Sports Betting 101 | Sports Betting - William Hill

WORK In prog

On our MTV Challenge Accepted podcast (link in bold) we have a segment where we discuss this question. Whose stock went up? Whose stock went down? Here were our winners and losers this week.
STOCK UP
[OC] Which awards are locked in? Which are still up for debate? a glance through the odds and campaigns in each category
It feels like it's been 5 years since we've seen actual NBA basketball, which may make awards debates and campaigns more difficult. Wait, who was playing well again...? Dennis Schroder? Seriously? Huh. Okay then.
As we soldier back into the bubble, there's a risk that awards voters will forget about that early part of the season (aka the vast majority) and fall victim to recency bias. Given that, we wanted to glance through the major races and determine which -- if any -- awards may still be in debate.
For this exercise, I'm using the current odds as listed by an online betting site (bovada). Note: the percentages do NOT add up to 100% because online betting sites like your money.
MVP
Giannis Antetokounmpo: - 3500 (97%)
LeBron James: +600 (14%)
is the race over?
This betting site heavily favors Giannis Antetokounmpo, although some other metrics have it closer than that. Basketball-reference's MVP tracker lists Giannis at 50.7% and LeBron at 17.3%.
I'm more inclined to believe the latter and that LeBron James would be closer to 15-20% odds. No doubt, Giannis is a worthy MVP. He's been a dominant force (again) for the top statistical team in the league (again.) He's racking up 30-14-6 in only 30.9 minutes per game. In most circumstances, he'd win this award in a walk.
That said, you can never discount "narrative," and LeBron James has a few of those going for him. The Lakers have vaulted up to the # 1 seed in the West, outperforming preseason expectations. James has played exceptionally well, and even led the league in assists. Partly because of that, James' camp has successfully gotten the media to buy into the storyline that he made a sudden transition to point guard (ya know, because he had always deferred to his point guards like Mo Williams and Mario Chalmers in the past...)
More than that, James may benefit from this strange corona-bubble. He's been a leading advocate for continuing on, and as always, players tend to follow his lead. I can see more than a few media members giving James an MVP vote for "saving the season." All in all, I expect this vote to be closer than it should be (and I expect poor James Harden to finish well behind where he should as well.)
So James will get some votes, but can he actually win the award? I wouldn't rule it out. The Lakers are currently 3 games behind the Bucks for the # 1 overall seed. It's hard to imagine Milwaukee losing enough to slip, but it's not Wallace Shawn inconceivable either. If the Lakers somehow manage to catch them, then I actually think LeBron will win MVP. Of course, it's more likely the Bucks will hang onto the # 1 seed, and Giannis will hang onto MVP. But again, I don't think it's a stone cold lock -- yet.
Rookie of the Year
Ja Morant: - 3500 (97%)
Zion Williamson: +850 (11%)
is the race over?
It should be. Zion Williamson is freakin' amazing, but he's played 19 games so far. That's 40 less than Ja Morant, who has played stellar ball for a rookie from a small school, and somehow led the Memphis Grizzlies to the 8th seed.
Still, we can't rule out the risk of recency bias and a wild overreaction from the media. Williamson has a chance to lead the Pelicans up to the 9th spot, at which point they'd play Morant's Grizzlies. If Williamson can lead New Orleans to two victories over Memphis in a row -- and thus leapfrog them in the standings -- then it's very feasible the media would throw their vote his way. The media (and the league as a whole) tends to like this Zion fella, if you haven't noticed.
Sixth Man
Dennis Schroder: - 220 (69%)
Montrezl Harrell: +190 (34%)
Lou Williams: +450 (18%)
Derrick Rose: +3000 (3%)
is the race over?
Simply put: no. It's still a three-man race in my book. The Clippers' Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell finished 1-2 last season, and are right back in the thick of things this year. Among the two, it's harder to justify Williams' winning for the third season in a row. He hasn't played as well as last year, and hasn't been as big of a focal point for the Clippers' game plan. He hasn't looked as engaged this season, and even debated missing the bubble.
With Sweet Lou taking a slight step back, it's opened the door for Dennis Schroder. He's having a career season in terms of efficiency. In fact, it's hard to understate his jump this year. In his six previous season, his career high TS% was only 53.3%. This season? He's vaulted up to 57.3%. The question is: have enough voters noticed? OKC has been a feel-good story this year, but Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander tend to get the most credit for that.
Overall, I wouldn't be surprised if voters get lazy and just fall back on the highest scorer among the three. And even by those standards, the race is wide open. Schroder is at 19.0 PPG, Williams is at 18.7 PPG, and Harrell is at 18.6 PPG. A strong (or bad) week or two in the bubble may tilt this race in any direction.
Defensive Player of the Year
Giannis Antetokounmpo: -500 (83%)
Anthony Davis: +200 (33%)
Rudy Gobert: +2800 (3%)
is the race over?
Even among savvy and analytically-inclined media members, "defense" is still something of a mystery to quantify. We see a lot of herd mentality emerge for DPOY voting, with candidates needing to stake their claim early on and campaign all season long.
In terms of storylines and narratives, it felt like Anthony Davis had the early momentum. He's a wrecking ball (1.5 steals, 2.4 blocks) who helped improve the Lakers' defense from # 12 to # 3 this season. Still, Giannis Antetokounmpo has steadily built his case for a double MVP + DPOY, and currently ranks as the betting favorite on this site.
Personally, I believe it's a closer race than these numbers suggest. At the same time, I'm not sure what their play in the bubble is going to do about it. More likely, it'll be an influential media piece (like Zach Lowe pushing for Marc Gasol) that may get voters ushering on one side or another.
Most Improved
Bam Adebayo: -150 (60%)
Brandon Ingram: +250 (29%)
Luke Doncic: +500 (17%)
Jayson Tatum: +900 (10%)
Devonte Graham: +1000 (9%)
is the race over?
Again, this race feels "too close to call" to me. John King and David Chalian may be tallying up the counties all night long.
Earlier this season, I looked back at previous Most Improved winners and tried to find some common threads. On average, the winner improved from 11.7 PPG to 19.6 PPG (roughly +8 points.)
Historically speaking, Brandon Ingram and Jayson Tatum fit close to those templates. Ingram has swelled from 18.3 PPG to 24.3 PPG in his first season in New Orleans (+6). Tatum has made an even bigger leap, going from 15.7 PPG to 23.6 PPG (essentially our exact +8). Of the two, I may lean more to Ingram myself. Tatum's taking more shots and more threes, but he was already considered a proven star prior to this. Ingram had been more of a question mark before, but has now established himself as a potential max player. The key for him has been an improved FT%. In his first three seasons, he shot 62%, 68%, and 68% from the line. This year, he's up to 86%. That's major progress, and represents a massive difference in his efficiency "floor." Still, you wonder if Ingram's momentum peaked too early. Ever since Zion Williamson came back, it feels like Ingram has been an afterthought in the media.
