Wait, What Year is This, Again?

Juan-Carlos Ferrero?  Tommy Haas?  Lleyton Hewitt?  Andy Roddick?  Roger Federer?  Ivo Karlovic?

This sounds like a run-down of 1995’s Future Stars of Tennis.   Or the quarterfinals of a major in, say 2003.  But, 2009???  No chance.  Well, that is the case, as it is these six elder statesmen of the men’s tour making up 3/4 of the final eight at Wimbledon in 2009–joined only by young guns, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.  For my money, I find it incredibly exciting as there is a great combination of the youth (Murray and Djokovic), the accomplished (Federer and Roddick), the career revivals (Hewitt, Ferrero, and Haas), and the throwback late-bloomer (Karlovic).  So, what are we to expect tomorrow?  That is anybody’s guess.

#2 Roger Federer vs. #22 Ivo Karlovic
In the first match on Centre Court tomorrow, the five-time Wimbledon champ will take on a throwback to the days where groundstrokes were few and rallies were short, who, by the way, happens to be 6-foot-10. 

How They Got Here
The Federer has not exactly been as overwhelmingly dominant this year as he has in year’s past, but he still has only dropped one set–a third-set tiebreak to 27-seed Philipp Kohlschreiber.  He is coming off a straight-set win over 13-seed Robin Soderling in a rematch of the surprising French Open finale.  Soderling had chances in both the second and third set tiebreaks, but Federer showed exactly why he has won 14 Grand Slams and made an astonishing 20 consecutive Grand Slam semis–he wins big points.

Ivo Karlovic won his first-round match against Slovakian Lucas Lacko in straight sets.  But, Lacko did something that no one else has done yet against Karlovic–he earned a break point.  In fact, Lacko had 4 break points in that match.  He was 0-for-4.  Since then, Karlovic has gone through three more rounds, including matches against 9-seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and 7-seed Fernando Verdasco, without facing a single break point.  Yes, you read that correctly–IVO KARLOVIC HAS NOT BEEN BROKEN IN 79 SERVICE GAMES AND HAS ONLY FACED 4 BREAK POINTS ALL TOURNAMENT, ALL IN THE FIRST ROUND!  He has made 71% of his first serves (and they are bombs) and won 91% of the points on that first serve.  Unbelievable!  Needless to say, Karlovic is on an absolute roll with his serve.  However, this is not to say that he has cruised because his lack of an all-around game makes it difficult for him to break.  He broke Tsonga once in the third round, winning 7-6, 6-7, 7-5, 7-6, and Verdasco once in the fourth round, winning 7-6, 6-7, 6-3, 7-6.

Wednesday’s Matchup
Needless to say, we will probably see a tiebreak or two.  I will at least go out on a limb and say that Karlovic will NOT break Federer–that much is pretty sure.  So, it is going to come down to the big points in a tiebreak or a Federer break.  In both cases, I like Federer, but not easily.  I could see Dr. Ivo winning at least one tiebreak and making Federer really work for his 21st straight semifinal.  Federer is 8-1 against Karlovic all-time, but the one win was on hardcourts in Cincinnati last year, where Karlovic beat Fed without a single break, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6.

The Pick
Federer in 4.  Look for Federer to break once and win a pair of tiebreaks (the big points), but it will not be a walk in the park.  Karlovic is serving as well as anyone ever has, and, as boring as it is to see no breaks, it is pretty incredible to see someone do something better than any else does in the world.  Then again, the game is tennis, not “serving,” and Federer is better at tennis than anyone else in the world, so we will go with him to win this one.

Continue reading “Wait, What Year is This, Again?”

4 NBA Draft Sleeper Picks

I’ll be the first to admit that I am no NBA draft guru.  First of all, my first-hand knowledge of players is basically limited to guys that have played big-time college basketball.  Also, I’ve been notoriously inaccurate in projecting which players will make it on the next level and which ones won’t.  All that being said, here are the guys I like as “sleeper” picks from this draft that should be able to play, and play well, in the league very soon.  In a few years we can review to see if I’m getting any better at this.

douglas29th Overall Pick:  Toney Douglas (Lakers):  I think the reigning champs got a steal at the end of the first-round with Douglas, especially in such a weak year for talent.  He might be slightly under-sized for an NBA 2-guard and not an elite athlete, but he can flat-out score and was a lock-down defender on the college level.  He also was the heart and soul of last year’s Florida State team, and he showed his clutch abilities in a couple of big upsets in the ACC tournament.  He won’t be an NBA All-Star, but he should be a solid starter, and those aren’t easy to find this late in the draft.

