Everyone’s good, but a handful of stars will be counted on to perform at their best.
The United States women’s national team has released its 23-player roster for the World Cup, and it contains a handful of surprises. Allie Long, Ali Krieger, Morgan Brian and Jessica McDonald have all found call-ups tough to come by over the past year, but found their way into Jill Ellis’ final squad.
But those players are the ones who are least likely to play a big part in the USWNT’s campaign in France. Ellis has settled on a core of starters and key bench players ahead of them, and unless things go south for any of those players very soon, we can predict who’s going to be counted on to deliver results at the World Cup.
Here’s every player on the roster, ranked in order of importance to the team.
First up, the stars
These are the players who are locked in as starters when healthy, and who Ellis knows she can count on to perform.
1. Tobin Heath, RW
If you are revisiting the USWNT for the first time in a while, you may remember Heath as a player with a lot of tricks and little end product. That’s changed dramatically over the past three seasons, and Heath is now the attacker the USWNT counts on most. She’s coming off a 7 goal, 7 assist campaign for Portland Thorns and has scored 10 USWNT goals since the start of 2018.
Why she’s key: Tekkers
OK, but the tricks are awesome though. Heath is often left out on an island with little support, which means she has to do something crazy to create scoring opportunities for her team. Her ability to make something out of nothing is why she’s the most important player on the team.
2. Lindsey Horan, CM
Horan is still just 24, so her NWSL MVP campaign felt like the start of a rise to superstardom, rather than her peak. The only question is whether Ellis can get the best out of her. She gets into shooting positions a lot more often for Portland Thorns than she does for the USWNT.
Why she’s key: Everything
In addition to being an immovable tank of a midfielder who won the ball 321 times last season — 118 times more than any other player!!! — Horan is a slick passer and regularly bangs in goals from 25 yards out.
3. Julie Ertz, DM
If you like watching high work rate players who show up everywhere on the field, you’ll really like Ertz. She was a center back — and a great one — at the last World Cup, but she was moved into midfield a couple of years ago. But no matter what position she plays, she’s always a huge threat to score on set pieces.
Why she’s key: Messing people up
While Horan wins the ball back a lot, she accomplishes it mostly by being stronger than her opponents and casually shouldering people off the ball. Ertz is stylistically the opposite: she flies into challenges and wins the ball in the most dramatic way possible. And she does it A LOT.
4. Alex Morgan, ST
Morgan just tallied her 100th career national team goal, in case anyone had any doubts about where she stands in the hierarchy of all-time great international strikers. But her role in this USWNT isn’t all about scoring goals.
Why she’s key: Off the ball work
Generally, goal-scorers of Morgan’s caliber don’t take kindly to being asked to take up a role that features a lot more dirty work than trying to get on the end of service into the box. But Morgan runs her ass off all game to make life easier for her teammates, and regularly gets the pass before the assist. The non-scoring aspects of her game are wildly under-appreciated.
5. Megan Rapinoe, LW
After an ACL tear limited her at the 2016 Olympics, very few people thought Megan Rapinoe would still be this good at 33. But she’s playing the best soccer of her life, and she’s a locked-in starter despite younger, faster challengers for her spot.
Why she’s key: Big goals and assists
Morgan and Horan do all the stuff that isn’t very fun or flashy so that Rapinoe can shine. Her teammates sacrifice and create space for her because she always delivers.
6. Becky Sauerbrunn, CB
The former best defender in the world has not quite been that for the past three years, but she’s still excellent. The USWNT don’t need her to be the 2015 version of herself to win the World Cup, but they’ll still need her to step up her game a bit from where it’s been recently.
Why she’s key: Leadership
As by far the most experienced player in the defensive unit, it’ll be on Sauerbrunn to call the shots and organize her team. This is especially crucial given that Ertz doesn’t play like a traditional holding midfielder and is asked to play very aggressively, which often leaves the USWNT defense to make some tough plays in space.
7. Kelley O’Hara, RB/LB
Once an elite winger, O’Hara’s late-career transition to fullback has gone extremely well. She’s as good going forward as any fullback in the world, and she didn’t take long to become a great one-on-one defender out wide either.
