Saturday, December 1, 2007

Paul Harris Is Charles Barkley

If this Syracuse team is going anywhere, it will be because Paul Harris wants it to.

Syracuse small forward Paul Harris has a game only a mother could love. He can't shoot from outside of 10 feet, he's not that sweet from the free throw line and he just plays ugly. He bangs, he turns the ball over on ill-advised passes and he forces tough shots around the rim without giving a second thought to whether his shot will get sent into next week. But it's that ugliness that makes him so good. He is always around the ball, routinely outrebounding guys half a foot taller than and putting it back up in traffic with reckless abandon. It doesn't hurt that he's built like a truck. He's 6'5", 235lbs and looks like a linebacker out there. Watching him play reminds me of someone about his size who about 2 decades ago played in almost the exact same fashion. So much so that I decided to look up his stats and compare the two. And when I did, I was struck by how much their games mirror eachother. That man, Charles Barkley.

First, Barkley's college playing size was 6'6", 235lbs. Paul Harris is 6'5", 235lbs. So the size is almost exactly the same. But check out how similarly their stats are:

Paul Harris
06-07 Syr 8.6 pts 7.1 rebs 1.6 A's 0.8 stls 0.6 blks 68.1 FT%
07-08 Syr 12.2 pts 10.5 rebs 3.8 A's 2.2 stls 0.5 blks 72.4 FT%

Charles Barkley
81-82 Aub 12.7 pts 9.8 rebs 1.1 A's 1.8 stls 0.5 blks 63.6 FT%
82-83 Aub 13.0 pts 8.6 rebs 1.6 A's 1.5 stls 1.0 blks 63.1 FT%
83-84 Aub 15.1 pts 9.5 rebs 2.1 A's 1.8 stls 1.1 blks 68.3 FT%
It's remarkable how similar they are. Paul is a little more complete a player who looks to dish more often and playing the wing on the 2-3 zone doesn't give him the opportunities to block shots like Barkley did in man-to-man, and Barkley was a little more valuable on the offensive end, but other than that their production is almost identical. And I love watching Harris play in the same way I remember watching Barkley play. If Paul can keep this up, he make a name for himself in the same way... at least on the court.

After This Garza Trade, The D-Rays* Might Be Pretty Good

With 3 young studs at the top of that rotation and the young stars in that lineup, the D-Rays might just be worth watching.

To say that the D-Rays are a second rate baseball franchise would be giving them too much credit. Their moniker was ridiculous even before the cut the "Devil" out of it. Their uniforms look like they were put together by Ally Sheedy and Molly Ringwald circa 1988. Their manager looks like he should be leading a poetry jam in Park Slope, Brooklyn (I will admit, however, that I really like Joe Maddon and think he's a pretty smart and fearless manager) and they play in a poorly lit mini-putt course in front of less people than the average attendance at MENSA meetings in L.A. (Hey-Yo!). Oh, and they also suck at baseball, finishing last every year but one (we all remember that magical summer of 2004 when they finished 4th) over their entire history (spanning a full decade). But after this Garza trade and with the flier on Troy Percival combined with the emergence of the likes of Carlos Pena, BJ Upton and Jamie Shields... the D-Rays are pretty f'n good.

Lost in the shuffle of the thrice daily updates on the status of the 4th prospect in the hypothetical Santana to the Sox / Yanks deal was the trade that actually occurred between the D Rays and the Twins in which they effectively swapped outfielder Delmon Young for pitcher Matt Garza. And while Young has some name value for finishing second in the AL ROY voting and for being the perhaps the top prospect in baseball before last year, the real prize of this deal was actually Garza. Going into this year, Garza was the top prospect in a deep Twins minor league system. Projected a number one starter, Garza has dominated at every level and was named "Minor League Player of The Year" in 2006 by USA Today; joining a list of former winners including Francisco Liriano, Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes and Josh Beckett. If Garza were in NY or Boston, he would be an "untouchable." He was "Phil Hughes" before Phil Hughes. It was assumed that Garza would jump into the rotation in 2007 but due in large part to a disagreement over how the organization used him and overprotected him after a bizarre neck injury (he had what was called "common somatic disorder"), Garza and the Twins were never really on the same page and he wasn't the first or second pitcher called up in 2007. He didn't take it very well and coming into the offseason the rumors began that the Twins were willing to part with him. They certainly couldn't be faulted for doing it given their depth at pitching (see Bonser, Slowey, Liriano and whoever they get back from the Santana trade) and need for pop in the outfield, but whoever was going to get Garza was going to get a potential Ace at below market value because of the non-baseball issues. That's where the Rays come in.

