THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR rolls the dice in Vegas this weekend

Keep an eye on Kevin Harvick. Photo by Wiki Commons

It's been a season of surprises as the NASCAR Cup Series begins its West Coast swing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This is one of NASCAR's many mile and a half tracks, but this one is different as it is much more bumpy and when this track gets in the sun, it gets slippery as well. The track is a lot more narrow than the other mile and a half tracks as well, so there will be a lot more close quarter racing.

Last week at Homestead, William Byron pulled away from the field and went on to claim his second career victory. The Charlotte native battled back from early tire issues and ran as low as 31st until he was able to claw his way back to the front around stage 2 when he drove around the two JGR teammates of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin to take the stage victory. There has been a lot of expectations and hype around this young phenom but in his first three years, it took him a while to grow into a race winner. It wasn't until last year when Byron claimed his first win at the Daytona fall race. This year he was paired with crew-chief Rudy Fugle. This pair amassed tons of success when they worked together in the Truck Series back in 2016 when they won seven races. It seems now that the pair could be back to their winning ways. This looks like this could be a good pairing down the line.

As we all know, this has been the season of surprises and those surprises continued last week as Michael McDowell went on to his third consecutive top ten finish as he finished eighth. McDowell has been sort of a journeyman driver. He has raced for teams such as LeaVine Family Racing and the now defunct Michael Waltrip Racing where he got his start. While it has only been three races, he's in the midst of a career year beginning with a victory in this year's Daytona 500. Many thought that victory was a fluke and that he was "wasting a playoff spot," but since then he has proved his haters wrong as he currently sits fourth in the points. Will this streak continue? I think it can. His string of good runs puts him in an advantageous position as he gets to start up front each week and knowing how important qualifying was, he has really been able to take advantage of this. Look for the #34 Loves Ford Mustang to build on this.

The favorite for this week's race has to be Joey Logano. In the fifteen races Logano has started in here, he has ten top fives and two victories including last season's spring Vegas race in February. He hasn't got off to the best start as it's been three up and down races for him. From finishing second at the Daytona road course to following that up with a twenty-fifth last week at Homestead. This week though I believe he can get everything back on track with a good run or a victory.

The driver that I am picking to win this week is Kevin Harvick. The future Hall of Famer has been stout this season with a 6th and 5th place finish. The speed for Harvick and his team have been there, but they just haven't been able to get the win. But this week he's going to a track he has excelled at big time. He will start from the pole this Sunday and that should really scare the whole field. He has two victories here and twelve top tens since his beginning back in 2001. I look for him to get his third victory here and begin another run for his second championship.

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The Rockets selected Jalen Green with the No. 2 pick. Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images.

The city of Houston can finally rejoice as Jalen Green was selected as the number two pick by the Rockets at the 2021 NBA Draft. It was already suspected that the Rockets would draft Green from past reports. Shams Charania of The Athletic already reported that the Rockets narrowed their decision down to Green.

Green is an explosive shooting guard that can get in-and-out amongst the perimeter and paint. With the G-League Ignite, he averaged 17.9 points, 2.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. He is an excellent free throw shooter at 82.9 percent. Like James Harden, he is incredibly good at getting to the free throw line. Green has a good trigger from three by shooting 36.5 percent on 5.7 attempts a game. His mature status since high school has prepared him for the NBA.

"His down-hill playmaking is really hard to guard", as Joey Fucca, his ex-coach told TDS. "If he says he's going to get to the rim, good luck. He is very good at getting to the free throw line, he is also very explosive to finish above the rim. When his three ball is on, you're just going to have a long night. I wouldn't be excited to guard him."

Green has blistering speed with outstanding handles to blow by his defenders and score. Spectators have compared Green to a younger Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Bradley Beal, and Zach Lavine, which are superstar players. He is a particularly good midrange shooter underneath the perimeter, as he shot 35 percent on a small quantity of attempts in a shorter season.

"Jalen is a uniquely blessed guy. He's a transcendent athlete," as Rockets GM Rafael Stone said. "He can handle the ball, and he can shoot. Normally, people that athletic aren't as skilled. We think that combination of tools makes him an extraordinarily exciting prospect."

During his press conference on Thursday night, Green emphasized the achievements he wants to accomplish with the Rockets. Green even discussed his desire of being a better defender, as he wants to continue to get better. He has a great wingspan and lateral movement to stay with opposing players on defense and be disruptive in the passing lanes.

"They're going to say it's a great choice," Green said. "Rookie of the Year, All-Star, All-Defense, max contract. We're doing it big."

"Yeah, I think I can be that piece. I think I'm going to bring that dominant mentality, that defensive mindset…They already got a lot of star players"

As the draft continued, the Rockets sent future draft picks from the Wizards to land the 16th pick in the draft, which was 6'10 Alperen Sengun from Turkey. The 16th pick did belong to the Oklahoma City Thunder until Rafael Stone executed an interesting deal with Sam Presti.

"We did not think he would fall to us at 23, so we were really aggressive to try and move up all throughout the first round to acquire him," as Stone said.

Sengun's abilities on the court revolve around his post ups and skillful passing. He even maintains good feet along the baseline. In his press conference, he mentioned his passing skills can become better. There are clips of him looking impressive on shovel passes, passing the ball behind his back, and finding the cutting man towards the basket. Sengun looked good in double teams by showing he can still find the open man with his back turned.

While playing in the Turkish Super League, Sengun was an MVP at 18-years-old, averaged 19.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.5 assist, 1.7 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game. He could be another huge figure next to Christian Wood on the court, and a safety blanket for the Rockets if they cannot bring back Kelly Olynyk.

Usman Garbua is similar to former Rocket Luc Mbah a Moute. He is 6'8 with a tremendous wingspan at 7'3 and can guard anyone on the court, which is 1-5. Garbua was seen guarding Kevin Durant in the Team USA vs. Spain matchup and had interesting battles. The Rockets will get a ton of energy out of the 19-year-old player. He knows how to run the floor in transition, so he can finish around the rim. As I see it, he could be on a defensive first team in the future as he matures more. Garbua will become a defensive nightmare against opposing players.

"I think he's the best defender in the world outside of the NBA, and he's just 19 years old," Stone said. "I think he potentially could be really, really impactful on that side of the ball."

As the Rockets made their last selection, they selected Green's AAU buddy, Josh Christopher from Arizona State. He impressed a ton of scouts during his draft workouts and scrimmage against other prospects. Christopher had a double-double during his third scrimmage, which was 16 points and 10 rebounds. He is a very shifty guard with a ferocious step back.

While playing with the Sun Devils, he averaged 14.3 points per game and shot 49 percent from the field. Just like Green, he loved the midrange opportunities, as he shot 49.6 percent underneath the perimeter. He is another shifty big body the Rockets will have in their back court at 6'5. Christopher is very good at rebounding and playing defense. Stone loves watching him in defensive one-on-one situations. Christopher has Sixth Man of the Year written all over him because of his stocky body type and upside.

Hopefully, the Rockets have an exciting summer league and training camp along with their season.

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