Thunder in Oklahoma City

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By Stefan Anderson

It was all good just a week ago, well maybe a few weeks ago.

Prior to the All-Star break the Oklahoma City Thunder were rolling through teams, gathering wins in seven of its eight games during the stretch, and showing they are amongst the elite of the NBA. It has been a different story as of late for OKC , losing its last six of eight games heading into a downward spiral heading into the latter part of the season. But what has caused the Thunder to come falling down ?

The second ranked offensive team has struggled to complete games due to their inconsistencies of lineups have led the Thunder to fall out of the discussion of the top teams and one game from losing their 3rd place standing in the Western Conference.

OKC’s lineup has two gaps in the shooting guard and center position.

Since James Harden was sent to Houston, the Thunder has yet to find a solution at the two spot.  Andre Roberson has shouldered the load due his defense prowess but offensively just allows teams to help on drives and trap the teams prolific scorers, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Dion Waiters appeared to be a solution for a brief stint , but his streaky shooting has given Coach Billy Donavon and fellow teammates headaches. Although OKC traded for Randy Foye at the trade deadline, Foye has yet to find his niche amongst his new roster.

Why not give a proven shooter an opportunity? Anthony Morrow has been known to be less of a defender than a Roberson, but has a better offensive skill set than Roberson and with Waiters giving the Thunder a -5.7 rating while on the court and not to mention his current 24/68 shooting slump over the past  few games. I think Morrow makes a good fill-in for Thunder.

Also, Steven Adams gives solid minutes each night as a starter we practically ever seen their $70 million dollar signee, Enes Kanter,when it matters.  Kanter gives the Thunder another scorer when the possessions are closer allows another option for Durant and Westbrook to make more plays.

During the limited minutes experienced the lineup of Westbrook, Morrow, Durant, Ibaka and Kanter has been a plus in the majority of categories including points and field goal efficiency.  I am aware that the two players listed are not adept defenders but they Thunder have not been able to come up with stops with better defenders on the floor and cannot gain points either.

In their recent fourth quarter debacles, the Thunder have reverted to their old offensively ways of Durant/Westbrook isolate and score.  The two are in the top ten in isolation possessions this season, with Durant in 6th with 220 and Westbrook in 8th with 199, but have taken nearly half of their team’s shots during the final period.

For example:

  • In their loss to Indiana: Durant and Westbrook combined for 9-21 shots taken in the 4th.
  • Loss to vs New Orleans , 16-24
  • Loss to Golden State, 13-24
  • Loss to LA Clippers , 11-20
  • Loss to Golden State, 11-20

That ball stopping offense cannot help them win as it has been proven these past two weeks. The lineup change could be what they are looking with the recent slide. The Thunder are one of the best teams in the NBA, but will fall short again if they cannot figure out to close out games.

SB 50 Takeaways

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By Stefan Anderson

Usually, I am able predict who I think can win the Super Bowl each year but this year I had tough decision to make between The Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers. After many days of deliberating. I began comparing the teams’ two contrasting styles. I began to believe the Broncos had the edge with defensive front 7 and a better offensive unit, but something would not allow me to bet against Cam Newton after his MVP performance this season.

Ultimately a scrappy 24-10 Super Bowl 50 win, crowned the Broncos as the champs. While the match up was not as enticing as some expected, we were able to witness somethings that were not foreseen.

Peyton’s Final Game: Winning the Super Bowl only helped cement Peyton Manning’s HOF resume and solidified that he is a top five quarterback of all time. Previously, I stated that Manning was fighting the inevitable ending of the career and could not return to the glorious player he once was. But Manning returned after missing seven games due to injury and returned in a new role as a game manager. Prior to his injury, Manning was responsible for 17 interceptions, but since has only thrown interception and completing over 50% of his passes in route to his 2nd super bowl win. Manning reached title as possibly the best game manager we’ve ever seen heading to potentially his last game.

MVP: Despite the great season Newton had his spectacular run was halted when faced with the league’s top defense. But it goes to show how good he really was this season, with 45 total touchdowns without a true deep threat and a 1,000 yard rusher, they still managed to have a 15-1 record with a trip to the Super Bowl. But without that help last night, Newton showed how great that he has played and the helped need to win.

