Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Case Against the Case Against High School Sports

[These comments are a response to Amanda Ripley's article The Case Against High School Sports, originally published in The Atlantic in 2014.]      

[Also please excuse the academic tone of this piece while I continue my journey as a "scholar athlete."]

In her 2013 article, The Case Against High School Sports, Amanda Ripley pulls from a variety of research and opinions on the subject of high school athletics to convey what at first seems to be a logical argument for the lessening of school sports.  Most notably, she highlights the gap between academic performance tests among the United States and Asian world powers such as South Korea.  She also points out the recent success of schools that have taken a different approach to athletics.  Yet, at further consideration, Ripley’s view of education is something that should not be supported.  Yes, at some point educators and school administration in this country have to check themselves and reassure that they are not putting athletics before academics.  However, it is an undeniable fact that sports are beneficial to learning and one of the most important aspects of American culture. Furthermore, sports teach us valuable lessons that cannot be taught in the classroom.  With American society at present, high school sports are something precious and beneficial to teenagers, and must be protected. 
I know from personal experience that sports have had a huge impact on my life.  Even Ridley acknowledges that from her experience playing high school sports, she remembers benefits such as, “exercise, lessons in sportsmanship and perseverance, school spirit and just plain fun.”  But just like anything else with potential benefits, one usually receives only as much as their effort warrants.  Everyone’s experience with athletics is different.  I have played football and lacrosse for all four years of my high school career, and many other sports prior.  The lessons I learned on the field and the memories I made are extremely valuable to me.  Playing four years of varsity lacrosse, and ending my football career as a captain on the varsity team playing quarterback and linebacker, I was very fortunate to have multiple opportunities to be a leader.  Through my time in athletics, I gained not only important education on how to work with others, but how to be an effective leader, how to set and reach goals, and most importantly, how to deal with and overcome adversity.  These are qualities that are extremely important to possess if you’re looking to succeed in the real world.     
Yet, sports transcend simple life lessons on teamwork and leadership.  For many, athletics are a way of life, and sometimes the only path to success.  Ripley states that over a hundred years ago, at a time when education was being expanded, “sports, the thinking went, would protect boys’ masculinity and distract them from vices like gambling and prostitution.”  While the vices may have changed nowadays, sports have still offered a safe haven for many kids in rougher neighborhoods.  For parents who are looking for answers, as well as kids who want to stay away from drugs and crime in poverty-stricken areas, sports are the only choice.  It gives them something to spend their time on outside of school, and keeps them motivated to succeed.  In addition, sports are a way out of poverty for many kids.  For those who can’t afford college, there are athletic scholarships that many aim for in order to further their education, hoping to get a better job later down the road.  Ripley includes an example in her article of a high school named “Premont,” which abolished sports due to financial reasons.  She offered the fact that students still were able to participate in sports by joining club teams outside of school.  But, for teenagers living in poverty, they might not be able to afford playing for club teams.  In this way, if schools cut sports, the ever-increasing gap between the poor and the wealthy would only increase.  With this example, organized sports would become only a thing for the wealthy, and kids in bad neighborhoods would be left at a huge disadvantage. 
There is no denying part of Ripley’s argument.  Sports should not, under any circumstance, become the central focus of our schools’ priorities.  Olga Block, a co-founder of a school called Basis Tucson North argued, “the problem is that once sports become important to the school, they start colliding with academics.”  This concept that sports are taking away from academics is an issue that needs to be addressed at a lot of schools.  However, cutting sports is not the answer.  In her article, Ripley addressed the many financial needs of high school sports at one school in particular.  They need money for buses for the players, the band and cheerleaders, and substitute teachers for coaches on traveling game days.  But there are ways around these issues.  If you can’t afford to send your cheerleaders and band to away games, they don’t have to go.  Why are they traveling so far away that teachers need substitutes?  Play games with teams that aren’t so far away.  Naturally, sports will distract students from academics, but that’s the beautiful thing about it.  As long as school administrations act intelligently, athletics can’t hurt.  It’s a great escape for students who have been cooped up all day in a classroom.  It’s an opportunity to free your mind after a stressful day of cramming it with knew information.  And it’s finally a chance to get some exercise after sitting in a classroom all day.  In a country, where obesity is a blatant issue, dismissing athletics should be the last thing on our schools’ agendas.  It’s one thing to have a gym class for an hour once a week.  It’s a whole other thing to exercise for hours after school every day.  Sports, while a potentially dangerous distraction, are a great distraction.
All throughout her article, Ripley’s major claim focused around the comparison of the United States to other world powers.  On one particular math and critical thinking test, the United States scored 31st in the world, while un-athletic South Korea, she pointed out, scored 4th.  She cites multiple first-hand accounts of foreigners traveling to the US, and noticing the difference in school culture.  They all noticed the greater passion our teenagers had towards sports.  Still, I wouldn’t look at this as a negative.  Sports are a massive part of American’s culture.  Athletics are something that separates our country from others, and is a sign of our freedom.  The sporting industry has grown by quantum leaps in the past decades, and there’s good reason behind it.  Sports are entertaining; everyone loves sports, and they now permeate our culture and media like nothing else.  Sports are also a part of America’s rich history, which is passed down in family and community heritage.  By choosing to play sports over studying for six more hours after school everyday, we are using our constitutional right to do what we love.  On the other hand, it’s widely believed that the educational system in South Korea has been linked to the country’s high suicide rate.  Yes, they are reaping the benefits of putting their teens through an intensely competitive system, but do we really want to be like them?  By losing school sports, as a country, we are essentially becoming less American.     