36th Overall Pick:  Sam Young (Grizzlies):  I just don’t really see what’s not to like about Young, unless teams think he actually is as old as he looks.  This guy averaged almost 19 points a game over the past two seasons for one of the premier programs in college basketball, and they don’t exactly have a run and gun offensive style at Pitt.  He’s got nice size for a SF, he can shoot it, he’s a high-flying dunker, and he’s a great character guy. 

37th Overall Pick:  Dejuan Blair (Spurs):  With Young’s former teammate, I do see what’s not to like.  He’s short for a post player and there are questions about his knees after surgeries in high school.  Those are both legitimate concerns.  But this guy stepped into the college game two years ago and was immediately dominant.  He will not be a dominant NBA player, but I see no reason why he can’t be a very solid contributor and a great value in the 2nd Round.  Concerns about his height should be tempered by the way he owned Hasheem Thabeet last season, and his knees may be questionable, but they never forced him to miss any time in his two years at Pitt.  San Antonio is probably a great place for him to end up.  He makes much more sense on a good team than a bad one.

50th Overall Pick:  Goran Suton (Jazz):  It’s always shocking to see the Jazz go for a white guy, isn’t it?  I guess if it wasn’t for Michigan State’s run to the title game in the spring, Suton wouldn’t even have been drafted.  Still, I must have been more impressed by his performance in the tournament than NBA scouts were.  I see Suton as a valuable bench player in the NBA, and that’s a great value this late in the draft.  He’s an excellent rebounder and can consistently knock down jump shots.  That combination makes you a nice player to bring off the bench.  Jerry Sloan should put Suton to good use. 

Tell Me I’m Crazy

Blake Griffin will not participate in more NBA All-Star Games than Tyler Hansbrough

Tell me I’m crazy.

I know, it sounds ridiculous, but let us think about it for a little bit before you knee-jerk react and call me nuts.  I am not saying that Griffin is going to be a bust; I am also not saying that Hansbrough will be a star.  All I am saying is that I think that if Griffin has what it takes to be a star in this league, so does Hansbrough.  And, if Hansbrough has all the makings of a “bust,” why do we not say the same for Griffin?

What do people think Griffin has that Hansbrough does not?

  • Freakish athleticism? – Yes, this is will concede this point without any argument.  Griffin is a freak athlete and Hansbrough is not.  Griffin is quicker, a better leaper, and just all-around more athletic.  Period.  No debate.
  • Age?  Again, I cannot debate this.  It is a fact that Blake Griffin is two years younger than Tyler Hansbrough.
  • Size?  No.  Actually, this is completely false.  I was shocked about this too because I thought Griffin was a true 6’11” and Hansbrough would be lucky to measure 6’9″.  But, as it turns out, Hansbrough measured one-half inch taller than Griffin at the official NBA combine.  In fact, Hansbrough’s standing reach is a full two-plus inches higher than Griffin’s and is actually slightly higher than Amare Stoudemire’s.  I always said that Hansbrough just isn’t big enough to play an NBA 4, but the way the league is going and the fact that Hansbrough’s standing reach is higher than Amare’s, I have completely gone back on that opinion.
  • Motor?  Okay, I have never actually heard someone say that Griffin has more “motor” than Hansbrough specifically, but I have heard all this talk about Griffin’s and very little about Hansbrough’s.  Did anyone else watch the player that I watched at UNC for the past four years?  Motor is what defined Tyler Hansbrough for four years.
  • Collegiate success against elite competition?  Yes, you will hear over and over again about how Griffin was the 2008-09 NCAA basketball Player of the Year–an honor that he undisputably deserved.  But, how quickly we forget that Hansbrough was the 2007-08 Player of the Year.  Also, Hansbrough finished second, behind Griffin, even though he battled through a couple minor injuries and was surrounded by a supporting cast that took a lot of the burden, and therefore statistics, off of him.  Griffin was everything for Oklahoma–impressive, but also allowed him to accumulate statistics.  And, “success against elite competition?”  Well, Hansbrough is the ACC’s all-time leading scorer (arguably, the conference with the best basketball history).  He made the first-team All-ACC all four years.  He was first-team All-American three times (he made the second team as a freshman).  Plus, he was the ACC’s Rookie of the Year in 2006, Player of the Year in 2008, and probably would have won Player of the Year again in 2009 if he had stayed healthy (instead, it went to his teammate, Ty Lawson).
  • Basketball pedigree?  Yes, Griffin comes from a basketball family.  We all watching his brother play side-by-side with him at OU for the past two years.  Well, has anyone ever heard of Ben Hansbrough?  If not, you will.  He is Tyler’s younger brother and played two years at Mississippi State before sitting out last year so that he can transfer to Notre Dame and finish his two years of eligibility.  Hansbrough is well on his way to becoming a 1000-point scorer–possibly even before reaching his senior season.  He averaged 10.4 points, 2.6 assists, and 3.9 rebounds as a shooting guard for the Bulldogs in ’07-08.

