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James, Durant, Bryant headline stacked U.S. Olympic roster

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James, Durant, Bryant headline stacked U.S. Olympic roster

The U.S. Olympic basketball team announced its final roster yesterday, as it makes its final preparations leading up to the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Newly crowned NBA champion LeBron James leads a roster jam-packed with NBA superstars attempting to repeat their 2008 gold medal trip to Beijing.
Along with James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Deron Williams make up the five returners from the 2008 team that coasted to the gold medal game before pulling away from Spain, 118-107, in the championship.
But seven new faces have surfaced this time around, both in an effort to bring more youth and athleticism to the team and to fill spots due to injuries to key 2008 participants.
Derrick Rose (ACL), Dwight Howard (back), Dwyane Wade (knee) and Chris Bosh (abdomen) all likely would have been selected to the team, but will miss the Games to rehabilitate their respective injuries.
Along with the five stars from the 2008 team, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love were non-surprise additions to the roster. Durant has established himself as one the best scorers in the world, Westbrook will help pace a run-n'-gun U.S. offense, Love has excellent 3-point range and can rebound and Chandler fills a major void in the middle left by Howard's absence.
But the other three injuries, to Rose, Wade and Bosh, left openings on the roster. Before the final roster was announced yesterday, the finalists for those three spots had been narrowed to: Blake Griffin, Andre Iguodala, Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon, James Harden and rookie Anthony Davis.
Iguodala, Harden and Griffin wound up receiving the final three spots, with Iguodala over Gay perhaps the biggest surprise. However, with a roster that includes eight of the top 10 scorers in the NBA last season, Iguodala's superior length and defensive ability earned him a spot. Harden will be an offensive spark off the bench and Griffin, at 6-foot-10, filled a need inside.
The one glaring hole on the United States' roster is at the center position. Chandler, the lone 'five' on the team, is the only true shot blocker. And while Love, James and Griffin are all capable of playing power forward, it's unclear how the team will defend Spain -- a team with Marc Gasol, Paul Gasol and Serge Ibaka -- should they meet again in the gold medal game. Had Davis, the No. 1 overall pick in June's NBA Draft, not sprained his ankle in a practice with the Hornets, he may have made the roster over Griffin or Iguodala.
But where the team lacks for size, it more than makes up in scoring, speed and, simply put, talent.
Nine players averaged 19.8 points per game or more last season in the NBA, ten were NBA All-Stars and six have appeared at least once in the NBA Finals. They have the reigning NBA MVP (James) and Defensive Player of the Year (Chandler), four of the five 2012 All-NBA First Team members (the injured Howard was the fifth) and a coaching legend with plenty of international experience in Duke's Mike Krzyzewski.
With a potential starting lineup of Paul, Bryant, Durant, James and Love, it's tough to see another country being able to run with the U.S. for four quarters. As it was in 2008, it's their gold medal to lose.
Their biggest test again will be Spain, a talented team featuring NBA talent Marc and Pau Gasol, Jose Calderon, Serge Ibaka and Rudy Fernandez. TheSpaniards are also dealing with a key injury, as point guard Ricky Rubio tore his ACL in March and will not be available for the Games.
The French national team, which includes NBA players Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw, Kevin Seraphin and Ronny Turiaf, could be another challenge for the Americans. Bulls center Joakim Noah will sit out the Games to rest and rehab his sprained ankle.
But for as much pressure as the team had in 2008, following a 2004 Olympics where they failed to make the gold medal game, the U.S. may have just as much pressure on them to repeat as champions, given the talent level of the 2012 team.

Bear PAWS: Reflecting on the 2017 NFL Draft ahead of the Bears' matchup with the Saints

Bear PAWS: Reflecting on the 2017 NFL Draft ahead of the Bears' matchup with the Saints

When reflecting on the 2017 NFL draft, the Shakespearean quote, “what’s past is prologue” comes to mind — a concept suggesting that previous events set the stage for what is happening in the present. During that 2017 draft, the decisions made by both the Bears and Saints helped reshape each franchise. Chicago’s bold moves shook the branches of the NFL tree, and the Saints, albeit indirectly, benefited greatly, as well. Another chess piece involved in the framing of this drafting drama was the San Francisco 49ers, as they were able to ride a wave of additional picks to revitalize a depleted, listless organization with talent and depth.

The 49ers aside, this Sunday matches two teams that garnered the most from the 2017 draft, Chicago and New Orleans. Using P.A.W.S. (Predictive Analysis With Stats), let’s examine the impact of the Bears’ draft day machinations.

The Browns, 49ers and Bears were the first three teams slotted to make selections in 2017. Once Cleveland chose DE Myles Garrett with the first pick (and not a quarterback) Bears GM Ryan Pace made his move. Despite San Francisco being a spot ahead of Chicago, Pace was determined to choose the next player. Aggressively, he swapped the Bears’ third overall pick with the 49ers second spot to select QB Mitchell Trubisky, while also sending the Bears’ 67th and 111th picks, and a 2018 3rd rounder (70th) to San Francisco.

According to Pace, “...when you have conviction on a guy you can’t sit on your hands.” Either emboldened by his selection of Trubisky, or because of the surrendered picks needed to acquire him, Pace continued making trades to widen his draft options. The Bears traded their second (36th overall) and seventh (221st overall) round picks that year to the Cardinals for their second (45th overall), fourth (119th overall) and sixth (197th) round selections, and a 2018 fourth round pick (115th overall), to boot.

