All posts by Josh Buckhalter

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Victor Oladipo is the Finesser of the Year

Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo is the Finesser of the Year. A man of many talents, he just added another to the list. Not only is he former All-NBA,  a two-time All-Star, All-Defense, and steals champ, but he also sings (well!). That’s not why we’re here though. Oladipo just added to his ever-growing resume.

Finesser of the Year Goes to Victor Oladipo

A Little Background

Oladipo ruptured his quad back in 2018 after 36 games. He was averaging 18.8/5.6/5.2 at the time and was third in clutch points. The Pacers were 21-15 and a darkhorse candidate to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. They finished 48-34, good enough for fifth in the East, and got swept in the first round by the Kyrie Irving Boston Celtics.

The loss of Oladipo was felt instantly. Indiana hadn’t lost more than two games in a row before he went down. They lost the next four following the game he got injured versus the Toronto Raptors. He had missed time earlier with knee soreness and the Pacers went 7-4.

Oladipo wouldn’t return to the floor until January of this year; over a year removed from his surgery. Playing a career-low 25.9 minutes per game, he’s averaging 13.8/3.2/3 and slashing .391/.304/.780 for a Pacers team that is 13 games over .500 and once again finds itself sitting fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Current Situation

The NBA’s planned restart date is drawing nearer and the conversations around the mechanics of it all are ramping up. Even though the guidelines have been set, many questions remain. Much of the conversation has been about players opting-out of the restart altogether.

Kyrie Irving got a lot of heat but ultimately said he wouldn’t hold it up if the players agreed. But soon, players like Trevor Ariza (family) and Davis Bertans (securing the bag) quickly decided against playing. Avery Bradley and Willie Cauley-Stein would follow. The former was significant given his team, the Los Angeles Lakers, are among the title favorites.

Wilson Chandler, Thabo Sefolosha; other names that dropped out but, for the most part, no one of significance was set to miss the action. Irving was never going to play and even Bradley is a role player; albeit a potentially important one. Then we got news on Friday of Oladipo’s decision.

Victor Oladipo, Finesser of the Year

Up until now, players opting-out of playing were doing so while also not traveling with the team and would forego the remaining portion of their salary for this year. Oladipo announced that he will rehab in Orlando while also being with his team. This will allow him to still get paid.

At 28, coming off a serious leg injury, and facing free agency in 2021 it makes perfect sense for Oladipo to sit out. It’s certainly a blow to the Pacers title hopes to lose a player who averaged 16.8/4.3/4.5 in 27 MPG from February 12th on. Indiana went 6-1 in the games Oladipo played over that span and 2-2 in the four contests he rested.

It’s a huge blow for the Pacers, but an understandable move for Oladipo. The added bonus of not missing out on any cash is (very expensive) icing on the cake. It will be interesting to see if any other players follow suit or if the league finds some method of stopping it.

For now, at least, Victor Oladipo is the Clocker Sports Finesser of the Year.

Cam Newton to the New England Patriots is Perfect

It almost makes too much sense. Cam Newton, Superman, is a New England Patriot. And in the year 2020, this is exactly the kind of move we should have expected. Many did, and yet it still felt like such a longshot. Clash of cults of personality aside, there was always a strictly football-related reason for this to happen. The fact that the actual deal is good for both sides is just an added bonus.

New England Patriots Signing Cam Newton is Perfectly 2020

How Did We Get Here?

What an offseason it has been! We’ve seen a quarter of the league’s projected starters entering 2019 change teams, including a wild four-team swap with New England and 75% of the NFC South. Tom Brady joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was the shockwave of the off-season; if only slightly edging the Houston Texans swindling themselves out of DeAndre Hopkins.

Jameis Winston is now backing up Drew Brees in New Orleans and Teddy Bridgewater (Winston’s predecessor) will start in Carolina. Even Philip Rivers going to the Indianapolis Colts doesn’t compare.

Tampa Tommy is like the prodigal son going to the Darkside (which would have worked so much better had he joined the Las Vegas Raiders). Newton to the Pats is like, well T’Challa taking over for Steve Rogers. Yes, it’s on the nose, but it’s so very accurate. How else do you describe the expressive Newton heading to the most buttoned-up operation in the NFL?

