Monday, February 27

Arriving late to the Jeremy Lin table

Yes, I'm well aware that I'm the last person in America left who hasn't written anything about Jeremy Lin. But I think this will be interesting.

So...Jeremy Lin. Those of you not living under a rock are probably well aware of his story and how his exploits on the court have captivated the sports world over the past month or so. A quick recap: California HS prep hoops star goes unrecruited by DI schools, stars at basketball hotbed Harvard, is overlooked during the draft, gets signed by the Golden State Warriors to sit on the bench for a season, later picked up by the Knicks, inserted into the lineup with the New Yorkers shorthanded via injury, starts absolutely lighting up the league, leading a remarkable turnaround for the moribund Knicks. His rise from obscurity and amazing play have rightfully made Lin a major story, and one that most have been quick to embrace. Lin is also Taiwanese-American, and not surprisingly, that has generated as much discussion as his play. I'd like to talk about a little of that discussion, though I want to reiterate throughout that it's Lin's inspired play that makes this whole thing interesting in the first place.

By now, everyone has a take on Lin's ethnicity and how that has impacted public perception of the Knick guard - perhaps none that I perused was as insightful as Rembert Browne's Grantland take on the topic. I recommend that piece if this story interests you.

In the article, Browne tackles two tweets (the same two I wanted to address) from two men who are both high-profile, not particularly tactful, and African-American. This is relevant because, as SNL's hilarious cold open from a week ago pointed out, there's a significant double standard in sports regarding what level of casual racism is permitted when the subject is Asian-American versus when he is African-American. For the record, and let's be clear: "Linsanity" isn't racist. It's just a pun. There have been a lot of puns, signs, and comments that have crossed the line, but not everything needs to be viewed through the lens of race.

The first tweet was from former ESPN'er Jason Whitlock, and frankly I don't feel like reproducing it because of how stupid it was. Whitlock later apologized for letting his "my immature, sophomoric, comedic nature" get the better of him, but trust me, it wasn't "comedic" at all. The irony of Whitlock's situation is that he's a talentless hack who has made his name mostly by writing about race in sports - his tweet was the exact same kind of thing that would cause Whitlock himself to absolutely fly off the handle if someone else wrote it. Fortunately for us, Whitlock isn't anyone worth worrying about.

Neither is Floyd Mayweather, who I assume is a really good boxer because I actively avoid boxing and have still heard of him. Perhaps after a few too many blows to the head, he sent this masterpiece out into the twittersphere (is that what we're calling it?)

Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he's Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don't get the same praise.

There's a lot of stupidness to unpack in less than 140 characters there. Let's start with the first sentence. I'm obviously not going to deny that Lin's heritage isn't an interesting aspect of the story. That was a terrible sentence by me, too many negatives. Let's try again. Lin's heritage is an interesting aspect of the story. It adds an angle that resonates with people and makes it more interesting than if he were of an ethnic group more well-represented in the NBA.

But to suggest that "all the hype is because he's Asian" is complete folly. Lin's story would be compelling no matter his descent. People LOVE a feel-good story, and the tale of this undrafted kid coming out of Harvard, ending up on the end of the Knicks' bench and eventually saving their season would dominate the sports pages under any circumstances. Don't forget too that New York is the basketball Mecca of the world. So yes, Lin being Taiwanese-American does add a dimension to the story, but it's plenty damned remarkable without that.

The second sentence is laughably stupid and can be deflated on two fronts. First off: which black players are doing what Lin does every night? In his first five games, Lin scored more points than ANY PLAYER IN LEAGUE HISTORY had in their first five games. This alone makes Mayweather's remark factually inaccurate. Lin is also the first Harvard grad to play in the NBA in over 50 years - neither black nor white nor any player is thus "doing that every night." Can't we just be impressed by what he's achieved?

Secondly: is this really the battle Floyd the Fighter wants to fight - that African-Americans are not being properly recognized for their basketball-playing talents? I'm pretty sure I've read a lot of really positive stuff about black dudes being pretty good at basketball. Browne handles this subject deftly in his piece, offering some perspective on what might motivate Mayweather without backing Floyd's inanity.

As athletes who say dumb things are wont to do, Mayweather naturally doubled down on his comments after they were criticized, following up with:

I'm speaking my mind on behalf of other NBA players. They are programmed to be politically correct and will be penalized if they speak up.

Lame, lame lame. This is your doing, Floyd - stop trying to throw Lin's colleagues under the bus for your brain-damaged musings and accept some responsibility for yourself.

Wednesday, February 22

Cavs Edge Pistons, 101-100

The game in 300 words or less

Wow! What a finish! A home game against the Pistons certainly seemed very winnable, but after the Pistons opened up a sizeable lead heading into halftime it didn’t look like it was going to happen.

The Cavs entered the fourth quarter trailing by 11, but some big shots from Kyrie Irving and Alonzo Gee brought them back into it. A three from Antawn Jamison gave the Cavs a one-point edge with the clock showing 5:52, which is about as quickly as I can remember a double-digit deficit being erased in the fourth quarter.

The Cavs executed and closed things out. Two Daniel Gibson free throws gave the Cavs a four-point edge and a Ben Gordon buzzer-beater made the game look a little closer than it actually was.

The Pistons deserve some credit for hanging tough after blowing that big lead and feeling the crowd really come back into the game. There were several opportunities for this young Detroit team to head for the showers early, but they kept fighting.

Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey, and Greg Monroe all shined for the Pistons. There is no doubt that although pleased with the win, Byron Scott is going to be preaching defense in practice tomorrow. Obviously the Cavs are still adjusting to being Varejao-less, but you can’t give up 100 to a team like the Pistons and expect to win many games.

Irving watch

Another very strong shooting performance by the number one pick, whose three-point marksmanship (4-for-5) helped key the Cavs’ comeback. Irving had 25 points (11-for-18), 5 boards, and 8 assists; although those are very well-rounded numbers, he had another sloppy game with 6 turnovers.

The Cavs also allowed a combined 40 points to Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey, partially due to some defensive lapses by Irving. The kid is already pretty good, but he definitely has room for improvement.

At this point Irving has to be viewed as the prohibitive favorite to win Rookie of the Year. He is only averaging about 5 assists, but he’s shooting 48.5%. His other main competitor, Ricky Rubio, averages over 8 assists per game but shoots under 38% from the field.

Rubio is a virtuoso passer, but if he continues to shoot 10 times per game he needs to be more accurate. Plus in fairness to Kyrie, his assist numbers (and possibly shooting percentage) would likely improve if he were playing with a legitimate number one scoring option like Kevin Love.

