Seahawks 2017 Offseason Part I

It is less than a week away from the 2017 NFL Draft.  Excitement is brewing in each organization as individuals, teams, and organizations will forever change because of the upcoming draft. The draft is the most important and influential offseason event for every team.  It gives each team the most opportunity to improve- adding the missing piece to a Superbowl run or finding the next franchise player to build a dynasty around- or regress, failing at find the talent needed for success.  Still, the draft is not held in a vacuum and is shaped and influenced by the changing environment as much as it influences it.  Before the draft teams have had the opportunity to attain valuable free agents to help fill out and complete their roster to enter the draft with as few holds to fill as possible.  This allows each team to base picks on value rather than need.  Though not as active as others in free agency Seattle was busy adding competition to their roster before the draft.  This article will go over these moves, how they fit to the overall goals and needs of the organization, and likely what GM John Schneider and Co. will do in the 2017 draft.

Since the first couple of years at Seattle, Schneider has not spent heavily in free agency instead finding value in cheap contracts with veterans or 1-year “prove it” deals.  Not relying on big money deals in free agency allows the Seahawks to build through the draft and retain their own players.  Again, this year was much of the same.  However unlike in previous years, there was no major free agent Seattle had to retain- Steven Hauschka being the biggest free agent to leave- and with $25 million in salary cap space Seattle had the flexibility to take some flyers on talented but flawed players.[i]

As of this writing Seattle has acquired 11 players through free agency and relinquished four players.[ii]  Now, I can’t talk about every acquisition the Seahawks made as the article would quickly turn into a novel, but for those who are curious here is a link to all transactions made by Seattle this offseason: http://www.spotrac.com/nfl/free-agents/seattle-seahawks/.  Instead I will discuss holistically what Seattle is trying to achieve with this process, linking it to current strategies and philosophies utilized, specifically talking about several transactions I liked and several I didn’t, and finally what this all means for the 2017 draft.

As discussed in my previous article the biggest needs Seattle has heading into next season are offensive-line, cornerback, and defensive tackle.  They have addressed two of those issues in free agency- resigning two CBs in Deshawn Shead and Neiko Thorpe and S Bradley McDougald, as well as signing LT Luke Joeckel and OG Oday Aboushi.  Clearly Seattle is trying to address the two biggest areas of concern and I suspect further investment in these two areas come draft time.  Surprisingly they have not addressed the defensive interior which I assumed they would do by signing a veteran DT.

Of the 11 free agents signed six are on the defense side of the ball, while five are on the offensive side.  This illustrates Seattle’s desire to make every position competitive by completing and filling out entire roster.  With every position having quality competition allows everyone to work hard and continue to develop as a player.  The average age of the free agents is 26.7 years old, which ensures team is stocked with young talent- keeping the team young allows continued success.  The oldest player signed is ILB Michael Wilhoite, who was added to be a star on special teams.  Another similarity, all contracts where for one-year deals (except for CB Neiko Thorpe’s who received a two-year deal due to his young age and potential).[iii]  These one year “prove it” contracts are friendly for both sides.  Neither party is heavily invested long-term so if the deal doesn’t work out it is not crippling financially, and it allows both parties to maintain flexibility in the future.  Also, this type of “wait and see” contract I believe shows insight into the how the Seahawks view free agency.  Free agency is not a slam dunk- there are so many variables that contribute to a player’s success like being in the right environment and system- that signing proven players from elsewhere for big money does not guarantee success.  Due to the modest success rate for free agent players and the high investment needed, Seattle appears to see the draft as the key to long-term success, and view free agency as a stop-gap measure.  Still, free agency can still have a big impact on the team and I want to highlight several signings that have the potential to be great personnel moves.

Seattle appears to believe in the failed 2013 draft class, or at least believes the 2013 draft class needs redemption.  Seattle has signed the #2 and #3 overall picks in that draft in Luck Joeckel and Dion Jordan.  Both were busts for their perspective teams but perhaps a change in scenery will change that.  Seattle also signed the 61st player in that draft as well in RB Eddie Lacy.[iv]  Lacy was a beast for several seasons, eclipsing over 1,000rushing yards in his 1st two years until health and weight became a problem. However, when fully healthy and in-shape he is a monster.  His physical, punishing running style is something the Seahawks have been craving since Marshawn Lynch retired.  Getting Lacy on a friendly one-year $4.25 million deal with only $3.5 million against the cap is a great deal.  If Lacy works out he will be well worth the money, and Seattle could then sign him to a long-term deal, and if Lacy is unable to return to form the investment is small and short enough to not hurt the team financially.  Adding a bruising back, a need heading into the offseason, on a team friendly contract is a nice risk/reward signing.

The other free agent move I appreciated was re-signing some core depth players in Neiko Thorpe, Luke Willson, and Deshawn Shead. Seattle needed depth in the secondary and were able to retain two contributors under modest contracts.  Shead, and average starter, is coming off a serious knee injury and has a one-year “show me” contract, but adds depth and size at the position.  Thorpe signed a two-year deal due to his potential and room for growth but again being 6’1” adds valuable depth and size at the position.  Resigning TE Luke Willson was another smart move.  With him on the roster, Seattle has a 3 solid TEs with unique skills, with Willson providing the deep threat from the TE position.   Though these three signings lack splash or flare they allow Seattle to enter the draft with flexibility, without having to address these positions early in the draft, though I think they will.  Finally, I like taking a one-year flyer on Dion Jordan.  He is obviously extremely athletic having been selected #3 overall in 2013, he just wasn’t able to capitalize on his raw ability in Miami.  One of the reasons I believe he was a bust in Miami is because he was asked to play the wrong position.  Jordan is 6’6’’ 260lbs and played upright and in space at the University of Oregon as a 3-4 OLB, but the Dolphins trade to make him a 4-3 DE wanting him to gain weight and put his hand on the ground.  The switch didn’t work out- he had trouble gaining weight and as a result I believe started taking PEDs to bulk up.  Now with the Seahawks his best fit could be filling in the SAM linebacker role on 1st down, and then pass rushing on 3rd down.  If the Seahawks try him at that position I think he has a good chance of making the team and having an impact.

Now that I discussed the free agent signings I liked I will now mention one signing that I didn’t.  Seattle signed free agent Luke Joeckel to a one-year deal worth $8 million dollars with $7.25 million going against the cap to bolster their horrendous offensive line, easily the worst position group on the team.  Adding offensive line help was a great move and necessary; however, not at the price.  That contract makes Joeckel, a talented but underperforming bust who was an average LG last year, the 9th highest paid player on the team, ahead of guys like KJ Wright and Cliff Avril.[v]  Joeckel has been below average every year he has been in the league and doesn’t show the promise he had coming out of Texas A&M.  Last year he switched from LT to LG, but still underperformed grading at a 68.3 by Pro Football Focus.[vi]  Giving that much money to a below average starter, although only one year offers very little value.  The Seahawks are paying him what he could potentially be, not who he is.  And if Joeckel does turn his career around Seattle will then have to pay him big money next year, meaning there is very little value in the deal.  I would have preferred a two-year deal worth a total of $10 million to increase the upside at basically the same risk.  However, with a weak offensive line draft class the market for offensive lineman has been expensive with most players getting well overpaid, so maybe this type of deal was not possible.  Still, the contract has low upside for a pricey investment- I guess that’s the price you pay when desperate for offensive line help.

Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Luke Joeckel (76) blocks against the Tennessee Titans

Another signing, or lack thereof, which I was surprised did not happen was signing a veteran DT.  It seems almost every year Schneider bolsters the defensive line with a savvy veteran at great value… except this year.  Not adding depth at that position, I believe forces Seattle to invest in that position with one of their first four picks in the draft.  Being a need it was surprising that Seattle didn’t address that position when there are still decent players out there.  Seattle should take a close look at DT/DE Jared Odrick who ranks as the 50th best free agent according to NFL.com.[vii]  He is a year removed from having 5.5 sacks and would provide valuable pass rush and depth from the interior.  At this point Seattle will probably wait till after the draft to sign a player where they will have more leverage thus making Obi Melifonwu the contract cheaper.