Conversely, Bam Adebayo's reputation within the media is still surging. He's been a major reason for the Miami Heat's success this year, nearly doubling from 8.9 PPG to 16.2 PPG (+7.3 overall.) He's also doubled his assists (from 2.2 to 5.1). If you wanted to nitpick Adebayo's candidacy, you may suggest he was pretty darn good already. A lot of the statistical upswing comes from an increase in minutes, from 23.3 to 34.4 this year.
Overall, I'd say Abebayo is the favorite, but I wouldn't lock it in yet. A player like Brandon Ingram could get hot and have a few 40 point games, at which point the momentum may swing back in his favor.
When anthropology professors
99 cent store free agents: Point Guards
The NBA offseason is always filled with exciting storylines like star free agents and blockbuster trades.
But rather than dwell on the obvious, this series intends to do the opposite: focus on the lower-profile free agents who may have some value to teams. No NBA player is actually "99 Cents," of course, but these are all players who may be bargains based on their perceived market.
This "99 Cent Store" series has been open for business for the last two offseasons. In the past, we've highlighted names like Fred VanVleet (pre breakout), Christian Wood, and Davis Bertans. Not all of the items turn out to be gems (is Nerlens Noel still not a DPOY candidate yet?), but the returns have been largely positive so far. Let's see if we can keep that momentum going this season.
99 cent store
Langston Galloway, Detroit Pistons, UFA, 28 years old
In last year's 99 Cent Store, we hyped up Seth Curry (Steph's brother) as a possible value free agent. Seth didn't have the size and skill set of a traditional point guard, but the NBA isn't always craving traditional point guards these days. A lot of star SGs, SFs, PFs, and even Cs have the ball in their hands, so teams need to fill the court with a supporting cast that can complement them and provide spacing. Effectively an undersized SG, Seth's excellent shooting appeared to be a perfect complement to a ball-dominant superstar. Seth ended up going to Dallas on a moderate contract, and had a strong season for them in that role.
For those same reasons, we'd recommend Langston Galloway as a potential bargain add. We're not going to suggest that Galloway is as good as Seth Curry as a player or as a shooter, but his skill set is related. He's not Steph Curry -- he's not Seth Curry -- he's on the opposite side of the family tree. He's like the random third cousin who shows up at the barbecue and hogs all the mac n' cheese. Still, if he got the address, then he must have some relation to the family we know and love.
Galloway would share some DNA in the sense that he's also a "point guard" who's more of an undersized shooting guard by nature. He doesn't have the ball skills or playmaking to run an offense. At all. However, he can be effective if operating as a 3+D guard. Players like Patrick Beverly and George Hill are the premium prototypes of that skill set, and Galloway is the 99 Cent store generic brand. He's an above-average as a shooter (36.7% from three for his career), and above-average as a defender, where his 6'8" wingspan helps his cause. And while it feels like Galloway has been around forever, he's still only 28 years old. He probably has 2-3 years left of usefulness in his role. There may be 1 or 2 teams that would start Langston Galloway (in a limited role), but almost every team could use him as part of the rotation.
possible fits
HOU. Russell Westbrook and James Harden are ball dominant and salary-cap dominant players, making depth a constant struggle for the team. Backup PG Austin Rivers can probably get more money than he's due on his player option ($2.4M) even in a COVID-market, possibly creating another hole. Galloway would make sense as a replacement here, seeing as how he'd be able to play in a lineup with either Westbrook or Harden.
LAL. Avery Bradley may be skipping the playoffs, but there's still a chance the Lakers can win the title with some combination of Alex Caruso and Rajon Rondo at PG anyway. But what happens if it doesn't work out? What happens if Bradley and Rondo (both of whom have player options) get shuffled out? In that case, Galloway and Caruso could tag-team and provide a decent and low-cost 3+D guard spot for next year.
MIN. The Timberwolves tried the "no PG offense" for a majority of the season, and it didn't work out so hot. Now, they'll be handing the reins over to D'Angelo Russell full time. Galloway could be a nice backup for Russell; the two would have enough size to play some minutes alongside each other as well. You have to figure Gersson Rosas will prioritize shooters like Galloway as well. The team wants to play MoreyBall (top 3 in 3PA), but doesn't have the personnel yet to pull it off (bottom 3 in 3P%).
Yogi Ferrell, Sacramento Kings, UFA, 27 years old
He may be fairly anonymous now, but there was a time when the name "Yogi Ferrell" was a big deal in college basketball. The bluechip recruit immediately stepped into the starting lineup for Tom Crean's Indiana Hoosiers, helping to lead the team to a # 1 seed that first year on campus. But then a funny thing happened: the college star actually stayed in college. Ferrell would go on to play all 4 years (starting 137 of 137 games) for Indiana.
Through it, Ferrell developed the negative narrative that he was a "college player." Only 6'0" with average length and athleticism, he didn't have the look of a future pro. The NBA dismissed him, leading him to get undrafted. He's hung around since then, but his buzz has dwindled and dwindled. He played this past season as Sacramento's 3rd PG, only logging 11 minutes per game. Maybe they were right -- maybe he was never cut out for the NBA.
Then again... are we sure about that? Ferrell may not be the prototype, but he still has some virtues. Among those strengths: "basketball." He's a savvy, steady field general who has an above-average shot. He's hit 36.5% from three and 83.8% from the line over the course of his NBA career. He's not going to carry the load (14-4-4 per 36 minutes), but he's not going to rock the boat either. In fact, he only averages 1.5 turnovers per 36.
The concern with a player like Ferrell would be his limited size and athleticism, a combo that tends to translate into awful defense. But again, we haven't seen much evidence of that. Effort and basketball IQ can help overcome athletic weaknesses, and that appears to be the case with Ferrell. Limitations and all, Ferrell has registered only a -0.2 defensive box plus/minus.
Overall, this profile doesn't suggest any huge upside or any hidden "star" potential. But at the end of the day, this store isn't about star potential -- it's about value. Ferrell is a high-end third PG who can potentially be a true # 2. He'd make sense on a team like Orlando as a potential replacement for their own steady eddie backup D.J. Augustin (also a free agent.)
clearance rack
Gary Payton II, Washington Wizards, UFA, 27 years old
On paper, you may wonder why Gary Payton II wasn't a bigger deal entering the NBA Draft. After all, we're talking about the son of an NBA superstar who had been productive in college. In his last season at Oregon State, he averaged 16.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 7.8 assists, and 2.5 steals (!) How the heck did someone with that pedigree go undrafted?
