Apr 2, 2020

Axios Sports

Kendall Baker

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Today's word count: 1,665 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏀 The weirdest NBA draft ever
Table: Axios Visuals

The 2020 NBA draft was already shaping up to be the weirdest draft in years, and now that the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the sports world, it could be the weirdest draft ever.

  • While most drafts have a clear hierarchy by the time April rolls around, this draft does not. There's no reliable No. 1 pick, almost every top-10 prospect has a glaring weakness and the global sports hiatus has shrouded the whole class in mystery.
  • Think about it: How much do you actually know about Anthony Edwards? Did you watch LaMelo Ball play a single game in Australia? Have you ever even heard of Deni Avdija? It's an odd class, made odder by the circumstances.

The state of play: A month ago, front office executives thought they'd be evaluating talent during March Madness, foreign league playoffs, the combine and individual workouts.

  • Now the entire pre-draft process is up in the air, and with the NBA season in flux, it's not even clear when the draft will be held.

What they're saying:

"The high-ranking decision-makers who have been working all year aren't going to miss a beat. It's going to expose the GMs who were flying around with their teams staying in Four Seasons rather than going [to scout] in Dayton, Ohio, and staying at the Courtyard Marriott. If there are no more data points coming in, they're screwed."
— Anonymous front office exec, via B/R

Between the lines: Teams will still interview prospects, but they'll likely have to do so virtually, so the in-person interactions and up-close observations that often lead to players moving up (or down) draft boards are gone.

  • Without interviews and workouts, front offices will place a greater emphasis on game tape, which could benefit upperclassmen who have a larger body of work, while hurting those with less available video like James Wiseman (played three games at Memphis), Ball (played 12 games in Australia) and raw international prospects who don't get much playing time.

In related news ... The five finalists for the John R. Wooden Award were announced yesterday: Obi Toppin (Dayton), Luka Garza (Iowa), Myles Powell (Seton Hall), Udoka Azubuike (Kansas) and Markus Howard (Marquette).

2. 📚 Out now: "The Second Life of Tiger Woods"

Courtesy: Simon & Schuster

Tiger Woods is many things — fierce competitor, 15-time major champion, international celebrity. But more than anything, he's a person, just like you and me, writes Axios' Jeff Tracy.

  • Discovering who that person is takes more than watching him play, though, which is why Golf Magazine senior writer Michael Bamberger wrote his new book, "The Second Life of Tiger Woods."

🎙️ Interview: I spoke with Michael yesterday to learn more about why he wrote the book, and why he finds Tiger to be such a fascinating case study.

JT: When did you first realize this was a book worth writing?

"When Tiger came back in 2018 after the Memorial Day arrest in May of 2017, he seemed, not a changed person — I've been hearing people using that a lot — but a person who was changing; a person who was making an effort in ways he hadn't before.
"So in August of 2018, I called my editor and said, 'I don't know what Tiger's doing, but it's different, he's different, he's changing ... and I think there's a book here.'"

JT: Winning the Masters last year must have been an incredible development for you. How'd you incorporate that into the narrative?

"I was actually rooting for Francesco Molinari for a number of reasons, one of which is, I like the guy. But also, knowing I was writing a book about Tiger Woods, I just thought losing — but getting close — would reveal more about his character than winning. And I would be real interested to see how he handles that.
"The book takes a deep, deep analysis of what Tiger did to win: When he got lucky, who said what to whom, what Finau saw, what Molinari saw, what Joe LaCava, his caddie, did. Trying to really — y'know, more than TV ever could — take a look at the shots he played and how he did it."

JT: What was your biggest takeaway about Tiger, the man, after you finished writing the book?

"In '95, when I first saw him, he was a dead, stone, killer. 'You're in my way. Move.' That was his attitude as a professional golfer. No one ever had that attitude prior to him.
"Then came Memorial Day 2017, and he emerged out of that as a person who was — to use a highfalutin, modern phrase — 'on some kind of empathy journey.' Someone who had developed a deep sense of gratitude.
"That's why the life and times of Tiger Woods really should be meaningful to the rest of us. We're not gonna play golf that well and we're not gonna have his level of fame or pressure, but wherever you are in your life, you can make a change."

Buy the book.

3. ⚾️ Baseball hits pause, but fantasy rolls on

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Jeff writes: Baseball probably isn't coming back any time soon. Fantasy baseball, on the other hand, can still live on. And in that life, interested parties — like myself — have stumbled upon a strategy to adapt to our new reality.

  • Without the pandemic, we'd be exactly one week into the 2020 regular season right now. But with the season delayed, certain players' fantasy values could change drastically.

What they're saying: Jared Diamond and Andrew Beaton explored this idea for the Wall Street Journal (subscription):

"Both experts and casual players say this bizarre situation has led them to new strategies that had never previously been considered. Injured players are suddenly a great value. Young pitchers who were going to have their seasons cut short because of team-imposed innings limits are a giant market inefficiency."

My take: I'm in two leagues myself, and though one postponed the draft indefinitely, the other took place as scheduled on March 21. While making my selections, I considered the uncertain, but definitely shortened season.

