In the first round of the Around the Dorm playoffs, the “Ref,” Kevin Lee, challenges sports editor Chris Molicki, staff writer Chrissy Onorato and correspondent Alec Zucker to answer questions about bold predictions for baseball, who the best NBA draft prospect is, and which of LeBron’s many great moments is the most memorable.
1. Spring is in the air and baseball season is underway. What’s your bold prediction for the 2013 MLB season?
CM: All of the buzz this offseason has been about the Los Angeles Angels. In addition, the Texas Rangers have been the stalwarts in the AL West for several years. Therefore, my bold prediction is that neither team will win the division. Youth will prevail once again, and the Oakland A’s will capture their second straight AL West title. The Athletics proved that their formula worked last year, and it’s all thanks to their youth. The team’s starting rotation of Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, Dan Straily and A.J. Griffin are all between the ages of 24 and 26 and all had ERAs of less than 4.00 last season. If any of those guys break out this year, the A’s pitching staff will truly be deadly. On offense, the team has some talented young pieces. Josh Redick is a budding superstar, Yoenis Cespedes is looking to make a big leap in his sophomore year and Brandon Moss is coming off his best season in the majors. Throw in Grant Balfour as a solid closer, and there’s no reason why Billy Beane’s kids shouldn’t be in the hunt for the AL West title. I think they’ll win it.
CO: My bold prediction for the 2013 MLB season is that Washington will take it all. Up until they brought up Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals had always struggled. Their fan base was dismal and their games generated very little news coverage. However, when Strasburg began to show his worth in 2010, Washington looked like they had a rising star, until he had to have surgery. Now, he’s back and they have another key player in Bryce Harper. Ego aside, he is a versatile player who has brought media attention and stellar play to this team. The rest of the team is young and refreshing, and I like the way they just seem to click on the field. They’re going to have some tough competition against the Braves in the NL East, so they may have to shoot for the wild card, but something tells me they’re going to make it far in the playoffs and could go for it all.
AZ: While the New York Yankees have made the playoffs in 17 of the last 18 seasons, the team will be very lucky to earn a wild-card spot in 2013. As a Yankees fan, it’s a shame that Mariano Rivera’s legendary career may end early in September. Not only have other division opponents, notably Toronto and Tampa Bay, improved, but the team will miss several key bats in the lineup, such as Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and even Derek Jeter for a significant amount of time. In turn, I must ask Brian Cashman: why is Francisco Cervelli the starting catcher of the New York Yankees? Seriously? Instead of acquiring Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner, two overpaid veterans who are well past their primes, Cashman should have invested money in the second most important position on the field (after the pitcher). The pitching staff should be fine, though aging veterans like Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte may break down as the season progresses. If the Yankees can find ways to score without only hitting home runs, they may have a chance to make the playoffs. Unfortunately, the odds of this happening, given the makeup of the team, are slim to none.
Chris gets 3 points for actually going out on a limb, plus I love Jarrod Parker and the A’s talented rotation. Chrissy and Alec each get 1.5 points for their lack of boldness.
2. As the NBA season is coming to a close, many teams will start their preparations for the NBA draft. Who is the best player in this year’s draft?
CM: Some people like the hot shooting Ben McLemore. Others prefer the defense of Nerlens Noel. Shabazz Muhammad is still highly regarded. But Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart will be the best NBA player out of this year’s bunch. Smart was great as a freshman for the Cowboys, averaging 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists, while leading the nation in steals, showing he has a complete game. Smart, as a point guard, excels at creating his own shots and finding his teammates. In addition, he’s a great on-ball defender that led an underrated Oklahoma State defense. As talented as he is, it doesn’t stop there. Smart has all the intangibles you want in a player. He’s very unselfish, he knows how to win, and he plays hard on every position. In the NBA, the point guard position is extremely crucial, showing that Smart can be a huge difference-maker for any team. Smart is the kind of player that a team can build their franchise around, as he’s a natural leader. The smart choice is to pick Smart.
