YouTube Video of the Day: Juventus vs Borussia Dortmund Highlights… Interpreted by a Studio Full of Italian Analysts

There are no actual highlights in this clip, but the reaction of the Italian TV crew is fantastic. This is why YouTube exists. Well worth five minutes of your day.

Juventus Transfers: Alvaro Morata Quickly Making Fernando Llorente Expandable

Over the summer, it was obvious that Juventus were in the market for another attacker to bolster the incumbent duo of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente. The club was linked to Radamel Falcao and nearly signed him, but in the end brought in Real Madrid youngster Alvaro Morata.

While not nearly at the level of Falcao, Morata is only 22-years-old and possess about as much potential as a young striker can have. A knee injury prevented him from integrating himself immediately, but as the season has progressed, the Spaniard has become a crucial member of the squad. So crucial in fact that he is pushing countryman Fernando Llorente out of the starting lineup. Llorente has struggled with form and Morata has seized the opportunity to pass the towering hit-man with some superb displays.

On the surface, the two Spanish strikers’ numbers are very similar.

 Morata                 Llorente

Appearances (All Competitions)       28                           28

Goals                                                  9                              6

Assists                                                4                              2

Pass Success Percentage              75.1                        72

Shots Per Game                               1.8                          1.8

Average WhoScored Rating             6.78                        6.77

 

Despite the similarities, there are differences. Llorente is skilled in the air (mainly due to the fact that he towers over defenders at 6’5”) and averages 2.3 aerials won per match. Morata (who’s no slouch at 6’3”) only averages a singular aerial win per game. Morata takes the cake in terms of assists with four compared to Llorente’s one. Despite all this, the biggest difference may come in minutes played. Morata has logged 1,065 minutes on the year while Llorente clocks in at 1,728. That’s a difference of 663 minutes, or seven full games and change.

It’s pretty clear that Morata has been more efficient with his times.

His goal against Borussia Dortmund in this week’s Champions League knockout round first leg insured Juve had a 2-1 advantage heading into the second leg in Germany.

With the exception of a yellow card against Atalanta, Morata has been on fire. He had a hand in both goals in a 2-2 draw with Cesena, scoring one and setting up another. He also tallied a goal and an assist in a 3-1 over Milan, earning Man of the Match honors. Before that he netted the only goal in a 1-0 Coppa Italia victory for the Bianconeri against Parma. Other recent conquests include an assist each in blowout wins over Napoli (3-1) and Verona (4-0). Morata also scored in a separate demolition of Verona, this one finishing 6-1. That’s five goals and four assists in his last 10 matches, six of which he played the full 90. Llorente only managed two goals and two assists in his last 10 games. He played the full 90 minutes only twice in that span.

Throw in the fact that Morata is a full eight years younger than Llorente and it makes sense that the former Real Madrid man is making Llorente expendable.

Given Llorente’s play and age, and the fact that Carlos Tevez will return to Argentina when his contract expires, Juve will need some new attackers.

Sassuolo duo Domenico Berardi and Simone Zaza are both forwards who have been heavily mentioned as possibilities to move to Turin in the near future.

Berardi is actually owned by Juve and is spending the year on loan with the Neroverdi. He has seven goals and six assists in 19 appearances for Sassuolo and provides tactical flexibility thanks to his ability to play on the right wing. Zaza is actually Neroverdi property, but Juventus has a $15 million buy-back option on the forward’s contract this summer. Zaza has nine goals and an assist in 21 appearances for his club and has already opened his scoring account for the Italian National Team with a goal in the Azzurri’s 2-0 win over Norway in a Euro 2016 qualifying match.

Llorente has been linked with moves to Tottenham, Marseille, Liverpool and Arsenal, so there are suitors. Should a sale occur, their will clearly be funds for Juve to get a new striker to replace the struggling Llorente in the team. The Old Lady don’t necessarily need a replacement for Llorente, but a long-term one for Tevez. They already have Llorente’s replacement in-house—Alvaro Morata

All stats courtesy of http://www.whoscored.com/ unless otherwise noted.

