by Julian Spivey
16. Austin Dillon
Austin Dillon pointed his way into the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup playoffs last season with a little more consistency than he’d shown over the first two seasons of his career, but entering his fourth full-time season he’s failed to enter Victory Lane even once. I’ll give him the advantage this year, but this final playoff spot could just as easily go to AJ Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray or Ryan Newman.
15. Ryan Blaney
Ryan Blaney entering his sophomore season feels like a driver on the cusp of his first career Monster Energy Cup win. His rookie season was somewhat disappointing with three top fives, nine top 10s, finishing 20th in points and only leading 11 laps all season, but his Wood Brothers Racing alliance with Penske Racing has me thinking he’ll crack the top 16 this season.
14. Erik Jones
20-year old Erik Jones is expected to be the next big thing in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series and enters his rookie season in a new second car team for Furniture Row Racing with a Joe Gibbs Racing alliance. Jones has won nine races over the last two seasons in the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series and it wouldn’t be shocking for him to pull a victory out of his rookie year.
13. Daniel Suarez
About one month ago, Daniel Suarez wasn’t even going to compete in the Monster Energy Cup Series, but when Carl Edwards abruptly retired in January, Joe Gibbs Racing turned to the 2016 Xfinity Series champion to take his place. The No. 19 team made the championship race last season and Suarez has enough talent to become the first Mexican born driver to make the NASCAR playoffs.
12. Kyle Larson
Kyle Larson finally entered Victory Lane last season in his third full year and has been getting better year after year. You should probably expect the wins to come easier for Larson now, even though he drives for Chip Ganassi Racing, one of the second-tier teams in the sport.
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a big question mark for the 2017 season having missed the second half of 2016 with issues stemming from a bad concussion. Hendrick Motorsports is one of the top two teams in the sport and prior to his injury Earnhardt and his No. 88 Chevrolet team were very consistent. He should be a lock to win at least one race and qualify for the playoffs.
10. Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch is consistent enough to average at least one win a season, which locks you into the NASCAR playoffs these days. However, he doesn’t win enough to be considered a major championship threat. The 2004 series champion hasn’t won more than two races in a season in more than a decade.
9. Chase Elliott
It surprised many that Chase Elliott didn’t win a race in his rookie season last year, but he still pointed his way into the playoffs on his way to taking home Rookie of the Year honors. He had some close calls with victory last year and driving for Hendrick Motorsports makes him a threat on a weekly basis. There’s no way he goes winless in 2017.
8. Martin Truex Jr.
Martin Truex Jr. was the biggest surprise of the 2016 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup season going from a disappointing veteran to championship contender in the span of one year. Truex won four races in 2016, which was more than he’d won in the first 10 years of his career combined. You should expect him back in Victory Lane in 2017, but probably not as many times as he appeared their last season.
7. Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin is no doubt one of the best active drivers in NASCAR to not yet win a championship, but it’s kind of hard to do that when you’re probably only the third best driver on your own team. Hamlin was the very first driver to clinch a playoff spot last season by winning the Daytona 500 and is good for two to three wins a season.
6. Matt Kenseth
At 44 years old Matt Kenseth is now the elder statesman of the Monster Energy Cup Series, but he doesn’t seem to be slowing down any. Competing for the series’ top team of late, Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth has won seven races over the last two seasons and finished fifth in the point standings last year.
5. Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski had four wins last season and looked like one of the favorites for the 2016 championship before faltering in the playoffs. The 2012 Cup Series champion is just about a lock year-in-and-year-out to make the playoffs. Keselowski and Joey Logano teamed together at Penske Racing is probably the most fearsome duo in the sport.
4. Joey Logano
With 14 wins over the last three seasons I don’t believe there’s any doubt that Joey Logano is the best active driver in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series who has yet to win a championship. You should probably expect Logano to win anywhere between three and six races this season and he should be a title contender if he can just find a little more consistency come playoff time.
3. Kevin Harvick
2014 champion Kevin Harvick is a top 10 machine who has averaged 27.5 top 10s over the last two seasons (36 race seasons). He’s a threat in every single race he competes in and averages three-to-five wins per season. Stewart-Haas Racing has made the switch from Chevrolet to Ford this season, but that likely won’t hinder Harvick any.
2. Kyle Busch
It’s weird that a four win season where you finished third in the championship standings could feel underwhelming, but that was sort of how the 2016 season felt for Kyle Busch after winning the championship in 2015. Busch failed to win a race over the last 16 races of the 2016 season, including the entirety of the playoffs. He’s quite possibly the most talented driver in the sport and must be considered a threat to win every season.
1. Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson won his record-tying seventh NASCAR premier series championship last season and for much of the season the media was talking about how it was one of his worst seasons ever. That’s how good the guy is. Johnson and his No. 48 team turned it on during the playoffs and won the title. I believe Johnson has to be considered the title favorite year-in-and-year-out.
by Julian Spivey
When I was 15 years old one of my sports heroes Tom Glavine decided to leave the Atlanta Braves via free agency for the rival New York Mets. The Mets offered Glavine extra years on his contract, so he signed with them for four years and $42.5 million. I was disappointed one of my favorite players wouldn’t be on my favorite team anymore, but I never for one second hated Glavine … and I was just a kid.
So, when I saw grown adults booing Kevin Durant relentlessly and calling him disparaging names like “cupcake” and “KowarD” (intentionally misspelled to emphasize the KD) on Saturday night (Feb. 11) on his first visit to Oklahoma City (where he spent nine of his first 10 seasons after the franchise relocated from Seattle) since signing via free agency with the Golden State Warriors during the offseason I was disappointed. I wasn’t surprised, but I was disappointed in a fan-base that had experienced so much greatness and kindness, both on and off the court, from Durant for a decade.
After all, Durant made the Oklahoma City Thunder what it was for the last decade. With him the franchise was consistently one of the three best teams in the Western Conference. Without him they would essentially have been nothing. And, you can claim they still would’ve had Russell Westbrook, who’s averaging a triple-double this season and working on his first MVP award, and you would’ve been right – but they’re still nothing. They are a seventh-place team, after all, in a conference that pretty much only has seven good teams. And, it’s not just this season. A few seasons ago when Durant was injured and missed most of the season the Thunder failed to make the playoffs. Essentially the same team last year with Durant healthy finished third in the Western Conference, made the Western Conference Finals and nearly made the NBA Finals, but collapsed and fell to the Warriors. Now, without Durant again, the team has fallen back to the bottom four of the conference playoff standings. It’s not a coincidence.
