Give Aaron Judge MVP

In terms of pure baseballing talent, Shohei Ohtani is probably among the half dozen greatest players who have ever lived. After unanimously winning MVP last season, Ohtani has been even better in 2022. He’s simultaneously a top-ten hitter and top-ten pitcher in MLB; his .891 OPS is better than all-world sluggers like Juan Soto, Rafael Devers and Jose Ramirez and he strikes out more batters per nine innings (11.9) than any other starting pitcher. Every single time he steps on the baseball field, Ohtani authors some new marvel. And yet he’s still not the MVP. Because the Aaron Judge MVP campaign is unstoppable.

If Shohei Ohtani is the modern day Babe Ruth in that he can both deftly pitch and hit, Aaron Judge is the modern day Babe Ruth in that he’s way better at hitting home runs than his so-called peers. While his closest competitors haven’t even eclipsed 40 homers, Judge is on the precipice of 60.

Yesterday, Judge socked his 58th and 59th dingers, bringing within two of the American League home run record. Over the last five months, Judge has mashed without interruption, putting together arguably the greatest non-steroidal season of any living slugger. His 210 wRC+ (a catchall offensive metric that measures a player’s performance relative to the rest of the league) is the best mark of any hitter not named Barry Bonds; his .701 slugging percentage is the highest the American League has seen in 26 years; he’s hit 59 home runs—I repeat: FIFTY NINE HOME RUNS—and still has three weeks to add to his total.

Facing Judge, opposing pitchers have no recourse; his dominance is versatile and all-consuming. Against fastballs and sliders, he’s MLB’s best hitter; against sinkers, he’s slacking, only ranking third. His heat map looks like a doppler radar during an Arizona summer. He’s hit at least two homers against 19 teams; for context, the Detroit Tigers as a team have done so against 16.

At this point, pitchers—the smart and cowardly ones, at least—have decided to essentially no longer pitch to Judge. With each passing month, Judge has progressively drawn more walks. Already in September, opponents have intentionally walked him six times in just 14 games. The only way to stop Judge from clobbering another home run is either to hurl the ball into outer space or to bury it in front of the mound like a dogbone. A season this great deserves recognition. The next step is simple: give Aaron Judge MVP. 


Nikola Jokic is the NBA’s Most Valuable Player

Nikola Jokic won MVP last season because somebody had to win it. Joel Embiid and Lebron James missed too many games to realistically claim the trophy; Stephen Curry won the scoring title, but his team crapped out in the play-in tournament and no MVP has ever missed the playoffs; everybody was sick of Giannis Antetokounmpo winning. Jokic was outstanding, but he won MVP as much through the atrophy of the other candidates as he did because of his own brilliance.

This year, though, Nikola Jokic repeated as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, beating out Embiid and Antetokounmpo simply because he was the best player in the world.

No matter how you slice it, Jokic is a singularly great player. Watch him sling no-look passes that seem to suddenly apparate into the hands of streaking teammates or slouch backwards into another goofily devastating post-up and he looks like an engorged Larry Bird. His profile of advanced metrics paint a picture of a player who’s in the midst of a historic run. His basic on-off numbers show that no player was as integral or responsible to their team’s success as his was to the Nuggets.  

Granted, most MVPs hail from title contenders while the Nuggets were the sixth-seed in the Western Conference. In the playoffs, the Warriors decisively bounced the Nuggets in five, untroubled games. Still, the very fact that the Nuggets made the playoffs is proof positive of Jokic’s impact. Without Jamal Murray (torn ACL) and Michael Porter Jr. (severely janky spine and like three cases of COVID), the Nuggets were not an especially good roster. In fact, it was an almost-bad roster—outside of Jokic, no other Nugget averaged more than 15.1 points per game, 6 rebounds or 4.4 assists per game.

And yet, Jokic had the capacity to transform this kludge of blah role players into an occasional powerhouse—when Jokic was on the floor, the Nuggets had a +9 net rating per 100 possessions, compared to a -10.5 net rating without him. In the most elementary terms, the Nuggets were the equivalent of the best team in the NBA when he played and the worst team in the league when he sat. 

While this season’s MVP race was outwardly the most closely contested since at least 2017, Jokic ultimately distanced himself as the clear winner; he received 62 first-place votes in an ESPN strawpoll of 100 media members and he topped 37 of the 56 ballots that have been publicly revealed so far.