 No matter what route we go, there seems to be a trade off that we are forced to make.  By keeping school athletics as they are currently, we run the risk of letting sports take priority over academics, and we pay the consequence for our fun in the global rankings when compared to places like South Korea.  By removing school athletics, and heightening the focus on academics, we are losing a vital component of our American culture, and are revoking indispensable freedoms from our youth.  The question becomes which reality you would rather see in our country.  Logically, we should see the global statistics as a need for change.  And undoubtedly, we need to assure that sports do not take priority over education.  But reforms can be made that do not involve the lessening of athletics, and there can be a happy balance between learning and fun.  Academics in America are already stressful enough as is; we do not need to add onto the intensity like these other countries.  Instead, we should be looking for a better way to learn, and focusing on quality over quantity.  If we choose to take away high school sports, we are creating more problems than we are fixing.  The teenagers in poverty-stricken areas look to sports as a life-changing mechanism, and the obesity crisis in America is something that needs to be taken seriously.  But in the end, sports can be just as beneficial to learning and education as sitting in a classroom.  We learn things that other people, and other cultures do not, and we have fun doing it.   

Thursday, October 23, 2014


As a die-hard Eagles fan, here is little something about my "dream sporting" event I would've attended if  I could choose from any game ever played.  

It was a chilly December afternoon in downtown Philadelphia.  The year was 1960, and the game was the NFL Championship.  Head coach Vince Lombardi, in only his second season at the helm, had his Green Bay Packers driving urgently into Eagles territory with precious seconds ticking off the clock.  The same Green Bay Packers that would go on to win five championships in the 60’s alone, and whose coach would eventually have the ultimate prize in football, the Lombardi Trophy, named after him.  But today was not their day.  Today belonged to the hometown Eagles playing in front of an overflowing Franklin Field, who had just recovered the lead in the fourth quarter to go up 17-13 on a short touchdown run.  If they could just play defense for a couple more seconds, they would win the championship for the first time since 1949.  The crowd of 67,000 rose to their feet as future Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr threw to future Hall of Fame fullback Jim Taylor at the Eagles 22 as the seconds continued to tick.  There was only one player that stood in between Taylor and the end zone, and he was tired.  Chuck Bednarik, number 60, had played every single snap of the football game thus far.  Many called him the “last of the 60-minute men” because he was the last player to go both ways (offense and defense) on a consistent basis.  On offense, he played center, on defense he played linebacker, and he even kicked on the kickoffs.  Known as “Concrete Charlie” from his offseason job selling concrete, he would also eventually be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  And on this play, like always, he made the tackle.  Just ten yards in front of the end zone, Bednarik took Taylor to the ground and remained on top of him as the final seconds ticked away into eternity. The 1960 Philadelphia Eagles were World Champions.
Fast forward fifty-four years, two championship appearances, and a lot of coaches, and that is still the last time the city of Philadelphia was able to call themselves the best in the football world.  Of course, a lot has changed since then.  Nowadays, NFL championships are called Super Bowls, players make millions of dollars so they don’t need to work other jobs in the offseason, and the only event worth attending in Franklin Field is the Penn Relays.  To go back fifty-four years, to be an Eagles fan at that game, would have been a magical moment not just for me, but for any Eagles fan.  Over the course of Eagles history, it hasn’t always been ideal to focus on the present or even the future, so for many fans looking back to the times of the 40’s and the 60’s was the best option.  Growing up as an Eagles fan, living on the outskirts of the city of brotherly love, I was fortunate enough to live in the Andy Reid era of Eagles football, filled with great passing offenses and numerous playoff appearances.  Though, all the while, I heard and saw evidence of those tumultuous years, the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, when the Eagles were so bad that they had open tryouts and a guy named Vince Papale quit his job as a substitute teacher to play for the struggling squad.  Being raised around this team, the past struggles were visible in the older fans.  Eagles spectators have been known for being tough, violent, and loud, and I used to see these characteristics on display when I went down to Lincoln Financial Field with my father.  