Overall Schneider did a good job in free agency filling out the roster so there are very little holes entering the draft.  He bolstered Seattle’s two biggest need in Offensive line and cornerback in free agency, as well as adding young versatile players that can contribute to special teams.  Nevertheless, this draft will be crucial for Seattle’s success and Seattle has a good chance of finding valuable starters with 4 picks in the top 110 selections.  I see Seattle addressing the offensive line, defensive back, and the defensive line with three of these four picks.  In the first round if the three big offensive lineman- Ryan Ramczyk, Garett Bolles, or Forrest Lamp- are off the board I wouldn’t be surprised if Seattle trades back to try and pick up a 4th or 5th round selection (which they don’t have this year).  Many people have the Seahawks linked to S Obi Melifonwu out of UConn who has visited Seattle twice and could fall back in the draft to take him.  If they select Melifonwu, I believe they see him able to play cornerback opposite Richard Sherman.  I also like the idea of taking local kid CB Kevin King from Washingont, who fits Seattle’s mold of a tall, rangy, athletic corner.  In the second and third rounds, I envision Seattle again addressing the line on either side of the ball.  A couple of names to keep an eye on in these rounds are DE/OLB Tim Williams from Alabama, OG Taylor Moton from Western Michigan, CB Rasul Douglas from West Virginia, DT Eddie Vanderdoes, OT Dion Dawkins from Temple, and WR Cooper Kupp from Eastern Washington.  All players would answer team needs, have key measurables Seattle looks for, and would provide a some new skills to add to the team.

With Part I of the football offseason, free agency, almost over it is now time for part II, the draft, the most crucial time for every team.  Seattle is positioned well having done a solid job filling out the roster with small, low risk investments.  Though no high-end moves Seattle is again ready to maximize on the draft, focus on positions of weakness, and again look to improve the roster which is already one of the best in the NFL.  Sometime after the draft I will post Part II of Seattle’s offseason and how they look heading into the season, stay tuned.

[i] https://www.profootballfocus.com/pro-2017-free-agency-preview-seattle-seahawks/

[ii] http://www.spotrac.com/nfl/free-agents/seattle-seahawks/relenquished/

[iii] http://www.spotrac.com/nfl/free-agents/seattle-seahawks/

[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_NFL_Draft

[v] http://overthecap.com/salary-cap/seattle-seahawks

[vi] https://www.profootballfocus.com/pro-2017-free-agency-tracker/

[vii]http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000788031/article/2017-nfl-free-agency-top-101-available-players

Seattle Seahawks 2016 Season Review

The season is over.  The Seattle Seahawks failed to achieve their ultimate goal of making and winning the Superbowl; but they made the playoffs again for the 5th time in a row and proved they are one of the best teams in the league, and a threat to win it all for the foreseeable future.  Now as the offseason begins I want to recap on the season (I was planning on doing quarterly recaps but life got in the way, so a final recap will have to suffice) and possible directions Seattle could head during the impending offseason.   Like my earlier article I will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the team, and the logical steps needed to be taken to improve the roster and achieve ultimate success.  So let’s begin- with the defense- the most positive aspect of the team.

To no surprise, Seattle’s defense was dominant once again.  This can be contributed to Head Coach Pete Carroll, who has turned Seattle into a dominant defense every year since returning to the league, as well as the plethora of talent that has amassed on that side of the ball.  According to NFL.com the Seahawks ranked 3rd in the league in points allowed and 5th in total yards allowed- 8th in pass and 7th in run.[i]  Talk about a well-rounded defense!  Also, keep in mind Seattle had injuries to key players who missed significant amount of time; otherwise these rankings would probably be higher.  Part of their success is the simple philosophy and game plan Carroll has instilled on the team.  By running a simple yet variable cover 3 packages allows the players to be active instead of reactive, meaning they play fast with few breakdowns in coverage.  This scheme coupled with the philosophy of stopping the run first and keeping the ball and man in front of them in coverage- limiting big plays- has allowed these talents players to thrive.

Breaking down the defense by units better demonstrates the balance and talent on the field.  The front seven (defensive line and linebackers) was ranked #1 in the league by Pro Football Focus (PFF).[ii]  The unit was led by Bobby Wagner (the #1 rated MLB) and KJ Wright to form the best linebacker duo in the league.  These two did it all, excelling in both the run and the pass, and never came off the field.  These two were paired with great pass rushers Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Frank Clark whom all were rated in the top 40 of edge rushers.  By shutting down the run and forcing opponents into third-and-longs, these pass rushers were able to rush the quarterback with abandon resulting in 42 sacks, 4th most in the league.[iii]  The pressure created upfront assisted a secondary- ravaged by injury- to be ranked 5thin the league by PFF.  Richard Sherman was hampered by a knee injury all year resulting in one of his worst statistical seasons, yet was still one of the top cornerbacks in the league posting a 14.9 snaps in coverage per reception- the best rate in the league.[iv]  Kam Chancellor missed several games, yet was the 2nd best strong safety in the league.  All-pro Earl Thomas was lost to a devastating leg injury half way through the season and was noticeably missed especially on deep passes (20-plus yards downfield) holding opposing QBs to 112 passer rating compared to just 61.3 passer rating when he is on the field.[v]  Yet the secondary still maintained a high level of play, a testament to the players and coaches.  Perhaps the most underappreciated aspect of the secondary is how exceptional they are in run defense, having four players ranked in the top-10 at their position in stopping the run; and just another reason why running the ball is nearly impossible against the Seahawks.

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Even though the defense had another exceptional year, it is not without its flaws.  The two biggest needs are Defensive tackle (DT)- specifically a pass rushing 3-technique, and depth in the secondary mainly at the cornerback (CB) positions.  For a while Seattle has tried find a penetrating DT, but has yet to unearth a gem.  They have gotten by with stout run defenders and frequent rotation at the tackle position to find success.   Last year key pickups like Tony McDaniel became valuable stop-gap measures for a team still searching for a disrupter up the middle.  Jarran Reed was drafted in the 2nd round but is a run stuffing tackle and struggled mightily in the pass rush (which scouts warned).  The Seahawks need a playmaker at that position as far too often the opposing quarterback would freely step up in the pocket when forced by pressure of the edge.  Having a player to eat up these sacks would make the front seven truly dominate.  An additional cornerback to compete with Deshawn Shead opposite of Sherman would be valuable as well.  Shead played admirably in a tough position as most people look his way first or completely ignore the other side of the field due to Sherman’s expertise.  Still, more depth and competition would benefit the entire unit, as Shead was beat too often on comebacks and in and out routes.  I believe the Seahawks will address these two issues in the offseason.

Now switching to the offense side of the ball where things weren’t so rosy.  However before getting too negative I want to acknowledge the some positives.  First, Russell Wilson is amazing.  He was one of the top QBs in the NFL and 42nd best player according to PFF.  This is even more impressive when considering he was running for his life behind the worst offensive line in the league and doing so on basically one knee and ankle.  After two years of outstanding QB play especially inside the pocket, Wilson has silenced the doubters that he is only a scrambling QB.  For now on he will be viewed as an elite quarterback, period.  I also want to acknowledge that Seattle has some outstanding players in most of their skilled positions.  Doug Baldwin this year confirmed he is a star at WR anywhere you line him up catching 80.9% of the passes thrown his way, top in the league.[vi]  Also after a devastating injury Jimmy Graham returned and reminded everyone he is one of the best TEs in the league, almost 6TDs and almost 1,000 yards.  I also believe Seahawks are happy with their running back group, which had a down year but mainly due to the horrendous offensive line.  Thomas Rawls and the emergence of rookie CJ Prosise leave Seattle with a strong RB combination, both possessing a variety of unique skills.  Together they could form an intimidating duo, and although this RB draft class is outstanding I don’t foresee Seahawks drafting another one.

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Unfortunately, holistically it was a frustrating year for the Seahawks offense.  Seattle ranked 19th in points scored with 22.1/game.  It did post the 12th most yards/game due to Russell throwing the 10th most passing yards, yet they ranked 25th in the league in rushing with only 99.4 yards/game- the lowest ever during the Pete Carroll era.  Without a running game and a real identity on offense Seahawks struggled to find a rhythm all season.  In the past the running game not only set up the pass but the tone and attitude for the team… Beast Mode was missed.   Due to this lack of identity there was no real consistency from one game to the next.  Some blame can be cast to the coaches for not having a consistent game plan or approach; but some blame most be put on the player personnel who assembled the worst offensive line in the league.

