Smith & Jones
Jameer Nelson can see upsets in this year’s NBA playoffs, but only three real contenders
July 07 2020
EDMONTON — Different, but the same.
The Davies’ arrived in Edmonton 15 years ago with next to nothing, Alphonso and his brother receiving their first bikes and soccer balls from an Edmonton charity called Sport Central. Draisaitl, meanwhile was the son of German hockey royalty, though he admits, “Germany just isn’t a big hockey country. That’s how it is.”
Today, Draisaitl is the Art Ross Trophy winner, the first German to become a scoring champion in an international league. Meanwhile Davies is in Deutchland, playing for Bayern Munich and fast becoming the best left back in the Bundesliga, if not the world.
“It’s funny,” Draisaitl said on a Friday Zoom call. “I actually talked to him today over the phone.”
The African kid with dazzling feet met the Cologne kid with 100-point hands when Davies dropped a puck at an Oilers game over the winter. He rolled in for the morning skate, and the two exchanged numbers.
“We stay in touch,” said Draisaitl, bedecked in a ball cap sporting the ‘K’ of his hometown soccer team (Koln). “I guess I kind of know what he’s going through right now, with soccer being so big back home, and hockey being so big in Canada. Coming over and trying to adjust. Find your rhythm, find your game… find your life a little bit, I guess.
“He’s becoming a very, very good player, he’s fun to watch and it’s fun to see.”
It will be fascinating to watch these two ascend in their sports, as both appear destined for a place not just near the top. But at the top, where only the very best players reside.
You’re rolling your eyes? Read on:
Draisaitl was the only 100-point player in the NHL this season, and as such, the only NHL player to have back-to-back 100-point seasons. Only Alex Ovechkin (99 goals) has more than Draisaitl’s 93 goals in the past two seasons.
Draisaitl is still 24, remember, with two 100-point seasons and one 50-goal season under his belt. He is in his fifth full NHL season.
Jarome Iginla played 21 seasons — more than 1,500 games — and is a walk-in, first ballot Hall of Famer in these eyes. He had two 50-goal seasons, but never scored 100 points.
Mats Sundin, a lanky, smooth centreman like Draisaitl: Never scored 50, had one 100-point season.
The Sedins brothers: One 100-point season each — neither scored 50.
Same for Daniel Alfredsson.
The great Saku Koivu? A career-high 75 points in 2006-07.
Young Mark Scheifele, a Team Canada shoe-in at the next international tournament, hasn’t had a 90-point season yet.
Draisaitl will turn 25 on Oct. 27, maybe later this season, perhaps early next. He’s is just now entering his prime, with an early scoring resume that many Hall of Famers already can’t touch.
“You know, when you come to numbers like this, there are always people who help you get there,” he said. “You dream of these things, no question. But until you do it, it seems so far away. I’m proud, in a way, but I still have lots of things to work on. It’s the cliché: There are many things in my game I can improve.”
We’ve said many times that Draisaitl has become what Evgeni Malkin is to Sidney Crosby for Connor McDavid. And as the Oilers furnish their two superstar centremen with enough wingers to consistently deploy them on separate lines, Draisaitl has found a way to be the power play shooter that McDavid needs him to be, and the puck-trading centreman Ryan Nugent-Hopkins requires. He was en route to a career year before the pause.
Along the way, Draisaitl has helped to solve a riddle that has puzzled this organization since they drafted Taylor Hall a decade ago. He has grown into a leader, a quality the Oilers no longer need to import from outside.
“When you’re young there’s not much for you to say,” Draisaitl said. “First of all, your play on the ice doesn’t have as big of an impact as it does now, at 24 years old and being in the league for a while. You change as a player, you change as a person a little bit… It’s been great to stick around the same group of guys for so many years now. Watching them grow, watching the team, the organization grow.”
McDavid is growing into his captaincy, the way his role on the Return to Play Committee helps him mature in his role as one of the faces of the game. Darnell Nurse is a leader here, a kid who grew up around athletes and has the DNA that it may take to finally resurrect this franchise as a winner.
If the NHL is the best league in the world, then the Oilers have two of the Top 10 players in the world in Draisaitl and McDavid. There is no reason, no excuse, why the Stanley Cup should not return to Edmonton in the near future.
“It’s definitely a lot of fun to be a part of,” Draisaitl said. “We still have a lot of upside as a team, and it’s fun to go through that, essentially with the same guys you started with.”
The Chicago Blackhawks have no intention of putting their team name on ice.
As the NFL’s Washington Redskins and MLB’s Cleveland Indians consider changes to their names and logos, which critics say demean Native Americans, the Blackhawks issued a statement to the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday night defending their name and intent.
“The Chicago Blackhawks name and logo symbolizes an important and historic person, Black Hawk of Illinois’ Sac & Fox Nation, whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans and the public,” the team’s statement began, according to the Sun-Times.
“We celebrate Black Hawk’s legacy by offering ongoing reverent examples of Native American culture, traditions and contributions, providing a platform for genuine dialogue with local and national Native American groups. As the team’s popularity grew over the past decade, so did that platform and our work with these important organizations.”
In recent years, the franchise has invited Native American groups to games for pregame ovations and in-game performances. A section on the team’s official website is devoted to the “legacy of Black Hawk.”
Yet some Native American groups consistently have criticized the Blackhawks, whose mascot is named Tommy Hawk.
“We recognize there is a fine line between respect and disrespect, and we commend other teams for their willingness to engage in that conversation,” the team’s statement continued. “Moving forward, we are committed to raising the bar even higher to expand awareness of Black Hawk and the important contributions of all Native American people.