Now, what might Hansbrough have that tomorrow’s #1 draft choice does not?

  • Desire?  I am not ready to put Griffin down on this one, but it is clear that Hansbrough is a maniac on the court.  Griffin is one of the most naturally gifted rebounders that I have ever watched on the collegiate level, and that is great, but Hansbrough gets rebounds with desire and heart.  And, anyone who has ever played basketball knows that–on any level–rebounding is as much about desire as it is about ability.  Though I like Griffin’s makeup and heart, I have absolutely NO questions about Hansbrough’s
  • Leadership?  Now, maybe this is not fair because we only saw Griffin as a freshman and sophomore with a mediocre supporting cast, but this consensus #1 pick got beat by Hansbrough’s UNC team in the Elite Eight this year, as the Tar Heels went on their way to winning a national title.  Hansbrough was clearly the leader of the championship team.  He was also the clear leader on a Final Four team in 2008 (as Griffin’s Sooners lost by 30 in the second round to Louisville) and an Elite Eight team (that should have made the Final Four) in 2007.  Plus, as a freshman, he led a rebuilding UNC team to a #3 seed, before a surprise loss to eventual Final Four team George Mason.  Now, would Griffin have those credentials if he stayed four years?  Maybe, but we do not know.  And, that point leads us straight into…
  • Experience?  Hansbrough played in 12 NCAA tournament games (winning 9, including one title), 10 ACC tournament games (winning 8, including two titles), and almost all of his team’s 64 ACC conference games over the course of his career (UNC was 50-14 in his 4 years, with three regular season titles and one second place finish).  He has lived the “big game” for 4 years now.  Griffin has played in some big games too, in his two years at OU, but the Big XII’s regular season (and even the conference tournament) cannot hold a candle to the intensity of every ACC game, regular season or tournament.
  • Work ethic?  Again, this is not a knock on Griffin.  He probably has a strong work ethic, but do we know that for sure?  I think we can say definitively that Hansbrough will work his tail off, at all times, and has already shown (wait for it) that he can take a weakness and turn it into a strength simply by working at it…
  • Jump shot?  This is the big advantage Hansbrough has over Griffin heading into the NBA.  Can Griffin develop a jumper?  Maybe.  But, Hansbrough already has.  With hard work in the offseasons, particularly the one leading up to his senior year, Hansbrough basically doubled the range on his jump shot.  Plus, he took his free-throw percentage from 73% as a freshman (already pretty solid) to a remarkable 85% as a senior, including a streak of 28 consecutive made FTs.  Griffin, on the other hand, has basically no range outside of 8 feet, and shot free throws at an alarming 59% in both his freshman and sophomore seasons.  Unless you are a ferocious, once-in-generation defender like Ben Wallace or a physical god like Shaq or Dwight Howard, you are not making an NBA All-Star game without at least a mediocre ability to shoot the basketball.

Again, as I said in the beginning, it is not like I am in love with Tyler Hansbrough’s NBA potential, nor am I convinced the Clippers are making a mistake with the Griffin selection.  They both might be stars.  They both might be solid role players, but not All-Stars (more likely).  I am not sure.  All I am saying is that the skill sets are pretty similar if you really look at them. 

Basically, if you offered me even money that Blake Griffin would not make more NBA All-Star games than Tyler Hansbrough, I would quickly take that wager.

Tell me I’m crazy.

Phils Show Why They’re Better

phils metsWe here at BSB have always believed that there is a fine line between courage and stupidity, between guts and foolishness.  The Phillies toed that line a couple of times tonight in Queens and, after they came out on top, the game will go down as a “gutty win” rather than a “stupid loss”.  When it comes to this rivalry, it seems to be the common theme: both teams have talent, but only one has moxie to go with it.

This first cropped up tonight in the 6th inning, when Mike Pelfrey took exception to Chase Utley stepping out of the box before a pitch.  Pelfrey reminded me of a weakling in a movie that decides he’s finally going to stand up to the big bully but can’t come close to following through.  He was so rattled after his verbal exchange with Utley that he forgot all about Shane Victorino on 1st base, and Victorino promptly stole second.  That only shook Pelfrey’s focus more, and David Wright had to go have an animated talk to calm him down, followed by Jerry Manuel coming from the dugout to also have a talk with him.  It was a pretty sorry display all around by Pelfrey.  He did get Utley to ground out to end the inning, but he came out for the 7th and gave up three straight singles before leaving the game.

