The Draft that Changed Everything Forever

Fans will never again see Jrue Holiday in the red, white, and blue Sixers uniform.

It’s been a couple days now since Sam Hinkie and the rest of the Sixers’ management unveiled their master plan after weeks of keeping the public in the dark.  Step one of the Hinkie era was the jettisoning of the team’s all-star point guard, Jrue Holiday, and the 42nd pick to New Orleans for Nerlens Noel (taken with the 6th pick) and a top-5-protected first round pick in next year’s draft.  Noel, ironically the player listed in our draft preview as not being in the Sixers’ plans, will be a focal point of the rebuild as the team fully embraces a tanking strategy.  In order to properly bottom out for the loaded 2014 draft, the team had to get rid of its best player and avoid another late lottery finish.  For too many years now, the Sixers have been stuck in the NBA’s ‘middle-class’, not good enough to compete with teams employing the league’s upper echelon superstars, and not bad enough to find one of those superstars of their own via the draft.  In one fell swoop, Hinkie ensured that would no longer be an issue.

The future of the team will be Noel, Michael Carter-Williams (taken with the 11th overall pick), and next year’s two first-round picks.  Ideally, the Sixers’ pick yields the luckiest lottery ping pong ball of the decade, earning them the Canadian LeBron, Andrew Wiggins, and the Pelicans’ selection finishes in the mid-lottery.  Even if the team doesn’t luck into the first overall pick, the 2014 draft class is loaded and tremendous prospects such as Duke’s Jabari Parker or Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart will be available to them.

While it’s one thing on paper to have a great master plan of tanking, it still makes for some pretty painful viewing along the way.  Make no mistake, the Sixers are going to be bad next year, Spencer Hawes vertical leap bad.  With Holiday gone, the team will hand the keys of the offense over to Carter-Williams, who has tremendous potential but is not ready yet to be an starting-caliber point guard in the NBA.  Nole is still recovering from ACL surgery, and will not be return until around Christmas with Philadelphia in no hurry to rush him back.  Also, there were rumors the Sixers were trying to trade Evan Turner to get back into the end of the first round.  It would not surprise me to see him moved before the season starts but if not, he’s almost certainly gone at the trade deadline.  To fill out the roster this year, expect management to send out some fliers to young players on short-term contracts.  Fans will have to simply appreciate any signs of growth from their young players, rather than worry about seeing the team put up too many tallies in the win column.

Still, looking past the 2013-14 season, the future looks extremely bright for the Sixers.  In addition to the four blue-chip prospects on the team after next year’s draft, Philadelphia will have the capability to make a run at a couple big-name free agents.  Turner, Hawes, Lavoy Allen, and Kwame Brown will be off the books after next season, freeing up about $19M in cap space, in addition to the $11M available with Holiday a Pelican.  That space will provide Hinkie and company with the flexibility to make a key free agent signing or even trade some of their young talent away for an established star (similar to how the Rockets traded for James Harden).  While it may sting to have lost a young, likable star in Jrue Holiday, for the first time in a long time, the Sixers appear to have a plan and intelligent decision-makers in place to see it through.  Those facts alone are worth all the losses the Sixers will pile up in the upcoming season.

2013 NBA Draft Preview

People might not know much about the Sixers’ plans draft night, but possible top pick Nerlens Noel won’t be one of them.

The only news the Sixers have made this offseason is for things they haven’t done: they haven’t yet hired a coach, they haven’t been clear about the current CEO situation, and more relevant to Thursday night, they haven’t given any clear indication about what direction they’re leaning with the 11th overall pick (as well as their two second round picks at 35 and 42).

Mock drafts believe that if Cody Zeller falls to 11, that’s the direction the Sixers will head.  Undoubtedly, the team needs more help on the frontline but is Zeller the answer?  The Indiana star has a polished offensive game but scouts are projecting him to be more of a stretch four in the NBA based on positive jump shooting performances in draft workouts.  However, Zeller rarely took catch-and-shoot jumpers in college, spending his team almost exclusively on the block, so there’s no certainty that will translate going forward.  Defensively, while he showed great athleticism numbers in terms of speed and agility at the combine, Zeller sports a wingspan actually less than his 7’0″ frame.  Want a more basketball-centric statistic?  He was 327th in the nation last year in defensive rebounding percentage.  So he doesn’t project as a strong shot blocker, defensive rebounder, and is talking about taking his offensive game more to the perimeter.  When you boil it down, I would pass; I’ve seen enough soft big man play from Spencer Hawes to last three lifetimes.

So what strategy should the Sixers adopt?  Analysts keep talking about how the talent in this draft is horizontal, rather than vertical, meaning after the first 7 or so players, there are good players out there, but no one is sure where they will go.  Given the perceived depth of the draft over any surefire can’t-miss prospects, it makes more sense to load up on as many lottery tickets as possible.  Here would be my gameplan:

1) Buy a first-round pick.  Dallas is one team reported to be looking to unload their 13th pick in order to save cap space for a max free agent offer, but that seems overly ambitious.  However, there are also teams toward the end of the first round who may be willing to part with a pick in order to save money given the ramped up luxury tax penalties.  Players in the latter half of the first round are among those with the most team-friendly contracts a team can obtain.  If you find a productive starter at an affordable salary, you can free more money up to go after a marquee free agent sometime down the road.

2) Trade down in the first round. On the flip side, there will always be someone trying to move up when a player they like starts sliding down the draft board.  We saw the Sixers make a similar deal, getting back into the first round to select Arnett Moultrie by offering up a future first-round pick. Again, this draft is all about depth, and you’re just as likely to get a viable player at 21 or so as at 11.  Try to get a lottery-protected first round pick in the purportedly loaded 2014 draft to move down a few spots.

3) Take Gorgui Dieng and Allen Crabbe with the two first round picks.  Each of them has a clearly defined skill that should at the very least, give them a role on NBA teams for years to come.  At worst, Dieng figures to be a great defensive center in the league.  He was Big East (RIP) Defensive Conference Player of the Year and the backbone of Louisville’s first-ranked defense.  His 7’4″ wingspan and leaping ability translate well in addition to the great instincts he displayed in college.  He also wasn’t a complete stiff on the offensive end, showing decent hands and a serviceable mid-range jumper.  If some team can mold him on the offensive end, Dieng’s ceiling goes even higher good defensive big man.  Even if he’s just a good shotblocker though, that would be a breath of fresh air for the Sixers from a big man.

As for Crabbe, he projects as one of the top three-point shooters in the draft.  Everything about his shooting form and range has scouts drooling over his potential in that department.  His percentages weren’t overwhelming at Cal but as the focal point of the Golden Bears’ offense, defenses were swarming all over him.  Afforded more open looks as a secondary option at the NBA level, Crabbe should thrive as a spot-up shooter from the perimeter.  Also, at 6’6″ and with long arms, his size would not be a hindrance at the shooting guard position.  There will always be spots in this league for great shooters and Crabbe fits the profile.

We will see what tricks new Sixers’ GM Sam Hinkie has up his sleeve.  It’s Draft Night! Get excited!


Kronum League Season 4 – Week 11 Recap

One team out there is excited about its postseason prospects.

Throwbacks 124, Urban Legends 123

Last weekend, Nik Wallenda captivated the world with a death-defying high-wire act, walking a tight rope across the Grand Canyon without the help of any safety net or support system.  The stakes weren’t quite as high, but the Throwbacks have been performing a high-wire act of their own, emerging with consecutive one-point victories in the waning seconds the past two weeks.  A loss in either one of those two nailbiters would have spelled elimination for the Throwbacks.  Like Wallenda, they paused and waited for the high winds of adversity to blow past before running down the final stretch to reach their goal.  A quarterfinal match-up with the Night Owls awaits.

This late success could never have happened without the improved play of a pair of newcomers for the Throwbacks.  Coming into the season, rookie brothers Brian and Kevin Marron were expected to be the pillars around which the Throwbacks built their revamped offense.  Instead, they struggled initially to adjust to play at the professional level and the Throwbacks suffered accordingly.  This final regular season game finally saw all those plans come to fruition as Brian Marron had the game of his career, while Kevin Marron followed up the first-ever Kronum League triple-double with a double-double in this contest.  The Urban Legends came out strong against the Throwbacks, with Kevin Clark (27 points, 3 steals) displaying his newfound efficiency from the flex zone.  After Mike Ragan (18 points, 13 assists) connected on an 8-point kronum, the Legends led 30-23.  The Throwbacks would quickly answer as Kevin Marron (20 points) and Steve Botta (15 points) each hit a 4-point ring shot to cut the deficit to 34-31.  However, the first period belonged to Brian Marron (game-high 37 points), who tallied 26 points in the frame, including an 8-point kronum of his own to regain the lead for the Throwbacks at 47-42.  The Throwbacks led 54-48 after 20 minutes.