“We will continue to serve as stewards of our name and identity, and will do so with a commitment to evolve. Our endeavours in this area have been sincere and multi-faceted, and the path forward will draw on that experience to grow as an organization and expand our efforts.”
Washington’s NFL team announced Friday it was conducting a “thorough review” of its name, with expectations of a change perhaps before the regular season starts in September. Cleveland’s MLB team announced later that day that it would “determine the best path forward with regard to our team name.”
As his team heads to the great unknown to defend their NBA championship, Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has given up trying to plot and plan and micromanage his way through a pandemic.
Instead he’s keeping an open mind and planning to roll with punches no one may see coming as the NBA gathers at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando to complete the 2019-20 regular season and start the playoffs.
The Raptors will be one of the last of 22 teams to move into what the league hopes will be a relatively antiseptic bubble, free from the coronavirus when they take a bus from where they’ve been training in Naples, Fla.
Normally coaches have a working script for almost every minute of pre-season training so as not to waste a precious moment and to set the right tone for what’s to follow.
These aren’t normal times. The Raptors have had their typical pre-season, back on October (and even that involved a side trip to Japan); they’ve had a month of individual workouts after the play was stopped March 11 due to the pandemic and they’ve just completed two weeks in their own mini-bubble in Naples where they’ve been doing individual work but together. Now they have three weeks at Disney World before they play eight so-called seeding games beginning Aug. 1.
“I would say my planning is very lean or [fluid], to be honest with you,” Nurse said on a conference call Tuesday. “I want to see kind of where we are at the first day or so before I kind of say ‘I see where we are at, I see where we are going and now I’m going to have to get down and chart the next week or 10 days out’. And I don’t really know where we are at. I mean I can see individually. I think we look really good, but what will that translate to when we get back to calling plays and running defences and doing some things? Where are we going to need to go from there?”
Nurse is already prepared for some diversions.
Several of his players — not to mention the team’s coaching and support staff — are parents and in the early stages of what could be a minimum of seven weeks away from their families. Nurse himself has two little ones three and under.
So, while a typical training camp environment is designed to leave the outside world behind for a little bit and become immersed in all things basketball, when hoops are all there is going on in the ‘bubble’ some outside world distractions will be welcomed and encouraged.
“For me, I would say that it starts with conversation, when you’re bumping into Fred [VanVleet] or Kyle [Lowry], and you’re asking ’em how are the wife and kids, and what are they doing, and when was the last time you talked to them,” said Nurse. “There’s a lot more of that going on than I would say normally would happen.
“It’s not like we don’t do it normally but there’s a lot more now because we’re all showing pictures and whatever. I just think from my standpoint, it’s another one of those things you’d be more lenient on.
“Like, I don’t know, what’s an example? Well, we’re getting ready to start a meeting and right as that happens, somebody says ‘oh, man, my kid’s FaceTiming me, and you say take it, go out in the hall and take it and we’ll wait for you’ or whatever.
“I think sometimes hooking up with schedules and kids, sometimes when those FaceTime calls come, you’ve gotta take ’em and drop everything you’re doing.”
Nurse can relate.
“Like, when I left, I have a three-year-old kid… he didn’t quite understand how long I’m gonna be gone. I told him I’m gonna coach some games, and he said well I’m gonna wait right here for ya.
“I hope he’s moved from that spot because it’s gonna be a while.”
As far as basketball is concerned Nurse remains bullish on his team, which will carry a 46-18 record into the restart — second-best in the East and third in the NBA — even though it will be four months since his team has played a game or even practised 5-on-5.
Nurse has been in the gym watching his charges go through solo workouts with the aid of the Raptors coaching and development staff and likes what he sees.
“I would imagine with everybody there’ll be a little bit of rhythm adjustment from the game,” he said. “Conditioning, rhythm and remembering sets and all that kind of stuff, that’ll take some time as well.
“But I look, if you walked in the gym this morning and watched them workout you wouldn’t have known they missed two months without touching a ball, I don’t think.”
Smith & Jones
Jameer Nelson can see upsets in this year’s NBA playoffs, but only three real contenders
July 07 2020
Leading the way has been Raptors engine Kyle Lowry, the veteran point guard who sets the culture for a team that refuses to take a step back.
“He is looking awesome. I mean like really awesome,” said Nurse. “He is really working hard. He is going at it. He comes into camp always in great shape, full of energy and feisty and all that stuff and he is. He’s going at it. He’s working extremely hard very early in the morning in all facets — his conditioning, his shooting. He’s good. He looks good and his workouts have been excellent.”
Those are the knowns, the things Nurse can rely on as the strangest season in NBA history hits another milestone moment. His team is healthy, his players are prepared and his floor leader looks ready to rock, even as they navigate a new normal without the familiarity of home or family.
Nurse does have one plan in mind when the Raptors take the practice floor for the first time — likely on Saturday.
He’s going to let’em play. It’s been a while.
“I know that I’m sensing they really want to play basketball. I don’t think they want to do drills. So it may be a little different where you drill short, scrimmage long early just to get that feel and then go back and drill longer on things you think you need to do.”
And if there’s a FaceTime call from a wee one? Everyone will adjust.
The NBA is confident they can secure the bubble from positive COVID-19 cases, but Adam Silver said on Tuesday that any significant number of positive tests inside the protected campus could result in a second shut down of the season.
“I think we do have the ability to trace, of course to try to understand where that positive case came from,” Silver said of any positive cases inside the Walt Disney World campus. “We can actually analyze the virus itself and try to track whether if there is more than one case, if it’s in essence the same virus and same genetic variation of the virus that is passed from one player to another or two people have gotten it on the campus independently. So those are all things that we are looking at.”
“Certainly if we had any sort of significant spread within our campus, we would be shut down again.”
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