Defense Wins Championships: The cliché statement proved to prevalent as the top ranked defense conquered the top ranked offense. Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, Demarcus Ware and the front seven of the Broncos clogged every gap and rushed Cam Newton all night long. Newton has hit 13 times, forced to a horrific 16.9 QBR on 18-44 passing night.

Could either team return to the big dance? Carolina has a chance to return granted that they will be motivated after having that great season, will reach where they need to if they can find another target for Cam Newton as Kelvin Benjamin returns. Denver whether Brock Osweiler or Peyton Manning is under the center, can return but will have to defeat a furious Tom Brady and Co.

Buddy vs. Ben — Who’s Going First?

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By Kelsey Miller

Buddy Hield will be the first pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Why? I do not know any other player who can shoot as accurately as him, who is not already in the NBA. Adding a player with this much consistency will not only increase a future teams shooting percentage, but add to the depth of their bench. Can a player of this stature be compared to LSU’s star Ben Simmons? Absolutely. There are key differences between the two players but both guys would be a huge asset to any NBA team.

“Buddy Buckets” as he is normally called, is a monster behind the three point line. I watched him during a pregame make 30 threes in a row. In. A. Row. The only other person I see making 30 three pointers in a row is Steph Curry and I could not say that about him in college. Not only is Hield the best shooter in the Big 12, but arguably in the country. I’d like to see a three point competition between Hield and a few of the guys on BYU (also a great shooting team behind the arc).

In their last game against LSU, Hield was essential to their second half comeback win over the Tigers. He can deliver in situations where a clutch hand is needed. As a senior, Hield is a great leader. His teammates want to feed him the ball because they know he can make contested shots, let alone if the defense falls asleep and leaves him open.

Simmons is the most versatile 6’10” guy I’ve watched this year. Someone of that stature who can put the ball on the floor and take it to the rim, shoot consistently from midrange and behind the arc and bring the ball up the floor as a point guard is insane. The guy averages a double double with 19 points and 12 rebounds. How great is it for one of your big men to be able to play almost three positions at a time?

During the Oklahoma match up, Simmons made a reverse slam dunk which I see no college player doing anywhere. I’m used to the typical alley oop or fast break dunk down the middle of the lane, but putting the ball on the floor and driving past the defense for the reverse? That kid has NBA skills.

Why do I think Buddy Buckets will go number one over a versatile Simmons?  Hield’s resume is alot better than Simmons for many reasons. It’s about who you play and there are much tougher teams in the Big 12 conference than the latter SEC. I know Simmons will continue on the current one and done treatment and be a top three pick, but he has only spent one year with an unranked team who stands second in their conference at 13-8. As a senior, Hield has had ample time to improve on his jumper and become a leader. He will only become a better shooter as time goes on.

Ok, Now What

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By Stefan Anderson

Coming off an impressive win against the Los Angeles Clippers and showing signs of the alpha dog in the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers decided to make a huge change mid-season. After winning 10 of their last 12 games, only losing to the two best teams in the NBA, the Spurs and the Warriors, the axe has come down former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt.

Blatt, had to face the news of his firing on his day off, in what seemed to be the coming for a long time. Monday evening’s 132-98 massacre with Golden State might have been the last stop on the Blatt train but is one that doesn’t seem as farfetched.

From blatant disrespect from the league’s premier star and Cleveland’s prize possession Lebron James, after subbing himself mid-game during a match with Atlanta, calling his own audible on set plays and most recently sitting in Blatt’s chair on the bench, the message was clear that whatever the king says goes.

Although he coached Cleveland to a finals matchup with Golden State even capturing two game with a diminished roster to choose from. To then returning to having the best record in the East sitting 30-11, was still not enough to satisfy King James.

But this is very similar a former star who James’ game emulates after, Magic Johnson.

Johnson grew frustrated with his head coach at the time Paul Westhead during the 1981 season, similar to James, Magic also had his franchise in his palms and ultimately had Westhead removed from his position.

Luckily for the Lakers, there was an assistant by the name of Pat Riley, who stepped in and carried the torch to what we know now as the “Showtime” Lakers. Tyron Lue, will now step in as Cleveland head after five years of being an assistant for Boston, Los Angeles and Cleveland to help restore faith for the Cavs. Lue, as a player was coached by Phil Jackson and is under the coaching tree of former Celtics and current Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, and has the knowledge that can help lead the Cavs to the promise land.