The second period was all Urban Legends though, even off the initial prime rush as Clark snatched the ball out of the air and immediately connected for 4 points.  It was a huge period Legends wedgeback Kevin Glover (team-high 30 points, 6 saves on 12 attempts), who continually fooled the Throwbacks with his patented fake hook-throw, drop into the wedge zone move.  The Legends also used the goal zone more than we’re accustomed to seeing from them, finding Glover and captain Scott Anderson (14 points, 11 saves on 23 attempts) for easy points down low.  The Legends steadily built their lead, ending the period ahead 95-81.

With their backs against the wall, the Throwbacks cranked up the defensive intensity and gradually chipped away at the lead.  With just over two minutes left, the deficit was only one point, setting up for a wild finish.  The Urban Legends were unsuccessful on three penalty shots down the stretch(two of which were saved by James Thomas) and the Throwbacks finally broke through when Kevin Marron found Jim Bradley (11 points) for a backdoor dunk to put them ahead.  On the Legends’ final possession, a roll-in by Greg Ermold was saved by (who else?) Kevin Marron to secure the victory.  Ironically, the Throwbacks then became the Night Owls’ biggest fans, needing the victory by them over the Work Horses to make the playoffs where they’ll face the Owls.  The Urban Legends will enter the playoffs reeling, having lost 4 straight contests.  They’ll need to turn things around in a hurry against an always dangerous Jet Sets team that defeated them easily two weeks ago.

The Night Owls stayed a step ahead of the Work Horses to end the Horses’ season.

Night Owls 138, Work Horses 121

(Portions of this article will also appear on the official Kronum League website.  Be sure to check out the site for additional coverage and statistics.)

Every year, one of the biggest sports spectacles in the country is college basketball’s March madness tournamant.  Beyond the gambling and the office pools, what draws the casual viewer in is the win-or-go-home atmosphere of each contest.  With their backs against the wall, teams leave everything out on the court, making for some of the best theatre in the world of sports.  We’ve seen that mentality in the Throwbacks’ previous two last-second wins, as well as the Work Horses’ last-minute win against the Evergreens last week.  Knowing they needed one more win to qualify for the playoffs and keep their season alive, the Work Horses did everything in their power scrape together a victory.  Eventually though, teams do go home, and the Throwbacks’ joy was balanced by heartbreaking defeat for the Work Horses.

With ranger Mike Small missing for the Work Horses, the Night Owls focused their attention on shutting down captain Phil Cavalcante, holding him to just 14 points on 2-13 shooting for the game.  Filling that void, Horses crosser Dave Slusser (20 points) started the game very aggressively, hitting from the cross zone and making runs down the wedge line for easier shots from the flex zone.  Bud Yaniak (14 points) had his best scoring output of the season, catching the Owls off-guard with effective roll-ins to the wedge zone.  However, like many teams before them, the Work Horses struggled to contain Owls captain Kyle McGrath (game-highs 42 points, 14 assists), who was up to his usual tricks in the cross zone.  The Night Owls held a slim lead at 53-51 after one period.

In the second period, the Work Horses got strong efforts from their players in Quad 3 as Kosta Nikolos (18 points, 6 blocks) and Matt Sola (12 saves on 24 attempts) did a nice job shutting down the Owls in their area.  However, on the other side of the field, Tyler Katz (28 points, 12 saves on 21 attempts) was piling up the points while having a nice game in net himself.  A Joe Tulskie (18 points, 9 saves on 18 attempts) cross zone shot gave the Owls their first double digit lead of the game at 75-64.  Then, with 4 minutes left in the period, a Luke Dougan (team-high 27 points) cross shot was deflected through the ring for an 8-point kronum to cut the deficit to 83-81.  After a Dave Slusser cross shot on their next possession tied things at 85, it looked like the Horses might have one more big run in them.  However, the Horses’ offense stagnated from there and the Night Owls remained very composed, ending the period on a 12-0 to enter the third ahead 97-85. 

The Horses’ scoring drought continued into the third period as Owls defenders concentrated on shutting down both Cavalcante and Slusser.  Five minutes in, the Work Horses finally got back on the board when Dougan drained other 8-point kronum to bring his team back within 10 at 103-93.  Unfortunately for the Horses, that shot was effectively the last highlight of the season for them, as 10 points was as close as they would get the rest of the way.  It was another strong effort for the Night Owls, who enter the playoffs the league’s hottest team, having won three games in a row.  The Work Horses fought valiantly toward the tail end of the season but will unfortunately carry the stigma of being the first Kronum franchise to miss the playoffs.

The Nimble Jacks are flying high once again with the semifinals on deck.

Nimble Jacks 157, Jet Sets 133

In the final game of the day, the Nimble Jacks and Jet Sets set out to answer the age-old question, ‘If two Kronum teams play a game with no playoff implications and a quarter of their teams missing, do they make a sound?’.  With Nick DeLuca, Stephen Vandenberg, and Zach Van Fossen not in attendance for the Jet Sets, and Dan Geiger, Pete Weiss, and Nick Caton absent for the Nimble Jacks (as well as Jared O’Donnell missing the first 15 minutes of the game), the teams that took the field bore only a hazy resemblence to the squads that could potentially meet in the semifinals.  Nevertheless, the Nimble Jacks shook off a sluggish start to cruise to an easy victory and shake off their only loss of the season the previous week to the Throwbacks. 

The Jet Sets jumped out in front early behind a huge first period from Matt Parsons (game-highs 42 points, 11 assists).  Parsons did a little of everything, hitting a 4-point ring shot, finding teammates in the goal zone, and throwing down some fancy dunks of his own.  Teammate Jeff Regensburg (20 points, 5 blocks) was able to work free for some points up top, handling the man-marking defense against him better than in these teams’ first meeting when he was held below 10 points.  Defensively, Scott Reimer (13 saves on 28 attempts) anchored a wedgebacking unit that looked strong in the early going.  The Jet Sets led 38-34 after one period.

Coming out of intermission, the Jacks made a more concerted effort to attack from the goal zone behind Sean Kennedy (20 points, 8 saves on 16 attempts) and Jesse Barone (14 points).  However, Jet Sets crosser Ryan Skinner (32 points, 3 steals) accrued some ring points of his own when he connected on an 8-point kronum to extend the Jet Sets lead to 52-43.  That shot seemed to be a wake-up call for the Jacks though, as a Ryan Coyne (team-high 36 points, 6 assists) 4-point ring shot made it 54-51, before Jared O’Donnell (33 points) finally put his mark on the game with an 8-point kronum for a 72-64 Nimble Jacks lead.  Skinner answered with a 4-point ring shot himself to cut the deficit to 78-76, but Coyne was unconscious from the cross zone in the closing minutes of the second period as the Nimble Jacks pulled ahead 93-82 after two periods.

In the third period, a 4-point ring shot from O’Donnell gave the Jacks their largest lead of the game at 118-99.  Ben Hutchison continued to pile up the saves in goal (12 saves on 23 attempts), doing a nice job to shut off the Sets’ goal zone attack as well.  Parsons would hit a pair of teardrop ring shots from the flex area but the Jet Sets never mounted much of a comeback effort as the defense looked distinterested down the stretch for a contest with zero playoff implications.  The Jet Sets will look to have all hands on deck as they face the Urban Legends in their quarterfinals playoff match.  The Nimble Jacks await the winner between the Night Owls and Throwbacks for a semifinals showdown.

Week 11 Leaders:

Points – Kyle McGrath (42), Matt Parsons (42), Brian Marron (37)

Assists – Kyle McGrath (14), Mike Ragan (13), Chris VonTanhausen (12)

Saves – Scott Reimer (13), Matt Sola (12), Tyler Katz (12), Ben Hutchison (12)

Blocks – Kosta Nikolos (6), Jeff Regensburg (5), Chris VonTanhausen (3)

Steals – Jeff Gerace (4), Kevin Clark (3), Ryan Coyne (3), Ryan Skinner (3)

Kronum League Season 4 – Week 10 Recap

Jeff Regensburg enjoyed the open space afforded to him by the Urban Legends defense.

Jet Sets 105, Urban Legends 87

“In all the research you do as a coach, studying other coaches and championship-type situations, you find that all those teams combined talent with great defense.  You’ve got to stop other teams to win.” – Pat Riley

The Jet Sets have long been one of the most talented teams in the Kronum League.  However, intermittent commitment on the defensive end has often offset any progress made on the offensive side of the ball.  Maybe giving up 50 points to Kyle McGrath for the second time this season was the wake-up call this team needed, as the Sets came out against the Urban Legends with their best all-around performance of the season.  Recognizing the Urban Legends were missing their two best flex shooters in Brian Sperling and Kevin Glover (for half the game), the Jet Sets did an excellent job of guarding the points (allowing just 12 cross zone points) and effectively limiting any big-play potential by the Legends.  The Sets also played at a more measured pace on offense, limiting turnovers and thus, any potential easy points in transition.  If the Jet Sets can carry this play over going forward and play well in both facets of the game, watch out Kronum League.