I understand that it looks bad to fans of the Thunder for Durant to leave the team after coming so close to a title on a few different occasions for a team that already included three All-Stars and are almost a lock for the NBA Finals for a third consecutive season, especially when Westbrook signed a contract extension to stay in OKC one season before being set to become a free agent.
But, Durant did what was best for him and that’s all anyone should expect from someone in their profession, and that’s what basketball is for Durant. Fans like to think sports are more than jobs for athletes. They like to think it’s a family that they as fans are included in. That athletes should remain loyal to their teams and fan-bases. But, that’s an unrealistic belief. All of us have opportunities in our lives to either move up in our fields or search out for better jobs and paydays elsewhere. When these better or higher paying jobs are open to us we jump at them. But, fans don’t believe the same for their favorite athletes. They throw around the word “loyalty,” but when it comes down to it we all – athletes included – must do what’s best for ourselves and our actual families.
After a decade off coming up just short of a championship Durant wanted a little something more and the Warriors and their stacked roster gave him that opportunity. You could actually argue passing that up would have been the wrong decision for him.
What was even more disappointing and frankly embarrassing to see from Thunder fans booing Durant on Saturday night was that he gave so much to the Oklahoma City community. He has donated basketball courts to schools in the area and areas throughout the country and even world so kids growing up in bad neighborhoods can have an outlet, like he did growing up, to keep them out of trouble. Durant also donated $1 million to the American Red Cross after the devastating tornadoes in the Oklahoma City area in 2013 and this generous donation inspired both the Thunder franchise and his sponsor Nike to match the donation.
Durant gave so much to the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise, fan-base and community by essentially building a franchise in a city that had never had a professional sport before he came to town. He deserved cheers and praise upon his return – even if it was while wearing another uniform. It’s truly unfortunate the Thunder fan-base wasn’t adult enough to understand all Durant has given them. Hopefully one day they will.
by Julian Spivey
Congratulations sports fans, you just witnessed the greatest year in the history of sports … and it may not even be close.
It all started in April of last year. North Carolina and Villanova met in the NCAA Men’s College Basketball championship and the game was one for the ages and featured possibly the greatest last 10 seconds in the history of the game. Tar Heels guard Marcus Paige hit an unbelievable three-pointer to tie the game at 74 with 4.7 seconds remaining on the clock. It seemed the game was certain for overtime. But, Villanova didn’t panic. They called timeout, coach Jay Wright drew up a play, the Wildcats inbounded the ball from the far end of the court, point guard Ryan Arcidiacono dribbled the ball up the court to the three-point arc, sort of flipped the ball back to an unbelievably wide open Kris Jenkins who nailed a long three as time expired for the championship. It wasn’t the first time a college basketball championship ended on a buzzer beater, but considering Paige’s shot to tie it up seconds before it led to a “can you believe what you just saw?” finish that likely made it the greatest college basketball championship finish ever.
The Golden State Warriors were the greatest team in NBA history with a record-breaking 73-9 regular season. All the team needed was a championship, their second in a row, to wrap up the “greatest team ever” tagline. They were almost stunned by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals going down 3-1 before coming back to win three games in a row to make the NBA Finals. That seemed like their biggest threat. In the Finals, the Warriors faced the Cleveland Cavaliers who they had beaten the year before, though that Cavs team was severely injured. Golden State would take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, one that no team had ever overcome to win the championship before. It was a virtual lock for the Warriors. Then they collapsed. The Cavaliers dominated the next two games to tie the series up at three games apiece setting up a final game 7 at Golden State. The game was close and went down to the final seconds, but ultimately LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, who’s three game stretches are among the greatest championship performances ever, were too much for the Warriors. Irving hit a clutch game-winner with under a minute remaining in the game and MVP Steph Curry right in his face. James finally had the championship in Cleveland he longed for and the greatest season in NBA history was instantly destroyed.
The Chicago Cubs knew futility like no team in the history of sports. The franchise’s 100-plus year championship drought was the longest in sports, by far. But, 2016 had a feeling that it all was going to change. The Cubs were the best team in Major League Baseball throughout the entire season, but we know the playoffs can be a different beast. The Cubs looked downright horrible against the pitching of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, and were written off by many, before coming back to win the series. It seemed the team was destined to finally snap the Curse of the Billy Goat. The World Series featured the two teams with the longest championship droughts in sports – the Cubs and the Cleveland Indians. Just knowing one streak was going to be snapped already made this the most interesting World Series matchup potentially ever. But, it’s unlikely anybody knew just how epic the series was going to be. The Cubs, once again, looked lost and the Indians took a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. Teams had come back from that deficit before, but the chances were slim. However, the Cubs went to work and forced a seventh game in dramatic fashion. In game 7 it looked like the Cubs were going to complete the unthinkable and run away with the series. Then in the eighth inning it looked like the Curse had reared its ugly head in a major way. The Indians made a stunning comeback off the Cubs bullpen, including fireball throwing closer Aroldis Chapman that culminated in light hitting outfielder Rajai Davis hitting a game-tying home run. Game 7, of the most interesting World Series ever, entered extra innings with the home-team Indians having the advantage. Then the sky opened up and the game had about a 40-minute rain delay. During that delay, Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward called a team meeting to get the young team together and let them know the game wasn’t over yet and to forget about the late inning collapse. When the delay was lifted, the Cubs came out of the clubhouse swinging and Ben Zobrist put them in the lead with a double. Relievers Carl Edwards Jr. and Mike Montgomery, though shaky, were able to hold onto the lead and the Curse was finally broken in a game many baseball writers were instantly calling the greatest game in baseball history.