Every Sunday I’d see a fight somewhere in the stands or a fan from the opposing team get absolutely berated by the Eagles die-hards around him who were offended that someone would dare wear another jersey in their stadium.  It was about Eagles pride.  Nobody got to come into our house, eat our cheese-steaks, and cheer on the demise of our team.  Over time, this culture became engrained in me as well, and with experience I became familiar with appropriate ways to respond to bad calls, players getting injured, and untimely timeouts.  When you grow up around something like that, and you feel a strong common bond such as this, with everyone rooting together towards a seemingly impossible goal, it is hard not feel like you are a member of one big family.  We all experienced those hard losses together, we all cried when the Eagles lost the Super Bowl to the Raiders in ’81 and then the Patriots in ’04, and that’s what would make witnessing the 1960 Championship all the more sweeter.  As opposed to just remaining at the top for a long time, achieving something after coming from the bottom has a whole other appreciation that comes with it.  Watching that game and Bednarik make that tackle, I wouldn’t be happy just for myself, but for all the Eagles fans who knew that game, for a city of fans who have been through so much defeat, the taste of victory would be an amazing experience.    
Besides the history of the Eagles, my own personal history makes this game significant in my heart.  For as long as I can remember, football has been my favorite thing, my passion.  I watched football on the NFL Network even when there were no real games on, I read about football even when my teachers would tell us to pick a fiction book, and I played flag football when I was too young to play for my school and when the only youth team was a Church-run organization for Catholic children (I was and still am Jewish).  One thing that always captivated me about football was the toughness of the sport, physically and mentally.  So when I discovered Chuck Bednarik I was instantly drawn to his legacy.  He was the definition of toughness, the last to go both ways, and one of the most feared tacklers in NFL history.  Over my bed, for the majority of my childhood, hung the famous photo of his hit on Frank Gifford, standing over him again victorious, fist raised in the air.  And now, after playing high school football, I can relate
to how Bednarik must’ve felt.  I too often played both ways for my team, switching between linebacker and quarterback.  Those were the most challenging games of my life, and I was only doing it at the high school level.  For him to do that on the professional level and have the career that he did, it’s something you need to see to believe.  I was actually fortunate enough to meet the great Bednarik.  As a birthday present my father took me to Franklin Field to watch the University of Pennsylvania take on Yale.  The real reason we were there though, was because we knew Bednarik was going to be signing autographs.  In a tunnel under the stadium, I approached, unable to express my utter appreciation for all he had accomplished in his life, and he graciously signed my book that was about him.  But in addition to my personal connection I have with Bednarik, I also have a deep connection with professional football in general.  To go back and see Lombardi’s Packers would be to witness arguably the most historical team in pro football history.  There in front of my very eyes would be Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, and Ray Nitchske, and the famous Packer sweep.  But more important than any of the heroes on the field, would be Lombardi.  He was the pure embodiment of excellence, and would go down as the greatest to ever coach in the NFL.  And with all this green and gold greatness, I would have the satisfaction that the Eagles, my Eagles, had the courage to stand up to them and emerge triumphant.   

             If I could go back in time to see one game, this is the one that automatically, instantaneously comes to mind.  The date 1960, has become engrained in my psyche almost as much as my own birthday – 1995.  My favorite sport is, by a mile, football, and my favorite team, forever, will be the Eagles.  To know that we have not reached the pinnacle of our sport since that game hurts greatly.  It is the butt of every joke for other fans to tease us with.  But it will only make it that much better, when we finally get back to the Super Bowl, and we win it.  There’s a special place in my heart for the number 60.  1960’s the last time our team was at that pinnacle, my favorite Eagle of all time, Bednarik, wore the number 60, and he was also the last of the 60-minute men.  And best of all, he conquered the team of the 60’s, Lombardi’s legendary Packers.  Who, for the majority of the decade remained atop the NFL as champions; except for that one shining moment in 1960.  There, in the sun, in the heart of Philadelphia, the Eagles, my Eagles, were number one.     