This isn’t meant to knock Rubio, who looks like the heir apparent to Steve Nash at the point guard position; it’s merely to show that Rubio has shortcomings, too. It is a little surprising to me that Rubio’s become such a media darling in Minnesota, while Irving doesn’t seem to get the same attention from the national press (read: ESPN), in the midst of a superior rookie season.

The fall of the Pistons

It wasn’t all that long ago that the Cavs and Pistons were vying for Eastern Conference supremacy. Consider that as recently as four years ago the Pistons won 59 games and the Central crown. It wasn’t until Chauncey Billups was dealt that the Pistons started rebuilding in earnest, and that was a few games into the ’08-’09 campaign.

Joe Dumars received plenty of credit – much of it deserved – for constructing the Pistons’ powerhouse teams of the 2000s. But the guy also made some colossal errors, namely: Darko Milicic, Charlie Villanueva, and Ben Gordon. In many ways the Pistons are still trying to recover from those moves – the latter two gobbled up cap space, while drafting Milicic should probably draw more criticism than it does.

Four of the top five picks in the 2003 NBA Draft have become perennial All-Stars, and three of them could be the cornerstone of any franchise in the league. Dumars picked the one guy whose career topped out as a role player. Darko wasn’t even roster-worthy in most fantasy leagues. That’s a difficult mistake to recover from, and with that context it’s understandable how the Pistons could devolve into the redheaded stepchild of the Detroit sports scene so quickly.

I mentioned Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe earlier, both of whom appear to be solid long-term pieces. They may not be franchise players, but they can develop into starters on contending teams, and that’s all you can ask in the middle of the lottery. With one or two more good drafts and a solid coach in Lawrence Frank, Dumars might be able to right the ship. Time (read: expiration) might be the only thing that heals the Gordon/Villanueva deals.

Balanced scoring, more defense necessary

The Cavs were very fortunate to pull this one out when you consider that they had only three players score in double digits. They were even more fortunate when you consider that they received 25 points from Kyrie Irving, 32 from Antawn Jamison (in another Herculean effort), and 16 points from Alonzo Gee. That trio also combined to shoot 50% from the field.

Tristan Thompson put up a goose egg and Ramon Sessions only contributed five points. With Anderson Varejao out, it’s going to be tough for the Cavs to win without one of those two supporting in the 15-point range every night, because it’s rare that Irving, Jamison, and Gee will all significantly exceed their averages in the same night.

The defense also needs to put the clamps down a little more, although probably deserves some slack due to the adjustment period after losing a huge piece like Varejao. That said, it’s unlikely that Byron Scott will be so lenient.

Up next: Wednesday, 2/22, vs. New Orleans, 7:00, FSN Ohio

The Cavs have won two in a row for just the second time this season. At the risk of jinxing it, they have an opportunity to win three straight for the first time this season, and it’s against one of the worst teams in the league…who just happen to be on the second game of a road back-to-back. Lou Brown has some thoughts on the subject.

Monday, February 20

Francis' teams

Well, I can't let Figgs have all the fun, right? After reading his epic favorite teams post I felt like a Negative Nellie with my earlierpiece blasting most of the NFL's member clubs. Thus, I'm going to follow suit, though my rules are a bit different. I'm keeping Figgs' rule #3 (having the picks reflect my current opinion) but changing #2 to combine collegiate programs into an institution-wide score. I'm also eschewing #1 ("no NHL") and broadening the scope even further beyond the strictures of the Big Four North American sports, while still keeping individual sports sidelined. Don't worry, though: no soccer.

I also decided only to include franchises and institutions that are still active, hence the omission of the Ohio Glory, a WLAF team that played in Ohio Stadium for one season (1992) and won one game. My Dad and I absolutely had season tickets and were there in our section filled entirely with drunk bikers to watch the Glory send the Frankfurt Galaxy limping back to Prussia.

I've also decided not to set any quotas or limits - I'm just going to name teams until I stop caring. Like Figgs, I'll open with my most hated, but I'm going shortlist here and naming only three. There are more than three teams that I hate, for sure, but these are the only three that instantly instill me with a visceral sense of hatred whenever I see or think about them. Consider: this club is so exclusive that the Yankees, Red Sox, Ravens, Red Wings, and Bulls couldn't crack it:

3) Miami Heat
Fuck these guys, seriously. How could you root for this soullessly- and brainlessly-contrived joke of a team and their traitorous, egomaniacal small forward? Everything about this team oozes tackiness and patheticity. "El Heat." Those weird pink shorts they wore recently. Their fans who can't fill up half a stadium before opening tip for a playoff game. And that fucking dance party. That

2) michigan wolverines
Hey Figgs, look, they have a #2 beside their name!
This is the only team on the planet, by the way, that fills me with a complete distaste for an entire state. I've been to said state twice and it really did suck that much, other than JHH and I blockading idiot drivers from zooming past a traffic jam on the shoulder. The weasels with teeth might have gotten one from the Bucks in the Flat House this year, but that shit's ending real quick and they never beat us in hoops anymore. And Can't-Tie's horrible eating thing during The Game this past season is way up there in the pantheon of fucking dumb ideas anyone ever had ever.

1) pittsburgh steelers
I find myself having to defend my steeler hate occasionally, and I don't think I should have to. Isn't it enough that my favorite football team's rival has beaten my team like 76 straight times and that their hillbilly fans get to watch Super Bowl after Super Bowl and still whine about their fate? Is it enough that I lived there for eight years and had to listen to idiotic steeler fans implore me to "go home, fucking Browns fan." I'm home now - you happy? I'm inwardly contemptuous but I never yell at or harangue steeler fans when they infest Cleveland because I'm better than that.

While I'm here, there's a tendency to equivocate steeler and Browns fans that I don't agree with because the situation isn't truly symmetrical. Yes, we're both fans of storied NFL franchises in Rust Belt cities, and for sure there are Browns fans every bit as obnoxious as the steelers fans I've encountered. I see it on gamedays down near the stadium and it disappoints me. But that doesn't make the two sides the same. Pittsburgh has way more redneck, toothless fans than Cleveland, and, more importantly, WAY more bandwagon fans, the worst kind of fans in the world.

Now, as promised, back to the good part:

23) Columbus Blue Jackets
This right here is the absolute minimum a club has to do to make this particular list. They are in Ohio, and...that's basically it. Might this be the most inept franchise in all of the North American sports? Twelve seasons, one playoff appearance (they got swept)...wait, am I talking about the BJ's or the Browns? Regardless, there isn't much tethering me to this club other than some vague sense of Ohio solidarity. Put it this way: Pens-Jackets and Tartans-Spartans are the only situations where I'll pull for a non-Ohio club over an Ohio one.

