Articles By Athlon Sports

All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/nba-award-season-predictions
Body:

Most Improved Player

The Most Improved Player award has always been the NBA’s strangest, since its birth in 1986. It commends the growth of a baller, but also delivers something like a slight to his previous résumé. And, often, it goes to someone based on inexplicably increased attention to their game — not an actual rise in talent. But fans of the game (like fans of everything) love narratives of change, and none has tickled them more than the rise of Chicago Bulls shooting guard Jimmy Butler this season. comes in as a close second, but his explosion  began a little too late in the year.

Prediction: Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

 

Sixth Man of the Year

No clear-cut candidate has emerged from the Sixth Man pack this season. Consummate microwave scoring man Jamal Crawford (who won these honors last season) has been injured for the Los Angeles Clippers, and 2014’s runner-up, Taj Gibson, has also missed significant time. Andre Iguodala is the league’s most talented player not starting, so you’d think the award is his to lose — but big man Marreese Speights has, actually, been an arguably more important reserve for the . Rodney Stuckey has come on as a late-season force for the Indiana Pacers, but his body of work coming off the bench is markedly less consistent in 2014-15 than our likely winner.

Prediction: Lou Williams, Toronto Raptors

 

Defensive Player of the Year

There are a lot of guys who deserve this award for their work on defense. But few people in the game, or outside it, know how to accurately appraise the less highlight-laden side of the ball, and the winner of this trophy is often decided as a matter of publicity. Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green have both been spectacular for the Warriors, but they’ll steal votes from each other. The same goes for Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard, with the San Antonio Spurs. Gobert has been a monster — but, again, his run started too late. So while the probable victor of this category may not be the most deserving, he does have a pretty momentous campaign already in motion.

Prediction: DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers

 

Rookie of the Year

was in the lead for this award, until the Milwaukee Bucks’ forward of the future tore his ACL. Since then, Andrew Wiggins has been in the driver’s seat, and has had only a little resistance from a couple of guys in the backseat, reaching for the wheel: of the Orlando Magic, and the Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic. Both have come on strong at the end of the season, but neither has shown the sort of flashes of superstar brilliance on the level of Wiggins. His often sensational play has made some Cleveland Cavaliers fans regret their trade for Kevin Love, which just about says it all.

Prediction: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

 

Coach of the Year

You couldn’t fault voters for going in any of with this decision — only for taking any third option. Steve Kerr and his staff have transformed the Warriors from Western Conference playoff fodder into obvious favorites for the championship. Golden State has been historically impressive, outscoring the opposition by more then ten points per game on average. But Kerr’s competition, Mike Budenholzer, has pulled off an even more startling metamorphosis with the Atlanta Hawks. The world saw them as a fringe playoff team, but in 2014-15, they’ve been the only squad consistently on the Warriors’ elite, dominant level.

Prediction: Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks

 

Most Valuable Player

There’s a silver lining for Warriors fans if Steph Curry doesn’t win this award, and the rest of his team loses their races, too: extra motivation for a title run. Curry has been the NBA’s best player this season, but voters will favor the Houston Rockets’ bearded dynamo for appearing to do more with less. Dwight Howard has been out for much of the season, and the Rockets’ place high up in a toothy conference without him has been a surprise to many. has been incredible, but he’s also secretly benefitted from a ton of extra help on the wings, defensively — Josh Smith, Corey Brewer and Trevor Ariza have all made life much easier for him. That’s not the popular story, however.

Prediction: James Harden, Houston Rockets

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 25, 2015 - 16:03
All taxonomy terms: Jason Day, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-11-jason-day
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the ’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 11:

 

Born: Nov. 12, 1987, Beaudesert, Queensland, Australia | Career PGA Tour Wins: 3 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,789,574 (16th) World Ranking: 4

2014 Key Stats

      Scrambling: 64.95% (5th)

      Approaches from 75-100 yards: 12’11” (2nd)

      Putting from Inside 5 Feet: 98.93% (1st)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Day would be higher on this list if he hadn’t spent much of 2014 on the sidelines due to injuries to his left thumb and his back, with his left wrist also causing him some concern at The Open Championship. If he can stay healthy, he has every chance of having a spectacular year. In the 17 majors he has played, he has finished in the top five a handful of times. He has power off the tee and great touch around the greens, and he holes more than his share of putts. At 27 years of age and given his obvious talents, he should've won more than three times on the PGA Tour by now, but his inability to hit his scoring irons close to the hole has plagued him at critical times in tournaments, something he appears to have worked on last year by softening the transition move from backswing to downswing and is hitting more partial shots, both of which led to him leading the PGA Championship in greens in regulation. If his scoring irons become a strength, he could become the best player in the world.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 17
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - T20
U.S. Open - T4
British Open - T58
PGA Championship - T15

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T2 (2011)
U.S. Open - 2/T2 (2011, '13)
British Open - T30 (2011)
PGA Championship - T8 (2013)
Top-10 Finishes: 7
Top-25 Finishes: 9
Missed Cuts: 3

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the . Be sure to follow him  on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. .

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 25, 2015 - 10:05
All taxonomy terms: Boston Celtics, NBA
Path: /nba/boston-celtics-are-surprise-playoff-team-0
Body:

Brad Stevens needs more props in the Coach of the Year race.

 

He doesn’t deserve to win it. No one leading a sub-.500 team should be able to claim that award, and likely never will. At 31-39 at time of publication, Stevens' Boston Celtics are likely to end up on the wrong side of that line.

 

But Boston would also be set to enter the Eastern Conference playoffs, and face the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks, if the postseason started today. That’s pretty surprising.

 

General manager Danny Ainge might not be exactly thrilled about how many wins Stevens has been able to manufacture out of this roster. Ainge, since ending the Big Three era, signed Stevens to a five-year deal that made it clear that a long rebuilding stretch was expected. Ainge has shuffled the Celtics’ deck over and over again since, collecting draft picks and middling talent in the name of tomorrow. At a glance, Ainge could be seen as trying to tank.

 

The Celtics, as constituted, don’t have any players even particularly close to All-Star status. Their leading scorer in recent games has been Evan Turner — a forward who was considered an empty stats guy with the Philadelphia 76ers, and a cancer with the Indiana Pacers.

 

In Boston, though, he’s been productive and efficient. He tallied a triple-double in a recent win over the Brooklyn Nets. His skills are maximized amidst a nucleus of role players whose talents have been organized into something greater than their sum. Jae Crowder, Luigi Datome and Jonas Jerebko were all afterthoughts in midseason trades, but in Celtics green they’re all quite useful.

 

Add in the emergence of young center Tyler Zeller, the exciting arrival of rookie guard Marcus Smart and the recently acquired scoring machine Isaiah Thomas (who may have finally found an NBA home) and this motley Celtics team looks like one of the year’s most endearing, surprising stories.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - 16:18
All taxonomy terms: Boston Celtics, NBA
Path: /nba/boston-celtics-are-surprise-playoff-team
Body:

Brad Stevens needs more props in the Coach of the Year race.

 

He doesn’t deserve to win it. No one leading a sub-.500 team should be able to claim that award, and likely never will. At 31-39 at time of publication, Stevens' Boston Celtics are likely to end up on the wrong side of that line.

 

But Boston would also be set to enter the Eastern Conference playoffs, and face the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks, if the postseason started today. That’s pretty surprising.

 

General manager Danny Ainge might not be exactly thrilled about how many wins Stevens has been able to manufacture out of this roster. Ainge, since ending the Big Three era, signed Stevens to a five-year deal that made it clear that a long rebuilding stretch was expected. Ainge has shuffled the Celtics’ deck over and over again since, collecting draft picks and middling talent in the name of tomorrow. At a glance, Ainge could be seen as trying to tank.