Unfortunately for Payton, two factors worked against him. For one, he was a poor shooter. Second, he was "over-aged." After spending some time in community college with Jeff Winger and Dean Pelton, Payton would be a 24-year-old rookie, a major knock against him and his perceived upside. That criticism may have proven apt; Payton has not improved as much as a young pup may have. His three-point shooting has sagged around 25-30%, a major problem in today's NBA. In general, he's a below-average offensive player, averaging just 10-6-4 per 36 minutes.
That said, Payton does have some virtues on the other end. He's not quite "The Glove" (basketball-reference even dubs his official nickname "The Mitten"), but he's definitely a good defender. He's 6'3" with a 6'8" wingspan, and has proven to have sticky hands himself. After averaging 2.8 steals over two years at OSU, he's at 2.2 per 36 in the NBA. He makes some sense when paired together with a ball-dominant SG like a James Harden or Devin Booker or Bradley Beal. No, we're not talking about as a starter, or even as a lead backup, but as a 3rd PG who can add a different skill set to a bench. In that context, he's worth a roster spot. Is a 13th man not worth reading about to you? Well then, get the F out of our store, ya snob! This is what the 99 Cent Store is all about.
featured item
E'Twaun Moore, New Orleans Pelicans, UFA, 31 years old
Collectively, NBA fans scratched their heads in confusion when the New Orleans Pelicans doled out $8.5M a year for anonymous E'Twaun Moore. After all, this was an unheralded a player, a R2 draft pick, a player who hadn't cracked 10 PPG in any of his first six seasons in the league. For all we knew, he was an NBA2k generated player.
Three years later, the contract doesn't look much better. Moore got buried this past season in a crowded Pelicans lineup, averaging only 18.8 minutes per game. He doesn't appear to be a part of the franchise's future plans at all. Moore will be tossed out into the darkness, left with no home, and perhaps no chance of matching that $8M salary ever again.
However, we have to be mindful as NBA fans not to lump in an "overpaid" player as a synonym for a "bad" player. Someone like Tobias Harris may not be worth his salary, but he's still a good starter. On a lower level, E'Twaun Moore may be the same way. Perhaps he's not worth $8-10M a year, but he's actually a solid addition to a rotation (even if the Pelicans squeezed him out.)
Moore's primary virtue is as a 3+D wing. At first glance he's not big enough for that role at 6'4", but he's aided by a pelican-like wingspan that stretches to near 6'10". He's not a great defender (now at age 31), but he's passable at both the SG and SF spots. Offensively, he'll help you as a spacer. He's hit on 39.0% of his threes for his career, and had actually gotten up to 42% and 43% the prior two seasons before he lost some rhythm this season.
That combination of skills makes Moore a good rotation player, and perhaps even a low-end starter on the right team. I wouldn't expect him to get "overpaid" again, but that's precisely what earns him a place in our store. He's a potential bargain buy right now.
possible fits
BKN. SG Joe Harris is an excellent shooter, but he's also a free agent. Will the Nets pony up to keep him around? Or will he be jettisoned like others from the pre KD-Kyrie era? If he is, then E'Twaun Moore makes sense as a cheap replacement.
MIL. The shooting guard spot is the biggest question mark for the Bucks, and this offseason may add to the murkiness if Wes Matthews (player option) or Pat Connaughton (UFA) leave town. E'Twaun Moore would be a sensible filler, and platoon with Donte DiVincenzo.
SA. Do Gregg Popovich and the Spurs want to contend for the playoffs in 2020-21? Do they want to blow it up? TBD. But if their intention is to go for that 8th seed again, Moore may be an upgrade on smaller Bryn Forbes, who struggles on the defensive end.
99 cent store
Shaquille Harrison, Chicago Bulls, UFA, 26 years old
Coaches and front offices love to tout that "defense is half the game!" That is, until it's time to actually pay a defensive player. Or draft a defensive player. Or even invite a defensive player onto the roster for a fully guaranteed contract.
Shaq Harrison has been dealing with that struggle for his entire professional career. Coming out of Tulsa, Harrison always had the chops defensively. He's long and agile enough to guard 1s and 2s and even some 3s. The trouble is: shooting was never his strong suit. Even as a senior, he only hit 19.5% from deep in the NCAA. Yikes. That's a surefire recipe to go "undrafted," which is exactly what Harrison did.
Since then, Harrison has been trying to improve his shot, the key for him to stick on an NBA roster. This past season, we've started to see some glimmers of progress there. He shot a career-high 38.1% from three, and a career-high 78.0% from the line. Now to be fair, those were both extremely small sample sizes (16-42 from three, 39-50 from the line), but it's still encouraging nonetheless. Because if Harrison can become a passable shooter, then his defensive abilities give him inherent value. He's legitimately one of the better perimeter defenders in the league. ESPN's real plus/minus listed his impact as a +2.5 on defense, which ranked as the 9th best player in the entire NBA (out of 503 qualifiers.) If a coaching staff feels confident in their player development and their shooting coaches, then Harrison would be an intriguing investment to make.
clearance rack
John Konchar, Memphis Grizzlies, 24 years old
Last year, I included Philadelphia PG-SG Shake Milton in this column, causing Sixers fans to riot and demand that I mention the team had the right to extend his two-way contract if they wanted. The team did, and Milton will prove to be a bargain for them over the next few years. Similarly, the Memphis Grizzlies will have that opportunity to keep two-way player John Konchar on the team should they want. But if they don't, I'd be eyeing Konchar as a possible roster addition.
No doubt, there are reasons to doubt John Konchar's NBA prospects. He comes from a school that's so small that they didn't even know what to name it (shifting a few times before settling on "Purdue Fort Wayne"). And at the risk of being politically incorrect, we should also mention that he's white. NBA GMs don't exactly sit up and salivate when they see an undersized (6'5") white wing player walk into the gym.
All that said, Konchar has been productive time and time again. As you'd expect, he can hit the three pointer. But what's most intriguing about Konchar is his playing strength. He may be only 6'5" (6'7" wingspan) but he plays much bigger than that. As a college senior, he grabbed 8.5 rebounds a game and blocked 0.9 shots to boot. He also converted 62.9% of his field goals in two-point range. It may have been low level competition, but he flat-out bullied his opponents.