The promise land won’t easy for the Land.

The Cavs have bigger fish to fry. Cleveland although remain on top of the East will have to win against either San Antonio or Golden State to win a championship. With the inconsistency of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love it will be a tough feat. The huge difference between Cleveland and the other top tier teams is depth and bench production.

San Antonio is 1st in bench efficiency; Golden State is 3rd and Cleveland ranks 24th, with the bench only accounting for 28.2 points a game. The Cavs will need the supporting cast step up or find pieces to help bolster their bench. Irving has missed 42 games over the past 3 season and has yet to play a full 82-game season in his short career, Love is currently battling an “undisclosed” injury, Iman Shumpert has only appeared in 19 games and Mo Williams has not played effective minutes in months. Once again, leaving the load on James to carry Cleveland once again.

Lue can be the solution for Cleveland, but their roster has to make some important changes that can that make sense of the 109 million dollar payroll. The overall goal has to be restore the relationships lost with Blatt and make your superstar, Lebron James, job a lot easier.

 

Sunshine In A Dark Place

d'antoni.jpgBy Stefan Anderson

Just over a decade ago, Mike D’Antoni was the head coach of the infamous Run-N-Gun Phoenix Suns in the late 2000’s, that made a lasting imprint on the NBA.Years removed the league, we missed D’Antoni’s offense in the NBA and pondered why such an explosive offense hasn’t been brought on by other teams. Now, the Marshall product has now returned to bench with the league’s worst team the Philadelphia 76ers, bringing a bright spot to the gloomy franchise.

We have seen this time and time, where D’Antoni’s offensive philosophy, that has birthed a new generation of basketball. The system focuses on playing with more space, a faster pace, allowing point guards to push the ball and getting shots early in the shot clock working to get more possessions out of each game.

The system has allowed many guards to flourish over the years. Examples are:

  • Prior to being traded for Carmelo Anthony in 2010-11, Raymond Felton was having his best NBA season. During the 54 games he played with the Knicks, Felton was able to put up 19.0 points per game and average career high 9.0 assists.
  • Can’t forget about that kid named Jeremy Lin, who had New York City in a frenzy under D’Antoni. “Linsanity” also had a great year under D’Antoni averaging 14.6 ppg and 6.2 apg.
  • D’Antpni most successful project thus far would be Steve Nash. Nash would go on to nab two MVP trophies under D’Antoni direction averaging 17.5 and 11.2 during his tenure with D’Antoni.

It’s shown that guards have benefited from D’Antoni success and his new point guard experiment Ish Smith has grown since his arrival. Smith has gone on to average 16.8 ppg and 8.3 apg since D’Antoni arrival. In his second tenure with the Sixers, Smith has gone on to have five game where he accounted for 10 assists or more.

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Not only did Smith improve under D’Antoni but the Sixers as a whole also have grown since December 18th.

Philadelphia prior to D’Antoni:  91.4 ppg on 81 FGA, 41% FGP, 32 % 3PT, and 18.7 apg

Philadelphia after D’Antoni: 99.7 ppg, 84.4 FGA, 45% FGP, 33% 3PT, 23.3 apg and winning 4 games during the 14-game stretch.

With point guard play and high offense being on demand, it doesn’t make sense why the offensive guru wasn’t given a chance prior to. Although Philadelphia is far from contenting again, this experiment it should allow him to find another opportunity elsewhere and possibly help solve the conundrum in City of Brotherly Love.

Watch The Throne

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By Stefan Anderson

June 16th caused a major shift in the balance of power for the NBA. The Golden State Warriors captured their first title in 40 years and the Cleveland Cavaliers still have that bitter taste of the finals loss.

Today on Christmas, we will finally get see the unanswered questions.

What if Cleveland had their big three? Would Stephen Curry be able to attack Kyrie Irving and make him look inadequate like the other guards he faced in the postseason? So many questions and now we finally get our answers today.

The most important question, has Lebron James’s crown been taken by Stephen Curry?