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Brady Hoke is the Bigger Person

        Today, I applaud Michigan head coach Brady Hoke for being the bigger person.  Not literally, but for a great gesture he made to a certain individual.
        You may have heard a recent story about 12-year-old Ohio State fan Grant Reed who overcame a stint with a brain tumor he named "Michigan."  Being a die-hard Michigan football fan myself, you could imagine my distaste when the story came out and the name of Michigan was equated with such a horrible thing.  "Blasphemy," I thought, but even then I was glad Michigan had lost this battle.  So you could imagine my surprise when I heard that Brady Hoke was rewarding this child who thought of my future college as a cancerous cell. Hoke gave him two tickets to this years Michigan-Ohio State game in Ann Arbor.  It was a move that nobody saw coming, and caught me completely off guard.  But after some deliberation, I realized that Hoke had made a genius move.  Giving Grant Reed these tickets was more than just saying "no hard feelings" or "congrats on getting better."  These tickets acknowledge the fact that even in the greatest rivalry in college football, it's still just a game.  There are more important things in life than football. Hoke knows that, and Grant Reed probably knows that now too.  In addition, Hoke made himself, and Michigan seem like the bigger person.  It's similar to a scenario where a bully comes up to Hoke and says, "You're ugly and fat," and Hoke responds with a, "You know what you need? A hug."   And although Grant Reed is in no way a bully, that's essentially what happened here.  Brady Hoke is redefining what it means to be "a Michigan man," and what the "Michigan difference" is all about.  Really, the decision was just a touching gesture, but it says so much more about Hoke's character and the University of Michigan.          


Friday, July 19, 2013

Seven Bold Predictions For the Second Half of the MLB Season

With the All Star Break marking the unofficial halfway point of the baseball season, the second half of the season is upon us. Here is a list of possibilities for the rest of the year that seem far-fetched, but are all possible.

1. Chris Davis will hit 60 home runs

With 37 home runs already under his belt, Chris Davis has the most home runs of anyone in baseball. He is no longer swinging at as many bad pitches, which is evident by his walk rate at a career high, and his strikeout rate at a career low. His Orioles still have 66 games remaining, and if he can keep up his current pace, a 60 home run season for Davis is in the cards.

2. The Cleveland Indians will make the playoffs

The Indians haven't made the playoffs since 2007, but that could change this year. Sitting at only 1.5 games out of the division leading Tigers and only 3 games behind the second wild card, the Indians are in the thick of the playoff race. They are currently one of the best hitting teams in the American League, ranking fourth in runs scored. The Indians also have arguably the easiest September in all of baseball. In their final 23 games, the only teams they play are the Mets, Royals, White Sox, Astros, and Twins, making a postseason berth even that much harder to choke away. Then again, it's Cleveland, which in and of itself is enough of a reason to justify them having no real shot at all.

3. The Miami Marlins will not have the worst record in the National League

This should come as a surprise to nearly everyone, but the Marlins are 19-14 over their last 33 games. They have played much better since Giancarlo Stanton has returned from the DL, and their young starting pitching is improving. Jose Fernandez, Jacob Turner, and Nate Eovaldi continue to improve, and their bullpen has actually been surprisingly strong. With the Chicago Cubs looking to sell their veterans, don't be surprised if they fall beneath the Marlins in the standings.

4. Yasiel Puig will NOT win NL Rookie of the Year

Let me explain. Puig is currently hitting .391 with 8 HR and 19 RBI. Those numbers are outstanding. Over his last 12 games, however, he is hitting .267 with 0 Hr, 2 RBI and 14 strikeouts. Puig, like any other player, could be mired in a bad slump. More likely, though, teams are starting to figure him out. Unfamiliar players often have more success in the beginning of their careers due to limited information on them, but struggle when other teams create better scouting reports. Aside from this, rookie pitchers Jose Fernandez and Shelby Miller have put together very good complete seasons. Each of them have ERAs under 3.00 and have had more success in the majors than Puig thus far.

5. Cole Hamels will finish the season with a winning record

Entering the first year of his new contract, Cole Hamels was supposed to do big things this year. At 4-11 with a 4.05 ERA, however, his 2013 season has been a big disappointment. Hamels, though, is is 2-0 with a 1.57 ERA in July, and he has looked more like the pitcher of old. Hamels will balance out his underwhelming first half of the year with an extraordinary second half to bump his record over the .500 mark.