In the bottom of the 8th, J.C. Romero came on and allowed two baserunners with one out before Gary Sheffield came up.  With the red-hot David Wright on deck, Romero decided on a 3-1 curveball to Sheffield.  Ballsy, or dumb?  Either way, Sheffield took it for a strike, and Romero followed up with a perfect fastball, painting the inside corner at the knees.  An incredible pair of pitches.

And the most courageous (or foolish, of course) play of the game came with the game tied in the bottom of the 10th.  Fernando Martinez was on 1st base, representing the winning run, and Wright was the batter with two outs.  The game would be over with any extra-base hit.  Wright lined the ball into right-center, and Jayson Werth ranged over toward it.  He could have easily just let the ball drop in front of him and the Phils would just have to get Fernando Tatis out.  Instead, Werth dove for the ball, making a fantastic catch that ended the inning.  If I could freeze that play with the ball in the air and talk to Jayson about it, I would still tell him to let it drop.  I’d ask him, why dive for that ball and put the game on the line?  I think he would answer:  because we play to win, and when the stakes are highest, we’re at our best.  That is the difference between these teams.  Ryan Church probably lets that ball drop and watches Pedro Feliz knock in the game-winning run as the next batter.  So, gutsy or foolish, call them what you will, just don’t forget to add “champions”.

Lidge Hits the DL

As the Phils get ready for a big series with the Mets, they did make a move on Brad Lidge, placing him on the 15-day DL with a sprained knee.  It’s become fashionable for teams to “create” an injury when a veteran is struggling, but here’s lidgehoping (in a weird way) that there is actually something wrong with Lidge’s knee and that he can come back as good as ever in 2 or 3 weeks. 

In a somewhat perplexing move, the Phils called up journeyman backup catcher Paul Bako to take Lidge’s spot on the roster.  Now, they were carrying an extra pitcher, so it’s not surprising that they would replace Lidge with a position player, but why a third catcher on the roster?  Plus, Bako bats lefty and the Phils could obviously use another right-handed bat off the bench.  I guess the thinking is that having Bako frees up Chris Coste to pinch-hit, but you would think Charlie would appreciate a little more flexibility with his bench than he’ll have with two catchers sitting there.  In any event, I don’t think Bako will be around for too long.  The existence of this website doesn’t bode well for the Paul Bako era in Philadelphia.

We get Johan tonight.  A win would be HUGE.

Let’s See What You Can Do, Rook

Now, we all know that I can be a bit reactionary (I would argue that baseball fans have to be because of the length of the season), so I am not going to pretend that I am not being so today.

That being said, I believe that tonight’s start by Antonio Bastardo–the second of his Major League career–may be one of those games that we look to at the end of the season as being worth significantly more than 1/162nd of the regular season.  So, it is all on you, Mr. Bastardo.

The Phils swept three from the lowly Nationals last weekend, went straight to sunny San Diego and took three more from the Pads (who has a 10-game home winning streak before the sweep), and then got an incredibly pitching performance from their ace to win the first game of a 4-game set in LA Thursday night.  That 7-game winning streak would be a 9-game winning streak today if Brad Lidge were still perfect.  But, Lidge blew back-to-back saves, with Andre Ethier hitting a walkoff  double and a walkoff homer in two nights and now the Phils need a win in a random June game.

The baseball season is a marathon–we all know this–and the good teams will probably still be alive in one race or another come September, so the season will be judged by how you play then.  But, there are also significant ebbs and flows that can, in the end, but a subtle difference between a playoff berth and a “wait til next year.”  This game could be the flower or the ebber of this part of the season.

A win tonight for the Phils (hopefully, with a Lidge save) will give them a split in LA–a pretty decent result, considering the Dodgers have the best record in baseball.  But, it will also give them confidence because they should have won all 4.  But, a loss will be a series loss and will probably bring back up the questions about whether or not the Phillies are true contenders or just merciless brutes who destroy bad teams, but can’t beat good teams.  And, all of this will fester on a Monday off day and a cross-country flight, to prepare for a three-game set with…

The Mets.  That is right.  The Phils get a three-game tilt with the arch-rivals from the north Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  So, this game is even bigger because this week could be huge in the NL East standings.  The Mets are beat up.  Delgado is probably done for the year (and has not yet been replaced by Nick Johnson); Ryan Church is out for a while; Reyes is questionable for the series; and, surprisingly, the 40+ year old Sheffield is banged up, as well.  This is the time for the Phils to take some momentum into this series, win the series convincingly, and put some distance between them and the rest of the division.

But, that momentum must start with tonight’s game and, more appropriately, it starts with tonight’s starter, Antonio Bastardo.  With a World Series MVP, a 250-game winner, a veteran, and a highly-touted prospect in the other four positions of the rotation, it should not come down to a one-pitch marginal prospect making his second ML start on June 7th to throw a “big game.”

But, it has…