22) GrafTech Dodgeball
I've captained and played for a ton of our hapless Corporate Challenge teams, but this is the only one I've been on that's claimed first place so far, notching an Independent Division win in 2009. Not only was the win itself satisfying, but it was great to knock off State Industrial Products, the single biggest group of cheaters I have ever seen in my entire life. Fuck you guys.

21) Dallas Mavericks
Do I even need to explain why this team is on the list?

20) Philadelphia Eagles
I know, I know, they have an obnoxious fan base. But I was a proud member of the New Philadelphia Eagles during the 1989 and 1990 seasons (combined record: 4-9-1), teaming up with JHH that second year and departing just before the idiots in charge of the league changed the club to the Steelers (who promptly won the league in 1991 behind future OSU star and NFL'er Cie Grant). So I liked the Eagles from that point, plus Randall Cunningham is my favorite NFL player ever (sorry, Hanford Dixon) and I like both Andy Reid's hat and given name.

19) New York Mets
When I was a kid in 1986, my Dad decided to teach me baseball, and did so via a random Mets game on ESPN where the New Yorkers did basically everything you would need to show to a youngster - double plays, grand slams, you name it - and I decided I liked them. Plus they won the title that year and six-year-old Francis was cool with that. It didn't hurt that I had a little book of sports stars with Doc Gooden in it, plus Gary Carter (much respect to the late Kid) was my catching hero when I started playing. Now I like them basically because their fans are New Yorkers who hate the Yankees, and I'm good with that.

18) Cincinnati Bengals
Yes, they're a divisional rival of the Browns, but they aren't that divisional rival, or that divisional rival. Plus my Dad is a Bengals fan and I liked the Ickey Shuffle.

17) Toronto Maple Leaves
My backup NHL team, in those rare instances where such a thing is warranted. Back when the Penguins were horrible but I wanted to maintain a rooting interest in the NHL Playoffs, I backed the Maple Leaves despite my refusal to spell it their way. Sharp sweaters, a city that's nearby and that I've enjoyed visiting, my good grad school buddy and Canadian McD was a fan, and I like the idea of supporting any Canadian team in hockey. OK, maybe not Montreal.

16) Milwaukee Brewers
I went to a couple of the Brew Crew's games when visiting Milwaukee this summer and loved it. I like any ballpark that puts that much emphasis on Pabst and sausages (they had an excellent veggie one) and the fans had a great attitude. My only quibble with the franchise, and I know I've mentioned this before, is what they've done to Barney Brewer. He used to slide into a big mug of beer, which is fantastic, but now he just slides down onto a landing, which is not even the slightest bit fantastic. Milwaukee Management, I'm imploring you - have Barney start sliding into a beer mug again. Put "Miller" on the side of it - I don't care. Make this happen.

15) India National Cricket Team
Interestingly, I've hardly seen any actual cricket - my knowledge of the game comes from reading, following online scores, and playing occasionally. It's not my favorite game, but I like to follow the World Cup events and enjoy the mathematics of a good chase. India was an easy choice - I learned the game from Indians and the US is at best a minnow in the worldwide game. Since I picked up the team, India won the 2011 Cricket World Cup championship (their first since 1983) and are also the reigning Test champions. Dominate.

14) Purdue Boilermakers
John Hawkins! Other than them routinely spoiling Buckeye football seasons and doing that inane "Boiler Up" chant, I very much enjoy the Boilermakers. Cool unis, solid academic school, and home of the prestigious Journal and Courier newspaper.

13) Green Bay Packers
See #21. Also, my esteemed brother-in-law and mercenary football supporter is currently a Packer Backer and my niece and nephew are likely to be steered that way, so...Go Pack, unless they're playing the Browns.

12) Cincinnati Reds
As Figgs pointed out earlier, no matter what MLB will have you believe, no one here really considers the Reds a rival of the Indians. We just don't. We'd much rather play the Buccos every year, and like with the Bengals there's some Ohio solidarity there. Plus, my Pops was/is a Redlegs fan and it's cool that the first professional Base Ball Club was in Ohio, albeit a part of Ohio indistinguishable from Kentucky.

11) Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates of the early 2000s were an absolutely perfect second team to have in my stable of rooting interests. Most of you are aware how tricky sports bigamy can be, but the hapless Buccos made it trivially easy. First off, they are in the NL, and baseball's sharper divide between leagues meant they rarely played my actual team, the Tribe. Second, they were perpetually bad, so they never posed any serious threat to a team of mine. Third, that badness meant it was easy to be extremely casual about them. I'd keep the game on TV when I studied or whatever and if they won cool and if they lost, no biggie. Fourth, they played in beautiful PNC Park, which, thanks to the above-mentioned ineptitude, was always cheap and usually mostly empty. Perfect.

10) University of Pittsburgh
My longtime neighbor right down the street was a great complement to the Buckeyes while I was a Steel City resident. The football program had some decent years and gave me an excuse to go to Heinz Field for something other than judging a science fair. Plus, I was there during the Larry Fitzgerald era. Their basketball team has been a model of consistency under Ben Howland and now Jamie Dixon. Well, except for this year. I remember when the Panthers promoted Dixon and people just howled about what a terrible move it was. All Dixon has done is set the NCAA record for most W's in a coach's first six seasons, win the Naismith Coach of the Year Award in 2009, lead Pitt to eight straight NCAA Tournaments, and win four Big East tournaments.

9) Carnegie Mellon University Tartans
D3, baby! I'll have you know that the mighty football Tartans (a tartan is a type of plaid, our official school colors - the teams wear maroon) went 30 years without posting a losing record and smacked Notre Dame around 19-0 in 1922. We also participate in a number of other varsity sports...must find content...oh yeah, we're boss at swimming.

8) New Philadelphia Fighting Quakers
Of course I still root for my high school alma mater with the oxymoronic name! I had some great times repping New Phila in limited (and usually JV) action, and our red and black color scheme is still tight. Plus, and I can't be too clear about this: fuck Dover, aka the michigan of Ohio. To this day, when I hear "Rock and Roll Part 2," I still in my mind hear a cheer of "Dover sucks!"in the space right after "hey!"

7) Lake Erie Monsters and Lake County Captains
I like me some local minor league sports, that's for sure - I even own some Monsters garb, a key step in any sports fandom. What's not to like - it's hockey only one step down from the NHL, tickets are comically cheap, seats are good, and it's in the Q, a topnotch venue. Love it. I don't know why I don't go more, to be honest. The Captains are a little farther out, but also a great time, particularly on $1 beer Mondays. Yes, you hear that right. Some friends of mine convinced Captain management (the Captain, maybe?) to let them buy one season ticket and parlay that into a bunch of seats for every Monday game. Remarkable. They also won the area's most recent title, claiming the Class A Midwest League Championship in 2010.