With only ten players on hand to start the game, the Legends opted not to man-mark Jeff Regensburg.  Regensburg (game-high 37 points) was thrilled to finally have room to work with on the field, went off from the cross zone in the first period to jump the Jet Sets out to an early advantage.  The Urban Legends hung tough by doing their usual work in the wedge zone, led by Dan Vignola (16 points, 9 saves on 19 attempts).  Kevin Clark (team-high 24 points, 12 saves on 24 shots) also had one of his best offensive games of the season, taking more high-percentage shots in the flex and wedge zones.  The Jet Sets led by five points at 37-32 after one period.

The second period was all Jet Sets as Stephen Vandenberg (16 points) got in a rhythm from the flex area.  Back-to-back cross shots from Regensburg bumped the lead up to 57-40, when the Legends finally decided to have Frank Buffa faceguard Regensburg.  Kevin Glover (13 points) arrived midway through the second period but his appearance didn’t do much to overcome the  great defensive effort from the Jet Sets.  Scott Reimer (10 saves on 18 shots) had a solid game in net and Ryan Skinner (3 steals) wrecked his usual havoc in the middle of the field.  After two periods, the lead had ballooned to 71-54.

Holding a big lead, the Jet Sets salted the game away with their old bread and butter: plays in the goal zone.  As he often does, Matt Parsons (12 points, 4 assists) found his teammates for some easy points and contributed one stylish dunk of his own.  The Jet Sets led by 84-60 at one point and the Urban Legends never got closer than 14 points the rest of the way.  Both teams are tied with the Night Owls for third place at 4-5.  The first round of the playoffs await for each squad, seed and opponent to be determined based on the action in the final week of the regular season. The Urban Legends will take on the Throwbacks, while the Jet Sets face the Nimble Jacks.

The Throwbacks kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a huge upset over the Nimble Jacks.

Throwbacks 121, Nimble Jacks 120

“It’s never an upset if the so-called underdog has all along considered itself the better team.” – Woody Hayes

Regardless of their respective records, the Throwbacks always enter their games against the Nimble Jacks fully confident that they can emerge victorious.  We saw that confidence in their win over the Jacks last season, in this season’s Round 5 game that required some late Jared O’Donnell heroics for the Jacks to remain undefeated, and in this latest installment of the league’s most intriguing rivalry.  On this occasion, it was the Throwbacks’ turn to provide the last-minute thrills, hitting huge shots down the stretch to shock the Kronum world.

With the Nimble Jacks ahead three points with just over a minute remaining, Throwbacks ranger John Graham (21 points, 6 assists) shook a gambling Ryan Coyne to connect on a 4-point cross shot to regain the lead for the Throwbacks.  Scott Kennedy put the Jacks back ahead by one point and Jacks wedgebacks initially made a handful of saves on the other end.  However, with his team given one more opportunity off a turnover, Steve Fariss (12 points) received a pass in the flex zone and buried the winning shot home with just one second remaining.  Another chapter in this rivalry yielded another hero.  No one will consider this a David vs. Goliath match-up anymore; the Throwbacks never saw it that way.

The Throwbacks jumped out to a quick 8-2 lead, establishing what would be a theme throughout the day, Kevin Marron finding Jim Bradley for backdoor dunks in the goal zone.  Bradley had a simple but effective game plan, waiting just outside the goal zone each possession on his way to tallying a team-high 26 points (all in the goal zone).  The real star of the game was Kevin Marron, who recorded the first-ever Kronum triple double (24 points, 12 assists, 17 saves on 27 shots).  Not only did Marron, with the help of Bradley, punish the Jacks defense in quad 3 all game, but he was a big reason the Throwbacks held Ryan Coyne and Scott Kennedy to just a combined 8 points on 3-30 shooting.   The Jacks stayed in the game behind the scoring prowess of Jared O’Donnell (game-high 41 points, 7 assists) and Dan Geiger (16 points, 5 assists).  The Jacks deficit was a manageable 5 points with the score 41-36 after one period.

The second period began more goal zone runs between Marron and Bradley and another big cross shot from John Graham.  The Nimble Jacks responded with their best stretch of the game as O’Donnell scored 7 points on back-to-back possessions and Geiger hit a ring shot from the flex area to give his team their largest lead of the game at 63-57.  Just when it looked like the Jacks were going to pull away, Graham answered with a game-changing 8-point kronum to put the Throwbacks back in front.  They would preserve a tight 81-79 advantage after two frames.

The Throwbacks built the lead back up to double digits, pulling ahead by as many as 13 in the final period.  However, the Jacks fought back to regain the lead and it looked like it would be another sluggish start for the league leaders that ultimately ended with another pull-away victory.  On this afternoon, though, the Throwbacks had other plans.  With the victory, the Throwbacks avoided being eliminated from playoff contention.  They will need a win against the Urban Legends and a Work Horses loss against Night Owls to sneak into the playoffs.  The Nimble Jacks have already clinched the first overall seed and will finish the season against the Jet Sets.

The Work Horses are pumped about their renewed playoff chances.

Work Horses 140, Evergreens 138

(Portions of this article will also appear on the official Kronum League website.  Be sure to check out the site for additional Week 8 coverage and statistics.)

“In the closing seconds of every game, I want the ball in my hands for that last shot – not in anybody else’s, not in anybody else’s in the world.” – Larry Bird

Let’s set the stage.  The Throwbacks have upset the Nimble Jacks to pull ahead of the Work Horses for the sixth and final playoff spot.  To their credit, the Horses respond like a team with everything on the line, jumping out to a quick double digit lead.  Still, the Evergreens are a talented bunch and keep roaring back, answering every Horses’ big run with a haymaker of their own.

So it was that the Work Horses found themselves trailing 134-130 with under thirty seconds left, their playoff chances slipping through their fingers.  Phil Cavalcante, the captain of this Horses squad who has taken so much of his team’s struggles this season to heart, controlled the ball in the middle of the field.  Charging toward an adjacent point, Cavalcante let loose with one shot that could potentially change the entire trajectory of his team’s season.  The ball traveled through the air with all the weight of unfulfilled expectations, only to sail through the rings for a successful 8-point kronum that could not have come at a more opportune moment.  The Horses and their captain re-gained the lead and captured this game against the Evergreens.  The last set of games in Round 11 will determine whether the Horses have seized what they wanted: that last playoff spot and a chance at a championship run.  My guess is Cavalcante will want the ball in his hands.

In the first period, the Work Horses came out firing from the cross zone.  Cavalcante (team-high 44 points, 9 assists) and Luke Dougan both connected from that area in the opening minutes.  The most encouraging sign for the Horses was the aggressive shooting of Dave Slusser (27 points, team-high 10 assists), who connected on an 8-point kronum to give his team an early 26-10 lead.  The Evergreens would fight their way back into things behind an initial hot start from Dan Williams (12 points) and the customary efficient scoring from Dom Petrino (24 points) in the goal and flex zones.  The Horses’ lead was down to just 55-51 after one period.

A Joe Petrino (team-highs 44 points, 11 assists) ring shot from the flex area gave the Evergreens their first lead at 57-55, but it was all Horses the rest of the frame.  Dougan answered soon thereafter with ring flex shot of his own and the team got the strong right arm of ranger Mike Small (28 points) going from the flex area.  It was also the best defensive period for the Horses, who were led on that side of the ball by wedgeback Ryan McGlensey (11 saves on 19 shots) and Scott Salvatore (3 steals).  The lead was back up to double digits after two periods at 96-84.

The final period was all about Joe Petrino until the final minute.  The Evergreens’ star hit two big cross shots early in the period to close the gap before hitting a huge 8-point kronum midway through the period to put his team back into the lead.  The teams then traded shots until Cavalcante’s game-winning shot in the final minute.  The Work Horses have a one-game lead over the Throwbacks for the final playoff spot; they will maintain the spot with either a win over the Night Owls or a Throwbacks loss against the Urban Legends in the final week.  It was the final game of the season for the Evergreens, who have clinched the second seed and will await their second-round opponent following their playoff bye.

Week 10 Leaders:

Points – Phil Cavalcante (44), Joe Petrino (44), Jared O’Donnell (41)

Assists – Scott Kennedy (17), Mike Ragan (15), Kevin Marron (12)

Saves – Kevin Marron (17), Derek Clouser (14), Kevin Clark (12)

Blocks – Dan Geiger (3), Ryan Kirby (3), Steve Fariss (3), Todd Wampler (3)

Steals – Scott Salvatore (3), Ryan Skinner (3), Matt Charleston (3)

Kronum League Season 4 – Week 9 Recap

The Work Horses could not catch up to Nimble Jacks ranger Jared O’Donnell all game.