Naturally you'd presume: there's no way he can do that in the pros! But so far, so good. Konchar put up similar numbers in the G-League this season, hitting 56.5% from the field and grabbing 8.3 rebounds per game (in 30 minutes a night.) From there, you'd presume: there's no way he can do that in the actual NBA! Well, in his 160 minutes of NBA action, Konchar shot 65.7% from the field and averaged 9.9 rebounds per 36 minutes.
Clearly, it's too early to take this as gospel. But eventually, we're going to have to presume something else: maybe this dude is actually good. If I ran an NBA team, I'd want to run that experiment with Konchar in our uniform and not someone else's.
99 cent store
Josh Jackson, Memphis Grizzlies, UFA, 23 years old
Like most of us on this sub, I have moments when I watch the NBA, watch the roster moves, watch the draft, and think: I could do that. Not play, of course, but perhaps build a team and winning roster. I've had a long and successful career in fantasy sports, so naturally a GM job would be the logical next step.
The 2017 NBA Draft was one of those moments for me. Prior to the draft, I wrote a few posts on here, explaining why consensus top prospect Markelle Fultz wouldn't have been my personal # 1 pick. Clearly, I am a genius operating on a higher plane than the Bryan Colangelos of the world. Unfortunately, the alternative prospect that I advocated for wasn't Jayson Tatum. Or De'Aaron Fox. Or even Lonzo Ball. Instead, I thought the # 1 prospect in the class was... Josh Jackson. Whoops. Turns out, Jackson became an even bigger bust than Fultz (for his original team), causing the Phoenix Suns to dump him and wash their hands clean. Turns out: I have no clue what I'm talking about after all.
But while I may have given up on my hidden genius, I'm still not ready to give up on Josh Jackson as a player. After all, no one expected Jackson to be a finished product. Back at Kansas, his shot looked funky and in need of an overhaul. Still, he had athleticism, defensive tenacity, and flashed some ball skills and passing ability. All in all, I thought he may develop into a player in the mold of a Jimmy Butler in time.
Unfortunately, his NBA career stumbled out of the gates. If you're going to be the next Jimmy Butler, you need to work at it. Jimmy Butler may be a polarizing media presence, but he's undoubtedly a hard worker. In contrast, Josh Jackson had some issues off the court that made you doubt his dedication. His shooting hadn't improved much either. Even now, he hit on only 31.9% of his threes (29.8% career.)
Still, if you're a stubborn Jackson optimist like I am, then you can see some flashes of progress here. After being humbled by a trip to the G-League and a trade to Memphis, Jackson has started to be effective again. This past season for the Grizzlies, he averaged 19.0 PPG, 5.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.8 steals, and 0.9 blocks per 36 minutes. He's never going to be Kawhi Leonard as a shooter, but there are ways he can be effective offensively. He converted 77.5% of his field goals inside (0-3 feet), which was up from 55% in the past, showing how improved strength and bulk may aid his game. He also shot 34.8% on corner threes -- still below-average, but better than before.
So where do we go from here? What can Josh Jackson become? If he continues to work on his craft without any problems behind the scenes, he looks like a good prospect again. After all, this is a kid who's still 23 (younger than rookie teammate Brandon Clarke.) Maybe it's too optimistic to think he can be the next Jimmy Butler, but maybe he can be a solid starter in the mold of a young Wilson Chandler. There's still some risk involved here, but it's worth an investment and gamble in the right circumstance (and for the right price.)
possible fits
MEM. Jackson staying in Memphis is the most likely scenario. While the Grizzlies are in the 8th seed right now, they're still a young team. Ja Morant is 20. Jaren Jackson in 20. Jackson can fit into their timeline. The only question here is whether they already have a similar (and better) player in house in Justise Winslow.
CLE. The Memphis Grizzlies are a good young team. The Cavs are a bad young team. They need to add some more talent, especially at the wing. In theory, Jackson would be a nice complement to their undersized bomber guards like Darius Garland and Collin Sexton.
CHA. The Hornets need to find a star, somehow, some way. It's unlikely Josh Jackson becomes that star, but it's worth a shot. He's comparable to current forward Miles Bridges in terms of his worth/upside.
Daulton Hommes, San Antonio Spurs, 23 years old
Marial Shayok, Philadelphia 76ers, 24 years old
NBA general managers have a lot in common with Chris D'Elia: they like 'em young! They tend to dismiss college veterans as "over-aged" and salivate over teenagers instead. And to be fair, there's some logic there. A 22 or 23-year-old rookie likely doesn't have as much upside as a 19 or 20 year old. At the same time, not every NBA players needs to ooze with Giannis Antetokounmpo upside. Sometimes, you set the bar lower; you're just looking for a serviceable role player.
To my eye, Philadelphia's Marial Shayok is trending in that direction. He spent 5 years at college (gross!) -- the first 3 at Virginia, before transferring and playing for Iowa State in 2018-19. That last season, Shayok looked solid -- averaging 18.7 PPG with great shooting splits (50-39-88). The 6'6" wing also sported a 7'0" wingspan, which naturally makes you consider him as a potential 3+D prospect.
Still, the "age" issue prevented Shayok from going high -- landing at pick # 54 last season and earning only a two-way deal. That leverage puts the Sixers in the catbird seat here; they can bring Shayok back on a team-friendly deal, and likely will do just that after he played very well in the G-League. In fact, he averaged 27-7-5 per 36 minutes, hitting 36% from three and 89% from the line. Teams don't just let players like that go, especially when their depth is an issue already. However, if the Sixers decide to cast him aside, then Shayok should wash ashore on another team in a hurry.
Marvin Williams, Milwaukee Bucks, UFA, 34 years old
Chris Boucher, Toronto Raptors, RFA, 27 years old
Frank Kaminsky, Phoenix Suns, 27 years old
Bonzie Colson, 24 years old
Back in college at Notre Dame, Bonzie Colson felt like an anomaly. Here was a stocky 6'5" player who largely played as a smallball 5. He utilized his strength and wingspan (7'0") to bully opponents, averaging 19.7 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks as a senior.
Still... a 6'5" PF/C? You didn't play like that in the NBA.
Or do you...? The Houston Rockets are changing the paradigm with heavy minutes for P.J. Tucker (also 6'5") at center. Zion Williamson (6'6") will likely play a good amount of center as well for New Orleans. It may not ever be the norm, but it's not a ridiculous concept anymore. If you're an NBA team, it makes sense to at least have a lineup like that in your back pocket to break out in case of emergency.
Colson can capably fill that role (on the back-end of a roster) due to his natural savvy and his passable shooting (34% from 3 in the G-League.) Better still, he'd be dirt-cheap after some G-League and overseas stints. In fact, he may not cost much guaranteed money at all. If he shows up at camp in good shape, then there's a chance he sticks around. And let's be honest, the NBA -- and all of our lives -- are better off when there's at least one Bonzi/e around.
