Welcome to Wednesday Weekly, where I go over your need-to-know water cooler talk, provide some of my favorite upcoming wagers, and have a bit of fun with things I like and dislike. If you’re not a fan of sports, gambling, politics, pop culture, or fun, then still read it anyway because I do it for the pageviews.
I wish I had a good excuse for skipping last week’s edition of Wednesday Weekly, but in reality I was just busy most of the week, and then chose to go to WWE Smackdown Tuesday night instead of writing. I regret nothing. And since you’ve waited a full extra week, I packed this edition with a lot of fun stuff.
College Football Playoffs
I placed a bet before the season on the Final CFP rankings. I could select 5 teams, and to win, I needed to pick 3 of the 4 eventual playoff teams. The final 4 playoff teams ended up being Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma. I obviously selected Alabama and Clemson, but after that it was a bit of a dropoff. I ended up choosing Georgia (5th), Ohio State (6th), and Auburn (woof). Despite my extremely narrow loss, it was a fun bet, and it came down to the weekend of conference championship games. All I needed was either Georgia to beat Alabama or Texas to beat Oklahoma to win my bet. Texas tied the game near the end of the 3rd quarter (and missed an extra point for the lead). Georgia was up 14 points with the ball with 6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Neither won.
Alabama roared back against Georgia when Heisman finalist Tua Tagovailoa was injured and Jalen Hurts came in to lead an exciting comeback win. (It must be tough to have a replacement quarterback that would start for nearly any other school). Texas crumbled in the 4th quarter and lost by 12.
The worst part about the College Football Playoffs is the half-assed way the teams are selected, and the varying criteria for making it. In my estimation, you should choose the teams based on a) best records b) best teams or c) best résumés. This year, Alabama, Clemson, and Notre Dame would make it based on any of those criteria. So they’re in. Well done, CFP, you got the obvious ones. For the final spot, that’s where it gets tricky, and that’s where the CFP failed.
As it currently sits, if you are a non-Power 5 school, there is no possible way to make it to the CFP. UCF has gone undefeated in back to back seasons (including beating Auburn in the Peach Bowl last season – a team that beat the eventual champions Alabama), and still didn’t even sniff the playoffs. The NCAA claims this isn’t necessarily a flaw, but a feature – UCF isn’t one of the four best teams, and the four best teams should make it in. Well that’s fine (If you agree, I would argue we should just remove those conferences from the FBS since they’re all apparently irrelevant to the Power 5), but because of this we know that the best record doesn’t guarantee anything.
So let’s try to look for the best teams. Last week, Oklahoma was favored by 8 against Texas. Georgia opened as 11.5 point favorites against the same Texas team one week later. Alabama was favored by 10.5 points over Georgia. They opened as 14.5 points favorites over Oklahoma. Regardless of Vegas showing Georgia as 4 points better than Oklahoma against both teams, anyone who watched Georgia play against Alabama knows they are one of the 4 best teams in the country. So why is Oklahoma in over Georgia?
Well, I guess you could argue that since Georgia has two losses, that hurts their résumé more than the fact that Georgia’s 3 wins against the top-25 are all higher ranked (10, 14, 23) than Oklahoma’s (15, 16, 24). You’d have a point there, but if best résumé is the argument, Oklahoma’s inclusion would be invalidated by the exclusion of Ohio State. Ohio State has the best set of 3 wins against the top-25, including a dominating win over 7th ranked Michigan. Ohio State and Oklahoma each have 1 loss. Each won their conference. Ohio State’s strength of schedule is better. So why is Oklahoma in?
Despite UCF having a better record, Ohio State having a better résumé, and Georgia having a better team (and better résumé in my opinion), Oklahoma is the 4th team in the CFP. If only there was a simple answer to fix problem that everyone would love… Oh wait there is. The NCAA should expand the College Football Playoff to 8 teams: Include the Power-5 conference champions and 3 at-large bids, with automatic inclusion for undefeated teams. How hard was that? This year, you’d have 7 of the top 8 ranked teams, plus Washington (the 9th ranked team). Last year, you’d have 7 of the top 8 ranked teams, plus UCF (the 10th ranked team). The teams that would have been replaced are a 2-loss Michigan team this season, and a 3-loss Auburn team (ironically replaced by UCF who gave them their 4th loss) last season. Neither team can argue they deserve a shot at the championship, and nobody gets unfairly left out.
Top 5 of the Week
This week’s top 5 is kind of a top 35, because I will be ranking the top 5 for each NBA Award at the (about) quarter mark of the season. Pretty Straightforward. Please note that these are NOT predictions. I expect some (if not most) of these to be different by the end of the season. This is based solely on play/events thus far this season. Executives are done by team because a President of Operations usually has as much or more influence on the roster as the General Manager. So awarding it by team is what makes sense to me.