6) Cleveland State Vikings, Ohio Bobcats, Akron Zips, and Kent State Golden Flashes
Quick - guess what state I'm from! A friend and I were joking recently about the 2012 Doomsday (which I'm obviously petrified about - did the Mayan calendar predict the future irrelevancy of their civilization too?) and he mentioned that in a post-apocalyptic world he could seek refuge in the mountains of Colorado with some rugged family members. I say: I'm going down with Ohio. Survival is fun and all, but who wants to live in a world with no Ohio?

With that said, I obviously back any representative from the Buckeye state to the hilt, and these are some of the highlights. Not that I don't pull for Xavier, UC, Dayton, Toledo, and the rest (except, perhaps, Miami), but these I have a relatively serious interest in. C-State is right next door to me and their bball games are a blast. My Mama is an Ohio grad, Bucko and my sister both went to Akron (I spent as much time on that campus moving furniture as either of them did working towards a degree), and I spent many a ridiculous night at KSU ("The Row") with Milkey and JHH. Yay college!

5) Pittsburgh Penguins
If I had published this list in 2001, the Pens would have taken the top spot, and that's no joke. I was a borderline-obsessive Penguin fan back then - the sport was new and thrilling to me and Pittsburgh was contending after the return of Mario Lemieux. I wore my jersey like a little kid who gets an article of clothing he likes and insists on wearing it every day. I had half-season tickets for two years, during both of which Pittsburgh was the absolute worst team in the NHL. Solid. Lots of good memories from attending those games though, including my annual birthday game where I would call ahead to get my name on the Jumbotron.

4) Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs are a really interesting case - they've always been my favorite hoops team but for some reason have no legitimate shot to advance past the #4 spot here. Even when we had that one small forward and were contending for NBA Championships, they still took a backseat in my mind to mediocre Browns and Indians clubs. That's not to say I don't have a lot of great memories from those playoff runs in the '00s and the late '80's-early'90's squads with Daugherty, Nance, and my all-time favorite basketballer, Mark Price. One of my fondest early memories of sports game attendance was the PA blaring "The Final Countdown" imploring the Cavs in the fourth quarter.

3) Ohio State Buckeyes
Probably the longest-tenured club on this list, thanks to Dad taking me to Ohio Stadium as a youngster. I can't imagine being anything other than a Buckeye fan - it's amazing the way OSU fandom has this sort of Pan-Ohio support that no pro team has the capacity to match. The past decade has been a golden era for Ohio State's major athletic teams and I can only hope it continues for another decade or more. As far as traditions go, no one on this list tops The Ohio State University.

2) Cleveland Browns
Why I should stick my neck out for you is far beyond my capacity! Admittedly, the Browns haven't given us anything much to cheer about for the last 16 years or so, but I'm a die-hard. The NFL game is so compelling now, and this has been my team for so long, that I'm all in every year, 4-12 though that year is likely to be. I read a profile of a local where they asked him about his favorite sports teams and he said "the Cleveland sports teams broke my heart so many times that I just gave up." Fuck you, then - we don't need you aboard. One day, the Browns will return to prominence, and it's going to be awesome - until then, I'm tuning in every Sunday.

1) Cleveland Indians
My #1 might not have been as immediately apparent as what Figgs' was going to be, but it wasn't a difficult choice at all. The Tribe is the club I've had the longest and deepest relationship with, and with the exception of OSU's National Championship in 2002, the one that's experienced the most success.

The first season of Indians baseball I ever watched was 1987, the infamous "Indian Uprising" year when they were featured on the cover of SI and proceeded to lose about 200 games. I didn't care. I loved the team - Snyder, Jacoby, Fermin, Tabler, Swindell, Candiotti - and by 1990 I was listening to Herb Score's broadcasts and copying every day's box score into a little notebook I had. I still remember my first trip to Municipal Stadium and I think one of my parents still has that souvenir (Beach Towel Day!) I have some great memoreis of some really bad teams.

And of course then stuff got real in the '90's when the Tribe moved to Jacobs Field and just started firebombing the AL. No, they didn't win the Series, but that was a great run of baseball from 1994-2001. I think we'll always look back fondly on the 1995 team especially, and I won't forget my first trip to the Tribe's brand new palace of baseball.

MLB's economic realities have set in for the most recent decade of Tribe baseball, and we pretty much accept a good year out of every few, but the team is still #1 for me. It's the one we have the most fun with too - from Opening Day to Tribe Weekend to any other time I get out to the park or listen to Tom Hamilton on the radio, the Tribe is my team.

Tuesday, February 14

Indian Fever

As we close in on pitchers & catchers reporting, I present for your listening pleasure...

Monday, February 13

Favorite Teams Galore

To piggyback on Andy's piece of NFL Hate Rankings!, I thought I would take it a step further and break down my favorite teams, encompassing all sports. This was a fun little way to spend Saturday afternoon while I watched some college basketball, and it took me quite some time. It's difficult to think about how you feel about certain teams in different sports, so I'll quickly break down my process so you can get an idea of what I was thinking. First, some ground rules.

1) No NHL.
I have absolutely nothing against hockey, and I will check in on the playoffs here and there, but I just simply don't follow the sport enough to have included it. If I did, teams such as the Pens, Sabres and Flyers would have ranked higher than some of the lower teams on my list, but I just don't consider the NHL to be one of my sports.

2) I split college teams into NCAA Football and NCAA Basketball.
I considered just listing each University as one entry, but when I thought about it I have very different opinions on most school's gridiron and hardwood squads. Other than Ohio St, Pitt and West Virginia were the only schools to have both sports represented, while I have several schools with just one sport.

3) The list reflects my currents thoughts.
These rankings are how I currently view each franchise/program. While fondness from childhood teams/players may certainly still affect my current opinions, the list is how I see them at present.

Keeping in mind those rules, what I did was ranked every team from each of the three major sports as well as my top 25 in each NCAA sport. This was the difficult part. From there it was pretty simple - just a matter of picking from the five teams topping each list. Comparing NCAA Basketball squads with MLB teams isn't easy, but the easiest way to describe my thought process was if Team A from this sport was in the playoffs against a team not on the list, would I be cheering more for them than I would for Team B from a different sport in the same situation. Of course, it didn't always work out that way, but I tried to use that as a basis. (And had to assume it would be possible for a college football team to be in that situation. Damn you, BCS.)