Why she’s key: Lack of depth
For various reasons (bad youth player pool management, Jill Ellis’ stubbornness, Jaelene Hinkle’s homophobia), the USWNT is very thin at fullback. Whenever O’Hara’s been hurt, Ellis has gone through a cavalcade of completely unsuitable replacements. If she can’t go 90 minutes in every game that has stakes, the USWNT is in trouble.
Starters with question marks
We’re being a bit harsh — the USWNT has been the best team in the world for a couple of years now — but four of the starters give Ellis some reason for concern.
8. Crystal Dunn, LB/UT
It makes me mad that the best attacker in NWSL is the USWNT’s left back, but this ship sailed a while ago and it’s too late to make a change. For better or worse, world class attacking midfielder Crystal Dunn is going to be playing left back at the World Cup.
Why she’s key: Versatility
If the USWNT is in a situation where their back line isn’t being threatened and they really need a goal, they have the option of shifting Dunn into any attacking position. She’s like a game-changing sub, except she’s already on the field.
Big question: Can she defend elite wingers?
That Dunn can play left back at a competent level at all is incredible, and she doesn’t deserve any criticism for getting beat by world class attackers. But the USWNT is depending on her to contain world class attackers, so uhh… she’s gonna have to figure out how to do that.
9. Alyssa Naeher, GK
The post-Hope Solo era has been shaky at best, but Naeher is still a very capable goalkeeper. Her superb performances at club level suggest that her USWNT issues are more down to the defensive structure in front of her than any deficiencies she has, but no one is going to care about that if she lets in some bad goals.
Why she’s key: Even the best team needs a goalie sometimes
The USWNT will out-shoot almost all of its opponents by a huge margin, but they’re not going to hold anyone to zero shots on target.
Big question: Can she make the right decisions coming off her line?
Naeher’s shot-stopping and aerial claims have been excellent, but she’s been shaky when faced with a decision about whether or not to close down aggressively. Her recognition just hasn’t been quick enough for the national team.
10. Abby Dahlkemper, CB
On a dominant club team with a box midfield in front of her, Dahlkemper looks like a world class defender. At national team level, on a team that leaves a lot more space in front of her, she looks more average. Hopefully that changes?
Why she’s key: Sauerbrunn needs cover
Becky Sauerbrunn is not slow, but she’s not as fast as she was four years ago. And even then, Julie Ertz was the one doing most of the running. Dahlkemper will need to cut out the passes that go behind the defense into space.
Big question: Is she the starter?
All signs point to Dahlkemper getting the nod over youngster Tierna Davidson at the moment, but don’t be too shocked if Ellis makes a change.
11. Rose Lavelle, CM
There’s no one in the USWNT who’s more exciting to watch with the ball at her feet than Rose Lavelle. Unfortunately, she’s on the physio table more often than she’s on the field.
Why she’s key: Creativity
Lavelle’s ability to dribble at full speed, pick an early through ball, or play a creative backheel are second-to-none, and that’s why Ellis persists with putting her in the lineup despite her fitness problems.
Big question: Can she stay fit?
Sorry, I know, the horse is dead, I will stop beating it now.
Key bench players
These players aren’t in Ellis’ starting lineup right now, but they’re certain to make a big impact at the World Cup.
12. Christen Press, ST/UT
The biggest deficiency in Press’ game is that she’s not quite as good as Alex Morgan. Unlucky.
What she brings off the bench: Speed
I can’t imagine getting beat to hell by the work rate and physicality of Morgan, Horan and Ertz, then seeing a track star like Press enter the game in the 60th minute. My legs hurt thinking about trying to play against this team.
Why she’s not starting: Consistency
There isn’t a higher-ceiling player in this team than Press. Her best games are as good as anything Marta or Abby Wambach ever produced. Unfortunately, she’s never done it against a top team two games in a row.
13. Sam Mewis, CM
Other players rack up the goals and assists, but the key to North Carolina Courage’s NWSL success is Mewis. It’s a testament to the USWNTs depth that a coach can even consider not starting her.
What she brings off the bench: Complete CM play
Ertz and Lavelle both have one elite skill, and Horan has the potential to be the best midfielder in the world, but the most well-rounded midfielder in the pool is Mewis. If you were to give her a grade at every aspect of midfield play, you wouldn’t give her worse than an A- at anything.