This is reminiscent of few years ago when Kobe Bryant was the alpha dog and an emerging Lebron James was coming to heir the throne and had to face off against him on Christmas day. James was 3-0 versus Bryant and ultimately took the NBA by storm. This win could be important for Curry as he puts his exclamation mark that he is the best player in the league.

Curry, fresh off his first championship and MVP award has shown no signs of slowing down and is playing at even higher level than the previous season. “Chef Curry” has seen a spike in each category other than assists and free throw percentage and his team is right along with him at astonishing 27-1 record.

But while Warriors are on a remarkable run, the balance of power in conferences has shifted as well. With the Eastern Conference being known as the weaker conference, we have seen more teams in the East improve as the 9th best team in the East, Boston, has same record as the 3rd best record in the West, the Clippers.

But as the East has gotten better, Cleveland still remains the best team in the conference and King James and Co, are headed back to full strength with the return of Kyrie Irving and Mo Williams and have to show that are just as superior as the Warriors.

The Warriors 1st ranked pace could be damaging for the Cavs 28th ranked pace, but it could also hurt Golden State as well. Unlike Golden State who has 13.5 point differential are not used to playing close like Cleveland. Cleveland has played in 8 games with the score was decided by 5 or less unlike Golden State that only played in four games.

But it will not be easy as King James is “Mr.Christmas”, averaging 26 points, seven assists and six rebounds and seven wins in his nine holiday appearances.

This will be an interesting matchup and will serve as an evaluation for the rest of the NBA to see who the real powerhouse team is.

Chasing History

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By Stefan Anderson

When you win 65 games and cap it off with the NBA Championship, you would consider that to be a great season.  For the Golden State Warriors, they have set the bar so high, that they not only have the rest of league competing for their spot but they have fight with themselves and history to remain on top.

“People say they’re going to go, 72-10, I don’t care they can go 81-1. We did it first.”said Dennis Rodman in a interview about the 14-0 Warriors.

With the steady comparisons between the 2015-16 Warriors and the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls that finished 72-10 but the comparisons came because we have not seen a team as dominant as the 95-96 Bulls roster.

As crazy it may seem, it is very for the possible for the Warriors to compete with the 72 -wins Bulls.

Golden State could contest 72-10 and possibly go past it, if they continue their formula of last season of protecting their home floor, when they only lost twice at the Oracle Arena.

Also they will have to stay as dominant as the Bulls were on in 1995-96. Chicago was able to remain on top by winning in great spurts that included two ten-plus win streaks and one that went for 18 straight. The Bulls were able win at least five games in a row before losing a game and only lost two consecutive game once during the 95-96 season.

The Warriors will have to clean up their 28–13 road record from last season where they fell to inferior teams like the Lakers, Nets, Jazz and Suns while striving for the Bulls record.

But with their unstoppable style of basketball, Golden State has a good chance. The Warriors move the ball constantly at their 4th ranked pace at 99.3 , which seven points faster than the 95-96 Bulls, even more than their league leading pace last season.

To defeat Golden State you nearly to have a perfect and keep it from prevent the contest from becoming a shootout as well. The Dubs are shooting over 40 percent from the field and behind the arc, while still holding teams to under 100 points a game while scoring nearly 115 per game.  Teams that have come close like Brooklyn, Toronto, Chicago and the Clippers, all had chances but the Warriors consistent efforts and style can erase leads quickly and expand them ever further as their +14.5 point differential shows.

Many think that they way for defeat Golden State is to take away Stephen Curry and his My Player like shooting off the dribble. But the Warriors can play without the moving with the ball in the reigning MVP’s hands. “Chef Curry” has completed 62 percent of his 71 shots from three when he is assisted.

The Warriors have many different ways of winning.  The emergence of Draymond Green makes Golden State scary with his ability to guard any player on the floor and remain effective on both sides is special. Green’s efficiency makes the Warriors so hard to beat as he is 7th in win shares and 8th in assist per game.

Golden State have shown how great they can be and have the opportunity to have the best start to a season at 15-0 on Sunday versus the Lakers and will have the world watching as they compete with history and their great season in 2014-15.

My Bold Predictions for the 2015-16 NBA Season

NBA: Playoffs-Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors

By Stefan Anderson

5, 4, 3, 2, 1, the countdown is finally over and the 2015-16 NBA season is here. Who’s going win it all? Who wins the MVP? Who stands out? I am here to give my Bold predictions for the 2015-16 season.

