Darkness had fallen over Longs Peak in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, and Andrew Hamilton was struggling to find his way. He wasn’t entirely alone. A handful of people trailed close behind him, and fans in places like London, Atlanta and Kansas City were following the progress of the 40-year-old stay-at-home dad and preternatural hiker online as his tracking beacon mapped his location in real time. Hamilton was on pace to break the speed record for climbing all 58 of Colorado’s “fourteeners”1There are 53 ranked fourteeners in Colorado, but this list does not include minor summits that rise less than 300 feet above their saddles with another fourteener. If these other peaks are included (as they are on the Colorado Geological Survey’s official count), the list expands to 58 peaks. Most of these other summits are easily and sometimes necessarily climbed en route to the main summit. Hamilton topped all 58 summits; the previous record-holder had done 55. Hamilton told me that none of the extras he included added much time, and he thinks that 58 will be the recognized number going forward. — mountains at least 14,000 feet above sea level — but first he needed to find the keyhole. Named for its shape, the giant rock notch serves as a waypoint on the standard route up Longs Peak, and it’s usually hard to miss. He’d had better conditions on this peak the first time he’d set the record, back in 1999. But on this night, the only light was from his headlamp, and this final peak he needed for the record was shrouded in fog. Hamilton had gone nine days without more than a couple of hours of sleep at a time. And now the wind was blasting, and the rain was turning to snow.The five hikers following him could offer moral support, but to secure the record, Hamilton had to do the route-finding himself. After some bumbling around, he finally located the keyhole, and from there, he was looking for bull’s-eyes — route markers painted on the rocks along the final mile and a half to the summit. Each time he found one, the crew behind him cheered. Meanwhile, his Internet fans discussed the blow-by-blow of his attempt on the 14ers.com forum. As Hamilton navigated the exposed section leading to the summit — a place where people regularly fall and die, even in good weather — the markers became obscured by snow. He was down to wits alone.With the help of crampons and an ice ax, Hamilton finally reached the summit. Longs Peak had put up a fierce battle, but he’d made it. Descending would be hazardous too, but at least he’d have his tracks to follow. Hamilton reached the finish of his Longs Peak climb at 2:21 a.m. on July 9 — nine days, 21 hours, 51 minutes and 264.5 miles after he’d embarked on the 58-peak adventure. His time set a new record, slicing nearly 24 hours off the previous one. Never mind that it was the middle of the night — a crowd of more than 40 people was waiting to congratulate him.One of the people there to greet Hamilton was Teddy Keizer, who’d held the record for 15 years. It was his 44th birthday, and he’d flown in from Oregon. “It felt fantastic to be there,” he told me later. “You don’t get to see history in the making very often, and there couldn’t be a more deserving person to hold the record.”Such sportsmanship is a hallmark of the pursuit. The Colorado fourteeners record has no organizing body or official regulations. “It’s a gentleman’s sport,” said ultra-marathoner Buzz Burrell, who helped popularize the notion of FKTs or “fastest known times” on mountain trails. “It’s unofficial,” he said. “It’s always been for personal achievement and the respect of your peers.” The event isn’t just for gentlemen, however. Danelle Ballengee, an accomplished runner and adventure racer, set the women’s record in 2000 and had been on track to break the men’s record until a lightning storm turned her around on Mount Lindsey. (She drove away from the mountain intending to drop out, but after a six-hour nap decided she couldn’t quit.)Cleve McCarty pioneered the speed record by climbing all of Colorado’s fourteeners (then recognized as 52) in 52 days in 1960. It wasn’t until runners started going after the record in the 1990s that the event became more like a race — the Mighty Mountain Megamarathon — than a recreational goal.Trying to set the fourteener record is more than just a test of human endurance; it’s also a data optimization problem. Colorado’s 58 fourteeners are scattered over approximately a third of the state. The clock begins with the first climb and stops with the last, so it’s not enough to hike fast. If you want the record, you need to find the most efficient route and minimize the time wasted getting from one climb to the next.Keizer, known as “Cave Dog” on the trail, understood this better than anyone. Before making his successful record attempt in 2000, the then-29-year-old spent four and a half years researching the problem, scouting routes and planning every detail. This was before GPS driving instructions were ubiquitous, and he drove all over Colorado to construct a 30-page book of directions — “every tenth of a mile, every turn” — for his crew. Before Keizer, most record-seekers tried to mix and match easy peaks with more difficult ones, which meant lots of extra travel time. “That’s crazy,” Keizer said. “I wanted to find the most efficient route.”Keizer also changed the approach to recovery. Hamilton told me that previous record-holders Rick Trujillo and Ricky Denesik, renowned Colorado mountain runners, blasted up and down the peaks as fast as they could but then would grab a meal at a Mexican food joint and go sleep six or eight hours. “Teddy took away all the sleep and took two days off the record,” Hamilton said.Keizer’s optimized routing and decision to sleep while in transit allowed him to shave more than 25 hours off the time that Hamilton spent in transition from one climb to the next during his 1999 record. Even though Keizer’s hiking pace was significantly slower than Denesik’s in his 1997 record, his transition time was almost 100 hours faster.Keizer’s many years of preparation had left few details to tweak, but Hamilton found some places for improvement. Keizer’s order of operations forced him to travel from Pikes Peak, just outside of Colorado Springs, to Longs Peak, northwest of Denver, during rush hour, and he lost valuable time stuck in traffic. Hamilton reworked the route so that those two peaks weren’t back-to-back, and he also linked some peaks in the Elk range into a single outing. Hiking those peaks in a single push took him 24 hours, Hamilton