Why she’s not starting: Lmao you tell me man
The thing I disagree with Ellis most about is not finding a place for Mewis in her starting XI. I’d sacrifice just about anything to have my most balanced midfielder in the team.
14. Tierna Davidson, CB
Davidson left Stanford early to turn pro and prepare for this World Cup, and she already has 19 caps at just 20 years old. And in those 19 caps, she’s proven that she’s one of the best defenders in the country and deserves her spot.
What she brings off the bench: More physical tools than the starters
There are a lot of great athletes in college soccer. It was Davidson’s brain and technical skills that allowed her to make the step up. But she’s also faster and more agile than the players she’s competing for time against, which could prove very useful.
Why she’s not starting: She’s played 2 pro soccer games
Davidson is a very mature 20-year-old, but yeah, she’s 20.
15. Carli Lloyd, ST/AM
If you last engaged with The Carli Lloyd Experience by watching her score a hat trick in the World Cup final, I regret to inform you that some things have changed.
What she brings off the bench: A direct goal threat
The USWNT has shifted towards developing and selecting a lot of crafty, technical, tricky players. That’s a good thing. But sometimes you need to switch things up, and Lloyd has a one-track mind. She goes for goal.
Why she’s not starting: A lot of reasons tbh
Besides being 36, Lloyd hasn’t played well at club level since the World Cup. She’s also just always been more of a mega-clutch athlete than someone who’s really good at playing soccer.
16. Mallory Pugh, LW/RW
Pugh may eternally be a teenager in your brain, but she’s 21 now and has 50 (!!!) national team caps. She hasn’t delivered on her early promise yet, mostly because she was playing for a very bad club manager, but she’s still a great impact sub.
What she brings off the bench: Dribble dribble dribble dribble
Along the same lines as what Press does, Pugh often comes in for Rapinoe to make the opposing fullback have to deal with a different type of winger. Instead of looking for early through balls and diagonals, Pugh runs right at people.
Why she’s not starting: Rapinoe and Heath are too good
Her time will come soon enough.
You probably won’t see a lot of these players on the field, but you will see people on the internet arguing that someone else should have made the roster ahead of them.
17. Allie Long, DM
Long has been on the outside looking in for the past year, but was named to the roster in place of other players that Ellis has selected ahead of her recently. Not sure how that happened!
What she brings off the bench: She’s the only real holding player
For most of her national career, Long has been a box-to-box midfielder miscast as a holding player. But she finally got really good at playing as a holding midfielder (shouts to Vlatko Andonovski). The USWNT doesn’t really have a proper one of those, so she gives Ellis a different look.
Why she’s not starting: The other midfielders are just better
No shade, Long is a good player, but four other midfielders are better.
Who she beat out and why: McCall Zerboni
The “why” is presumably that Zerboni is similar stylistically to Ertz, and Ellis wanted a different kind of player. But Zerboni has been one of the best players in NWSL for the past three years straight, is the emotional leader behind the success of the Courage, and wants you to know that we are fucking winners. She should be on the team.
18. Jessica McDonald, ST
Forwards are egomaniacs by nature. And if you’re a forward good enough to make the USWNT, you probably don’t like coming off the bench. But McDonald has been the best substitute striker in NWSL for the league’s entire existence, so she’s a great choice to reprise that role for the national team.
What she brings off the bench: Energy
No one’s better at getting up to full speed right off the bench than McDonald, and giving a team 90 minutes of effort in 30 minutes of game time. She might be even more dangerous than Press in this respect.
Why she’s not starting: Playing for NC Courage appears to earn you a demerit
Mewis isn’t starting, Dunn has to play left back, Zerboni and Lynn Williams didn’t make the team, and Merritt Matthias didn’t seem to be seriously considered despite the lack of options at fullback. Ellis doesn’t seem to think Courage players can perform at the same level when they leave the Paul Riley Cult Commune.
Who she beat out and why: Savannah McCaskill
McCaskill had an unbelievable NWSL offseason campaign in Australia, but she also got hurt during it, and she didn’t get a chance to show her best at Sky Blue FC last season. You’ll get to see more of her soon.