NBA Trade Deadline Winners: Miami Heat

Winner: Miami Heat

The Heat may have just won trade of the century, or at least the deadline. Miami took advantage of the unbalanced point guard situation in Miami and pried Goran Dragic (and his brother Zoran) from the Suns. Why is this the trade of the deadline? Miami gave up Norris Cole, Shawne Williams, Justin Hamilton, Danny Granger and two future first-round picks (plus a bit of money) to acquire the brothers Dragic.

Put it this way, Goran Dragic was All-NBA Third Team last season, while the players coming in were bench pieces at best. Purely on per-game stats, Dragic has averaged 16.1 points, 4.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. Norris Cole was the most accomplished player Miami sent out in terms of stats this season. Cole had the highest per game totals of the foursome in points and assists with 6.7 points per game and 3.5 assists per game. Williams had the highest rebounding totals with 3.2 boards per game.

Let me repeat, Dragic was All-NBA Third Team last season. Miami acquired him for three guys who average 6 points per game, a seldom used center and two first round picks. When are those first round picks? When will Phoenix receive them? 2017 and 2021. The first of those picks is top-seven protected in 2017 while the 2021 pick is unprotected. The Heat will still be good in two years if they can hang on to Dragic, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, meaning the 2017 pick won’t be gold, but rather fool’s gold. It won’t be at the tail end of the draft, but it won’t be in the lottery either. The pick that goes to Phoenix in 2021 is a different story—regardless of current talent, it’s hard to project which NBA teams will be successful in six years. In other words, that may be the first overall pick or the 28th.

Did I mention Miami acquired an All-NBA Third Team point guard for some bench fodder and first round picks that may or may not pan out?

Yeah, Miami won this trade—maybe the deadline.

All stats courtesy of http://www.basketball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

Milwaukee Bucks: That Genius Brandon Jennings Trade

The Milwaukee Bucks had been stuck somewhere between the end of the lottery and the middle of the league for the longest time. Up until last season weren’t truly bad enough to get into the upper echelons of the lottery where players like Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose get drafted.

The Bucks now have an extremely bright future thanks to a young core that consists of Jabari Parker (the draft pick they got in return for their awful season), Giannis Antetokounmpo, Michael Carter-Williams, John Henson, Khris Middleton, Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis.

What’s particularly amazing about the young core is that all of the aforementioned players, with the exception of Parker, Henson and Antetokounmpo, are the byproduct of one player—Brandon Jennings.

Bucks general manager John Hammond flipped Jennings to Detroit in a sign-and-trade in the summer following the 2012/2013 to Detroit for Middleton, Brandon Knight and Viacheslay Kraystov.

At the time, no one likely thought it was a massive, needle-moving trade for the Bucks They acquired a cheaper replacement for Jennings, a former second-round pick and a seldom-used center.

However, as time progressed, the Bucks began to reap the benefits of the trade. Middleton developed into a quality, starting small forward who has averaged 11.9 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists per game since making the move to Wisconsin. He’s made 41.5% of his three pointers during that span.

Knight bumped his scoring from 13.3 points per game in his final season in Detroit to 17.9 points per contest in his first season in Milwaukee. After a near All-Star first half where he scored over 17 points per game while dishing out 5.4 assists and pulling in 3.8 rebounds per game, he was dealt to Phoenix in a three-team deal that netted the Bucks Carter-Williams, Ennis and Plumlee (you can read about the Bucks and why they’re one of the NBA Trade Deadline’s winners here).

Carter-Williams may very well flourish under Jason Kidd in similar fashion to Knight. Ennis will also benefit from being coached by a future-Hall-of-Fame point guard. The team also acquired Plumlee in the deal. At worst, the Duke product is a dependable rotation big who can provide quality minutes at the five.

