blew into LeBron’s ear:
Stephenson learned from one of the best when he was in the midwest — Pacers executive Larry Bird. Lance recently told Grantland’s Zach Lowe that the former Celtics legend hasn’t lost his cagy touch with words. “Yeah,” Stephenson said, “he talks a lot once you get to know him. He’s a cool guy. Of course he talks trash. If that’s you, that’ll always be you. He talks a lot, and he’s always challenging us to 3-point contests.”
4. Kendrick Perkins
The enforcer of the Oklahoma City Thunder holds value not so much for his abilities as an athlete as for his effect on the comfort of his teammates and enemies; he makes his allies feel protected, while the other team grows weary of his menacing scowl and hulky figure. Kendrick Perkins is one of the scariest people in the league, and he uses it to his advantage.
He’s also a proud fighter whose character doesn’t break after the game. Once, he let Chicago Bulls big man Joakim Noah know that as Noah entered the OKC locker room to greet former teammate Thabo Sefolosha. Perkins didn’t want the enemy in his barracks, looking at Noah to rhetorically ask, “We just let anyone in here now?” After some more heated squabbling between the two centers, Perkins said to Noah, "get your ass up out of here.”
3. Paul Pierce
When the acidic Stephen Jackson says you’re being “disrespectful,” you know you’re a top-tier trash talker. Paul Pierce earned that badge in 2010 when saying God-knows-what to Jackson, then with the Charlotte Bobcats. Jackson, via ESPN’s Chris Forsberg, had this to say: "I respect them as a team, they're a great team and they play hard, but when they get to a point where they get to disrespecting people, and it's not about basketball, that's where I have a problem. Everybody knows me as a basketball player, but everybody knows me off the court, too. So if it's about basketball, I'm cool, I respect everybody on their team, and I respect them as being a good team. But when it gets to the point where you're disrespecting [me] as a man, that's another problem… Certain things were said, quotes by certain people, and there's no need for me to drop names, they know what was said,” Jackson said, obviously referring to Pierce after the two looked heated during the Celtics victory.
2. Kobe Bryant
Kobe’s slithery, Jordanesque scoring maneuvers on the court are still what he’s most known for — but it seems only a matter of time before he becomes remembered as a hyper-charged personality above all. Bryant’s downright sociopathic commitment to his process and winning basketball games has seen him smear irrelevant former teammates like Smush Parker and even become the target of some zen-laden scourge in a book by his old coach Phil Jackson.
Kobe is difficult to deal with. He’s also not afraid to talk big to King James, the man who stole the NBA’s throne from Bryant long ago. After James’ infamous “The Decision” production, Bryant sent him some gamey texts. From Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding: “With a brutal seven-game victory over the Celtics in the bank for Bryant, the 2010 offseason is dominated by LeBron James' decision to leave Cleveland for Miami. What matters to Bryant is Phil Jackson agreeing to return to coach the Lakers again in pursuit of a third consecutive NBA title. Bryant sends James a text message. It goes like this: ‘Go ahead and get another MVP, if you want. And find the city you want to live in. But we're going to win the championship. Don't worry about it.’"
1. Kevin Garnett
The stories surrounding KG’s crippling levels of verbal venom are endless. But perhaps none is more memorable than the 2013 tale of his words that got New York Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony so riled up that he waited for Garnett at the Boston Celtics team bus after the game. Police officers were on hand at the stadium, and the two never came to blows — but what could Garnett have said to so get under Melo’s skin?
According to now-infamous rumors, KG told Anthony that his wife LaLa Anthony “tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios.” Anthony never confirmed that phrasing — no one did — but in regards to what started the fissure between the two players, he replied, “there’s some things as men that you just don’t say.”
— John Wilmes
The field of candidates for one of college football’s most prestigious awards has been narrowed down to five with the announcement of this season’s finalists for The Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. UCLA’s Brett Hundley, USC’s Cody Kessler, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Baylor’s Bryce Petty and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott are the 2014 finalists for the award that’s named after Hall of Fame legend Johnny Unitas, who many refer to as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.
Here is a closer look at this season’s finalists:
Brett Hundley, UCLA
Through 10 games this season, Hundley has completed 72.1 percent of his passes for 2,547 yards with 17 touchdowns and four interceptions for a QB rating of 158.1. The redshirt junior also has 564 yards rushing and seven touchdowns for the 8-2 Bruins.
Cody Kessler, USC
In his second season as the Trojans’ starting quarterback, Kessler has emerged as one of the nation’s most productive passers. After 10 weeks, the fourth-year junior is fourth in the nation in QB rating (168.2) with a sparkling 25:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He is completing 69.7 percent of his passes and has posted four 300-yard games thus far.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon
One of the nation’s most athletic and dynamic quarterbacks, Mariota is putting together a spectacular junior season for the 9-1 Ducks, who have almost wrapped up another Pac-12 North Division title. The third-year starter is well on his way to establishing career bests across the board, as he leads the nation in QB rating (184.5), has accounted for a total of 37 touchdowns (29 passing, 8 rushing) and 3,304 yards of total offense through 10 games.
Bryce Petty, Baylor
A fifth-year senior in his second season as the starter, Petty is once again posting impressive numbers for Art Briles’ Bears. A back injury cost Petty a game earlier in the season, but he’s still among the nation’s leaders in passer rating (152.2), as he’s thrown 21 touchdown passes and just three interceptions through nine games.
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
The redshirt junior has enjoyed a breakthrough season, leading his Bulldogs to a 9-0 record and the No. 1 ranking in the polls. Prescott has been making plays with his arm and legs all season, accounting for 29 total touchdowns (18 passing, 11 rushing). Besides being the nation’s seventh-rated passer (158.5), Prescott also is averaging 5.4 yards per carry.
The five finalists were narrowed down from an original field of 27 candidates. This season’s winner will be announced on Dec. 8. Candidates for the Golden Arm Award, which has been presented annually since 1987, must be college seniors or fourth-year juniors on schedule to graduate with their class. Besides their on-field accomplishments, candidates are judged on their character, citizenship, scholastic achievement and leadership qualities.
Past Golden Arm Award winners include current NFL quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer and Colt McCoy. Last season’s recipient was Alabama’s A.J. McCarron.
The Golden Arm Award is presented by the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Educational Foundation, Inc. and Transamerica. Athlon Sports is proud to be a Golden Arm Award sponsor.