The Seahawks offensive is the lowest paid unit in the league by a large margin, and I guess you get what you pay for.  The line had the worst ranking by a large margin according to Pro Football Focus.  Justin Britt, who failed at tackle and guard, became Seattle’s best offensive lineman when he moved to center.  He had the top overall grade (80.5, 16th best at the position) and was best in both run and pass blocking- not giving up a sack or hit.  Britt was by far the best lineman, with the other four posting an average grade of 52.3, with LG Mike Glowinski the best among them yet ranked the 63rd guard league wide.[vii]  The ineptitude of the offensive line ruined the offense and caused them to lose several games.  Even the magic of Wilson could not hide the deficiencies of this unit.  Clearly if the offense wants to improve the weakness along the offensive line must be addressed.

As promised I will briefly discuss where I think and believe the Seahawks will do this offseason to improve the team.  I will not go into too much detail now, as I will write about the Seahawks draft and free agency needs later on in player specific detail.  For now, I will mention areas of need and where and how to address them.

jimmy-graham

First, the Seahawks must improve their offensive line.  To do this they must invest more money in that unit.  I strongly believe that games are won at the line of scrimmage, in the trenches.  It don’t matter how amazing your skilled position players are if they never get the ball with time or space.  And the only way to create time and space is winning the line of scrimmage.  Improvement and investment is needed at all positions except perhaps center where Britt could be a long-term fit.  George Fant and Germaine Ifedi are both young and inexperienced and I believe Carroll and Co. will give them every chance to succeed but competition and a backup plans are necessary.  A change at LG and RT are almost required.  Unfortunately for Seattle this year’s draft class lacks quality offensive lineman so I see Seattle addressing this problem in free agency as well as draft.  This shouldn’t be a problem either as Seattle will have roughly $25 million in salary cap space.[viii]  Other areas mentioned earlier that need to be addressed are depth at cornerback and defensive tackle.  Cornerbacks are usually overpaid in free agency so I see Seattle addressing that need in the draft with a long rangy corner; but I see GM John Schneider addressing the D-line in free agency to reduce the impulse to reach on a need during the draft.  They will specifically target a quick penetrating DT that can get after the QB.

Other offseason moves I see happening or want to happen is Seattle targeting a tall rangy outside wide receiver in free agency (maybe Terrell Pryor) or draft, as well as versatile safety to back up Kam or Earl.  Which brings me to my last point, Seattle will finally pay Kam Chancellor!  Bam Bam Kam is a true leader on the team and deserves every penny.  This should get accomplished as there are no major impending free agents that need to be signed.

To conclude, Seattle had a solid year though with plenty of ups and downs.  The young core is under contract and should allow Seattle to compete for the Superbowl for several years to come if it addresses its most glaring need along the offensive line.  It will be an important and exciting offseason and I will for sure write about all its possibilities and outcomes in great detail later on…

[i] http://www.nfl.com/teams/statistics?team=SEA

[ii] https://www.profootballfocus.com/pro-ranking-all-32-defensive-front-sevens-this-season/

[iii] www.sportingcharts.com/nfl/stats/team-sacks/2016/

[iv] https://www.profootballfocus.com/pro-ranking-all-32-nfl-secondaries-this-season/

[v] https://www.profootballfocus.com/pro-ranking-all-32-nfl-secondaries-this-season/

[vi] www.profootballfocus.com/pro-top-101-players-from-the-2016-nfl-season/

[vii] https://www.profootballfocus.com/pro-ranking-all-32-nfl-offensive-lines-this-season/

[viii] www.overthecap.com/salary-cap/seattle-seahawks/

 

I’ve Seen Stranger Things…

I’ve seen stranger things, but few TV shows as good as Netflix’s Stranger Things. (Sorry, I had too.)   I enjoy watching movies and TV shows and since coming back from my two year service in the Peace Corps I have been trying to catch up on some of the entertainment I have missed, and I have missed A LOT.  Not sure if I have never noticed the plethora of cinematic options before, because I was so immersed in its omnipresence- but my lord there is an absurd amount of movies and TV shows being produced.  Every channel and now service provider is creating new content that it is hard to decide what to watch.  There is so many shows, so many options and yet so much trash that it’s a wonder how anyone finds a worthwhile show, and even more impressive when a show creates devout fans.  My job of catching up on entertainment and pop culture has been difficult.  Countless shows-like Narcos, Marco Polo, Mr. Robot, BoJack Horseman, Penny Dreadful, Master of None, and all zombie themed shows- have been started but never completed.  Too many have been stupid, tacky, and unoriginal.   Too few have been able to retain my attention.  All these shows appear to blind together, few are able to stand out and reach a wide diverse audience.

However, there are a few exceptions.  The one show- out of all the ones I have watched- that got me hooked was Stranger Things.  It should be and is the hit of the summer and the best (new) show I have seen in the past two years.   Stranger Things is fresh, original, fun, all-encompassing drama/thriller nostalgic series that will keep you in a nervous fit but wanting for more.

stranger-things-axe

Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers

Stranger Things is unique.  A period piece set in the 80s follows the script of a teenage/buddy movie, a coming of age tale, similar in feel to movies of that time period like The Goonies, E.T. and Stephen King’s Stand by Me.  In fact the creators, the Duffer Brothers, seem to be making a nostalgic tribute series to 80s specifically to the king of thriller Stephen King; however by combining cinematic themes and adding new elements and plot twists it makes the series original.  The series centers around four middle school friends until one of them mysteriously vanishes, the main conflict in the first season.  While they go out looking for him again they mysteriously discover a girl- named Eleven around the same age- who is lost and confused.  The boys help her stay hidden and in return for helping Eleven helps them find their missing friend.  Little do they know is the Eleven escaped a secret government research facility with dark intentions that desperately wants her back.  The story quickly picks up pace, intrigue and complexity; which involves a sheriff seeking redemption, a mother craving closure, an official wanting power, and a corporation wanting control, and more.  With all these different plot-lines diverging and converging Stranger Things succeeds by making the story meticulously coherent and cohesive.  Everything has a logical place and a purpose behind its existence.  This makes the story and characters so interesting and dynamic.  Even when a parallel universe with demonic creatures emerges the characters drive the story and you’re hooked to every likely and logical outcome.  That is the secret.  The series is character driven and simply follows the characters through their world as reality crumples around them.   Like the characters and actors who played them the audience becomes completely immersed and lost in this fantasy world so close to home.

stranger-things-kids

From left to right- Caleb McLaughlin, Gaten Matarazzo, Finn Wolfhard, and Millie Bobby Brown

More simply put Stranger Things is a 80s nostalgia piece with substance.  It combines elements and themes from 80s classics like E.T., Alien, Altered States, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Lost Boys, The Golden Child, and Poltergeist.  Though as mentioned above it really is homage piece to Stephen King’s work taking ideas and components from Stand by Me, It, Cujo, and The Shinning.  (I could go into detail into how the series relates and takes themes from all these movies, but that would take too long, so you’re just going to have to trust me, or… see the show.)  All these films in some way inspired and influenced the series, but the show is able to become its own by combining all these ideas and twisting them into an original piece.  Unlike the new Star Wars film there is substance- ideas about growing up, accepting oneself and others, family, life and loss, government and corporate ethics, redemption, forgiveness, and more all are woven into the story.  Still, it is not just elements taken from 80s movies that make it nostalgic.  Most importantly it is a period piece, set in the 1980s.  From the clothes, buildings, cars, appliances, technology, entertainment, to the social norms and expectations all are meticulously presented to create the 80s feel.  Also, the music is from the 80s or sounds like it with a dark eerie undertone.   The atmosphere, setting, and soundtrack all add to the nostalgia.  All help the audience immerse themselves and believe in the Stranger Things world.