19. Emily Sonnett, CB/RB
While Emily Sonnett is the undisputed MVP of posting, she’s the unheralded fourth defender on this squad.
What she brings off the bench: No-nonsense defending
Every team needs a defender who just Does Their Job, and that’s Sonnett. It’s also very helpful that she can play center back or right back.
Why she’s not a starter: Good question!
Sonnett has been excellent for the Thorns. There’s not really a clear argument for or against her starting over Dahlkemper or Davidson. They’re all about as good as each other, but Sonnett is a clear fourth on Ellis’ depth chart.
Who she beat out and why: She didn’t really have any competition
While Ellis has rotated in a lot of fringe players to try out for every other spot on the roster, center back has been set in stone for a year.
20. Morgan Brian, CM
Hello there, hero of the 2015 World Cup. We didn’t expect to see you here. Brian’s been really good for the Chicago Red Stars since she returned to NWSL, but up until this point, she appeared to be out of Ellis’ plans. Her call-up is a pleasant surprise.
What she brings off the bench: Smooth touch
Like Long, Brian is here because she’s stylistically different from the starters. She’s the smoothest on the ball of the American midfielders, and is a great player to bring in if you want to kill off a game.
Why she’s not a starter: Chronic injuries
When Brian almost singlehandedly turned around the USWNT at the last World Cup just a few months out of college, she was expected to become a superstar. Unfortunately, she’s had at least one bad injury per year since then.
Who she beat out and why: Andi Sullivan
While a bad coach and club season did not cost Lavelle and Pugh their spots on this team, it was the primary factor behind Sullivan not having a chance to prove herself. She already looks much better for the Spirit, though, and she’ll be back on the USWNT in no time.
21. Ali Krieger, RB
Hello there, REALLY did not expect to see you here! Krieger has been inexplicably exiled from the USWNT over the past two seasons in favor of whatever random player Ellis could dig up to play right back instead. It was very bizarre. Finally, Ellis has swallowed her pride and admitted she needs Krieger.
What she brings off the bench: She’s an actual right back
Dunn and O’Hara are converted wingers, and Sonnett primarily plays center back, but Krieger is an honest to god right back. Sometimes it’s good to have one of those.
Why she’s not a starter: She’s an actual right back
At fullback, Ellis wants converted wingers who bomb forward and contribute in attack more than she wants defenders. Krieger isn’t bad going forward, but she’s no O’Hara or Dunn.
Who she beat out and why: Casey Short
Short has been very good for Chicago and can play right and left back, but she contributes even less going forward than Krieger does, which is probably what cost her a spot.
22. Ashlyn Harris, GK
I haven’t checked, but I assume Ashlyn Harris is the reigning NWSL Save of the Week winner. Much to the annoyance of her fans, she is still Naeher’s backup.
What she brings off the bench: Elite shot stopping
Harris certainly has her detractors (me), but none of them can say anything against her shot-stopping abilities. Her highlight plays are more spectacular than anyone else’s. She makes saves that no one else can.
Why she’s not a starter: Big errors
She also fumbles the ball into her own net about twice as often as anyone who we could reasonably call an elite goalkeeper.
Who she beat out and why: Jane Campbell
Campbell has been on a USWNT contract for the last couple years, and she was very good for Houston Dash last season. But Harris has never lost her spot on the depth chart despite shaky club form, and Campbell wasn’t as good as…
23. Adrianna Franch, GK
Winning NWSL goalkeeper of the year two seasons in a row will apparently get you on the plane to France, but not much else.
What she brings off the bench: Big plays off her line
As far as we can tell, Franch is the third keeper, so she won’t be getting off the bench at all. But if she does play: She’s way better at coming off her line quickly and making clearances than Naeher or Harris.
Why she’s not a starter: Inertia
Naeher became the starter before Franch started playing like the best keeper in the pool, and she hasn’t been bad enough to lose her place. The USWNT is like Ivy League schools: It’s hard to get in, but once you’re in, you stay in.
Facebook has banned homocon troll Milo Yiannopoulos, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Nation of Islam Louis Farrakhan and others in a crackdown on hate.