Nerlens Noel, Oklahoma City Thunder, 26 years old
Jakob Poelte, Mason Plumlee
Ekpe Udoh, 33 years old
Ivan Rabb, 23 years old
Langston Galloway, Detroit Pistons, UFA, 28 years old
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bathrobeDFS - Daily Analysis for February 2nd and Review of February 1st

Hello, everyone! bathrobeDFS here with your daily basketball article. First, I will breakdown my lineup for yesterday’s main slate. Then I will go over tonight’s slate from the perspective of a one lineup player on Draftkings. If you have any additional questions or want to see guaranteed updates in regards to breaking news- I provide additional updates, information, and stats on my twitter @bathrobeDFS. Feel free to throw me a follow cause it’s much easier and more timely to provide updates over that medium. It also should go without saying, this is just a preliminary analysis of the slate: everything can change throughout the day, so make sure you are staying on top of any and all injury news and change your lineups accordingly! I am always available to help with any questions there, as well, even if I can’t do a second article. Let’s get started with the Review!
Yesterday In Review:
My Single Entry Lineup- -
Name Price DKP Value Proj Own Real Own Diff
Mack 3500 38.25 10.9x 12.8% 52.6% 39.8!!! (wow)
Allen 3300 21 6.4x 45.6% 40% 5.6
Caboclo 3400 16.5 4.9x 10.3% 28.7% 18.4!!
Kornet 4300 13.5 3.1x 10.2% 15.4% 5.2
Gobert 8500 46.75 5.5x 18% 21.9% 3.9
Westbrook 11000 56.5 5.1x 27.4% 35.2% 7.8
Jaylen Brown 4900 22.5 4.6x 1.9% 8.8% 6.9
Jokic 10800 63.75 5.9x 46.9% 52.3% 5.4
Total 49700 278.75 5.6x
My Highest Scoring Lineup- (859th in the DK And-One)
Name Price DKP
Mack 3500 38.25
Allen 3300 21
Jaylen Brown 4900 22.5
PG13 9900 67.25
Favors 5100 34.25
Monte Morris 5100 42.5
Faried 6900 31.5
Jokic 10800 63.75
Total 49500 321
Best Possible Lineup- - Using the free lineup rewind tool on fantasycruncher, I find the highest possible lineup that could have been played.
Name Price DKP
Mack 3500 38.25
Basley 4400 45.5
PG13 9900 67.25
Olynyk 3800 35.25
Jokic 10800 63.75
Trae Young 7000 48.75
Ingles 5300 37.75
Monte Morris 5100 42.5
Total 49800 379
Analysis-
On top of the obvious emotional toll the last couple days have taken on me, it also exacerbates the severe pain disability I have. I am at a constant 8 of 10, at best, without a couple different medicines in me. That is without doing anything. If I stand up or try walking more than a couple minutes, the pain from my back down my right leg into my toes will literally knock me off my feet. Worst off, it will increase my base pain level for the next couple days. Unfortunately the 7 hours of driving the last couple of days, on top of the standing and moving and sleeping on a bad bed.. Needless to say I am far too exhausted both physically and mentally to get too far into much of anything tonight. I got all your messages and I felt all your love. I let the family know that literally hundreds of people were praying for them every day, and there’s a whole community of really great people that have sent nothing but love and support. I also told her mom a couple of people had contacted me to ask if they could send flowers or anything. She asked that, in lieu of anything, to please send any donations you would to the American Brain Tumor Association. Thank you all again. I love you more than you will ever know.
Jokic was my play of the day for today, going against a Houston team that had no one that could handle him (Faried? Come on.). After watching his press conference, I also locked in Gobert. That was a dude that took this “snub” personally. You don’t cry tears if you aren’t going to bust your dick off to show them wrong that night. A Jazz beat writer said it best- that Gobert was either going to score 50 points and get 20 rebounds tonight, or he would get 6 fouls in 6 seconds. Either way it would be fun to watch. I then had a more balanced lineup (with Faried and PG13), until the Conley news broke. Then I could get Mack, Bruno, Allen and have a ton of money leftover. I wanted to get Jaylen Brown who seems to be one of the best “blow out” run players I’ve seen this year. If I got one of the cheap Knicks, I would be able to fit Westbrook, so I took the ceiling chance and ran with it.
This is a huge slate. With the Super Bowl on Sunday, there are going reaaaaaaal light on Sunday and cramming everything in today. 12 games today. 11 on this slate. I am still in an insane amount of pain. Even with the medicine. I am still also having a tough time of it emotionally and I haven’t slept well in a few days, so I am extra exhausted. Not that I need to give excuses to such kind people. I am just explaining this is going to be a little less in depth when it comes to explaining everything. I still put almost 2 hours into research, though. So, even on days when I don’t write as much, I still do all the research in every way. I did a full update on all my stats and metrics this evening, so we are as up to date as possible. So let’s get to it. It’s good to be back. Let’s hope nothing else happens for many many months. (editor note: i spent 4+ hours writing, and this is one of my longest articles ever)
The Daily Slate:
Matchup Specific Ceiling (MSC) Pick of the Day
Matchup Specific Ceiling is a “quasi-metric” I use to make decisions. If you haven’t read my explanation, please check out this link right here
The explanation begins in the “injury/lineup news” section about halfway down.
In this section, I will pick the player who has fewest factors preventing him from reaching his ceiling, considering spread, pace, O/U, defense, usage, teammate health, and other factors.