All year long, people have been resistant to recognize Jokic as the MVP because of his general weirdness. There’s never been a player with his lumpen, odd-ball cocktail of inventive playmaking, labored breathing and efficient scoring. He has no antecedent—even many years into the Reign of Jokic, giant Serb who passes like he can see the future is a hard archetype to wrap your head around. By winning MVP, Jokic represents a triumph of a more evolved way of thinking about basketball, one in which a player’s holistic impact takes precedence over any superficial aesthetic qualities. Jokic doesn’t look the part of an NBA superstar, but the beauty is that he doesn’t have to. 


Why Nikola Jokic Should Be the MVP

It’s inescapable, this NBA MVP stuff. Statlines across the NBA have become so incomprehensibly good that it’s driven everybody slightly insane; Lebron James—Lebron James—is having the best scoring season of his career and he’s somehow relegated to the outermost arrondissement of the MVP conversation, whatever that means. Log onto any corner of the broader basketball internet and you’ll find proxy wars waged with Statmuse graphics and galaxy-brained counterfactuals. Joel Embiid-ites claim that Nikola Jokic would have fewer assists if you didn’t count 22 percent of his assists; Jokic-stans counter that Embiid would average fewer points if players could foul him without consequence; a vocal contingent of Devin Booker supporters rail against an unspecified “they” who don’t want Booker to win because it doesn’t fit their narrative. With such a preponderance of great players having great seasons, any individual MVP take is essentially an expression of faith.

But this is all silly: Nikola Jokic is the MVP, clearly.

Understandably, Jokic’s passing is the subject of this kind of ekphrasis. He’s a good passer—one of the best, even. And while his imagination and accuracy are unparalleled, focusing on them obscures his larger, all-around brilliance. Namely, he’s a sneakily elite scorer—of the 38 players who are averaging more than 20 points per game, Jokic’s 65.8 percent True Shooting is the highest mark. In fact, Jokic is not just one of the most efficient scorers in the league right now, he’s one of the best volume scorers of all time: Jokic’s combination of volume (26.3 points per game) and efficiency have only ever been matched by five other players. At this point, Jokic has cobbled together a claim to be the greatest offensive big man since Wilt Chamberlain. 

Beyond his all-history offense, Jokic has emerged as a shockingly good defender. Although he outwardly looks like a slow-footed galoot who’s perpetually sandblasted on switches, he’s put together the most impressive defensive season of his career; it’s possible, if not plausible, that he warrants some down-ballot All-Defense team votes. Thanks to his quick hands and general ginormity, Jokic improves the Nuggets defense by 6.8 points per 100 possessions—in essence, he’s more integral to his team’s defensive success than Giannis Antetokounmpo or Joel Embiid are to theirs. Similarly, advanced metrics like Estimated Plus-Minus and RAPTOR also grade Jokic as a top-shelf defender; EPM slots Jokic in the 85th percentile league-wide while RAPTOR pegs him as the second best defensive player in the entire NBA. 

After trailing Stephen Curry and then Joel Embiid in the court of public opinion for the bulk of the season, Jokic has edged into the lead to win MVP. This week, an ESPN strawpoll of 100 voters had him as the obvious frontrunner, with Jokic securing 62 first place votes. Similarly, Vegas sportsbooks installed him as a favorite this week for the first time all season. If Jokic won last year’s MVP somewhat by default, this year he’s left no doubt that he’s the best player in the world. 


Five Random NBA Predictions In 2022

In its 75-year history, 2021 will go down as one of the most transformative years in the NBA. Several franchises saw their fortunes change overnight. A once-mediocre franchise became an NBA champion and was led by a player many didn’t expect to become the best in the world. And lastly, the league continued to navigate through a global pandemic. As 2022 is mere hours away from happening, I have five predictions for what could happen in the NBA next year.

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Ja Morant will win the MVP

As crazy as this sounds, it will only be accurate when it happens. The former second overall pick is taking that “superstar leap,” that consists of producing a career-best stat line (24 PPG, 5 RPG, 6 APG, and nearly two steals per game), team success (The Grizzles are 22-14), and MVP-like moments— Morant outdueled LeBron James two nights after making a game-winning shot on the road against the 27-7 Phoenix Suns.

Even if Morant doesn’t win the MVP this season, you can expect his name to pop up in the conversation, and he will probably begin the 2022-’23 season on the shortlist of viable candidates who can win the award.

