Lappy's Just a Different Breed

Lappy's Just a Different Breed

One of the
first things I wrote for this site was an ode to Sami Kapanen, which was inspired by the courage and selflessness he showed
in getting off the ice after absorbing a brain-rattling hit from Darcy
Tucker against the Maple Leafs in the 2004 Eastern Conference
Semifinals. To this day what amazes me about that play is that Sami got up because that’s what hockey players do. He certainly did not have his wits about him enough to
process the implications of getting up. He got up because it was his
natural hockey playing instinct. Hockey players just do that sort of
thing. It’s in their DNA.

In thinking about the current Flyers
playoff run I keep coming back to that same realization that hockey
players are just a different
breed. We’re not like them. Their ability to
absorb and withstand pain is beyond anything I could possibly imagine.
Shrugging off broken feet, brain contusions, pucks to the face, and the
hush-hush upper and lower body injuries has reached the point of being
cliché. Think about it - when a player suffers an injury requiring 70
stitches and he somehow returns to the ice 10 minutes later we simply
shrug and say “he’s a hockey player”.

No one personifies this more than
Ian Laperriere. As you know Lappy took a frozen disk of vulcanized rubber
moving at upwards of 80 MPH to the face. The shot broke his orbital
bone, aka broke his face, and caused bruising of
his brain. Let me say that again…he suffered a
bruised brain. He couldn’t even see afterwards to the point that he
asked Flyers trainer Jim McCrossin whether he’d lost an eye. You know how
you look at the injury report in other sports and it typically says
something along the lines of “Player X: doubtful knee”, or “Player Y: questionable back”? Yeah, Lappy’s injury report would have read “Laperriere:
out brain”. You will never see something like that
in a sport other than hockey.

The injury was horrifying. He literally
left his blood on the Prudential Center ice that night. I cannot imagine
there was single person who saw that injury and did not think that his career was over. He’s 36 years
old. He’s played over 15 years in the NHL. He’s had a terrific career. No one could have blamed him had he simply
decided to hang it up.

But that’s not what hockey players do. The most you
could get him to concede was that he’d begrudgingly agree to wear a
shield next season. Oh, and he volunteered that when he dropped the
gloves to fight next season he’d simply remove his helmet first.
Naturally, he expressed some worry about his life post-hockey, and his
ability to enjoy being a husband and father, but he was already
contemplating how he would adapt to wearing a shield. Again I return to
the familiar refrain “he’s a hockey player”.

So what does he
do after suffering the broken face, the brain bruise, the fear that he’d
lost an eye, and the prospect of losing the ability to fully enjoy his
family? He continues to work out with the hope that the team advances to
the point that he could rejoin them. Simply wanting to come back from an injury like that is beyond anything I
could ever imagine. My retirement papers would have been at the league
office the next day. Lappy? He's dying to get back out there.

Now at no point
did I actually think he’d make it back. However, assuming he did the
unthinkable and actually did play again there was no way in a million
years he’d resume his shot blocking, forechecking, penalty killing ways, right? Wrong. Almost
immediately after stepping onto the ice in Montreal he was in a
wrestling match along the boards with Roman Hamrlik. During Game Five he was back to laying out in front of shots from the point. He has zero fear. He’s
completely deactivated the flight part of the fight or flight response.
He gleefully reaches out to touch the hot stove over and over again.

In Philadelphia
we like our athletes bruised and bloodied. We demand maximum effort. We
insist they care as much as we do. Hockey players
willingly give up their bodies, their teeth, and their health in pursuit
of the Stanley Cup. Like us they just care so damn much. Unlike us they
are wired in such a way that they're willing to withstand and play
through unimaginable pain and injury. Ian Laperriere and Sami Kapanen
are two of the most courageous athletes I’ve ever seen. They embody everything this city loves about
its athletes. They are
fearless. They are relentless. They are hockey players.

