Last Monday officially marked the end of an illustrious career for Carmelo Anthony. The future hall of famer announced his retirement via social media after sitting out this season as a free agent. Although it would've been nice to see him compete for one last title, Anthony seemed content with his decision. While I've had the privilege of watching a few great athletes, Anthony stands alone, and here's why.
All of the playoff seasons the Knicks enjoyed from 2010-2013, can be attributed to the arrival of Carmelo Anthony. It's true Amare Stoudemire was propelling the Knicks in the right direction prior to Anthony, but injuries would ultimately keep him from reaching his full potential. However, Anthony made an immediate impact, leading the Knicks to the playoffs in his first three years. The 2013 season saw the Knicks have their best season in almost 20 years, and their first playoff series win in 13 years. Having been dreadful before, those were some of the best seasons Knick fans could remember for awhile. Even in the dark years, Anthony still proceeded to give fans something to cheer for despite being maligned by management.
But if there's one thing anyone could agree with when debating Carmelo Anthony's legacy, it's that he was one of the few athletes who embraced playing for a tough sports market like New York. Many athletes might want to play for a New York City-based team, but they're not prepared for the pressure that comes with being in the Big Apple. Anthony knew what he was getting into, and he welcomed the challenge. During his time with the Knicks, Anthony explained "When you go to places like New York, you feel the excitement, the energy is different, the fans are different, and the game is different playing in New York."
A few years after his Knick career, Anthony reiterated his desire to play, saying "I wanted to take that challenge on. Whether I failed at it or not, I wanted to be able to say that I did it. I took it upon myself to say 'Get me there.' Not everyone has that same mentality." That earned him the respect of many New Yorkers including myself.
On the court, it was hard not to appreciate Anthony's game. He might've not been the all around player his buddy LeBron James is, but when it came to scoring, Anthony was pure. He was also a strong rebounder, particularly on the offensive end, but his scoring will always be talked about, as it should be. In a league where three point shooting has rapidly increased, Anthony was definitely no stranger to using the three point line, but he used the whole floor offensively. With the strength to score inside, along with a deadly jump shot, Anthony's game was was as sweet as soft serve ice cream. In short, good things were bound to happen whenever he had the ball.
Even after getting traded, Anthony was such a likable player who was easy to follow. He grew as a person over the years, and it was evident through his efforts in becoming a leader of his community during the social unrest in America. Anthony's work earned him the 2020-2021 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award.
It will be weird watching the NBA with Anthony officially retired. Although he never won a championship, he conducted himself like a champion, and had many championship-worthy nights. There will never be a day where I wasn't happy to have him as my favorite athlete.
The Knicks gave their fans an unforgettable season, winning their first playoff series in 10 years, before ultimately falling to the Heat in the semifinals. They were a tough, resilient team that fit the city and its fanbase like a glove. Unlike most years, where they become more irrelevant as the season goes on, New York got better as the games went on, going further than they have in a decade.
While there are many reasons why New York had their most successful season in recent memory, a few stand out in particular.
From a roster standpoint, the team got a major boost from the free agent signing of point guard, Jalen Brunson, who took this team to the next level. While a decent amount of players from the 2021 season still remained such as Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and Obi Toppin, the Knicks were in desperate need of a point guard who could guide the offense. Brunson did show plenty of improvement the year prior, but that didn't stop some Mavericks from letting him walk in free agency. Although the Knicks were criticized for signing him to a $110 million contract, that now seems like a bargain if anything. While this is only Brunson's first year as a Knick, he already has a legitimate case as the best free-agent signing in Knicks history.
Throughout the season, it became more apparent that Brunson was finally the point guard the Knicks have been searching for. His production and leadership were essential in helping the Knicks rebound from a 37 win season the year prior. Brunson posted career highs in points and assists, while spearheading an offense that averaged 10 more points than last season. More importantly, he helped the Knicks maintain their success over the course of the year in a competitive Eastern Conference. He further proved himself in the playoffs, averaging 27 points, five rebounds, and four assists. This included an incredible 38/9/7 in 48 minutes in game five against Miami to stave off elimination. Brunson's presence, also allowed other players like Randle to thrive in more comfortable roles.