After picking my top teams, my reasons for the rest may seem pretty random, and in fact many of them are. My way of thinking runs the gamut from liking certain older/current players to my friends' favorite teams. I find that if I watch a lot of games of a certain team with a friend/significant other who is rooting for that team, I kind of start to as well (unless they like a stupid team, like the Lakers). I'll usually provide a brief reasoning for each of my choices, but sometimes I'll just make an irrelevant comment because this is my piece and I'll do what I want.

I'll get the ball rolling by looking at the opposite end of the spectrum, my most hated teams across all sports. I bet you'll never guess who's #1.

10) USC Football
They just fended off Miami football at this spot, surpassing them recently by ending Ohio St's seasons in back-to-back years before they barely began. Not to mention I'd take Miami's coke habits and promiscuity over SoCal's surfing, champagne-popping and tip-frosting, brah.

9) Iowa Football
My hatred really was founded when Ohio St won the title in '02 and didn't play Kirk Ferentz's bunch, who had a great year, and everyone in the media was screaming about how Iowa would have beaten us. No, no they wouldn't have. Did anyone watch that season? Clearly OSU would have won in triple OT on a sixty-yard Nugent field goal.

8) Florida Football
I never liked Steve Spurrier, and obviously my hatred peaked after the 2007 National Title game. My hatred for them has died down since, mainly because my most hated Gator (Tim Tebow) recently knocked off a team much higher on this list.

7) michigan basketball
Never really had anything against any of their coaches or players, other than the fact that they decided to attend that shit hole. Chris Webber's timeout is still one of my favorite moments in sports history.

6) Baltimore Ravens
They stole our team, they should be higher, right? While I certainly haven't forgiven them for that, it has been over 15 years. Also, I often end up rooting for them late in the season in order to hurt that other team.

5) New York Yankees

4) Boston Red Sox
The Sox and Yanks are basically 4 and 4a, but Boston gets the slight nod because they always did the same thing as NY, just weren't as good at it then complained about "The Evil Empire." That bothered me. I also hate their players much more than New York's.

3) Miami Heat
I originally had this team ranked 7th, then continued to move them up as I wrote this. I kept thinking about the Yankees and Red Sox winning the World Series, and sure, I was mad, but I didn't lose sleep over it. I would HATE to see #6 hoisting the trophy. Let's hope we never have to.

2) Pittsburgh Steelers
Living in the midst of "stiller country," I despise many of the fans just as much as the team. And I really dislike this team.

michigan football
You'll notice I left off the number next to their name, because they don't ever deserve to have that number preceding their name. My hatred for that school up north has been well documented on this blog, and I could go on forever about what is wrong with those dick bags, but they don't deserve my time. But I will say that ann arbor is still a whore.

Now, without further ado...

50) Ohio Football
I wanted to give some love to Ohio brethren, and I really dig the Bobcats' green and white unis.

49) Syracuse Football
This dates back to the days of the Donovan McNabb to Kevin Johnson/Quinton Spotwood connection. I really hated Miami back then and the 'Cuse were their toughest opponents, although could never surpass them as top dog of the Big East.

48) Colorado Rockies
If the Tribe wouldn't have choked away the Boston series in '07, it would have been us sweeping the Rockies.

47) New York Knicks
May seem like an odd choice, but I always really liked Carmelo in Denver and Amaré in Phoenix. I don't care much for the NBA, and they were pretty high on my list.

46) Notre Dame Basketball
I've always sort of disliked the Irish in football, but for some reason semi-followed their basketball program. I really like the way the Big East plays ball, always a lot of exciting games. I could have easily replaced ND with Villanova or Marquette here.

45) Georgia Tech Football
Love watching the triple option.

44) Atlanta Braves
I really have no way to justify this. I just typically root for them.

43) Kansas Basketball
I loved the team in the mid-90's with Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz, and Jacque Vaughn. My interest in them fell off over the years, but was rejuvenated this season when I heard the touching story of star big man Thomas Robinson. That article is pretty long, but if you haven't heard about it the gist of it is his parents tragically died in separate incidents in a short period of time, and he began raising his younger sister. She's currently living with someone else while he plays ball, but they talk every day and he wants to gain custody of her once he hits the pros. What can I say, I'm a sucker for a good sob story.

42) Duquesne Basketball
My good friend played soccer for the Dukes, and I was visiting him a few years ago when the bball team made a run in the Atlantic 10 tourney, only to fall short in the finals to Dayton.

41) Georgia Football
See "44."

40) Kent St Football
Another team repping the Buckeye State. They slip ahead of Ohio due to being the alma mater of Josh Cribbs.

39) Oakland Raiders
They have the best uniforms and most bad ass fans in pro sports.

38) Northwestern Football
One of very few Big Ten teams I don't hate in football. They always seem to be trying hard.

37) Oklahoma City Thunder
I love me some Kevin Durant.

36) Marshall Football
I loved watching these teams when they first joined Division I and were really competitive. This is where I fell in love with Randy Moss. Their all-green unis with the white helmets are stellar.

35) Cincinnati Reds
MLB wants us to believe this is Cleveland's "rival," but we all know that's a joke. A fellow small market team with little success from Ohio. Respect.

34) Los Angeles Clippers
I can feel for a franchise that has never been successful. They never would have sniffed this list until this year though, because Chris Paul and Blake Griffin make them the most exciting team to watch in the NBA.

33) Indiana Basketball
As you'll see as I go on, I have very different feelings towards fellow Big Ten teams when it comes to football and basketball. In football, where one loss could cost you the conference and a BCS Bowl, everyone is your enemy. In basketball, I always find myself rooting for other Big Ten teams to make/go far in the Big Dance. The Hoosiers' win over Kentucky this year was the most exciting game of the season. Plus, who didn't love Bobby Knight?

32) St Louis Rams
Loved watching "The Greatest Show On Turf." Now they've got James Laurinaitis terrorizing opponents back there.

31) Pittsburgh Pirates
"To be honest, we all just felt bad for her. After awhile, kinda felt bad for the horse."

30) Detroit Lions
Another miserable franchise that's easy to get behind. Barry Sanders was unstoppable in Super Tecmo Bowl.

29) Clemson Football
Chansi Stuckey!

28) Seattle Mariners
Ken Griffey was my favorite player to ever play the game of baseball. Although he's long gone, the M's will always find a place in my sports heart.

27) Green Bay Packers
12-year-old Figgs is giving me a swift kick in the nuts right now. When I was growing up and the Vikings were my team, I loathed Green Bay. Probably to the extent that I hate Pittsburgh today. Since then, I stopped following Minnesota, watched Brett Favre (the evil leader) leave the team and become hated by much of the fan base, cheered on the Pack to a Super Bowl victory of the Steelers, and fell in love with Aaron Rodgers. Really, this team should be a lot higher, but I still feel a kick from that little guy every once in awhile.