Golden State will not repeat: For the Warriors to repeat their success from last season would as easy as catching lightning in the bottle twice. Not to say that the Dubs won’t have a good season in 2015-16 campaign but I do not foresee the same luck they received last season. Golden State started the season winning their first 16 games, finishing 67-15 and only losing back to back once in the postseason. Crazy, when you really think how hard that will be to ditto. Doing so they would have to defeat one if not all the supreme teams in the West that includes the Spurs, Clippers and Thunder.

The next Draymond Green? Not skill wise but the in the context of a role player that makes a statement for his self. In the 2015 season, I have to put Washington’s Otto Porter and Indiana’s C.J. Miles in that category. With both of their rosters transitioning into faster pace offense, look for these two wings to transform off of the changes in offense and the increase of minutes.

MVP: For the MVP, I would like to see a player like Anthony Davis win the award, but the New Orleans star has yet to play an entire 82 games in a season. Therefore, with the additional talent surrounding him, Chris Paul will finally earn his first MVP award to solidify his legacy. My dark horse candidates will be Kevin Durant and Paul George, with both forwards coming back off grueling injuries and have a lot vengeance in their games.

Can LeBron continue to his reign? We ask this question each year and get the same results, so yes LeBron James will continue to be the best player in the NBA. Playing in nearly 100 games for the past four seasons, James has consistently played at the same level, averaging around 28/8/7 each season. With the bitter taste of losing his second consecutive finals, a hungry LeBron will be back this season, I expect him to be amongst that MVP conversation this year.

First Timers: Magic guard Victor Oladipo, Detroit Center Andre Drummond and LA Clipper Center DeAndre Jordan will all make their first all-star appearances this year. Jordan after signing his major contract this season will have to prove his worth. Oladipo rejoining the young core that Magic have kept together will burst into the teams true leader. Drummond will now be a priority with the departure of F/C Greg Monroe and Coach Stan Van Gundy’s 4 out and 1 in system he favors.

Defensive Player of Year: DeAndre Jordan believed he was snubbed out of last year’s DPOY award. In the 2015-16, DJ will claim the award at the season finale. Despite his free-throw woes, Jordan is still one of the best defenders in the league and will have another chance to prove his ability as an anchor as he did last season, when he lead the league in defensive win shares.

Most likely to beat Cleveland in the East: Many will say Chicago; I’ve got Miami being the team to dethrone King James and Co. The Heat will be able to counter Cleveland in all positions, with a lineup of Gorgan Dragic, Dwayne Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside. They also have a deeper bench and that player who can take over and win games for you in Dwayne Wade, unlike the Bulls. This pick is safe as long the Heat roster can stay healthy.

Most likely to beat Golden State in the West: OKC? LA? Houston? I’m going with the Spurs. San Antonio, always seems to find way to stay in the mix, now they are even deeper with the additions of David West and Lamarcus Aldridge. You’ve seen Memphis size give some issues to Golden State in the 2nd round of the 2015 playoffs , but the Grizzlies struggle with perimeter shootingand the Spurs do not lack in that department. I think they can force Golden State to play their tempo and have solid post players that can give Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut problems in the paint.

Missing the party: Brooklyn, Boston, Dallas and Portland were all playoff teams last season, however, this season will not be attending the postseason this year. These teams did not improve their rosters and have some questions going into the 2015-16 year. Portland losing nearly their entire starting 5 except for Damian Lillard, will have to depend on the young guard to lead them to promise land. Brooklyn, if Brook Lopez cannot stay healthy will have too much of a load for Joe Johnson to carry. Boston, has a good team similar to Dallas will have fight the teams on the cusp and doesn’t possess the talent to do so.

Joining the party:  Entering the playoffs this season will be Miami, Indiana and possibly Charlotte from the Eastern conference. In the West, Oklahoma City, Minnesota and I have a strange feeling about Sacramento being good this season (*Warning: this might be a reach*).

Finals Prediction: San Antonio vs Cleveland, Spurs in 6.

Who’s On Third ?

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By Greg Hudson

I don’t know: third base!