For head coach Tom Thibodeau, anyone who viewed him as incredibly stubborn, must think twice. He's not perfect, but he made many adjustments that had a major impact. His best move, without question, was going with a nine man rotation despite having a fairly deep roster. It jumpstarted an eight game win streak, and while some wondered how long it could last, the strategy ultimately proved to be the right decision. Other smart moves, included inserting Quentin Grimes into the starting lineup, and finding an immediate role for Josh Hart after the Knicks traded for him in February.
If there's one attribute the Knicks had this season, it would be their resilience. With all due respect to their top options, Brunson, Randle, and Barrett, they aren't superstars. A team constructed like the Knicks must do all the little things right from hard-nosed defense every possession, to picking up after another's mistake. Whereas some teams might struggle in that department, it was easy for the Knicks because they had such a tight knit group. Everybody understood their responsibilities, and were determined to excel in their roles. New York's chemistry only got better when they acquired Hart, who was Brunson's Villanova teammate, at the trade deadline.
Each month, the Knicks continued to make significant strides as a team, and it showed from December up until the semifinals. Some moments that highlighted their grit included the eight game win streak that sparked the turnaround, an overtime road win in January against the Celtics, a 20 point comeback against the 76ers, a nine game win streak from February to March, and their first round triumph.
This was a significant step for the Knicks in becoming a playoff contender. They have a strong foundation of unselfish players who work extremely well together. With the majority of this team likely returning, along with the possibility of the Knicks being an attractive destination this offseason, there are plenty of reasons to be excited going forward. With Brunson on the roster, anything is possible.
We are just over a month into the 2023 baseball season, but the rule changes implemented over the offseason already have a significant impact on the game. From new pitch clocks to bigger bases, baseball put a big focus on making the game faster and more entertaining, which has paid off so far. As someone who watches baseball most of the season, I can't help but wonder if these changes will change baseball's momentum for good.
Before this season, baseball was starting to lose viewership, which was a result of the long duration of most games. With plenty of stoppages during contests, the average length of a game last year was just over three hours. Even the biggest and most loyal baseball fans were starting to voice their concern about the increasing times of each game. There were even some games where I was relieved for it to be over regardless of who won.
As a result of the growing complaints, the MLB spent the offseason prioritizing ways to make games shorter. With an abundance of new rules, games are already looking drastically different than before. For one, the time it takes before and during at-bats is a lot shorter than in years past. Pitchers now have 30 seconds to throw a pitch in between batters, along with a 15 second clock during pitches with no one on base, and a 20 second clock with runners on. Hitters will also be held accountable during their at-bats. They must be in the batter's box by the time there's eight seconds left, or else they'll be charged with a strike.
In addition, the MLB also set out to make rules more favorable for offenses with the banning of the shift and bigger bases. Defenses are now required to place two players on each side of the infield, while the size of bases have jumped from 15 inches square to 18. Both rules are major attempts to generate excitement in hopes of giving some of the game's most talented players more opportunities to flourish. All-stars such as Shohei Ohtani, who's hit 80 home runs in the last two years, and Trea Turner, who's stolen more bases than anyone else since 2016, will now be even more dangerous thanks to these changes.
It's still early in the season, but the effects from the new rules can't be ignored. The average length for an MLB game is almost 30 minutes shorter than last season at two and a half hours, while hitting has also seen a significant jump compared to years past. This has ultimately caused a rapid increase in ratings during the young season. Opening day saw the minutes in viewership go up by 42 percent, and the league has maintained that success so far.
Players are still getting used to the rule changes, which is evident given the strikes and balls called due to clock violations whether it's the batter or the pitcher. Some at-bats have literally been determined by the pitch clock, as seen in a Red Sox Braves spring training game where the umpire determined the batter wasn't ready to hit on a 3-2 count with two outs, and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game.