Nimble Jacks 160, Work Horses 133

(Portions of this article will also appear on the official Kronum League website.  Be sure to check out the site for additional Week 8 coverage and statistics.)

Despite their first-place standing in the league and undefeated record, the Nimble Jacks were not really sporting any serious MVP candidates.  The Jacks’ entire philosophy revolves around working the ball around to find the open man among their handful of potent scoring options.  There is no need to force the ball to one guy when the roster features a half dozen or so players capable of putting up double digits efficiently on any given Sunday.  With this embarrassment of riches, the man who suffers the most from an individual production standpoint is likely veteran ranger Jared O’Donnell.  While seemingly always scoring efficiently and displaying flashes of creative brilliance, O’Donnell is rarely able to pile on the stat totals of star players on other teams.  However, with fellow ranger Ryan Coyne missing this game to support the troops in Afghanistan, O’Donnell really got the opportunity to flex his scoring muscles.  The Work Horses were not happy with the results.

The Work Horses tagged ranger Scott Salvatore with the responsibilty of face-guarding Jared O’Donnell (37 points, 9 assists), a strategy that did not prove to be especially effective.  Aside from O’Donnell, Scott Kennedy (20 points, 18 assists) had an excellent game, hitting big cross shots in addition to his usual fine work orchestrating the Jacks’ offense.  Dan Geiger also assumed more responsibility offensively, dropping 20 points but also accruing 6 assists.  Defensively, Nick Caton and Jay Shegda shared the man-to-man duties on Horses captain Phil Cavalcante, while the team also focused on stopping ranger Mike Small (12 points on just 6-19 shooting).  The Work Horses were still finding some success when they had the ball as Cavalcante (26 points, 7 assists, 3 blocks) was able to work himself free to stoke the Horses’ attack.  The real force in the game for the Work Horses was ranger Luke Dougan, who utilized the open space provided to him to put up a team-high 36 points.  The Work Horses were still hanging around after one period, down 48-36.

The Work Horses got a boost early in the second period via a 4-point ring shot off the foot of Derek Clouser (7 points) in the wedge area.  The Nimble Jacks’ offense kept firing away, keeping the defense off balance with backdoor attacks through Sean Kennedy (18 points, 16 saves on 26 shots) and Pete Weiss (16 points, 12 saves on 22 shots).  When the Jacks extended the lead to 23 points at 73-50, the Work Horses opted to drop out of the man defense on O’Donnell, really opening the floodgates for the Jacks’ leading scorer.  With O’Donnell going crazy from the cross zone, the Horses couldn’t keep up with the Jacks’ onslaught, in spite of a strong offensive performance from Dave Slusser (24 points, 15 assists).  The Jacks led 116-89 after two periods and the result was cruised from there on out.

With another game scheduled for later that afternoon, the Nimble Jacks emptied the bench in the third period.  The only remaining questions were whether the Jacks would set the single-game scoring record (they would) and what O’Donnell had left in his bag of tricks.  The answer to the second question was a bounce-pass self alley-oop attempt off the crown that only failed because the ball happened to go through the rings for four points.  That small ‘error’ was about the only thing that didn’t go according to plan for O’Donnell and the Nimble Jacks in this contest.

With the win, the Nimble Jacks secured the first overall seed in the playoffs.  Additionally, they showed the impressive depth of their roster, setting a league-high points total while playing without one of their leading scorers.  As for the Work Horses, they remain seated in the final playoff spot for now.  However, with the Throwbacks one game back and owning the tiebreaker between the two clubs, it would be in the Horses’ best interest to correct the defensive issues that appear to have crept up again.

Wide-open shots on goal were the norm in this contest.

Night Owls 156, Jet Sets 139

“Usually the team that scores the most points wins the game.”  One of John Madden’s most famously derided quotes describes a philosophy the Jet Sets have seemingly taken to heart.  After Night Owls captain Kyle McGrath exploded for a league-record 55 points in the teams’ first meeting this season, one might have expected the Sets to enter this rematch with a defensive gameplan centered around stopping McGrath.  Instead, the only thing the Jet Sets seemed focused on this time around was scoring more points, as any fan of hard-nosed defense needed to avert their eyes from this game.

Once again, McGrath (53 points, 7 assists, 4 blocks) came out firing from the opening prime rush.  Cross shots, a ring shot from the flex area, and a 7-point play were just some of the highlights from his first period of action.  Remarkably, he went the first 15 minutes of the game without missing a shot, going on to finish the period with 39 points, a mark that can safely be called a league-record for points in a period.

The only downside for the Owls in the first period was Can Duman going down with an injury midway through the frame, putting further pressure on a struggling wedgeback unit.  That development only helped the Jet Sets keep pace in the scoring column.  Stephen Vandenberg (30 points) led the way for them, with the team also getting a huge performance from Ryan Skinner (26 points) and efficient production from Mike Quintans (14 points, 3 blocks).  The man finding all of these scorers was Matt Parsons, who finished with a game-high 15 assists.  Despite allowing an opposing player to drop 39 points on them, the Jet Sets only trailed by nine after one period, at 60-51.

With McGrath visibily tired from throwing the ball into the back of the net so often, his teammates shouldered more of the scoring responsibility throughout the rest of the game.  Joe Tulskie (19 points, 3 steals), Tyler Katz (16 points), and Brian Concio (16 points, 8 saves on 18 attempts) all had efficient outings on the perimeter.  The huge difference-maker though, was Chris VonTanhausen, who returned to action after missing the team’s previous contest.  The Owls’ crosser had an excellent all-around game, recording 16 points on just 8 shots, 11 assists, and 4 blocks.  With so many members of the Owls contributing on offense, they were able to extend their lead to 108-90 after two periods.

A couple minutes into the third period, a Stephen Vandenberg 5 point play cut the lead to 11 points.  However, the Jet Sets would get no closer to nine points the rest of the way as the Night Owls were still able to score at will.  It’s nearly impossible for a team to come back from a double-digit deficit when it cannot make stops defensively.  Obviously, the team who scores the most points wins, but so does the team that allows the fewest.

The victory clinched a playoff berth for the Night Owls; at 4-5, they now find themselves only a half-game back of the Urban Legends for third place in the league.  Conversely, the 3-5 Jet Sets have now dropped two straight with difficult matches against those Legends and the first-place Nimble Jacks remaining.  These two teams may be next to each other in the standings but appear to be heading in opposite directions.

The versatile game of Ryan Maley has the Evergreens flying high.

Evergreens 127, Throwbacks 96

Rarely will you come across a bigger clash of the styles than between the Evergreens and the Throwbacks.  By far the youngest team in the league, the Evergreens love to push the pace and seek quick cross shots in transition.  On the other hand, the Throwbacks, likely the oldest roster in the Kronum league, have long favored a slow, deliberate style of attack designed to move the defense around until an open shot from the flex zone emerges.  This season has served as a referendum on those corresponding philosophies, as the Evergreens have shot to the upper crust of the league, while the Throwbacks are striving to avoid being the first team in league history to not qualify for the playoffs.

The Evergreens wasted no time in showcasing their dynamic offensive attack.  Joe Petrino connected for two cross shots in the first period, although the Throwbacks’ George Price did a solid job in guarding Petrino, who finished the game with just 12 points (plus 8 assists).  The real star for the Evergreens was rookie Ryan Maley, who flirted with triple double numbers in scoring a  game-high 27 points, making 9 saves, and distributing 6 assists.  More viscerally, Maley was the engine for the Evergreens’ attack; when he was making his high-speed runs across the field, the team seemed to be at its best.  However, it wasn’t all Evergreens early on as the Throwbacks were initially making a concerted effort to score from the wedge zone.  Also, John Graham (16 points, team-high 5 assists) and Steve Fariss (16 points), playing in the center of the field more than usual, stretched the field out top at the points.  After the Evergreens had a 14-point lead, the Throwbacks brought it back within 6 before the period ended 45-37.

Both teams looked a bit out of sorts in the second period, constantly missing shots off goal.  The main exception for the Throwbacks was Kevin Marron (20 points, 11 saves), who did serious damage from the flex area, converting on a blistering 10 of 12 shot attempts overall.  The Throwbacks also did a nice job finding Jim Bradley (13 points, 9 saves) for backdoor dunks in the goal zone.  The deficit dropped to as few as 3 points at 72-69, before a late surge by the Evergreens made the score 76-69 after two periods.