said: “But it was an entire day I took off of Teddy.”For future challengers, Keizer wrote down the informal rules already in place and added a few of his own. The most long-standing one is the 3,000-foot rule, also called the Colorado rule, which requires record-seekers to ascend at least 3,000 feet in absolute elevation from a start of a climb to the first summit and descend at least 3,000 feet before leaving the series of peaks.One thing that Keizer’s rules don’t explicitly address is the Culebra question. Culebra Peak is privately owned, part of an 80,000-acre ranch in southern Colorado, and right now, the only way to climb it is to pay $150 and show up on a pre-arranged weekend day and time. That obviously throws a wrench into the planning of a record attempt, and one of Hamilton’s crew members arranged for him to have less restricted access. A few commenters on the fourteener forums questioned the fairness of this. While hesitating to call it unfair, Peter Bakwin, the owner of the Fastest Known Time website, told me: “I don’t real like that he did it, because it’s not available to everyone.” Hamilton stands by his decision, which Keizer supports. Of course Hamilton should set up access, Keizer told me: “Part of the logistics is getting that special permission.”Yet logistics are only part of the equation. Fitness and mountaineering skills are also necessary, but nothing’s more crucial than winning the mental game. “You’re out there in the dark, you’re tired, you want to quit,” Hamilton said. Muscle fatigue and sore joints were only the beginning. He also fought the “sleep demons” — the sometimes overwhelming urge to fall asleep. He coped by downing 5-Hour Energy shots and listening to a repeating playlist of Taylor Swift, Meghan Trainor and other “pump” songs he’d preloaded on his iPhone.Hamilton’s low point came on day four. He had six peaks on the agenda, and after ticking off the first one, Culebra, and summiting and traversing the Crestones, he headed toward Kit Carson Peak. But first, he had to get around Obstruction Peak. “It’s sort of just in the way,” Hamilton said. It was raining, he was surrounded by fog, and an irritated tendon in his ankle was killing him. With no trail along this route, he was blazing his own way, and lightning was moving in. “I started thinking it would be better to get struck than to have to drop out,” he recalled.Lightning is no idle threat. Several days after Hamilton set his record, a honeymooner was struck and killed on Mount Yale. The element of risk involved in seeking the fourteener record makes it more than a gauge of fitness and logistics; it’s also a test of decision-making under pressure. “This is a mountaineering adventure, not a running adventure,” Keizer said, which is why he proposed that the record-setter must always do the route-finding. “You’re down to the elements, and you have to be able to survive by your own wits.” The mental game is far more difficult than the physical one, he said. “When it’s 2 a.m., on a technical rock face and the hail starts hitting you, and you’re strapped on some rock, trying not to fall off the peak, you have to posses the serenity that allows you to withstand the elements,” Keizer said.When Keizer set his record, he climbed 50 of the peaks solo. But when Hamilton made his attempt last month, he had people watching at every turn. The advent of the Internet and satellite tracking devices has turned things like fourteener record attempts into spectator sports. Hamilton’s satellite tracker uploaded his whereabouts on a topo map in real time. As he went, many of his online supporters showed up in person to follow him and cheer. “There were times when it felt like that scene from ‘Forrest Gump’ where he’s running across the country and a pack of people are just following behind him,” Hamilton said.Hamilton was pleased to break the fourteener record by what he called a “satisfying” margin. “It’s going to be under attack, and I’m OK with that,” he said. “It’s going to be fun to see.” Given how badly it was handicapped by weather, Ballengee’s women’s record seems even more ripe for the picking, and although she doesn’t intend to try again, she told me that she’d love to see someone go after it. “I think there’s a chance that a woman could go and break the men’s record,” she said, pointing out that until Scott Jurek broke it by a narrow margin on July 12, Jennifer Pharr Davis held the speed record on the Appalachian Trail. Who’s next is anybody’s guess, but what’s almost certain is that the next challenger will have a posse of fans watching it all unfold in real time from the comfort of somewhere else.CORRECTION (Aug. 5, 8:34 p.m.): An earlier version of this post listed the wrong source for the chart that shows the time record-seekers spent hiking vs. transitioning between peaks. It comes from Andrew Hamilton, not Charles Komanoff.
The New York Knicks’ Mike Woodson accepted some responsibility for Carmelo Anthony’s knee injury Sunday because the coach refused to take out the all-star forward moments before he fell and had to be helped off the floor.Woodson said on ESPN radio Tuesday that he expected Anthony to play through pain when the NBA’s second-leading scorer asked out of the game. So, he left Anthony in the game and moments later he tripped on the Madison Square Garden floor with a knee injury that could keep him out a few games.Anthony went to the locker room with 6:42 remaining in the second quarter and did not return to the game. The team is calling his injury a sore knee.“Maybe I should have taken him out before he actually stumbled and took the fall,” Woodson said on the radio. “But again, I’m thinking [during] the game, ‘Hey, he’ll play through it. He’ll figure it out.’“But he was hurt. He walked out after he took the spill and he didn’t come back, and that’s not Melo-like. Obviously, his knee is bothering him.”Anthony said on Monday that his knee had been troubling him and an MRI taken recently revealed no structural damage.“Some days you really don’t feel right,” Anthony said after the Knicks came from 22 points down to defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers. “I tried to warm up and I thought it was going to loosen up before the game, but some of the things that I was doing, I felt like I was dragging it.”Knicks general manager Glen Grunwald said Tuesday he did not believe Anthony’s injury was “serious” during an interview with radio station WFAN.“We’re going to try to be smart about it and we’re not going to rush him along if we don’t think it’s appropriate,” Grunwald told WFAN.