  • Padres starter Garrett Richards hasn't pitched a full season since 2015 and only returned from Tommy John last September, but when healthy he's shined, so I took a flier on him in the 20th.
  • Orioles slugger Trey Mancini is a top talent, but just two days before our draft he underwent surgery to remove a malignant tumor that will keep him out a while. But with plenty of time to recover, a rival manager drafted him pretty close to where he'd been projected to go pre-surgery.
4. 🤸‍♀️ Biles won't commit to Tokyo 2021

Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Most female gymnasts have a small window of time to compete in the Olympics before their bodies mature, so it was a huge deal that Simone Biles was set to defend her all-around title this summer at age 23.

  • Driving the news: Now that the Games have been delayed a year, Biles, the most decorated gymnast in history, isn't sure if she will compete.

What she's saying: "I'm still taking it day by day to see if I'll continue or what's going to happen. Mentally, I don't know if I can handle it. It's going to be hard. I was already battling with myself mentally if I could do it this year," Biles told NYT.

  • "To take your foot off the gas and reset, it's hard because I was emptying my gas tank and we need to find ways to fill that back up," she told AP.
  • "This year I was just doing it for me, no expectations. Now it's all eyes again on you, wondering, 'Can she do it, now she's a year older?' You're like, 'Oh, shoot.'"
5. 🇯🇵 The "Missing Olympics"
Photo: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

"The exhibits in the Japan Olympic Museum in central Tokyo ... are devoted primarily to the history of the Olympics and Japan's participation," NYT's Ken Belson writes:

  • "But tucked into a corner, almost as if it were an afterthought, is a display about the 1940 Tokyo Games, sometimes called the 'Missing Olympics.'"

History lesson: The 1940 Winter Olympics were undone by Japan's government, which returned the invitation to host the Games due to the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War.

  • The IOC decided to give the Olympics to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, where the previous Games had been held.
  • But five months later, on Sept. 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, igniting World War II. Two months later, the Winter Games were canceled.

Why it matters: The circumstances were much different (canceled due to war vs. postponed due to COVID-19), "but there are many echoes that make those 'Missing Olympics' relevant today," writes Belson.

Keep reading.

6. 📊 By the numbers
A drawing of Wilfred Baddeley and Joshua Pim in action during the 1891 Wimbledon men's final. Photo: Rischgitz/Getty Images
  • 🎾 143 years: Wimbledon has been canceled, marking the first time since the tournament began in 1877 that it will not be played during peacetime.
  • 🏈 4-year absence: The Cowboys have signed talented-but-troubled pass rusher Aldon Smith, who burst onto the scene a decade ago and has 47.5 sacks in 59 career games, but hasn't played since he was suspended in 2015.
  • 🏈 40 plays: Free agent Jameis Winston has been labeled a turnover machine, which he is. But here's a stat worth knowing: Since 2006, the only three QBs with 40 turnover-worthy plays in a season — Winston (2019), Carson Palmer (2013) and Andrew Luck (2012) — were in their first year with Bruce Arians...
7. April 2, 2001: ⚾️ Ichiro's debut

Photo: Dan Levine/AFP via Getty Images

19 years ago today, Ichiro Suzuki made his debut for the Seattle Mariners, going 2-for-5 with one run scored in a win over the Oakland Athletics.

  • Why it matters: He was the first Japanese position player to play in an MLB game, paving the way for more Japanese players to follow and ultimately becoming one of the greatest hitters of all time.

By the numbers:

  • 4,367 hits: Between MLB (3,089) and NPB (1,278), Ichiro has recorded the most hits in professional baseball history.
  • 262 hits: In 2004, Ichiro set the MLB single-season hits record with 262, breaking George Sisler's 84-year-old record of 257.
  • 10 x 200: Ichiro is one of just two players in MLB history (Pete Rose) with ten 200-hit seasons, and they all came consecutively ... to begin his career.
  • Two players: He's also one of just two players in MLB history (Fred Lynn) to earn the MVP and Rookie of the Year the same season (2001).

Go deeper: When winter never ends (you should really read this if you haven't)

8. The Ocho: 🇰🇵 "Running in North Korea"

Screenshot: Olympic Channel (YouTube)

Before social distancing became the norm, Olympians Aimee Fuller and Mirjam Jaeger cut themselves off from the world to travel to North Korea to run in the 2019 Pyongyang Marathon, the only sports event open to foreigners.

  • The two athletes spent a week meeting fellow Olympians and learning about the local sports culture in the most isolated country in the world.

🎬 Watch: "Running in North Korea" (45 minutes)

9. ⚾️ MLB trivia

The 2015 World Series was the first to feature two expansion teams.

  • Question: Who were the two teams?
  • Hint: Both franchises have two World Series titles.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 📸 The view from quarantine

Thanks for all the submissions! Randomly picked four. Will have more tomorrow.

Courtesy: Samantha

Samantha in Seattle (Mt. Rainier in background).

Courtesy: Amy

Amy in Keweenaw Peninsula, Michigan (we're at 268.1 inches this year).

Courtesy: Kevin

Kevin in South Central Los Angeles (looking NE towards downtown).

Courtesy: Geoff

Geoff in Spring Island, South Carolina (still enjoying the dailies!).

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "This was good" Baker

Trivia answer: Royals and Mets