1) Our Town’s Jayson Tatum is playing the best basketball in the NBA these days. With Tatum averaging 32.6 points, his Boston Celtics have won 11 of their last 13 games. But let’s go back two months. With Tatum averaging 30 points, the Celtics are 22-4 since Jan. 23. He’s pulling down plenty of rebounds, and delivering stylish assists, and earning praise for his dogged defense.
In Boston’s 20-point win at Denver on Sunday, fans were serenading Tatum with MVP chants. Tatum has performed at an MVP level, taking the Celtics from 23-24 to 45-28 and into fourth place in the Eastern Conference. With nine games remaining in their regular-season schedule, the Celtics are a threat to zoom past third-place Philly (44-27) and second-place Milwaukee (45-27). And first-place Miami (47-25) isn’t out of reach.
Tatum, 24, is averaging a career-best 27 points per game. He’s scored 30+ points in 12 of the last 26 games, and done it nine times in the last 13 contests. But the league MVP award? That probably won’t happen for Tatum – not with so many voters having fallen in love with Philadelphia center Joel Embiid and Denver center Nikola Jokic. More likely is Tatum being honored with an All-NBA selection. First or second team.
The Celtics will make noise in the postseason. They’re capable of winning the East – and winning everything. Especially if Tatum continues to pour in 30, 40 or even 50-point games. During Boston’s 22-4 run he’s shot 50 percent overall, and 40.5% from three-point range.
“We’ve been playing the right way, and we’ve been having fun doing it,” Tatum said. “We’re just trying to compete at a high level on a nightly basis, and it’s been working.”
2) Tatum will be keeping an eye on the Sweet 16. After graduating from Chaminade Prep, Tatum loved his one season at Duke, and is grateful for having learned so much from coach Mike Krzyzewski. When Duke’s run ends in the NCAA Tournament – with a championship, or sorrow – Coach K will retire after 47 seasons in Durham.
“It was great,” Tatum told CBS Sports HQ, speaking of his Duke experience. “I look back and think about just how much of an honor it was to play at Duke and to play for, if not the greatest, one of the greatest coaches of all time. To know everything he’s done for the game of basketball and to know I had a part in that — he’s somebody I’ve very close to to this day, me and coach. We talk all the time. He checks in on me all the time ever since I left Duke. I think that was the biggest reason why I went to Duke. He’s been there 40 something years.
“Everybody has been there. We’ve all played for the same coach. We have that bond. That’s what it is. Once you leave, you’re still connected. I get to go back and see the guys and watch the games. I still have a relationship with everybody. That’s what’s most important, and obviously trying to send him off on the right note next weekend in the Sweet Sixteen. Take it one game at a time and hopefully we end up as the champions.”
3) Nick Leddy looked good in his first game as a Blue. The defenseman may have even surprised some fans (including me) with his smooth performance on the power play. Leddy was mostly teamed with Colton Parayko in Tuesday’s 5-2 victory at Washington. But once again, it is wise to look closer at the underlying numbers. In his 11 minutes with Parayko at five on five, Leddy had a below-average Corsi rating of 43.7 percent. But when Leddy was paired with others at five on five — most notably Justin Faulk – he had a stellar Corsi rating of 63.6 percent. As I keep saying … and here I go again … Parayko’s immensely disappointing performance this season isn’t about Parayko’s partners. It’s about Parayko. So beware of the false media narratives.
4) One of the most intriguing players at Camp Jupiter is 25-year-old rookie Brendan Donovan who is bidding for a super-utility spot on the Cardinals’ season-opening roster.
Last season in the minors and the Arizona Fall League, Donovan scooted around to play second base, third base, shortstop, first base and the corner outfield. STL manager Oli Marmol, who covets a more flexible roster, will be moving Donovan around the diamond this spring.
Donovan has appeal in several different ways: his defensive versatility, his lefthanded swing, the ability to reach base, and his baserunning. Donovan’s power is coming, too. In 2021 Donovan put up terrific numbers at three different levels of the St. Louis system before lighting up the Arizona Fall League during a 15-game stint.
5) Let’s look at Donovan’s trajectory in ‘21. I’ll list – from left to right – his batting average, onbase percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. And then add a shorthand number that quantifies his offensive performance in the St. Louis system compared to the league average.
– Class A Midwest: 109 plate appearances, .295, .385, .421, and .806 OPS … 27% above league average.
– Class AA Springfield: 219 plate appearances, .319, .411, .449, and .860 OPS … 34% above league average.
– Class AAA Memphis: 131 plate appearances, .288, .389, .495, and .834 OPS … 39% above league average.
Donovan swiped 19 bases during this three-stop tour of Peoria, Springfield and Memphis.
