Happy Friday, my friends!
Programming note: We will be OFF next week. See you back here on Monday, Feb. 25. If you're in dire need of a hot take while I'm gone, hit me up on Twitter.
P.S. Weather postponed Tiger Woods' round yesterday, so the pick 'em contest was voided. Ugh, sorry. Hope you enjoyed the first week! Congrats again to all of our winners.
Photo: Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Murray State sophomore point guard Ja Morant is months away from being a lottery pick in the NBA draft, with many scouts projecting him to go as high as No. 2 overall.
Why it matters: This wasn't supposed to happen.
Fast-forward to this year: Morant is putting up unprecedented numbers: 24.3 points, 10.1 assists, 5.4 rebounds per game, while shooting nearly 50% from the field.
What they're saying:
"I saw flashbacks of a lot of guys I played against. Whether it's Isiah Thomas ... that craftiness and cleverness. John Stockton passing ability. Russell Westbrook athletic ability. My god."— Alabama head coach Avery Johnson (via AL.com)
The big picture: If Morant's draft stock holds, the South Carolina native will become the first mid-major player this century to be selected in the top 5 of the NBA draft. Some other mid-major products:
Last night: Morant scored 32 points, dished out 7 assists and grabbed 6 boards in Murray State's 73-71 win over Austin Peay.
🎥 Watch: Highlight reel
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
"Seven players from Finland, a country of 5.5 million, have been top 10 draft picks since 2013, and nearly all of them are playing significant roles on their NHL teams," writes the NYT's Andrew Knoll. They include:
What's happening: Beginning in 2009, Finnish officials made "considerable investments and sweeping changes" that emphasized player development.
What they're saying:
"The Finnish player type used to be the very reliable, solid, two-way player who had a very successful career, maybe on lower lines. Now we have these individuals coming up with amazing skill, and I feel like there's something to that exposure and kids being able to see, copy and try on their own."— Predators goalie, and Finland native, Pekka Rinne
What's next: "The Finnish pipeline shows no signs of drying up," writes Knoll. "Right wing Kaapo Kakko is expected to be a top 5 pick in the coming draft in June."
Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
30-year-old closer Craig Kimbrel has a 1.91 career ERA and a 97 on Bill James' Hall of Fame monitor (100 is a Hall of Famer).
What's happening: In the 2019 baseball world, traditional closers don't hold the same value they used to, writes The Athletic's Peter Gammons (subscription).
The bottom line: "The game no longer is one pitcher getting three outs at the end of the game and two or three setup men," an anonymous National League GM told Gammons.
More MLB: Picking every team's Mount Rushmore
Oaks Christian High School (Westlake Village, Calif.) star Jimmy Clausen. Photo: Danny Moloshok /Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images
2006: Matthew Stafford (Georgia): Stafford broke tons of passing records at Georgia before being drafted No. 1 overall by the Detroit Lions in 2009.
2007: Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame): Evaluators called Clausen "the kid with the golden arm," but the stardom he was destined for never came. He went 16-18 at Notre Dame and made 14 starts in his brief NFL career.
2008: Terrelle Pryor (Ohio State): Pryor was an absolute stud for the Buckeyes, but his success was overshadowed by the scandal that forced him to leave school.
2009: Matt Barkley (USC): Barkley left USC as the Pac-12's all-time leading passer and holds the school record for career passing yards (12,327) and TD passes (116). He was drafted by the Eagles in 2013.
2010: Philip Sims (Alabama): After losing his starting job in Tuscaloosa, Sims transferred to Virginia then D-II Winston-Salem University. He spent some time in the NFL but ultimately flamed out.
2011-15: Jeff Driskell (Cincinnati Bengals), Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Max Browne (YouTube football analyst), Kyle Allen (Carolina Panthers), Josh Rosen (Arizona Cardinals)
P.S. In related news, a fake recruit named Blake Carringer might have just changed recruiting rankings forever.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
From Mike Sykes: The NBA's best gather in Charlotte this weekend to play zero defense and create a bunch of highlights. Here's a quick primer to get you ready.
Rising Stars Game (Tonight, 9 pm ET)
3-point Contest (Saturday, ~9 pm ET)
Slam Dunk Contest (Saturday, ~10 pm ET)
All-Star Game (Sunday, 7 pm ET)
Go deeper: Five things to look forward to
Photo: George Gojkovich/Getty Images
23 years ago today, the Cleveland Browns fired Bill Belichick just over three months after owner Art Modell announced he'd be moving the team to Baltimore.
What happened: During the 1994-95 season, Belichick led the Browns to an 11-5 record and a playoff win over the New England Patriots of all teams — the franchise's last postseason victory.
Answer at the bottom.
Iceland's Thor Bjornsson, who plays "The Mountain" on HBO's "Game of Thrones," deadlifted 1,042 pounds in a video posted yesterday. Same.
Watch: Full video on Instagram
Kendall "I'll miss you" Baker
Trivia answer: Julius Peppers and Donovan McNabb