The Minnesota Vikings signed free-agent wide receiver Greg Jennings to a five-year contract Friday, after he spent the last seven years with the Green Bay Packers.The contract has a maximum value of $47.5 million, with $18 million guaranteed. Over the first three years of Jennings contract he is scheduled to make a minimum of $27 million, but could make as much as $28.5 million if he goes to the Pro Bowl, according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson.“I definitely wanted to know that they wanted me,” Jennings told ESPN.com. “I wanted to feel that they wanted me to be a part of what they are doing and a part of the future. And I got that feeling early and I got that feeling quite often.”The 29-year-old Jennings was hindered by injuries during the 2012 season with the Packers, only allowing him to play in eight games because of a torn lower abdominal muscle. He finished the season with a career-low 366 yards receiving. In 2011, he missed three games with a sprained left knee.But Jennings, who will turn 30 on Sept. 21, is confident that he can still be the same explosive and exciting player that he was earlier in his career.Jennings will be an intricate part of the Vikings offense since the team traded Percy Harvin earlier in the week to the Seattle Seahawks, after the two sides were unable to come to an agreement about a long-term contract extension. There had been speculation that Harvin would sit out until an extension was reached.“You can just get a sense that he [Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder] needed a little more around him to give him some help,” Jennings said. “Hopefully, I can help him a little bit.”The two-time Pro Bowl pick will be the No.1 receiver for the Vikings and will be expected to provide leadership to current receivers Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright.However, Jennings must make a big transition between quarterbacks, leaving Aaron Rodgers for Ponder. Rodgers is one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the league, while Ponder has been inconsistent at times.“I had to watch Christian,” Jennings said. “I had to see what I was [getting] myself into. Very athletic quarterback, obviously his upside, his future is bright. I saw a young guy that was maturing.”Ponder said earlier this week that he was excited to have Jennings as a teammate and has admired his work ethic and leadership in Green Bay.In Jennings’ eight seasons with the Packers, he had 425 receptions for 6,537 yards and 53 touchdowns. From 2008-10 he had over 1,000 yards receiving each year, which the Vikings are hopeful he can recreate in Minnesota.
Dominique Wilkins speaking today after the unveiling of his statue at Philips Arena.Atlanta was not always a place of opportunity and social extravagance—real or imagined—for Black people. It evolved into it, gradually, with the mid-1980s an integral part of that emergence. That’s what the Hawks’ first-class unveiling of a statue of Dominique Wilkins today represents—a time when Atlanta blossomed into the capital of the new South.Wilkins—with his exhilarating play on the court and his goodwill nature off of it—was a part of the city’s burgeoning reputation as a place African-Americans could come and prosper, and have a good time doing it.As he crafted a Hall of Fame career, Wilkins earned an unofficial title as ambassador of the city. He was unique more than for his mesmerizing slam dunks and dexterous scoring ability at the old Omni. He was a superstar about town. He was touchable, likable, a man of the city. His city.From his nightclub, Dominique’s, in downtown Atlanta to one he co-owned with Deion Sanders in Marietta called 21, Wilkins lived the city. He didn’t just play there.“And that’s what made him special,” Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed said in renaming a part of Centennial Boulevard by Philips Arena “Dominique Wilkins Lane,” as part of a ceremony the Hawks’ organization can be proud of.It honored Wilkins in a deserving, majestic way at Philips Arena, with a luncheon, video presentations, dignitaries and attendees like Julius Erving, Bernard King, Charles Oakley, Chris Tucker, Judge Glenda Hatchette, Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, Karl (Mailman) Malone, former mayor Bill Campbell and many others.Even NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who lives in New York, expressed how invaluable Wilkins has been to Atlanta in general, the Black community in particular.“Dominique is a part of the fabric of the community,” Silver said.Some who did not experience what Atlanta was like in the ‘80s, during Wilkins’ reign, may not understand how a basketball player could galvanize a community. He did.“In the beginning, I wasn’t trying to do that,” Wilkins said to Atlanta Blackstar. “But I went out in the city everyday, to Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza and the clubs and restaurants, and everywhere I went I met people who said they felt like I represented them. They enjoyed seeing me and I always embraced them.“I realized pretty quickly that what we were doing as a team and what I was doing as an individual, socializing with the people, meant a lot. And it became important to me that I truly become a part of the city, the growth of the city.”He did. Wilkins was omnipresent in Atlanta, long before it became the place for celebrities it is now. He was a one-man visitor’s bureau highlight—if you visited Atlanta and went out, you were bound to see Dominique.“And that meant something to a lot of people and to the image of the city,” Wilkins’ younger brother, former NBA player Gerald Wilkins told Atlanta Blackstar at the ceremony. “That’s what this is about, this ceremony. More than basketball.“Guess what? My brother wasn’t named one of the 50 greatest players when they named that team years ago. We know it was crazy, but he was left off. He never won a championship. He wasn’t really given the credit he was as a true superstar, despite his numbers. But he still got a statue. And you know why? For the person he is. For what he has been to the city. For what he represents to Atlanta.”In his first moments after the unveiling of the beautiful statue, which depicts Wilkins in the process of throwing down one of his signature dunks, Wilkins went nostalgic.“This moment takes me back to a lady who raised eight kids in the projects of Baltimore and taught us honor and respect and dignity,” he said of his mother, Gertrude.Those characteristics were embedded in Wilkins. He lost money during his playing days because he took care of his extensive family and he believed people were as trustworthy as he. But he plowed on, always with a welcoming smile and with his head up.Many who spoke today spoke of the man more than the player who scored more that 26,000 points in his career and was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.“In seven years with Dominique,” former coach Mike Fratello said, “I never saw him turn down an autograph.”Those kinds of recollections went on for a long time. They defined the man more than his freakish athleticism.“This moment means more than you know,” Wilkins said. “This statue stands for change, change of the city.”The change in Atlanta from then to now is vast, and Wilkins had a hand in it more than most. He helped Atlanta become Atlanta. And now, rightfully, there’s a monument outside the arena he used as a platform to remind us all of that.