The Garza-Young trade almost made too much sense. The Rays are hemorrhaging young talent in the outfield and despite finishing as the ROY runner-up this past year, he may have been the fifth most talented outfielder in the D-Rays organization (whether he is more or less talented than Elijah Dukes remains to be seen. Dukes certainly one-ups him in the crazy department). But now with Garza in the rotation, the Rays feature a top 3 of Jamie Shields (12-8, 3.85 ERA, 184K's, 34BB's), Scott Kazmir (13-9, 3.48 ERA, led the league in K's) and Matt Garza, the aforementioned potential right-handed Ace. As presently constituted, I'd take that threesome over the every top 3 of any staff in the AL other than the Sox, Indians, Detroit or Toronto (even though I said "as presently constituted," I assume Johan won't be with the Twins). The other two guys are barely old enough to drink. That's something to build around. And that may not even be the strength of their team!

The D-Rays offense is young, fast and good. Carlos Pena is the best hitter no one's ever heard about. Pena hit 46 home runs last year. FORTY FUCKING SIX! He drove in 120 RBI... FOR THE F'N D-RAYS! He hits behind some other guys with absurd talent. Carl Crawford steals 50 bags a year and Lou Piniella called him a future batting champ (he hit .315 this year and his average has improved by an average of 10pts per year). BJ Upton is a budding superstar at center after hitting 24 homers in less than a full year of play. Elijah Dukes has more talent than he knows what to do with and if he could just calm down for half a season, he could hit 40 home runs himself (he'd also probably K 200 times and murder several small children with tossed gear). They've also got Rocco Baldelli, who if healthy... well, that's not even worth talking about. And those guys aren't the most talented guys in the organization. They are moving Akinori Iwamura to second base after a solid year at 3b (.285, 7hrs, 20 doubles) because they've got the most talented infield prospect in baseball coming up next year in Evan Longoria (no relation... to me or Eva). Longoria finished 2007 with a combined minor league average of .299, while hitting 26 HR, knocking in 95 RBI and drawing 73 walks for an OBP of .402. With Longoria in the lineup, that lineup has discipline and pop 1-6. It is a legitimate and imposing lineup that can match up with at least Toronto and Baltimore, if not the Red Sox in the AL East (no team can matchup with the paper tiger that is the Yankees lineup. On paper those guys should score about 1500 runs). Unfortunately for the D-Rays, baseball requires more than 3 starting pitchers and 6 batsmen.

The D-Rays' bullpen is their biggest weakness. Though they featured a fairly reliable closer in Al Reyes and picked up the former All-Star Troy Percival this offseason, the rest of that group blows. Last year the D-Rays featured 10 relievers with 20 or more appearances who with an ERA of at least 5.76. I personally witnessed them blow 6 games with leads of over 3 runs after the 6th inning. Their bullpen is so bad that when it gets to like the 6th or 7th inning and your team is only down 3-4 runs, you feel as though your team is winning. But the thing about bullpen strength is that it is very fickle. One year nobody can hit Kyle Farnsworth, two years later batters are knocking his down and away slider into the corner for doubles. Guys like Mike Timlin and Mike Meyers have seen multiple incarnations. So you never know what you're gonna get with your bullpen. But the D-Rays have options. If they could move a guy like Edwin Jackson to the bullpen they could get a big power arm in there for one and two inning stints. A reliable long man would give the D-Rays 6-8 wins a year (seriously).

At the end of the day, while I think the D-Rays are a fun team to watch and are CONSIDERABLY better than they have ever been, they ain't winning the AL East or the wild card. The Yanks will probably pull in Santana and the Sox have Beckett, Buchholz. and Dice-K locked up for another 4 years or so (Beckett isn't "locked up," but he's getting an extension either midway through this year or after the season). But they are markedly better than the Orioles and will compete with the Blue Jays this year. If the Sox or Yanks suffer anything even resembling a serious injury in their rotation or suffers a significant slump, don't be surprised if the woe begone D-Rays start nipping at their heals. They may not be good enough yet to win anything, but these kids are good.