 

The Celtics, as constituted, don’t have any players even particularly close to All-Star status. Their leading scorer in recent games has been Evan Turner — a forward who was considered an empty stats guy with the Philadelphia 76ers, and a cancer with the Indiana Pacers.

 

In Boston, though, he’s been productive and efficient. He tallied a triple-double in a recent win over the Brooklyn Nets. His skills are maximized amidst a nucleus of role players whose talents have been organized into something greater than their sum. Jae Crowder, Luigi Datome and Jonas Jerebko were all afterthoughts in midseason trades, but in Celtics green they’re all quite useful.

 

Add in the emergence of young center Tyler Zeller, the exciting arrival of rookie guard Marcus Smart and the recently acquired scoring machine Isaiah Thomas (who may have finally found an NBA home) and this motley Celtics team looks like one of the year’s most endearing, surprising stories.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - 16:18
Path: /nba/ranking-nba%E2%80%99s-best-nicknames
Body:

6. Chris Andersen, Miami Heat: “Birdman”

Superhero, rapper, Oscar winner… and Miami Heat role player. The frequently used “Birdman” moniker works so well for Chris Andersen because his outrageously tattooed body and surprisingly vertical style do not seem exactly human. Even the most casual NBA fans have taken notice of Andersen in recent years, as he jumps off the screen like a raptor in a chicken coop. His rim protection and ability to rebound and finish near the hoop often made him a closer for the Miami squads who saw the Finals for four straight years. Now 36 and near the end of his road, Birdman won’t soon be forgotten in annals of postseason goonery.

 

5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks: “The Greek Freak”

Like the titanic men populating the mythology of his homeland centuries and centuries before him, is larger and more powerful than life. The 20-year-old has a body that’s freakish in most ways, standing at 6’11” and seemingly still growing. And, like Anthony Davis, Antetokounmpo has an uncanny knack for actually being able to use his ridiculous frame. He’s mobile, skilled, and has the instincts of a hunter. Once he matures and plays through more of his raw mistakes, this oversized utility man may earn a nickname that refers to more than just his unusual physical features.

 

4. Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies: “Z-Bo”

You know a nickname’s good when you start using it so casually that it seems like an actual name. The way Randolph tells it, this tag doesn’t mean too much of anything — it’s just something he was called in middle school, and it’s stuck ever since. But in these two syllables there is, somehow, an evocation of the force that Zach brings to the court. Say “Z-Bo” out loud, and you’ll start to feel fear of getting clobbered in the paint, trying to hold your ground as the Memphis Grizzlies’ workhorse lowers his shoulder and breaks you down, over and over again.

 

3. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz: “The Stifle Tower”

The Utah Jazz are much further along in their rebuilding process than they previously anticipated, and it has a lot to do with the emergence of this 22-year-old. has been the defensive center in the NBA through his sophomore season, earning a starting role and a quickly rising reputation in Salt Lake City. One might even say he stands as tall as one famous Parisian tower by the rim, stifling each and every penetration with a calm moxie that’s rare for such a youngster.

 

2. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings: “Boogie”

Cousins, like the genre of his nickname, doesn’t proceed at a typical beat. The outspoken, emotionally volatile center is extremely talented, and extremely entertaining. And while the hasn’t always made for the best display case for his immense skills, it has been an appropriate backdrop for his iconoclastic mentality. Boogie is a joy, albeit a difficult one, and it’s almost hard to imagine how he’d fit in with an organization that provided him with less shaky ground. DeMarcus is the undisputed king of unlevel NBA territory, for now.

 

1. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors: “The Splash Brothers”

It’s fun to say, and it’s damn accurate. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are well on their way to proving themselves as the best shooting backcourt in league history, if they haven’t already. What else can you say about a pairing that’s got someone who scored 37 points in one quarter (Thompson) but who isn’t even the MVP candidate of the two? That’s Curry, whose playmaking and world-class handles and vision open the way for the endless long-range assault that the two produce together. The Splash Brothers hold the NBA’s most appropriate, and most fun, informal title.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - 10:32
All taxonomy terms: Jimmy Walker, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-12-jimmy-walker
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the ’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 12:

 

Born: Jan. 16, 1979, Oklahoma City, Okla. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 4 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 3 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $5,787,016 (4th) World Ranking: 13

2014 Key Stats

      Total Driving: 78 (2nd)

      Greens in Regulation Percentage: 69.03% (8th)

      Final Round Scoring Average: 68.92 (3rd)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Walker has improved his position on the money list every year since 2005, climbing from 207th to fourth in 2014. He is among the longest players off the tee and is now one of the best wedge players, and yet his greatest strength is in his flawless putting technique and ability to handle big moments. These are the attributes that made Tiger, Phil, Ernie and Vijay so dominant, and although Jimmy is a little late coming to the party, he still has four or five years to make up for the time he spent toiling among the middle class on Tour. In addition to winning three times last year, he finished eighth at The Masters, sixth at the Players Championship, ninth at the U.S. Open and seventh at the PGA Championship. To continue his climb up the world rankings, he likely has to win one of these events this year — and it would surprise no one if he did.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 35
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - T8
U.S. Open - T9
British Open - T26
PGA Championship - T7

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T8 (2014)
U.S. Open - T9 (2014)
British Open - T26 (2014)
PGA Championship - T7 (2014)
Top-10 Finishes: 3
Top-25 Finishes: 4
Missed Cuts: 4

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the . Be sure to follow him  on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. .

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - 10:19
All taxonomy terms: Los Angeles Lakers, Steve Nash, NBA
Path: /nba/steve-nash-retires-ends-19-year-nba-career
Body:

For a moment over the weekend, stole the basketball world’s attention away from NCAA’s March Madness.

He did it by retiring.

 

The 41-year-old made the announcement via a column written for . He gave props to former coaches, teammates and friends including Don Nelson, Mike D’Antoni, Dirk Nowitzki, Grant Hill, Amar’e Stoudemire, Michael Finley and Alvin Gentry in his piece.

 

Nash’s three-team career spanned nineteen years with three teams — the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns (twice) and Los Angeles Lakers. He won the MVP award two times, with the Suns in 2005 and 2006, while his D’Antoni-coached teams ran amok on the NBA with a devastating, revolutionary offense.

 

The Suns’ “seven seconds or less” attack could only have worked with Nash at its helm. His split-second decision making and almost unparalleled court vision were the modem for a team that turned otherwise boring regular season games into must-watch television.

 

Regrets? Nash has a few.

 

“It will always hurt that Phoenix Suns fans didn’t get the championship they deserved during our run,” he wrote. “Yes, we had some bad luck but I always look back at it and think, I could’ve made one more shot, or not forced a turnover, or made a better pass. But I don’t regret anything. The arena was always sold out and rocking. It was the time of my life. Thanks, Phoenix.”

 

Nash’s career petered out in L.A. on a string of injuries, including some scary nerve issues, that were perhaps collected in the effort to get that championship. 

 

“I will likely never play basketball again,” he wrote. “It’s bittersweet. I already miss the game deeply, but I’m also really excited to learn to do something else. This letter is for anyone who’s taken note of my career. At the heart of this letter, I’m speaking to kids everywhere who have no idea what the future holds or how to take charge of their place in it. When I think of my career, I can’t help but think of the kid with his ball, falling in love. That’s still what I identify with and did so throughout my entire story.”

