So Glad Jrue Made the All-Star Game Instead of Those Other Dudes on Good Teams

So Glad Jrue Made the All-Star Game Instead of Those Other Dudes on Good Teams

When Golden State's David Lee was interviewed after a recent Warriors
win about the possibility of being honored with an All-Star nod, he said
that what would make the nomination so special was that it would come
because his team had played well, reflecting better on him by
comparison. Needless to say, this was not the case with our own Jrue
Holiday, but if I were him, I would find the honor of being chose in
spite of my team far more flattering and special than being honored
because of my team. If you're chosen as an All-Star when your team has a
16-24 record and hasn't won consecutive games since November, you must
have been really, really good this season.

Jrue Holiday has been really, really good this season. Better
than we would have thought, better than we could have expected, better
than we might've even hoped. He was put in just about every possible
position to flounder—given far more responsibility than he had in
previous years, but with far fewer weapons to work with—and still
managed to put up not just career numbers, but numbers nobody else in
the league is putting up. (The list of players averaging 19 points and
nine assists starts and ends with Jrue.) When watching him put in a
signature takeover performance during that game against the Raptors, I
posed the question (to myself) "Has watching Jrue this year been worth
having to watch the rest of the team?" I concluded that indeed, it had.

Jrue's numbers (and he's not just a numbers guy, he's damn
impressive to watch as well) have been good enough this year that his
All-Star candidacy should've been a no-brainer. But certain
coaches—let's call one of them D. Collins, for example—insist that when
choosing All-Stars, you work from the top of the standings down, and if
you come up with enough plausible candidates before you get to the 9th
and 10th seeds, tough luck for the guys on those lottery-bound teams.

And so candidates like Brooklyn's Deron Williams, Milwaukee's
Brandon Jennings, and especially New York's J.R. Smith were given
protracted consideration for All-Star status, with three of the four TNT
analysts choosing Smith to just one (Barkley, duh) going to bat for The
Damaja. No matter that all three's stats were easily inferior to
Holiday, that D-Will was so bad at the start of the year that his coach
basically got fired for it, and that Milwaukee and New York would gladly
trade either Jennings or Smith for Holiday in a heartbeat—these guys
were on teams with winning records, therefore they must have been
worthier than Holiday.

Thankfully, Jrue was the one who got the nod—along with the
Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving, who had an even worse record (but arguably an
even more impressive season) than Holiday. As happy as I was that Jrue
had been selected, it's nothing compared to how angry I would've been if
we were deprived of the One Good Thing that could've come out of the
Bynumless era of the 2012-13 76ers because coaches decided that other
dudes should be awarded for having better teammates. The TNT bros still
waxed infuriantingly rhapsodic about Smith's snub—et tu, Ernie
Johnson?—but whatever. Justice was done.

So for the second straight year, the Sixers have a first-time
All-Star. But more than Iguodala's selection last year—which, while not
undeserved, was certainly helped dramatically by the Liberty Ballers'
excellent first half to the season—this one really feels earned. The
Sixers have been awful to watch this year, but at least we have Jrue,
one of the best guys in the East, representing for us, making sure we
don't fade into total national anonymity as we wait for Bynum's legs to
grow back. We can't wait to see him running the fast break with Paul
George and getting backdoor feeds from Joakim Noah in Houston a couple
weeks from now.

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake continues to rack up the accolades.

A couple of weeks after being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, the rising Philadelphia Union star was named to the MLS Best XI team as one of the league’s top players in 2016.

The rest of the team included:

• Forwards Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)
• Midfielders Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Sacha Kljestan (Red Bulls), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas) and Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
• Defenders Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids) and Jelle Van Damme (Galaxy)

Blake’s inclusion on the Best XI is not a surprise considering he already took home top goalkeeper honors. Even though he didn’t have the best numbers in the league, he made the spectacular look ordinary in his first full season as an MLS starter.

But it is unique for the Union, who haven’t had a player make the Best XI since Sebastien Le Toux was included for his 14-goal, 11-assist effort in Philly's 2010 expansion season.

Union winger Chris Pontius, who recently won the 2016 MLS Breakout Player of the Year award, made Best XI while with D.C. United in 2012. Former Union players to be honored on the prestigious list were Bakary Soumare with Chicago in 2008 and Justin Mapp with Chicago in 2006.

Another big honor like this will likely only increase the chatter that Blake could be sold to a big team in Europe soon. But a couple of weeks ago, the Union goalkeeper insisted his only focus for 2017 is on Philadelphia.

“From a personal standpoint, I’m hoping to have an even better season than 2016,” he said at the time. “To be able to go in and be consistent and do everything I can for the Union — and maybe be the goalkeeper to get them their first [MLS] Cup.”

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

There’s a number of reasons why the Flyers have a five-game winning streak, why they’re playing better hockey, and why they own the No. 1 wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
 
Perhaps the biggest reason of all is goaltender Steve Mason, who has won four of those games, compiling a 1.71 goals against average and .945 save percentage during that span.
 
Mason was named the NHL’s first “Star of the Week” on Monday. St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones were second and third stars.
 
“The team is on a roll right now and I’m a benefactor of that,” said Mason, who needs a win Tuesday against Florida to tie his career-high streak of five set Dec. 17-30 in 2013, during his first, full season as a Flyer.
 
“There’s strong play in front of me. The team is playing a little tighter in our defensive zone of late and making the goaltender reads that much more simple. 
 
“Right now, there’s a comfort level with the guys in front of me … Winning five in a row is nice and we’d like to keep making ground in the standings.”
 
His four victories last week were tops in the NHL. Among them, he had a season-high 45 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against Boston. 
 
Like many goalies, Mason prefers action. Games such as the 3-2 overtime win at Ottawa last week when the Senators only fired 21 shots, bother him.
 
“Those games, when you are not getting a lot of shots, the ones you do get will be a high-grade scoring chance,” he said. “And when you’re sitting around a few minutes not seeing the puck and all of a sudden see a chance like that …
 
“It’s more difficult to play [those games] than the games where there is a constant workload and you’re not thinking, but just playing. For myself personally, those are the games I enjoy the most. When I see a lot of pucks.”
 
The Flyers have seen dramatic improvement over the past month in their overall defensive play, from both their defensemen in down-low coverage in the slow and with their forwards on the backcheck.
 
Mason said the team has gone through “growing pains” with trying to integrate some younger bodies to the lineup this season – Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Nick Cousins  come to mind.
 
“You have to familiar with everybody,” he said. “Have a constant lineup where guys go out  shift after shift and night after night, you know what to expect from one another. When you have that kind of confidence in guys, it makes playing easier.” 
 
Mason’s 4-2 victory at Nashville on Sunday saw him go over .500 for the first time this season with a 9-8-3 record. 
 
His GAA is coming down at 2.76 while his save percentage has risen to .904.
 
“I was aware of it obviously, just because of the way the year started,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of work to get it above the .900 level.
 
“We’re obviously going to continue to work at getting it even better. The way the team’s playing right now and the way everybody’s clicking, we’re going at a good pace right now.”