The Hawks And John Collins' Future
Riley Saves The Game. LeBron Says? Baseball's New Steroid Era. Hoo Going, Going...
I don’t care what Hawks coach Nate McMillan said about the New York Knicks and the NBA preferring to have their hometown team in the playoffs. McMillan should be allowed to motivate his team and the NBA gave the episode too much oxygen with a fine.
It’s blather before the battle.
The Hawks and Knicks finished with the same record (41-31). The Knicks and Hawks point differential through 72 games is separated by one point. But…the Knicks won all three regular season games because the Hawks could not deal with New York forward Julius Randle who went for 28, 44, and 40 points.
Follow it on TV from the start. See how the Hawks go cat-and-mouse with Randle with different defenders and schemes.
To win, the Hawks have to find a strategy that deals with getting the ball out of Randle’s hands. The big man has a knack for getting in the air and passing the ball…somewhere…when the triple team shows up. His teammates stay in his line of sight and he is averaging a career high in assists (6.0). Deflect those passes and go the other way for a quick 3.
When Randle had a mere 28 points in the first game with the Hawks on Jan. 4, De’Andre Hunter was on the floor, but he was injured in the two games where Randle went for 84. The 6-foot-8 Hunter will have a crack at the 6-9 Randle. John Collins guarded Randle in the post in January. Randle was 0-for-5 from the 3 in that game.
How about this sub-plot, too? Center Clint Capela was snubbed for All-Defensive Team in the NBA. He gets Randle on switches inside and Capela shows he deserved to be All-Defense. I don’t think the Hawks can afford to have Capela leave the paint and chase Randle outside, but there will be times when they square off inside.
Consider this, too: the Hawks are on fire from the 3 with shooters everywhere. The Knicks led the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage defense.
This is going to be a paint series, I betcha. Hand-to-hand. Fouls. Free throws.
Trae Young will go for 35 points in Game 1 and possibly Game 2 and be un-guardable in his first-ever playoffs. The Knicks have to deal with Young’s explosions, same as Atlanta has to deal with Randle. New York also has to deal with Atlanta’s bench scoring.
What I care most about is my guy Collins, who didn’t use to be my guy, have a smashup series against the Knicks and the Hawks re-sign him.
The Hawks are going to look at these playoffs with a starting 5 of Young, Hunter, Capela, Collins, and Bogdan Bogdanovic and say “Can we win a title with these guys in 2022 or 2023?”
These playoffs might be the decisive factor in whether the organization decides to sign Collins to an extension in the offseason. If the Hawks win a playoff series, then show up big in Round 2, Collins stays. And with the bench of near-starters and first-round picks (Kevin Huerter, Onyeka Okongwu, Cam Reddish, Danilo Gallinari, Tony Snell, and maybe Kris Dunn), Atlanta will be formidable.
LeBron James Probably Has Not Been Vaccinated
The LBJ pedestal has a crack. He is arguably the best player to ever play the game, but some of the recent stuff from LeBron James is not cool.
He said whoever came up with the widely acclaimed “play in” round for the NBA playoffs should be fired. He flopped the other night against the Warriors while trying to take a charge, which was overturned by replay. James pointed to his chin as if he had taken an elbow. The replay did not show him taking one on the chin. He does that stuff….as well as hitting shots to win games.
And now this revealing story from ESPN. James has probably not been vaccinated.
James said “it is not a big deal” when asked if received the vaccine. Yes, it is.
Austin Riley Checks Ego. Rekindles Flame
I don’t think ego is the enemy of the modern baseball player. It’s the paycheck.
These guys are being paid to have one swing, and it is for the fences. The strikeout era—brought to you by data scientists running the game—has made baseball unwatchable some nights. Follow the money.
Atlanta third baseman Austin Riley, on the other hand, is coping with big league pitching because he has more than one swing. The 24-year old, built like a slugger at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, is waiting for breaking pitches to spin and then hitting them the other way. His average his up to .310. He also hit two home runs Friday night in the Braves’ 20-1 drubbing of the Pirates.
It is an approach that needs to catch fire around baseball. Right now, there is no approach at the plate in the game, save for a handful of hitters.
Riley was patient this season. He started changing his approach in spring training. I saw it one game early in March and thought, “This is interesting.” He wasn’t trying to do too much, like a lot of other hitters.
And now that he has covered the breaking ball on the outer half of the plate, Riley is getting more fastballs to handle. He still has trouble with 97 mph, like a lot of people, but he is managing the strike zone and thriving.
After his fast start in 2019 on his call-up, Riley has a gruesome couple of seasons. He looked lost. Now, he is found. And it’s because he has more than one swing and the ego to take a single and not try and do too much.
Steroid Era, Round II
I was covering the Home Run Derby at the 2000 All-Star Game in Turner Field for The Washington Post when the suddenly Cyborg Sammy Sosa—formerly with the body of a string bean—launched a ball 500 feet to center field. I can’t remember exactly, but I think it nearly went over the giant scoreboard. It was the stuff you see in cartoons, or video games.
The All-Star Game was the height of the steroid era when Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire and Sosa were using and doing preposterous things to the baseball. They are not in the Hall of Fame and will not get there because of the fertilizer they used to add muscle for home runs.
We’re back in time. The humongous salaries have made it such that pitchers are cheating by using sticky substance to grip the baseball and throw wicked fastballs and sliders. The strikeout rate is 24.1 percent, which would be a record if it holds up all season.
There have been six no-hitters and we are not yet through May.
Players are talking about picking up baseballs with tiny pieces of sticky substance still on the ball. Major League Baseball does nothing….day after day after day.
Once again, a manager in an American League organization told me pitchers are being taught and encouraged to doctor baseballs with sticky substance.
The End of The Era of Hoo
The Falcons have $410,000 in the bank, so to speak, and they need about $10 million to sign their draft picks. They have to sell something. Not what.
That $410,000 is what the Falcons have in cap space, or how close they are to the NFL’s salary budget of $182,500,000 per team in 2021. They need to make room for first-round pick Kyle Pitts, among others. There are only two players with hefty enough cap numbers to give the Falcons the needed salary cap space: defensive tackle Grady Jarrett ($20 million) and wide receiver Julio Jones ($23 million).
Jarrett is not going anywhere. He is the best player on a moribund defense and he’s 27 years old. Jones is 32 years old and played nine games in 2020 because of injuries. Any offense needs at least two dynamic pass receivers to keep the pressure off one or another and the Falcons drafted the expected superstar Kyle Pitts to go with Calvin Ridley.
Julio Jones has caught his last pass for the Falcons. It just remains to be seen what they can get for him. A second-round pick?
First, the Falcons have to find a team with salary cap space to take on Julio’s $15.3 million a year base salary. The best bet? A team with cap space and a solid enough nucleus that it thinks it is a big-play receiver from a playoff run. The Arizona Cardinals could be one of those teams.
Did you know in 2000, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game was played in Atlanta after the game was taken from the Marlins? That’s right. The Fish had the game yanked because attendance was so abysmal in south Florida. Kind of funny how this has worked out. MLB yanked the game from Truist Park over the anti-voting rights bill passed by the Georgia Legislature and another city (Denver) was more than happy to step in.
And I’m still waiting for proof that two days of All-Star festivities was worth $100 million in economic development, which is what some people claimed Georgia was missing out on with the All-Star Game being taken away. Pure B.S. that number.