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 23, 2015 - 10:31
All taxonomy terms: Henrik Stenson, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-13-henrik-stenson
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the ’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 13:

 

Born: April 5, 1976, Gothenburg, Sweden | Career PGA Tour Wins: 4 (9 on the European Tour) | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $1,894,235 (49th) World Ranking: 2

2014 Key Stats

      Total Driving: 78 (2nd)

      Greens in Regulation Percentage: 69.03% (8th)

      Final Round Scoring Average: 68.92 (3rd)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Stenson works with Pete Cowan who along with Butch Harmon is one of the giant-makers in today’s game. They more than any other teachers have an ability to make the best players even better. On the strength of a torrid tee-to-green game, Henrik has four top-five finishes in the majors since 2013, a year in which he also won the FedExCup and Race to Dubai, making him the first person to achieve this unique double. Given that this year’s major venues — three of which will be on the water’s edge — will require more brawn than touch, this could be the year that he breaks out of that group of players who are far too good to have never won a major. He turns 39 in April, meaning that his time may be running out, but all he needs is a slightly above-average year with his wedges and putter to put a bow on a great career.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 35
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - T14
U.S. Open - T4
British Open - T39
PGA Championship - T3

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T14 (2014)
U.S. Open - T4 (2014)
British Open - 2 (2013)
PGA Championship - 3/T3 (2013, '14)
Top-10 Finishes: 9
Top-25 Finishes: 17
Missed Cuts: 9

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the . Be sure to follow him  on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. .

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 23, 2015 - 10:03
All taxonomy terms: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder, NBA
Path: /nba/kevin-durant-likely-out-season
Body:

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s season just keeps getting worse.

 

In the same week that power forward and defensive was reported to be out for up to a month and a half, the team also learned that they’re losing indefinitely.

 

A jones fracture in his foot caused Durant to miss a little more than the first month of the season, and he was then called out of action again in February, after appearing to have aggravated the injury again. The assumption was that Durant would return in time for the playoffs, but now that seems unlikely.

 

Thunder general manager Sam Presti called a press conference today to announce that Durant is being “removed from basketball activities… the goal is to get him back on the court healthy, whenever that is,” Presti said.

 

Presti appeared haggard during the announcement — as if we needed any further indication that he was delivering bad news.

 

The Thunder are quickly establishing an identity as one of the NBA’s great “could’ve been” teams. In Durant, the , and , they once had three MVP-caliber players on the same team, at a very ripe age. And with the similarly young Ibaka, one of the game’s best rim-protectors, they made up a quartet that promised spectacular things.

 

Harden was of course traded to the Houston Rockets, and injuries to the remaining three mean OKC hasn’t seen a title run with a full, healthy version of their amazing core since they lost to the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals.

 

Next season might be the Thunder’s final chance to make the most of the lightning they’ve caught in a bottle, as it’s the last on Durant’s current contract before he can test free agency.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 20, 2015 - 12:56
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/ranking-nba%E2%80%99s-best-available-coaching-candidates
Body:

9. Vinny Del Negro

The former leader of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers, Del Negro doesn’t have the best reputation among hardcore NBA followers. He infamously got into a physical altercation with executive John Paxson before leaving the Bulls, and is widely cited as strategically challenged. He does get his name into reports for nearly every new opening, though.

 

8. Avery Johnson

Johnson, now an analyst with ESPN, has fallen off the radar for new coaching spots. It’s unclear whether this is because he’s no longer too interested in jobs, after a rocky stint with the Brooklyn Nets, or because front offices just don’t want to hire him. His bad relationship with Nets point guard Deron Williams has led some to believe he doesn’t relate well to contemporary players — but Williams, in Johnson’s defense, hasn’t gotten along well with many coaches. Avery was a Coach of the Year with the Dallas Mavericks in 2006, and any team looking for a defense-first approach may want to call him up.

 

7. Fred Hoiberg

Often mentioned as the most NBA-inclined of the NCAA coaches, Hoiberg runs an offense at Iowa State University that would certainly fit onto a professional court. The Minnesota Timberwolves have been previously linked to Hoiberg, and now the Bulls are believed to be in the running for his services, in the event that they One way or another, an NBA job will eventually be Hoiberg’s, if he wants it.

 

6. Scott Skiles

The rap on Skiles is that he can get your team to play hard and well for a few seasons, but will inevitably wear out his welcome by pushing too hard on the gas pedal, for too long. He burns his players out. It happened with the Bulls and the Milwaukee Bucks, and skeptics fear it may also happen if he joins the team he once played for, the . Skiles may be a good fit for that team while they’re still young and impressionable — but for how long could that pairing really last?

 

5. Nate McMillan

McMillan coached the Portland Trail Blazers for seven seasons and the Seattle SuperSonics for five, racking up a solid .514 winning percentage. Now an assistant with the Indiana Pacers, he is mysteriously absent from talks about most head coaching vacancies. Don’t be surprised to see mentions of him return this summer, though.

 

4. Mike D’Antoni

There wasn’t much love for Mike D’Antoni with the Los Angeles Lakers or New York Knicks, but he’s still remembered as the leading figure in the NBA’s offensive revolution for his work with Steve Nash and the “seven seconds or less” Phoenix Suns. D’Antoni’s approach seems like a natural fit with the Denver Nuggets, if they decide not to hire beloved interim coach Melvin Hunt full-time. The heightened Colorado altitude, along with the pick-and-roll dynamism of , makes for a fertile soil for a D’Antoni renaissance.

 

3. Mark Jackson

Mark Jackson has become a subject of much mockery, for his often exhausting media presence and his self-righteous exit from the Golden State Warriors. He’s a hard guy to deal with, who burns bridges both in his locker room and in front offices. But there’s no denying the part he played in resurrecting the Warriors, and that he’s a world-class motivator who could improve almost any defense in the league. Jackson has been linked to the Cleveland Cavaliers — should things go south with David Blatt — due to sharing an agency with LeBron James.

 

2. Mike Malone

The Sacramento Kings never should have . George Karl is a Hall of Fame replacement, sure, but can he (or anyone else, for that matter) get DeMarcus Cousins on his side as thoroughly as Malone did? Cousins is one of the league’s most precious commodities: a once-in-a-generation big man talent whose powers are extremely difficult to unlock. That Malone had him happy, and playing the best ball of his life on both sides of the court, should be more than enough evidence to get him another head coaching job soon.

 

1. Alvin Gentry

D’Antoni paved the way in Phoenix, but few seem to remember that Gentry took them closest to the promised land. Fusing the pace-and-space offense with a strong-side defense that was equally progressive, Gentry’s 2009-10 Suns were a lot closer to a title than any previous Suns teams. Now an assistant with the league-leading Warriors, Gentry is known by wise NBA heads as one of the better strategists in the game, and an eminently likable one, to boot.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 20, 2015 - 10:07
All taxonomy terms: Billy Horschel, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-14-billy-horschel
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the ’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 14:

 

Born: Dec. 7, 1986, Grant, Fla. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 3 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,814,787 (7th) World Ranking: 17

2014 Key Stats

      Ball Striking: 15 (3rd)

      Greens in Regulation Percentage: 70.43% (4th)

      Putting from 5-10’: 64.29% (2nd)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Horschel has improved his position on the money list over the last three years — from 147th to 13th to seventh — and of course his late-season heroics with victories at the BMW and Tour Championship resulted in him winning the coveted FedExCup, bettering his 16th-place finish in the season-long competition for 2013. After a slow start to his professional career, owing to a wrist injury, Billy is fulfilling the big hype that preceded him on Tour. Much of his success can be attributed to his almost flawless golf swing, but his improved putting inside of 10 feet rounds out a technical game that is hard to match. His technical skills, however, may not be his biggest strength; as anyone who watched him rebound from a last-hole mistake at Deutsche Bank to win the next two weeks can attest, his belief in himself is unwavering and refreshing in an era replete with perfection-addicted and insecure golfers. He seems ideally suited to the psychological rigors of major championship golf, and in his first major, the U.S. Open in 2013, he was Hoganesque in hitting all 18 greens during the second round at Merion Golf Club, eventually finishing fourth. At 28 years of age, Billy is just now coming into his prime, with an attitude and golf swing that will continue to make him one of the best players in the world for many years ahead.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 8
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - T37
U.S. Open - T23
British Open - Cut
PGA Championship - T58

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T37 (2014)
U.S. Open - T4 (2013)
British Open - Cut (2013, '14)
PGA Championship - T58 (2014)
Top-10 Finishes: 1
Top-25 Finishes: 2
Missed Cuts: 4

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the . Be sure to follow him  on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. .