FILE – In this Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018 file photo, Miami Heat player Dwyane Wade and his wife Gabrielle Union-Wade acknowledge the cheers from the crowd during the second half of an NFL football game between the Miami Dolphins and the Chicago Bears in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach, File)MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade is back with the Miami Heat after missing nearly two weeks for the birth of his daughter.Wade went through Miami’s gameday shootaround and will play Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets. He said his wife and their daughter are doing well, which allowed him to feel comfortable to resume his season.“I’m going to obviously miss them,” Wade said. “It was tough leaving my little girl and my wife, but I’ve got to get back to work and I’ll see them again soon.”Wade was away from the team for about two weeks because of the birth of his daughter. Wade and his wife Gabrielle Union-Wade welcomed Kaavia James Union Wade into the world on Nov. 7. Wade had been in Los Angeles with them since then, and flew back to Miami on Monday.His return is most certainly welcome in Miami. The Heat went 2-5 in his time away, falling to 6-10 this season. They’ll play Tuesday without guards Goran Dragic (knee), Tyler Johnson (hamstring) and Dion Waiters (ankle recovery from last season).“There’s a human element to this business and to the game and it is the most important thing,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The connection, your spirit, your emotions, everybody getting on the same page, and just seeing Dwyane back here with the guys there was a tangible boost in the energy today in the shootaround.”Wade is Miami’s third-leading scorer this season at 14.3 points per game. He was in his best stretch of the season when he got the call that his daughter was coming a few weeks earlier than planned.He said he felt the frustration level his team was going through during their current slide, and he tried to keep in touch via texts and phone calls. Wade kept up conditioning while in Los Angeles, but knows it’ll take a little time to get back to the level of a few weeks ago.“I was so excited for my daughter to come, but I was like, ‘Baby, you know, your dad was playing in a rhythm. You could have waited a little while,’” Wade said. “I was just getting my legs under me, but great things happened to make me miss time, and now I’m back.”The baby was born via a surrogate, which is one of the reasons why Wade felt taking a brief paternity leave was necessary.Parents of surrogate-carried babies are told the first few days after the birth are critical to forging deep bonds with their child. Lots of skin-to-skin contact and talking to the baby helps with the bonding.So Wade needed time, and the Heat supported the plan.“So much of this league is mood of the team and confidence,” Heat guard Josh Richardson said. “With him back, we’re definitely a lot more confident moving forward.”Union-Wade — who revealed she had nine miscarriages in her 2017 book “We’re Going to Need More Wine” — has taken time off work to bond with the new arrival. She’s been filming an upcoming project in Los Angeles, and when she’s back on the set, Kaavia James will be close by.“She was working right up until we got the call,” Wade said. “When she goes back, my daughter will be going back to the set with her. Her trailer is fit for everything, the baby’s safety, everything. So our baby will be there with her when she’s at work.”Wade strongly considered retirement during the offseason because of the baby’s arrival, not making the decision to return until just before training camp in September. He questioned whether it was fair to his wife and their family to still be playing and traveling while raising a baby.He also wondered if he could handle being away from his daughter for long stretches.“We went through a lot to get here,” Wade said. “My family had to come first right now.”___
2010646.8-0.2149.53 YEARNO. OF CANADIAN TEAMSPOINT%SRSCORSINO. OF PLAYOFF TEAMS 1992748.7-0.1249.44 Vancouver Canucks55.231.4-23.8-12.1+2.3-13.9 Edmonton Oilers10.726.9+16.2-0.9+2.2+14.9 2014744.9-0.3047.31 2016742.3%-0.3548.6%0.3* 2011648.5-0.1549.42 2009649.5-0.0849.83 2001650.8+0.1150.74 2000650.4+0.0550.13 Ottawa Senators56.438.6-17.8-17.0-0.3-0.5 Winnipeg Jets56.035.5-20.5-18.6+4.0-5.9 2004655.9+0.4451.55 2003653.6+0.2150.24 Montreal Canadiens60.044.3-15.7-15.8-1.2+1.2 All across Canada this winter, two trends have dominated: The weather has been unseasonably warm, and the hockey abnormally second-rate.Unless you’re a maple syrup farmer or a hibernating animal, the latter is probably of greater concern. If the NHL season ended today, exactly zero of the league’s seven Canadian franchises would qualify for the playoffs (something that has happened only once before, in 1969-70). And although that fate isn’t a lock — Hockey-Reference.com’s simulations say there’s still a 26 percent chance that at least one Canadian team will manage to claw its way into the postseason — there’s no denying that this has been one of the more trying seasons in Canada’s ongoing 23-year Stanley Cup drought. 