Preview: The Ryder Cup

Preview: The Ryder Cup

With the success of the 2010 AT&T National at Aronimink this summer and the advance of the U.S. Open at Merion in 2013, professional golf has returned to the Philadelphia area in a big way. Regardless of whether you, our loyal readers, play the game yourselves, it should be noted that our town lays claim to one of the strongest golf traditions in the country. Just take a look at a Google Map satellite over the area in and around 309 at Fort Washington to see the outrageous number of private country clubs all dating back roughly a century. The phrase "densely populated" comes to mind.

Now, even if golf isn't exactly your thing, I'm going to try to appeal to you on a basis I think we can all appreciate: blind patriotic support for national sporting endeavors. This, of course, brings me to this week's Ryder Cup. If at some points it seems like I'm going a bit overboard from here on out -- I'm not. This is golf people. We're going to war.

Having made their way to the Celtic Manor Resort in South Wales, golf's best will be teeing it up on the brand new "Twenty Ten Course," the first golf course ever built specifically for the purpose of hosting a Ryder Cup. Well, alright, it isn't exactly new. The track is actually just an extensively remodeled version of something originally built in 1999 called Wentwood Hills. This sort of dubious posturing should prove readily apparent to the most ardent patriots as a disingenuous attempt by some shifty Europeans to one-up us on their own soil, and I, for one, won't have it. Alright, I'm going overboard.

On to the golf itself, Corey Pavin's boys in the Red, White & Blue will be facing off against a very deep European squad led by 0-time Major Champion Colin Montgomerie. Comparing the squads on paper and factoring in some relevant history, like the fact that the United States has not won on European soil since 1993, puts the Americans at what appears to be a disadvantage. However, since the PGA Tour had instituted the Fed-Ex Cup playoff system in 2007, the United States has gone a perfect 3-0 in international competition. World #2 Phil Mickelson attributes the success to the forced change in schedule:

"In the past before team events, we would have six weeks off after the last major championship, the PGA, where guys would kind of shut it down," Mickelson said. "With the FedEx Cup it's kept our games sharp, and so the by-product has been we've had great performances in the last three team competitions.

But, as ESPN golf writer Jason Sobel's above article goes to speculate, with 9 of the 12 team members having played the last four weeks in a row, fatigue could become an issue. Either way, the two sides enter this weekend at vastly different conditions as related to both mental and physical rest. 

One American who will not be bothered by fatigue, however, is Tiger Woods, who required a captain's pick just to make the team after failing to earn an automatic berth. Having not qualified for last week's Tour Championship at East Lake, the best in the world had the week off to work on his game and, well, whatever else it is he now does with his time. While showing flashes of brilliance during brief periods since his return, his back-9 during the third round of this year's U.S. Open, for example, Woods also hit a distinct rock bottom at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. Finishing second to last in an event he usually owns, Tiger posted his worst 72-hole score ever as a professional.  2010 has been  in many ways a referendum on Woods both as a golfer and as a person. I personally am going to stay away from his family situation for the purposes of this discussion and stick only to what he does on the course.

In light of all the above, and fill in the blanks where necessary, other golfers, specifically 21-year-old European Team Member Rory McIlroy, see enough chinks in Woods' armor to get unusually brazen with the former juggernaut. In a press conference earlier this week, McIlroy declared:

"I would love to face him," McIlroy, who won the Quail Hollow Championship in May for his first PGA Tour victory, said in an interview with the BBC last month. "Unless his game rapidly improves in the next month or so, I think anyone in the European team would fancy his chances against him."

When asked for his own comment, Woods coldly responded with only, "me too." Discussion on the subject was then closed. U.S. Captain Corey Pavin is, at least publicly, ruling out a direct grudge match between the two. Still, it should be interesting to see if Woods will face McIlroy during either the team matches Friday and Saturday, or, god-willing, in singles on Sunday. In the event that he does, can Tiger finally channel all his frustration, sorrow and disappointment into one truly dramatic comeback performance this weekend?

Golf fans have been so eager to declare Tiger "back" over the last 6 months that it's become a recurring tease. Every time he takes one step forward, he almost immediately takes two steps back. As such, do not take whatever happens this weekend as kind of definitive statement about where Woods will go from here. With only two months to go until Thanksgiving, the one year anniversary of his life's unraveling, the last ten months have clearly been the most trying of his life and figure to only bring more challenges (like possibly spending this year's Turkey Day away from his ex-wife and children). Listen, I want the old Tiger Woods back as much as everyone else; I'm just saying that he's clearly going to have to do it on his own time, when he gets his own life in order. Whatever happens at Celtic Manor this weekend, good or bad, it will be just one more step on a long road back to normalcy and shouldn't be viewed as symbolically representative of anything larger.

This, on the other hand, should be taken exactly that way. Give 'em hell, boys.

(Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images Europe)

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.