NEWS: PHOENIX SUNS LAND NO. 1 NBA DRAFT PICK
VIEW: BIG DEAL, MAYBE
The most-celebrated basketball player in my adopted home city of Phoenix, Arizona, has yet to score a point or, even, bounce a ball in the uniform of his new team. That, however, hasn’t stopped the press and public hereabouts from obsessing over DeAndre Ayton, the way they have for several months already.
The team “earned” the right to select Ayton by conscientiously compiling the NBA’s worst won-lost mark (21-61) last season, then converting its 25% chance for the top pick in last April’s draft lottery. That culminated a three-year Suns’ run of losing on purpose, the object of which was to collect the favorable draft choices that might end a playoff drought, which now has lasted for eight seasons. For better or worse, that’s the way things are done in our pro major leagues these days.
Young Mr. Ayton oned and doned last season down the road at the U. of Arizona in Tucson, thus qualifying as something of a local even enough he was born and raised in the Bahamas. He’s an athletic seven-footer who looks the part of a basketball-team savior, and eventually may play that role. But such things don’t always turn out as planned.
His addition gives the Suns a dynamic-looking, three-player “core” of top player/prospects, also including Devin Booker, the 13th pick of the 2015 draft, and Josh Jackson, the 4th pick in 2017. Trouble is, Ayton is just 19 years old and Booker and Jackson both are 21. Add the 20-year-olds Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, their 2016 first-round draft choices (Nos. 4 and 8) and you have a lineup that would be young for a college team, much less one in the world’s best professional league.
The chancy nature of the draft is best illustrated by the experience of the Philadelphia 76ers, who picked first in both 2016 and last year. Their ’16 No. 1, Ben Simmons, didn’t play as a rookie because of injuries, and their ‘17 prize, Markelle Fulz, appeared in just 14 games his first year for the same reason. Further, Joel Embiid, their 2014 first choice and third pick overall, missed two full years and most of a third before showing up for good last season. It’s not wishing Ayton any bad luck to point out that the same fate could befall him.
Or he could be mediocre, the way Chriss and Bender have been in their two seasons in the league. Or a knucklehead, like the talented but technical-foul-prone Jackson might be. Until they prove otherwise, the Suns will continue to exemplify this old joke:
“What do you call a good, young NBA team?”
NEWS: BASEBALLS FLY FARTHER THAN THEY USED TO, BUT THEY’RE NOT “JUICED”
You may have missed it but Major League Baseball in May came out with a report from a study by a panel of 10 scientists (physicists and such) that looked into why home runs per team jumped to 1.26 a game last season from .86 in 2014, a truly outlandish increase of 46%. The group’s conclusion was that improvements in the ball-manufacturing process got the credit/blame, rather than playing-field changes or any deliberate plot to make balls livelier.
“A change in the aerodynamic properties” of the balls “reduced drag for given launch conditions,” the panel wrote. The likely causes of this was a better centering of the rubber pill at the heart of each ball and a general improvement in ball-making that produced a rounder sphere that would travel farther. The jump was “not due to a livelier, ‘juiced’ ball or any change in batter/pitcher behavior,” the scholars wrote.
So okay¸ let’s discount the fact that more hitters swing for the fences these days against more pitchers that throw in the 95-100 mph range. What physics I know tells me that the faster a ball comes in the faster it will come out when struck, but my background in the subject is meager. Let’s also throw out some hitters’ changes in swing angle to create more fly balls, some of which leave the parks. But how about the also-well-known fact that chicks dig the long ball? Until that changes I’ll remain dubious about any juicing disclaimers from MLB.
Incidentally, the report also pointed out that for some years now all baseballs used in Major League games have been made in Costa Rica, under the Rawlings label. Keep that in mind the next time you hear discussions about what the world is like, tradewise.
NEWS: SOME YANKS CRY ‘VIVA MEXICO’ IN THE WORLD CUP
VIEW: WHY NOT?
Landon Donovan, the U.S.’s best international soccer player ever, caught some flak a few days ago by saying that, with the U.S. not in the competition, he was rooting for Mexico to succeed in the World Cup that’s now unfolding. The country is our biggest hemispheric rival in the sport so why boost it? the flak shooters argued.
To that I say phooey. If ever a country needed a boost it’s Mexico. The folks down there are caught in a drugs war that’s worse than most armed conflicts and stuck geographically between a northern neighbor that once regarded them fondly but now abuses them daily and a bunch of crime-ridden banana republics to the south. They produce peppy music and a tasty, spicy cuisine. What’s not to like?
Alas, from here Mexico’s championship hopes look less than bright. They kicked off their World Cup bid by shocking Germany, the defending champ and world No. 1, and then won their second game, but with advancement on the line got their butts kicked by Sweden and made the round of 16 only because South Korea also upset Germany. Big-time improvement will be needed for “El Tri” to beat Brazil in a “knockout” game Monday (7/2). But hey! Stranger things have happened, like them and S. Kor. beating Germany.