In the Arizona Fall League, Donovan had 64 plate appearances and batted .308 with a .422 OBP, .519 slug and .941 OPS.
6) Donovan is already on the 40-man roster, and with MLB teams allowed to carry 28 players until May 1, Donovan obviously has a chance to make the big club.
Marmol sure does seem to like him. As the manager told STLtoday in a story written by Daniel Guerrero: “Gamer. Absolute baseball player. There’s certain guys that just know small parts of the game that just see the whole field. He’s one of them. He loves the game. He’s just a baseball rat. Doesn’t ever want to come out. I like his overall mentality. It’s impressive. Just plays the game right. Offensively he uses the whole field. Defensively he can play anywhere.”
7) MLB will use the “ghost runner” again this season during extra innings, putting a runner at second base before the start of the inning, and before the bottom of the inning. I hate it. Can we have an exorcism?
8) Wait … what? The KC Chiefs traded the lightning-strike playmaker Tyreek Hill to Miami for a batch of draft picks: a 2022 1st-rounder (No. 29), a 2nd-rounder, a 4th-rounder – and two selections (4th and 6th round) in the 2023 draft. According to ESPN, Hill agreed to a four-year, $120 million extension with the Dolphins that includes $72.2 million guaranteed.
Former NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III could have been speaking for all Chiefs fans when he tweeted: “Please God No!!!!” [Patrick] Mahomes and Tyreek are special together … that connection in KC is must see tv.”
9) Mahomes needs a new playmaker mate. In six seasons with KC, Hill had 479 receptions for 6,630 yards and 56 touchdowns – plus an additional five touchdowns as a return man. His accolades include six consecutive Pro Bowls and being a three-time All-Pro selection. What’s next for the Chiefs? They recently signed wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to join Mecole Hardman, the only wide receiver that returns from last season’s active Kansas City roster. The well-traveled Josh Gordon played in 12 games for the Chiefs in 2021 but finished the year on the practice squad. According to the NFL Network veteran wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling is traveling to Kansas City for a free-agent visit. Valdes-Scantling played for Green Bay over the past four seasons and grabbed 123 catches for 2,153 yards and 13 touchdowns.
10) Is this the craziest and wildest offseason in NFL history? YES. This is just a partial list of the huge moves we’ve seen over the last few weeks of hyper-intense activity:
– QB Tom Brady unretires, heads back to Tampa Bay.
– Seattle trades QB Russell Wilson to Denver.
– Cleveland acquires QB Deshaun Watson from Houston and gives him a new five-year deal worth $230 million. And Watson may not be able to play for a while. He could be suspended by the NFL over the allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate conduct that have been made against him by massage therapists.
– QB Aaron Rodgers stays in Green Bay after accepting a four-year contract worth $200 million.
– Rodgers’ favorite receiver, Davante Adams, wanted out of Green Bay and the Packers traded him to Oakland – with Adams promptly signing a $141.25 million contract (five years) that makes him the highest-paid WR in the league at an average of $28.25 million.
– Indianapolis trades QB Carson Wentz to Washington.
– Atlanta trades QB Matt Ryan to Indianapolis.
– Chicago trades pass rusher Khalil Mack to the LA Chargers.
– Pass rusher Von Miller bolts from the LA Rams and goes to Buffalo on a six-year, $120 million free-agent contract that features $51.3 million in guarantees. And he’s 31.
– Dallas trades wide receiver Amari Cooper to Cleveland.
– The LA Rams signed free agent wide receiver Allen Robinson.
– Dallas loses defensive end Randy Gregory, who rejected the Cowboys’ attempts to re-sign him by jumping to Denver on a 5-year, $70 million contract. This was a controversial piece of business, with Gregory accusing the Cowboys of forfeiting on his contract.
– Cincinnati gave QB Joe Burrow a bodyguard by signing former Dallas offensive tackle La’el Collins to a 3-year, $30 million free-agent contract. Burrow was sacked 70 times last season. Collins is the latest LSU guy to join Burrow in Cincy.
– Missouri alum Drew Lock went from Denver to Seattle in the Russell Wilson blockbuster and has a legit chance to become the Seahawks’ starter.
– But Cleveland has placed QB Baker Mayfield on the trade block, and he could be the next domino to tumble. To Seattle, perhaps?
– Las Vegas signed the underrated defensive end Chandler Jones – who had 10.5 sacks and six forced fumbles last season – to a 3-year, $51 million free-agent contract. Man, the NFC West keeps getting better and better … though Kansas City may disagree after the Tyreek Hill shocker.
Thanks for reading …
And pardon my typos …
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For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.