6. The New York Yankees will finish in last place in the AL East

The Yankees have been plagued with injuries all year, and with Derek Jeter returning to the disabled list, everything seems to be looking down for the rest of the season. Believe it or not, the Yankees have overachieved this season, currently sitting at 51-44. However, this team has given Travis Hafner (.218 avg, 12 HR, 37 RBI) the most ABs in the cleanup position, has been forced to make Zoilo Almonte an everyday player in their lineup, and has four starting pitchers with ERAs above 4.00. Simply put, this is not a winning team. This run they've had is unsustainable, and the Yankees will falter sooner rather than later.

7. The Pittsburgh Pirates will make the playoffs(!!!)

Considering the Pirates are 56-37 and just one game behind the best record in baseball, this prediction is not exactly bold. Even with that, this team was 54-40 last season, and they still managed to finish with a losing record! (20 in a row, for those counting.) Knowing that, any prediction of this organization in the playoffs is risky. What makes this team different from past years is that they currently have the best pitching in baseball, and they have more experience. If everything holds true to form, the Pittsburgh Pirates will be in the playoffs for the first time since 1992.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Eli Manning Off-season Update

       World-class athlete Eli Manning was spotted recently in the thick of his rigorous off-season conditioning program.  Obviously taken right after some sort of abdominal exercise, this photo gives Giants fans the answer to their one burning question: Is Eli ready for the upcoming season?  Well, it appears so, as he is clearly in top physical condition, though caught off-guard with his stylish Versace red bucket.  But I'm not hatin' on Eli's lack of muscle-tone or the happy trail on his suddenly-voluptuous stomach.  He's doing exactly what a two-time Super Bowl champion is supposed to be doing: kicking back, and saying "f*** you" to the paparazzi.  Still nobody knows how Eli got those two Super Bowl rings and why his older brother has only has one, but Eli doesn't care.  After all, he's a quarterback.  Why does he need to run a 4.4 40 or bench 350 pounds? He doesn't, and that's the point.  As long as Eli can hop back 3 yards, and sling the football a mile, he could care less.  He's not out of shape, he's actually in the exact shape a Hall-of-fame quarterback should be, and for that, Eli, we salute you.  Keep having fun at the beach, and don't let anyone tell you to eat a salad again.
         Do you think Eli looks out of shape? Comment below...

Who is Teddy Bridgewater?

With all the hype leading up to the college football season, you've probably heard the name Teddy Bridgewater thrown around in Heisman discussions and quarterback debates.  But who exactly is this mysterious man? Well he's quite possibly the best football player in this year's draft class (yes, Jadeveon Clowney fans).  He's the guy who got his helmet blasted off on the first pass play from scrimmage in the Sugar Bowl last year, got back up, said "thank you sir may I have another" and then nonchalantly lead his team to one of the biggest upsets in BCS history over the nation's 2nd ranked Florida defense.  No, he doesn't have the flashy numbers that pop out to you on the TV screen, and he doesn't play the best competition on a week to week basis in his conference, but he is the best quarterback in college football.

 One reason why he's so good at what he does is his decision making ability.  Too often do college quarterbacks panic and look to take off when the feel pressure.  What makes Teddy so unique is the fact that he can sense pressure, escape it while keeping his eyes downfield, and hit the open man.  This ability was on full display in the Sugar Bowl against a far superior defensive line, but specifically against Cincinnati last season.  On one particular play, he felt the pressure from his right, climbed the pocket and threw a perfect strike 51 yards down the sideline to his receiver Damian Copeland.  This play, when observed closely, shows extreme maturity for a  true sophomore QB, and displays skills that many NFL  quarterbacks do not possess.

 Next, is his pass-first mentality.  Teddy is a passing quarterback first, but he is also dangerously fast.  In today's NFL of RG3s, and Russell Wilsons, having a mobile quarterback is extremely valuable.  Yet, what makes Teddy so valuable is how he uses his speed as a last resort.  When he has the ball, Teddy is thinking of doing only one thing: throwing it, even if that means taking a vicious hit.  A lot of QB's who are fast tend to use that speed as much as possible.  In his freshman year, Teddy fell victim to this impulse, yet this past year, often slowed by injury, he was forced to sit in the pocket and become effective that way, using his speed only when it was absolutely needed.  Because of this, his toughness and accuracy with the football were on full display for all scouts to see.

