Pressbox Hat Trick
Rants and commentaries on the latest hot topics in sport. Pressbox and hot dogs not included.
If I told you at the beginning of the season that the Atlanta Hawks would have a commanding lead in the Eastern Conference going into the All-Star game, you would’ve thought I was crazy.
Well, it’s true.
The NBA All-Star Weekend is upon us and the Hawks have a 42-10 record and are seven games ahead of the Toronto Raptors, who are second in the Eastern Conference.
What makes the Hawks inherently unique is that they don’t have a prototypical superstar. Instead they have a well-balanced and underrated team. The Hawks have been able through the years to assemble a number of high-quality players.
One of these players is Kyle Korver. At age 33, Korver is having arguably the best year of his career and is one of the primary reasons why the Hawks find themselves in first place.
Korver was the 22nd pick of the second round in the 2003 NBA draft (51st overall), out of Creighton University. Korver primarily plays shooting guard and small forward.
He’s mostly been a journeyman throughout his career, playing for the Philadelphia 76ers, the Utah Jazz, the Chicago Bulls and now the Atlanta Hawks. This is Korver’s 11th year in the league and he’s averaging 12.9 points per game.
That may not seem very impressive on the outset but it’s how Korver accumulates his 12.9 points per game that makes him an extremely valuable player. Korver is leading the league in three-point percentage at 53.1%.
He also led the league in three-point percentage in the 2009-2010 season and the 2013-2014 season. Korver, however, has always been known as an extremely good three-point shooter. It’s the reason he’s been in the league for the last 11 years.
Why Korver has remained an underrated and underappreciated commodity is that people don’t realize just how efficient he’s been. During this campaign, Korver has been leading the league in TS% (True Shooting Percentage) at 73.9%
TS% is an advanced stat that takes into account two-point field goals, three-point field goals, and free throws. This is a more accurate way of measuring one’s shooting ability because it takes into account all aspects of shooting. The TS% is also a statistical category that is predominantly dominated by the big men.
Korver, for example, is the only player in the top 10 of the TS% rankings that is not either a power forward or a centre. He’s also not doing this on a small amount of minutes.
This year, Korver is averaging 35.7 minutes per game and just to put things into perspective, Steph Curry (33.2) and Kevin Durant (33.5) average the same amount of minutes per game.
What makes Korver’s 2014 season even more impressive is that he doesn’t need to have the ball in his hands to be effective.
Korver’s USG (Usage Percentage) is at 14.2. USG is the estimated percentage of plays a player will take up, when he is on the floor. The lesser, the better. Why? Because the fewer amount of plays a player will take up, the more amounts of plays can be distributed throughout the rest of the team, essentially meaning that since Korver takes up very few amounts of plays, the more plays can therefore be distributed to Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague.
This is obviously not to suggest that Korver is the best player on the Hawks or that he is the primary reason for their success. It is rather to provide one of many possible answers for the Hawks’ success and to bring attention to one of the more underappreciated players in the NBA.
The first episode of Pressbox Hat Trick: The Podcast. Julian McKenzie, Tristan D’amours, and Vince Morello tackle different topics from the CIS, to the NHL, to the NFL, and more.
There’s no doubt the Habs will make the playoffs; but after an Eastern Conference Finals appearance last year, the expectations in this hockey-crazed town are sky high.
The Montreal Canadiens currently sit third in the Atlantic division with 61 points, 11 more than the first non-playoff team, the Florida Panthers.
The main reason for the their success is the goaltending.
The team has been outshot 24 of the 45 games they’ve played this season, which is just over 50%. That is the worst percentage for any current playoff team.
Normally, fingers point towards defence for the excessive amount of shots taken.
While there needs to be improvement on that front as well, there lies a greater reason for the troubling trend.
The team is not balanced. If you look at any team that has won in the past couple of seasons, the key is depth and consistency across all facets of the team.
Goaltending can steal a game or two here and there, but for any real run there can’t be any defensive or offensive liabilities.
Price recently returned from injury, with backup Dustin Tokarski filling in. During his stint, the team’s major holes became much more obvious.