CNN reports: ‘A Facebook spokesperson told CNN Business the company goes through a lengthy process and takes into consideration a number of factors before determining an individual to be “dangerous.”The Facebook spokesperson said such factors include whether the person or organization has ever called for violence against individuals based on race, ethnicity, or national origin; whether the person has been identified with a hateful ideology; whether they use hate speech or slurs in their about section on their social media profiles; and whether they have had pages or groups removed from Facebook for violating hate speech rules.’
Said Facebook in a statement: “We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology. The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today.”
Also banned: right-wing media personalities Laura Loomer, Paul Joseph Watson, and anti-Semite Paul Nehlen.
I gots to have more of this s’more.
The Rocky Mountain Vibes announced their new team name back in November, but it wasn’t until Thursday that we witnessed Toasty in his true form.
World, meet Toasty.
Toasty, meet World. pic.twitter.com/O0oCdevuBv
— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) April 27, 2019
Normally I wouldn’t consider eating something that wears shoes, but I’ll make an exception for Toasty. I really like everything that’s going on with this delicious sandwiched confection and I want him to get in my mouth.
Toasty’s four layers of deliciousness.
No. 1 — Graham Cracker.
Perfect level of golden toastiness. Good size. I like the slight buckling, which tells me it’s barely able to contain the marshmallow within.
No. 2 — The Marshmallow.
All I want in this world is to eat a marshmallow four times the size of my head. Call it a bucket list item, something on my dream board — it’s everything I could ever want.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “James, it’s a little weird to eat a marshmallow with a face, right?” Oh, you would be so wrong, dear reader. Toasty has a sly-ass smile that beckons you to take a bite of his face. The sunglasses also say “my future’s so bright I gotta wear shades, and also my future is getting in James’ mouth.”
No. 3 — That flame tho.
There are two types of s’mores connoisseurs in the world: Burners and turners.
The turner believes in lightly toasting the marshmallow by indirect heat in an effort to achieve melt without carbonization. These people are fine, but have too much time on their hands.
I am a burner. The life of a husky gentleman does not believe in waiting to achieve perfection when it comes to the world of the s’more. I want it on fire, flaming, charred and delicious. Crammed in my face hole with a level of rapidity that will singe the roof of my mouth and render it useless for the rest of the night. It’s a small price to pay to enjoy deliciousness.
Toasty’s flame looks like it was lit by a wizard, or perhaps a magical adept. I see no singe on its head mallow, leading me to believe this is a new kind of s’more toasting technique I need to try.
No. 4 — His legs.
I don’t even know what these are, but I have to eat them. I’ve never eaten a s’more with legs before — so this is uncharted territory. Are they more marshmallow? Chocolate? A delight the likes of which I’ve never had before?
I need to eat them to see.
In summation …
Toasty, I like everything that you’ve got going on and would like to eat you.
Thank you for your time.
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The Toronto Raptors’ forward cannot be stopped because he weaponizes his idiosyncratic tendencies.
To understand the essence of Pascal Siakam, all you have to do is watch one 22-second sequence from the Raptors’ Game 2 playoff victory over the Orlando Magic. (OK, so maybe you need to watch it a few times.)
In that short time span, Siakam:
- Fronted Aaron Gordon in the post, rather than be distracted by the pick-and-roll being set up at the top of the key.
- Locked and trailed Gordon’s tight curl into the lane when said misdirection failed.
- Switched onto the bigger Nikola Vucevic, even though Marc Gasol was also scurrying back to him.
- Stood up the bigger Vucevic in the post to enable Gasol to reach in and force the turnover.
- Sprinted the wing to create a transition opportunity.
- Finished with a right-handed dunk.
Any of those six tasks, by themselves, would have benefited the Raptors. It would have been enough if he simply fronted Gordon, or if he simply stopped Vucevic’s post-up, or even if he sprinted the floor to benefit from a turnover two other Raptors teammates created. But it’s only because Siakam followed through on all six that the Raptors got a critical four-point swing that converted a lead from 10 to 14.
There are other players in the NBA that can do those isolated things. But there isn’t another NBA player who actually does all six of those tasks in one 22-second span. Only Siakam plays so counterintuitively that a possession designed to take advantage of his supposed weaknesses instead showcased all of his greatest strengths.