The Evergreens’ offensive lull didn’t last long, as just three minutes into the period, the Greens jacked the lead up to 88-71.  They also cranked up their goal zone production in the third period, with players like Gerry Plescia (20 points) getting it done around the net.  Plescia (9 saves on 16 attempts) also led a group of wedgebacks who all had solid games in net.  The Throwbacks would make a short run to pull within 8 points, but the Evergreens bounced back in a big way.  A Harold Bolton (18 points) cross shot made it 109-90 before a Ryan Maley ring shot from the flex area then extended the lead to 117-90, as the Evergreens never looked back.  It was a young man’s game on this day.

The Evergreens are now locked in to the second seed, impressively obtaining a first round bye in their expansion season.  They will finish the season against the Work Horses, where they will look to continue getting solid offensive production from guys not named Petrino or Maley.  The Throwbacks have two more chances to pass the Work Horses for the final playoff spot.  However, with those two matches against the Nimble Jacks and Urban Legends, the odds are stacked against them.

Dustin Gebhard solved the Urban Legends’ ground attack, making 15 saves on 22 shots faced.

Nimble Jacks 127, Urban Legends 116

They say that a sports campaign is a marathon, not a sprint.  Never does that saying apply more than when a team faces a double-header during the Kronum campaign.  After a victory over the Work Horses earlier in the day, the Nimble Jacks had to turn around and take on a tough Urban Legends opponent.  They were prime for an upset and the Urban Legends were all too eager to play the the role of spoiler.

The Nimble Jacks opted to face-guard Kevin Glover, holding the star wedgeback to just 2 points on the game.  After some back and forth play, an 8-point kronum by Jared O’Donnell gave the Jacks an early cushion at 28-18.  O’Donnell (game-high 36 points, 10 assists) was dominant once again for the Jacks, finding open shots in the cross and flex areas seemingly at will.  The other big factor for the Jacks was the work of Pete Weiss (22 points, 16 saves) dominating the goal zone, with all of his points coming from that area. The Legends were hot on offense as well, with their patented foot skills proving difficult for the Jacks’ defense early on.  Greg Ermold (team-high 26 points) had another huge game with his feet, both in the wedge zone and drop-kicking outside of it. Kevin Clark (25 points) reined his game in a little bit to take better percentage shots from the flex and and wedge areas.  After the dust had settled, the Nimble Jacks led 56-49 after one period.

In what became a theme throughout the game, the Legends made a run to within 56-55.  The Nimble Jacks immediately responded with a quick 14-0 run capped by cross shots from Scott Kennedy (14 points, 18 assists) and O’Donnell.  Throughout the game and especially in the second period, Dustin Gebhard (8 points, 15 saves on 22 attempts) was a defensive standout in goal, perfectly timing his challenges of the Legends’ shot attempts on the ground.  Other than that spurt by the Jacks, the Legends played better defensively.  Dan Vignola (12 points, 13 saves on 22 attempts) had a solid game on both sides of the ball, while Glover also had a solid game in net despite his offensive struggles, stopping 10 of 17 shots.  Their efforts in net kept the lead at a manageable distance at 89-75 after two periods. 

Once again, the Urban Legends made a strong push in the third period, shaving the lead to just one point at 99-98.  However, a minute later with the score 101-98, the referee called a foul on a Shaun Stevens (15 points, 3 blocks) shot attempt.  Disagreeing with the call, Legends ranger Todd Wampler spiked the ball in frustration and received a technical.  Although Jared O’Donnell did not convert the technical, Stevens made his penalty shot and the Legends never regained momentum after that sequence.  The Jacks rebuild a double digit advantage and although the Legends cut the lead to six after an Ermold drop kick for four and a Bryan Friedrich (10 points) 4-point ring shot, that was the last of the scoring for the Legends.  The Nimble Jacks held on to continue their undefeated campaign.

Week 9 Leaders:

Points – Kyle McGrath (53), Jared O’Donnell (37), Luke Dougan (36), Jared O’Donnell (36)

Assists – Scott Kennedy (18), Scott Kennedy (18), Dave Slusser (15), Matt Parsons (15)

Saves – Sean Kennedy (16), Pete Weiss (16), Pete Weiss (12)

Blocks – Kyle McGrath (4), Chris VonTanhausen (4), 4 players with 3 each

Steals – Steve Botta (3), Joe Tulskie (3), 4 players with 2 each

2013 NBA Finals Preview

Series like this are why we watch the NBA.

The Heat-Pacers conference finals went the distance and treated fans to some outstanding basketball, in spite of the egregious flopping by both sides, gay slur controversy, and media nonsense about whether LeBron was reverting back to his Cleveland days based on an off-hand remark.  Newsflash for traditional media: the Heat won Game 7 less because Wade got back to some arbitrary 20-point scoring mark and more because LeBron assumed the responsibility of guarding Paul George, and the entire Heat team kicked up the defensive intensity to ‘Threat Level Midnight’ in forcing 21 Indiana turnovers.  Now though, Miami moves on to face the Spurs (Remember them? They’re actually still playing too) in a series as intriguing for the potential quality of play on the floor as well as its historical significance in determining the legacy of a handful of future hall-of-famers.

First off, let’s get this out of the way: so much of these teams’ success will be determined by their respective ‘Big 3s’.  Miami needs LeBron to continue playing like a Monstar who stole the abilities of various great players throughout history, Wade’s knee to stay together long enough for him to be an effective slasher and draw some attention away from James, and Bosh’s ankle to hold up and allow him to provide some sort of inside presence and make his cameo as Cindy the ostrich in Season 4 of Arrested Development.  San Antonio needs Tony Parker to run off countless pick and rolls and tire out the Miami defense, Tim Duncan to approximate Roy Hibbert’s defensive efforts protecting the rim as well as run the Spurs’ offense at times from the high post, and Manu Ginobili to think it’s still 2007 and he’s capable of hitting whatever big shot his team needs him to.  These players are obviously going to be the biggest factors in determining this year’s champion; however, they’re talked about ad nauseam so I don’t really see the need to discuss them any further here.  Instead, let’s focus on one other player from each team who could have the biggest impact on this series.

For San Antonio, Kawhi Leonard may very well be the most crucial player in this series.  Not only is he going to need to contribute as a tertiary scoring option, but he will be responsible for slowing down the superhuman force of nature that is Lebron James.  Like Paul George last series, Leonard is the only player on his team with the baseline strength/speed combination to deal with LeBron; Danny Green will have to take a couple minutes on him each game but isn’t big enough to deal with James in the post and guys like Diaw and Splitter are too slow to really consider for the assignment.  Paul George actually did an outstanding job defending him (1.2 seconds at the end of game 1 aside), and it speaks more to James’ brilliance than any fault of George that LeBron still put up the jaw-dropping numbers he did against Indiana.  A recent Rick Reilly piece on Leonard gave the impression that after what that young man has been through, he’s not a candidate to be phased by the big stage.  If Kawhi Leonard can approximate what George did while staying out of foul trouble and contributing a bit offensively as well, the Spurs have a chance.

As for the Heat, Shane Battier has long been known as the lynchpin in their transition to a small ball team; he provides elite floor spacing on offense while battling opposing power forwards to save LeBron from the wear and tear of such defensive assignments.  However, the size and strength of the West-Hibbert front court, combined with a cold stretch of shooting, diminished Battier’s playing time to such a degree over the course of the series that he never even took the floor in Game 7.  Now, the Spurs provide a better, though not ideal, matchup for Battier that should see him regain his pivotal role in the Heat rotation.  Although the Splitter-Duncan front court is one which would trouble the Duke grad defensively, the Spurs rely heavily on Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw to provide front court minutes off the bench.  Both of those guys are stretch four types who Battier could easily guard without fear of being beaten down on the block.  Whenever one of those guys are in the game, or if the Spurs opt to go small with Leonard at the 4, Battier should be able to thrive.  If he can regain his three point shooting stroke (43.8% this season), expect the Heat offense to start humming like it was during its historic winning streak, and make life miserable for the Spurs.

Prediction: Heat in 7.  Everyone watching will be the real winners though.

Kronum League Season 4 – Week 8 Recap

The Evergreens prevailed in a rough-and-tumble game against the always physical Jet Sets.

Evergreens 120, Jet Sets 100

The league billed this game as a huge match-up in a burgeoning rivalry.  Unfortunately for the Jet Sets and viewers at home, Jeff Regensburg missed the contest as he was in Ireland.  If David Stern ran the league, he’d bring the hammer down for not putting their best team out on the field (e.g. the Spurs back in November).  Without Regensburg, the Evergreens manned up on Stephen Vandenburg and Sets captain Matt Parsons (game-highs 26 points, 8 assists) placed himself on the outside rather than his customary position in the middle of the field, opting to take on more of a scoring role.  The move payed huge dividends early on with Parsons scoring at will from the flex area, finding teammates for backdoor dunks, and even adding a transition four into an empty net.  On the other side of the ball, Evergreens rookie Harold Bolton (19 points) was on fire in the first period.  Aside from more traditional flex zone goals, Bolton also both threw and kicked ring shots through for four points apiece.  The Evergreens held a 41-38 advantage after one period.