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 20, 2015 - 09:53
All taxonomy terms: Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets, NBA
Path: /nba/dwight-howard-close-returning
Body:

One of the more missable stories of the NBA season has been Dwight Howard’s absence from the Houston Rockets’ lineup. The former three-time Defensive Player of the Year has suited up for just 32 contests this year, owing his most recent stint of missed games to a knee injury.

 

He claims getting back into shape hasn’t exactly been a cakewalk. "We did some extremely tough workouts on the treadmill. Anytime anyone says treadmill, I lose it," . "I don't think anybody understands what they had me doing on the treadmill. I was just begging them: 'Can I just play so I don't have to do this?' Rehab is harder than the actual practice and all of that stuff."

 

The Rockets, somehow, have managed to be quite an effective defensive team without their best linchpin. Ranking third in defensive efficiency, they’ve improved on the perimeter and seen surprisingly good work from Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones down low. Houston’s gone 15-8 since Dwight was last called out, and it has a lot to do with James Harden’s MVP-worthy play.

 

Howard’s acclimation period back into the lineup will likely come with some growing pains, but having him on the last line of their defense most assuredly makes them an even scarier team. He also missed significant time down the stretch of last season, only to return and play some of the best basketball of his life in a first round loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

 

The progressive Rockets seem to be handling Howard with safety gloves as he ages, preserving his increasingly problematic body through the regular season and making sure he’s fresh for when the games really matter. It’s a smart strategy, and it could be the key to a dark horse title run this spring.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 12:17
All taxonomy terms: Jim Furyk, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-15-jim-furyk
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the ’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 15:

 

Born: May 12, 1970, West Chester, Pa. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 16 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $5,987,395 (3rd) World Ranking: 7

2014 Key Stats

      Driving Accuracy Percentage: 73.18% (4th)

      Strokes Gained, Tee to Green: 1.684 (3rd)

      Scrambling: 69.33% (1st)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Furyk will be 45 this year, and it is very hard to put someone that age so high up on a list that is prejudiced by youth and power, but I’m convinced that Jim is far from through with what at this point is a borderline Hall of Fame career. With his 16 wins, critics are quick to say that he hasn’t won enough, but his 29 second-place finishes are equal to Tiger Woods’ career total over only a slightly longer time period. No, Jim has not won on the PGA Tour since 2010, but his third-place finish on the money list last year without winning set a record that may never be beaten. Besides Sergio, no one on Tour keeps the face of the club squarer for a longer period through impact, thanks to an unorthodox golf swing that requires him to aggressively use his lower body on the downswing, which allows him to stabilize the club through the hit. In addition to his consistency from tee to green, he is the Tour’s best scrambler, which is why, even as a short hitter, he plays so well week in and week out on courses that are continually beefed up. In his last five majors, he has a second, a fourth and a fifth. I’ve been saying this for years: There’s no way Jim ends his career with just one major, but time for both of us is running out. And yet, once again, I’m betting on him.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 77
Wins: 1

2014 Performance:
Masters - T14
U.S. Open - T12
British Open - 4
PGA Championship - T5

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 4 (1998, 2003)
U.S. Open - 1 (2003)
British Open - 4/T4 (1997, '98, 2006, '14)
PGA Championship - 2 (2013)
Top-10 Finishes: 22
Top-25 Finishes: 39
Missed Cuts: 15

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the . Be sure to follow him  on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. .

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 10:13
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/nl-centrals-top-storylines-watch-2015
Body:

The tide could finally be turning in the National League Central division. The St. Louis Cardinals have long been the class of the division, as they have appeared in the last four NL Championship Series. The Pirates and the Cubs have other ideas, and the Brewers have redemption in mind following last season’s meltdown.

 

The NL Central could be the best division in baseball in 2015, full of fantastic narratives that will develop over the course of the summer. Here are the top storylines to watch for the NL Central in 2015.

 

The Return of Joey Votto

Joey Votto told members of the baseball media this week that he is feeling “normal.” Normal for Votto isn’t the same normal for you and I. When Votto is healthy, he is normally an All-Star and MVP candidate. Last season Votto was anything but his “normal, missing 100 games due to knee and quad issues.

 

Even when Votto was in the Reds’ lineup in 2014, he wasn’t the same, hitting just .255 in 62 games, 55 points under his career average. There is no way around it, the 2015 Reds are going to live and die with Votto. Him feeling “normal” is great news for fans in the Queen City.

 

Votto is entering his age-31 season and approaching the heart of a contract that will pay him approximately $206 million over the course of the next nine seasons. That amount of money makes Votto the cornerstone of this Reds franchise, which has to make the front office in Cincinnati a little uneasy as last season was the second time Votto’s left leg caused him to miss significant time.

 

Votto has proven that he can return to form after injury. In 2012 Votto had arthroscopic knee surgery and missed 51 games but still hit .337 and led the NL in on-base percentage (.474) for the third consecutive year. In 2013, Votto played in all 162 games, hitting .305 with 24 homers and once again led the NL in OBP (.435) and walks (135). The Reds are hoping that their franchise player can return to his 2010 MVP form, when he slashed .324/.424/.600, posting a  1.024 OPS, along with 37 home runs and 113 RBIs, in 2015.

 

After trading away starting pitchers Alfredo Simon and Matt Latos, it’s clear that the Reds are planning for the future, but having a healthy Votto, along with Jay Bruce, Homer Bailey and Brandon Phillips, for all of 2015 will make the allure of contention in ‘16 seem more realistic.

 

Cubs’ Youth Movement

A lot has been made about the Cubs’ offseason, and reasonably so. Some publications have even gone as far as to pick the Cubs to win the World Series. Let’s pump the brakes on the Cubs popping champagne in ski goggles in October.

 

No doubt about it, the Cubbies made great moves this offseason signing manager-savant Joe Maddon and ace Jon Lester, trading for leadoff man Dexter Fowler and catcher Miguel Montero. Those are all great moves that puts this team in contention for the NL Central, but don't forget about all the youth the Cubs have waiting on deck.

 

The Cubs’ lineup is currently built around shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, the team’s All-Star tandem and current cornerstones of the franchise entering their age-25 seasons. Maddon’s lineup card also could have several “new” faces in it, as Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, eventually Kris Bryant, and possibly even Addison Russell, are expected to be the first wave to come from the Cubs’ stocked farm system. Besides being highly regarded, this group of prospects have two things in common — none of them are older than 23 and none of them have played a full season in The Show.

 

Soler, Baez, and Alcantara all spent time with the big club last season. Alcantara hit just .205 in 70 games, but showed his versatility in the field and pop at the plate. Baez, whose swing has been often compared to Gary Sheffield’s, hit nine home runs but also struck out 95 times in 52 games. Soler was the brightest highlight, hitting .292 with five homers and 25 RBIs in just 24 games, not a big sample size.

