Bradley’s Buzz: Might the Braves win three in a row?

May 7, 2022 Atlanta - Atlanta Braves' starting pitcher Max Fried (54) throws a pitch in the first inning at Truist Park on Saturday, May 7, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

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May 7, 2022 Atlanta - Atlanta Braves' starting pitcher Max Fried (54) throws a pitch in the first inning at Truist Park on Saturday, May 7, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

The 2022 Braves have won twice in a row seven times. Six times they lost their next game. They’ll have another shot at a third consecutive win tonight. Max Fried is scheduled to pitch.

This is the part of these Braves – well, that and them being under .500 – that has been the most frustrating. Sometimes they look the way we figured they’d look. Then they don’t. Then they do again, though never for long.

The reason Alex Anthopoulos imported four outfielders last July was that the NL East was still winnable. The chance of overtaking the unimposing Mets was greater than claiming the league’s second wild card. On the morning of Aug. 1, 2021, the Braves trailed San Diego by eight games. (Nobody knew the Padres would collapse.) The first-place Mets were still within sight – five games ahead.

By Aug. 15, the Braves led the East. They would finish 11-1/2 games ahead of the Mets. Then the team with the worst record of MLB’s 10 playoff qualifiers won the World Series.

This season is different. Each league will have three wild cards, not two. The 25-27 Braves are three games back of San Francisco for the NL’s third wild card.

FanGraphs gives the Braves a 20.4% chance of winning the East; the chance of them making the playoffs is 68.6%. The second number is the one that matters, especially since there’s no more one-and-done wild-card game. Every team that makes the playoffs will work a series. The lowest wild card will play the division winner with the worst record, which at this moment would be Milwaukee. If memory serves, that’s how the Braves began October 2021.

The Braves would love to win the East, but winning the division isn’t as important this time around. That’s not to say they don’t want to win it. The top two division winners get a Round 1 bye.

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About the NBA and – yes, again – NIL

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Former Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, now coaching the G-League’s Agua Caliente Clippers, said: “Once they get into the (NBA) process, they start thinking of themselves as pros. It’s hard for them to come back.”

Credit: AJC

Former Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, now coaching the G-League’s Agua Caliente Clippers, said: “Once they get into the (NBA) process, they start thinking of themselves as pros. It’s hard for them to come back.”

Credit: AJC

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Former Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, now coaching the G-League’s Agua Caliente Clippers, said: “Once they get into the (NBA) process, they start thinking of themselves as pros. It’s hard for them to come back.”

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

On Thursday, the NBA announced that 112 players have removed their names from the NBA draft. Some names were even familiar. Drew Timme is staying at Gonzaga. Allen Flanigan is returning to Auburn. Isaiah Wong, whose agent claimed wasn’t earning enough, NIL-wise, will be back at Miami. Toumani Camara, formerly of Georgia and now of Dayton, is still an amateur. So is N.C. State’s Terquavion Smith, whose first name includes all the vowels.

Not long ago, the consensus among hoops cognoscenti held that it was the rare player who filed for draft consideration and pulled an about-face. As Paul Hewitt, now coaching the G League’s Agua Caliente Clippers, said: “Once they get into the (NBA) process, they start thinking of themselves as pros. It’s hard for them to come back.”

(Hewitt’s one-and-dones at Georgia Tech included Chris Bosh, Thaddeus Young, Javaris Crittenton and Derrick Favors. Jarrett Jack and Gani Lawal left three collegiate seasons.)

(Oh, and the Agua Caliente Clippers are based in Ontario, Calif., which sits east of L.A. in San Bernadino County. But we digress.)

The lure of NIL money has changed every dynamic. It’s possible for a player to earn more in college than in a lesser professional league. This time a year ago, NIL money wasn’t a thing. That’s how fast this happened.

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About the Hawks vis-à-vis the Warriors

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Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk during introductory press conference for new head coach Lloyd Pierce Monday, May 14, 2018, in Atlanta.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk during introductory press conference for new head coach Lloyd Pierce Monday, May 14, 2018, in Atlanta.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

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Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk during introductory press conference for new head coach Lloyd Pierce Monday, May 14, 2018, in Atlanta.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

General manager Travis Schlenk came here after an apprenticeship at Golden State. He sought to model the Hawks after guess who. He landed Trae Young and Kevin Huerter in the same draft. (Yes, a famous trade was involved.) Young and Huerter haven’t yet hit the same heights as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but here we pause for a reality check.

Curry didn’t make the playoffs until his fourth season with the Warriors; over his first five years, his team won one playoff round. Young and Huerter have made the playoffs twice in four seasons, winning two rounds and two play-in games.

The lesson from Golden State is that the Warriors, gracing their sixth NBA final in eight years, didn’t get championship-level good until they added center Andruw Bogut and sixth man Andre Iguodala to the core four of draftees Curry, Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. Schlenk made a deft move to pry Clint Capela from Houston, but Capela isn’t the many-splendored Draymond. (Nobody is.)

Golden State became golden because it learned to defend. That’s where Green, Bogut and Iguodala came in. The Hawks saved their 2020-21 season by guarding better under Nate McMillan than they had under Lloyd Pierce. They regressed in 2021-22. They finished 26th in defensive efficiency. The Warriors were second, the Celtics first. Here endeth the lesson.

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About the beat writer’s beat writer

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Former competitor, long-time colleague and Hall of Fame writer Jerry Tipton will retire at the end of the month.

Credit: Mark Bradley / Mark.Bradley@ajc.com

Former competitor, long-time colleague and Hall of Fame writer Jerry Tipton will retire at the end of the month.

Credit: Mark Bradley / Mark.Bradley@ajc.com

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Former competitor, long-time colleague and Hall of Fame writer Jerry Tipton will retire at the end of the month.

Credit: Mark Bradley / Mark.Bradley@ajc.com

Credit: Mark Bradley / Mark.Bradley@ajc.com

Jerry Tipton started at the Lexington Herald-Leader in 1981. He was the Kentucky beat writer for the morning Herald; I was the beat guy for the afternoon Leader. We were colleagues – our paper was the Herald-Leader on weekends – but also competitors. I left for the AJC in 1984. Jerry never left.

For 41 years, he covered UK basketball, never the easiest of things to cover. (Trust me on this.) He started with coach Joe B. Hall – “Smokin’ Joe,” Jerry dubbed him, borrowing a famous heavyweight’s nickname – and moved on to Eddie Sutton, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith, Billy Gillispie and John Calipari. Each got mad over something Jerry wrote. Jerry didn’t care. Jerry kept writing.

He’s the kind of beat writer who never saw himself as a functionary of the team he covered – in other words, the best kind. He was inducted into the U.S. Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame in 2007. He just announced he’ll retire at the end of the month.

I’m proud to know him. I’m slightly less proud that, over 41 years, I never once beat him to the arena.