2002653.2+0.2551.34 1991744.6-0.2948.14 1998645.7-0.2249.83 PSARCHANGE IN PSAR CAUSED BY 2013750.4-0.0249.64 Calgary Flames57.534.8-22.7-27.9+5.7-0.5 1994845.4-0.3449.24 1999649.1-0.0250.23 Canada’s (figuratively) coldest winter 2012747.1-0.1149.72 *Expected number based on simulations of remaining scheduleSource: Hockey-Reference.com 1989751.5+0.1149.34 1996744.9-0.2948.85 TEAM20152016CHANGEHOLDOVERSARRIVALSDEPARTURES 1990748.4-0.0949.75 By most statistical indicators,1All statistics noted in the table and below are as of Monday. 2015-16 has contained the worst collective performance by Canadian franchises since at least 1987-88, the earliest season for which I have complete data on shot attempts (thereby enabling us to estimate such #fancystats as Corsi). As a group, the Canadiens, Senators, Jets, Flames, Canucks, Maple Leafs and Oilers have captured a mere 42.3 percent of the points available in their games, and they’ve been outscored by an adjusted margin of 0.35 goals per game (as measured by the Simple Rating System). If they hold up until season’s end, both figures would represent the lowest average of the past 28 seasons for Canadian teams. Canada is faring only mildly better on possession: By Corsi,2Adjusted for event, score and venue since 2005-06 and estimated for earlier seasons using available data. this is the fourth-worst season for the nation’s teams since ’88.Perhaps the only thing more striking than Canada’s malaise this season has been the abruptness with which it arose. Although 2014-15 wasn’t a sensational season north of the border — by the metrics above, it was almost exactly average — a very healthy 71 percent of the league’s Canadian franchises made the playoffs, with Montreal and Calgary each winning a series. And although I was skeptical of the Canadiens as a Cup contender before this season, I never thought it would make 2013-14, when Montreal was Canada’s lone playoff entry, look enviable.Yet that’s the state in which Canada currently finds itself, with its clubs making up a disproportionate share of the NHL teams that have declined most from a year earlier. According to total team point shares above replacement (PSAR),3Prorated to 82 games this season, for ease of comparison to 2014-15. the league’s five biggest year-over-year drop-offs belong to squads hailing from north of the border — specifically, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Montreal. (The Maple Leafs have also declined slightly, while only the Oilers rank among the league’s most improved teams this year.) 2006653.8+0.2750.54 2008650.2+0.0249.53 1988750.4+0.1049.95 1997646.0-0.2349.13 2015749.1-0.0448.55 2007651.6+0.1249.73 1993850.1-0.1549.16 Toronto Maple Leafs28.326.6-1.7+5.6+2.1-9.3 1995847.0-0.1849.34 What’s to blame for Canada’s fall? In Vancouver’s case, some of the blame has to fall on summer roster shuffling — the team lost a handful of semi-productive players, and their output hasn’t been suitably replaced. But for most of the league’s struggling Canadian contingent, the problems stem not from offseason additions or subtractions, but from holdovers. Simply put, a significant number of players who shone in the Great White North last season have taken major steps backward this season.As is often the case in hockey, let’s cast the first wave of criticism in the direction of the netminders. Among players who stayed with the same team between 2014-15 and 2015-16, the seven biggest year-over-year declines in PSAR (and eight of the top 10) belong to goaltenders. Of those, five belong to goaltenders from Canadian franchises: Carey Price of the Canadiens, Jonas Hiller of the Flames, Andrew Hammond of the Senators, Jonathan Bernier of the Leafs and Ondrej Pavelec of the Jets. Together, that group has been worth the equivalent of about 15 fewer wins this season than last. (And we’re only about 70 percent of the way through the schedule, so there’s time for things to get even worse.)The irony of goaltending is that performance between the pipes is simultaneously one of the most important and one of the most fickle contributors to a team’s success. Last season, Canadian teams came out basically dead-even on the goaltending ledger (in terms of goals saved relative to a league-average save percentage), with Price’s historically great campaign and Ben Scrivens’s historically awful one essentially canceling each other out. But Canada’s current batch of goalies has played more like Scrivens than Price, and faulty goaltending has been responsible for about 60 percent of Canada’s collectively negative goal differential this season.Add in some below-average shooting percentages, and it’s not hard to see why the Canadian teams have fallen so flat. But perhaps the cruelest part of this, Canada’s (figuratively) most bitter winter, is that its teams may not have actually gotten worse between last season and this one, in terms of their underlying skill. The average Corsi for Canadian squads this season (48.6 percent) is virtually identical to that of last season (48.5 percent), which means that Canada’s drop-off in goal differential — and, consequently, record — can largely be attributed to changes in shooting and save percentages, two numbers notorious for the influence that luck wields over them.It’s still debatable exactly how much a team can bend those percentages in its favor through factors like raw talent and playing style, but it’s fair to say that at least some part of Canada’s declining fortunes this season have been due to the whims of chance. At least that’s good news for its teams next season, when the luck gets a chance to reverse itself — even if Canada’s chances of ending its Cup drought this year are next to nonexistent.