Rookie of the Year
1. Luka Doncic – This pick speaks for itself. He’s been incredible.
2. DeAndre Ayton – One of the few bright spots in another tanking season in Phoenix.
3. Trey Young – The lone bright spot in another tanking season in Atlanta.
4. Jaren Jackson Jr. – Has played a major role for the Grizzlies on both ends of the floor.
5. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Lacking big numbers, but his defense and energy has been a key reason why the Clippers are tied for 1st place in the West.
Most Improved Player
1. Derrick Rose – The greatest shooting improvement ever thus far. Ever.
2. Tobias Harris – The rare increased usage and efficiency. Blossoming from good to great.
3. Kemba Walker – Going from star to superstar is a hard feat. He’s making it look easy.
4. De’Aaron Fox – We’re seeing more flashes of greatness and less settling for ugly jumpers.
5. Montrezl Harrell – He’s played so well off the bench he’s in the running for 6th man of the year. No small feat for a guy who has never played 20 minutes per game in a season.
Coach of the Year
1. Mike Budenholzer – He benefits a bit from replacing the Kidd/Prunty disaster.
2. Nick Nurse – I thought the Dwayne Casey firing was bad. Casey is a very good coach, but Nurse might be an even better fit.
3. Doc Rivers – Who would have expected the Clippers to be fighting for the top seed in the West? He’s done a great job developing talent and chemistry.
4. Luke Walton – He turned around an ugly early slump. Lakers are rolling.
5. Dave Joerger – The fucking Kings are above .500.
Executive of the Year
1. Lakers (Rob Pelinka) – They got LeBron. That alone is enough.
2. Raptors (Bobby Webster) – Great trade for Kawhi and Danny Green.
3. Mavericks (Donnie Nelson) – Traded up to get Doncic. Drafted Jalen Brunson. Signed DeAndre Jordan. All have been positive moves thus far.
4. 76ers (Elton Brand) – 8-2 since the Jimmy Butler trade.
5. Warriors (Bob Myers) – Signed Cousins to the Midlevel Exception. He hasn’t played yet, but increasing the talent of the most talented team ever is wild.
6th Man of the Year
1. Montrezl Harrell – He’s +24 per 100 possessions. Feast.
2. Derrick Rose – His 50-point game and comeback storyline is a buoy to his chances.
3. Marcus Morris – Shooting 44% from deep on nearly 5 per game.
4. Julius Randle – In his new role with the Pelicans, he’s improved his efficiency, scoring over 18 points on just 12 shots per game.
5. Dennis Schroder – The Thunder bench has gone from bleeding points when Westbrook sits to actually being a net positive. Schroder deserves a lot of that credit.
Defensive Player of the Year
1. Robert Covington – Timberwolves went from the 28th best defense in the league to the 2nd best defense in the league by swapping an All-Defensive team player for Covington. He’s been that good.
2. Paul George – He’s arguably too low on this list. 3-time All-Defensive player and he’s averaging a career high for blocks and steals while leading the league in defensive win shares.
3. Anthony Davis – He’s been the best defending big man in the league. Point blank.
4. Marc Gasol – Anchors a reinvigorated grit and grind Grizzlies team.
5. Joel Embiid – He’s basically the same player defensively as Rudy Gobert, but he gets the nod due to the 76ers winning.
Most Valuable Player
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo – Somehow the Greek Freak continues to get freakier.
2. Anthony Davis – AD is such a force on both sides of the ball that the Pelicans and their opponents look completely different when he’s out of the game. The Pelicans are 23.5 points better per 100 possessions (the difference between the best team net rating in the league and the worst team net rating in the league is 19.9).
3. LeBron James – This might be the first season in over a decade that LeBron isn’t the best player in the world. He might “only” be a top 5 player now. (Now that I’ve said that, Lakers are definitely winning the title, damn).
4. Kevin Durant – Durant has kept the Warriors within a game of the top of the West during extended absences from Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and DeMarcus Cousins.
Andrew Wiggins Nikola Jokic – His shooting numbers have slipped slightly, but his overall offensive impact has still been high. The biggest improvement has been on his defense. If he can continue to play above average on that end, he will be a top player in the league for years to come.
Overall Record: 10-10-0
NFL Record: 6-7-0
NBA Record: 4-3-0
My NFL betting hit a slump over the past few weeks, so I’m glad I got a writing bye week to focus and get my record back above .500. I still don’t have a good way to get my favorite NBA bets during the week released, so I guess I’m still stuck with only Wednesday and Thursday NBA bets for Wednesday Weeklys. Oh well, I’ll figure it out one day. Anyway, on to the picks of the week! Also – I have been asked a few times if I bet on these games. Of course I do. I put at least $50 on every pick I make on here. So if you lose, I’m losing with you. If you win, you’re fucking welcome.