The NASCAR championship is one that is unfortunately manufactured to be as exciting as possible, which kind of has the opposite effect on the title race. The sport takes the top four drivers after a nine-week playoff and puts them on equal footing for the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway with the highest finisher winning the championship. In the short history of this playoff format the champion of the sport has always won the title race. That didn’t change this past season, but the way it came down to the very end made for an exciting and historic finish. Six-time champion Jimmie Johnson was trying to tie NASCAR legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most championships in NASCAR history. He took the championship lead on a late race caution when leader and likely champion Carl Edwards crashed out of the race trying to block for the lead. Johnson would have to drive a perfect final two laps on a restart to win the record-tying championship and he did just that.
The college football championship kind of had a less than exciting feel to it than fans had hoped for. The matchup between Alabama and Clemson was a repeat of the year before and many expected that the Crimson Tide could not be beaten. Early in the game it sure felt that way as Alabama had a solid 17-7 lead midway through the third quarter. Tigers star quarterback Deshaun Watson then got his offense going and a shootout between the two teams commenced over the final quarter and a half of the game. Alabama took a three-point lead with about two minutes remaining on the clock. The Tigers offense got to work and with six seconds remaining Watson essentially threw a walk-off touchdown pass to receiver Hunter Renfrow sealing the greatest college football championship game in the minds of many.
What happened last night in Super Bowl LI was perhaps the most unbelievable moment of them all. The New England Patriots trailed by 25 points at one point in the third quarter. There was a moment in the game, per ESPN, when the Falcons had a 99.6 percent chance at winning the first Super Bowl in franchise history. No team had ever come back to win a Super Bowl by more than 10 points. It didn’t just seem insurmountable that the Patriots could win the game it literally felt impossible. Then in the fourth quarter the greatest QB in NFL history Tom Brady and the greatest coach in NFL history Bill Belichick worked some magic. Oh yeah, and the Atlanta Falcons choked the biggest choke in the history of sports – not just the Super Bowl, not just the NFL, but sports. Brady just ate up the Falcons defense, which had sacked him five times in the game, in the fourth quarter on his way to a Super Bowl record 466 passing yards, which included an incredible and unbelievable reception by receiver Julian Edelman off the hands and then feet of a Falcons defender, which may go down as the greatest catch in NFL history. The Patriots tied the game about a minute before regulation ended, won the coin toss to begin overtime (the first overtime in Super Bowl history) and Brady led his team down the field emphatically culminating in a sudden death game-winning touchdown run by running back James White, who had three touchdowns during the Pats record-setting comeback. It was a comeback that seemingly set up Brady, Belichick and the Patriots to be deemed the greatest of all-time in their categories. It also gave many the moment they were looking forward to when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was forced to congratulate a team he, in the minds of many, unfairly tried to keep from winning.
Essentially since April of last year every single major championship game or event came down to the very last play or moments of the game before deciding a victor. It doesn’t get any better than that for sports fans. We’ll likely never see it again.
by Julian Spivey
When the NBA All-Star starters were announced on Thursday, Jan. 19 there was immediate controversy over the fact that Oklahoma City Thunder point guard and likely MVP front-runner Russell Westbrook wasn’t voted in as a starting guard for the Western Conference.
Houston Rockets guard James Harden and Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry were voted in as starters, with many believing Westbrook should’ve been in Curry’s place.
There’s really no doubt that Westbrook should be in the West’s starting lineup for next month’s All-Star Game as he’s averaging a triple-double for the season thus far. However, his snub doesn’t mean the All-Star voting system is broken, as many critics have said in the last few days it is.
In fact, the All-Star voting system has never been better.
People are complaining about the voting system this year, which is a weighted system where the fans, media and players all have a say in the All-Star Game starters. The fans account for 50 percent of the vote, the media 25 percent and the players 25 percent. But, never in the history of the game would Westbrook have been voted in. In previous years, the starters were selected solely by the fan vote. The fans had Curry and Harden as the top two guards. In fact, this weighted system that debuted this year kept the Western Conference starting lineup from including Warriors center Zaza Pachulia from being selected as a starter. Surely, we can all agree that alone makes this a better and fairer system?
Westbrook’s omission from the Western Conference starting lineup came down to a tiebreaker in the new voting system. Westbrook was ranked No. 1 in the media and players ranks, but No. 3 in the fan rank. Curry was voted No. 1 in the fan rank, but No. 3 in both the media and player ranks. Harden was voted No. 2 in all three ranks. The weighted score for all three players was 2.0. The method for deciding a tie goes to the fan voting, which had Curry and Harden with more votes than Westbrook. This tiebreaker system also resulted in Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan making the Eastern Conference lineup over Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas.
Essentially Westbrook being less likable than Curry and Harden has kept him from a starting All-Star berth he deserves, which has bugged many fans (though obviously if it bugged them enough he’d be starting in the first place) and those in the media. But, here’s why the tiebreaker is fine by me. All-Star Games are great honors for athletes, but they essentially were created in every sport for the fans. This is why fan voting for All-Star lineups exists in every professional team sport. If the fans would rather see Curry start than Westbrook that’s what they should get.
The NBA’s new All-Star voting system is easily the best system I’ve ever seen for selecting lineups, because it gives the fans a large say, but also allows for things like the entire country of Georgia voting non-stop for Pachulia to be eliminated by the media and players using more objectivity. It is unfortunate that the league’s best player this season didn’t receive an honor he deserved, but he’ll still be an All-Star and really that’s what matters in the long run.
by Julian Spivey
Meryl Streep made quite a few waves on Sunday night at the Golden Globe Awards during her acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award, for lifetime achievement. The eight-time Golden Globe winner made the decision to go political in her six-minute speech calling out President-elect Donald Trump, without ever once mentioning his name.
Streep called out Trump’s hateful and bullying rhetoric during her speech. She said: “There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good, there was nothing good about it, but it was effective and it did its job. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter.” She later added, “When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”
President-elect Trump responded on Monday with a tweet calling Streep “one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood,” even though he called her one of his favorite actresses in an interview in 2015.
I’ve always been in support of celebrities speaking their minds on important topics. After all, if us regular Joes believe we have the right to do so, why shouldn’t famous people? I also agree with a lot of what Streep said last night and believe she mostly did so eloquently.
But, she made one big mistake and it honestly has nothing to do with politics.
Streep, who definitely had her speech either memorized or on the teleprompter, in trying to prove the point about how Hollywood wouldn’t exist without many of the people President-elect Trump seems to take issue with said, “Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners, and if we kick ‘em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.”