But this wasn’t just a case of Villanova playing poorly. Wisconsin also played a great game. The Badgers had one of their best 2-point shooting performances of the season (65 percent from inside the arc), and they outworked ‘Nova on the glass as well. Just as importantly, Wisconsin held the nation’s fourth-best offense to one of its weakest games of the year, in part by taking the air out of the ball and denying opportunities to one of the nation’s top fast-break offenses.1Wisconsin wasn’t perfect — the Badgers made the upset more difficult than it had to be with 14 turnovers and some truly abysmal foul shooting.So Wisconsin was good, and Villanova bad. There was a third character in the making of this upset, however: the NCAA selection committee, which did Villanova no favors as the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed. As part of the most difficult region in the bracket, Wisconsin was an 8 seed with a KenPom.com rating similar to others seeded as high as fourth (Butler), third (Florida State) and even second (Arizona) in other regions. From the Round of 32 on, Villanova was staring down a tough slate of opponents, and that would have been true whether they held on against Wisconsin or not.Now, our model has a new favorite in the East, with a 37 percent chance of making the Final Four: Yep, it’s the No. 2-seeded Duke Blue Devils. But this might not be the last we see of the Badgers either — the model gives them the second-best odds of winning the region (in part because they’re already in the Sweet 16), with a 21 percent probability of earning the school’s third Final Four berth in four seasons.Check out our March Madness predictions. So much for one of the most uneventful NCAA tournaments ever. After a quiet first round that saw the better seed win 26 of 32 games, Villanova — the defending tourney champion — became the first No. 1 seed to fall with a 65-62 loss to Wisconsin on Saturday.The Wildcats didn’t play their best game. They shot just 41 percent from the floor with an offensive efficiency of 107 points per 100 possessions, both well below their season averages, and they allowed an extremely uncharacteristic 111 points per 100 possessions at the other end of the floor. For a team that consistently played above its averages during its championship run last season (particularly on offense), this was a callback to previous tournament disappointments by Jay Wright-led Villanova teams.VIDEO: How the Villanova and Duke losses shook the bracket
As Colin Kaepernick’s job hunt has crept into training camp, the parameters of debate have shifted. Just a few months ago, the contention was over whether or not Kaepernick was good enough to play in the league. That no longer seems to be the case. Last week, reports circulated that Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome were both interested in signing Kaepernick, but were met with resistance by owner Steve Bisciotti, who framed hesitance over signing Kaepernick as a PR concern.“Your opinions matter to us,” Bisciotti said at a fan event, referring to fan opinion over Kaepernick. “We’re very sensitive to it, and we’re monitoring it, and we’re still, as Ozzie says, scrimmaging it, and we’re trying to figure out what’s the right tact. So pray for us.”Kaepernick’s ability to play the position no longer seems to be in doubt. Players have spoken in support of Kaepernick, and most serious analysis reliant on game study arrives at the conclusion that Kaepernick is not just a competent quarterback, but is also better than he was when he led the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013. Cian Fahey, who catalogues quarterback performance at Pre-Snap Reads, found Kaepernick to have outplayed Ravens starter Joe Flacco.And yet Kaepernick doesn’t have a team. It’s obvious Kaepernick is being frozen out for his political opinions, but it’s less apparent how extraordinary it is that a player like him can’t find a team. Back in March, Neil Paine and I wrote about Kaepernick’s situation and noted that it was strange for even a halfway decent quarterback to remain unsigned so deep into free agency. Four months later, it’s no longer merely unusual — it’s practically unheard of.Here are the free agent quarterbacks from the past five offseasons, charted by their Total Quarterback Rating in the previous season and how many days they remained in free agency before being signed by a team. (The size of the dots represent the number of pass attempts.) No above-average quarterback has been unemployed nearly as long as Kaepernick this offseason. The most comparable scenario — Ryan Fitzpatrick’s contract showdown with the New York Jets last offseason — isn’t really comparable at all, since Fitzpatrick was the one exerting leverage over the team, not the other way around.It’s easy to lose sight of the reality that good quarterbacks often never even reach free agency, let alone remain unsigned for so long. That’s especially the case for our discussion of Kaepernick, which has shifted from his merit as a player to concern-trolling and a consideration of business practicalities. So while Kaepernick is clearly an outlier on the chart above, the fact that he’s on it at all should be just as surprising.Additional research by Neil Paine
20Jusuf Nurkic9.039.6428.4211.1117.31 1Pascal Siakam11.8712.67$37.36M$1.54M$35.82M 12Rudy Gobert13.7914.7143.4023.2420.16 9Giannis Antetokounmpo14.8815.8846.8424.1622.68 2Nikola Vucevic13.9114.8443.7812.7531.03 13Ben Simmons8.398.9526.416.4319.97 17Monte Morris6.376.8020.051.3518.70 18D’Angelo Russell8.098.6325.467.0218.44 5Karl-Anthony Towns11.3312.0935.667.8427.82 10Kemba Walker10.5611.2733.2412.0021.24 We won’t find out who won until late June, but the 2018-19 NBA season treated basketball fans to one of the great MVP battles in recent memory. Several worthy players hung around the race for large portions of the season, including Paul George and Nikola Jokic. But in the end, there were two: Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden — each of whom has several arguments working in his favor.Antetokounmpo is the best player on the best team1By record, at least. in the league, and he led the 60-win Bucks to the best defense and fourth-best offense in the NBA. He averaged an unheard of 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. He is also one of the best defenders in the league — a top-tier candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.Harden, meanwhile, carried an offensive burden unlike any in