26) West Virginia Football
Several of my friends went/go to school at WVU, and there was a point a couple of years ago when a roommate of mine was dating someone from there and we were down there all the time. They have a great fan base and it's impossible not to get sucked in when watching games with a large group of them.

25) Wake Forest Basketball
Watching Tim Duncan (one of my all-time faves) take Wake to the Final Four in '95 is one of my first sports memories.

24) Indianapolis Colts
Watching Peyton Manning play football elicits a similar response in me as some would to watching Picasso paint. I suppose they'll drop signigicantly on this list once he leaves.

23) West Virginia Basketball
Same reasons at #26 + Kevin Pittsnogle.

22) Milwaukee Brewers
Life-long goal #14 - Slide down the slide in Miller Park.

21) Buffalo Bills
Most similar team to the Browns, with a little more success. No Super Bowls, great fans, lots of snow.

20) Purdue Basketball
Remember Gene Keady's hair?

19) Philadelphia Eagles
It started by loving Randall Cunningham in the '90s, then in the 2000s McNabb was always one of my favorites as well. There was a point a few years ago when I really disliked all the other league's top teams (other than Indy) and really got behind Philly. Plus their fans are total assholes, in a fun way.

18) Illinois Basketball
I think I have them as the highest of the Big Ten bball schools because, even though I tried to think of the two sports as separate entities, my football bias comes in and I dislike the Illini the least in football out of the basketball teams I considered.

17) Tampa Bay Rays
This may be a little high for them, but I wanted to give baseball some love, and this is the highest team not located in the Forest City. I like that they are able to consistently be competitive without a ton of money. It doesn't hurt that I am constantly rooting for them since they're the best chance that Boston and New York don't both make the playoffs every year.

16) Minnesota Vikings
Growing up, I cheered for the Browns but actually liked the Vikes slightly more. I don't know why, I just wanted to change it up a bit I guess. Blame it on the fact that I was eight and didn't know any better. Either way, I loved watching the Purple and Gold and when they lost in overtime to a far inferior Atlanta team in the '98 NFC title game I was just as devastated as I was with any of the many Cleveland heartbreaks. To this day, Cris Carter, Randy Moss, Randall Cunningham, John Randle, Robert Smith and Daunte Culpepper can all be found near the top of my favorite all-time players. When the Browns came back in '99 I forgot about the Vikings and went all in with Cleveland. That's worked out real well for me so far.

15) New Orleans Saints
Sean Payton's offense is so fun to watch. It's good to see such a sorry franchise finally enjoying some success.

14) Atlanta Falcons
I've always liked the ATL going back to the days of Deion Sanders, Andre Rison, and Terrance Mathis. For some reason, of all the teams that I liked because of certain players when I first got into sports, the Falcons were the only one (other than #8) that I really stuck with.

13) Pitt Football
Being so close to Pitt, I've always had a slight rooting interest in them. Then I dated a girl that went to school there for two years while I was in college and I really got into them. I attended several games while watching dozens more there, and actually own some Panther paraphernalia. The fact that they play their home games in Heinz Field keeps them out of the Top 10.

12) Cleveland St Basketball
Now I don't follow the Vikings as much as I do the other teams on this list, due to the fact that they are a mid-major who's rarely on TV and usually doesn't qualify for the NCAA Tournament. But going by my criteria, if they were to get into the Madness of March, I would be cheering for them like crazy. I mean, c'mon, they have the word "Cleveland" in their freaking name!

11) Tennessee Titans
Eddie fucking George.

10) Philadelphia 76ers
I loved Evan Turner so much as a Buckeye that I followed him right into the NBA. While he's only in his second year and hasn't really made a dent in the league (yet), I've still really gotten into the Sixers these past two seasons.

9) Penn St Football
My dad and brother have always been fans of the Nittany Lions, so I have grown up with them as the team of my household. Thankfully, I decided at a very young age to buck the trend and support Ohio St (I seriously didn't even realize I did that until I reread it). But still, I watch PSU with these two as well as a friend who is also a Lion fan nearly every Saturday, and as long as it doesn't affect the Buckeyes, root for the Blue and White along with them.

8) San Antonio Spurs
David Robinson is my favorite all-time NBAer, with Tim Duncan a close second. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that I just enjoyed the NBA altogether more back then than I do now, but when they were going for titles in the late-90s, early-2000s, I was more into them than I was the LeBron-era Cavs.

7) Pitt Basketball
I explained my Pitt allegiance in #13, but the basketball team was always better and more fun to watch than their football counterparts, plus they don't share a field with the stupid Steelers. The Peterson Event Center is a fantastic building, which I've experienced many times in their workout gym and eateries even though I haven't had the privilege to watch a game in The Zoo.

6) Duke Basketball
Like Penn St in football, Duke is my dad and brother's team that I have followed along with them. But unlike football, it took me a lot longer to leave them for Ohio St. I always watched OSU hoops, but it wasn't until the Terence Dials team of 2005 that I officially flipped to the Bucks. When I made that switch, Duke never fell very far. I was still freaking out when Austin Rivers hit that three to beat North Carolina last week.

5) Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs are way ahead of all the teams behind them, but just as far behind all of the teams ahead of them. I just really can't get into the NBA regular season much any more, and (until they can make another playoff run) therefore the Cavs.

4) Ohio St Basketball
I mentioned how I really started following Buckeye basketball hardcore back in '05, and it has increased exponentially each season since. From the Greg Oden/Mike Conley squad that went to the Championship in '07, to the Jamar Butler-led team that won the NIT in '08, to the great Evan Turner, to the current Top 5 team, I have been putting almost as much into OSU hoops as I do football.

3) Cleveland Indians
It has been a few years since the Indians have been competitive, but nothing compares to that beginning of spring when each year I get a terrible case of Tribe Fever. Watching those '90s teams win division title after division title can't be put into words. Just talking about this is getting me stoked for Spring Training.

2) Cleveland Browns
Ughh, it's been a pretty miserable ride, but I'm not getting off anytime soon.

1) Ohio St Football
Considering the fact that I narrowly like watching college football better than NFL paired with Ohio St being infinitely more successful than the Browns, the Buckeyes take the #1 spot by a landslide. I can't wait to see Urban Meyer and Braxton Miller holding up the crystal football in 2013.


The representatives from each sport look like this...
CFB - 13, NFL - 12, CBB - 11, MLB - 8, NBA - 6

This makes perfect sense, as that's the exact depiction of how much I like each sport. I love baseball, but it's mostly just the Tribe. I'm not too interested in other games where the outcome does not affect Cleveland. The top five was super easy, and they are set in stone in that order as far as I can tell. 6-10 was also easy to pick, as they are really the only five of my non-favorite teams that I really follow. I had some fun selecting the rest of the list.