Who's after LeBron? CSN's top 25 NBA players poll

Who's after LeBron? CSN's top 25 NBA players poll

No matter how much you rely on analytics and logarithms in determining who are the best players, ultimately it becomes about judgment.
Should win shares have a greater value than a player’s winning percentage in the playoffs? Is defensive rating a better barometer about a defender’s ability than say, defensive field goal percentage differential?
And how much do you weigh how they fare versus playoff teams and non-playoff teams?
A legitimate case can be made for all those numbers and many, many more, being used to rank the top 25 players.
When I started looking at the data and breaking down what’s worthwhile and what’s shall we say, is worthless, it became pretty clear that this should not be a one-person job.
So I enlisted the help of my fellow CSN Insiders who each bring a different but valuable perspective to the ranking of players.
And so the only thing that made sense was to take all of our rankings, compile them together and voila! We made a beautiful, bouncing list of more than two dozen players.
The scoring for this is pretty simple.
Each Insider picked 25 players, ranking them from Nos. 1-25. Their No. 1 pick received 25 points, No. 2 got 24, No. 3 got 23 and so on.
Here is the first CSN Top 25 NBA Players list, in addition to our "others receiving votes" group.
25. Al Horford, Boston (19 points)
“You can find others with better stats not on this list, but Horford’s track record of success in Atlanta (playoff trips every year he was there, five trips out of the first round in eight postseasons he played in) makes him worthy of being a top-25 player in the NBA.” – A. Sherrod Blakely
24. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers (22)
“He can’t shoot free throws, but he can rebound and play defense with the best of them. Jordan didn’t deserve his All-NBA first team selection, but he’s still a high quality long as Chris Paul is tossing up lobs.” – James Ham
23. Andre Drummond, Detroit (23)
“An emerging center who’s the league’s second-best finisher and rebounder, and without that free-throw problem, he would be higher. But … how close to his ceiling is he already?” – Vincent Goodwill
22. Marc Gasol, Memphis (24)
“One of the best passing big men in the game and also one of its best defenders. Has a soft shooting touch and off-the-charts basketball IQ.” – Jason Quick
t-20. Kyle Lowry, Toronto (32)
“Lowry came into the 2015-16 in the best shape of his career. The result was a career year and a two seed in the Eastern Conference. At 30, Lowry may have peaked, but if he can hold this level for another year or two, the Raptors will continue to post 50-plus wins.” – James Ham
t-20. Carmelo Anthony, New York (32)
“One of the more complete scorers but hard to evaluate as he hits the back end of his career; Probably the last season as a primary player on a good team, if the Knicks are to be one.” – Vincent Goodwill
19. John Wall, Washington (42)
“After being All-Defense two years ago, Wall fell off because of bad knees that required surgery on May 5 and yet he still averaged 20 points and 10 assists last season. At 6-4, a big, physical point guard with top-notch speed. Improved mid-range shooter off the bounce but still not a threat in catch-and-shoot situations or from the three-point arc.” – J. Michael
18. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers (56)
“Coming off an injury-plagued season that limited him to 35 games, Griffin still has a ways to go in diversifying his game. Fixing his footwork would help as would moving the ball quicker to create for teammates, but now he's trying to extend his range to the three-point arc. That can be a very good thing or a very bad thing.” – J. Michael
17. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota (63)
“The potential is frightening. Towns burst into the league last season and performed well-beyond his rookie year. He enters his second season with a dominating skill set and a year of wisdom from Kevin Garnett.” – Jessica Camerato 
16. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio (65)
“Owns deadly combination of inside moves and silky mid-range shot, which includes an unblock able turnaround jumper.  Also an above-average defender who can block a shot then beat his man down the court.” – Jason Quick
15. Jimmy Butler, Chicago (75)
“One of the best two-way players in basketball, perhaps the most unlikely player this high on this list. Is there another leap in performance for a guy who’s made three already in his career?” – Vincent Goodwill
14. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland (82)
“His playoff run and more importantly, Finals performance, showed he’s the perfect complement to LeBron James. Not a pure point, but perhaps the best scorer ever at the point guard position.” – Vincent Goodwill
13. Klay Thompson, Golden State (89)
Comment: “Cold-blooded shooter from deep has the temerity to play fabulous defense on the opponent’s more dangerous backcourt player. A two-way All-Star.” – Monte Poole
12. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento (96)
“Cousins will take note of his ranking and treat each of us accordingly. He too has a list. And we are all now on it. He’s the best big in the game and he’s primed for the biggest season of his career.” – James Ham
11. James Harden, Houston (101)
“He could get just about any shot he wanted to in the past, and now that he’s going to be the starting point guard, there’s no reason why this guy shouldn’t lead the league in scoring, handily.” – A. Sherrod Blakely
10. Damian Lillard, Portland (102)
“A superb leader who makes everyone in his locker room better, Lillard is also a fearless shooter who craves the big shot. Needs to improve his defense and his shooting percentages, but is emerging as one of the game’s best playmakers.” – Jason Quick
9. Anthony Davis, New Orleans (103)
“Davis, a double-double machine, is returning from injury. Will he play more than 70 games for the first time in his career? It remains to be seen how much Davis will help the Pelicans improve from their 30-win season.” – Jessica Camerato 
8. Draymond Green, Golden State (115)
“At 6-7, can defend an All-NBA center such as DeAndre Jordan or switch onto an elite point guard such as Chris Paul and win those battles. Green isn't a system player. He is the system for Golden State, which allows the other All-Stars on the team to prosper while he does a lot of the dirty work.” – J. Michael  
7. Paul George, Indiana (129)
“Can score, rebound, defend and now with a clean bill of health, George and his retooled Pacers teammates will be a force in the East this season.” – A. Sherrod Blakely
6. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers (134)
“An elite defender and floor general, the nine-time All-Star is also probably one of the NBA’s best competitors, which rubs off on his team. At age 31, the question is how much longer can he continue to check the young point guards?” – Jason Quick
5. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio (149)
“Leonard's impact on the Spurs will be magnified this season following the retirement of Tim Duncan. Look for the two-time Defensive Player of the Year to try to get his team back atop the West.  – Jessica Camerato
t-3. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City (155)
“Tied for 3rd with his new arch nemesis? Westbrook will statistically flourish in his new role as King of the Dust Bowl. It may not lead him to a Western Conference showdown against Durant and his Warriors, but it’s hard to count him out.” – James Ham 
t-3. Kevin Durant, Golden State (155)
“Famous for scoring from deep, he is deadly on the block, a default rim protector, the best rebounding small forward alive and has a full grasp of the team game.” – Monte Poole
2. Stephen Curry, Golden State (162)
“Back-to-back MVP, including first unanimous winner, his incredible shooting range stretches defenses like no one we’ve ever seen. A legitimate game-changer. – Monte Poole
1. LeBron James, Cleveland  (175)
“DJ Khaled’s “All I do is win” hit from 2010 really should be the soundtrack to LeBron James’ career which now includes title bling in two cities – Miami (2 titles) and Cleveland – that could not be any more different. Hands down, he’s the best in the game right now.” – A. Sherrod Blakely 