*I'm aware that we are supposed to call them simply "The Rays," but I refuse to abide by that PC Christian bullshit. They are, and forever will be, the fucking Devil Rays.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Hobos Of Jamaica Are Not Fans Of Eli Manning

How bad are things for Eli? He's even lost the faith of the hobos.

If I were you, I wouldn't go hanging around the 169th and Hillside Ave subway station in Jamaica, NY anytime past 10pm (or Noon for that matter). It's not.... what's the word.... it's not.... well, safe. It's not safe. At all. Unfortunately, my circumstances require me to hang around this area after 10pm about 4 times a week. I'd have to say that it is not my favorite part of my tertiary education experience. When I'm not looking over my shoulder waiting for Hobo McStabby and Joey AIDS Face to shove me onto the tracks or jam something up my urethra (not that I'm ever taking my piece out around there), I'm dodging the rats that roam the platform like fucking free range chickens. Again, not my favorite half hour of my day.

Now normally the drunken hobos and mole people who inhabit the station stay to themselves and though I am always VERY aware of my surroundings and have one eye over my shoulder waiting for Stumbly McStinkeye to defecate on me, I rarely get harassed. That was until Tuesday evening.

On Tuesday, I had a newspaper with me and it must've been opened to an article about Eli Manning or there must've been a picture of Manning displayed to the outside because as I descended the stairs I heard two guys start to yell at me. Being the naturalized New Yorker that I am, I didn't flinch and kept on my way. The guys continued to yell and though I had trouble interpreting their husky malted drawl, this is what I think I heard:
Hobo1: Eliiiiii. You like Eliiiiiiiiiiiii?
Hobo2: The J-eyes suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.
Hobo1: Doan...doan, doan bring Eliiii here.... Eliiiiii suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks. They all suck.
That last part was really the only thing I heard clearly as they were pretty close to me when that was said. After that, whatever else they were talking about must've been in hobo code because I couldn't make any of it out. The best part was when they later got on the same subway car and proceeded to have a conversation while sitting at opposite ends of the car. Always a good time.

Anyhoo, more than anything I just wanted to get this info out there for Eli's benefit in case he had any inclination to head out to Jamaica to hang out. If so, Elisha, take the bus.


The Knicks gained some confidence with their 2 game win streak. So much so they started talking a little shit. That worked out well...

Here are a couple of headlines from the NY papers this morning: "BIG 3? BIG DEAL" "The Celtics aren't as good as they think they are." Quentin Richardson had this to say:
It's not that big a deal to us," Richardson said of facing the 11-2 Celtics. “It's like the media makes more of The Big Three and all of them. We're not in awe of them. They ain't won no championships. They have a good record right now, but that don't matter. Dallas showed that [last season]."
And the final score: 104 - 59!

I'm not even a Celtics fans but this is fucking fantastic. If that is not the most embarrassing on-court performance in the team's history, I don't know what is. The Knicks player said that Celts weren't deep. 5 players in double digits (not including KG who ONLY scored 8), 27 assists on 37 field goals. The Celtics could've played only their scrubs and beat the Knicks by 20. I don't think anyone in the world is as bad at anything as Isiah is at coaching basketball. If he were in any other occupation, he wouldn't just be fired, he'd be incarcerated. I'm not sure on what grounds his incarceration would be justified but holy fuck does he suck. He'd probably suck at being incarcerated too. The Knicks sucking is so much fun. I can't wait to wake up tomorrow so I can read and hear all about it!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Welcome Back Smittblogg!

The Smittblogg is BACK! Sort of. Not done with finals but I should be able to pick up the posting a little bit over the next ten days or so. It feels so good to be back. There's so much I want to talk about. I'm gonna post so much shit your ears are going to be pissing useless information and poor grammar. I fuck you not!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

This Sean Taylor Thing Sucks

Whether you remember him more for the top picture or the bottom picture, it sucks to be a Skins fan today.