I can personally say that although the Yankees have currently been disappointing, this is indeed a nice welcome change. You can now tolerate watching the sport without having to worry about it taking over your entire evening. This is a busy time of year for sports, with the NBA and NHL playoffs going on, but the number of fans tuning in is an encouraging sign. If baseball is seeing plenty of favorable results at this time of year, imagine how many will be watching during the summer and into the fall.
The NFL draft is a tremendous opportunity for upstart teams to make significant roster upgrades entering the following season. This year was different, however. Teams who overachieved, such as the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions, along with the defending NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles, have multiple first round picks. While it is still months before football, it is never too early to make judgements on whether some of these teams improved their chances of winning for the upcoming season.
Teams Who Improved
1. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks were one of the league's most surprising teams, due to the resurgence of Geno Smith and a bevy of young talent. Thanks to their decision to trade Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos, they possessed multiple first round picks for the second straight year which were used on cornerback Devon Witherspoon and receiver Jaxon Smith-Njiba. Witherspoon may not be imposing at 180 lbs, but he's an aggressive cornerback with ball skills, and is not afraid to make a big hit. He and Tariq Woolen could be a formidable cornerback duo in the future.
As for Smith-Njiba, he's arguably the best receiver in the draft. With his fundamentally sound route running, terrific hands, and the ability to create after the catch, he gives Smith another target to throw to alongside DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. While the Seahawks certainly have talent at both cornerback and receiver, they are valuable positions that can be built upon in the draft
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
Although the Jaguars didn't have multiple first round picks, they still managed to upgrade a roster that reached the divisional round despite being 4-8 at one point in the season. They traded down twice in the first round to select offensive tackle Anton Harrison. He might not have so many eye-opening plays, but he's a very patient blocker who does a great job staying in front of his opponents in pass protection. This was particularly a good pick because the Jaguars had to address the tackle position after the departure of Jawaan Taylor and a recent suspension for Cam Robinson. Harrison could give Trevor Lawrence even more protection from the blindside which would go a long way to a solid passing attack.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have already solidified themselves as contenders following a Super Bowl appearance, but given they weren't expected to have a such dominant year, I felt it was still appropriate to put them on this list. With multiple picks in the first round thanks to last year's draft day trade with the Saints, they went all in on defense with Georgia standouts Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith.
Smith is a very instinctive player whose relentless pursuit allows him to make numerous plays in the backfield. Carter might be a defensive tackle, but his strength and quickness allow him to be just as effective as a pass rusher along with a run stopper. This is the second straight year Philadelphia drafted defensive starters from Georgia, as last year saw them get Jordan Davis in the first round and Nakobe Dean in the third round. The only difference is that Smith and Carter have more upside, which will be essential toward maintaining a very good front seven.
Teams That Missed Out
1. Detroit Lions
After finishing the season 8-2, the Lions had a solid free agency and an even better opportunity to make improvements in the draft having owned the Rams' pick. It would've made sense to use their picks on a cornerback or defensive tackle. Instead, they made two questionable decisions by drafting running back Jahmyr Gibbs and linebacker Jack Campbell. What's head-scratching about these moves is that running backs and linebackers are positions that can be addressed later in the draft. Detroit is still a strong candidate to make the playoffs this upcoming year, but this was a spectacular chance to establish a roster that could seriously contend.
2. New York Jets
The Jets already checked their biggest need at quarterback by acquiring Aaron Rodgers before the draft. To boost his protection, they were eyeing offensive tackles (Broderick Jones, Paris Johnson Jr., or Peter Skoronski). But after seeing each one taken, they selected edge rusher Will McDonald. To be fair, McDonald is a solid player who will line up outside opposing tackles much more than at Iowa St. This will allow him to utilize his speed and finesse off the ball. However, the Jets have plenty of edge rushers. While his playing time in 2024 will likely increase assuming Carl Lawson leaves in free agency, it's a bit of a letdown to see the Jets miss out on a bigger need even if it wasn't their fault.