May 10, 2019

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

๐ŸŽ‰ Happy Friday! If the Rockets beat the KD-less Warriors at home tonight (9pm ET), we will be treated to three Game 7s on Sunday thanks to the Blazers and Sixers both winning last night. Would be epic.

1 big thing: ๐Ÿ€ College hoops scandal moves from FBI to NCAA

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Following a two-week trial, jurors on Wednesday returned guilty verdicts on just three of the 10 charges faced by Christian Dawkins and Merl Code, two of the main defendants in the college basketball bribery scandal.

  • "Any time you beat the federal government on seven of 10 counts, that's a win," Dawkins told the Times after exiting the courthouse.

Why it matters: This was the final major trial as part of the FBI's wide-ranging investigation โ€” an underwhelming conclusion to a case that the U.S. Attorney's Office said would "expose the dark underbelly of college basketball."

  • In the end, federal prosecutors were only able to score a small victory, putting the onus on the NCAA to carry this investigation forward โ€” or let it fizzle out.

What happened: Four Power 5 assistant coaches, two former Adidas employees, one wannabe agent, one financial adviser and one former NBA referee were convicted.

  • That's it. A few minor actors in a vast scandal that touched Kansas head coach Bill Self for crying out loud. Underbelly = not exactly exposed.
  • Meanwhile, LSU coach Will Wade and Arizona coach Sean Miller were caught on wiretaps talking about paying recruits, but never even took the witness stand after the judge nixed their testimonies.

The bottom line: On Sept. 26, 2017, the FBI announced with great fanfare that it had made numerous arrests as part of a massive investigation that promised to shake college basketball to its core.

  • Two years and millions of tax dollars later, what did that investigation amount to? "A fart in a stiff wind," writes SI's Andy Staples. A big old fart.

What's next: The feds got what they wanted โ€” convictions, which is the only score that matters to them. Now, it's up to the NCAA to go after the big names.

  • Problem is, they don't have access to the FBI's information and, without subpoena power, can't demand that Dawkins, Code and other defendants speak with their investigators.
  • As a result, this saga will likely drag on for months, maybe even years, and there's a decent chance nothing much comes of it โ€” a strange yet not entirely unexpected outcome to a scandal that nobody even cares about anymore.

Go deeper: "Money, bribes and basketball": The trial of Christian Dawkins

2. ๐Ÿ“Š Three-pointers lead the sports revolutions
Expand chart
Data: Sports Reference; Note: NFL data through 2018 season, MLB 2019 data through May 8; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Searching for every edge, modern analytics drive sports to hyper-optimize their strategies.

  • NFL passing is way up and MLB home runs have risen to historic heights โ€” but neither can touch the rise of the NBA three-pointer, writes Axios' Andrew Witherspoon.

Breaking down the revolutions:

  • NBA: In the 20-year span of 1980โ€“2000, NBA teams averaged 2.6 three-pointers per game. This season, they averaged 11.4(!!!). Barring progressive rule changes, this analytics-influenced explosion shows no signs of stopping.
  • MLB: Whether it's the balls, launch angles or absurd velocity of modern pitchers, dingers have never been hit at a higher rate than the 1.30 per game mark so far this year. Even at the peak of the "steroid era" in 2000, home runs topped out at 1.17 per game.
  • NFL: A correlation between winning and passing-oriented offenses led NFL teams to pass for a record 243.8 yards per game in 2015, up from 221.6 in 2010, 206.9 in 2000 and 194.8 in 1990. This revolution is the weakest of the three, however, with multiple dips occurring throughout the years. From 2015-2017, for example, passing yards dropped every season.
3. ๐Ÿ“ธ Meanwhile, in the NBA and NHL playoffs...
Photo: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA โ€” A fan holds up a sign after the Sixers' 112-101 win over the Raptors to force a Game 7 in Toronto on Sunday.

  • MVP: Contract-year Jimmy Buckets dropped 25 points, his third straight game leading all Sixers, and added eight assists, six boards and two steals.
Photo: Aaron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

PORTLAND โ€” Nuggets coach Mike Malone exits the floor after his team's 119-108 loss to the Trail Blazers. Game 7 will be in Denver on Sunday.

  • MVP: Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum did their thing (62 combined points), but Rodney Hood (25 points) was clutch off the bench once again. He's been huge this series, putting up 16 ppg after averaging just 11 during the season.
Photo: Michael Tureski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

BOSTON โ€” The Hurricanes gave up five goals in their entire second-round series against the Islanders. It took just one game for the Bruins to score that many, with Boston taking Game 1 by the score of 5-2.

  • MVP: Patrice Bergeron's fifth power play goal of the postseason stood as the game-winner โ€” one of four unanswered goals the Bruins scored in the third period.
4. ๐ŸŽฎ ESPN's first College Esports Championship
Courtesy: ESPN

The first-ever ESPN Collegiate Esports Championship goes down in Houston this weekend, with semifinals and finals across five game titles: Street Fighter V, Overwatch, StarCraft II, Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm.

  • Details: Hundreds of schools competed in qualifiers to make it here โ€ฆ ESPN will stream all the action on their Twitch channel ... a recap/highlights show will air on linear TV later this month.