In the NBA, it’s uncommon for a team to turn one player into four quality players in a trades (or in this case, multiple trades). However, that’s what Bucks GM John Hammond did when he turned Brandon Jennings into four young players, all of whom could be key parts of the team moving forward.

All stats courtesy of http://www.basketball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

NBA Trade Deadline Winners: Milwaukee Bucks

The NBA Trade Deadline has come and gone. In Knowhitter’s continuing series on the winners and losers of the deadline, here’s the next winner—the Milwaukee Bucks

For the take on the first winner, the Philadelphia 76ers, click here.

Winner: Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks are one of the great surprises of the NBA season. Coming off a dreadful season last year, they’ve rallied to post the sixth best record in the Eastern Conference. Yes that’s right, if the playoffs started today, Milwaukee would be the sixth seed. Even more impressive? They’ve done most of it without the injured Jabari Parker.

Before the deadline, this statement was true, “One of the main reasons why the Bucks are in the playoff hunt is because of the play of Brandon Knight”.

So why would the Bucks trade Brandon Knight? Well, because Knight’s contract runs out after the season. The Bucks probably didn’t want to overpay Knight to keep him even though he’s played at a borderline All-Star level this year, can hit the three with consistency and rebounds well for his position.

Instead of losing him for nothing, Milwaukee dealt him to Phoenix in a three-team trade to serve as Goran Dragic’s quasi replacement.

They received Miles Plumlee, Tyler Ennis and Michael Carter-Williams in return for Knight.

If you’re counting at home, that’s a young center, a borderline lottery pick mere months after he was drafted and a point guard who’s put up big numbers on an admittedly bad Philly team. If Jason Kidd can get the same kind of improvement out of MCW as he did out of Knight, the Bucks may have won this trade in a landslide. Adding two young players with the chance to contribute now and in the future doesn’t hurt either.

All stats courtesy of http://www.basketball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

NBA Trade Deadline Winners and Losers: Winner- Philadelphia 76ers

The NBA trade deadline has always played second fiddle to Major League Baseball’s trade deadline. While it will always trump the NFL’s generally underwhelming trade deadline, it lived up to the annual precedence set by baseball with a bevy of moves that shocked not only based on volume in terms of but also because of the prominent players being moved like Isaiah Thomas and Goran Dragic.

(That’s three “trade deadline mentions! If this article gets six, everyone gets a free haircut at Supercuts and beef jerky from 7-Eleven!).

Winner

Philadelphia

On the surface, Philly’s deadline deals are bizarre. They took on JaVale McGee’s $12 million salary for next season while essentially dealing cornerstone Michael Carter-Williams and promising rotation player K.J. McDaniels for Isaiah Canaan, a first-round pick and a second-round pick.

However, upon closer examination, the deals aren’t that crazy. The Sixers had the salary-cap space to absorb McGee, and essentially got him free along with a protected first-round pick in this year’s draft. If the former Denver center can regain any of the form he’s shown when full-strength, then some team might take a flier on him, leading to further assets. The fact that his contract expires after next year makes him even more appealing in a trade, possibly at some point next season. Plus, they get a first-round pick out of the deal. It’s likely a pick somewhere in the early twenties, but still… they received all this for the rights to draft-and-stash pick Cenk Akyol, a 27-year-old who’s held the “draft and stash” distinction for 11 years.

While McGee’s acquisition seemed somewhat logical, the loss of Carter-Williams and McDaniels can seem little puzzling. After all, Carter-Williams was still on his rookie deal and averaged 16 points, 6.7 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game in a season and a half in Philadelphia. McDaniels was a former second-round pick averaging 9.2 points off the bench.

So why is this a win for the Sixers if they dealt a promising young point guard and a potential long-term rotation player?

Even with Carter-Williams, the Sixers were going to stink for a while before they got better. The reality is that if he stayed in Philly he’d probably be pretty expensive salary wise by the time the team was contending again. Trading him for a first-round pick (originally the Lakers’ pick, which is top-five protected this year) allows the team draft a potential impact player, similar to what Carter-Williams would have been, only they get to paying him after his rookie contract later rather than sooner—when the Sixers will likely be contenders.