 Lastly, Teddy is the ultimate team player.  From a young age, the notion of 'team' was engrained in young Theodore when his mother was diagnosed with cancer.  Teddy was in high school  at the time and wanted to quit football so he could care for his mother or possibly get a job.  Fortunately, his mother urged him to stay with football and now she is cancer free.  Besides being a total momma's boy (which I love), Teddy is the only player to publicly refuse a Heisman campaign, talking only of focusing on team goals, which could wind up to be the smartest campaign ever to win the hearts of voters.  While the Louisville administrators may be disappointed in Teddy's lack of self promotion (he didn't have a twitter account until after this past season), the Cardinal faithful and college football fans everywhere should appreciate what they have in front of them.  It's rare that in today's culture of mega-stars, we and especially NFL teams find a player with so much talent that is so selfless.  Most importantly, make sure to watch out for number 5 coming this fall.  He just might be the next big thing.

Ranking the Top 25 NBA Free Agents and Where They May Land

1. Chris Paul

CP3 is the best free agent this year. He is the best point guard in the NBA, and is not a distraction off the court. He goes about his business just like every NBA player should, and all he wants is to win. At just six feet tall, Paul is not big, but he is the ultimate competitor. Paul can do everything, averaging 18.6 points, 9.8 assists, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.4 steals per game over his career. Paul can shoot the ball well, he makes good decisions, and unlike most other superstars, he loves to defend. Paul can take over the game when he needs to, but he normally likes to create shots for his teammates. If there is one issue with Paul, it is his knees, but when you factor in everything else he can do, he is definitely worth the risk.

Possible Fits: Signed with LA Clippers

2. Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard's inability to settle on a decision has been well documented. It's anyone's guess where Dwight might sign. Obviously, last season in Los Angeles did not go as planned. The Lakers failed to win a playoff game, and Howard did not get along well with head coach Mike D'Antoni. D'Antoni is not going anywhere, however, which leads many to speculate that Dwight very well may be on the move. Howard wants to win a championship, but he cannot do it by himself. He has said he wants to be the man on the next team he plays for, but at the same time he wants to play with at least one other star. It's very difficult for any team to meet all of Dwight's demands, and it seems that no matter where he lands, it will only be a matter of time before he is unhappy again.

Possible Fits: Houston, Dallas, LA Lakers, Atlanta, Golden State

3. Andre Iguodala

At 13.0 points, 5.4 assists, and 5.3 rebounds, Iguodala's stats last season did not seem special. Iguodala's game, however, goes so far beyond what his numbers suggest. He is one of the best defenders in the game, and always works hard. Offensively, his shot is weak, but he can run an offense when asked. He is a very good ball handler and has great court vision as a passer. Iguodala understands his role on the team, and does not try to do more than he is asked to. At 29 years old, Iguodala wants to win now, which is likely why he opted out of the final year of his max contract. Contenders will be calling for Iguodala, as he may be the missing piece a team needs to win.

Possible Fits: New Orleans, Detroit, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Denver, Cleveland

4. Josh Smith 

Josh Smith is a multi-dimensional basketball player, averaging 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and nearly two blocks per game last season. He can affect the game in many aspects, and even at 6'9", he can also handle the ball well. Smith's major drawback, however, is that he is a below-average shooter. For his career, he is only a 28% three point shooter, which is not acceptable for a player who many label as a small forward. Also, this past season, he was only 52% from the line, which is totally unacceptable for anyone. Bottom line, Smith is a big time player who can really help a lot of teams, but his shooting appears to be something that will always hold him back.

Possible Fits: Boston, Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, Dallas

5. Al Jefferson

Over his career, Al Jefferson has averaged 16.4 points and 9.0 rebounds per game, but he still remains one of the more underrated players in the NBA. In a league where quality centers come few and far between, Jefferson is in line for a huge pay day.  At 6'10" and 290 pounds, he is at times dominant in the post and he rarely turns the ball over. Jefferson will have many suitors this offseason, and it is very possible that he will be playing in a different uniform next season.

Possible Fits: Charlotte, Utah, Dallas, Atlanta, Houston

6. Brandon Jennings (R)

Averaging 17.5 points and 6.5 assists per game, Jennings is one of the better guards in the NBA, and at just 23 years old, he has plenty more room for growth. He is a proven scorer but he comes with a low field goal percentage due to poor shot selection. Also, his assist rates are a little low for the point guard position, something that needs to improve if he wants to keep starting there. Still, Jennings has shown what he can do, scoring 55 points in a game his rookie season. Jennings is in line for a huge contract, and it remains to be seen if Milwaukee will match any offer sheet he signs.

Possible Fits: Milwaukee, Sacramento, Atlanta, Dallas

7. Paul Millsap

Millsap averaged 14.8 points and 7.1 rebounds last season playing alongside Al Jefferson, and he is in line for a big contract. Millsap is more athletic than most other power forwards, and he has consistent mid-range jump shot. At 28 years old, Millsap will certainly be contacted by other NBA teams, but different than Jefferson, Millsap appears more likely to return to Utah.