The acting also assists in making this fantasy thriller piece real and personal.  The performances by the actors are spectacular and allowed the audience to easily suspend their disbelief.   This point is especially noteworthy as the stars of the series are all kids.  Doing a coming of age piece starring children is risky because child acting can be hit-or-miss.  Oh, but what a hit it was for Stranger Things!  All the performances were amazing and believable.  The creators and writers didn’t have to hide the kids, instead leading them grow with the show.  The characters are all unique and dynamic allowing the actors to shape their character, and in a way be themselves.  This is incredibly important since the show is character driven.  My favorite performances and therefore characters are Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson (who adds comic relieve to the intense scenes), and David Harbour as Jim Hopper (the hero cop whose strong presence supports other characters as well as the audience through the fog).  However, some of the credit has to be given to the directors who not only allowed the actors to succeed but filmed the show in a style that matches the plot and atmosphere.

 

Aesthetically the series is beautiful and is shot in a similar fashion to those films in the 80s.  The film cuts are diverse ranging from really short-cuts lasting less than half a second during intense actions scenes to long-cuts lasting minutes to immerse the audience in the setting and to create suspense.  The cinematography also uses diverse shots from long to short, but from basic angles to give the series a character perspective.  All these techniques are combined together to capture the world in and match the sentiments of the scene.  The series is also edited with dark and grey hues to match the dark and eerie subject matter, similar to The Shinning.  Together it all adds to the atmosphere and aesthetics that make the show believable and appealing.

I would recommend Stranger Things to everyone.  It contains copious themes that can be enjoyed by a wide audience.  It is fun, suspenseful, sweet, scary, dark, funny, edgy and thoughtful.  It is a sci-fi action adventure driven by dynamic characters.  Everyone should go see it even if they hated the 80s or were too young to know it, or you’re missing out!

(PS- There is two other shows that I just started watching that I think deserve praise as well.  First is WestWorld on HBO and the other is Rick and Morty on Adult Swim.  Go watch, otherwise you will be left out of all your friends cinematic gossip- God knows I was…)

Seahawks Quarter Season Review

The NFL is now a quarter of the way through.  Sad already a quarter of the season is over, it feels like it just started.  With four games down coaches, players, and fans are now able to see how their team stacks up with the rest of the league- four games is just a big enough sample size.   New stars have emerged, injuries are taking a toll, playoff scenarios are being drawn, and teams have begun to find their identity.  So what is the Seattle Seahawks identity? What are their strengths, their weaknesses? Who has emerged, and who needs to step up?  After four games we are beginning to have a clue.  Though they started slow the Hawks appear to have their swag back, and as other teams in the division continue to struggle, the Hawks appear in prime position to make the playoffs again lead by their suffocating defense.

Seattle loves defense to match the dreary gray skies… and Seattle is in love.  Once again the Seahawks defense is dominate, just like in years past under Pete Carrol.  That is the Seahawks identity- a fast, aggressive, hard-hitting defense that wins in the trenches and finishes in the secondary.  Every week they provide the energy that ignites the team, every week they punch opponents in the mouth.  With a dominant defense, the Hawks always know they will be in every game.  This gives the whole team immense confidence, and an identity.

Several reasons make the defense so good for so long.  First the scheme is simple.  It allows players to excel and specialize their craft- maximizing strengths and minimizing weaknesses.  The simplicity also allows player to react instead of think meaning they can play fast instinctive football.   Specifically, the scheme focuses on stopping the run, making the opponent one dimensional and then keeping the ball and opponents in front of them, a.k.a. not giving up the big play.  With this philosophy opposing teams have a hard time converting third down and are unable to sustain drives.  Secondly, the players are gifted and unique.  Player personnel target big fast aggressive players that fit their scheme well to maximize the scheme and their skill set.  Tall physical cornerbacks, fast rangy linebacker, deep high safety with tremendous speed and quickness (Earl Thomas), run stuffing two-gap tackle , and defensive ends with amazing burst and power.   With each player having an exact role with an exact skill set, it allows the team to rotate and replace players without losing cohesion.  I also can’t understate how talented this defense is.  There are multiple pro-bowlers on every level of the defense and perhaps several future Hall of Fame players (Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, and Bobby Wagner).   In fact a majority of the salary cap goes to the defense- $67,220,077 to defense $55,694,992 to offense (though Michael Bennett still needs to get paid).[i]  Finally, perhaps the Seahawks defense best strength is they have no weakness.  With stars on all three levels and well executed system, opposing offenses have an impossible time finding a weakness or a mismatch.  This also allows Seattle to stay within the scheme and keep their identity.  With no weakness to target opposing teams are usually left with short dump offs or short comebacks away from Sherman (which means CB2 Deshawn Shead will be targeted the most).  Thus, when facing the Hawks teams know they will have a tough time getting points, adding more pressure on their defense to stop Russell Wilson and company.

lob

Seattle’s offense is the weaker of the two groups but is by no means a weakness.  After a slow start in the first two weeks where they scored a grained total of 15 points, they have comeback to score 64 points the last two games.  The offense is starting to find its groove and realize what makes them successful.  The biggest difference between the first two games and the last two games has been the offensive line play, and Jimmy Graham becoming healthy.  In the first two games Russell had been getting pressure up the middle far too often.  Now the interior O-line looks serviceable.  LG Mark Glowinksi, C Justine Britt, and RG Germain Ifedi (who just came back from injury) are all very physical at the point of attack but are now working well as a unit picking up proper assignments.  With their physicality comes the Hawks run game, the offense’s bread and butter.  Seattle still wants to be a run-first team to set the tone and manage the clock, and they have been able to do this the last two weeks.  The big difference is at Center where Britt appears to be getting more comfortable with his new role each week.  After posting an average player grade in the 1st three weeks he was the highest rated center in week 4.[ii]  The other two have been average, particularly in the pass protection, but with more time and work playing together that hopefully will improve too.  The other major turnaround on offense has to be the reemergence of Jimmy Graham.  With Graham in the lineup he immediately creates a mismatch, which the Seahawks have exploited.  They are lining him up all over the field, which is smart, making the defense react and sometimes giving away their coverages.  Jimmy’s presence also allows the Hawks to attack the middle of the field unlike before, opening more room on the outside for the wide receivers.  These two reasons are the catalyst that has helped improve the offense.

So what is Seattle’s main weakness or biggest need for improvement?  It is as many predicted the offensive line.  This should come to no surprise to anyone closely following the Hawks.  The O-line is the least invested unit on the team with the starting five combining for $4,660,967 against the salary cap; making Seattle’s O-line the cheapest in the league.  Now, having a mobile quarterback like Russell and an O-line coach like Tom Cable allows Seattle to devalue their line and reinvest it elsewhere; however it does present a major risk.   A bad O-line can jeopardize an entire offense-passing and running- but also adds more unnecessary risk to your quarterback.  All of this has proven true in the 1st 4 weeks.  With the interior line improving and stopping pressure up the middle- a problem for even mobile quarterbacks, especially short ones- some of the weakness is mitigated; however the two starting tackles are struggling with no signs of improvement.  Actually Seattle’s offensive line is the worst in the league according to Pro Football Focus.[iii]  LT Bradley Sowell and RT Garry Gilliam have struggled mightily in pass protection and haven’t fared much better in run blocking as well.  Both received poor grades each week, and have struggled against speed and bull rushes.  Sowell is a veteran who lost his starting position and job on a previous team so I see little hope for improvement.  Gilliam is an undrafted converted TE still on his rookie contract so he could still improve, but I honestly don’t have much hope as there has been little improvement from last year. Luckily, Seattle has Russell but he can only produce so much magic.  I see the offensive line, specifically the tackles, struggling all year and will be Seattle’s main weakness.

seahawks-o-line

Before I finish I just want to briefly acknowledge several players who have emerged and become essential to the Seahawks success.  First, I want to acknowledge DE Frank Clark.  Perhaps on other teams he would be starting, but on a loaded defense Clark is still a situational/personnel guy, however he is excelling.  Clark is a beast of the edge, consistently getting pressure when given the opportunity with his amazing burst and short-yardage quickness.  The loss of Bruce Irvin has not been missed largely due to Clark taking over Irvin’s role and dominating.  As he continues to carve out playing time his role and stats will finally match his talent.  Another player I want to mention is DE Cassius Marsh.  I was a big fan when GM John Schneider drafted him and after a couple years hiding behind a stellar D-line unit he is finally getting his shots.  His hustle and versatility remind me of Michael Bennett and they have been using Marsh in the same manner.  I envision him and Clark mixing up with the starting unit more and more as the season progresses.  I also want to recognize again Justin Britt and Jimmy Graham, whom I have already mentioned but I feel deserve another shout out.