Then, fans witnessed a Kronum first as Evergreens wedgeback Vince Rota (7 points, 6 saves on 13 attempts) spiked the second period prime rush into the chamber for four points before the opposing wedgeback could get back into position.  The Evergreens used that momentum to build upon their lead, going up by as many as 14 points.  The Jet Sets came roaring back though, behind 4-point cross shots from Don McCall and Ryan Skinner.  Stephen Vandenberg (8 points on 4-8 shooting)had his best stretch of the game, as he was finally able to shake his man-mark to get a few open shots in the flex area.  After a Parsons flex shot at the buzzer, the Sets had closed the deficit to 81-77 after two periods.

Unfortunately for the Jet Sets, that play late in the second period did not carry over into the final stanza, with the offense going ice cold.  As he had all game, Ryan Maley (team-high 23 points, 7 assists, 10 saves on 18 attempts) was all over the field, coming up with huge saves and serving as the catalyst of the Evergreens’ offense.  The Evergreens team as a whole continued to punish the Sets in the goal zone (16 goal zone points for the game) and the lead steadily grew.  With the Jet Sets fouling them down the stretch, the Evergreens successfully converted on their penalty shots (led by Joe Petrino’s 3-4 on the game), to deny any potential comeback effort.

The victory all but locks up the 2nd seed and a first round bye for the Evergreens; they hold a 1.5 game advantage over the Urban Legends in the standings and own the tiebreaker.  Ryan Maley rebounded nicely from a couple down performances against the Nimble Jacks and Night Owls and the rest of the team picked up the slack for what wasn’t the best game from Joe Petrino (19 points on 4-17 shooting).  The Jet Sets really missed Regensburg in this contest; no player other than Parsons tallied more than 11 points.  Their team’s identity is too tied up in a high-powered offensive attack to go without the perennial league-leading scorer.  With the loss, they’re essentially locked into the middle of the playoff field in both directions.  Their remaining games should be used to fine-tune things on both ends if they hope to earn a marquee victory over the higher-seeded teams in postseason play.

The Throwbacks did everything they could to wrap up Kyle McGrath and the Owls. It didn’t work.

Night Owls 112, Throwbacks 104

By all accounts, Kyle McGrath has always been a Philadelphia-area guy: Springfield, PA native, West Chester University graduate, so on and so forth; you’ve likely heard it all before from McGrath himself.  However, with 5 Night Owls regulars missing the game (Chris VonTanhausen, Brett McGlensey, Jay Klein, Bill Zane, and Dan Geroit), the Owls’ captain was forced to take a page from another league’s star and go ‘back to his Cleveland days’.  McGrath terrorized the Throwbacks in all facets of the game, racking up a league-high 48 points on just 22 shots, while also leading the team in assists (5) and recording a league-high 4 blocks.  He did miss surpassing the 50-point threshold for the second time this season when his final penalty shot clanged off the post.  Better step it up next time.

McGrath got started right away, hitting two cross shots in the game’s opening minutes, while also hitting an additional cross shot and a ring shot from the flex later in the period on his way to a 20+ point frame.  Initially, the Throwbacks’ offense was able to go blow for blow with the Owls, looking sharp in scoring from the flex, wedge, and goal zones.  As is their style, the Throwbacks featured a balanced attack with Ryan Kirby (16 points) getting into the teeth of the defense in the wedge area, Steve Fariss (18 points) playing his efficient game in the flex zone, and Steve Botta (18 points, 11 saves on 21 attempts) doing a little bit of everything.  The Night Owls held a slim 45-42 lead after one period.

On the first play of 2nd period, McGrath picked up right he left off, converting a 7 point play after being fouled on a successful cross shot and draining the ensuing penalty.  After a subsequent Throwbacks rally, the Night Owls really began to pull away behind a big period from Brian Concio (18 points), as the rookie took advantage of the additional available playing time to have his best professional game.  Although the Owls did not have a great overall save percentage as a team, two wedgebacks really stepped up as Bob Zane (11 saves on 17 attempts) and Chris Custer (8 saves on 13 attempts) locked down their quadrants.  The Owls’ lead swelled to 87-70 after two periods.

To their credit, the Throwbacks fought back valiantly, as they really buckled down defensively in the final frame.  Jim Bradley (12 points on 6-7 shooting, 11 saves on 21 attempts) did a nice job on both sides of the ball and captain Joe Ferrigno (game-high 10 assists) orchestrated the offense to get his team back into the game.  The Throwbacks would close to within 5 points with less than 2 minutes left but were unable to complete the comeback.

The Night Owls have to be ecstatic with this victory given the fact that a third of their team was missing in action.  Their majic number to clinch a playoff berth is now one (either one Owls win or one Throwbacks loss.  Defensively though, the Owls still have some things to work out, as excluding Zane and Custer, the team only saved 14 of 63 shots (22.2%).  For the Throwbacks, this was another instance of the team not having enough offensive firepower, as they failed to record a single point from either the cross zone or via penalty shot in this contest.  They now find themselves on the outside looking in for the final playoff spot.

The Work Horses laid it all on the line to secure their second victory of the season.

Work Horses 134, Urban Legends 123

(Portions of this article will also appear on the official Kronum League website. Be sure to check out the site for additional Week 8 coverage and statistics).

Most people have heard about the blockbuster trade this past offseason that brought the Work Horses two of the top five scorers from last season in Phil Cavalcante and Luke Dougan.  It wasn’t exactly the Lakers adding Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in the offseason but expectations were certainly high coming into this year.  Unfortunately for the Work Horses, the results were similar to those early-season struggles for the purple and gold; the offense has been largely slow, stagnant and one-dimensional throughout the season.  Until, that is, Round 8 rolled around and everything finally seemed to click for what became the team’s coming out party.  These new and improved Horses are running in the fast lane.

The action was all high-powered fireworks from the jump.  Mike Small (team-high 28 points) fired lasers into the chamber, Luke Dougan (18 points) got things rolling, and Dave Slusser (24 points, league-high 17 points) had his best all-around performance controlling the action for his squad.  Phil Cavalcante (23 points) enjoyed the open space efficient afforded him by the on-again, off-again face-guarding tactics of an Urban Legends team that used to playing that style of defense.  However, the Horses were not as efficient on the defensive end as the Urban Legends did their usual work in the wedge zone, led by Greg Ermold, who was a perfect 9-9 shooting for 18 points.  Kevin Glover (game-high 32 points) drilled a flex shot through the rings on their last possession to make the score 50-41 going into the first intermission.

After the teams tread water in the second period, the Urban Legends entered the final frame down 11 before finally got things going from the cross zone; Mike Ragan (22 points) sank two, Kevin Clark (18 points, but on 5 of 28 shooting) fired in three of his own, and Glover sank another ring flex shot.  The Legends pulled within two on a couple occasions but Dougan caught fire down the stretch, hitting from the flex zone and a huge four to extend the lead back to double digits. With the score 128-117, Legends captain Scott Anderson made a rare 6-point ring on a penalty shot (12 points).  However, two penalty shots from Cavalcante and Slusser put the game away.

The crucial win moved the Work Horses ahead of the Throwbacks for the final playoff spot.  If they can maintain the type of offensive balance they showed in this contest, the Horses should be able to earn another win or two down the stretch to maintain that positioning.  Regarding the Legends, this level of defense wasn’t what people have come to expect from them.  As a team, they saved only one-third of shots faced and only collected two steals.  Hopefully for them, this performance was just a bump in the road and not indicative of their level of play going forward.

Week 8 Leaders:

Points – Kyle McGrath (48), Kevin Glover (32), Mike Small (28)

Assists – Dave Slusser (17), Joe Ferrigno (10), Ryan Yaniak (9)

Saves – Zach Van Fossen (13), Dan Vignola (13), 4 players tied with 11

Blocks – Kyle McGrath (4), George Price (3), Alec Jadacki (3)

Steals – Ryan Skinner (2), Matt Urglavitch (2), Mike Quintans (2)

Down the Stretch They Come – Part 2

Joe Petrino blew a shot past Kyle McGrath here. Will he best McGrath in our MVP predictions?

With the Memorial Day weekend providing a natural break in the schedule, we take a look at how teams will finish the season (Part 1), and how individual player awards are shaking out (Part 2).