Possible Fits: Utah, Atlanta, Charlotte

8. David West

The 6'9" power forward proved this past season that he can still play, averaging over 17 points and nearly 8 rebounds per game. This was big for a player that many assumed was falling off, averaging under 13 points and under 7 rebounds per game the year before. At 6'9" and 250 pounds, West is a legitimate NBA big, and coupled with a deadly mid-range jump, he is still a very effective player. There is mutual interest between West and the Pacers, so a return seems likely.

Possible Fits: Indiana

9. Andrew Bynum

If Andrew Bynum was healthy, there is no doubt that he would be a top five free agent in this class. At 7'0" and 285 pounds, he could be a huge asset on the court for any team. Unfortunately, Bynum is nowhere near healthy. His knees are so fragile that even if he returns, it seems as if it will only be a matter of time before he gets hurt again. Bynum will be looking for a big contract this offseason, though it is highly doubtful that any team will give him one. Putting too much trust into a fragile Bynum could completely derail a team's season (See: Sixers, Philadelphia). There is no doubt, however, that a team will take a risk on Bynum for next season, and it could pay huge dividends if he gets healthy.

Possible Fits: Dallas, Cleveland, Portland, LA Lakers

10. Nikola Pekovic (R)

For those of you who don't know, Pekovic is an absolute animal. At 6'11" and 290 pounds, he may be the biggest man in the game today. Averaging over 16 points and nearly 9 rebounds per game last year,  Pekovic is a legitimate starting center in the NBA. Unfortunately for other teams who may be interested in his services, Pekovic is a restricted free agent, and Minnesota loves him. Although he may receive some big offers this offseason, it is very unlikely the Nikola Pekovic will be playing anywhere other than Minnesota next season.

Possible Fits: Minnesota, Portland, Cleveland

11. Tony Allen

Allen is widely regarded as one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. Although his offensive game is suspect at best, as defense easily makes up for it. Allen would thrive on a team that has many other offensive options, so he can just focus on what he does best. Good defensive players are hard to come by in the NBA, and Allen will be sought after by many teams this offseason.

Possible Fits: Memphis, Oklahoma City, New York, Indiana, LA Clippers, Denver

12. Jeff Teague (R)

Teague has improved as a player every year in the NBA, and he took a huge jump as a point guard this past season. Averaging 14.6 points per game last season, the 25 year-old point guard saw his assists averages rise to 7.2 per game, up from 4.9 per game the season before. Teague is a decent shooter and a quick player, and will probably receive a good offer this offseason. It does not appear likely that Teague will leave Atlanta though, as the Hawks will have enough money to match any offer sheet he will sign.

Possible Fits: Atlanta, Milwaukee, Dallas

13. Tyreke Evans (R)

Averaging 20.1 points, 5.8 assists, and 5.3 rebounds per game as a rookie, Tyreke Evans was labeled by many as the league's next star player. Every season since his rookie year, however, his stats have regressed to the point where he only averaged 15.2 points, 3.5 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game. Still, at just 23 years of age, Evans still has plenty of time to figure things out in his NBA career. He will likely receive a large offer sheet this offseason that the Sacramento Kings may not match, as Evans may just need a little change of scenery to get his career back on track.

Possible Fits: New Orleans, Sacramento, Detroit

14. Jarrett Jack

Jarrett Jack played a huge role for the Warriors last season. Despite coming off the bench, Jack became a leader for that young team and stepped up big in the playoffs. Averaging 12.9 points and 5.6 assists per game during the regular season, Jack averaged over 17 points per game in the playoffs, to go along with 4.7 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game. He is a smart player and a good shooter, and he could easily fill the same role for this upcoming season for the Warriors or another young team.

Possible Fits: Golden State, Indiana, Cleveland, Denver, Dallas

15. Tiago Splitter (R)

Tiago Splitter had his best year in the NBA this past season, starting 58 games and averaging 10.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, as well as shooting 56% from the field. Playing under 25 minutes per game, however, the 6'11" center will likely look for a situation where he can receive more playing time. If Splitter is to sign an offer sheet with another team this offseason, the Spurs will have the chance to keep him by matching the offer sheet, as he is a restricted free agent.

Possible Fits: San Antonio, Portland, Atlanta, Dallas

16. Monta Ellis

Ellis has always been known as a scorer in the NBA, but with his bad shot selection and inconsistent defensive effort, he often hurts his team just as much as he helps. Though Ellis does manage to average 6.0 assists per game, he also averages over 3 turnovers per game. Personally, I think Ellis has been misused as a starter throughout his career. Ellis would be much more effective as a sixth man on a good team, playing a similar role as JR Smith played with the Knicks. If Ellis would sign as a sixth man rather than a starter, he would be a much more effective player.