The league’s interest in expansion will come to fruition

For years, the NBA’s reported interest in expansion sparked conversations that have only gotten hotter due to the number of potential teams growing. But with significant support from the general public, especially when it comes to giving the city of Seattle a team again, the NBA could make expansion a reality by the end of next year.

And besides Seattle getting a team, cities such as Las Vegas, NV, and Kansas City, MO have been mentioned as the following locations to receive an NBA team, specifically the former.

Ben Simmons will be traded… in February

Since last summer, the former first overall pick has been in a stalemate with the Philadelphia 76ers, and there have been few indications of when he’ll play for them again. As much as 76ers general manager Daryl Morey wants to get his “bang for the buck” in any deal for Simmons, there’s a reported expectation that the team will trade him by this coming February’s trade deadline.

With a sizable list of teams interested in the three-time All-Star point forward, most notably the Portland Trail Blazers, there will be a loud reaction on the day Simmons gets traded and how much the 76ers received in exchange for him.

Everyone will love an in-season NBA tournament
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Even though some people, including a few teams themselves, are still against the NBA’s play-in tournament, the truth is it’s a massive success from both a competitive and entertainment standpoint. The league has been motivated to find a way to make their regular seasons more critical, and they believe a mid-season tournament can help make that happen.

Fueled by several financial and competitive incentives, as well as European soccer’s ability to hold tournaments seasonally within their schedule, commissioner Adam Silver has championed this cause, with hopes it happens between next season and 2024-’25.

LeBron James will retire after the 2022-’23 season

It’s insane to believe that LeBron James and retirement hasn’t been realistic to us NBA fans because of his insanely-high level of play, but as the man himself said on Tuesday, “he is on the other side of that hill.” So given what it takes to play at the level the four-time NBA champion and MVP is required to play at, it wouldn’t be a surprise if James made the 2022-’23 season his last one.

Other than what is happening with the Los Angeles Lakers and their title chances, James will be playing in his twentieth season and could surpass Kareem Abdul Jabbar for most points scored by a player in league history. And minus the historic chance to play alongside his oldest son, Bronny James (who’s currently draft-eligible in 2024), King James doesn’t have much to play for at this point of his career.


Ranking The Top Five NBA MVP Candidates

With every team having played at least 20 games, the first quarter of the 2021-’22 NBA regular season is over. As the second stage of the season commences, it’s also the beginning of every race that involves awards and honors, most noticeably MVP. And while it’s not a surprise, there’s a large group of early-season MVP candidates, even if only a select few genuinely compete for the award throughout the season.

Down below is our ranking of the top five NBA MVP candidates right now.

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
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Curry is aging like fine wine. At 33-years-old, the former two-time MVP’s scoring average of 27.8 points per game places him amongst fine company—Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant, and Kobe Bryant are the only players in NBA history to average more points at Curry’s age. Not to mention, Curry is the biggest reason why his Golden State Warriors are off to an 18-3 start, tied for the best record in the league.

2. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
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The man who’s also known as “Easy Money Sniper,” is not only playing arguably the most efficient ball of his career ever, but he’s the heart and soul of a Nets team that’s reigns first in the Eastern Conference. And remember, Durant is doing this without star point guard Kyrie Irving and former MVP James Harden being inconsistent every night.

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
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The reigning NBA Finals MVP has tapped into another level of play as his production (27 PPG, 11 RPG, and 6 APG) is powering the Bucks to an eight-game winning streak, the second-longest across the league. And for those who value a player’s performance in the clutch, Antetokounmpo made the game-winning layup to defeat the Charlotte Hornets in a thrilling 127-125 victory on Wednesday night.

4. Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns
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Ever since his arrival in the desert over a year ago, CP3’s greatest contribution to the Suns has been his play during crunch time. Fewer players, let alone guards, impact the game in every way possible like this future Hall of Famer. Plus, when your team is riding the league’s longest winning streak (17 games) and your latest win is against the previously 18-2 Warriors? Your name is rightfully in the MVP conversation.

5. DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls
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Even though most of the attention has shifted towards the Warriors, Suns, Nets, and Bucks, the noise coming out of Chicago has remained loud, and it’s because of DeRozan. Besides averaging his second-career-best point per game (25), the former long-time Raptor’s production in the clutch and quickly-established chemistry with his star teammate Zach LaVine are why the Bulls have a 14-8 record right now.