Saturday, February 11

NFL Picks 2011: Final Post

Super Bowl 46
Nick: 1-0
Figgs: 0-1 (Inasmuch as "" didn't cover)
Joe: 1-0

Nick's $ Picks: 1-0

Playoffs Total
Nick: 8-3
Figgs: 5-6
Joe: 5-6

Nick's $ Picks: 8-3
Figgs' $ Picks: 2-2

Friday, February 10

NFL Hate Rankings!

With Super Bowl 46 in the books and seven months without football staring us down, I thought I'd take the opportunity to rank all 32 NFL teams in increasing order of how I semi-arbitrarily dislike them. Always a good exercise, especially here on the eve of Valentine's Day. Enjoy!

32) Cleveland Browns
Obviously, our favorite team here on FCF, included here only for completeness. Man do I want for the Browns to become competitive again. We've been through enough.

31) Buffalo Buffaloes
A kindred spirit; Midwestern Rust Belt city with a legacy of tough losses in big games. The only sports video that I own is the Frank Reich Game.

30) Green Bay Packers
One of the league's classiest and marquee franchises - how can you not like a club owned by its fans? And I haven't forgotten for even one second the beautiful service to humanity they did for us in Super Bowl 45.

29) New Orleans Saints
Largely because of Drew Brees, but I also like the fast and furious offense the Saints run. They have a very aesthetically pleasing style of play. Speaking of aesthetics - I like that they actually have gold in their uniforms so one can point to them and remind steeler fans: yours are yellow.

28) Philadelphia Eagles
I played on the New Philadelphia Eagles as a youngster and have always had them as my NFC team. I like their uniforms and the cool hat I have, and enjoyed the McNabb Era. Furthermore, Randall Cunningham is my favorite NFL player ever. That guy was awesome.

27) Oakland Raiders
Coolest uniforms in sports plus a badass, hardcore fan base. There's something very sinister and tough about them, and I like that. Just win, baby.

26) Minnesota Vikings
What can I say - I have a soft spot for teams who've been to the Super Bowl four times and not come away with a victory. I'm sure Figgs will concur with this pick.

25) Miami Dolphins
Finkel is Einhorn! Einhorn is Finkel!

24) Indianapolis Colts
I'm just going to use this space to remind readers that every year 53 players win a Super Bowl and every year only one wins the MVP, and Peyton Manning has won four MVP awards.

23) Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals' position on this list is a balance between disliking them because they're an AFC North rival of the Browns, and liking them out of Ohio solidarity and because my Dad is a fan. I hope it's clear where my loyalties lie with respect to our other divisional nemeses.

22) Chicago Bears
The Bears seem like a moderately cool team to support. I once saw a piece about how much franchises are worth now and how much they were originally purchased for, and I think the Bear franchise has appreciated like 10000% in value.

21) Atlanta Falcons
I think Figgs skipped his Super Bowl pick this year because of confusion regarding not being able to select the ATL.

20) St Louis Rams
I personally enjoyed the Faulk/Warner/Holt/Bruce "Greatest Show on Turf" era and the fact that they ripped a team away from LA, because fuck LA. Their Super Bowl win over the Rams in '99 ended a long string of mostly bad Super Bowls and ushered in the modern, competitive Super Bowl, interrupted only by Tampa Bay laying the wood to the Raiders in '02.

19) Tennessee Titans
Eddie George, anyone? I know Nick is salty about them ended the name "Houston Oilers," but I loved the Music City Miracle and the one time they knocked pittsburgh out of the playoffs when I was drunk after a long day of Blades of Steel.

18) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I wish they'd go back to their comical old orange colors.

17) San Diego Chargers
I'm just not as into the powder blue ones as everyone else. What powder, exactly, is blue?

16) Kansas City Chieves
"Arrowhead Stadium" is really cool-sounding.

15) Carolina Panthers
I trust we've all seen the Panthers' new logo, courtesy of The Onion?

14) Detroit Lions
We're not Detroit! Ndamukong's thuggery cost them several spots on this list.

13) New York Giants
Thank goodness someone finally won a title for the championship-starved denizens of New York City!

12) Seattle Seahawks
Explain to me how, exactly, I'm supposed to form an opinion on the Seattle Seahawks.

11) San Francisco 49ers
The ultimate bandwagon team of the '80's and early '90's. Yeah, sure, Ohio resident, makes perfect sense that you'd root for a team thousands of miles away. I do like those unis though.

10) Houston Texans
I have a bias against Texas - it's as simple as that. There's also a certain lack of imagination in this team's name.

9) Arizona Cardinals
There are no Cardinals in Arizona.

8) Jacksonville Jaguars
You have no fans. Stop existing.

7) Denver Broncos
1986. 1987. And 1989. Were it not for Tebow's Wild Card heroics this year, they'd be closer to the top spot.

6) New England Patriots
Between the bandwagon fans, Boston's sickening run of championships, evil Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft's stupid white shirt collars, and having a cartoon of their stadium on their field (?), there's a lot to disagree with when it comes to the Pats. Oh yeah, and their all-time best player and current QB, Tom Brady, went to a certain school up north. They did derail steeler Super Bowl bids in '01 and '04, so I'll give them some credit for that.

5) Washington Redskins
This high ranking is entirely because of owner Dan Snyder.

4) New York Jets
Quite simply, the most obnoxious team in the NFL.

3) Dallas Cowboys
"America's Team" - give me a fucking break.

2) Baltimore Ravens
They stole our team with the help of former owner Art Modell, wear these horrific purple/black/yellow/Maryland state seal uniforms, have the league's most preposterously-dressed fans, and have foisted a collection of thugs and murderers like Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs on the NFL. Any other league, and they'd be #1 on this list. However...

1) Pittsburgh steelers
Obviously. A Google search for "Pittsburgh steelers" I just conducted took 0.22 seconds, which is about how long I needed to think about where to rank them on this list. They're almost as entrenched here as the Browns are at #32.

