Take 5: Fultz, Futility, Finance


Steven M. Falk/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS

The Philadelphia 76ers’ Markelle Fultz (20) shoots over the Washington Wizards’ Marcin Gortat (13) at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., on October 18, 2017.

By The Pitt News staff

We’re just one week away from the beginning of the NBA regular season, at which point professional basketball, football and baseball will all officially overlap. It’s a special time on the calendar, and The Pitt News staff has a take for each sports season.

Markelle, new and improved

The beginning of a new NBA season means it’s time to start making predictions for the upcoming year, including preseason projections for some of the individual awards. There is no honor more difficult to predict than the Most Improved Player Award, given annually to a player who shows significant improvement from the season prior.

This year is no different, as there are numerous players in different cities and systems who are expected to make a leap in their play this season. Still, with loads of untapped talent and nowhere to go but up, there is one player who has the best opportunity to be the NBA’s most improved — Philadelphia 76ers point guard Markelle Fultz.

Fultz was the first overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but his first season was, frankly, terrible. He only played in 14 games for the Sixers last season, averaging just 7.1 points per game on 40.5 percent shooting. Fultz also shot an abysmal 47.6 percent from the free-throw line. His poor shooting was a combination of a few factors, most notably a strange shoulder ailment that resulted in a complete loss of confidence in his own shooting ability.

Now Fultz is back for his second season and he is set up to succeed. With a fully healed shoulder and a reworked jump shot, he should be able to shoot the ball much better with his confidence restored. Fultz will also slide right into a role where he should shine, as a quality ball handler and second or third scoring option.

Fultz is back. He’s healthy, he’s motivated and he’s angry.

— Cale Berger, Staff Writer

Paper Tigers

Once again, the Cincinnati Bengals are off to a hot start — but in typical Bengals fashion, they haven’t proven much. Cincinnati is 4-1 with wins over the Colts, Ravens, Falcons and Dolphins — not exactly murderers’ row, and the rest of the Bengals’ schedule isn’t very daunting either. They’ll get their first real test when they host the Steelers on Sunday.

It’s like clockwork for the Bengals almost every year. They start hot and talk about how different this Bengals team is and how great a head coach Marvin Jones is, only to go .500 for the rest of the season and lose in the wild-card game — again, like they’ve done for Jones’ entire tenure as head coach.

Honestly, it’s inexplicable. There is so much talent on that team, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Joe Mixon, A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and Giovani Bernard should be enough for Andy Dalton to work with, but his inconsistent play combined with poor defensive coaching yield the same, disappointing results every year.

My advice — don’t trust the Bengals. Not until they prove they can compete with the league contenders or make some drastic changes. A coaching change is the obvious answer, but I think a quarterback change may be necessary as well.

— Stephen Thompson, Staff Writer

Show me the money

One of MLB’s distinct approaches to professional sports is the lack of a salary cap. The lack of a cap often benefits big-market teams, which can bring in more money and in turn spend more to assemble a winning team. While there have been low-spending teams that find sporadic success in the regular season and playoffs, the high spenders usually win more.

Out of the past seven World Series winners, only two teams were below the league average for total payroll — one of which was the 2017 Houston Astros. The other team was the Kansas City Royals, and their story still proves that money wins. The Royals had the 18th-highest payroll at around $98 million in 2014, and unfortunately lost in the World Series. After that loss, they bumped their payroll to the 13th-highest and managed to best the New York Mets for the championship the next year. Unsurprisingly, the other five championship teams were all in the top 10 for total spending.

Regarding this year’s teams, the biggest surprise was the Oakland Athletics grabbing a wild-card slot with the 28th-highest total payroll. However, they got rocked in the elimination game by the New York Yankees, who spent just short of $100 million more than the Athletics this year. The only remaining playoff team that’s below league-average payroll is the Milwaukee Brewers, who are spending roughly $54 million less than the next-highest remaining playoff team.

Without a spending cap, the MLB heavily favors those whose pockets run deep. While the smaller-spending teams can earn minor victories, it’s unlikely they’ll ever win big.

— Sami Abu-Obaid, Staff Writer

It ain’t easy being Brees-y

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees broke the all-time passing yardage record for the NFL on Monday night, surpassing the great Peyton Manning and Brett Favre. This event begs the question — who is the best quarterback of all time? Now, most people would throw out names like Manning or Favre, as well as Dan Marino (Hail to Pitt), Joe Montana and, of course, the great Tom Brady. In my opinion, Brees deserves to have his name mentioned among those legends.

With 363 passing yards Monday night in a blowout victory against the Washington Redskins, Brees stands at 72,103 yards for his career. Not only is he number one in that category, but he also ranks first in career completion percentage (67.1), most completions of all time (6,344) and most seasons leading the NFL in passing yards (7), as well as fourth all-time in passing touchdowns (499) and many more statistics. Keeping in mind that he is still active and doesn’t appear to be slowing down at all, Brees has a real chance to widen the gaps in categories he leads in and close the gap in ones he doesn’t.

Highlighted by a Super Bowl victory in 2009, a time when the city of New Orleans was still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and needed something to be happy about, Brees has had an illustrious career. That’s why I’ve always been confused as to why most people don’t consider him in the debate for GOAT status. But until they do, he will remain the most underrated player to ever throw a football.

— Jack Clay, For the Pitt News

Haskins for Heisman

Ohio State Buckeyes sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins is currently in the midst of a breakout season. Haskins has filled the high expectations left behind by former starting quarterback J.T. Barrett, who moved on to the NFL after completing his fifth season as a Buckeye. The relatively unknown quarterback was a wild card entering the season, but he’s shown that he is fully capable of bringing a championship back to Columbus.

The numbers that Haskins is putting up in his first season as a starter are remarkable. He’s completed 71.7 percent of his passes for 1,919 yards and 25 touchdowns through only six games. Odds are that Haskins will only improve as the season goes on and should be in the end-of-year Heisman award conversation as the nation’s top talent.

Haskins has showed college football nation he can showcase his abilities in meaningful games against ranked opponents. On Sept. 29, Haskins and the Buckeyes traveled to a sold-out Beaver Stadium to face their bitter rivals, Penn State, in a prime-time showdown. He initially struggled but came out in the second half and led Ohio State to a 27-26 victory over the No. 9 Nittany Lions. This game showed that Haskins is the real deal, regardless of how strong the opposing team may be.

Haskins is currently second in the Heisman Trophy voting behind Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The sophomores are both having stellar seasons that could put their programs in contention for the national championship. If Haskins finishes the season like he’s started, his stats and quality wins will earn him the Heisman Trophy.

— Tyler Moran, Staff Writer