So, in this great, eloquent speech about understanding others and how one shouldn’t bully others she in fact makes the mistake of both not understanding those different than her and her ilk and stoops to bullying rhetoric by running down the skills of athletes.
This almost throw away statement on her part may have played well to the room at the Globes, but it instantly stood out to me as something that took away greatly from her overall point and it has riled up fans of both football and MMA and rightfully so.
First, Streep’s statement is incredibly inaccurate – almost as if it were something coming straight from the mouth of President-elect Trump. There are many foreign fighters in mixed martial arts, in fact five of the 10 current champions in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) were born outside of the United States. Maybe Streep should’ve done some research before making this idiotic claim?
Second, saying that football and mixed martial arts “are not the arts” is just as rude and hateful as someone bashing acting, and is obviously just a matter of opinion, but she says it as if it’s fact.
Streep’s little jab at athletics comes off as a bitchy statement from someone who after 40 years of winning numerous awards, basically everything an actor could possibly win, still seemingly takes issue with that fact that football players and other “jocks” get more attention in high schools and colleges than theater kids.
Many on Monday were bashing Streep’s speech for being either holier than thou or out of touch with much of America – and many of those bashing Streep are doing so for the wrong reasons, in my opinion – but if they want to pinpoint this particular sentence that struck a nerve so much with me than they might have a point. After all Mrs. Streep, when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.
by Julian Spivey
12. Oakland Raiders
For most of the season the Oakland Raiders were one of the two best teams in the AFC and looked to be a solid contender to reach the Super Bowl, as such. Then late in the season quarterback and MVP candidate Derek Carr went down with injury and with it the Raiders hopes up in smoke. Who I really feel bad for is the Raiders fan-base, who’ve waited years for the team’s return to glory only to see it end this way.
11. Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins surprised many this year on their way to a 10-6 record on the back of surprise rookie running back Jay Ajayi, but their chances – what little ones they had – also went up in smoke late in the season when quarterback Ryan Tannehill went down. It also doesn’t help that the Dolphins have the fourth worst defense in the NFL and are playing in the first round against the high-powered offense of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
10. Houston Texans
The Houston Texans were, by far, the worst division winner in the NFL this season out of the woeful AFC South. They’ll probably still win a playoff game anyway, as they got lucky and drew the Oakland Raiders for the first game at home. It’s to be seen who starts at QB for the Texans as intended starter Tom Savage is in concussion protocol. Don’t expect Houston to go further than the wild card round.
9. Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions saw a floundering finish to their season and a red-hot finish by the Green Bay Packers drop them out of the NFC North title. The Lions have lost three games in a row and will probably be one-and-done in the playoffs facing the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle. The Seahawks offense hasn’t been stellar, but the Lions defense has given up 73 points in its last two games.
8. New York Giants
It always seems like a risk to sleep on the New York Giants in the postseason. After all, the two times in the last decade the Giants won the Super Bowl it seemed to be during a season that looked just like this one. The offense always seems mediocre led by quarterback Eli Manning and it’s one true highlight in wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The offense hasn’t scored more than 20 in a game in five straight weeks. The Giants defense has been good, but they’ll have to be really good against the Green Bay Packers offense this weekend to escape a one-and-done playoffs.
7. Seattle Seahawks
Despite how great the Seattle Seahawks have been over the last few years they just don’t look to be quite the same team this year. Their record was benefited this season by playing in the horrible NFC West. The always terrific defense has been battered a bit with the season-ending injury to safety Earl Thomas. Quarterback Russell Wilson and the entire offense has been shaky at times this season too. They should beat the Detroit Lions in the opening weekend, but there are three better looking NFC teams than them at this point.
6. Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs are one of the most underappreciated teams in the NFL and I can’t help but feel that ranking them as the sixth most likely team to win the Super Bowl here is playing into that, but even at 12-4 they just don’t seem like a champion. Most of the reason I feel this way is it seems like it will take a better quarterback than Alex Smith to win the championship. Sure, we’ve seen great game managers lead teams to victories before in the big game, but I’d rather have a Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger on my side.
5. Dallas Cowboys
I feel the need to admit that I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan and I’ve loved every bit of this season. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Cowboys were the best team in the NFL from start-to-finish. But, the fan in me is telling me that the season has been too good to be true. The skeptic in me is saying that I don’t trust a team that’s ridden two stud rookies at quarterback and running back in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to be the same team when the playoff pressure is high.
4. Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons have had one of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL this season, ranked first in scoring, second in total offense, third in passing and fifth in rushing. This is a good thing, because the team’s defense was only the 25th best in the league, despite having league sack leader Vic Beasley. I believe Falcons QB Matt Ryan should be the NFL MVP this season, even though I don’t think it’ll happen. If the offense stays like it did all season the defense might only have to be average for the team to win it all.
3. Green Bay Packers
For at least half of the season it didn’t even seem like the Green Bay Packers would make the playoffs, let alone being my favorite to reach the Super Bowl from the NFC. But, there’s something to be said about a team riding a hot streak throughout the end of the season and into the playoffs. The Packers, led by a seemingly rejuvenated Aaron Rodgers, have won six games in a row and might not lose again until next season.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
Much like the Green Bay Packers, there was a time about midway through the NFL season it looked like the Pittsburgh Steelers might not even make the playoffs. Then they got red hot and have entered the playoffs on a seven-game winning streak. I think they could continue to ride that hot streak until at least the AFC Championship game. The trio of Ben Roethlisberger, La’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown is without a doubt in my mind the scariest threesome in the NFL. The Steelers defense isn’t great, but at 12th in the league it also wasn’t bad.