What’s even better is it is two polarizing entities of opposite ends joining into one. The Patriots have been the bully on the block for much of the past 20 years. This, and a generous helping of sketchy deeds, has led to a buildup of resentment from those on the outside.

Newton, for all his charitable deeds, is more known for his scarves and attitude after losing Super Bowl 50.

Neither man is perfect. Brady was directly indicated in his fair share of the scandals during his time in New England. And, if we’re being honest, the worst Newton has done was his interaction with a female reporter a few years back. He laughed at the depth of her question and said it was “funny” a question like that came from a woman.

But on the football field, both of these men have set records.

Why It Will Work

Brady has the edge in accolades, sure. But even he has conceded it is at least equal parts situation as it is his given talent, effort, preparation, etc. Newton, if healthy, offers the total opposite. A supremely gifted athlete, he reached the edge of the mountain top without the level of coach and system he will have around him next year.

That isn’t a knock on what the Ron Rivera Panthers did either, they ran a system they felt gave them the best chance to win. The issue was they operated like Newton was a rookie for too long, not surrounding him with enough talent at receiver and/or a proper offensive line. His development seemed to stall as the Panthers found their formula.

One thing we know about the Patriots, they know the formula changes from year to year. No team has been better at adapting to their personnel.

Josh McDaniels is a very underrated part of why this will work. He was able to get seven wins out of a second-year Tim Tebow back in 2011. That was ten years ago. But Newton, a former MVP, is far and away a better passer than Tebow ever was.

People also forget the year Newton was having before he got injured in 2018. Carolina was 6-2 with Newton completing 67.3% of his passes for 1893 yards, 15 touchdowns, and four interceptions. He added another 342 yards and four scores on the ground. He over 68 percent of his passes in his remaining six games, but only threw nine touchdowns to nine picks and the Panthers went winless.

What’s The Problem?

That depends on what you thought of Brady last season. He started the season completing 64% of his passes for 2251 yards, 13 scores, and four interceptions over the first eight games. But he finished throwing for 1806 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 4 more picks while completing just 56.9% of his passes. The Patriots went 4-4 over those final eight.

Was that all Brady? He is, after all, in his 40s and has played over two and a half regular season’s worth of playoff games. It’s perfectly reasonable his abilities are in decline.

But New England lost Rob Gronkowski to retirement then lost Antonio Brown (one game) and Josh Gordon (six games) to personal issues. Julian Edelman was still around, but there aren’t many quarterbacks who can overcome that kind of talent drain before and during the season.

Newton’s health will be the biggest deterrent to any success. But he’s been out since September last year and has been seen working with Odell Beckham. Keeping him that way is paramount and dependant upon them either finding upgrades or guys like N’Keal Harry and free-agent addition Marquise Lee stepping up. Edelman and Mohamed Sanu will serve as the vets but the big hole is at tight end.

The offensive line is the bigger concern. Brady took 17 of his 27 sacks over the back half of the year. That line lost center Ted Karras and didn’t add anyone in free agency or the draft until the sixth round. They kept Joe Thuney, though.

The defense underwent a facelift but should be a smoother transition than anything the offense will go through. New England took defensive players with their first three picks and all are expected to contribute early. That’s good with the losses New England suffered at linebacker. Boasting one of the best secondaries in the NFL, though, they should be just fine.

Superman is a Patriot

Cam Newton has had to carry his offenses for much of his career, literally. In New England, he will get a chance to be a part of the machine. They will cater the offense to him week-to-week. His athleticism gives them an added dimension they didn’t have (or need) with Brady. He would also be the first non-Patriots draft pick to start for the team since Scott Secules in 1993.

Doubters will point to Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer and say Newton isn’t a lock to start. But as long as he’s healthy, neither the second-year Stidham nor the journeyman Hoyer is beating him out. The Patriots don’t need the publicity this brought (even with the penalties handed down) but Belichick would love the prestige winning with Newton would bring. We know what’s really on the line here.