To conclude, after four weeks Seattle is looking strong and appear to be the favorite to win the division if not the entire NFC.  The defense is still amazing and the offense has good balance with star power.  The only thing that could slow them down is their offensive line, but there is always Russell Wilson.

Hope you enjoyed my brief and limited insight on the Seahawks 1st quarter of the season.  Thanks for reading.

[i] http://overthecap.com/salary-cap/seattle-seahawks/

[ii] https://www.profootballfocus.com/pro-best-player-at-every-position-in-nfl-week-4/

[iii] https://www.profootballfocus.com/pro-ranking-all-32-nfl-offensive-lines-entering-week-5-2/

 

2016 NBA Offseason

The NBA offseason is well underway.  The draft is complete and free agency is almost two weeks old with almost all the big names signed to new deals and to often new teams.  Summer league has started giving coaches, GMs, and fans a chance to see their newly acquired draft picks in action.  This offseason has been anything but off- it has been wrapped in surprise and intrigue and the moves taken won’t just affect the upcoming season but may shape the NBA landscape for years to come.

There is one main reason for all this drama, the salary cap increase. The salary cap increased from $70 million last season to $94.1 million for the 2016-17 season, largely due to the new national TV deals.[i]  This $24.1 million increase coupled with star free agents and a draft class that appears to have some future stars has made this offseason non-stop entertainment.  As a result, enormous sums of cash have been handed out and huge deals have been given to not only stars but roll players as well.  At a singular glance a lot of these deals appear like terrible values for the team but this is just the reality of a bull market.  For example Timothy Mozgov, who rode the bench for much of the year in Cleveland and played only 75 total minutes in the playoffs, got a 4-year $64 million dollar contract with the Lakers.[ii]  Players with similar value got similar deals as well (you can see entire list of free agents and their contracts here: http://www.sbnation.com/nba/2016/6/30/12052290/nba-free-agent-signings-tracker-2016-rumors).

However large contracts aren’t the most significant outcome of the new salary cap.  With the extra room to spend teams can now sign three possibly four players to a max contract, meaning teams can have three or even four superstars on their roster- where in the past teams could sign only two or maybe three stars at a discount.  Well, that is exactly what happened as the best team the Golden State Warriors (GSW) was able to sign the best free agent this year, Kevin Durant.  The rich just got richer.  The Warriors arguably have 4 top-15 players in the league after becoming the most successful team in league history during the regular season.  Signing Durant was momentous not just for the Warriors who won the offseason with that deal, but for the league as a whole.  With more and more superstars joining together in their quest to win the Championship, there is a risk of having no semblance of parity.  With only several teams having any real chance of winning small market teams will have even a tougher time competing, tanking could become even more common place, and worse viewership may drop due to the lack of intrigue.  A few owners have already expressed these fears.

Still, Durant deserved to make his decision and his decision should not be met with scorn or hatred.  Just like after Lebron James’ infamous decision, Durant’s own decision to join GSW was met with similar vitriol.  This type of sentiment I don’t understand.  Durant didn’t leave for the money but left to win Championships- the one award he hasn’t won.  Winning the Finals has become so important- largely due to pundits over emphasis that winning it is everything and never winning means you’re a loser and somehow incomplete- that players feel an unreasonable amount of pressure to become Champions.  This desire that is causing players to create super teams is sports pundits and fans own doing.  Besides Durant gave eight years to his team and OKC and deserves the right to decide what is best for him.  If fans really want to get upset they should be mad at owners who move whole teams away from cities and fan bases, like OKC owner Clayton Bennett, they are the real villains.  Durant is not a villain, though The Warriors might become the Evil Empire…

Golden State won the offseason with the shocking signing of Durant, but I want to acknowledge three other teams that I think improved the most this offseason either through the draft, trades, and/or free agency.

GSW Evil Empire

Boston Celtics

The Celtics did not make a lot of moves this offseason but their one big signing was huge and addressed their biggest need.  Signing center Al Horford to a 4-year $113 million contract was a tremendous move and probably will have the biggest long-term impact outside the Durant deal.[iii]  Horford is a perfect fit for the city and team. Bringing in the All-star at a reasonable price makes Celtics not only a threat in the East but also makes Boston a prime destination for future free agents now with two All-stars (Horford and PG Isaiah Thomas) on the roster.  Also GM Danny Ainge let Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger walk giving Boston financial flexibility to be a major player in next year’s Russell Westbrook sweepstakes. (There are also rumors of a Blake Griffin trade.)  Letting Turner walk instead of overpaying him was a smart move now and in the future, saving money and allowing the young backcourt of Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart to grow.

Another savvy move by Ainge was picking up the player option on versatile big man Amir Johnson, who is reliable on offense and great defensively.  Johnson is more valuable and comes at a better price than Sullinger.  Yet, what could make Boston’s already great offseason really extraordinary is their draft performance.  Boston shocked almost everybody when they selected freshman SF Jaylen Brown out of California with the 3rd overall pick.  Most experts had them picking G Kris Dunn out of Providence who is a more pro-ready and polished player but Ainge went with the more athletic Brown who is better fit (small forward was more of a need than guard).  Actually Boston had a plethora of draft picks and used them to take F Guerschon Yabusele from France 16th overall (a good physical athlete with 3-point range), C Ante Zizic from Croatia 23rd overall (a strong raw athlete with a high motor who will likely be stashed overseas for a couple years), junior PG Demetrius Jackson from Notre Dame 45th overall (a productive and athletic combo guard who for some reason slid in the draft), F Ben Bentil from Providence 51st overall (the top scorer in the Big East and a solid rebounder), and senior SF Abdel Nadar from Iowa State 58th overall (a 3-and-D type player).  Boston also drafted C Deyonta Davis and SF Rade Zagorac but traded them to the Memphis Grizzlies for the Clippers 1st round pick in 2017, meaning they will again have a surplus of picks next year.  With all the draft picks Boston selected they are likely to hit jackpot on one, or two, or maybe even three; which would make this offseason really one to remember. Time will tell.

 

Indiana Pacers

Indiana’s offseason has been highly contentious- pundits either love it or hate it, and I obviously like their moves.  Indiana made headlines by basically swapping George Hill for Jeff Teague as part of a three-way trade with Atlanta and Utah.  I believe Teague is an upgrade from Hill (especially if he returns to 2014 form) and might be a better fit with Paul George being a more natural point guard.  Indiana continued their bold moves by signing Al Jefferson instead of starter Ian Mahinmi for one less year and less money. Financially this is was a great move as it maintains some flexibility and they get a better player in the short-term, regardless of how well he fits schematically.  Then, to improve their athleticism, versatility, and size they traded for F Jeremy Evans, a young athletic big man, and F Emir Preldzic for cash considerations.  The only loss that Indiana has not replaced or upgraded and might miss is the underappreciated Solomon Hill.

For the draft Indiana made most of their late selections.  They traded their late 1st round pick Caris LeVert to Brooklyn for F Thaddeus Young.  I have always been a fan of Young- he is an undersize forward but always productive and a great team player.  He will be a great glue guy and big when the team goes small.  Young can play either forward position and will give the team much needed versatility.  The trade makes them more competitive now but doesn’t jeopardize their future either.  In the 2nd round they selected Georges Niang 50th overall from Iowa State who is also an undersize forward but is very skilled and productive during four years in college earning All-American 2nd Team honors.

With a healthy Paul George, Indiana boasts a complete roster ready to compete in the East.

 

Houston Rockets

I had a hard time choosing between the Rockets and the Memphis Grizzlies as the third team with the best offseason.  Memphis was able to keep PG Mike Conley- signing the biggest deal in NBA history with a 5-year $153 million contract- and was able to add SF Chandler Parsons (4-year $94 million) to improve their floor spacing.[iv]  Couple these two and versatile draft class (Wade Baldwin and Deyonta Davis) with the strong inside presence of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and you got a tough team to beat.   However I chose the Houston Rockets over Memphis because I believe they got better value from their additions and will improve their overall record more.