1. New England Patriots
The New England Patriots finished with the NFL’s best record at 14-2, which is kind of remarkable when you remember that star QB Tom Brady didn’t even play a quarter of the season due to suspension. Then when the league’s best tight end Rob Gronkowski went down with injury many said they’d be finished – that wasn’t the case either. The Patriots have a better defense than they’ve had during previous trips to the playoffs, as well. Basically, I would never count against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in the playoffs.
by Julian Spivey
The National Baseball Hall of Fame inductions always seem to be the subject of controversy, even though out of all the sports hall of fames, the baseball one is actually the best in terms of getting thing right. But, controversy surrounds the process, because baseball’s fans and media alike take the sport more seriously than those of other sports seem to do. It also doesn’t help that the constant controversy of performance enhancing drugs and players who either used or supposedly used PEDs remain on the ballot with some believing no PEDs user should ever be inducted, others thinking they should and even some writers who believe some PED users should be inducted, while others should not. Let me be clear, I do not believe PED users belong in the hall of fame so you won’t see Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens on my fictional ballot (because I obviously don’t have a real vote) below.
I do, however, believe there are 10 worthy players (actually there are more than 10, but I’ll follow the rules the BBWA writers must for my ballot) who should be in the hall – some of them will almost certainly get the call on Jan. 18, while others unfortunately won’t even get close.
Here is my ballot:
Vladimir Guerrero was one of the most feared hitters in baseball for the entirety of his 16-season career with the Montreal Expos, Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles. Guerrero was the 2004 American League MVP with the Angels and a nine-time All-Star who finished his career with a .318 average, 449 home runs and drove in more than 100 runs on 10 different occasions. Guerrero should be a no-brainer first ballot hall of famer and interestingly could be the last ever Expo to enter Cooperstown.
Ivan Rodriguez caught more games than any other catcher in baseball history and is one of the five greatest to ever play that position. That should make him a no-brainer first ballot hall of famer, but there are unfortunately some unfounded PED rumors surrounding him that could impact his chances. They shouldn’t. There’s absolutely no evidence he cheated. He did, however, make 14 All-Star teams, win the 1999 American League MVP and win a catcher record 13 Gold Gloves. I-Rod finished his career hitting .296 (terrific for a catcher), with 311 homers, 1332 RBI and almost 3,000 hits.
Tim Raines just missed hall of fame induction in 2016 by about six percent on the ballot. With 2017 being his final year of eligibility there’s a great chance he’ll bump up to the 75 percent number he needs. Raines played 23 seasons, but what’s hurt his chances of the years has been the fact that only about the first 10 to 11 of those years were really hall of fame caliber and he hung around for the second half of his career collecting stats. But, what he did in the first half of his career, especially on the basepaths stealing the bulk of his 808 career bases (fifth all-time) has him deserving the honor.
When you finish your career as the all-time leader in the most important statistical category in your field you deserve enshrinement into the hall of fame. Lee Smith did that with 478 saves, which is now third all-time. The three-time reliever of the year, who also finished as a reliever in the top 10 in Cy Young voting four different times isn’t going to make the hall of fame in his final year on the ballot this year, I know, but he gets a spot on my ballot.
Trevor Hoffman is one of two all-time great baseball closers on the ballot this year, in his second year of eligibility, who finished his career as the all-time MLB leader in saves with 601. This alone should make him worthy of enshrinement. Hoffman was a seven-time All Star, who finished four times in the top 10 in Cy Young voting. Hoffman, along with future no-brainer hall of famer Mariano Rivera, is likely one of the two greatest closers in baseball history.
Jeff Bagwell was the closest player to induction in 2016 not to get elected, missing out by just 3.5 percent. This should make him a virtual lock to be induction this year. Bagwell, who spent his entire major league career with the Houston Astros, was one of the most feared first basemen of his era. The four-time All Star was the unanimous choice for National League MVP in 1994 and won the NL Rookie the Year award in 1991. Bagwell finished his career with an Astros franchise record 449 homers, which barring late career injuries would’ve probably been over 500, and a .297 career average.
Edgar Martinez is likely one of the two greatest designated hitters in the history of the American League, alongside the recently retired David Ortiz. The fact that he mostly spent his career as a DH has hurt him among hall of fame voters. Paul Molitor is the only current hall of famer who played most his games as a DH. With only three years remaining on the ballot Martinez has never come within 30 percent of induction and that number will only rise by a small margin this year, if it does at all. Martinez was a seven-time All-Star with five Silver Slugger Awards and finished his career with a terrific .312 average.
Fred McGriff is maybe the most screwed player in the history of baseball, in my opinion, outside of arguably Joe Jackson and Pete Rose. He will not ever get anywhere close to receiving the 75 percent needed to be a hall of famer, with about 21 percent being the closest he’s been. He should be in the hall of fame, but gets screwed by the era of PEDs he played in. Because he wasn’t a PED user his numbers aren’t as impressive as some of the first basemen of his era, but he finished just seven homers shy of the 500-club, which might have given him the boost he needed to make the hall. By the way, those 493 career homers were the same amount Lou Gehrig finished his career with.
I truly don’t get why Jeff Kent isn’t getting more love from the BBWA. For the sheer fact that Kent finished his career with the most home runs of anybody to ever play his position (second base) he should be getting more than just the 14 percent he’s been hovering around on ballots. Kent was the 2000 National League MVP for the San Francisco Giants who made five All-Star teams and won the Silver Slugger Award four times. The issue with Kent is likely that a lot of voters don’t trust him. From 1992-1996 he was average at best, but starting in 1997 when he teamed with PED user Barry Bonds with the Giants his power numbers went up.
The final spot on my ballot comes down to between two worthy pitchers: Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling. The career numbers between the two are similar, with the exception that Mussina won 54 more games and Schilling had about a 20-point lower career ERA. You could argue that Schilling is more worthy because he led two different teams – the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks and 2004 Boston Red Sox to World Series titles, but I’m going to go with Mussina for two reasons. I like Mussina’s 54 more wins and better winning percentage a little more and Mussina is just more likable. Neither will make the hall this year, if ever.
by Julian Spivey
20. Simon Pagenaud
Simon Pagenaud pretty much dominated the IndyCar Series in 2016 on the way to his first career championship. The Penske Racing driver from France won a series high five races, including three in a row.
19. Nico Rosberg
Nico Rosberg had a hard fought battle all season long in Formula 1 with his teammate and two-time reigning champion Lewis Hamilton before clinching the title in the series’ season finale in late November. Rosberg won eight poles and nine races in 2016. The 31-year old from Germany announced his retirement from the sport just five days after winning the title.