Siakam’s game is impossible to define in any common basketball way. He’s not the first or maybe even second name on any Raptors scouting reports, yet he’s the one player the team cannot live without. Given all their personnel changes, injuries, and years of playoff baggage, Siakam’s ability to be a total wild card on any given night has been the Raptors’ one constant.
Expect Pascal Siakam to subvert opponents’ expectations
Identifying his tendencies on either end of the floor is fruitless because he’ll just flip them on their head. Defend him like a big man, and he’ll just become a point guard and run pick-and-roll.
Assume he’s more guard than big man, and he’ll back down and spin your guard into circles in the post.
Try to make him score, and he will. Try to make him pass, and he will. Try to leave him alone and load up on the Raptors’ other scorers, and he’ll increasingly knock down open looks, especially from the corner, where he’s upped his shooting percentages from 24 percent last year to 42 percent this season. Making him shoot is still best-case scenario, because he becomes more dangerous when he uses the space handed to him to drive, cut, spin, or somehow all three without dribbling.
— Sports Gifs & Videos (@Supreme_Gifs) December 4, 2018
Opponents also can’t run away from him on the other end. Trying to attack him off the dribble with quick guards has never really worked, even if those quick guards also are strong as hell. Even when pushed back, Siakam has the balance to stay upright and quick-jump forward to close the space most others would yield.
Life is even worse for opponents when they let him roam around off the ball. Siakam is the scariest closeout artist in the league, thanks to his court awareness, rapid reaction time, lateral speed, and 7’3’’ wingspan. Nobody came close to contesting more three-point shots this season, per NBA.com’s player tracking data. He blocked more corner threes (eight) than 22 entire teams.
If anything, these stats undersell his lateral speed. They don’t account for countless closeouts that are so scary that they prevent a shot from even going up.
This Pascal Siakam defensive possession is the epitome of what makes him so good pic.twitter.com/zA3bAQ5BhF
— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) April 8, 2019
Siakam’s able to do all of those things because even his footwork subverts expectations. We think well-rounded basketball players are such because they can dribble or shoot with either hand, but the key to Siakam’s success is that his feet are also ambidextrous. He can plant off the right or left foot, no matter which one is the “inside foot” and which one is the “outside foot.”
That’s allows him to get off those soft floaters that swish or kiss beautifully off the glass. He doesn’t need to actually create space to get by Brook Lopez on this drive. All he has to do is attack and then glide off his outside foot before Lopez can react.
This is technically considered a “wrong-footed” bucket, because it’s designed to get a shot up quickly rather than taking the extra step to power through a defender. But Siakam doesn’t have to sacrifice power for a quick release, nor does he lose any touch because he can control his body while leaping off either foot.
This is also the reason his spin move is so vicious. It is even quicker than most spins because Siakam is able to take on-balance shots from these foot positions, saving him a step the defense could use to recover.
Of course, he’s not just a wrong-footed driver. If a defender tries anticipate his quick-shot tricks, he can cut off their angle by leaping off the inside foot, as he did to Myles Turner on this play.
Or, make them look incredibly silly by pirouetting back the other way.
What player his size has this much acceleration and closing speed, all while using his feet in the opposite way most pros are taught? Even if an opponent is able to wrap its head around these odd tendencies, Siakam has so many quirks that it’s impossible to predict when, where, and how he’ll use them.
It’s no accident, then, that he particularly thrives within the chaos of transition, when the game’s existing structures are crumbling and reforming at rapid speed.
Pascal Siakam fast-forwards the Raptors to success
He is a one-man opportunity creator, conjuring chances for the Raptors no matter how prepared the opponent may be. According to Cleaning the Glass, a subscription-based advanced stat site engineered by former Trail Blazers and 76ers executive Ben Falk, Toronto led the league in points per possession on transition opportunities and most additional points created in such situations. They were also tops in both categories when narrowed down to transition opportunities that came specifically off defensive rebounds, rather than including turnovers. In plain English, that means Toronto created the most chaos situations in the league and converted them most effectively, a double whammy that makes them difficult to scout.
Siakam is the linchpin of that approach, whether he has the ball or not. In a league full of grab-and-go forwards that snatch rebounds and immediately push without an outlet pass, nobody transitions from grab to go as quickly Siakam.