modern NBA history. His 40.5 percent usage rate is the second-highest of all time. He finished the season averaging 36.1 points per game, eighth-most in league history and the most since Michael Jordan ticked off 37.1 per game in 1987. Harden boosted his deep attempts far beyond what previously seemed either possible or reasonable, taking 13.2 triples per game and connecting on them at a 37 percent rate.2He made 378 shots from beyond the arc, second only to only 2016 Stephen Curry in NBA history.Really, though, the argument between the two players is less about who had the better season and more about the definition of “valuable.” Is it just the best player in the league? Is it the best player on the best team? Is it the player whose performance was most outstanding, whatever you decide that means? Is it the player whose team needs him the most? Is it some combination of all of those things, as well as a few others? Different players, coaches, executives, fans and media members have different definitions.What if we took the word “valuable” as literally as possible, though, and tried to identify the player who provided his team with the greatest bang for its buck throughout this season? After all, what’s more valuable than performing at a level that far outstrips your salary, allowing your team to spend those surplus dollars on more talent elsewhere?The first step to answering this question is to quantify the dollar value of a win in the NBA. There were 1,230 games played this season, which means there were 1,230 wins up for grabs. According to Basketball-Reference.com, NBA teams handed out more than $3.6 billion in salary this year. Dividing that figure by 1,230 means that a single win was valued at $2,949,908.82.We can then turn to ESPN’s Real-Plus Minus and specifically RPM wins, a stat that uses a player’s RPM and his possessions played to estimate his contribution to the number of his team’s wins. Not all players qualified for the RPM leaderboard, so there was a slight shortfall of wins produced by the 514 players who did qualify. We applied a multiplier to each of those player’s totals in order to account for the shortfall. Then, we multiplied the dollar value of a win by the number of adjusted RPM wins each player produced to pinpoint the dollar value of that player’s production. Subtracting his actual 2018-19 salary from that number yields a surplus, meeting our goal of identifying the best bang-for-buck player in the league this season. 19Willie Cauley-Stein7.237.7122.764.7018.06 14Joe Ingles10.4511.1532.8913.0519.85 It should come as no surprise that both Antetokounmpo and Harden ranked among the league leaders in both the value of their production and the surplus value they provided their teams. The Rockets received more than $27 million in surplus value on Harden; the Bucks got nearly $23 million in surplus on Antetokounmpo. Neither player, though, led the league in surplus value. Harden ranked sixth, while Antetokounmpo ranked ninth (and second on his own team).3Brook Lopez, who produced $32.77 million in value compared with a paltry $3.38 million salary, held that crown. Fellow MVP candidates George ($30.22 million) and Jokic ($19.49 million) also ranked highly in surplus value, but again, neither of them led the league.4Though George did lead the league with a production value of $60.78 million. Instead, the league leader was do-it-all Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, with a surplus value of nearly $36 million.Siakam is quite good, obviously, but he’s not nearly as good as the MVP types just yet. By any traditional MVP definition, he doesn’t really fit. But we’re not looking for a traditionally defined MVP here — just the player whose value most exceeded his salary. And that’s why Siakam makes perfect sense.Siakam broke out in a huge way this season, emerging as both the favorite for Most Improved Player and a candidate for one of the All-NBA teams. He averaged 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.6 combined steals and blocks per game while getting to the line 3.8 times a night and canning 36.9 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. He is a wonderful defender, capable of handling himself both in space and on the block, wreaking havoc in passing lanes and containing ball-handlers off the dribble. He also served as the point man in the Raptors’ league-best zone defense and the one of the primary drivers of their defense-to-offense transition attack. Toronto outscored its opponents by 10.7 points per 100 possessions with Siakam on the floor, per NBA.com, the eighth-best figure among the 353 players who appeared in at least 40 games. He carried the Raptors in several games when Kyle Lowry and/or Kawhi Leonard sat out because of injuries or load management; he was also a rotation mainstay, playing in 80 of 82 games, all but one of which he started.And Siakam did all of this while drawing a salary of just $1,544,951, as a former No. 27 overall pick playing in the third year of his rookie-scale contract. He produced like a star — Siakam ranked 11th in production value per RPM wins — while being paid less than 391 other players in the league. Add it all up, and he produced by far the most surplus value of any player this season, with the difference between him and No. 2 Nikola Vucevic slightly exceeding the difference between Vucevic and No. 7 Danny Green, Siakam’s teammate in Toronto. Considering that neither Siakam nor Green is even Toronto’s best player, it’s no wonder the Raptors are among the favorites to represent the Eastern Conference in this year’s NBA Finals.5Provided they can bounce back against the Magic.If that is indeed how these playoffs play out, Siakam will almost surely have played a valuable role — maybe not the “most valuable” by popular definitions, but one that far exceeds the value of his paycheck. 7Danny Green11.6012.3836.5110.0026.51 RKNAMERPM WINSAdjusted WINS*WINS VALUEACTUAL SALARYSURPLUS VALUE * RPM wins were adjusted to account for players who did not qualify for the RPM leaderboard.Numbers may not add up because of rounding.Sources: ESPN, Basketball-Reference.com 6James Harden18.2619.4857.4730.4327.04 16Nikola Jokic14.0114.9544.1024.6119.49 4Brook Lopez10.4111.1132.773.3829.38 Check out our latest NBA predictions. 11De’Aaron Fox8.398.9526.415.4720.94 Pascal Siakam led the NBA in most bang for the buckNBA players by value provided to their teams above their salaries as measured by Real Plus-Minus (RPM) wins, 2018-19 season 3Paul George19.3120.6060.7830.5630.22 8Donovan Mitchell8.899.4927.983.1124.87 15Patrick Beverley7.908.4324.875.0319.84