18. Andy Murray
No disrespect to Serena Williams, the greatest female tennis player of all-time, but Andy Murray takes 2016’s honor as the greatest tennis player of the year. Murray won his career Wimbledon title this year, a huge honor for the Brit. He also defended his gold medal from 2012 in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil and is currently the No. 1 ranked men’s tennis player in the world.
17. Dustin Johnson
2016 was finally the year that Dustin Johnson, known unfortunately for a few years as a choker, lived up to his high expectations. Johnson finally got that golf major championship people had been expecting from him for years winning the U.S. Open. Johnson would also win two other tournaments and be a part of the USA’s Ryder Cup champion team on his way to being named 2016 PGA Player of the Year.
16. Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook has always been one of the NBA’s best and most exciting players, but it feels like he’s currently working on a MVP season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Westbrook is averaging a triple-double thus far this season and has many thinking he might do that for the entire season, which has only been done by Oscar Robertson in league history.
15. Sidney Crosby
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is arguably the best player in the National Hockey League (NHL) and helped lead his team to Stanley Cup glory in 2016, also winning the Conn Smythe Award for postseason MVP. The two-time NHL MVP was also the World Hockey Championship MVP this year for Team Canada.
14. Von Miller
Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller is arguably the best defensive player currently in the NFL. Miller hounded Carolina Panthers QB and MVP Cam Newton all Super Bowl 50 with six tackles, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles on his way to being named MVP of the game. This season Miller has 13.5 sacks, which is second in the league.
13. Conor McGregor
It would seem the world of mixed martial arts and the UFC currently belongs to Conor McGregor. The brash and abrasive Irishman became the first fighter in UFC history this year to hold titles in two different weight classes: Featherweight and Lightweight. McGregor is also the UFC’s highest pay-per-view draw.
12. Ezekiel Elliott
Ezekiel Elliott (and his fellow rookie teammate Dak Prescott) has been the talk of the NFL this season as a rookie, leading the Dallas Cowboys to a current NFL best record of 12-2. Elliott leads the league in rushing with around 1,500 yards and has a chance at breaking Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record. He should be a lock for Offensive Rookie of the Year (unless his teammate steals votes) and has a shot at MVP too.
11. Mike Trout
Mike Trout is the greatest player in Major League Baseball and has been since the day he entered the league, it’s just a shame he plays for the consistently disappointing Los Angeles Angels. Trout won his second career American League MVP in 2016, but if you ask Sabermetricians he should have won the honor all five years he’s been in the big leagues.
10. Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson totaled five wins and his NASCAR record-tying seventh championship in 2016 and the strange thing about it is that for the bulk of the season people were wondering what was wrong with Jimmie Johnson due to a 24-race winless streak. It’s highly likely Johnson will finish his career as the greatest NASCAR driver of all-time.
9. Matt Ryan
Recently ESPN asked the question “Who’s the NFL’s MVP?” and gave four options: New England Patriots QB Tom Brady, Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr, Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford and Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott. The people who prepped that question might want to look at the numbers of Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan is having a better season all-around than any of the three QBs (of course Brady missed four games) and is seemingly getting no love. He’ll get some here as the highest ranked NFL player on this list.
8. Stephen Curry
It’s funny sometimes how things work out. If the Golden State Warriors had finished off their historic 73-9 season by winning the NBA Finals then Steph Curry would almost certainly be No. 1 on this list and LeBron James would be sitting here at No. 8. But, the Cavs won it all and the two-time reigning MVP and best shooter in the NBA – maybe ever – finds himself sitting right here.
7. Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo could arguably be the most popular athlete in the entire world as the best athlete in the world’s most popular sport. Ronaldo won just about all there was to win in soccer in 2016: Ballon D’or (Best Player), Champions League title, Euro 2016 title and Club World Cup, in which he scored a hat trick.
6. Lamar Jackson
University of Louisville Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson kind of came out of nowhere during the 2016 college football season to dominate the sport and win the coveted Heisman Trophy. The sophomore was an incredible dual threat for the Cardinals totaling an amazing 51 touchdowns with 30 through the air and 21 on the ground in one of the greatest individual seasons in college football history.
5. Simone Biles
It was a fantastic 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil for the Americans as the next few selections on this list will prove and one of those making noise in Rio was gymnast Simone Biles. Biles, who was already being hailed as an all-time great gymnast before her first Olympics, proved her worth with four gold medals and a bronze. Look for her to return in peak form in 2020 too.
4. Katie Ledecky
At the young age of 19, Katie Ledecky proved herself to be the most talented woman in sports in 2016 with a star-making Summer Olympics in Brazil. Ledecky won five gold medals and a silver medal in a performance that was miles ahead of her competition and had many calling her the Michael Phelps of her gender. But, with numbers like hers Phelps might have to watch his back as the greatest swimmer in Olympics history. Speaking of which …
3. Michael Phelps
It’s definitely at the point where tests need to be done on Michael Phelps to determine whether or not the all-time medaling Olympian is actually human. Phelps, no doubt the greatest swimmer of all-time, silenced those who believed he’d passed his heyday during the Rio 2016 Olympics this summer with five gold medals and a silver medal upping his Olympic records to 23 gold medals and 28 total medals, two honors that’ll likely never be broken.
2. Kris Bryant
Major League Baseball clearly has a new star on its hands with Chicago Cubs third baseman and 2016 National League MVP Kris Bryant, becoming just the fourth player in MLB history to follow up a Rookie of the Year award with a MVP. More importantly Bryant led the Cubs to the team’s first World Series title in more than 100 years.
1. LeBron James
LeBron James accomplished the last thing in his career he needed to accomplish in 2016, winning a championship with his home state Cleveland Cavaliers. He did it in dramatic fashion too in a historical NBA Finals performance leading his team back from the first ever 3-1 deficit to win the title.
by Julian Spivey
Best Team: Chicago Cubs
Sometimes you just get a no-brainer. When a team is able to break the longest championship drought in the history of sports for its franchise there’s no doubt it’s deserving of “team of the year.” The Chicago Cubs, led by manager Joe Maddon and National League Most Valuable Player Kris Bryant, were finally able to break the Curse of the Billy Goat in 2016 backing up their league best record with a miraculous comeback from being down 3-1 in the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. With the bulk of the team remaining intact for the future this could be the beginning of a dynasty.
