Axios Sports

A large foam finger.

March 10, 2022

👋 Good morning! MLB canceled more games, and the Lakers embarrassed themselves. What else is new?

🚨 Breaking news: The U.K. has sanctioned seven Russian businessmen, including Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. All assets have been frozen.

Today's word count: 1,533 words (6 minutes).

Let's sports...

1 big thing: 🏀 An MVP race for the ages

Stats through Tuesday, March 8. Data: Basketball Reference; Table: Thomas Oide/Axios
Stats through Tuesday, March 8. Data: Basketball Reference; Table: Thomas Oide/Axios

This season's NBA MVP race is one for the ages, and you can watch two of the favorites play back-to-back tonight on TNT, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

State of play: Nikola Jokić, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo — three bigs with three very different games — are having historically great seasons.

  • Embiid's Player Efficiency Rating (PER), a catch-all measure of a player's impact, is the 11th-best mark ever (31.55) — and the worst of the three.
  • Entering Wednesday, Jokić (32.43) and Antetokounmpo (32.35) held the top two spots all-time. Update: Jokić went for 38-18-7 last night, while Giannis put up 43-12-5 and reclaimed the PER lead.

What they're saying: The Athletic's John Hollinger, who developed PER, is convinced we "may never see three simultaneous supernova seasons quite like this again."

"[A]ll three are [having] runaway MVP seasons, the type of campaigns that normally result in a player hoisting the trophy with hardly a dissenting vote. I have absolutely no earthly idea how we're supposed to pat somebody on the head with a 'third place' among this trio."
— Hollinger (subscription)

By the numbers: Perhaps no stat illustrates this trio's value better than the fact that their teams are all roughly 10 points worse when they're off the floor than when they're on. Of course, traditional stats tell the same story.

  • Jokić has 75 triple-doubles in 511 career games. Only Oscar Robertson reached 75 faster (182 games). He's carrying Denver with Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. sidelined.
  • Embiid has put up 40+ points and 10+ rebounds in 10 games. The only players with more in a season since the merger, Russell Westbrook and Moses Malone, both won MVP that year.
  • Antetokounmpo has been unstoppable in his last two games, averaging 41 points while shooting 68% from the field for the defending champions.

The big picture: All three stars were born within a year of one another in foreign countries, evidence of the NBA's international growth. Jokić is Serbian, Embiid is Cameroonian and Antetokounmpo is Greek.

Zoom out: Jokić, Embiid and Antetokounmpo, all 27 years old, headline an MVP race heavy on young talent. No other player has a real shot, but here are our top 10 candidates anyway:

  1. Jokić, 27 (Nuggets)
  2. Embiid, 27 (76ers)
  3. Antetokounmpo, 27 (Bucks)
  4. Ja Morant, 22 (Grizzlies)
  5. DeMar DeRozan, 32 (Bulls)
  6. Luka Dončić, 23 (Mavericks)
  7. Devin Booker, 25 (Suns)
  8. Jayson Tatum, 24 (Celtics)
  9. Stephen Curry, 33 (Warriors)
  10. LeBron James, 37 (Lakers)

What to watch: Embiid's 76ers host the Nets tonight (7:30pm ET, TNT) in for a drama-filled affair (James Harden, Ben Simmons, etc). Jokić's Nuggets host the Warriors in the nightcap (10pm, TNT).

Go deeper: The top 25 players this season (The Ringer)

2. 🏒 Chart du jour: Most goals since 1996

Data: Hockey Reference; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Hockey Reference; Chart: Axios Visuals

NHL teams are scoring an average of 3.09 goals per game this season.

Why it matters: That's the most since the 1995-96 season, which was before many of the league's stars were born. It's also the fifth-highest average of the modern era (since 1992), trailing only the early 90s.

  • The Panthers (4.1 goals) are the highest-scoring team, followed by the Avalanche (3.9), Maple Leafs (3.7) and Wild (3.7).
  • The Canadiens (2.4) bring up the rear, joined by the Coyotes (2.5) and Flyers (2.5).

3. 🇺🇦 "Strong spirit": Ukrainians show resolve

Team Ukraine

Ukraine's Paralympics Team holds up a "Peace For All" banner in the athletes' village. Photo: Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Ukrainian athletes around the world are showing the strength of their resolve in the face of unimaginable horrors, Jeff writes.

  • Paralympics: Biathlete Dmytro Suiarko won bronze Tuesday, one day after his home was destroyed by bombs. Ukraine's 19 medals are second only to China's 32, with athletes dedicating them "to each and every Ukrainian." They've swept the podium three times already.
  • Dayana Yastremska: The 21-year-old tennis player finished runner-up at the Lyon Open one week after fleeing Ukraine, and will donate her winnings to the Ukrainian foundation. "I want to say thanks to every [Ukrainian] for showing that we have a really strong spirit," she said.
  • Athletes-turned-soldiers: A number of current and former athletes have taken up arms to defend their country. Marathoner Mykola Nyzhnyk traveled 5,000 miles from training in Kenya to join the fight. 19-year-old biathlete Yevhen Maylshev was killed in combat last week.
  • Elina Svitolina: The tennis star trounced Russia's Anastasia Potapova in the Monterrey Open while donning yellow and blue. She said she was "on a mission for my country" and donated her prize money to the Ukrainian army.

The bottom line: "We are fighting ... not only in Ukraine but here on the sporting stage," said vision-impaired biathlete gold medalist Vitalii Lukianenko. "We want ... your help to stop this war."