Houston brought in Mike D’Antoni as their coach which appears to be a nice fit for the newly extended James Harden.  The extension of Harden, like the Horford deal, will make Houston a favorable destination for star free agents.  GM Daryl Morey continued to make smart investments by letting troublesome C Dwight Howard walk for big money (3-year $70 million) and picked up Nene on a one-year $2.9 million deal at a fraction of the cost. At this point in his career Howard is getting overpaid, and although Nene is not as good defensively he is comparable and more versatile offensively than Howard.  The move also gives the team great financial flexibility in the future and Houston will be in the hunt for next year’s prize free agents.

The Rockets then added guard Eric Gordon and stretch forward Ryan Anderson whom are perfect fits for Mike D’Antoni’s system.  Eric Gordon, if he can stay healthy, will be a great compliment to Harden as an outside scoring threat and a great value at 4-year $53 million contract. Anderson will also be a great compliment for Harden as pick-and-pop big for multiple years.  The main reason why I like Houston’s offseason over Memphis is the value of the free agent signings.  Houston didn’t break the bank and has more short-term and long-term financial flexibility.  GM Morey also signed veteran PG Pablo Prigioni to solidify the backcourt to a short-term team friendly deal.

If Houston is able to sign another big man, like re-signing Donatas Motiejunas, they will add the necessary size and their offseason will be complete. Holistically, Houston will look very different next year under D’Antoni- they will be scary offensively, questionable defensively, absolutely fun to watch, and considerably improved.

james harden rockets

Before discussing teams who went backwards into free agency I just want to briefly mention several other teams that had a solid offseason.  The 76ers could finally be back to winning basketball after winning the draft by selecting point-forward Ben Simmons with the #1 overall pick.  Simmons plays like Lebron and has the potential to be a superstar.  The Timberwolves also had a nice offseason- hiring coach Tom Thibodeau is an upgrade and they got a gift when G Kris Dunn fell to them at No. 5.  Minnesota is improving incrementally with a young up-and-coming team that will be fun to watch, and you got to admire their patience.  Finally I have to give credit to the San Antonio Spurs who once again proved they are perhaps the best franchise in the league.  The Spurs, even after losing the great Tim Duncan to retirement, re-upped and should be competitive again with the signing of F/C Pau Gasol.  They also might have gotten the steal in the draft with PG Dejounte Murray who is an amazing athlete but raw and has probably found himself in the best position to learn from Tony Parker and Greg Popovich.  Unfortunately not everyone can have a winning offseason and here are two teams that I believe regressed the most (besides OKC who lost the offseason when they lost Durant).

 

Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta had a make or break offseason and they failed.  They lost Al Horford and replaced him with an overpaid declining Dwight Howard for only $4 million less a year.  Howard is also older and harder to play with, meaning Atlanta won’t have the same appeal to future free agents that Boston now has.  I also don’t see much compatibility between him and PF Paul Millsap.  They re-signed Kent Bazemore who is a fine player but not at a $17.5 million value.[v]  The Hawks then traded away star Jeff Teague for the 12th overall pick in what was not considered a deep draft.  With the pick they selected SF Taurean Prince out of Baylor.  Prince might become a great player but that is unknown and a huge risk giving up a proven star.  With these moves it is hard to imagine Atlanta doing anything but regressing next year.

horford-teague

Orlando Magic

I was tempted to pick the Chicago Bulls who signed aging veterans that would have been spectacular 5 years ago but now looks like a hope and a prayer to in all actuality a rebuilding team.  Nevertheless I decided to select Orlando because their offseason moves are confusing for the short-term and long-term.  I really don’t know what to make of this team, they have good assets in almost every position but I don’t know how they fit together and I don’t think the front office does either.  They appear to be a team without any direction (I mean at least the 76ers had a directive of losing…).

This offseason they traded away their young star SG Victor Oladipo, PF Ersan Ilyasova, and rookie PF/C Domantas Sabonis (11th overall pick) to Oklahoma City for aging PF Serge Ibaka.  Ibaka is a great player but not worth all those assets, and the move appears to be for short-term success yet Orlando isn’t going anywhere in the short-term.  The move is perplexing; however a great move by the Thunder (who I thought would retain Durant due to the move).  Orlando then went and signed PF/C Bismack Biyombo to a big 4-year $70 million contract.  Again Biyombo is a fine player and the value is acceptable but Orlando went out and signed another PF in Jeff Green to 1-year $15 million contract.  Add these three bigs to a roster that already has C Nikola Vucevic and PF Aaron Gordon (who really needs minutes) and your left scratching your head.  I have no idea how these players fit together and I doubt Orlando does either.  The only move that made since to me was re-signing promising shooting guard Evan Fournier to a long-term deal, yet still I have no idea what to make of this team.  Perhaps CBS sports staff said it best: “The Magic’s offseason wasn’t disastrous, but man was it weird.”[vi]

 

Weird, that is what this upcoming season will be.  Durant moved to the best team in the league, San Antonio will no longer have their star of the last 19-years, Dwayne Wade is now in his hometown Chicago, Chicago’s own Derrick Rose is now in the Big Apple, and the Celtics could be relevant again (soon).  It was a crazy offseason that no doubt will lead to a crazy regular season only to result in a Finals rematch between Cleveland and Golden State for a third year in a row…

[i] http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/16712765/nba-salary-cap-set-941-million-2016-17-season

[ii] http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/CLE/2016.html#all_playoffs_totals

[iii] http://www.sbnation.com/nba/2016/6/30/12052290/nba-free-agent-signings-tracker-2016-rumors

[iv] http://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/nba-offseason-grades-dont-be-fooled-by-bulls-big-name-moves/

[v] http://www.thescore.com/nba/offseason/teams/73

[vi] http://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/nba-offseason-grades-dont-be-fooled-by-bulls-big-name-moves/

Brexit and the Trump Phenomenon

I think it is finally time to write about American politics.   Living abroad for two years in Africa I was not able to follow US politics or even geopolitics for that matter, so I needed time to observe and acclimate myself to the political climate and issues shaping the country.  Now that I am two months back state-side I feel I have enough understanding to give my opinion on the state of politics.  Specifically and not surprisingly I want to discuss the main development over the past year- the Trump phenomenon.  The rise of Trump to me is a mystery and its origins opaque but his popularity and Republican nomination are startling, shocking, scary and significant.  Especially after the surprise decision by the majority of UK citizens to leave the European Union, which shares similar characteristics to America’s own political upheaval, I believe now is the perfect time to voice my opinion on the polarizing celebrity.

On June 23rd, the United Kingdom surprisingly voted for a referendum to leave the European Union (EU) known as Brexit that shocked not only Britain but the entire World.  Few believed it would happen, including the leaders in favor of the separation, and now they are scrambling to cope with the decision.  Immediately after the votes came official with 52% in favor of leaving and 48% wishing to remain the stock markets tanked, Britain’s debt devalued, and the Pound Sterling (Britain’s currency) fell to its lowest value in over 30 years.  This was not the economic outcome many supporters of the referendum were hoping for.  People who voted for the referendum to leave the UK were doing so for three reasons- economic, political, and immigration control.  By leaving the European Union, supporters believed they were unburdening themselves of bureaucratic red-tape that would save them money and increase trade and sell of British goods.  Turns out this promise was greatly exaggerated if not a blatant lie.  In fact leaving the Union will hurt British exports (as new and potentially none-free trade deals will have to be written) and no money is being saved to be used for the National Health Services (NHS) as promised.  Political autonomy also was not achieved either- yes they no longer are a part of the European Union but they still have to negotiate with the geopolitical body and will still have to follow some of their governing decisions.  Actually leaving the Union might hurt Britain politically as they will no longer have a strong voice in future EU policy.   Finally, Brexit will not stabilize or stop immigration into Britain that many supporters believed would happen.  Britain still has to follow its own immigration laws and almost all new trade deals with other countries and the EU will also have statues and rules governing immigration and migrant workers (an aspect I believe few supporters knew about).  Thus, the main reasons for leaving the EU are erroneous and actually hurt Britain’s economy showed by the immediate aftermaths of the decision.