 

But none of the Cubs’ prospects are generating more buzz than Bryant. The 2013 Arizona Fall League MVP and 2014 Minor League Player of the Year according to USA Today and Baseball America, Bryant is pacing the field with six home runs in spring training. He’s also making plenty of news off the field, as the debate of service time and his Opening Day status has heated up, thanks to an assist from super agent Scott Boras. Last season Bryant hit .325 with 43 home runs (most of any player in baseball in 2014) and 110 RBIs for Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. Barring something unforeseen happening, Bryant will the Cubs’ starting third baseman, although his debut may be delayed until later in April.

 

While all of these prospects and new additions are legitimately raising expectations in Wrigleyville, it is too early for that amount of pressure for young players that haven’t even played a full big-league season. If there is one certainty in baseball, it’s that prospect projections are always a crapshoot.  Let’s see how these young guns develop over the course of 2015 before we give the Cubs the Commissioner’s Trophy.


Related: 

 

Cardinal Power Shortage?

We all know about The Cardinals’ Way. Great pitching, reliable defense, solid managing, roster depth, advanced scouting and timely hitting have been the ingredients to the Cardinals’ great success over the past decade. All of those special elements can be expected in 2015, but one thing is missing. Where is the power?

 

The NL Central will be decided by power, whether that be the Cubs’ young bombers or the Pirates’ slugging depth. The Cardinals are clearly lacking in this field. Coming into 2015, the Cards have just two players that hit at least 20 home runs last season, that being the aging Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta who hit 20 and 21, respectively.

 

The rest of the St. Louis lineup doesn't appear to provide much more pop, as Matt Adams is third on the team in returning homers with 15, followed by second baseman Kolten Wong (12) and third baseman Matt Carpenter (8). Wong, in his second season, could turn out to be a complementary piece to Peralta both in the field and at the plate. Newly acquired infielder Mark Reynolds hit 22 last season for the Brewers, but his batting average was just .196 and he drove in in only 45. He’s expected to add some pop, but only in a limited role off the bench.

 

The NL has been long known for small ball and as the Royals proved in last season’s World Series run, power isn’t everything. However, this season could be a pivotal one for the Cardinals. The Pirates are no longer bottom dwellers in the NL Central, the Cubs’ young talent is starting to bloom, and the Brewers could easily play spoiler. I’m not sure the Cards have what it takes at the plate to power their way back to October. 

 

- By Jake Rose

Teaser:
NL Central's Top Storylines to Watch in 2015
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/nba-season-too-long
Body:

82 games is a lot of games. That’s how many they play every year in the NBA, and it doesn’t always produce the best results for fans — in fact, it rarely does.

 

is a smart man, so — in spite of what he says — he probably knows this. But the volume of the season is directly related to the bottom line of his business, so it’s unlikely he’ll be modifying the the schedule much.

 

"I'm not looking to reduce the length of the season," Silver recently said to reporters including of the Indy Star. "It's no secret, it's an economic issue for the league and the players if we were to cut the number of games in a season and I don't think that's the issue. Frankly, as I travel, people only want more NBA, not less NBA.

 

"We're going to look at everything but to me, in the first instance, we've got to look at how we can do a better job scheduling within the existing number of dates. Then beyond that, should we be starting a little bit earlier? Can we go a little bit later? Those are also the kinds of things we can look at to try to stretch the season out a little bit."

 

There’s an old adage that’s generally true, and it definitely is in this case: quality is better than quantity.

 

This season, the league has seen prolonged injury absences from the likes of , , Anthony Davis, , Chris Bosh, Bradley Beal, , — all of whom only begin the list.

 

It’s also seen a playoff race that, save for a spot or two at the bottom of each conference, has largely been over since mid-December. Everyone already knows who’s going to the big dance, as 53 percent of the league does so every year. Plus, many teams don’t take seeding all that seriously — they just want to be sure that they’re in. 

 

So our season is rife with games that offer little more than a chance to watch squads fine-tune themselves, for when the competition begins in earnest come springtime. Exciting, heart-on-the-sleeve, competitive showdowns are the exception for NBA viewers in this reality, not the rule. Unfortunately, this doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 14:39
Path: /nba/john-wall-demarcus-cousins-say-their-kentucky-team-better-current-one
Body:

The University of Kentucky Wildcats are good this season — real good.

 

If you’re filling out an NCAA March Madness bracket, chances are that you picked them to win it all. That’s because they haven’t lost yet this year — coach John Calipari’s squad has followed a balanced attack of Tyler Ulis, Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns and the rest to a 34-0 record.

 

Washington Wizards All-Star point guard and Kentucky alum John Wall is impressed — but not that impressed. He remains convinced that his 2009-10 squad (also featuring fellow All-Star DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings) was superior.

 

When asked whether the current Wildcats are better than his, Wall bristled. ”Well, they got the better record, but I wouldn't say that,” . “We were a better team, but we didn't win … They’re going to have the leverage because they went 40-0 and got a national championship to back it up.”

 

Cousins echoed his buddy’s sentiment. "I mean, yeah. [John is] right. They would be considered the best, but we all know the truth," the big man said. "Hopefully these guys do pull this off.”

 

Wall and Cousins’ team fell just short of the Final Four in their postseason run, so it’s hard for them to boast too much about their college success. 

 

But regardless of how things pan out in the 2015 tourney, the contemporary Wildcats have a tall NBA order to fill if they’re to live up to the professional acumen of their forebears.

 

Not only did that team feature Wall and Cousins — two max-contract players worthy of building a winning roster around — but they had six other ballers who’ve done NBA time. The most prominent of which are Patrick Patterson, currently a key rotation player for the Eastern Conference contender Toronto Raptors, and Eric Bledsoe, the Phoenix Suns’ dynamo who would be an All-Star himself if he played on the other coast.

 

In time, we’ll see if these young Wildcats can have as big of a collective impact beyond this spring.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 10:07
All taxonomy terms: Bubba Watson, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-16-bubba-watson
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the ’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 16:

 

Born: Nov. 5, 1978, Bagdad, Fla. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 7 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 3 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $6,336,978 (2nd) World Ranking: 2

2014 Key Stats

      Driving Distance: 314.3 (1st)

      Strokes Gained, Tee to Green: 1.322 (7th)

      Putting from 15-20’: 28.45% (3rd)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

At 36 years old, Watson has finished in the top 10 in only four majors, but two of those were wins at Augusta National. This more than anything illumines the talents and troubles of one of the game’s most intriguing players. In 2014 he led the Tour in driving distance and was yet again one of the best with long and mid irons, but more impressive and more responsible for his improved consistency was a better year from 50-125 yards and a corresponding improvement from 15-20 feet on the greens, where those wedges put him on many occasions. A win late in the year and overseas at the WGC-HSBC proved for the first time that his game could travel outside the U.S., and that success causes one to at least raise an eyebrow when considering his chances at an Open Championship. Patience is as much his adversary as creativity and length are his gifts, but if he can play a whole year and control his emotions, he could win at major venues other than Augusta National, where the reverence of the patrons and the dogleg left preference of the course fit him like a Savile Row suit.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 28
Wins: 2

2014 Performance:
Masters - 1
U.S. Open - Cut
British Open - Cut
PGA Championship - T64

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 1 (2012, '14)
U.S. Open - T5 (2007)
British Open - T23 (2012)
PGA Championship - 2 (2010)
Top-10 Finishes: 4
Top-25 Finishes: 8
Missed Cuts: 10

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the . Be sure to follow him  on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. .