In addition to those moves, Pace shipped out his 117th and 197th overall picks in a trade with the Rams to move up to the 112th spot (fourth round). When the dust settled, Chicago possessed one pick in the second round (45th overall) and two picks in the fourth round (112th and 119th overall), along with their original 5th-round selection (147th overall). The key players taken from these moves were QB Mitchell Trubisky (with the No. 2 pick), TE Adam Shaheen (45th), S Eddie Jackson (112th), and RB Tarik Cohen (119th).

Initially, because the Bears relinquished several mid-round picks to move up just one spot (arguably for a player that may have still been available), the general consensus was that Pace got fleeced by 49ers rookie GM John Lynch. Perhaps to support a colleague, Lynch stated afterward, “Kudos to the Bears, they saw a player they wanted at a really important position.”

Clearly, the 2017 draft for Pace and the Bears was about securing a franchise quarterback to build around. But in the process, Pace landed two all-pro talents in Jackson and Cohen, as each made their first Pro Bowl in 2018, with Trubisky making the trip as an alternate. No “fleecing” here!

Ironically, Pace’s 2017 draft moves created a “butterfly effect” — when a small localized change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere — by strengthening his former employers, the New Orleans Saints. When the 49ers traded away the 67th overall pick they received from the Bears to the Saints, New Orleans used that spot to select RB Alvin Kamara. Kamara went on to become the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2017 and has already garnered two Pro Bowl selections early in his career. New Orleans had two first round selections that year, choosing CB Marshon Lattimore (11th) and OT Ryan Ramczyk (32nd). Both players have been starters since being drafted, and in 2017, Lattimore was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Another significant draft-day selection was S Marcus Williams at the 42nd spot. Williams, too, has been a starter from the very beginning of his pro career. Undoubtedly, these core four players fortified the Saints’ roster infrastructure and propelled them to division championships each of the past two seasons. 

However, buried within the trade minutia between the Bears and 49ers is another move that may have saved the Saints from themselves: San Francisco traded their 34th pick and the 111th pick (formerly the Bears’ selection) to the Seahawks for Seattle’s first round choice (31st overall) and drafted LB Reuben Foster. The Saints had the very next pick at No. 32, and needed serious help on their defense, having finished dead last the previous season.

The Saints, in need of a pass rusher, were eyeing DE Takkarist McKinley, but the Falcons traded up and drafted him. Reuben Foster’s stock was dropping, due to off-the-field concerns, but his talent was too hard to ignore. So the Saints primed themselves to select him, until the 49ers moved up (armed with Chicago’s fourth round pick ) and grabbed Foster. Having both defensive interests taken ahead of them, New Orleans ‘settled’ on the next best talent off their draft board, OT Ryan Ramczyk. Well, Foster was released by the 49ers in just his second year and is currently on IR with Washington. Ramczyk, on the other hand, has been an anchor for an offensive line that pass blocks for Drew Brees and run blocks for Alvin Kamara. Thanks, Chicago! Sure, it’s great to speculate on what-ifs… If the Bears don’t make that trade with San Francisco, do they possibly take Kamara at 67th instead of Cohen at 119th? Or, could another team have shot up to the second overall pick to take Trubisky instead of Chicago, leaving the Bears ‘settle’ on QB Deshaun Watson? Could the Bears have had a backfield of Trubisky and Kamara... or Watson and Kamara?

Regardless, the Bears did a good job in 2017, which paved a path towards an even more successful 2018 campaign, as evidenced by a division title, playoff appearance and multiple postseason accolades. Yet, this season the Saints are thriving at 5-1 without Drew Brees, while Chicago hovers precariously with a 3-2 record. Why is that? Talent! The Saints (with Chicago’s unwitting aid) drafted better in 2017. There is a metric (AV — approximate value) that gives a numeric rating to players, approximating their value to their own teams. A player’s AV can be influenced by the number of starts they have, big plays they’ve made, awards they’ve won, etc.

The Saints’ players taken in the 2017 draft have significantly higher AVs than do the Bears’ selections. Taking the top 4 players’ AVs  from each squad, we see: 

Saints - Marshon Lattimore (14) Ryan Ramczyk (25), Marcus Williams (12), Alvin Kamara (30); 

Bears - Mitch Trubisky (20), Adam Shaheen (1), Eddie Jackson (20), Tarik Cohen (16).

Despite the Bears’ immediate concerns at quarterback, the offensive line, and a banged-up defensive front, Chicago still has a dominant defense and is coming off a bye week. The

Saints are faced with injury issues beyond Drew Brees, and Alvin Kamara not playing greatly improves Chicago’s chances of winning at home. Chicago is getting back 20 AV with the return of Trubisky from injury, whereas the Saints lose 30 AV with Kamara sitting on Sunday.

So, this weekend’s game may actually be won by the most talented roster on the field after all.

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Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks scratch out a win and Kirby Dach recalled

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USA Today

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks scratch out a win and Kirby Dach recalled

Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis welcome Nick Gismondi into the fold before discussing Friday's win over Columbus. Robin Lehner played stellar and is forming quite a tandem in net with Corey Crawford (4:10), while the DeBrincat/Kane connection is alive and well (6:10), and the Blackhawks' struggles at even strength continued (12:10). Then, the guys react to the breaking news of Kirby Dach's recall from Rockford and discuss where he might fit into this lineup (15:10).

Listen to the entire episode here or in the embedded player below.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast

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