Bulls

Kings vs. Devils: A Cinderella story

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Kings vs. Devils: A Cinderella story

If someone told me back in March that the Kings and Devils would be going to the Stanley Cup finals, I would have thought that person is crazy. Heck, if you told me a week ago that Los Angeles and New Jersey would be the two advancing, I still wouldn't have believed it.

But after last night's 3-2 overtime win against the Rangers, the Devils will be returing to the finals since they won it all back in 2003. Both teams have different advantages that could make this upcoming series more exciting than some may think.

Goaltending:

Jonathan Quick is the the number one reason the Kings qualified for the playoffs to begin with. He's recorded a .946 save percentage, two shutouts, earning himself a 1.54 goals against average during Los Angeles' 12-2 postseason run.

In the East, Martin Brodeur has earned a .923 save percentage and one shutout, recording a 2.04 GAA throughout the playoffs. He has led his team to a 12-5 record as they head into the finals.

Advantage: Kings

History:

The Kings haven't been to the finals since 1993, and they were eliminated in five games against the Montreal Canadiens. They have yet to win a Stanley Cup. That wouldn't seem like too much of a setback after seeing how well they've played throughout the postseason, but the Devils' statistics would make any Los Angeles fan a little nervous.

Back in 1995 and 2003, the Devils competed in the finals against the Red Wings and then the Ducks; two teams that entered the series with a 12-2 record. New Jersey defeated both. Given the fact that the Devils have won three Stanley Cups since 1974 also gives them an advantage--the Kings' franchise hasn't been there before.

In addition, if you take a look at the regular season, the Devils defeated the Kings in both their matchups back in October. But I don't think those statistics should be applied when analyzing the postseason since Los Angeles has played at an entirely different level since the beginning of the year.

Advantage: Devils

Momentum:

This is a tough one. The Kings have clearly defied all odds by going from the worst offensive team in the league to a top-contender for the Cup, but their last two games against Phoenix were shaky. Los Angeles was dominated in Game 4, and their Game 5 series win could have gone either way during overtime.

The Devils' record isn't as impressive as the Kings, but their last two games were more impressive overall. Although Game 6 against the Rangers was also a pretty even match, their aggressive play in overtime led to their win rather quickly. Plus, they were definitely the more dominant team in their Game 5 victory.

Although New Jersey played better in their last two games leading up to the finals, their overall playoff run hasn't been as consistent as the Kings' has, and Los Angeles' team chemistry has been more difficult to defeat. As long as the Kings remain focused and don't allow another slip-up like they did against Phoenix, they will be the stronger team.
Advantage: Kings

My overall prediction: Kings in 6.
Who would you like to see take home the Stanley Cup this year, and what are your final series predictions?

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

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USA TODAY

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

Anfernee Simons looks more like a ball boy than a 2018 NBA Draft prospect right now. He’s not considered small, what with having a 6-foot-3 frame with a massive 6-foot-9 wingspan, and he weighed in at last week’s NBA Draft Combine at 183 pounds, “heavier” than Lottery-bound guards like Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Collin Sexton.

But there’s plenty of potential to unpack from the soon-to-be 19-year-old, baby-faced combo guard. Don’t let the appearance fool you. Simons is one of the most talented players in the class, and a team patient enough to let him develop at his own pace could reap major benefits in due time.

You won’t find much video on Simons, as the IMG Academy star is preparing to be the first prospect to go preps-to-pros without a year in college since Thon Maker did so in 2016.

Simons, a consensus five-star recruit in the 2018 class, originally committed to Louisville in November 2016 and then decommitted the following September shortly after Rick Pitino was fired. Since he had graduated from Edgewater High School in Florida and was playing a post-grad year at IMG Academy, he became eligible for the 2018 NBA Draft because he is a year removed from high school. That’s where he played this past season, declaring for the draft and signing with an agent in late March.

“The opportunity is there. Me and my parents talked about it a lot and I feel like I’m confident in myself that I’ll be able to make this jump,” he said at last week’s Combine. “So I just felt like, do it now and not waste any time.”

Simons has been on the radars of NBA teams, even if he’s not a household name like Ayton, Doncic and Bagley. He’s currently projected outside of the Lottery, in part because teams haven’t seen him compete against collegiate level talent and because his wiry frame almost surely means time in the G-League as a rookie. But again, the skill set is there.

Simons is a point guard with solid range beyond the arc. He may struggle off the ball because of his size, though that long wingspan and a quick release from his chest should allow him to get off shots. He’s a blur in transition and finishes well at the rim – his 41.5-inch vertical was tied for third best at the Combine, and his three-quarters court sprint was eighth fastest.

He’s a mixed bag defensively. Wingspan is the fun buzz word these days, and that will help him at the next level, but his small frame means there’s work to be done. A strength and conditioning coach will salivate at bringing Simons into the weight room and getting his body NBA-ready.

“Just staying durable through 82 games,” Simons answered when asked about his biggest challenge physically at the next level. “Taking care of your body is real pivotal so I feel like learning how to take care of my body now is a good thing.”

Simons maturely answered that the “unknown” of his game will be both a positive and minus during the pre-draft process. While fellow prospects he may face in team workouts don’t know as much about him and, thus, his game, teams also need to find out more about Simons’ game and off-court habits.

“Coming in young, people don’t know who I am and haven’t seen me play much. That’s the good side about coming in early,” he said. “It could be the same thing (negatively). People haven’t seen me like that, so I feel like they don’t know who I am. They probably think I’m too young to play in the league.”

Simons met with the Bulls and has scheduled a pre-draft workout with them. Though the Bulls feel like their rebuild could go quicker than anticipated – especially if they hit on their No. 7 pick – there could be plenty to gain from drafting for upside on a player like Simons.

Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne will both be free agents in 2019, and Denzel Valentine’s long-term future isn’t set in stone in Chicago. That leaves plenty of openings in the backcourt behind Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. Simons won’t be ready to contribute much in 2018-19, but the Bulls wouldn’t need him to. A handful of outlets projected Simons as a top-5 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The Bulls could snag him a year earlier, let him develop in Hoffman Estates and bring him up in a year when they’re a step closer to contending.

Daily White Sox prospects update: Gavin Sheets hits his first homer of 2018

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Daily White Sox prospects update: Gavin Sheets hits his first homer of 2018

Here's your daily update on what the White Sox highly touted prospects are doing in the minor leagues.

Class A Winston-Salem

Gavin Sheets hit his first home run of the season in a 12-4 loss. While it's taken him this long to hit his first ball out of the park, Sheets has a .380 on-base percentage and his 24 walks make for one of the top 10 totals in the Carolina League. Blake Rutherford doubled in this one, while Sheets, Rutherford, Alex Call and Luis Alexander Basabe combined to draw five walks.

Class A Kannapolis

Luis Gonzalez and Evan Skoug each had a hit in a 9-3 win.

Triple-A Charlotte

Charlie Tilson had two hits in a 9-3 loss.