In the game against Ottawa on Jan. 15, the Senators’ fourth shot of the game got past the back-up goaltender.
They continued to outshoot the Canadiens 31-26 to win 4-1.
The Habs couldn’t convert on any of their four power plays and were having trouble transitioning through the middle of the ice, which led to a limited number of chances in the offensive zone, not to mention that seven of the 16 forwards failed to register a shot on goal.
A major issue this team has to deal with is the third pairing defenceman Alexei Emelin, who has turned making mistakes into a nightly affair.
His puck handling has improved and he’s making fewer turnovers, but the problem lies in his skating ability.
Emelin can’t keep up. He’s not fast enough to make needed transitions out of his own end and has a lot of difficulty controlling the pace of the game.
His largest asset was his physicality, but even that has diminished this season. Not every playoff team needs six top defensemen, but they do need six competent ones.
The Canadiens are 30th in the league in scoring during the first period of play and only really start playing when they get scored on.
For instance, in last Tuesday’s win over Nashville, the Canadiens found themselves being outshot 22-4.
With the current roster, I don’t see how they would be able to get past a superior team in the conference to get to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Even with the Habs having 5:1 odds to win the East, it doesn’t seem likely with teams like Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, who have found a way to dominate possession in the offensive zone.
The Habs were able to sweep the Lightning last year, but that came without Tampa Bay’s starting goaltender, Ben Bishop, who was injured just before the start of the playoffs.
The Rangers eliminated the Habs, after Carey Price fell to injury by forward Chris Kreider, in six games.
If the Canadiens are able to bring their offensive game back to a level that got them to the Eastern finals last year, with a healthy Price and a trade or two, their chances of making a deep push might be more possible.
The Montreal Canadiens will be able to stand on the shoulders of Carey Price to get into the playoffs; the issue they’ll face is whether or not they’ll fall off.
20 Major League Soccer teams made their way to Philadelphia this past week for the 2015 Superdraft. Many of the nation’s best from the collegiate system communed in the city of brotherly love.
The third pick belonged to Montreal, and having missed out on Cyle Larin and Khiry Shelton in the first two picks, Klopas made an offensive minded move. Commissioner Don Garber stepped up to the podium and called on stage University of Central Florida forward, Romario Williams.
The former Jamaican under-17 international recorded seven goals in his junior year—18 in his entire college career—and was on the Herman Trophy watch list for best collegiate player at the start of this past NCAA season. Williams is also not afraid to shoot the ball as he averaged a total of 4.33 shots on goal and, according to the university, was a vocal leader on and off the pitch.
“To the Montreal Impact fans, I’m here and I’m ready to work hard,” Williams said during his Superdraft speech. “Thanks to all the guys in the front office for believing in me. Bonjour Montréal.”
The upside to this player is the Generation Adidas contract he signed prior to the draft. MLS signs the best underclassmen with hopes of making them leave college early to play professional soccer. These few players (there were five in this edition of the draft) are signed to GA contracts, which means their salaries do not count toward the team’s cap.
So what’s the answer to the original question? It’s complicated. The Montreal Impact have a great academy system. In only three years of MLS soccer, the team has signed eight players from their academy and only one has ever been cut from the squad. Joey Saputo’s pride and joy means that the draft process takes a hit to the side.
If we look at their history of draft picks we can see that with their first overall pick in 2012, Jesse Marsch went for Andrew Wenger. He didn’t pan out and got traded to the Philadelphia Union for Jack McInerney two years later. In 2013, their first round pick was Blake Smith, a wide-playing midfielder who faded out and was loaned out to the North American Soccer League. He will return to a packed midfield next year. Finally, last year’s first round pick was wingback Eric Miller, who started nicely but got injured and eventually lost his regular spot.
Bottom line, except for second round pick Calum Mallace, who really stood out in the center of midfield, the draft picks the Impact have chosen were not really what you can call a “bang for your buck.” The worst aspect about this situation is some players who are classified as “projects,” leave university at 20, 21 or 22 years old. By the time those academy players get to 21 years old, they will have played much more “professionally oriented” soccer, and it will be greatly to their advantage.