Rookie of the Year Race

This section isn’t an examination of the logic behind how the Cubs adding a tremendous closer (i.e. Henry Rowengartner) could suddenly transform them from a last-place team into world champions.  Rather, we’re taking stock of all the first-year players in the league and who among them has stood out the most.  With almost 40% of the league playing their first professional Kronum League season, plenty of rookies are making significant contributions to their teams.  So while this is by no means an exhaustive list, the following three players rank as our frontrunners for Rookie of the Year honors, with plenty of kronum left to be played.

2nd Runner-up: Dom Petrino (Evergreens)

The expansion Evergreens have taken the league by storm, steadily climbing to 2nd place in the standings.  When an Evergreen lights up the scoreboard, there’s about a 50/50 chance that the name on the back reads Petrino.  However, that’s not entirely attributable to leading scorer Joe Petrino, as his brother Dom actually ranks 2nd on the team and 14th overall in the league in points per game (15.3).  The league’s leading scorer among rookies, Dom ranks 2nd overall in ring points (46), both due to his propensity to hit the big ring shot from the flex zone, and his prowess in the goal zone (4th overall with 27 goal zone points).  The main thing holding back Petrino’s claim to this title is his relative subpar defense compared to the other candidates, as he ranks in the bottom half of the league with a 43.8% save percentage.

1st Runner-up: Ryan Maley (Evergreens)

Prior to his last two games, Maley would have been the runaway favorite for this award.  However, with the Nimble Jacks and Night Owls’ defenses keying in on him, the other prominent Evergreens’ rookie was held to just 4 and 10 points in those contests.  Whether Maley can adjust to the added attention will be an interesting thing to watch down the stretch.  Still, Maley has been very efficient this season, scoring at a 1.19 points per shot mark on his way to the 20th best points per game mark in the league (13.7).  Even more impressively, Maley leads all wedgebacks in assists per game (3.1), good for 15th overall, as he runs through the middle as much as any wedgeback in the league.  When a player comes to define a new hybrid wedgeback-crosser role in his first year in the league, he’ll make this list.  In addition to his offensive responsibilities, Maley also gets the job done on the defensive end, ranking 13th overall in save percentage (47.4%), and 9th in saves per game (9.1).

Favorite: Dan Vignola (Urban Legends)

Probably no player is as productive while flying under the radar as Legends’ rookie Dan Vignola.  At first glance, Vignola is just another in a long line of the team’s skilled foot players.  But look ahead, and you’ll see that he leads the entire league in wedge zone points, more than double the next closest player.  His marksmanship inside the wedge has Vignola 19th in the league in points per game (14.0), a steady source of scoring for an Urban Legends team that can go through offensive lulls.  Moreover, offense isn’t even the best part of this rookie’s game.  Vignola is a stalwart defensively, sitting third in the league in save percentage (53.8%), and tied for 4th in saves per game (10.7).  There are just 6 players in the league averaging a double-double and Dan Vignola is the only rookie among them.  Sometimes even players under the radar get noticed.

Most Valuable Player Race

MVP candidates can come in a variety of different forms.  They can do everything within their power whiling away for a losing team, raise a mediocre squad into playoff contention, or lift a talented bunch to even greater heights.  You often have to account for both gaudy statistics as well as intangible ways those players can impact a game on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.  Among the many deserving players in the Kronum League, we try to narrow things down to a handful of candidates.  The following 4 players are our current MVP finalists, listed alphabetically with corresponding pertinent statistics:

Midseason MVP candidates

3rd Runner-up: Phil Cavalcante (Work Horses)

The Work Horses currently find themselves in last place, but no one could attribute that position to any lack of effort on the field by captain Phil Cavalcante.  The veteran ranger leads the Kronum League in points per game, scoring efficiently despite facing the bulk of the attention from opposing defenses.  Unfortunately, his teammates have not done a whole lot to pick him up, evidenced by Cavalcante having easily the largest usage variance in the league (difference between his percentage of the team’s points and team’s shots).  Cavalcante also makes his presence known defensively, sitting third in blocks behind the Nimble Jacks’ Dan Geiger and Shaun Stevens.  It would be interesting to see what kind of numbers he would put a more well-rounded supporting cast to open things up more for him.  Alas, though Cavalcante has the statistics to rival anyone, winning MVP is an almost impossible task for a member of a last-place team.

2nd Runner-up: Mike Ragan (Urban Legends)

The most unexpected member of this quartet, Mike Ragan has come on strong in his sophomore season.  With last year’s MVP Kevin Clark dead last in the league in usage variance at -6.5%, Ragan has filled that scoring void while also increasing his playmaking responsibilities.  Ragan, Kyle McGrath, and the Nimble Jacks’ Ryan Coyne and Jared O’Donnell are the only players in the top 10 in both points and assists per game.  As the league’s leader in cross zone points, Ragan’s ability to stretch the defense out top is crucial for an Urban Legends team that relies heavily on scoring in the wedge zone.  Combined with his ball-hawking skills defensively (2nd in the league in steals per game), Ragan has emerged as the key cog for one of the league’s most consistent contenders.

1st Runner-up: Kyle McGrath (Night Owls)

In compiling this list, it would be difficult to omit the player who set the league scoring record this season, putting up a double nickel (55 points) against the Jet Sets in Round 5.  McGrath trails only Cavalcante in points per game, while having the second highest points per shot mark in the league (min. 5 attempts/game), behind the Nimble Jacks’ guru of the goal zone Pete Weiss.  He also handles a fair amount of the distribution duties offensively.  Viewers saw how stagnant that unit looked when McGrath missed Round 7 against the Urban Legends due to a suspension.  Yet, a team leader can’t put his squad in that situation to begin with, especially when they’re fighting for their playoff lives.

Favorite: Joe Petrino (Evergreens)

If someone leads an expansion team to a current second place position in the standings and a clear path at a first round bye, he probably has a good shot at MVP honors.  Like Cavalcante and McGrath, Petrino often deals with man-marking defenses against him, but he’s kept up the efficient scoring he became known for last season with the Nimble Jacks.  More surprisingly, Petrino has been an impact player on the defensive end, as he is one of just four players in the league ranked top ten in both blocks and steals.  Petrino’s steals and quick transition fours are one of the deadliest plays in the Evergreens’ arsenal.  Coming into the season, Petrino was looked upon as the guy who would help guide a relatively inexperienced squad through the rigors of a professional season.  So far, he’s done all that was asked of him and more.

Down the Stretch They Come – Part 1

With the Memorial Day weekend providing a natural break in the schedule, we take a look at how teams will finish the season (Part 1), and how individual player awards are shaking out (Part 2).

1. Nimble Jacks (Current Record: 6-0, Point Differential: +151, Remaining Strength of Schedule: 0.375, Projected Record: 9-1)

One of these years the Nimble Jacks are going to fall off.  As more and more talent enters the Kronum League, it’s only natural that some opposing team will eventually bring down the champs. There were whispers that the loss of offensive dynamo Joe Petrino this past offseason would be the first domino to topple the Jacks’ dynasty.  However, much to the chagrin of everyone not wearing maroon and orange, Nimble Jacks version 4.0 is firing on all cylinders once again.  Aside from their 6-0 record, the Nimble Jacks also sport far and away the league’s best point differential, with 48 and 35 point victories over the Work Horses and Jet Sets under their belts.    

It all starts on the defensive end where the team has easily the best save percentage in the league at 50.2%.  The defensive field players also wreck havoc as the team is first in the league in blocks per game and second in steals per game.  The offense is no slouch either, as the Jacks rank second in shooting percentage at 43.3% and 1st in assists per game (34.7).  The Jacks attack from all angles of the field, evidenced by their first place rank in both goal and flex zone points per game.  

The Jacks face the bottom two teams in the league in the Horses and Throwbacks before finishing up the season against the Urban Legends and Sets.  We saw in earlier games against the Throwbacks and Night Owls that the Jacks can be beaten if an opponent plays a full 60 minutes against them.  So while it’s possible to expect one slip-up down the stretch, the Jacks should still cruise into the top overall seed.

2. Evergreens (Current Record: 5-2, Point Differential: +33, Remaining SoS: 0.278, Projected Record: 7-3)

Whenever an expansion team enters a league, at best people will say they have some nice pieces and could sneak away with a few wins here and there.  With their initiation to the Kronum League approaching, the Evergreens were talking about serious contention for a title and people just wrote it off as typical PR jargon.  After all, are they supposed to come in saying they expect to lose?  Little did those critics know, however, that this expansion team would quickly form one of the most dynamic and well-rounded squads the league has to offer.

The Greens feature a swarming defense that ranks second in the league in blocks per game, while a relatively inexperienced group of wedgebacks have more than held their own in goal.  Offensively, the arms are there to convert from long range, while the team has already shown an acute sense of timing for hitting players for backdoor dunks in the goal zone.  Everyone is taking the Evergreens seriously now.