Others receiving votes: DeMar DeRozan, Toronto (15 points); Mike Conley, Memphis (15); Paul Millsap, Atlanta (14); Hassan Whiteside, Miami (13); Isaiah Thomas, Boston (8); Gordon Hayward, Utah (7); Chris Bosh, Miami (3).

Thunder's Steven Adams presents towering challenge for Joel Embiid, Sixers

Thunder's Steven Adams presents towering challenge for Joel Embiid, Sixers

When Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City for the West Coast, he left more behind than just Russell Westbrook. There still is a dominating seven-footer in the lane for the Thunder, one the Sixers will have to tangle with on opening night.

Steven Adams has developed into a threat at the basket. Now entering his fourth year, the 23-year-old averaged 8.0 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks last season. The expectations for this campaign are higher for Adams. He posted 14.7 points, 7.0 boards and 1.3 blocks in preseason play.

“He’s one of the elite centers in this league because he’s got a disposition as a killer,” Brett Brown said at Sixers practice this week. “He is a committed offensive rebounder. He runs like a wing, and he’s what, seven-foot, 200-and-whatever pounds. He’s got a mentality that he does want to get under your skin,” Brown said.

“There is a discipline that you have to show when you play somebody like that.”

Defending Adams will be a test in physicality for Joel Embiid in his NBA regular season debut. Adams weighs in at 255 points, Embiid above 270. The two have known each other for years through their agent. 

“I think where he’s most dangerous is the first three seconds running and when he goes to the offensive boards,” Brown said. “This is the best offensive rebounding team in the NBA, and with Russell Westbrook it’s a wrecking ball just trying to go through the whole team if he feels like it. I think that getting back in transition is A-number one, and a close second is finishing plays with defensive rebounding.” 

The Sixers plan to defend Westbrook by committee, and they will put multiple players on Adams as well. Embiid will be capped at 20 minutes. Jahlil Okafor (knee) will come off the bench with restricted playing time. Richaun Holmes will round out the coverage at the five spot.