It’s a classic line from a classic comedy routine by Abbott and Costello. It’s also a question that the Los Angeles Dodgers will be asking themselves between now and Opening Day next season.

Losing a winner-take-all game is tough. Losing it in front of your home fans is tougher still. Losing it thanks in large part to a runner going first-to-third on a walk? Inconceivable.

And yet, as New York Mets first baseman Lucas Duda, a power-hitting lefty slugger, took ball four and trotted to first base, teammate Daniel Murphy seized the moment: and won the series.

It was the top of the fourth inning in the decisive game five of the National League Division series. After allowing a run in the top of the first on a triple off the bat of Murphy, the Dodgers responded with a pair of runs in the home half of the inning and led 2-1 as Duda came to the plate with one out and a runner on first.

The Dodgers, like most other teams the Mets have faced this season, had pulled a shift against Duda, leaving shortstop Corey Seager in his position and shifting third baseman Justin Turner to fill the hole between first and second, cutting down on the chance that pull-hitting Duda could turn on a pitch and pull it through the right side for a hit. The entire purpose of the shift in that situation was to limit the likelihood that Murphy, who stood on first base after singling to lead off the frame, would reach third on a hit by Duda.

But Duda turned in a good at-bat against Dodgers’ Cy Young candidate Zach Grienke, and held his swing on a 3-1 offering that missed low. After checking with the home plate umpire, Duda, trotted down to first and Murphy slowly jogged to second.

Perhaps the Dodgers had never practiced what to do if a pitcher walks a hitter with a shift on. Perhaps Turner, who first made a name for himself playing second base for the Mets in 2011, wasn’t familiar with the schematics. Perhaps Grienke was supposed to move off the mound to cover third while waiting for Turner to return to the hot corner, and keep Murphy at second base. Perhaps the Dodgers forgot there was a runner on.

Regardless of the specific conditions of the Dodgers’ mentality at the time, when Murphy approached second base, he took a glance over toward third base coach Tim Tueffel, and saw only Tueffel standing there. Just before reaching second, he broke into a sprint and within four seconds was sliding safely into third: long before Grienke could cover the bag and with Turner still on the right side of the infield.

It was a decisive moment in the game – as Murphy would score the tying run on a sacrifice fly a batter later and then capped off a monster night with a go-ahead home run in the sixth that would send the Mets to the National League Championship Series – and may prove to be a decisive moment in baseball strategy.

The infield shift has been a practice in baseball for nearly 90 years, beginning in the 1920s against lefty slugger Cy WIlliams. The practice was again employed in the 1940s against Hall of Famer Ted Williams, but these uses were designed more for psychological impact on the hitter than for actual defensive purpose.

But as metrics and statistics tracking advanced over the decades, spray charts helped teams track the hit location of their opponents, and lefty power hitters who pull the ball to the right side of the infield suddenly found themselves facing an unusual dilemma: an extra infielder on the right side of the infield.

And to a certain extent, the strategy has been effective. Shifting against a power hitter can lower his batting average by between 30 and 50 points, and by extension can save a team several runs over the course of a season.

But the shift is inherently risky. A hitter who squibs a ball softly toward third base can end up with a double if he has decent speed, as neither the shortstop nor left fielder are in position to field the ball quickly. More importantly, with runners on base, it leaves third base totally exposed.

And that fact has been exploited twice in very important postseason games in the past decade. In 2009, with the score tied in the top of the ninth inning of game four of the World Series between the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies, Johnny Damon stole second base and simply carried on all the way to third and went on to score what would be the winning run to give the Yankees a 3-1 series lead.

Then on Thursday in Los Angeles, Murphy’s first-to-third advance on a walk again highlights the weakness in the shift. It can be proven effective against hitters who pull the ball, but the risk of employing the stratagem with runners on base may result in a new shift: away from pulling an infielder away from third base unless the bases are empty.

Some will question the Mets’ merit in winning the series after benefitting from such a tactical blunder. Some will question whether the Dodgers can continue to consider themselves an elite organization after failing to advance past the divisional round of the playoffs for the third consecutive season. Others will question whether either the Mets or their NLCS opponents, the Chicago Cubs, can beat either American League candidate in the World Series. But there’s a more urgent question that still needs to be answered.

Who exactly IS on third?