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 09:58
Path: /nba/thunder-lose-serge-ibaka-after-knee-surgery
Body:

The hurt just keeps on coming for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Power forward Serge Ibaka — a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year — will join on the bench, after undergoing successful arthroscopic surgery to his right knee.

 

Ibaka, according to Thunder P.R., is expected to miss four to six weeks.

 

It should be remembered that Ibaka was deemed out for the season at the onset of last year’s Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, only to return in Game 3 and lead OKC back into the series with his typically excellent rim protection.

 

It’s unlikely now — as it always is — that Ibaka is playing possum, though. This is just more bad luck for a team that’s come to be symbolized by the mask their star wears. Even he, their indestructible warrior, is covered in plastic protection.

 

Westbrook’s triple-double-laden campaign has been the silver lining keeping the Thunder alive through injuries and roster reshuffling alike. OKC currently has seven players acquired either over the summer or midseason, and their superstar point guard has been the only consistent factor through their effort to jell, while fighting for their playoff lives as Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans nip at their heels.

 

At time of publication, New Orleans is just a half game behind Oklahoma City for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot. Either team will have the not-so-welcome treat of squaring off with the 53-13 if they get in. Provided that the Thunder are the team to land the spot against basketball’s best team, they better hope the indispensable Ibaka is back on the earlier side of his recovery timeline. They’ll need everything they can get to pull off the upset.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 17:41
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/what-most-popular-college-basketball-team-each-state
Body:

Sorry, Louisville, people in Kentucky love Kentucky.

 

Ticket broker TicketCity released this map detailing what it calls the most popular college basketball team in each state.

 

Most of the revelations aren’t that surprising, for example, with Big Blue Nation taking hold of its state. Or Kansas, Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan, LSU, Arkansas and Arizona leading their states.

 

A few states, though, produced interesting results. For example:

 

• What are you doing Virginia? The Cavaliers are a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and back-to-back ACC champs, but VCU is the most popular there.

 

• How about Bruce Pearl in the state of Alabama? Auburn leads that state, edging rival Alabama. UAB, incidentally, is the only team from the state actually in the field.

 

• Memphis takes hold of the state of Tennessee over SEC programs Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Like Alabama, a mid-major (Belmont), is the state’s only representative in the 2015 field.

 

Ticket City says it used “fan engagement metrics (google searches by state, Facebook fans, Twitter followers, ticket prices, and attendance as percentage of stadium capacity)” to determine the data.

 

Disclosure: TicketCity is an advertiser on AthlonSports.com.

 

Teaser:
What is the Most Popular College Basketball Team in Each State?
Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 16:09
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/nl-wests-top-storylines-watch-2015
Body:

The National League West very well could wind up being the defending World Series champion Giants and Dodgers duking it out at the top of the mountain — and then everyone else planning for 2016. Let’s face it, the best thing that could happen to the Diamondbacks this year might have already occurred when Will Ferrell hilariously played left field for them in a spring training game last week against the Reds. But that doesn't mean that the NL West won’t be one of the more intriguing divisions in baseball to watch in 2015.

 

We are now in the heart of spring training, as mid-March signals that Opening Day is just a few more weeks away. To get you ready for the upcoming MLB season, here are a couple of storylines to keep an eye on in the NL West in 2015.

 

Are Tulo and CarGo Colorado trade bait?

The time is now for the Rockies. No, not time to win, that time passed last season. It is now time for new general manager Jeff Bridich to put his two best players and biggest liabilities officially on the trade block. It is time for Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to be traded.

 

Let’s be blunt here. For the Rockies to be competitive at all in 2015 every single chip would have to fall in the most perfect of places, and I’m not one to really believe in a team whose pitching rotation is put together with duct tape and unproven arms, and as one fellow Athlon writer wrote, “retreads.” For the Rockies to be a contender would also require Tulo and CarGo to play as close to a full season as humanly possible — a tall order for those two.

 

In Tulowitzki’s eight big-league seasons he has played in 150 games or more just twice. Last season Tulo played in just 91 games after undergoing surgery to repair the labrum in his left hip. When he is healthy, Tulo is well worth the price of admission, whether you’re a fan of those who swing the bat or flash the leather. In a little more than half a season, Tulowitzki was putting together an MVP-caliber 2014 campaign, hitting .340/.432/.603 with a ridiculous OPS of 1.035 (OPS+ of 171), to go along with 21 homers, 18 doubles and 52 RBIs.

 

Tulowitzki is entering his age 30 season and is owed at minimum $114 million until 2020, with a $15 million club option for ’21. That is a lot of dough to keep in limbo for a franchise player on a club desperate for wins.

 

The Rockies are in the same boat with Gonzalez. When he is healthy enough, CarGo is one of the game’s best five-tool players. Problem is, he is rarely healthy, as he has played in more than 135 games just once in seven seasons. That one time was in 2010 when he slashed .336/.376/.598, led the NL in total bases, batting average and hits, finished third in the NL MVP voting and was award a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove. In 2014, Cargo appeared in just 70 games and was sidelined after having a benign tumor removed from his left index finger and also having surgery to repair the patella tendon in his left knee.

 

How much longer can the Rockies keep their fingers crossed on the health of their franchise players? Hard to say. What needs to be said is that it is time for Colorado to cut ties with Tulo and CarGo and start rebuilding for the long-term future.

 

MV-Puig?

On a good day, Yasiel Puig can set the baseball world on fire, hitting bombs into Dodgertown, stealing bases, making impossible throws from the warning track, stretching doubles into triples. On a bad day, Puig can make the SportsCenter’s “Not Top 10” list, showing up late to the ballpark, arguing with manager Don Mattingly, overthrowing cutoff men, striking out on three straight pitches. Both his flaws and his talents are the reasons that legendary Dodgers’ broadcaster Vin Scully has dubbed Puig “The Wild Horse.”

 

Now is the time for Puig to put it all together and be the MVP for one of the National League’s top contenders. There isn’t a single player in the NL that has all of the tools that Puig does, except for maybe Andrew McCutchen — maybe.

 

Puig dazzled us when he arrived to The Show in 2013. He instantly became a household name with his play and his antics, and we all welcomed it. But when the antics spilled over into his second season, baseball shook its collective head. While Puig still had an All-Star 2014 (.296/.382/.480, 37 doubles)  it didn’t quite live up to the promise we all saw in ‘13. Puig hit just five home runs in his final 100 games last season after hitting 11 in the first 48. He hit 14 round-trippers in 2013, even though he played in 44 fewer games (104) than he did in ’14 (148) and finished with the same number of stolen bases (11) too.

 

With the loss of the resurgent Matt Kemp to San Diego, the presence of an aging Carl Crawford in left field, and the insertion of rookie centerfielder Joc Pederson, it is now Puig’s time to be the leading man in Hollywood’s outfield. If the Dodgers have hopes of making it to the World Series in 2015, they will only go as far The Wild Horse takes them.

 

Are the new-look Padres for real?

I hope you didn’t hibernate this winter, because if you did you won’t recognize the San Diego Padres. New general manager A.J. Preller turned the heat up on the hot stove by making several trades to improve one of baseball’s weakest offenses in an attempt to halt a postseason drought that has lasted almost a decade. Preller made moves that brought in Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks. Kemp, Upton and Norris have been All-Stars, while Myers and Middlebrooks were once considered among the top prospects in the game.

