In this week’s edition of Around the Dorm, “Ref” and king of tiebreakers Connor Smith asks our panel of three experts — Chris Mellusi, Michael Battista and Otto Gomez — three questions: After the Cavs game, are the Knicks in for a long season or was that just the Cavs being the Cavs? Who is your must-have free agent and where’s he going to go? Which NFL team’s start surprised you the most?
1. The Knicks looked awful in the second half against the Cavaliers. Was that just the Cavs being themselves or is NY in for a long season?
Chris: The Cavs are an elite team with many weapons. LeBron James seems to improve year after year and, with a healthy Kyrie Irving leading the team at point guard, I would not be surprised to see them win a second consecutive championship. The Knicks didn’t stand a chance against the Cavs offense. However, if I am a New York fan, I am not worried at all. It was the first game of the year and the new free agent editions of the team need a couple games together to get comfortable.
Michael: A little bit of both. The Cavaliers are NBA champions for a reason, and that’s because they’re damn good. James earned his 43rd career triple-double and Irving scored 29 points while keeping the Knicks to only 88 points all game. This is the team that came back from down 3-1 in the NBA Finals to beat Golden State — the team with the best regular season record ever. As for the Knicks, I think it will be a long first half. This is a team that needs to work on chemistry because they have all the pieces to be great. Carmelo Anthony and new Knickerbocker Derrick Rose are going to be top players on this team. But unless they can work together as a unit with the rest of the squad, Anthony better get used to only having Olympic Gold on his shelf.
Otto: It’s tough to say. They were awful in the second half, mainly because I think they overperformed in the first half. I think the Cavs figured it out and showed that they’re the favorites to win the NBA title again this year. The Knicks, however, weren’t doing themselves any favors. Fortunately, my Knickerbockers stepped it up in their win against the Grizzlies four days later. I think this year will fall on the type of player Derrick Rose will be. In an interview he said he’s happy that he doesn’t have to be “the guy” like he was in Chicago, so it’s his job now to make sure the ball goes around, especially to Kristaps Porzingis. Their second major key is their bench. Right now, it hasn’t been great but if they find a rhythm, expect the Knicks to contend for that eighth spot. I predict 43 wins for them this year.
Otto gets 3 points for setting a realistic bar. Michael and Chris get 2 points for outlining the Cavs strengths.
2. MLB free-agency is approaching. Who is your must-have free agent, and where do you think he’ll go?
Chris: In my opinion, Yoenis Céspedes is a must-have free agent. I assume that Céspedes will opt out of his Mets contract. I would not be surprised to see him go to the Marlins. It would not be the first time that a former Met ditched the team for a rival within the National League East. Daniel Murphy joined the Nationals in the offseason after not being able to strike a deal with New York. The Marlins are in a good cap situation and could offer Yoenis a $100 million deal.
Michael: Aroldis Chapman is my top free agent right now, though, I think he’ll stay with the Cubs. After his stint with the Yankees, Chapman has been an absolute finishing punch when it comes to ending Cubs games. He can play the eighth and ninth innings — and
seventh inning as we saw in Game 5 of the World Series — while throwing 100 mph pitches that leave the batters utterly confused, and those last few outs of a baseball game always seem the hardest. Even if the Cubs don’t win the World Series, his work in the postseason itself — 2.61 ERA and an average pitch speed of 100.88 — has been valuable. As a disciple of Mariano Rivera, I know how much a good closer means to a team, and once Chapman hits the market, a lot of MLB teams will pine for him.
Otto: Although a couple of weeks ago, the answer was Céspedes, I think right now the response has to be his fellow countryman (and mine) Chapman He has — proven to be an incredible — if not the most important, player on the Cubs team. Just Sunday he saved the game by pitching two and two-third innings, striking out half of those batting against him. That’s insanity. If anything, these playoffs have proved how important relievers and closers are, and Chapman has heightened his stock tremendously. That being said, I think he stays in Chicago because he has a chance of winning for a while and he knows they need him. That’s a win-win for both sides, but don’t rule out a return for the Bombers.
Otto gets 3 points for contrasting Céspedes and Chapman. Michael gets 2 for making the case for Champan. Chris gets 1 because Céspedes can’t handle October baseball.
1. Now that the NFL season has begun, which team surprised you the most?
Chris: The Oakland Raiders have surprised me the most. The team is off to a 6-2 start and quarterback Derek Carr has made his case for why he should be considered for MVP. He has thrown for 1,808 yards with 13 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree have not disappointed either, as both have been dominant on the offensive side of the ball. The Raiders are off to their best start since 2002. I predict the team to finish 10-6.
Michael: After reaching the Super Bowl last year and then starting 2-5, the Carolina Panthers start is not only an utter shock, it’s unbelievable. They let Josh Norman leave the team and got nothing for him, and their defense has suffered from it. But does losing one guy make the entire team crumble? Maybe the devil was in the details with all the smaller moves they made all year, but I can’t figure it out. Honestly that defense needs to be reworked, and whatever Rick Flair speech or Cam Newton dab worked before needs to be redone. As for Newton himself, I feel he could be better, but it’s hard to be any good when your getting nailed from the side on so many plays.
Otto: I am definitely most surprised by the Raiders this year. To start, when I saw they were 6-2 after Sunday night. While I wasn’t surprised that the Raiders franchise set the record for most penalties in a game, I was really happy that they were able to overcome that and win the game. Derek Carr looks really good, like a top-five quarterback for a while in the NFL. He has some great receivers and the defense has been stepping up. They have done a great job at rebuilding the franchise slowly through the draft and show no signs of stopping. Next week against the Broncos will be their biggest step, but I think they’re up for the challenge.
Chris gets 3 points for using stats to illustrate his surprise. Michael and Otto get 2 points for equally surprising starts.