Jonathan Marchessault, one of the six remaining original Vegas Golden Knights, has won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the 2023 NHL playoff MVP. Marchessault was tied for the playoff lead in goals (13), and he finished second to teammate Jack Eichel in points with 25.
With two assists through the first seven playoff games, Marchessault was nowhere near the Conn Smythe Trophy conversation. Then, he started piling up points like it was going out of style. Over the last 15 games, Marchessault scored 13 goals and added 10 assists.
In the Stanley Cup Final alone, Marchessault totaled four goals and four assists. He torched the Panthers and put an exclamation point on his bid for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
The moment was even more incredible because Marchessault, who went undrafted out of junior hockey, won it after defeating his former team in the Stanley Cup Final. Marchessault played for the Panthers in 2016-17 and posted 51 points in 75 games.
After that season, the Panthers exposed Marchessault in the expansion draft and allowed the Golden Knights to select him. Just six years later, Marchessault got his revenge with an exceptional performance throughout the playoffs, and especially in the Stanley Cup Final.
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After winning his third Stanley Cup title — this time as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights — Phil Kessel took the opportunity to take his latest shot at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night after starring for them years ago. Kessel, 35, played for the Maple Leafs from 2009 to 2015 and became a somewhat polarizing figure during his tenure with the team.
Dealt to Toronto in a blockbuster trade with the Boston Bruins, the Maple Leafs experienced little success around him. The Maple Leafs made the playoffs just once in Kessel’s six seasons with the team, and Kessel himself faced individual criticism for a lack of winning and a perceived lack of commitment to physical fitness.
While speaking to Toronto-based reporters on Tuesday night, Kessel made certain to remind the city that he hadn’t forgotten what was said about him during his time there.
“Takes me back to my Toronto days. You guys said I couldn’t win, and now I’m a three-time champ,” Kessel said, per Mike Stephens of The Hockey News. “Remember that.”
Kessel was traded from the Maple Leafs to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015, and he would go on to play on the Penguins teams that won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.
This time around, an aging Kessel’s contributions to the Golden Knights’ Stanley Cup win were more muted: He scored just 14 goals in 82 games this season and played only four games in the playoffs before being a regular healthy scratch.
When the Chicago Bulls tip off the 2023-24 season they’ll be doing so, once again, without their starting point guard in Lonzo Ball. It’s a familiar feeling for the Bulls, who were without Ball for all of last season as well due to setbacks while recovering from multiple surgeries to his left knee.
Ball’s injury has been one of the more disheartening storylines over the last couple seasons due to Chicago’s success with him on the floor. While it was only 35 games, Ball was an essential piece in the Bulls starting out the 2021-22 season so strong, climbing as high as the No. 1 seed in the East prior to Ball going down with the injury.
The former No. 2 overall pick called it a “what if” moment in his career during an appearance on the “From the Point Podcast by Trae Young,” while also feeling bad for the Bulls front office.
“It’s gonna be a big what if,” Ball said. “I feel bad just for the GM, just because I feel like they made the perfect team around me. That was the most I’ve ever been involved in an organization and I finally got the perfect team that I felt like could fit my game, play my way and really just do what I wanted to do. That injury — I’m still going through it right now — but that one messed me up early just because I feel like we really had a chance and never got to see what it was.”
Chicago had a potent offense centered around Ball, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic. Ball was the initiator of Chicago’s offense, dishing the ball to LaVine and DeRozan. He also had a solid pick-and-pop game with Vucevic, and was amongst the most reliable 3-point shooters on the roster, connecting on 42.3% of his shots from deep on over seven attempts a game. But it was Ball’s defense that really made the Bulls go. Together with defensive pest Alex Caruso, the duo were constantly disrupting opposing offensive schemes and helping Chicago get out in transition and push the pace.
During those 35 games that Ball played, the Bulls went 22-13, including a 6-1 start to open the season. However, once Ball was sidelined the Bulls fell from first in the East to sixth and lost in five games to the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.