The opponent can’t figure out what Siakam’s trying to do at full speed because he waits until the last moment to decide himself. That led to cringe-worthy turnovers early in his career, but the Raptors let him experiment anyway. The effect of that patience can be found with unlikely finishes and head-twisting passes from odd angles that somehow find their mark perfectly.
Nobody — nobody — runs the wing like Siakam when he doesn’t grab the board. He flies off the line of scrimmage like an Arena Football wide receiver, sprinting past the last defender for layups, deep post-ups, or simply to occupy one defender and open space for a teammate. It’s common for him to begin a change-of-possession as the furthest away from the bucket and still end up behind every other defender.
The end result is that Toronto picks up a handful of cheap points other teams wouldn’t. When Siakam is on the court, the Raptors average nearly 20 fast break points per 100 possessions, an elite number. When he’s on the bench, that number dips to 14.5 per 100 possessions — still good, but not elite. That difference is often what decides games, especially ones in the playoffs, where scoring points in half-court situations is often at a premium.
In a literal sense, Siakam is a wild card. He provides whatever additive, unique element his own team needs, using methods his opponents aren’t used to seeing and cannot predict even once they learn all of them.
There is no mold for Pascal Siakam
It’s common to see Siakam referred to as an “energy player,” even if it’s meant as a “GREAT thing” because “there’s so few guys in this league who play with his speed, energy, and passion,” as ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy insisted during a March 20 ESPN Raptors-Thunder broadcast.
Siakam pushes back on such coded because it reduces his attributes to physical characteristics rather than classifying them as a combination of outstanding skill and intelligence. It’s why he’s embraced the nickname “P-Skills,” to the point that it’s now his Twitter handle.
“I think it’s like a stigma with a lot of African players,” Siakam told CBS Sports’ James Herbert. “You come in, and we’re just bigs. We’re supposed to run the floor and do these things. But I always wanted to break that cycle.”
In addition to perpetuating racial stereotypes, defining Siakim as merely an “energy player” is a horribly incomplete way to describe the complexity and skill of his actual game. He does too many things too well to fit any mold. He confounds too many opponents by doing the unexpected to fit any cycle. There is only one Pascal Siakam.
— Sports Gifs & Videos (@Supreme_Gifs) December 4, 2018
This Pascal Siakam defensive possession is the epitome of what makes him so good pic.twitter.com/zA3bAQ5BhF
— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) April 8, 2019
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from The Trump Investigations Blog by Michael Novakhov – Review Of News And Opinions.
Even if the star center received money under the table to play college basketball, he was worth way more than what he got.
At this point, it almost doesn’t matter whether or not Deandre Ayton received a payment from Arizona or another affiliated party during his recruitment. As the second trial in the FBI’s college basketball corruption case continues in Manhattan, Ayton’s name has become synonymous with the black market perpetuated by wildly antiquated NCAA bylaws that continues to determine talent distribution in the sport.
Arizona has been involved in this mess since the very beginning, when assistant coach Book Richardson was arrested in the feds’ initial probe. Ayton’s name entered the mix a few short months later as ESPN dropped a massive report detailing a wiretapped conversation where Sean Miller allegedly discussed a $100K payment to procure Ayton. The timeline of that initial report didn’t match up with Ayton’s recruitment, and ESPN had to issue a correction.
Ayton’s name has come up again this week as another trial started in Manhattan. This time, $10K per month is the number in question. A wiretapped phone call between Richardson and disgraced agency runner Christian Dawkins was played in court, which inferred that’s how much Miller paid Ayton while he was at Arizona.
”We’ll see how Sean plays it out,” Dawkins said.
”You know what he bought per month?” Richardson asked.
”What he do?” Dawkins asked.
”I told you — 10,” Richardson replied.
”He’s putting up some real money for them [expletive],” Dawkins responded. “He told me he’s getting killed.”
”But that’s his fault,” Richardson said.
Like almost everything else that has come out during this trial, the recording feels damning but not exactly concrete. Perhaps Miller and Arizona will wiggle their way out of this only to welcome another top-ranked recruiting class next year. Regardless, the court of public opinion seems to have already made up its mind. If you Google Ayton’s name right now, no one is talking about his productive rookie season for the Phoenix Suns. Every result is about whether or not he got paid under the table in college.