I'm not going to go into one of those speeches where I opine about how Sean found himself and re-dedicated himself to his wife or team or kid or whatever. I have no fucking clue about any of that, and neither does anyone else who is going to take a stab at it over the next couple of days (I'm talking to you, Peter King). I'm also not going to lament over how little we knew the kid because he was a quiet personality who always seemed to mind his own business, except when he was on the field. I'm not gonna get into the sadness of how Sean is the latest example of an athlete from a troubled background who ended up the victim of a violent crime nor will I discuss some greater significance to his death. I'm not even going to try and debate about whether it is more or less tragic that he was murdered and not the victim of some other less senseless death (not that any death makes more sense than any other I guess). The only lens through which I can view Sean Taylor's untimely demise is that of a fan. And though I'm not a Skins fan nor ever more than an admirer from afar of Taylor, for some reason his death is really bumming me out.

This is gonna come out wrong and is kinda a horrible thing to say, but when Joe Kennedy died last week and Darryl Kyle and Josh Hancock before him (those are just some of the ones I could think of off hand), I was sad for their families and friends, but I really didn't spend more than 5 seconds thinking about it. But when I woke up this morning and learned that Sean Taylor died, I was legitimately tweaked. I had to sit down for a little while and gather myself. I got the details from the various news sources and couldn't even really believe it. A lot of it probably had to do with the fact that we were re-assured that he had a good chance of being ok late last night, so the shock was a little greater upon hearing the news but that doesn't really distinguish him from the other guys because those deaths were complete shock. No, I think the thing about Sean Taylor hurt was deeper for a couple reasons.

One, the kid was indestructable. You could never imagine something hitting Sean Taylor and injuring him. It had to be the other way around. Only Sean Taylor's own blunt force against an object and an action of his own volition could create enough force to injure him. It had to be him projecting himself at that bullet, not the other way around. The other thing that made this more tragic and shocking in my eyes is that Sean was the Redskins. People I know had HIS jerseys. When the Skins were in town HE was the guy you were psyched to see. On the replays of Sunday it was Sean Taylor you expected to see taking someone's head off or being in the right place at the right time. AND HE WAS JUST GETTING STARTED! He was 24 years-old. I mean Jesus Christ! In the history of sports, has anyone so young and so outstanding been so unfortunate has to have his life stolen from him like Taylor (maybe Ernie Davis)? It's tough to get your head around.

But for a fan, I don't know how you deal with it. What is a socially acceptable level of reaction? The strange thing for me is the other day I woke up from some strange dream (yeah, that's been happening a lot recently. I need to stop falling asleep in front of the TV) thinking that Manny Ramirez had died. I realized very quickly that this wasn't the case but it got me thinking. What would I have done? I would have been devastated. Would it be ok for me to cry? I don't know the guy, don't know his family. How sad could I really be? People sobbed when Lennon was killed but that was a different time when there were fewer celebrities and far fewer as famous as John Lennon (yes, I'm equating Manny Ramirez with John Lennon and indirectly Sean Taylor. Deal with it). I know that had it been true that Manny was no longer with us, I would have reacted and been treated as though someone close to me had died. I would've gotten phone calls immediately from my friends and family. I would have been consoled by acquaintances and couldn't even imagine focusing on work or school for the immediate future. I would have been absolutely crushed and it would take me much longer than I'm comfortable talking about to get over it. Maybe that makes me crazy but I think anyone who has been a serious fan of any team would be lying if they told you they wouldn't have reacted similarly if the player they hold most dear from their favorite team met an untimely death.

So I guess I really don't know what I'm getting at here or if I have any point at all actually. I think this served as some sort of catharsis because I am having trouble coming to grips with why Taylor's death is dragging me down so much. I think some of it has to do with the small part of me that still views athletes as different than you and I. Not so much in a personal or professional level but in a level I can't properly describe. Athletes can do things that I cannot do. Their ability and achievement inspire awe in a way that no one one else is capable of. Sure there are talented people out there but Yo Yo Ma doesn't make me jump out of my seat and scream at the top of my lungs when he effortless makes his cello sing. Athletes are different in that they can create an immediate and more visceral emotional reaction out of people than almost any other performer. And even amongst those awe-inspiring athletes there is an even more discrete group of athletes who dominate and run circles around the awe-inspiring guys. These are guys who, twenty years from now, sound 20 feet tall and can run faster than cheetahs in the stories you tell about them. These guys are the reason you cheer for your team and they are who you identify with your team. In less than 5 years Sean Taylor had become one of those guys and he had ten more years of that kind of blow your doors off talent up his sleeve. I can't imagine having a guy like that stolen from my team in the most tragic of fashions. I can't imagine being a Skins fan today.