 

While a lot has been about those moves, much depends on the health of those players acquired. Upton is the closest to a sure thing out of the new guys after he hit .270/.342/.491 in 2014 with 29 homers, 34 doubles and 102 RBIs. Kemp had a great bounce back in the second half last season after what seemed like an eternity jumping on and off the disabled list. While Kemp may never reach the his near-MVP numbers from 2011, he has proven that he can still be very productive on a daily lineup card.

 

Middlebrooks and Myers both took turns for the worse in 2014. Middlebrooks hit just .191 in 63 games with the Red Sox, a far cry from the .288 average and 15 homers he posted in his rookie campaign in 2012. Myers missed most of his sophomore season thanks to a broken wrist. When Myers was healthy, he wasn’t the same player that won AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2013, hitting just .222/.294/.320 in half a season’s work.

 

Norris was one of seven A’s All-Stars in 2014, hitting .270/.361/.403 with 10 homers and 55 RBIs as a catcher. Norris is only 26 and has improved noticeably in each of his three seasons. 

 

With a rotation that features free-agent acquisition James Shields, a promising Andrew Cashner and first-time All-Star Tyson Ross, along with a bullpen that compiled the second-best ERA in 2014, the Padres have a very realistic chance at making some noise on the West Coast this summer. 

 

- By Jake Rose

Teaser:
NL West's Top Storylines to Watch in 2015
Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: Patrick Reed, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-17-patrick-reed
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the ’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 17:

 

Born: Aug. 5, 1990, San Antonio, Texas | Career PGA Tour Wins: 4 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,026,076 (14th) World Ranking: 15

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Reed is someone his peers should pay attention to — not for any particular skill, but for the audacity with which he plays the game. In an era of over-coached talent, he wins because too many of those who would otherwise outshine him have had their genius coached out of them, and their timidity or confusion is no match for his belief in himself. It is this belief that we should admire above technical skill, but such is the aesthetic desire in all of us that we look for and seek the beautiful swings and overlook the sloppy ones like Patrick’s. He reminds me of a Lanny Wadkins or Hale Irwin or Hubert Green, all of whom had whirlybird easy-to-find-fault-with moves that were propped up by an inner arrogance that took them all to the Hall of Fame. Reed will keep winning, and too many of his peers will keep looking in the mirror.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 4
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T35
British Open - Cut
PGA Championship - T58

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - Cut (2014)
U.S. Open - T35 (2014)
British Open - Cut (2014)
PGA Championship - T58 (2014)
Top-10 Finishes: 0
Top-25 Finishes: 0
Missed Cuts: 2

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the . Be sure to follow him  on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. .

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 09:57
Path: /nba/ranking-nba%E2%80%99s-strangest-team-names
Body:

6. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have two of the game’s biggest faces in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and they’ve been one of the most fun watches for as long as they’ve been in Oklahoma. But NBA purists have long bemoaned their uninspired uniforms and team insignia, which seems focused on creating a sense of association so generic and non-regional that it couldn’t possibly offend anyone. They might as well be called the “Force,” the “Ballers,” or the “Sensations.” We like our squad names to be some sort of reflection of where the team resides, and the Thunder’s moniker falls well short of that mark.

 

5. Washington Wizards

Previously the Bullets, the nation’s capitol city team switched to something more politically correct nearly two decades ago, in 1997. While we’re all about non-violence and safe practices at Athlon, the “Wizards” tag is just as vague and lackluster as the Thunder. The franchise seems to have recognized its misstep with a gradual return to the color scheme and uniform design of the blue-and-red Bullets years, but they’re still walking around calling themselves something impotent and silly. Maybe D.C. native Kevin Durant can negotiate a return to the preferred title during his 2016 free agency…

 

4. Brooklyn Nets

What’s a net? It’s that piece of woven fabric — you know, the one that hangs from the rim. That makes enough sense. Why would anyone want to make this inert object their spirit metaphor, though? A lifeless assortment of string never struck fear into anyone’s heart, and it also certainly doesn’t give one a sense of home. The Nets’ mascot is the Brooklyn Knight — a seemingly randomly chosen character who provides further reminder that NYC’s second team is titled in a way so vague that it badly strains the imagination. The Nets have relocated and rebranded — perhaps now they need to rename themselves.

 

3. Toronto Raptors

Like many expansion teams before them, Toronto grasped at many a straw before landing on a franchise label. The most important factor in their choosing a kind of dinosaur? It was the popularity of everyone’s favorite 1990s Steven Spielberg thriller, Jurassic Park. “Raptors” isn’t exactly a bad name — just a fairly arbitrary one. Hardcore NBA followers have recently taken to calling them “The Drakes,” in reference to their collaboration with the famous Canadian rapper. I, for one, welcome the more culturally relevant shift.

 

2. Los Angeles Lakers

Strange doesn’t have to mean bad. We couldn’t possibly call Kobe, Magic, or James Worthy anything but Lakers — L.A.’s purple-and-gold-laden nickname has become more than indelible over the years. But a bit of context has some scratching their heads; there aren’t, as you may have noticed, a whole lot of lakes in Los Angeles. “The Oceaners” might make sense for them, geography-wise. But this team originally hails from the land of ten-thousand lakes — Minnesota — and has made a very permanent mark on an otherwise senseless handle.

 

1. Utah Jazz

Like the Lakers, Salt Lake City’s team has a name that essentially describes what its surrounding area isn’t. Not only is the largely Mormon state of Utah a pretty jazzless place, but the history of their basketball identity is almost the opposite of flashy. When they were a New Orleans squad featuring the entrancing Pete Maravich, the Jazz were the veritable saxophone of the league. But Karl Malone and John Stockton’s heyday were more about rote, blue-collar execution than style. There’s no changing this one, though — the paradox that is the Utah Jazz title has become far too endearing over the decades.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 16, 2015 - 14:27
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/2015-fantasy-baseball-rankings-relief-pitchers
Body:

Opening Day of the 2015 MLB season is less than a month away, which means fantasy baseball is just around the corner. For some leagues, drafts have already begun or will soon begin and Athlon Sports is here to help.

 

Besides providing our comprehensive , we also have our positional rankings, courtesy of Bruce Herman. These are pulled straight from this year’s , which is available at newsstands everywhere and for purchase online.

 

Rankings Key

A: FRANCHISE PLAYER — You need one to compete, two to win, three to dominate.

B: CAREER YEAR — Veteran with a strong possibility of delivering his best season.

C: SLEEPER — Could be a great acquisition at a price or draft slot below his true value.

D: ROADBLOCKED — Rank has been lowered because there is no current opportunity to play regularly.

E: DECLINER — Expect moderately to significantly worse stats than in 2014.

F: INJURY RISK — Has had a recent injury that could affect performance.

G: INVESTOR’S SPECIAL — Top prospect whose immediate impact may be minimal.

 

Pitching stats are expressed W-ERA-SO-WHIP.

 

2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Relief Pitchers

 

TIER 1

1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves (A)

Kimbrel meets the rare standard of dominance + durability + consistency better than any other closer. He’s the first pitcher to begin his career with four 40-save seasons, and he set an all-time record by fanning 42.4% of the batters he’s faced.

2. Greg Holland, Royals (A)

Holland’s stats are a virtual mirror image of Kimbrel’s the past two years, right down to the identical WHIP (0.89) and number of strikeouts (193). In AL-only leagues, there’s a vast gap between him and the next reliever, so open the wallet.

3. Aroldis Chapman, Reds (A)

Chapman has yet to log a 40-save season and he’ll have the occasional implosion, but he’s the most unhittable pitcher in the game. Last year he K’d 5.17 batters for every hit allowed; no one else (min. 50 IP) had a higher ratio than 3.17.