Friday, February 3

NFL Picks: Super Bowl XLVI

No more football :(

Last Week
Nick: 1-1
Figgs: 1-1
Joe: 1-1

Nick's $ Picks: 1-1

Nick: 7-3
Figgs: 5-5
Joe: 4-6

Nick's $ Picks: 6-3
Figgs' $ Picks: 2-2

Super Bowl XLVI

PATRIOTS (-3) vs Giants
Joe: Giants; I have been going back and forth on this for a week and a half so I decided to just make a damn pick. I don't like the fact that everyone seems to like the Giants, because we've seen how good Brady is when he is extra movivated (see Brady vs. Tebow in the division round). However, I just think the Giants have the better team. I thought that when they beat New England during the regular season, and I still do. They have the pass rush to be able to frustrate Brady. Eli, on the other hand, will not face nearly the type of pressure that San Fran was able to put on him and I don't see the likes of Julian Edleman being able to cover Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. So, I like the Giants to beat New England in the Big Game for the second time in the last 5 years.
Nick: Giants. This should be a competitive game, but the Giants seem like they should be the slight favorite. I just think the Giants have the better team, and probably win this game 55-60% of the time. That makes them a decent bet at +120. Both teams have serious issues in the secondary, but the Gronkowski injury is what really pushed me onto the Giants' side. Nobody knows how devastating high ankle sparains can be more than a Browns fan, and it's simply not a two-week injury. Ultimately I think the Giants squeak this one out unless there are a few goofy bounces or Eli has a total meltdown. ($)

Thursday, February 2


Twenty games into the 2011-12 season, at what would normally constitute a quarter of the CaVs' season, I thought initially that I would write about what I've seen so far from the 8-12 CaVs; the rapid development of Kyrie Irving, surprising contributions from Alonzo Gee and Samardo Samuels, and a club that gets out-talented many nights but rarely outworked.

Instead, I want to talk about the Cavaliers' MVP, Anderson Varejão. Yes, I know Irving has the brightest future and is the unquestioned franchise player. But right now, I think Andy means more to the club than anyone else on the roster. A quick look at his per-game stats for the season through 19 games (tonight's Celtics game, in which he had 14 at half, not included), if you please:

Raw Numbers
10.0 points
11.0 rebounds
1.7 assists
1.4 steals
0.7 blocks

Other stats
17.3 PER (only trailing Irving among Cavs)
2nd in NBA in offensive boards
4th in NBA in rebounds
2nd in NBA in rebound % (1st in offensive rebound %)

The thing that so many have said about Varejão's contributions to the CaVs are that they are the sorts of plays that "don't show up on the stat sheet." I would submit that they do indeed show up on the stat sheet - look above if you don't believe me. That's a stat sheet! Do you kow how many NBA players currently average a double-double? Eleven - all eleven guys who pull down 10 or more boards a game, in case you were wondering. It ain't easy. Varejão puts up more impressive numbers than fans of his frenetic, hustling style may even realize.

Of course, that style does indeed add beyond-the-box-score value to Varejão's already impressive line. Even when Andy first came to the Cavaliers in 2004-05 as a raw 22-year-old, he had that scrappiness and nose for the ball that you still see today, but without nearly the finesse to his game that he has now. His knack for loose balls and tipbacks prolonged numerous Cav possessions and ended prematurely those of Cleveland's opponents. Despite the limited minutes he earned at first, Varejão was one of the six Cavs that Coach Mike Brown trusted in crunch time during those first two playoff runs in '06 and '07.

Remember how the Cavaliers acquired their Brazilian big man? From Basketball Reference:

Traded by the Orlando Magic with Drew Gooden and Steven Hunter to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Tony Battie, a 2005 2nd round draft pick (Martynas Andriuskevicius) and a 2007 2nd round draft pick (Brad Newley).

Yeah. At the time, Varejão was a lightly-regarded defensive specialist, and his defensive prowess remains his chief strength today. At 6'11" and 260, he's tall and big enough to stand up to most of the game's toughest centers, but lanky and active enough to cover power forwards as well. This is a bit anecdotal here, but I can't say that I've seen another player defend the high pick and roll as effectively as Andy - it seems that every time a team tries it he ends up running the ballhandler out to center court. And of course, he wouldn't have earned his reputation as a flopper (and the image from included above) without taking lots and lots of charges.

But let's not overlook the improvements he's made to his offensive game. At first, it was kind of painful to watch Andy with the ball - his handle was awkward, he had no shot outside of about three feet, and he posted a 52.4% mark at the line during his first two seasons. I used to joke that every time he went to the line he would make one and only one - he never seemed to make or miss both ends of a trip to the stripe. He's still not the smoothest player, but the improvements he's made at the offensive end are quite significant. He's always been a very smart player, adept at moving without the ball and being in position for easy baskets. That, combined with his soft hands, was how he ended up with a 51.8% shooting percentage during his first six seasons in the league. Yeah, #6 made him look good at times, but Varejão is at 50.8% from the floor since that guy departed two years ago, and with expanded range and an improved ability to create shots. It's not easy cracking 10 points a game when the team doesn't run any plays for you. Look at how his points per game has progressed from '04 through this current campaign (note that he averaged 16 minutes a game for the first two seasons, 27 over the next four, and 32 these past two seasons):

2004-5: 4.9
2005-6: 4.6

2006-7: 6.8
2007-8: 6.7
2008-9: 8.6
2009-10: 8.6

2010-11: 9.1
2011-12: 10.0

That looks a bit to me like a guy who's put some serious effort into his offensive skills, especially playing on a decidedly worse team the past couple of years. It doesn't hurt that he's improved his foul shooting acumen from that 52.4% mark in his first two years up to 66.0% over the past three seasons.

And any of you who've watched Andy and the CaVs (I like that phrase) this year know that it hasn't come at the expense of the other facets of his game. Look at how his rebounding numbers have progressed over the same timeframe:

2004-5: 4.8
2005-6: 4.9

2006-7: 6.7
2007-8: 8.3
2008-9: 7.2
2009-10: 7.6

2010-11: 9.7
2011-12: 11.0

Combine that progression with all the tipbacks, blocks, steals, charges, and loose balls he collects, and you see why he's one of the CaVs' most popular and valuable players.

I mentioned at the outset that he trails Irving in John Hollinger's useful all-in-one metric Player Efficiency Rating, yet I'm still declaring Varejão the Cavaliers' MVP so far this season. As always, I think statistics are an enormously useful guide to evaluating performance, and this is no exception. Yet Hollinger himself admits that his calculation is useful mostly for measuring a player's offensive performance, and the Wikipedia article points out how it can reward volume shooting over efficient shooting; both factors hurt Varejão relative to Irving in this calculation.

So I'm picking the Brazilian's all-around game (for now), and for a final argument I'll look back to last season and an event I described as The Day the Season Died. That was January 6, the day an ankle injury suffered in practice ended Varejão's season and plunged the CaVs into an even deeper abyss. After that they simply had no defense, no cohesion, no energy, and no sense for how to win a basketball game. That showed as well as any numbers or analysis could just how valuable Anderson Varejão is to the Cavaliers.