Maybe Ayton did get a payment, somewhere between $10K per month or $100K total. We’ll likely never know for sure. But even if it’s true, one thing is for sure: Arizona got a bargain.
Ayton was worth way more than $10K per month for Arizona
Let’s put it in basketball terms first.
Ayton was the consensus No. 1 recruit in the class of 2017. Even dating back to when he was a sophomore in high school, Ayton was considered by some as the best prospect in the country regardless of class.
Miller had already established himself as one of the top recruiters in the sport by this time. In April of 2016, we wrote that Arizona was pulling more five-star prospects than any program but Duke and Kentucky. Then he landed Ayton.
Arizona had earned past commitments from big-time talents like Aaron Gordon, Lauri Markkanen, and Stanley Johnson, but Ayton was at a level above even them. For a program that was running the Pac-12 at that point but had yet to get past the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament, Ayton was a symbol that Arizona could now compete with any program in the country. They had national title expectations as soon as he arrived on campus.
Arizona stood to make a ton of money with Ayton. So did Sean Miller.
The NCAA makes more than $1 billion in revenue from basketball, with most of it coming from its TV deal with CBS/Turner. College basketball have a fascinating arrangement where that money is doled out to universities based on performance.
Just by making this year’s tournament, a school earns its conference a projected $1.67 million over the next six years, broken into annual payments from the NCAA that will start with $260,500 in 2016. A run all the way to the Final Four earns five units, or an estimated $8.33 million, which is the maximum for most teams. The NCAA stops awarding units after the national semifinals.
Arizona did make the tournament as a No. 4 seed with Ayton, who was the team’s best player by a wide margin and easily one of the best players in the country. Arizona also saw its attendance numbers go up to an average 14,000 fans per game, which was top-15 in the country and only slightly behind BYU for the best of teams in the western portion of the country. That’s without factoring in merchandise that was moved because of players like Ayton.
Landing Ayton meant Miller was in line for a big pay day, too.
Miller is only the No. 31 highest earning DI coach according to USA Today, taking home a salary of $2,700,000 per year that comes with large bonuses tied to performance. Yes, Ayton’s presence could have helped Miller hit those bonuses. But even more than that, this is a sport where one great run can immediately get you paid. Just look at Chris Beard’s new deal after leading Texas Tech to the national title game.
Yes, Arizona fell short with Ayton. The money they paid him is still a pittance.
By now, you know how this story ends: Arizona was upset by No. 13 seed Buffalo in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. As we wrote at the time, it was the final nail in how Arizona’s dream season turned into a nightmare.
Even after the loss, Ayton was still worth whatever he was allegedly paid. He gave Arizona a serious chance to finally break through to the Final Four. He gave Miller the opportunity to show he could compete with any head coach in the country. The earning potential through NCAA tournament units and raises/bonuses to Miller may not have come through, but Ayton still brought so much value to the program and its head coach.
More than anything, you can bet Ayton’s value would have been much, much greater than $10K per month on the free market. He’s made more than $8 million per year as a rookie in the NBA, and even that doesn’t show his true market value. NBA rookie contracts are slotted based on where you’re drafted. If the NBA had rookie free agency, Ayton would probably be earning twice that.
We may never know for sure if Ayton actually did get money from Miller and Arizona. One thing we do know is that, if he did get paid, he was well worth it.
Taron Egerton released a new version of Elton John’s classic “Rocket Man” ahead of the release of the biopic of the same name. Egerton sings all the tracks in Rocketman and the soundtrack is available for pre-order.
An official video featuring new footage from the film was released alongside the track.
Said Elton in a press release about the soundtrack: “It was so important that the music I composed and recorded had to be sung by Taron. I wanted his interpretation of me, through Bernie’s lyrics & my music – not just acting. I didn’t want to be in Taron’s shadows, watching over the process, I trusted them to do what they needed to do, artistically, and listening back I’ve been astonished with the results. Getting the music right was the most important thing, as the songs in the film are integral to the story.”
Added Egerton: “The beauty of having Elton involved with the film is we’ve been able to work with him to see how far we can take these classic songs. Giles Martin has impeccable taste and massive skills to bring the songs to a place where they are faithful and daring as well.”
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