No team has an easier remaining schedule than the Evergreens, as they finish up the season with the Jet Sets and the bottom two teams in the Throwbacks and Work Horses.  Given their level of play so far this season, they should have no trouble winning at least two of those remaining games.  Given the contests remaining and that they own the tiebreaker over the Urban Legends following their 118-97 victory over the Legends in Round 6, the Evergreens should secure that coveted second first-round bye.

3. Urban Legends (Current Record: 4-2, Point Differential: +1, Remaining SoS: 0.458, Projected Record: 6-4)

In an odd statistical anomaly, the Urban Legends have rarely been involved in close games this season; they have had only one game decided by less than 15 points, their 86-84 victory over the Throwbacks in Round 2.  One possible explanation is that teams know what the Legends are going to do, attack from the wedge zone and the cross zone.  They have scored more than triple the amount of wedge zone points as the next highest team and 69% of their total points have come from those two zones.  It’s usually evident early on whether the opponent has a plan in place to stop the Legends’ attack and their offense can stagnate in those instances.  For the Urban Legends to emerge from the middle of the pack and beat some of the elite defenses in the league, they’ll have to introduce a little more scoring from the flex zone to balance things out.

The Legends finish the season with games against the Throwbacks and Work Horses wrapped around meetings with the Jet Sets and Nimble Jacks.  The Legends will almost surely win at least a couple of those contests but it’s unlikely they’ll earn the sweep likely needed to bypass the Evergreens.  Look for the Legends to take on the lowest seed remaining in the first round of the playoffs.

4. Jet Sets (Current Record: 3-3, Point Differential: -30, Remaining SoS: 0.654, Projected Record: 5-5)

The Jet Sets are still a tough team to get a handle on at this point in the season.  Much of that is likely due to the fact that they’ve rarely had their complete team out on the field, as Matt Parsons, Nick DeLuca, Mike Quintans, and Jeff Regensburg have all missed at least some time so far.  Statistically, the Jet Sets look like world beaters, as they rank first in shooting percentage (46.0%) and second in assists per game offensively, while also ranking second in the league in save percentage at 46.3%.  Then you look again, and the Sets actually have the second-worst point differential in the league, only ahead of the Work Horses, as their 3-3 record stands on the back of a pair of one-point victories over the Evergreens and Throwbacks.  Most statisticians will tell you that point differential is more indicative of a team’s true level of play than record, but can you penalize a team for still winning while missing key players.  It will be interesting to see what direction the Sets head in moving forward.

The Jet Sets finish the season with a murderer’s row of opponents, taking on the top three teams in the Nimble Jacks, Evergreens, and Urban Legends, plus a Night Owls team that defeated them 122-115 in Round 5.  The Sets have all but locked up a playoff berth already, so while they may not come out ahead in too many of these difficult match-ups, it will be an important period for their team to gel with a full roster on the field.  They certainly have the potential to take down any opponent come playoff time.

5. Night Owls (Current Record: 2-5, Point Differential: -16, Remaining SoS: 0.278, Projected Record: 4-6)

No team symbolizes a high-risk, high-reward strategy quite like the Night Owls.  A frenetic quality to their defense has the Owls first in steals per game, but may hang their wedgebacks out to dry at times, as they rank next to last in save percentage at 42.6%.  That high-stakes philosophy extends to the offensive side of the ball.  Not only are the Owls first in cross zone points per game, but it’s not usual to see multiple shots at the crown during a single Night Owls’ possession, in lieu of taking the more traditional shot at the chamber.  As a result, the Night Owls are a threat to anyone on a given day, but they have also blown late leads against both the Jacks and Evergreens.  They’ll need to find a more consistent level of play to really make some noise going forward.

The Night Owls have the same remaining schedule as the Evergreens, facing the two last place teams in addition to the Jet Sets, who they have already defeated.  Barring another untimely suspension to captain and leading scorer Kyle McGrath, one would expect the Owls to capitalize on this relatively easy slate of games to win a couple contests and secure a playoff berth.

6. Throwbacks (Current Record: 1-5, Point Differential: -24, Remaining SoS: 0.654, Projected Record: 2-8)

Everyone’s trendy pick prior to the season to shoot up the league standings, the Throwbacks have still yet to correct things on the offensive end, leading to a dissapointing start that has them on the precipice of missing the playoffs altogether.  The Throwbacks rank next to last in the league in shooting percentage at 38.2%, and are the only team in the league not averaging 100 points per game (93.2).  One way to get things going offensively would be to earn some easy points in transition through more pressure defense.  While the wedgebacks have performed adequately, the team is last in the league in both steals and blocks per game.  Their grind-it-out style won’t cut it without any sort of offensive efficiency; it might be time to shake things up a bit.

The Throwbacks have performed much better of late, losing tight matches to the Nimble Jacks and Jet Sets, wrapped around their lone win against the Work Horses.  Unfortunately, they finish with that same grueling schedule as the Jet Sets, taking on the Night Owls before finishing against the top three teams in the league.   It’s hard to see the blue and gold earning much momentum facing that slate of opponents.  The Throwbacks’ 111-90 victory over the Work Horses in Round 6 may loom large as a tiebreaker in securing that final playoff spot.  

7. Work Horses (Current Record: 1-5, Point Differential: -115, Remaining SoS: 0.654, Projected Record: 2-8)

With some high-powered scoring options joining the Work Horses this past offseason, many felt the Horses’ winless campaign a season ago would be put far behind them.  Alas, it’s been more of the same in 2013 as the Horses sport, by far, the worst point differential in the league, and have been blown out of a handful of games.  Both sides of the ball have given the Work Horses trouble, as they are last in the league in shooting percentage at 37.8%, and last in the league with a 41.8% save percentage.  Defensively, the team’s field players need to do a better job rotating quickly to force more difficult shots; too often, Work Horses wedgebacks are left on an island in one-on-one situations.  Offensively, there needs to be more variety in their attack as it has become far too easy for opposing defenses to key in on the Horses’ main scorers out top.

In another instance of the poor get poorer, the Work Horses also finish the season facing the top three teams in the league, in addition to a rematch against the Night Owls, against whom they recorded their lone win in a close 105-101 victory.  The way the team has been playing, it would be a stretch to envision the Horses earning more than one addtional win going forward.  With the Throwbacks having won the head-to-head matchup, it looks like the Work Horses may be the first team in league history not to advance to postseason play.

2013 Offseason Training Program: Spencer Hawes

In this series, we’ll examine each of the Sixers under contract for the 2013-14 season and one aspect of his game he could work on during the offseason.

On this Memorial Day weekend, who better to discuss than the Sixers’ own stars and stripes headband wearin’, mullet and handlebar mustache sportin’, hardcore Republican starting center, Spencer Hawes.  Watching Hawes play can often be a frustrating experience, from when he doesn’t dunk a ball off a nice feed inside despite being 7’0″, to those occasions when someone half a foot shorter on the opposing team pushes him around down low to grab an offensive rebound.  However, what keeps management coming back are those stretches of play when Hawes looks like one of the best centers in the league.  In 17 March games last season, Hawes put up the following stat line (via Basketball Reference):

March 17 100 196 9 18 32 38 38 164 65 3 32 34 241 0.51 0.50 0.842 31.5 14.2 9.6 3.8

With averages of 14 points, nearly 10 rebounds and 4 assists, Hawes’ production over that stretch was only duplicated over the course of last season by three players: David Lee, Al Horford, and Greg Monroe.  That is to say, Big Spencer was playing like two all-stars and one of the best young big men in the game.  Plus, Hawes was hitting threes, shooting better from the foul line, and blocking shots better than those comparable players.  Obviously this is an instance of small sample size, but those are the flashes of play that keep management coming back, especially given that seven footers with ball skills don’t grow on trees.

Besides miraculously adding half a foot to his vertical leap, what could Hawes work on to be a more productive player for the Sixers next season?  I’ve given up on him adding a low post game as he seemingly doesn’t have the requisite lower body strength to establish the necessary post position.  One area that could be enhanced, however, is his level of conditioning.  Fans saw how during the 2011-12 season when Hawes battled back and achilles injuries, his play was severely limited when he was able to take the court as he was unable to work his way back into NBA shape.  Hawes is at his best when he’s beating his man up and down the floor.  Not only does it lead to easy buckets for him, but it’s especially crucial for him to gain post position on both ends first because of his inability to bully himself into the proper spots.

His stretch of great play last season came after the all-star break in mid-February, when he presumably was able to recharge his batteries in the midst of a grueling NBA season.  Hawes needs to fully commit to a rigorous conditioning program, adding necessary flexibility training for proper injury prevention.  Obviously, this is a baseline for any professional athlete, but Hawes’ game truly hinges about it.  Hopefully, a healthy and productive offseason will have Sixers fans seeing Good Spencer more often than not next season.

Happy Memorial Day weekend everyone!