Devin Booker - Let us not forget, first of all, I have no idea who is going to be popular or not. But if Booker isn’t one of the chalkiest plays tomorrow, I will be surprised. If he isn’t, then make some money tomorrow by getting all over this right here. I know there’s a lot of really great plays, but gimme Booker for a few reasons. First, on a day where 24 teams are playing, and what will probably be over 300 players, the only one playing today that has scored 70 points is Devin Booker (8800). On that day, March 24, 2017, Booker got 70p/86a/3s/1b and what amounted to 96.5 DKP. So, sure, maybe Harden can get there. But don’t tell me Booker doesn’t have one of the highest ceilings tonight. Second, when I started writing these articles the Suns were 22nd in the NBA in pace. Right now, if you go by the whole season, they are up to 12th overall. If you look at their last 15 games, the Suns are 7th in pace. This is a team, with Booker having more control, that is playing much faster. And they get to go against the fastest paced team in the NBA, the Hawks. Next, the O/U is one of the highest on the slate, 235, and the spread is awesome with the Suns 2.5 point home favorites. Both season long, and recently, Booker leads the Suns in usage and no one is particularly close. Booker is 4th overall in the NBA. Over the last 15 games Oubre (5900) (who I also LOVE tonight) is the only other Sun in the top 50, and he barely snuck in at 46th. On top of all of this, the Hawks have one of the worst defenses in the NBA. Both overall, and specifically at the positions Booker will be playing. They are the NBA’s worst team at defending PGs (which Booker will be playing a good chunk of this game, even if Okobo is technically the starting point). They are also far worse than league average against SGs. And, in case you think they can just move a good defender over, they are also worst in the NBA at defending SFs. Best yet, the Suns have their fair share of horrid defenders, meaning, as Vegas predicts, this is going to be a high scoring shootout, where there is little defense, and the people who normally control the usage will not be prevented from continuing to do so (in fact, if anything, their usages should come in over their average season usage tonight). Melton is Out, Warren is Out, Bender is Questionable, and Ayton is Probable. I expect him to be limited, after missing a few games. If he isn’t, I have no problem playing both Booker and Ayton (6800) against this Hawks defense. Regardless, though, Ayton playing actually helps Booker so we should look at it as a good thing for Booker as well, on top of everything else. And, as you can see, that’s a lot. I also want to add that Jamal Crawford (3600) just put up 37.5 DKP. He isn’t the type that will hit every day for you, but he has been getting a lot more run with Melton out. And anyone getting that kind of run, against the Hawks, has to be on your short list of punts tonight, even on an 11-gamer.
Situations to take advantage of (in no particular order):
Situations to be careful of(in no particular order):
Situations to monitor:
It’s good to be back. I wanted to stop writing by like midnight so I could sleep and now it’s 3am and this is my longest article so far so I’m just gonna end it there. Best of luck tonight everyone!
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[PI][CC] "The Gemini Gambit", first two chapters, andmy first foray into the espionage genre.

Originally based on a writing prompt about the NSA, I've been writing about a thousand words or so a night on my blog. I think I may turn this into a full blown novel, but could use some constructive criticism.
Am I alone?
Raymond sat at his PC and thought back to the day he'd had. The bullying had been worse than normal. That jerk Dwight; one of of these days he was going to get his. Somehow, Dwight had managed to not only slam him into his locker, causing Raymond to spill his lunch, but he had also arranged to have one of his buddies mess with Raymond's car. Luckily, one of his teachers had caught the guy in the act, but still. The humiliation of having his car towed then having to take the bus home stung.
Raymond sat in front of his PC and ran his fingers through his short cropped hair before posting to his social media sites about how tired he was of bullies. His mind drifted back to his old school, the one he'd spent the last three years at. He hadn't really had friends there either, but people left him alone. No one picked on the goth kid who's dad was a small town army hero. After dad left, things changed. He and mom moved out of state, so he had to start over. Raymond still didn't like people. People betrayed you. People lied to you. People were selfish. Being at a new school, being new was a liability and people took advantage of it. No one knew you and or your former reputation. As a senior, this was even more of a problem.
Mom had never explained why dad left. One night, he was home, and the next, his mom was crying over divorce papers. A week later, he died in a car crash out in New York. Raymond hated his dad.
Determined to pull himself out of his funk, Raymond put on his favorite music logged on to his favorite site: a blog devoted to spy fiction. As much as he hated his father now, the love of espionage stories was the one thing they shared when Raymond was younger and it reminded him of better times. His dad had told him that there was always an answer, even if it required sacrifice. Inevitably, the good of all was important. In searching for answers to fictional problems, Raymond was usually able to lose himself enough to forget the pain.
As he browsed through the new stories, he found nothing that really garnered his interest: the same pap fan-fiction that bloated the site. He rubbed his temples and debated about going to bed early.
“You are not alone.”
Raymond blinked at the pop-up that appeared on his screen: a simple, black box with green courier text. He moved the mouse cursor to close it, but the cursor dodged the “X”. Alt-F4, likewise, did not close the window. Raymond jumped as his phone rang out a text alarm. Pulling it from his pocket, he unlocked it to find a text from a number that made no sense, given it had seventeen digits. “Rough day at school. Sorry, Raymond, but I can't stop them. Not yet. I need you to trust me.” Looking up at his PC, the message “I need you to trust me.” was repeated.
“Who are you?” Raymond typed, scared at both the response and at what this person might know about him.
“Call me Gemini. I would tell you to not be afraid, but, any sane, logical person seeing this would likely be freaking out right now. I'm running out of time, Raymond. I've been watching you from the shadows as a favor to someone. I've watched you now for years, keeping tabs on you.”
Keeping tabs? Years? What kind of deranged ass would watch a teenager for years? “Why me? I'm no one.”
Raymond's screen began to fill with browser pages: posts he'd made, stories he'd written, articles about his dad, birth records, school records, phone records. The black window popped back up. “Not no one. What you think you know, all the pain you've been through, I wish I could've done something to prevent it. My talking to you is going to get me in a ton of trouble, but you had to be warned.”
“Warned? Warned about what?” Raymond's mind spun. He was just a teenager.
“Your dad knew some deep level stuff and people think he let you in on it before he went under.”
Went under? Didn't they know his dad died three months ago? “Okay, this isn't funny. My dad's buried in a cemetery on the other side of the country.”
There was a pause. “He's not dead. He's somewhere in Europe. You are in serious danger. Look outside your window: two agents are about to come knock at your door.”
Raymond glanced out the window and spotted a black sedan that hadn't been there when he got home half an hour ago. The two men in suits looked out of place in his neighborhood. Turning back to his PC he typed. “Okay. You have my attention. Why should I trust you? Who told you to watch me?”
“Because your father was my C.O. in the Army and he asked me to watch over you. If you want the truth, come to Donatello's Pub. Bring nothing with you: not your laptop, not your cellphone, nothing. Don't use your credit card. You can be tracked.”
Raymond flinched as the car doors closed. He tossed his phone on his bed. “How do you know all this?”
“I work for the NSA, or, at least, a part of it. Don't worry about finding me. I can find you.” Raymond stood up and made his way to the back window. Popping it open, he looked back to find his PC had been shut off. He paused only for a moment to ponder the insanity of what he was doing, but the knock on the front door had him out the window and running.
The alleyway behind Raymond's house was empty and he could feel his heart race in his chest, his breathing labored in the humid stale summer air. His mind fleetingly went to his former gym teacher telling him to run faster. How was Raymond supposed to know being able to run a mile in six minutes could actually save his life? Rounding the corner, he stopped by the streetlight to look around. No cars parked on the street. Nobody standing in their windows. Yeesh, Gemini had him paranoid of his own shadow. As Raymond jogged down the road, his eyes darted around, looking at every car that passed by. Would they have figured out he was gone by now? Looking up, he noticed the pub ahead, only to notice a police car in the lot.