4. ⚡️ Lightning round

Photo illustration of Novak Djokovic over a tennis court and a vaccine record

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto via Getty Images

🎾 Novax can't play: Novak Djokovic is out of the BNP Paribas Open and Miami Open due to CDC regulations requiring non-U.S. citizens to be fully vaccinated to enter the country.

🏈 Commander Carson: The Colts traded Carson Wentz to the Commanders for a package of draft picks. Washington will pay the full $28 million due to Wentz in 2022.

🏀 Two tickets punched: Colgate (men) won the Patriot League, and UNLV (women) won the Mountain West.

⚽️ New commish: Jessica Berman, a former executive for the NHL and NLL, is the new commissioner of the NWSL. She replaces Lisa Baird, who resigned in October amid the league's sexual harassment scandal.

🏒 Good read: The all-Black league that invented hockey as we know it (Jasper Hutson, Defector)

"To that point, hockey had been a slow and calculated game, one that prioritized keeping possession of the puck. But the CHL embraced hockey's potential as a contact sport."

5. 🎓 Data dump: NIL compensation by sport

Illustration of a letterman jacket with a dollar sign on it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

College football players have earned the most NIL compensation since last July, while women's sports hold three of the top five spots and eight of the top 14, per athlete marketing platform Opendorse.

  1. 🏈 Football: 50.6%
  2. 🏀 Women's basketball: 18.5%
  3. 🏀 Men's basketball: 15%
  4. 💦 Women's swimming & diving: 2.4%
  5. 🏐 Women's volleyball: 2.4%
  6. 💦 Men's swimming & diving: 1.8%
  7. 🥎 Softball: 1.6%
  8. ⚾️ Baseball: 1.4%
  9. 👟 Men's track & field: 1%
  10. 👟 Women's track & field: 0.9%

11-25: 11. Women's soccer (0.6%), 12. Women's gymnastics (0.5%), 13. Women's ice hockey (0.4%), 14. Men's tennis (0.4%), 15. Men's wrestling (0.3%), 16. Men's lacrosse (0.3%), 17. Men's soccer (0.3%), 18. Women's cheer and dance (0.2%), 19. Women's tennis (0.2%), 20. Women's golf (0.2%), 21. Men's golf (0.2%), 22. Men's gymnastics (0.2%), 23. Women's rowing (0.2%), 24. Men's ice hockey (0.1%), 25. Men's cycling (0.1%)

6. 🌎 The world in photos

Tiger Woods and family
Tiger Woods with daughter Sam, son Charlie and girlfriend Erica Herman. Photo: Chris Condon/PGA Tour via Getty Images

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Tiger Woods was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame on Wednesday, with his 14-year-old daughter, Sam, introducing him.

Karim Benzema
Photo: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

MADRID — Karim Benzema scored a second-half hat trick to lift Real Madrid past PSG, 3-2 on aggregate, as Real and Man City advanced to the Champions League quarterfinals.

Paralympics skiing
Photo: Alex Davidson/Getty Images

ZHANGJIAKOU, China — A reminder that they're using 100% fake snow for Beijing 2022 ... Not your typical ski backdrop.

7. 📆 March 10, 1948: Wheelchair hoops

Wheelchair basketball

A crop from the March 1948 Newsweek cover. Photo: Bettmann Archives/Getty Images

74 years ago today, a crowd of 15,561 at Madison Square Garden watched a wheelchair basketball game between two teams of World War II veterans, Jeff writes.

Why it matters: Though it wasn't the first game of wheelchair basketball, it was the most publicized and significant, helping break down the stigma long associated with disability.

The backdrop: Vets coming home from World War I with paraplegia lived an average of just 18 months due to weakened immune systems that couldn't fight off infection.

  • But by WWII, the discovery of penicillin meant spinal cord injuries were no longer a death knell.
  • Further progress was made when a PE instructor in California created wheelchair basketball to help vets rehab and enjoy life.

The big picture: By the time of the game at MSG in 1948, barnstorming tours had popped up across the country. When the game's leading scorer was featured on the cover of Newsweek, everything changed.

  • The public took notice, and the National Wheelchair Basketball Association was formed later that year.
  • Across the pond, Ludwig Guttmann hosted the inaugural Stoke Mandeville Games, which later became the Paralympics.

🎥 Watch: Game footage (YouTube)

8. 📺 Watchlist: Stars are out at Sawgrass

17th hole at TPC Sawgrass

The famous 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass. Photo: Chris Condon/PGA Tour

The Players Championship tees off today at TPC Sawgrass with a stacked field that includes 46 of the top 50 players in the world (6:45am ET, ESPN+; 12pm, Golf Channel).

  • The $20 million purse and $3.6 million first-place prize fare both by far the biggest in PGA history — fitting for an event unofficially considered "golf’s fifth major."
  • Of note: Justin Thomas (+1400) is the co-favorite alongside Collin Morikawa and Jon Rahm, but history isn't on his side: The Players has never had a back-to-back champion.

More to watch:

9. 🏀 College hoops trivia

Oscar Tshiebwe

Photo: Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe is 34 rebounds shy of breaking the modern day single-season record (since 1985) of 508.

  • Question: Who holds that record?
  • Hint: Nuggets first-round pick.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ⚾️ 1 crazy play: Three stolen bases

Way To Go Applause GIF by DraftKings - Find & Share on GIPHY
Source: Giphy

One pickoff move, three stolen bases.

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Bang!!!" Baker

Trivia answer: Kenneth Faried (Morehead State)

🙏 Thanks for reading. Follow us at @kendallbaker and @jeffreytracy, and tell friends to sign up for Axios Sports here.