So if the decision now appears illogical why would the majority of citizens vote against themselves? Here is where we start to see and draw comparisons to America’s own political situation.  First supporters of Brexit were hoodwinked.  Politicians used false data and figures to promote their special interest. Now politicians lying are nothing new, but they were able to deceive their constituents by using sentimental crowd controlling rhetoric that touches voters’ primary fears and anxieties.  Leaders of Brexit used racism, nativism, xenophobia and nostalgia to elicit strong negative emotions toward the European Union.   These emotions allowed people to either ignore the facts or believe in the fallacy of leaving.  By touching on peoples primal fears by using propaganda similar to Nazi Germany, Brexit leaders were able to distort the facts and underlying issues to have an educated public.  Instead supporters believed immigrants were flooding their country to a breaking point and destroying the economy by taking over jobs and lowering wages.  Politicians for Brexit went even further taping into citizens’ fear of safety insinuating many of these immigrants were violent or even terrorists.  They then tapped into citizens’ nativism and nostalgia for the past, pronouncing Britain was great and powerful but is no longer due to the massive influx of immigrants that don’t share the same values, have the same skills and profit of the Islands limited resources.  The longing for the past- where everything was safer, easier, simpler, and whiter- is classic demagogue rhetoric used by fascists and dictators like Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot to manipulate the masses to do their will; and sadly this tactic is now being used in Britain and in America.

Brexit propaganda

In America, Donald Trump is a modern day demagogue.   He like the Brexit leaders is spewing hateful rhetoric masked as policy.  He incites racism and xenophobia when discussing immigrants crossing the border into America, declaring most as criminals (sex traffickers, drug mules, etc.) that a destroying American culture and economy by taking jobs, lowering wages, and making America unsafe.  He is racist when he describes them as essentially wetbacks who are lazy, poor and dirty and who refuse to understand English or American culture.  Well Trump which one is it?  These immigrants cannot be lazy criminals yet are still taking American jobs. That is oxymoronic and illogical.  Unless he is saying white Americans are even more lazy and dangerous (which statistically maybe correct).  His illogical solution is to build a wall that is going to be “big and beautiful”. Trump the opportunists knows how to manipulate people’s emotions to make the illogical seem logical. Trump’s campaign slogan of “Make America Great Again” is deliberate nostalgic rhetoric that obviously has worked, though Trump declines to say when and what made America great leaving it up to supporters to make their own historical romanticism. So Trump is using the same tactics as Brexit politicians; which until last Thursday was widely believed couldn’t win at any national level.  Well the results of Brexit should awaken the populace that the rise of Trump is real and a real danger.

Now most Trump supporters have probably already stopped reading because I have said they are accepting of racist and nationalistic vitriol, if not racists themselves; however I wish to point out what I believe this the main reason supporters rally around Trump and the main reason for Trump’s success (as well as Brexit).  Simply put the majority of citizens in the US and UK are tired of the system.  People hate politics and politicians so much they want anything but.  And frankly I cannot blame them either.  People, myself included, feel so disenfranchised by the system that they want nothing to do with it.  They feel ignored and used- their vote doesn’t count, their voice doesn’t matter, and no-one is representing them- and they are right.  Wages have stagnated- the average income adjusted for inflation is less than it was in the 1970s and the standard of living has declined (for the first time in US history the next generation will be worse off than their parents).   Employment opportunities have shrunk and good jobs have been outsourced while personal debt is crippling most citizens.  At the same time, income inequality is at an all-time high with the top one-tenth of 1 percent own as much wealth as the bottom 90%, and 99% of the economic gains since the recession have gone to the top 1 percent.  Clearly the system is not working for the average person.  Add all this up to a political system funded by elites where Congress- which is less favorable than a colonoscopy- refuses to do its job, large scale corruption is the norm, the executive office continues to increase its power and scope, and you get a large majority of citizens angry to the core.  This anger will turn to the antithesis of the status quo; specifically to someone who is resolutely an anti-politician and shares a similar sentiment.  Trump.  This point is lost on most politicians and political pundits as their passion and careers rely on the current system.

I saw this first hand when I attended a Trump political rally in Spokane.  Most people there were older (45+ years) and from lower-income classes but all were there to have a good time and listen to Trump bash politics, politicians and the press.  It felt more like a rodeo or comedy show than a campaign rally.  Trump rambled unscripted incomplete sentences for more than an hour insulting anyone of the establishment much to the glee of the crowd.  He knew how to win the crowd and if he said something the supporters did not agree with (like the Iraq War being a total mistake) he would immediately restate a slogan or sentiment that triggered this pent up rage and anxiety.  After talking to people at the rally most were angry at the same issues the only difference being how to solve these problems.   Really the rally was a way for everyone to vent their frustration and Trump the celebrity opportunist did a masterful job tapping into this anger.  For myself the show was hysterical, I could not stop laughing and the same could be said for most people, everyone was enjoying themselves.

This anger of the political system in America is the same anger Britain’s felt toward their own, and this anger lead the majority of Britain’s to give their elites and politicians the middle finger by voting to leave the UK.  The majority of politicians pleaded for Britain to stay so the majority of citizens said go.  Brexit should warn people in America that the threat of Trump is real, very real.  Unfortunately the alternative to Trump is going to be Hillary Clinton perhaps the most symbolic figure of the current political system.  And when deciding between a “Douche and a Turd Sandwich” Americans are likely to vote for something they haven’t seen, a celebrity rather than a politician.  Personally neither is very appetizing, though Hillary would at least probably not cause another recession.  So what can the American public do?

Well if the vote in Britain can give us any clues there are two things that need to be done.  First the Democrats, following Bernie’s lead need to run a populace campaign against the establishment.  They need to focus their efforts in significantly reducing income inequality and returning the government back to a democratic system instead to the plutocracy or corpocracy we have today ( like reversing Citizens United).  Secondly as the voting demographics of Brexit shows American youths need to come out in mass to vote.  Adults 44 to 18 actually voted for remaining in the EU, unfortunately an overwhelming majority of adults over 65 voted to leave (which makes the decision even sadder as the people most affected by leaving are young adults).  If the young voters went out in mass to vote, Britain would likely still be a part of the EU.  Thus, if Americans want a different result than young adults need a gigantic voting turnout to accurately reflect America’s values and ideas.  Only a movement of the masses who hold America’s future can stop the phenomenon of Donald Trump.

Let us not be angered and hoodwinked into an uncertain future and rally our voices as one so finally we can be heard.

 

(A few other pundits and politicians also share the same viewpoint of the phenomenon that is happening not just in America but all across the globe.  Actually as I was writing this post two people, Bernie Sanders and Trevor Noah whom I think very highly of, had similar opinions on Brexit and Trump.  In fact their analysis is probably superior because they are very articulate and skilled orators.  Here is a link to Bernie’s op-ed in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/29/opinion/campaign-stops/bernie-sanders-democrats-need-to-wake-up.html?ref=opinion&_r=0.   And below I attached the segment on Brexit and Trump by Trevor on the Daily Show.

The Daily Show clip: http://www.cc.com/video-clips/o1zbpc/the-daily-show-with-trevor-noah-brexit-breakdown)

All Hail the King

I feel like it is time to write a piece on the best player in basketball over the last decade- Lebron James.  After his dominating performance in the NBA finals and throughout the playoffs that should finally shut up all his irrational haters I believe it appropriate to write about his greatness and try to give his career some perspective.  Really I should have written this post last year to defend him when he lost in the Finals to the Warriors, to prove his greatness and timely performances; however I was in Africa and had no opportunity.   So hopefully this post will be redundant and people have finally accepted him as one of the best ever after bringing home his promise and a championship to Cleveland for the first time in over 50 years.