 

TIER 2

4. Dellin Betances, Yankees

Tier 2 begins the faith-based segment of the relievers’ list — headed by Betances, who’s saved one game in his career. Last year, though, he gave up 43% fewer hits than anyone else at his innings level and — get this — fanned more men than 54 pitchers who started at least 20 games.

5. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers

Jansen measures up to those above him in saves and strikeouts, but there are times when his one pitch (a Mariano-like cutter) catches too much of the plate, making him susceptible to the barrel (so-so 2.76 ERA, 7.6 hits per nine in 2014). Jansen also will miss the first month or so after underdoing foot surgery in February.

6. Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies

Pap’s velo is not what it once was, but he returned to his fastball as his bread-and-butter last year to chart his lowest WHIP since 2007. Whereas no other pitcher’s current streak is longer than four, he’s saved at least 29 games in nine straight campaigns.

7. David Robertson, White Sox

Robertson surrendered an ER in only 11 of 63 outings, but home runs trashed his ERA (3.08). Only pitcher in history with at least 10 Ks/9 IP in each of his first seven seasons.

8. Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals

Forty-five saves are 45 saves, but Rosenthal’s SOs/9 sank by nearly two and his BBs/9 rose by three to an unsightly 5.4. One theory is that he was overworked. His stuff is too electric not to be successful.

9. Zach Britton, Orioles

Subbing out ground balls for missed bats makes Britton just as effective as the top-shelf closers, sans strikeouts. He saved 37 games with a 1.65 ERA, although his 62 whiffs ranked just 63rd among relievers.

10. Cody Allen, Indians

Devoured the closer’s job when it fell to him in late May. Still a novice, he doesn’t yet have the command of some of his fellow flamethrowers, but if and when he develops it, he could look a lot like Holland.

11. Huston Street, Angels

He’s oft-downgraded for his sub-90s velocity, but Street’s bottom line is that he was the third-youngest closer to save 250 games. He simply has “it” — as well as the longest active streak (10) of 15-save seasons.

12. Steve Cishek, Marlins

Rocketed to 11.6 SOs/9 IP despite charting career-low velocities while throwing 94% sinkers and sliders. Kimbrel and Holland are the only other active closers (min. 50 chances) to convert nine of 10 career opportunities.

13. Mark Melancon, Pirates

He’s not a lights-out guy, but Melancon has allowed only three homers and 19 walks in 142 innings as a Pirate. The flip side: He was the lone full-time closer to serve up three walk-off hits in 2014.

14. Sean Doolittle, Athletics

Doolittle was the sole reliever to put fewer than one-of-five batters faced on base. He allowed 13 of his 19 ERs in three outings, plumping his ERA from 0.87 to 2.73. Looked bad in the playoffs, so he’s not yet totally battle-hardened, and he could miss some time at the beginning of the season because of a shoulder issue.

15. Koji Uehara, Red Sox

Uehara returned to the realm of mere mortals last season, allowing eight homers in 29.2 innings during a two-and-a-half-month stretch. He turns 40 soon after Opening Day, so his leash might be deceptively short.

 

16. Drew Storen, Nationals

17. Addison Reed, Diamondbacks

18. Fernando Rodney, Mariners (E)

19. Glen Perkins, Twins (F)

20. Brett Cecil, Blue Jays (B,C)

21. Joe Nathan, Tigers

22. Santiago Casilla, Giants

23. Jenrry Mejia, Mets

24. Neftali Feliz, Rangers

 

TIER 3

25. Joaquin Benoit, Padres (F)

26. Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers

27. LaTroy Hawkins, Rockies

28. Luke Gregerson, Astros (B)

29. Hector Rondon, Cubs

30. Brad Boxberger, Rays (C)

 

TIER 4

31. Wade Davis, Royals (D)

32. Ken Giles, Phillies (C,D,G)

33. Andrew Miller, Yankees

34. Jeurys Familia, Mets (C)

35. Jake McGee, Rays (E,F)

36. Chad Qualls, Astros (E)

37. Sergio Romo, Giants (E)

38. Bruce Rondon, Tigers (C,F,G)

39. Joel Peralta, Dodgers

40. Jonathan Broxton, Brewers

Teaser:
2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Relief Pitchers
Post date: Monday, March 16, 2015 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/charles-oakley-thinks-current-nba-heartless-hard-watch
Body:

The Toronto Raptors recently invited one-time power forward Charles Oakley — more famous for his stints with the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks — to a game, to honor him.

 

Oak used the occasion as an opportunity to speak his mind about the state of the NBA. And he doesn’t love it.

 

"Who do I like watching? It's hard to watch," . "I don't know, it's just, it's a different game. It's some good games and a lot of bad games. More bad games than good games these days. Everybody says the game has changed, instead of talking about the guys I got a chance to see them first hand. It was kind of bad. The mind is not — you don't have to be strong to play this game no more. I don't know what it is. 

 

“They just roll you out there like a basketball. That's why ... you see the same teams in the finals or winning 55 games. Strong teams, strong-minded coach. Just the players, they don't think it, they don't know how to play together. So that's one of things I see the weakness is: Communication, the guys don't love the game. They play the game, but they don't play with their heart.”

 

There’s some merit to what Oakley says, even if he comes from the same self-serving place that Charles Barkley and Shaq do when they hurl criticisms at contemporary big men. Like the NBA on TNT crew, Oakley is only human, and watching his narrative of fame fade over time has to be a melancholy experience. Sometimes, that means making a straw man out of today’s players, to take your frustrations out on them.

 

On the other hand, Oakley’s words get at the biggest problem of the NBA’s regular season: it’s too long. Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs changed the model of game-to-game approach by implementing aggressive rest throughout year, a habit now practiced by most contenders. And at the core of this is a heightened awareness of how meaningless much of the 82-game grind is.

 

NBA teams are smart to recognize this. Does it mean a less watchable product, at times? Definitely. But a lack of heart? Maybe not so much.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 16, 2015 - 10:18
All taxonomy terms: Phil Mickelson, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-18-phil-mickelson
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the ’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 18:

 

Born: June 16, 1970, San Diego, Calif. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 42 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,158,019 (38th) World Ranking: 21

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Mickelson will go down in history as one of the greatest players of all time and may yet be considered one of the top ten, but that seemingly impenetrable list includes the likes of Nicklaus, Woods, Jones, Hogan, Hagen, Snead, Palmer, Sarazen, Player and Nelson. Maybe Tom Watson or Harry Vardon or Seve Ballesteros rounds out your list, but the question remains: If Phil is a top-10 all-time player, whom do you kick out?  With Phil’s victory at the Open Championship in 2013, giving him 42 wins and three legs of the career grand slam, he certainly put himself in a different light, and perhaps that was enough to put him in the top-10 discussion, but personally I think he has a ways to go, perhaps two more majors or one more at the right major. When Phil gets to the U.S. Open for the rest of his career or until he wins it, he will have to answer questions about what a career grand slam would mean to him. Of course it would make him just the sixth man to have achieved this, putting him in the rarest of company. Mickelson is sneaking up into his mid 40s and his length off the tee is no longer a huge asset, but his long swing will serve him well for a few more years, time enough for him to add to his already incredible career.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 85
Wins: 5

2014 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T28
British Open - T23
PGA Championship - 2

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 1 (2004, '06, '10)
U.S. Open - 2/T2 (1999, 2002, '04, '06, '09, '13)
British Open - 1 (2013)
PGA Championship - 1 (2005)
Top-10 Finishes: 36
Top-25 Finishes: 49
Missed Cuts: 9

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the . Be sure to follow him  on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. .

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 16, 2015 - 10:07

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