There’s also the question of how good the young point guard real is. Sure, his per-game numbers look good on paper, but how much of that had to do with how bad Philadelphia is? The tanking Sixers’ lack of comparative talent has turned Evan Turner and Tony Wroten into 17 points-per-game scorers. Both are good players, but 17 points a night? Probably not on a better team where they’d play fewer minutes. Case in point, Turner averaged only seven points a contest after being dealt to Indiana halfway through last season. That’s not to say Carter-Williams is going to be limited to seven points per outing with Milwaukee, but the extra minutes and shots garnered by Carter-Williams in Philly make it hard to truly gage his talent.

The last part of Philadelphia’s deadline dealings was shipping McDaniels to Houston for Isaiah Canaan and a second-round pick.

Again, why deal McDaniels?

Firstly because he only signed a one-year deal as his rookie contract, turning down a multi-year offer to gamble on himself in order to garner a larger contract in free agency. So far, the gamble has paid off. McDaniels averaged 9.2 points and 3.8 rebounds a game, not bad production for a second-round pick in his rookie season. He’ll likely garner a multi-million dollar, multi-year deal in the offseason, something Sixers’ GM Sam Hinkie apparently wasn’t willing to pay.

The same logic used with Carter-Williams can likely be used here. McDaniels was likely going to be somewhat costly (not as much as Carter-Williams, but still much more than what he’s making now) by the time the Sixers are in a position to contend. By dealing him now, they are able to take a flier on Canaan as Carter-Williams’ replacement while also recouping a second-round pick. That pick will come from either Minnesota or Denver, two of the worst teams in the league. Because of that, the Sixers could be looking at an early-second round draft choice. Due to the pick’s proximity to the first-round in terms of talent level, and lack of comparative financial commitment, they can be very appealing to teams.

Check back for more winners and losers of the trade deadline, including thoughts on what Phoenix and Milwaukee did, plus the lack of action on the Lakers part.

All stats courtesy of http://www.basketball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

Detroit Tigers: Bullpen Names to Watch

It’s no secret that the Detroit Tigers have had bullpen issues. Detroit finished below league-average in numerous bullpen categories in 2014, including saves and holds.

Additionally, the team’s bullpen allowed 4.35 runs per game, easily the worst among playoff teams. Lastly, the team had an Inherited Score Percentage (which, per Baseball Reference, is “the percentage of runners on base when pitcher entered the game who subsequently scored) of 33% – fifth worst in the league. In other words, one of every three runners that Tigers relievers inherited scored. This stat is especially bad when you consider that Detroit inherited 244 runners, seventh worst of all teams.

While the bullpen will be largely improved thanks to expected bounce-back seasons from Joe Nathan and Joakim Soria, the return of Bruce Rondon and the consistent presence of Al Alburquerque, there are other names to track as we inch towards Opening Day.

Angel Nesbitt

None of these pitchers are locks to make the roster like a Nathan or a Soria, making them all dark horses to a degree. However, Nesbitt may be the biggest dark horse of the group. Unlike the relievers that follow, the flame-throwing 24-year-old doesn’t have any major league experience.

What he does have is stuff, including a fastball that approaches 100 MPH.

Nesbitt posted an impressive 1.48 ERA at two minor league stops in 2014 while striking out 9.7 batters per nine innings. He also compiled 20 saves.

It wouldn’t be a shock to see him start the year at Triple-A in order to obtain more experience, but if he doesn’t start the year with the big club, look for him to get a call up at some point in 2015.

Josh Zeid

Once upon a time, Hunter Pence was traded from Houston to Philadelphia. In exchange for parting with Pence, the Astros received a package that included Jarred Cosart, Jon Singleton, Domingo Santana… and Zeid.