Competing schools:

  • Street Fighter V: NJIT, UNLV, Lambton College (Ontario), Sheridan College (Wyoming)
  • Overwatch: Utah, Rutgers, NJIT, Grand Canyon University (Phoenix), Carleton University (Ontario), Maryville University (St. Louis), Harrisburg University (Penn.), Orange Coast College (Calif.)
  • StarCraft II: Cal-Berkeley, UCSD, University of Chicago and University of Waterloo (Ontario)
  • Hearthstone: Oregon, Georgia Tech, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and Rochester Institute of Technology (N.Y.)
  • Heroes of the Storm: Cal Poly, Rutgers

Go deeper.

5. ๐Ÿˆ Why NFL players skipping workouts is fine
Screenshot from Odell Beckham Jr.'s Instagram feed.

NFL players like Odell Beckham Jr. and Le'Veon Bell have received some flack for skipping out on their team's voluntary offseason workouts.

  • I've never understood this reaction from fans and the media, as the workouts are "voluntary" for a reason. On top of that, players who choose to skip them are, in many cases, actually making the better decision when it comes to getting their bodies in shape.

Former NFL QB Chris Simms explains (via NBC Sports):

  • "This is something that I think needs to be put on the radar of fans: When you go and train with your football team, most weight staffs have three trainers, maybe four this time of the year. Meanwhile, there are 90 players."
  • "Odell doesn't want to do some of the same drills that a 315-pound defensive tackle is doing. He has the money and the assets to hire his own trainer [see above], and on a daily basis, work on the things that get him better."
  • "We have this thing in the sports world where we think just because it's a professional team and just because it's the NFL, that they must have the best stuff that money can buy."
  • "But let me just tell you: The NFL is years behind in training and they're years behind in rehabilitation. A lot of these personal trainers that guys [like Odell] are using are way higher-level than the ones training NFL teams."

The bottom line: "I just want people to back off the player a little bit to understand the full scope of the situation," said Simms.

  • "In a perfect world, would you love the guys to be at voluntary workouts? Yes. But at the end of the day, they're professionals. They know what it takes to be in shape and perform at a high level."

Go deeper: How NFL players prepare for the regular season, explained by a former lineman

6. ๐Ÿ’ May 10, 1970: Bobby Orr soars into history

Who says hockey players can't jump? Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

49 years ago today, Boston Bruins defenseman Bobby Orr scored the game-winning goal in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final to sweep the St. Louis Blues and win the Bruins' first title since 1941.

  • The celebration: Orr celebrated his goal by "flying through the air" โ€” a moment that has since been immortalized as a statue outside TD Garden.
  • P.S. ... We could get a Stanley Cup Final rematch of Bruins-Blues this year.

Go deeper:

7. ๐Ÿ€ NBA trivia
  • Question: Damian Lillard recorded his 15th 30-point playoff game as a Trail Blazer last night, passing which player for most in franchise history?
  • Hint: He was in the same draft class as Ralph Sampson and Doc Rivers.

Answer at the bottom.

8. The Ocho: ๐ŸŒŠ Climate change's impact on surfing
Photo: Stefan Matzke/Corbis via Getty Images

Climate change is warming the ocean and, in turn, transforming wave conditions. Surfers are on the front lines of these changes, and they're "pretty conflicted about what lies ahead," writes the WashPost's Rick Maese.

  • The bad news: The whole climate change thing. ... Oceanographers also warn that dying reefs will change how waves break, and that "rising sea levels could mean other swells roll right over reliable breaking points without ever 'tripping,' leaving the swells flat and surfers without waves."
  • The silver lining (if there is one): Warming oceans have created a "golden age" of big-wave surfing. Storms are getting bigger and more frequent, which is creating waves that are more powerful and, in many places, much bigger.

The bottom line, according to big-wave surfing pioneer Laird Hamilton:

"The ocean feels a little sick right now. We know it'll create bigger surf than we've ever had, but it could also create longer periods of no surf [and] make waves come from weird directions that don't hit reefs the same way. Overall, I don't think itโ€™s great โ€” not great for mankind and not great for surfers either."
9. Everything else

Photo: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

๐Ÿ† Lacrosse: The men's and women's lacrosse tournaments get going this weekend, and the NYT has a great piece on how the sport's rapid growth has pushed it far beyond the East Coast โ€” stiffening the competition and sweeping aside traditional powers.

โšพ๏ธ MLB: Rangers slugger Joey Gallo hit 100 home runs faster than anyone in AL history (377 games). But get this: He only has 93 career singles(!!!), making him the first player in history to reach 100 homers quicker than 100 singles. For context, Jean Segura hit 136 singles last season.

๐Ÿˆ NFL: The Seahawks released legend Doug Baldwin yesterday, marking the end of an era in Seattle ... and the Dolphins signed Xavien Howard to a five-year, $75.5 million extension, making him the highest-paid CB in the league.

โšฝ๏ธ Soccer: The Europa League final (Arsenal vs. Chelsea) and the Champions League final (Liverpool vs. Tottenham) will both be All-England affairs. So far, 2019 is the year of the Premier League.

โšพ๏ธ MLB: If you were sitting in the stands and you caught Albert Pujols' 2,000th RBI, would you keep it or give it back? Great story out of Detroit.

10. ๐Ÿ“บ 1 cameo thing
Courtesy: Green Bay Packers

It sounds like Aaron Rodgers could be making a cameo appearance in "Game of Thrones" this weekend. Though he won't be playing himself, of course, it got me thinking about athletes who have in the past.

Got one to add? Post it in the thread.

Kendall Baker

Enjoy the weekend,

Kendall "Wait, Bryce Harper has a brother in the minors?" Baker

Trivia answer: Clyde Drexler