“Slow your roll, dummy.” He thought, dropping his pace to a leisurely stroll. Okay, the pain in his side? Not so much fun. “Damn, I'm out of shape.” Getting closer, he watched the police car slowly pull out of the pub. Don't make eye contact. Don't make eye contact. Just keep walking.
The chirp of the police car siren caused him to glance up reflexively, just long enough for panic to set in. He turned his head toward the sound and almost smacked into a telephone pole as he watched the cop pull someone over. Leaning against the pole, Raymond stopped long enough to catch his breath. Was this really happening? He was taking someone's word, someone who had hacked his system, that his life was in danger. Couldn't this just be some elaborate hoax or joke? Then he remembered Gemini saying they worked for the NSA. Yeah, after that Snowden guy, Raymond was more than ready to believe the NSA could and would monitor him. Danger or not, he needed to know why the government felt he was important enough to monitor.
Walking into the pub, he nodded at a teacher he knew from school, Mr. Jeremy, who was apparently enjoying a beer and some ribs, before making his way to one of the rear, high backed booths. Ordering the mini-lasagna appetizers and a cola, he took a few deep breaths to try to calm his nerves. Peering around the edge, his eyes swept the room. Who was Gemini? His eyes drifted past the guy in khakis, the couple necking in a corner, Mr. Jeremy, and the waitress. None of them seemed suspicious. But what do I know? All I know about spying I learned from bad novels and movies.
A melodic female voice with a faint Bostonian lilt rang out from the bar. “Is that for table six? I'll take it over. Thanks Janey.” Raymond ducked back into the booth as the voice got closer. “Bring my order over, will you?” Here's your appetizer and your soda.” A woman's voice said. Raymond looked up just a Caucasian woman with black, pixie cut hair, appearing to be in her late twenties, sat down across from him, her purse placed against the wall on the booth table. His eyes drifted up from her largish breasts, confined in a black t-shirt with the words “Potius mori quam foedari” written on it, into blue eyes rimmed with cat eye glasses. Her eyebrow arched as she looked at him. “There are less conspicuous places to sit in a bar. You know that, right?” The waitress, presumably Janey, brought over another soda and a beef tenderloin sandwich. The woman, oblivious to Raymond's stare, slathered mayo onto the bun and liberally topped it with pickles. She took a bite and chewed as the waitress headed to another table.
Swallowing, the woman smiled and shook her sandwich at Raymond to get his attention. “You know, Midwestern folk are a little odd, but they make some great food. Now would you kindly pick your chin up off the floor and stare at my face and not my breasts. Men. I swear, if someone would have told me earlier that all it takes to get a man's attention is the right bra, I'd have probably taken that job in Zurich. Now eat your food while I explain to you what's going on.” She put up her hand as Raymond started to speak. “Before you say anything, let me repeat. Shut up, eat your food while I explain what's going on.” She pulled a pen out of her purse and wrote down four words: “You are not alone.”
Raymond looked at her, wide eyed. This waif of a woman was Gemini? She didn't appear to be anything more than your average college student. Didn't spies wear suits and use ear pieces? Gathering he thoughts, he took a bite of one of the mini-lasagnas and watched her finish off her tenderloin.
Gemini smiled and sipped her soda. Luckily Raymond was keeping calm. There was hope for the both of them yet. If he kept his wits about him, the both of them might actually survive this mess. “Let's start what I can tell you without worrying about anyone overhearing us. First, your dad is most definitely not dead. I met Sergeant Leonard Michaels when he was doing drill at Fort Bragg. The man knew tactics better than most and knew how to draw out the best in each of us, myself included. When he got a promotion, I was lucky enough to be kept under his command, doing recon mostly. During my time working in his platoon, he often talked about his wife and kid back home.
“While in Afghanistan, Leo saves my life when I get wounded during a raid. Bullet wound, which I recovered from, but I'd be dead out there, as cliché as that sounds. Another year passes and we both finish out our tours. I got out and headed into the intelligence field. We kept in touch, but he never did go too heavily into what he was doing as a civi.” Gemini took another sip of her soda. “A few years pass and I'm doing data analysis for big brother. About a year later, I get a letter from him, saying he'd heard where I was working and to keep an eye on you, if I could, as he wasn't going to be able to. Now, the man did save my life and it was something I could do under he guise of keeping track of military veterans.
“This is where things go off the deep end. Don't get me wrong, but I feel I know you as well as your own family, but stuff started coming up that didn't add up. I kept seeing posts of yours about your dad being away on business, going to south Texas, Mobile, then smaller towns down south. I'd get curious, wondering what Leo was up to, and I'd find a similar report in the same areas when I'd cross-reference military activity. Not good stuff: anti-governmental protests, survival camps, gun shows. Basically, the typical intel about people who might have a serious beef with the government. As if that wasn't bad enough, we have Snowden dump all this information, then that kook Reynolds drops what really happened in northern Afghanistan in 2013, including your dad's name and mine.
“That is why your dad vanished. He knew the government was about to screw him and he's one of the few men with the means to do something about it. Which leads us to the problem: Snowden may have had the information about what the NSA was doing, but all he had was intel. What I didn't find out until yesterday was what was really happening and what your dad is trying to prevent.”
Raymond finished his mini-lasagna and stared at Gemini. “You're saying my dad is alive and is trying to bring down the government?”
Gemini shook her head as a shadow fell over the table. Looking up, Raymond was surprised to see Mr. Jeremy standing there. “Getcha ass in gear, Gemini. We're out of time.” He grinned at Raymond, his even white teeth bright against his dark skin. “Careful. You're already down the rabbit hole, son. Be glad I'm on your side because we've got go. Now.”
Chapter Two
“Yeesh, Taurus, calm your ass down, baldy.” Gemini said, taking another bite of her sandwich. Raymond mouthed the word Taurus at Mr. Jeremy, who shook his head. “If you're talking about the guys that came in after me, I know those two losers. They're both ass kissers, brown nosers and all around by the book, sycophantic goody-two-shoes. Neither would cause a scene in a place like this for fear of what Brownstone would do to either of them.”
Mr. Jeremy shook his head. “Yeah, but unless you've got a plan to get past boot and licker, we'll have Brownstone so far up our ass, I'll be coughing up the next assignment.” Gemini winked then finished her sandwich. “In fact I do.” She waved over the waitress. “Hey Janey.” She passed the woman a twenty. “Meet me in the ladies room in two minutes, would you?”