Now I was not always a fan of the King, but I always have appreciated his talent.  You could classify me as an unconventional Lebron fan.  When he was initially with Cleveland I was not a fan of Lebron, not because I didn’t like his game or thought he was a bad person, but because everyone else liked him.  Instead of falling in love with him like everyone else everywhere I stuck rooting for my local team the Supersonics and individual players from my Alma mater UW and hometown team Gonzaga.  It was only after his infamous “Decision” that I became a fan.  Immediately after choosing Miami, after seven years in Cleveland, millions of his die-hard fans flipped which began the years of hatred and vitriol slandering Lebron (like calling him a choke- which is laughable).  I couldn’t understand why people switched from love to hatred so quickly and for no good reason.  If there was any reason to get mad people should have pointed their anger toward the concept of free agency itself or toward Cavalier ownership who in seven years assembled a terrible team around Lebron.  Think, who was Lebron’s best running mate- Mo Williams? Who could blame him for leaving? Who in their right mind wouldn’t leave Cleveland for Miami? And he left- not for more money but for less- so he could play with his friends and have a chance to achieve his ultimate goal- a championship.  No reasonable human being can fault a man for doing that. Now Lebron’s only haters probably come from Florida, a state Lebron gave two championships too.

lebron powder.jpg.crdownload

The greatness of Lebron is hard to ignore: 3- time NBA Champion and Finals MVP, 4-time MVP, 10-time All-NBA 1st team, 5-time All-Defensive 1st team, and two Olympic Gold Medals.[i]  He has dominated since first entering the league in 2003 (winning Rookie of the Year), being selected to the NBA All-star team every year and becoming the best player of the last decade and the face of the NBA.  He is the youngest player to reach 25,000 points and ranks 13th all-time in points (NBA/ABA), 109th all-time in rebounds (NBA/ABA), 18th all-time in assists (NBA/ABA), 26th all-time in steals (NBA/ABA), 139th all-time in blocks, 16th all-time in free throw attempts (NBA/ABA) for the regular season.[ii]  His post season totals might be even more impressive, ranking 9th all-time in games played, 4th all-time in points, 9th all-time in rebounds, 3rd all-time in assists, 4th all-time in steals, 21st all-time in blocks, and 2nd all-time in free throw attempts.[iii]  These are incredible numbers for any career and even more impressive considering Lebron is just 31-years-old.

His advanced or metric stats, which might tell a more accurate or at least a more holistic picture, are perhaps the most impressive as they help capture the little things that make Lebron so great- his basketball IQ, efficiency, vision, passing, and playmaking.  Lebron is the only other player in NBA history besides Michael Jordan to have a PER (player efficiency rating) of 30 or higher in four seasons.[iv]   For the regular season he ranks 2nd all-time in PER (behind only Michael Jordan), 48th all-time in true shooting percentage (Michael Jordan ranks 81st), 24th all-time in true assist percentage, 8th all-time in win shares, 6th all-time in win shares/ 48 minutes, 1st all-time in plus/minus (from 1973 to present), and 1st all-time in value over replacement player.  These stats are mind-blowing, but just wait.  Lebron has saved his best performances for when it matters most- in the playoffs.  Lebron ranks 3rd in PER (behind only Michael and George Mikan who put up absurd numbers for the Lakers in 50s), 57th in true shooting percentage, 16th in true assist percentage, 1st in win shares, 3rd in win shares/48mins (again only behind Michael and George Mikan), 1st in plus/minus, and 1st in value over replacement.[v]   Lebron’s playoff dominance has been incredibly consistent from year-to-year and series-to-series with him producing the highest win shares of anybody in the playoffs 7 out of his 11 trips, essentially meaning he was MVP of the playoffs in seven of his eleven attempts.[vi]

Looking at the numbers holistically and not focusing solely on scoring Lebron puts himself above his peers, even Michael.  Lebron is the only in NBA history to average 28 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists.[vii] The numbers show Michael is a better scorer, but a better basketball player? The numbers give the edge to Lebron.  This is an important distinction as Lebron has for right or wrong always been compared to Michael even though their games are vastly different.  On paper and on court Michael is the better offensive player and is a better pure shooter than Lebron.  However Lebron is more versatile, offensively and defensively, and in my opinion a better all-around player.  Lebron’s game more closely resembles Magic Johnson’s- the original point-forward who always looked to get his teammates involved first.  Lebron though has truly mastered the position established by Magic using perhaps his best skill set his playmaking ability.  Still the comparisons will always comeback to Michael, with his supporters providing two reasons why Michael is still the best: Michael has more NBA championships and is more clutch.

lebron block

I have always thought the ring comparisons unfair.  Yes to be considered one of the greatest you have to win the sports crown jewel and both have- both are winners; but by simply comparing the number of rings ignores so many factors and variables it reduces the argument to absurdity.  By this logic Bill Russell would be considered the greatest with 11 NBA Championship, and his is great; but that logic completely ignores a player’s whole body of work- including game and metric stats and a player’s longevity and consistency- not to mention failing to acknowledge the era of basketball played, the competition, and players’ teammates.   After all basketball is a team game and it takes a team to win a good supporting cast.

For a while the haters of Lebron would concede he was good but said he always choked during important games collapsing under the pressure; however this is completely delusional.  If his overall career playoffs stats don’t impress you, then let’s look at his performance when his season and career were on the line.  According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst Lebron has made more go-ahead shots in the end of playoff games than Michael did and from 2001 to present Lebron has been the best player on go-ahead shots in the final five seconds at the end of a playoff games generating 4.8 more total points than expected almost twice as good as the 2nd best player.[viii]  Looking at entire games when Lebron is facing elimination, his stats are even more staggering, and should aptly be called Mr. Clutch.  Lebron is the best all-time with his back is against the wall holding a 9-8 record and ridiculous stats- 32.9PPG, 10.8RPG, 6.9APG, with a 47.3FG%.  By comparison Michael holds a 6-7 record with 31.3PPG, 7.9RPG, 7.0APG, with a 44.5FG%.[ix]  So Lebron is the best of his generation in the final minutes of important games and the best all-time in games when facing elimination.  Clearly he not only handles the pressure but excels when it matters most.  This should come as no surprise after his performance in this year’s Finals.

The Cavaliers were the first team in NBA history to comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals and did it against the best team in NBA history the Warriors who went 73-9 during the regular season.  The reason Cleveland came back to win the series is the amazing three game sequence Lebron had in games 5, 6, and 7.  In games 5 and 6 facing elimination Lebron combined for 82 points, 24 rebounds, 18 assists, 7 steals, 6 blocks, and only 3 turnovers with a +37 plus/minus.  Those are godly numbers few have replicated in a two-game stretch at any time.  He continued his heroic play in game 7 producing a triple-double for the 16th time in his playoff career posting 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, 3 blocks, and 2 steals.[x] Lebron finished the series averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.3 blocks and 2.6 steals, and became the 1st player in NBA history to lead his team in all major categories (the ones listed above).[xi]  With his team seemingly eliminated Lebron shouldered the entire burden, put the team on his back and lead them on and off the court to become NBA champions.  His raw emotion immediately after winning showed how much he gave to his team and hometown.

lebron dunk

Lebron’s remarkable success should finally be appreciated.  His has been a top player for more than a decade and the best player of his generation.  What makes his success even more remarkable is where he has come from, something he eludes to quite frequently in interviews.  As Lebron says he should just be “another static”- an inner city black kid who group up poor with a single mother who was more likely to be in prison than a success story- but what a static he has become.   Even more impressive to me, Lebron has not only survived but conquered the hype that has followed him when he was coined “The Great One” when he was still in high school.  For someone to come under that amount of pressure and scrutiny at such a young age and overcome it- stay driven and humble- to achieve his ultimate dream is truly remarkable.  So many of these young talented athletes flame-out or succumb to the hype but not Lebron- he has risen above it all, to reach heights few could even fathom, and slammed it down on the haters silencing them once and for all, just like one of his many iconic slam dunks.

(Still don’t want to believe me? Here is a complete list of Lebron’s basketball achievements which is simply breathtaking: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_career_achievements_by_LeBron_James )

[i] http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/1966/lebron-james

[ii] http://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/

[iii] http://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/g_career_p.html

[iv] http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/page/nbarank3/all-nbarank-3

[v] http://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/vorp_career_p.html

[vi] http://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/champions.html

[vii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_career_achievements_by_LeBron_James

[viii] http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/lebron-may-be-the-most-clutch-playoff-shooter-of-his-generation/

[ix] http://www.nj.com/sports/index.ssf/2016/06/cavaliers_lebron_james_elimination_games.html

[x] http://nesn.com/2016/05/lebron-james-records-15th-playoff-triple-double-cavs-set-nba-records/

[xi] http://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/2016-nba-finals-cavaliers-vs-warriors.html