Carolina -1.5 at Cleveland
The Panthers have lost 4 straight and they still have 2 games against the Saints left on their schedule. This is a must-win for the more talented team. The Browns have looked better as of late, but recent wins against the Falcons and Bengals are looking less impressive as both continue to struggle. Carolina takes care of business.
Denver -6 at San Francisco
A desperate Broncos team is dangerous. A 49ers team who lost their last 2 games by a combined 45 points is not. With the improvement in the Broncos defense over the past month, I don’t see the 49ers putting up many points. The Broncos should be playing from ahead all game, which is where they’re built to thrive. Denver by double digits.
Tampa Bay +8.5 vs. New Orleans
In all honesty, I wouldn’t normally bet this way, except that I’m going to be in attendance with a bunch of Buccaneers fans. So obviously I need to lay down some cheddar. Plus, it means I don’t take 3 road favorites. I guess I can hope for a similar result as week 1. Go Bucs!
Jacksonville at Tennessee – Over 37.5
Both defenses are decent, but the Jaguars defense doesn’t seem to travel. They’ve allowed an average of more than 30 points per game over their past 4 road games. This is a very low line for the NFL in general, and while it won’t likely be a shootout, they should get to 40.
Philadelphia at Dallas – Under 43
The Cowboys defense has looked incredible lately, especially at home. They just held the Saints to 10 points last week. The Eagles defense hasn’t been great, but with the division as tight as it is, I expect a slow game with few chunk plays. Hammer the under.
Bucks -7.5 vs. Pistons
The Pistons, led by Blake Griffin playing well (averaging 24.6 points per game), have won 5 of their last 6. All of those were at home, though, and against mostly bad teams. The Bucks are 11-2 at home and are coming off of 3 days rest. The Bucks should take care of business and win easily.
Denver -5 at Orlando
Denver is in 1st place in the West, and coming off a big win over the Raptors, while the Magic are 12-12 and playing the second half of a back-to-back. I don’t really understand this line. Gary Harris and Will Barton are out, but they were against the Raptors, too (Harris played the first 9 minutes before injuring his hip). Denver by a lot.
Things I Like and Things I Don’t Like
Luka Doncic fake passes. Doncic uses a unique fake pass to create separation in a way we’ve rarely seen (Jokic uses a similar version). He regularly gets an extra step on defenders by holding out the ball in a full extension with slow, deliberate, fakes. He uses that space to drive or step-back into a jumper. His creativity and fun is infectious. It reminds me of Boris Diaw in his prime. The Mavs are no longer in the cellar as one of the most boring teams in the league to watch.
I don’t like
Dirk Nowitzki injuries. As much as I don’t want to see this guy retire, it’s even sadder to see him on the bench. I’ll always love Nowitzki for the the 2011 NBA Finals, possibly my favorite championship to watch ever. I hope he comes back long enough to get the farewell tour he deserves.
Competition in the Western Conference. Through 23 games (give or take a few), the 14th seed Spurs are just 2 games outside of the playoffs and 5.5 games out of first place! I’ve never seen as deep of a conference or playoff race as the 2018 Western Conference is shaping up to be.
I don’t like
The Eastern Conference sucking, again. In the most recent ESPN Power Rankings, 7 of the bottom 8 teams are all from the East. Gross.
Robert Covington’s vibe. What a stark contrast to Jimmy Butler. Both are excellent defenders, but Covington has seemed to raise the energy and spirits of his teammates, whereas Butler lowered it. Gorgui Dieng and Andrew Wiggins in particular (the two Wolves players who have underperformed based on their salaries) have both looked more engaged and more intense, leading to better play and better results. Covington regularly implores the crowd to get up and cheer and there’s a palpable difference in the Target Center.
I don’t like
Tom Thibodeau’s vibe. There may not be a worse handling of young team as Thibodeau has done with these guys. Certain players connect with different personalities. It’s clear to anyone watching that Wiggins needs encouragement, not insults. When he’s smiling, he becomes engaged and effective; when he’s not, he spaces out and becomes a placeholder that you barely notice. Yelling at him clearly doesn’t help. It’s not difficult to provide criticism and coaching without making a player disengage. Thibs is a fine coach for players who play angry (Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, etc.), but he doesn’t have the tact needed to get through to Wiggins, Towns, and the rest of the young roster.
The parity of the league. You could make a real argument for at least 7 teams (and probably closer to 10) who have a real shot at the NBA Championship.
I don’t like
The Golden State Warriors waiting in the weeds. The Warriors are currently 7th in the NBA. Shaun Livingston and Alfonso McKinnie have missed 9 games each, Steph Curry has missed 11 games, Draymond Green has missed 12 games, and DeMarcus Cousins has missed all 25 games. When everyone returns, those other 9 teams who “have a real shot at the NBA Championship” no longer do. Sigh.