CO: One of the most promising draft picks for this year’s NBA draft looks to be Nerlens Noel. After a year at Kentucky, he has caught the eye of everyone around him. His trademark hairstyle doesn’t do much for his play on the court, but he is a popular name in conversations and people are beginning to know more about him. Playing center for Kentucky, Noel tore his left ACL this past February, but is still available for this upcoming draft. This year he has also won a variety of awards, including SEC Freshman of the Year and SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He has won others, and will continue to win them as soon as he is well enough to play fulltime. His season high is 15 points in one game, which he accomplished twice this year. Noel is also known for his commitment and hard work, something some players today take for granted.
AZ: While the easy choices for the 2013 NBA draft’s best player may be Ben McLemore or Nerlens Noel, I’ll go out on a limb and say the best player is Shabazz Muhammad out of UCLA. Muhammad is one of the most dynamic shooting guards in college basketball, averaged a solid 18 points per game while adding an average of five rebounds, and shot 45 percent from the field this past year. Not only does he have one of the coolest names in all of sports, but Muhammad also has the skills needed to become an NBA star. He already has a strong NBA body to compete, incredible athleticism and length, the killer instinct we have come to expect from NBA stars, and is, by far, the most prolific scorer in the country. Some basketball analysts say Muhammad has the skillset to become the next Paul Pierce, but only time will tell if he can make the transition into the NBA.
Chris gets 3 points because Smart will make an immediate impact with his explosive offensive game. Chrissy gets 2 points because there are questions that surround Noel’s health and offensive ability. Alec gets 1 point because of Muhammad’s age scandal. One year makes a huge difference in projecting player development.
3. This is LeBron James’s 10th season in the league and he’s only getting better each year. What is the most memorable moment of the King?
CM: A lot of people will say LeBron’s famous dunk on the Celtics (Marv Albert: “Lebron James showing no regard for human life!”). Others may even go with his NBA title with the Heat from last year. However, no moment has ever been more jaw-dropping than James’s performance in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference finals. In this game, James scored 48 points, grabbed nine boards and dished out seven assists, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. In the fourth quarter and two overtimes periods of a 109-107 win over the Pistons, James went off like a true titan, scoring the team’s last 25 points and 29 of their last 30. He was like a man possessed, slashing at will, scoring at the rim and raining jumpers left and right. When people think of LeBron, they think of a player who is virtually unguardable. This epic performance is the main reason why.
CO: LeBron James has been a force to be reckoned with for 10 straight years, and looking back on his insane career, it’s hard to pick my favorite moment. His awards of NBA Champion and NBA Finals MVP were more than impressive in 2012, capitalizing on all he has accomplished in the time that he has been playing. I think his legacy is probably the most impressive thing about him though. No matter what sports team or players you follow, you probably know his name. I don’t particularly follow basketball but I definitely know his name and know of his charity work off of the court, something that is sometimes more impressive than on-the-court action. His active work with the Boys and Girls Club of America is well-known and he has used his image for better. Most well-known sports names don’t give back as much as they should, seeing the position they hold, but LeBron James knows how to be a positive role model on and off the court.
AZ: The fact that NBA fans called LeBron “King James” before he won a championship is, in and of itself, deplorable. But my most memorable moment, while not as exciting as his “shot heard around the world” against Orlando, or his dominant Game 6 performance in Boston in last year’s playoffs, was vital to LeBron’s first championship. Down 1-0 in the Finals against Oklahoma City, the Heat had their backs against the wall in Game 2 on the road. The game was close throughout, with LeBron playing well, but late in the game, LeBron made the two biggest shots of his entire career. With all of the talk about LeBron not being clutch in the fourth quarter, or choking at the free-throw line late in the game, LeBron found himself at the charity stripe with four seconds left and the Heat leading 98-96. King James swished both free throws to ice the game, tie the series and send the Heat back to Miami with momentum and confidence. If LeBron had missed one, or even both, of those free throws, OKC could have come back to take a 2-0 series lead and may have denied LeBron his first ring.
Chris gets 3 points for the amazing and historic performance LeBron had in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals. Alec gets 2 points because that’s when LeBron truly became clutch. Chrissy gets 1 point for talking about all of the great things LeBron has done off the court.
Chris wins Around the Dorm, 9-4.5-4.5.