The Bulls felt Ball’s absence even more last season as the team finished ninth in the East with a 40-42 record and lost in the play-in round to miss the playoffs. But while Ball will miss the entirety of the upcoming season, the guard said he is on track to make a return.
“I’m just taking it day by day,” Ball said. “I just had a really big surgery, hopefully the last one I ever have to get but it’s a long process. I’m already out this whole next season — when I first got hurt we didn’t really know what it was. I’ve seen all types of different doctors and stuff and I was kind of just going up and down. That was really hard for me because I just didn’t know what the next day was going to be like. At least now I got the surgery, we got a plan moving forward, we’ve been on plan and I’m on track. Hopefully everything works out.”
While the Bulls will still miss Ball’s presence on the floor, the team is at least better equipped to withstand his absence after signing guard Jevon Carter in free agency. Carter will certainly bring the defensive intensity needed in Chicago’s backcourt, and he’s coming off a season where he shot 42.1% from deep on four attempts per game. Between him, Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White, the latter two of which Chicago re-signed this summer, the Bulls should have some depth in the backcourt to hold things together while Ball continues his lengthy rehab process.
At this point, most people can agree that there are two options in the “best point guard ever” debate: Magic Johnson and Stephen Curry. On Monday, Gilbert Arenas, on his podcast, asked Curry point blank to answer the question for himself.
“Are you the best point guard ever?” Arenas asked. Curry, after some thought, answered, “Yes.”
“It’s me and Magic, is that the conversation?” Curry said.
Yes, that’s the conversation, and it’s one in which reasonable minds can disagree. Magic has a lot of points on his side of the ledger, starting with the five championships to Curry’s four. Johnson possessed extreme positional size. He was arguably the greatest passer to ever live and one of the most unstoppable transition players period. You can’t remove nostalgia from the equation. It’s part of it. And it’s on Johnson’s side.
.@StephenCurry30 SAID HE’S THE BEST POINT GUARD EVER. 👀🔥
HIS WORDS. NOT MINE. 🤷🏾♂️ pic.twitter.com/SYgQHlQwr2
— Gilbert Arenas (@GilsArenaShow) August 21, 2023 For Curry, obviously he’s the greatest shooter and one of the best scorers ever. A lot of people think that removes Curry from the “traditional point guard” conversation, but I’m not one of them. A point guard’s responsibility is to get his team the best shot possible as often as possible. If you happen to be the best guy to take a given shot, giving it to someone else for the sake of being a “real point guard” is ludicrous.
In effect, we pump Magic up in this particular conversation because he wasn’t a good shooter. If he was, he would’ve shot more. Curry taking advantage of his best skill is no different than Magic taking advantage of his, and a traditionalist docking Curry points in this debate because he’s equally capable of playing off the ball makes little sense when we so often laud Jonson’s versatility as a guy who famously played center in the Finals as a rookie.
In the end, it’s hard to argue that Johnson, factoring everything in, had more impact on the game as an offensive player than Curry does. Also, we forget that Johnson was an awful defender. This was known. James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Luka Doncic, Trae Young, so many of these great modern point guards suffer in some way in these conversations because of their defensive limitations, but oddly that hole in Magic’s game almost never gets mentioned.
Curry has become a legitimately good team defender, which is what matters most, and he holds up better one on one far better than his reputation would suggest. The eras are different, and everyone will weight that factor differently. That notwithstanding, clearly I think the answer here is Curry, especially when you consider that he’s far from done.
But again, reasonable minds can disagree on this. It’s Magic Johnson for crying out loud. You’re not crazy if you still think he’s the standard. Curry himself acknowledged that much, and most importantly, Curry was asked this question. What else is he going to say? There are at least 10 players in the league right now that if you asked them if they’re the best player in the world, they would say yes. The level of self belief athletes of this magnitude possess is largely what makes them what they are in the first place.
“Obviously I have to answer [myself],” Curry said, “but to your point, Magic’s resume is ridiculous. So the fact that we’re even having that conversation is a place that I never thought I’d be in.”