Williams may be a great player at the university level but that doesn’t mean that he can bring his mojo to MLS. Unfortunately for him, a comparable forward in the club, like Anthony Jackson-Hamel,
had the opportunity to train with the club.
What will play in Williams’ favor is the fact that he might play a whole season with FC Montreal in USL-PRO. Not only will he play in a professional league, but he will do so in the front offices’ back yard. The three other first round pick did not have this luxury.
Romario Williams has a lot to offer and can be a good pickup at the third overall spot. The pacy former Jamaican U-17 international might be good player for the bleu-blanc-noir in two to three years time. For the moment, the ones who will see him develop will be the ones in the stands for the games FC Montreal will play, not the fans at Stade Saputo.
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America, those who ultimately decide who gets into the hall each year, elected four members into this year’s Hall of Fame class. It is the first time four members have been elected on one ballot since 1955. However, many deserving players were not elected to the Hall—including, notably, former Montreal Expo Tim Raines.
Raines finished with 55 per cent of the votes on his eighth year on the ballot. A player needs 75 per cent of the votes to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Eligible players once had 15 years to get voted into the Hall. However, as of last year, the rule was changed to 10 years, but the change allows players who have been on the ballot for 10 years or more to still be eligible, provided they have not elapsed their 15 years.
Players who have less than 10 years on their ballot, however, are forced to comply with the new rule. It means that Tim Raines now has only two more years to be voted into the Hall of Fame, as opposed to seven more.
Raines began his professional career with the Montreal Expos. The team drafted him in the fifth round in 1977 as a switch-hitting shortstop. He mainly played second base throughout the minors, but in 1981, his rookie year, he was switched to left field. As a rookie, Raines stole 71 bases with an 87 per cent success rate.
Raines also finished the season with a .304 batting average, an on-base percentage of .391, and a slugging percentage of .438. Raines made his first all-star team appearance and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting.
Raines’s amazing rookie campaign proved to be no fluke, as he continued to produce for the Expos for 10 more seasons. He then went on to play five years with the Chicago White Sox and three with the New York Yankees, where he won two World Series. Raines then bounced around the league as old age and injuries caught up with him. He retired in 2002 as a member of the Florida Marlins.
Over a 23-year career, Raines posted great numbers that should have landed him in Cooperstown. Raines finished with career numbers of .294 AVG, a .385 OBP, and a .425 SLG. But what Raines was most known for, however, was his great speed and ability to steal bases. He finished with 808 stolen bases, the fifth most of all time, and had an 85 per cent success rate, the highest success rate with anyone close to his stolen base total.
If Raines doesn’t make it into the Hall of Fame, he would be the only player with more than 800 stolen bases not be inducted. The other four players to have more than 800 steals are Rickey Henderson (1406), Lou Brock (938), Billy Hamilton (912), and Ty Cobb (892). All four are in the Hall of Fame.
You won’t hear me say that Raines was better than Henderson, Cobb, or even Hamilton, but let’s compare Raines to Brock. Brock just for good measure was inducted into the Hall of Fame on his first try with 79.75 per cent of the votes.
Career Stats Tim Raines Lou Brock AVG .294 .293 OBP .385 .343 SLG .425 .410 OPS+ 123 109 SB 808 938 SB % 85% 75%
Upon comparison, Raines has surpassed Brock in certain stats. However, Brock was voted into the Hall of Fame, while Raines may never get in. The only notable statistic where Brock has Raines is in steals. Raines, however, has a higher success rate than Brock.
The Montreal Expos franchise have had many great players come through its system. Raines shines among its more notable faces.
Pedro Martinez, who played as an Expo from 1994 to 1997, will always be remembered as a Boston Red Sox player, while Johnson spent less than two seasons in Montreal.
Raines still has a chance to enter the Hall as a Montreal Expo, but the clock is ticking on his eligibility, and voters need to realize he is worthy of making the Hall of Fame.