Cosart has a cumulative 3.26 ERA in 40 career starts and was flipped at the last trade deadline to Houston for an additional haul of prospects, including two former top 100 prospects. Singleton is so highly thought of that the Astros signed him through 2021 despite having no big league experience. Santana made his major league debut last season.

Zeid debuted in 2013 with a solid season. In only 25 games, he posted a 3.90 ERA, recorded a save and struck out 24 batters in 27.2 innings. The former Astro has experience in the minors as a starter but has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen since 2012. Despite a 6.97 ERA in 2014, there are numerous positives to be had with Zeid.

He shows promise as a lefty specialist after holding left-handed batters to a .178 batting average and a .275 OBP in 2013. He struggled mightily with lefties in 2014, allowing a .455 batting average and a .500 OBP. Nonetheless, his performances in 2013 show that he has potential to be useful bullpen arm for Detroit.

Alex Wilson

Acquired as part of the Rick Porcello trade, Alex Wilson may start the season with Detroit. The Tigers clearly could use some new blood in the bullpen and Wilson provides that. He posted a 1.91 ERA in 18 appearances for Boston in 2014 and proved to particularly useful against right-handed batters, limiting them to a .151 batting average and a meager .476 OPS.

Another transitioned starter, Wilson will likely provide Brad Ausmus with another weapon to use out of the bullpen, along with Nathan, Soria, Bruce Rondon, Al Alburquerque and Tom Gorzelanny.

Ian Krol

Similar to Wilson, Krol came over as a secondary piece in a trade for a starting pitcher. Krol was acquired with the since departed duo of Robbie Ray and Steve Lombardozzi for Doug Fister.

It was hit and miss for Krol in his first go-around in Detroit. He came out of the gate strong with a 3.38 ERA in March/April and improved on that number in May with a 1.59 mark in 16 appearances. It went downhill soon after that. The former National’s ERA in June was 11.12. He only made 10 appearance the rest of the way, seven of which came in July. The reliever’s ERA in that month? 9.00.

Krol, along with Nathan and Soria, should have a bounce-back season. He showed promise early in Detroit and in Washington where he posted a 3.95 ERA in 32 appearances. Hopefully the adjustment period is over and Krol can go back to being a critical member of the Tigers bullpen.

Blaine Hardy

Plucked from free agency in 2013, Blaine Hardy had a solid first season in Motown. In 39 innings, he posted a 2.54 ERA, providing one of the few bright spots in an otherwise frustrating year for the bullpen.

Hardy will look to continue his success in 2015. Although a roster spot isn’t a 100% guarantee thanks to a rough spot down the stretch (5.40 ERA over his last nine appearances), expect him to be with the Tigers at some point in 2015—regardless of if he makes the team out of Spring Training.

Joel Hanrahan

At the height of his prime, Joel Hanrahan was a two-time All-Star closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates, converting 76 save in a two year span while turning in a sparkling 2.24 ERA. In four years with the Pirates he posted an ERA of 2.59 as a reliever.

It’s easy to forget those years he spent in Pittsburgh were from 2009 to 2012.

Hanrahan has had trouble recovering from injury as of late, but should he be healthy come the regular season, he’ll be a massive part of the Tigers’ success. Along with Nathan and Soria he would give Detroit three pitchers who have saved 40 games in a season, a rarity in today’s game. If all three pitch like they’re capable of, the Tigers could have a lockdown bullpen—something that hasn’t been muttered in Detroit for a long time.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Defending Gonzaga’s Schedule, Conference and #1 Seed Validity

There are numerous misconceptions surrounding this year’s Gonzaga Bulldogs. One is that they aren’t as good as their rankings (#3 in the AP poll, #2 in USA Today’s Poll). Another is that if they played in a “real” conference, they wouldn’t be nearly as elite.

This is all fueled by late start times for the folks who live in a world of East Coast bias on America’s eastern seaboard and don’t actually watch Gonzaga. The perception is also fueled by a lack of recent tournament success in recent years and a perceived lack of quality wins.