Possible Fits: New York, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Dallas

17. JR Smith

Coming off a big year in which he averaged 18.1 points per game and won the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award, Smith's value has never been higher, and he seems to be in line for a large contract. Although Smith scores a lot, he makes a lot of poor decisions and plays nearly no defense. Smith can be a very good scorer, but his play is inconsistent and can be frustrating for whoever he signs with.

Possible Fits: Milwaukee, Utah, Phoenix, New York

18. JJ Redick

Redick had a breakout season this past year, averaging 14.1 points per game. He is an elite shooter who really helps spread the floor when he is on the court. At 29 years old, Redick is playing the best basketball of his career, and his contract year could not have come at a better time. His value is higher than it has ever been, and he may be in line to cash in with a team in need of a shooter.

Possible Fits: LA Clippers, Chicago, Indiana, Minnesota, LA Lakers

19. OJ Mayo

Through five years in the NBA, Mayo's inconsistencies have been well documented. Averaging nearly 18 points per game before the All Star break last season, he averaged under 11 points after the break. Mayo is very tough to predict and he is a big risk, but if he can somehow manage to put it all together, he could prove to be one of the better scorers in the league.

Possible Fits: Chicago, LA Clippers, Minnesota, Utah

20. Carl Landry

Landry was a very effective role player for the Warriors last season, but he opted-out of his contract after the season ended. At 29 years old, Landry has played some good years in the NBA, but he has never had the opportunity to start over a full season. Over his career, Landry's averages per 36 minutes are 17.4 points and 7.8 rebounds, and he will likely be looking for a job where he can finally play more than the 23.2 minutes per game he got last. Landry seems to be undervalued on this market, and one team may get a steal with him this offseason.

Possible Fits: Golden State, Portland, Boston, LA Clippers

21. Kevin Martin

Martin played as well as he could last season, but he was not able to fill the void in Oklahoma City left by James Harden. He can no longer average 20 points per game, and aside from his stellar shooting, he does not bring much to the table. He is a one-dimensional basketball player who offers nearly nothing on the defensive end. At 30 years old, Martin can still contribute as a shooter to a good NBA team, but not much else.

Possible Fits: Oklahoma City, Indiana, Dallas, Portland

22. Manu Ginobili

Yes, Manu is a free agent, and that does mean he is free to talk with other teams. However, after playing his entire career in San Antonio, one can only imagine that he would want to return to the Spurs and presumably finish out his career there, especially after making it all the way to the NBA Finals this past season. Even though there is no denying the fact that Ginobili's role is diminishing in San Antonio, finding another place where he could play an even larger role and still compete for a championship would be very hard to find. 

Possible Fits: San Antonio

23. Mo Williams

At 30 years of age, Williams is no longer the player he once was. Ideally, the best situation for Williams would be on a contending team where he would play significant minutes off the bench, similar to Jarrett Jack in Golden State this past season. Williams, however, has reportedly informed the Jazz that he will not return unless he is the starting point guard next season. With the Jazz drafting Trey Burke, it is likely Williams will have to look elsewhere for a starting job. I just cannot see Mo Williams as the starting point guard for a contending team, and in league with such an abundance of point guards, finding a starting job anywhere may be tough.

Possible Fits: Atlanta, Utah, Boston, Chicago, Sacramento

24. Darren Collison

Averaging 12.0 points and 5.1 assists per game this past season for Dallas, Collison is nothing special. Still, at just 25 years old, he is a respectable player in the NBA, and could serve as a quality backup point guard for many teams. This will likely be the job he lands, as there are just not too many teams who will turn to him to be their starter. 

Possible Fits: Dallas, Indiana, New Orleans, Atlanta

25. Al-Farouq Aminu

Aminu is an interesting player who is still early in his basketball career. Starting 71 games for the Hornets last season, the 6'9" forward averaged 7.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. He is just 22 years old and one would assume that he has plenty more room for growth in his game. Still, at a mere 215 pounds to go along with an awful jump shot, he has been labeled a 'tweener' in today's game. Furthermore, he has a poor feel for the game and is a turnover machine. In spite of all this, Aminu is a freakishly good athlete who truly could develop into one of the best defenders in the NBA, which could make him a huge, low-risk steal in free agency.

Possible Fits: New Orleans, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Phoenix