Best Athlete: LeBron James
There was only one last thing LeBron James had to accomplish in his legendary career – win a championship with his home state Cleveland Cavaliers. After winning two titles with the star-studded Miami Heat he came back to Cleveland to do just that and in 2016 the dream was realized in a history making turn as the Cavaliers became the first team in NBA Finals history to comeback from a 3-1 deficit to clinch the title … and to make things even sweeter James led his Cavs to this history over the record 73-9 Golden State Warriors, who had beaten the Cavs the year before in the Finals.
Best Coach: Joe Maddon
I cannot tell you how many times I cursed Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s name during the 2016 World Series and MLB Postseason. There’s little doubt in my mind that Maddon was actually out-managed by Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona during the series. But, despite Maddon’s managerial mistakes the Cubs still managed the historic World Series win. And, despite these mistakes I still couldn’t find a better option for Coach of the Year than Maddon, generally considered one of the best managers in baseball and likely the most popular among the players. He was tasked with bringing the Cubs to glory and he accomplished it.
Best Game: World Series Game 7
There were some great games and sporting events in the sports world this year from game 7 of the NBA finals to the NCAA Men’s College Basketball championship, but the Game of the Year also kind of seems like a no-brainer with the way game 7 of the World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians played out. It’s the greatest baseball game I’ve ever seen and some were calling it the greatest baseball game of all-time. The Cubs after winning two games in a row just to force a seventh game looked to have things in hand until a late and stunning comeback by the Indians. Then as the game was about to head to extra innings the sky opened up and rain caused a delay. The delay was exactly what the Cubs needed as their rejuvenated lineup came back out about 40 minutes later hacking and led to the end of the longest championship drought in sports history.
Best Moment: Chicago Cubs Championship Comeback
I understand that this end of the year best in sports recap is getting redundant with so many of the honors going to the Chicago Cubs, but honestly did anything else in sports this year come close to the story that was the Cubs breaking 100-plus years of futility? The Cubs being on the brink of snapping the streak, seeing it destroyed late with an unlikely homer by Cleveland Indians outfielder Rajai Davis, having a rain delay before the beginning of extra innings, coming out red hot after the rain delay and winning the game in the tenth only to find out how a rain delay pep talk by veteran Jason Heyward got the team re-energized has to be the moment of the year. It’s a moment more than a century in the making – how often can you say that?
Breakthrough Athlete: Ezekiel Elliott
The Dallas Cowboys are having quite the surprising season, currently 12-2 and tied for the best record in the NFL, on the backs of two amazing rookies in running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott. Honestly, both rookies could’ve taken this honor this year, but I’m going to give it to Elliott, who leads the league in rushing at over 1,500 yards and has a shot at breaking Eric Dickerson’s rookie record for rushing yards with two games remaining. Sure, the Cowboys have the best offensive line in the NFL and it helps Elliott’s numbers, but he might be looking at the first ever Rookie of the Year and MVP season in NFL history.
Best Play: Tony Stewart's Bump & Run Win
There were truly some great sports plays of the year: LeBron James’ block of Andre Igoudala in game 7 of the NBA Finals, Miguel Montero hitting a pinch hit grand slam in the NLCS for the Cubs, Kris Jenkins’ game-winning three to win Villanova the NCAA men’s basketball title. But, the play that stood out to me the most was NASCAR legend Tony Stewart’s winning move at Sonoma this summer for what would be his final career win. Stewart missed the first few months of the NASCAR season with a back injury, but looked like vintage Tony at the road course in Sonoma. Stewart actually screwed up at the beginning of the final lap of the race and was passed by Denny Hamlin. Stewart then ran one of the most fascinating laps of his career culminating in a textbook bump-and-run on Hamlin for the race win. It was the perfect way to win his final career race.
Best Upset: Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Finals Comeback
In the history of the NBA no team had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to win the championship. Not only did the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by terrific performances from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, manage to make NBA history this season by doing just that, but they managed to do it against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors, the greatest team in NBA regular season history. That makes this selection a no-brainer.
Best Announcer: John Smoltz
The Chicago Cubs were no doubt the talk of the Major League Baseball postseason in 2016, but the playoffs also saw an unlikely superstar in the making – and it’s a guy used to superstardom. For years and years fans have complained about the color commentator doing high profile baseball games for Fox Sports whether it was Tim McCarver for many years or Harold Reynolds during the last couple of postseasons. This year Fox Sports made the terrific decision to pair hall of fame pitcher John Smoltz with play-by-play announcer Joe Buck and it completely changed the Fox broadcasts. Smoltz has quickly proven himself to be one of the most knowledgeable announcers in the game, especially when it comes to pitching scenarios and is way more affable and way less annoying than anybody else Fox has had in that seat over the last two decades.