We’ll start with the conference issue.

The Bulldogs play in the West Coast Conference, a conference which should simply be called Gonzaga’s conference. GU has won every regular season championship since 2001 with the exception of 2012. With the exception of 2003 and 2012, they’ve also won every conference tournament since 1999.

Just by those comments, the perception the WCC is that it’s weak. And while it isn’t the Big East in its prime, it’s still a solid league. St. Mary’s has developed into a high-end mid-major close to, but not on the level of Gonzaga or Wichita State. BYU’s recent inclusion has also boosted the overall profile of the league. And while Gonzaga is the conference’s lone NCAA tournament lock at the present, the league is still a good league.

To judge the WCC’s worth, you have to compare it to similar leagues. Other west coast leagues include the likes of the Pac-12, Mountain West, Western Athletic Conference and the Big West. The WCC is head and shoulders above both the WAC and Big West this season. Additionally, in non-conference games, the Mountain West only won eight of a total 14 games against the WCC. Only three of those games involved one of the West Coast Conference’s top four teams.

Now to compare the head-to-head with the Pac 12.

While it’s true that the Pac-12 went 9-4 against the WCC and two of the WCC’s four wins were by Gonzaga, there’s more to see than simply a 9-4 record. Of those nine wins by Pac-12 teams, five were against WCC cellar-dwellers Pacific, Loyola Marymount and San Francisco. I don’t care what conference you come from, whether it be the SEC or the MAAC, the basement-dwelling teams are going to be bad.

An additionally victory, notched by Arizona against Gonzaga in overtime in Tucson. Gonzaga controlled that game for a majority of the contest.

So you see, the WCC isn’t as bad a people think. Sure it could be a stronger, but it surely isn’t bad.

The Zags have made the NCAA Tournament every year since 1999. In other words, the last time Gonzaga missed the NCAAs, I was two. However, Gonzaga has made the Sweet Sixteen two times since 2002. That run included tournament upset losses to #11 seed Wyoming in 2002, #10 seed Nevada in the second round in 2004, and #10 seed Davidson in 2008. This is where the criticism starts to creep in, with the exclamation point in Gonzaga-disbelievers’ arguments being the team’s inability to take care of business as a number one seed in 2013, losing to Wichita State in the third round.

While there have been some notable upset losses sustained by Gonzaga, it can also be said that the team has been extremely unlucky in the tournament. Of their tournament losses since 2007 two were to phenom-led teams in Stephen Curry’s Davidson squad in 2008 and Jimmer Fredette’s BYU team in 2011. The same “phenom” label can be applied to that 2013 Wichita State team that made the Final Four.

Since ’07, GU has lost to two other Final Four teams, the 2012 Ohio State Buckeyes (a game decided by only seven points) and the eventual National Champion North Carolina Tar Heels in 2009. Gonzaga has also had its fair share of losses to #1 seeds against Syracuse in 2010 and Arizona in 2014.

Lastly, Gonzaga is lambasted for their lack of elite wins. Overly-critical pundits will point to the Arizona loss as just another example of the Zags not being able to get it done against top competitions.

Contrary to popular belief, GU has quality wins. The Arizona game would have been the team’s marquee win, but the loss may help the team more in the long run in terms of removing the pressure of going undefeated.

The Zags destroyed the best team the American Athletic Conference has to offer, beating SMU 72-56. Mark Few and company also boasts double-digit wins over UCLA, St. Mary’s, Georgia and Memphis. They also have a win over Saint John’s on their resume. St. Joseph’s, a school that has beaten bubble teams like UMass and Davidson, lost to Gonzaga 94-42.

Gonzaga may not have the resume that a team like Duke does, but they’re still worthy of a top seed. 26 victories and counting certainly don’t hurt either.

Like it or not (barring a massive) Gonzaga will be back on the top line in the NCAA Tournament. People may not like it, but GU is worthy of the achievement. They don’t actually play in an awful conference, and they do in fact have quality wins.