Stanford brings back a lot of talent this seasonPercentage of 2018 contributions produced by players returning in 2019 for top NCAA women’s volleyball programs 9Oregon22.214.171.1247.740.2 The toughest competition, as is often the case in volleyball, comes in the Big Ten, which claimed five of the top eight spots in the preseason coaches poll.The Wisconsin Badgers may present the biggest challenger to Stanford as the only top-11 team returning a higher percentage of contributions. The preseason coaches poll put Wisconsin fifth, behind Nebraska and Minnesota, but Big Ten coaches named UW the conference favorite. The Badgers looked the part early but suffered a pair of close losses to ranked teams over the weekend and will need to bounce back.Wisconsin is led by a junior class featuring Sydney Hilley, Dana Rettke and a redshirted Molly Haggerty. The 6-foot-8 Rettke, a nearly unstoppable blocker, spent the summer competing with the U.S. national team. Haggerty was the 2016 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, but a back injury cost her all of 2017, and she struggled to return to form last year. Hilley, a Second-Team All-American, ranked fourth in the country in assists per set last year and is one of just three setters named to an All-American team who returns this season.And Illinois retained All-American outside hitter Jacqueline Quade from its Final Four team but lost setter Jordyn Poulter to graduation (she now plays on the national team). The Illini will likely replace her with Mica Allison — a transfer from Auburn, a former top recruit and one of the nation’s best underclassman setters. Illinois has also struggled early, losing a pair of matches this weekend, though Allison has barely played because of an injury.And perennial contenders Nebraska and Penn State enter the season with strong young teams. Nebraska, national champions in 2015 and 2017 and last year’s runners-up, can never be counted out, especially if setter Nicklin Hames makes a substantial leap her sophomore year. The Huskers are off to a 4-0 start with no seniors on the roster. Penn State has won at least 22 matches in each of the 41 seasons played under head coach Russ Rose. The Nittany Lions, with 15 underclassmen on their roster, have jumped out to a 5-0 record but face their first big test when Stanford comes to town on Friday.Minnesota made the biggest jump among last year’s top-10 teams, coming in third in the preseason rankings despite being upset by Oregon in last year’s regional semifinals. That loss marked the Gophers’ fourth-straight tournament upset; they were the No. 2 seed three of the last four years but haven’t reached the championship match since 2004. Replacing All-American setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson is the biggest challenge for the Gophers this year, who have struggled early this season.Outside the Big Ten, a pair of Big 12 Teams are off to hot starts. No. 3 Texas swept Minnesota and took Stanford to five sets. And Baylor, a program that hasn’t reached even the Sweet 16 in 10 years, shot up to No. 5 after winning at Wisconsin and at Marquette to reach 5-0.The under-the-radar contender could be Kentucky. The SEC favorite is one of the best teams in terms of returning contributors. Junior setter Madison Lilley will try to make a case for player of the year, and there’s plenty of All-American talent around the roster.2Lilley and Leah Edmond were Second-Team All-Americans, while Gabby Curry was an honorable mention But the Wildcats struggled out of the gates, suffering an early-season straight-sets upset at the hands of then-unranked Utah.Stanford’s early-season challenges are far from over: The Cardinal face three top Big Ten teams in the next week, culminating next Wednesday with a rematch of the national championship game against Nebraska. And there will be challenges throughout the year from other top teams, especially come December. But if last year is any indication, the Cardinal will be ready. 2018 RankTeamKillsAssistsDigsBlocksAces 1Stanford85.1%99.9%98.4%68.7%98.8% Percentage returning 11Florida84.545.083.277.280.0 The programs that finished last season ranked in the top 11 last year were all ranked in the top 11 in the 2019 preseason poll.Sources: School websites, ACVA rankings 6Penn State57.615.666.566.669.0 7Minnesota92.111.768.485.447.9 10Kentucky82.098.387.471.272.8 8Wisconsin86.199.798.982.099.3 4BYU55.210.741.764.943.3 2Nebraska69.489.057.083.954.0 Stanford women’s volleyball faced a tough challenge just a week into the season, making a trip across the country last Wednesday to take on the then-No. 7 Florida Gators.But the match was hardly a struggle. The Cardinal — led by the trio of seniors Kathryn Plummer (21 kills), Jenna Gray (37 assists) and Morgan Hentz (15 digs) — dispatched Florida in straight sets, 25-22, 25-17, 25-19. Four days later, the team added a win over No. 3 Texas to improve to 4-0. As a result, Stanford was the unanimous top team in Monday’s coaches poll.The Cardinal finished 2018 with a 34-1 record, avenging its early-season loss to BYU in the national semifinals before beating Nebraska in the final. After rolling through the NCAA last season, the Cardinal return more of last year’s squad than almost any other top-ranked team.1The top 11 teams in last year’s end-of-season poll all started the 2019 season back in the top 11. But the road won’t be easy for the talented favorites, who will have to beat stalwarts from the Midwest and upstarts from the South.Stanford was the only school with three 2018 First-Team All-Americans, all of whom were juniors. The team’s biggest loss was middle blocker Tami Alade, a Second-Team All-American and the only senior who consistently played last season. Gray, the two-time defending Pac-12 Setter of the Year, was the only non-senior setter to earn First-Team All-American honors last year. Hentz, Mayor of Hentz-Ville, is the two-time defending Pac-12 Libero of the Year and last year’s Final Four Co-MVP.And then there’s Plummer, the two-time defending National Player of the Year, a dominant force on the outside who’s already racked up more awards than can comfortably fit on her bio page. Plummer, Hentz and Gray might be the NCAA’s top players at their respective positions. The trio has won a pair of titles together and may be in line for a third. 5Texas54.398.790.832.486.2 3Illinois76.613.579.949.870.4