by Julian Spivey & Preston Tolliver
#1. LeBron James
Steph Curry may have won the last two MVP awards and the most recent of those two unanimously, but King LeBron James proved to the world during last season’s NBA Finals that he was still the best basketball player alive. The 2016-17 season could easily be James’ fifth MVP season with the Warriors studs taking votes from each other. He could also be scarier than ever with absolutely nothing to lose having now won three titles and doing so last year with his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. JS
#2. Stephen Curry
Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry is not only, without a doubt, the greatest shooter in the NBA, but he very well could be the greatest pure shooter to ever grace the hardcourt. His scoring is likely to go down a bit this season with the addition of Kevin Durant, another top five player in the league, and he’s almost assuredly not going to be able to threepeat as MVP with the talent that starting lineup will have, but nobody in their right mind could argue he’s not one of the two best players in the game right now – even with his struggles in big NBA Finals games over the last two seasons. JS
#3. Russell Westbrook
Over the last few years, while Kevin Durant was out with his injuries, Russell Westbrook made a habit of carrying the Oklahoma City Thunder when he needed to. He was iffy with his shot selection at times, but he was still consistent enough to give his team a shot at a deep playoff run. This year, though, expect Westbrook to go full Rambo – and not like “First Blood” Rambo who was kind of timid and didn’t want to kill anyone. He’s going to pull a “Rambo 4” and basically roll up in a truck and start blasting arms and legs off with a giant ass machine gun. PT
#4. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant’s going to have to learn to go from the number one guy on a team to a number two or three guy. It’ll be an adjustment, but the way the Golden State Warriors will be spacing defenses, expect him to just rain threes. PT
#5. Kawhi Leonard
Kahwi Leonard might be the best two-way player in the NBA. He’s the reigning two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, which isn’t an easy feat for a small forward. He’s also turned himself into quite the offensive threat averaging more than 20 points a game on a team that doesn’t always need him to do that with LaMarcus Aldridge, who just narrowly missed this list, and Pau Gasol. JS
#6. Kyrie Irving
Sorry Chris Paul, but you’ve been surpassed as one of the three best point guards in the NBA (although you’re probably still the best natural one because you still know how to pass the ball). You’ve been replaced by Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers who rode an incredible NBA Finals performance last season to this high spot on this list. It didn’t seem like Irving could miss anything in the Finals and that has to have done a lot for his confidence. If he wasn’t a teammate of LeBron James I think we’d be looking at a potential MVP this season. JS
#7. Chris Paul
Chris Paul is quickly becoming the NBA’s saddest story. Sure, he’s young, but he’s already falling into that Allen Iverson/Karl Malone/John Stockton category of guys who never won who should’ve. The Los Angeles Clippers have always had a decent team, but have never been serious contenders. Expect Chris Paul to look to give the Clippers that push over the edge that they need this season. PT
#8. Klay Thompson
There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that Klay Thompson is the second best pure shooter in the NBA, but with Steph Curry as his teammate in Golden State he’s not even the best shooter on his own team. Thompson might have some struggles this season on the court, but it won’t be due to his abilities, but rather because Kevin Durant has joined the team and he’s going to lose the most shot attempts as result. Thompson might have to go from All Star to role player and it might not sit well for him. The Warriors likely win a title, but Thompson knows he’s the best player on more than half of the teams in the league and he might want that shot before too long. JS
#9. Draymond Green
Draymond Green is arguably the second-to-fourth best player on a team that includes Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. That’s nothing to scoff at, and neither is his stat line from last year: 14 points per game, 7.4 assists, 9.5 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.5 steals. PT
#10. James Harden
James Harden might be one of the top 10 players in the NBA, but that doesn’t mean I respect him. The Houston Rockets star shooting guard might lead the NBA in scoring this season, as he did the last averaging 29 points a game, but he’s not a complete player and it’s really not even close. It seems Harden is allergic to playing defense and he’s a piss poor leader, as well. He can enjoy his top 10 selection on this list, because it’s about the only accolade he’s going to be receiving this season as his team likely fails to make the playoffs. JS
#11. Paul George
Last year was Paul George’s comeback year after a grueling injury that left him sidelined for about a year. He came back from recovering from a broken leg to a depleted team that looked nothing like it had during the Indiana Pacers’ glory days just two years earlier, and he still managed to get his team into the playoffs. Sure, it was an early exit, but now with point guard Jeff Teague there to help, Paul George will be sure to get the Pacers back into the postseason. PT
#12. Damian Lillard
Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is one of the most exciting, young players in the NBA. His two most important statistical categories – scoring and assists – were both at career highs last year and it seems like his ceiling might continue to rise. His team isn’t a real threat to go deep into the postseason, but put some more talent on the roster and Lillard could be the next Steph Curry. JS
#13. Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony for me is just an older version of James Harden. He’s a fantastic scorer, but don’t ever expect him to win a championship unless he goes searching for one through one of the free agency superteams that are so popular these days. He still scores enough and has a big enough name to make this list, but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it. JS
#14. DeMarcus Cousins
Say what you will about his attitude off the court, DeMarcus Cousins’ play on the hardwood earns him a spot on any top 20 list. Last year, he averaged 26.9 points and 11.5 rebounds, and with the Sacramento Kings looking desperate for some leadership on the court, it’s a safe bet he’ll start easing into that role soon, provided he can get past some of his maturity issues. Regardless, he’s easily one of the top three centers in the league. PT
#15. Kyle Lowry
The Toronto Raptors are going to come into this season with a chip on their shoulder. They went deep in the playoffs last year, losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to the eventual champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers. This year, Lowry, along with DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas, will look to prove everything wrong about how far the North with LeBron’s juggernaut in front of them. PT
#16. Anthony Davis
Are you tired of seeing Anthony Davis make top five NBA player lists, too? Than you might be happy that we only have him at No. 16 on this one. He might have the talent to be much higher on these lists, as he has before, but he hasn’t done a thing yet and he can’t keep himself on the court. His offensive and defensive numbers might both look nice, but you can’t bank on him to play more than 60 games a season. His team has never even finished higher than dead last in its division since he joined the team. JS
#17. Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin has been one of the most popular players in the NBA since he joined the league, primarily because he’s a human highlight reel. He’s also largely been a disappointment. The Los Angeles Clippers have had teams over the last few seasons that have looked like borderline All Star teams and have done absolutely nothing. A lot of this goes on the back of Griffin who’s caused chemistry issues with his attitude. He might be one of the most exciting players in the league, but I wouldn’t want him on my team. JS
#18. Al Horford
Not only does Al Horford have a new city, but he has decades of Bostonian legacy to live up to. Horford will join point guard Isaiah Thomas on the Boston Celtics, who will likely be feeding the big man and helping him make waves on the scoreboard. With both Horford and Thomas leading the charge, the Celtics are looking at being a major player in the east this season. PT
#19. Marc Gasol
Marc Gasol’s career is winding down. He spent a spell out with injury last year, and the Memphis Grizzlies are looking like they’re going to be in rebuilding mode within the next couple years. That means we’re about to see the last hoorah of Gasol, and don’t expect him to fade out quietly. PT
#20. Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki is the last of an old breed, but of the four players from the 1998 draft who are still active (along with Paul Pierce, Vince Carter and Nazr Mohammed), he’s the only one who will start for his team this year. That’s because he’s the only one who’s consistently carried his team through the years, without seeing a significant decline in production. Last year, Nowitzki averaged 18.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. With the Dallas Mavericks stretched thin and Dirk headed into what will possibly be his last season, you can count on more of the same. PT