Examining Jonathan Taylor’s Growing Support For NFL MVP

Throughout the years, it has required a literal historical performance and insane amounts of fan and media support, for non-quarterbacks to win NFL MVP. This truth is confirmed by recent non-quarterback MVP winners; running backs Shaun Alexander (2005), LaDanian Tomlinson (2006), and Adrian Peterson (2012) all only won the award after having historically great seasons. But with the wonkiness and unpredictability of this season, it seems possible that a non-quarterback could not only compete for it but easily win.

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Colts’ running back Jonathan Taylor has emerged as the ideal candidate for the crowd who wants to see the MVP be given to a non-quarterback. After producing 204 total yards and five touchdowns in the team’s 41-15 upset win over the Buffalo Bills last Sunday, the second-year running back has the statistical production and on-field impact to claim the award.

To properly understand Taylor’s production requires an understanding of two key concepts. First, he’s highly productive despite splitting carries and playing time with his fellow running back, Nyheim Hines. And secondly, Taylor is massively efficient whenever he gets the ball, which sets him apart from Derrick Henry, the Tennessee Titans’ now-injured running back who is widely considered the gold standard at the position.

​​Minus last Sunday’s game, in which Taylor received 32 carries, there’s only one other game where the Wisconsin product carried the ball more than 20 times this season (Week 10 against the Jacksonville Jaguars). Until two weeks ago, Taylor received 15 carries per game but still nearly averaged 100 rushing yards and had surpassed the century mark in half of those games. And while he’s rarely used in the passing game, Taylor did notch a 100 receiving yard game against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5.

Even though other MVP candidates have the luxury of playing on better teams than the Colts, Taylor carries a uniquely huge burden within his team’s offense that’s only matched by Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson. The Colts have won five of their last six games and it’s been Taylor’s performance that has set the tone in those victories, including a five-touchdown effort last week against the Buffalo Bills. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s now the league leader in rushing yards (1,122) and rushing touchdowns (13).

At this point of the season, the MVP race usually comes down to who has the most signature moments and wins. The combination of those two events leave a lasting imprint on those cheering, labeling, and most importantly, voting for the winner of this award. And in Taylor’s case, the Colts are beginning to rack up noticeable wins because of his highlight plays that are becoming the topic of conversations that involve this award.


Ranking The Top Five NFL MVP Candidates Right Now

With eight weeks remaining in the regular season, the 2021 NFL MVP race will endure more twists and turns as viable candidates further build their case to win this award. Alongside the annual inclusion of quarterbacks, who are always favored to win MVP, this year’s race could be historic. Can a defensive back finally win it? Could we witness the oldest-winning MVP winner in league history? Here are the top-five NFL MVP candidates right now.

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1. QB Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals – While the second-year pro doesn’t have the most statistical advantages as usually-elite quarterbacks do, his overall value isn’t only tied to stats. If you take a comprehensive look at the Cardinals’ offense, Murray’s value is seen in every way possible; he’s at once the league’s best-deep ball passer (99.3 QBR!) while also being one of its fastest and most elusive athletes. On an intangible level, he’s repeatedly made clutch plays and has emerged as the clear-cut leader of Arizona’s locker room as a result. And it doesn’t hurt that Murray has led the Cardinals to the NFC’s No. 1 seed too.

2. QB Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens – If there’s anything that helps an MVP candidate’s case, it’s them consistently coming up big during crunch time. Beyond his gaudy and potentially historic statistics as a passer and runner, Jackson has amply supplied late-game heroics against the likes of Kansas City, Indianapolis, and now Minnesota, which is leaving a positive impact on voters and fans alike.

3. QB Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams – Even though Stafford will likely end up as the Rams’ sole MVP candidate, it doesn’t take away from him that wide receiver Cooper Kupp has also been mentioned in the conversation, albeit much less frequently. Both players are producing their best seasons yet as pros, and they have each other to thank for it.

4. QB Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The seven-time Super Bowl champion is one eye-opening run away from winning his fourth regular-season MVP. While Brady currently ranks second across the league in passing yards (2,650) and first in passing touchdowns (25), he still needs to produce more signature moments and wins with eight weeks remaining in the regular season.

5. CB Trevon Diggs, Dallas Cowboys – In recent years, quarterbacks have maintained a stranglehold over MVP voting but Diggs is looking to change that. Although defensive players rarely figure into the conversation (no defensive player has even received a vote since JJ Watt in 2014), the Alabama product is having a season that makes him impossible to ignore. With an NFL-leading seven interceptions (two of which were pick-sixes) and 12 pass breakups, Diggs is forcing voters to take notice.