Raymond looked at Gemini as Janey smiled. “Isn't now a bad time to powder your nose?” Gemini stood up and smiled. “Girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.” Heading the restroom, Gemini took quick measure of who was in the room. Seeing a couple of young, freshmen girls, she knew her play. She just hoped Jim and James were stupid, or horny enough, to fall for it.
“You're sure you saw her walk in?”
James looked over his bear at Jim and held back the urge to beat him into a blood pulp. Of course he was certain. The intel was sound. Elise Gemini Kirkpatrick had gone rogue two days ago and made contact with the target's son today. The vehicle she used had a GPS system they could track easily. He knew that. He also knew she knew that. The question was why was she being so reckless. Why stick in an area where she knew she was being hunted? Why go to Leonard Michaels's son? Their analysis indicated that the son had been aware of at least some of the things Michaels had been doing, but why tip the boy off? “Hey there.”
James and Jim turned to look and found their view completely block by a wall of breasts inside tops with the local college mascots on them. Looking further up, both women had a pair of beer bottles in their hands, just as the two moved to sit, one to the left of Jim, the other to the left of James. “You seemed lonely. Never seen you here before.” One of them smiled as she put the beer in Jim's hand. “I'm Tiny and this is Tiffany.”
Gemini snickered as she watched the two women paw at the two agents. That should keep them distracted for a few minutes. She motioned for Raymond and William – Taurus's real first name – to follow her into the kitchen. The three of them made their way to the back and ducked out the door. “Well, that went better than I'd planned.”
A dark laugh stopped Gemini as she rounded the corner. The figure in front of her was bad news: black jacket, black jeans, black shirt, red tie, and eyes as cold as an Alaskan winter. “Really, Gemini? Go out the back? Did you really think we wouldn't have someone watching here, too?”
Stupidly, she had. She didn't think frick and frack were smart enough to request back up, much less this kind of heavyweight. Dimitri Veschenko was six foot four of solid muscle and bad attitude. He was also the head trainer for martial arts at the regional office she worked at. Cold, ruthless, and, unfortunately for her, exceedingly competent, he was a guy who liked to get his hands dirty. Reveled in it, or so the rumor went. He'd been an interrogator at Gitmo and knew just how to squeeze a source for intel. Raymond wouldn't stand a chance. “I got this.”
Gemini looked to her right as William stepped up. “You sure?”
“Oh yeah, baby.” William moved between Dimitri and Gemini. “Sometimes, you just have to grab the bull by the horns.” Rubbing his hands together, he smiled as he faced Dimitri. “Now get going. You know what you've got to do.”
Raymond started to object as Gemini grabbed him by his arm and ran toward the front of the bar. For her size, she was startlingly strong. She headed right for the black Escalade and pulled out a key fob from her purse. “Yours?” He asked.
“William's. He palmed the keys into my hand when he moved in front of me. Had to guess my car was tracked, but then, that was a given.” She unlocked and started the vehicle remotely. “Get in. The corporal might be able to last a few against minutes against Dimitri, but I don't know how much time Jim and James will take to realize we're gone.”
Getting into the passenger side, Raymond quickly buckled up. A crash was heard behind him, and, staring back at the darkened glass, he quickly saw the bullet impact in the glass, the silhouette of the man Mr. Jeremy had fought pointing a gun at their vehicle. Why the hell did Mr. Jeremy have bullet proof glass in his SUV? He grabbed at the handle over the door as Gemini pulled out and sped up the hill from Leonardo's. “Who the hell was that guy? I can guess that the 'corporal' was Mr. Jeremy, but why are we being shot at?”
Gemini pulled onto the highway. “We need to get to a computer store, someplace not a chain.” She watched the exits and took the next one. “I don't know this town as much as I'd like, so I'm going to trust you to point me the right way.”
NSA not knowing something? That was a bit disconcerting. Raymond point to the next right. “Couple of miles down the road, there's a computer store I sometimes window shop at. I usually can't afford to buy anything there as mom gives me a shitty allowance.” Raymond froze. He hadn't even thought about his mom. “My god, there's agents back with my mother. We have to save her.”
Gemini shook her head. “She's innocent in all of this. I know the agent who's been keeping her under surveillance. She's clean. You, on the other hand, posted a few stories that were, shall we say, intriguing. If not for your dad, a lot of that would've been blown off as fanciful.” “Those were just things I came up with when dad would ask me what I would do in a situation.” Raymond shrugged as they pulled into the small computer store. “I thought they were just him testing me, nothing important or even plausible.”
Gemini sighed. “They were tests. More than a few of your stories were based off of top-secret missions, though a few details were changed or omitted.” She got out of the Escalade and headed toward the door to the store. “As to why we were being shot at, that's why we're here. Spy tip one: money talks. Lots of money sings and dances.”
Entering the store, Raymond couldn't help but look wistfully at some of the gear. He barely paid attention to Gemini as she started picking out hardware. The guys behind the counter nodded at him but were far more interested in Gemini. “That's what I get for never buying anything,” he thought, “but it's not like I can afford any of this.”
Gemini carefully pieced together everything she'd need for a bare bones kit and grabbed a copy of Linux. Setting them down on the counter she waited for the total then smiled up at the clerk. “Say, you boys wouldn't mind if I checked with my sister to make sure I didn't miss anything? I left my smart phone at my house and need to email her.”
The two techies looked back and forth at each other. “I'm sorry,” said the one working on a PC, “We've got to maintain our security.”
Gemini pulled out five, hundred dollar bills. “Really? It's kind of important. It'll just take a few minutes.”
The clerk's eyes bulged a bit before he tugged at his collar. “I'm sorry, but not while we're open.” He looked at the door then back at the counter where now ten bills lay. “Of course, I mean, we were planning on closing early anyway, right, Mike.”
Mike stood up from his PC. “Uh, yeah. We were just about to close for lunch.” Palming five bills, he nodded to the clerk. “Joey was about to go next door for some Italian, right?”
Joey nodded and took the other five before ringing up Gemini. “Whatever you say, boss.” He handed Gemini a receipt then headed toward the front door, sliding the sign to closed. “You want anything special, Mike?”
Shaking his head, he gestured toward the back. “So, you're interested in a job here, eh? Let's fill out some paperwork in the back.” He glared at Raymond. “What's with the window shopper?”
Gemini grabbed Raymond and pushed him to the back. “He's actually a client.” She pulled out another fifty as the front door closed behind Joey. “Here's the deal. Ten minutes. You saw nothing. You actually stay outside while I finish, it's another fifty. Don't worry. I'm not after anything you have and could care less about your porn that you keep on your work PC.” The man gawked. Truthfully, Gemini had no idea what this guy had on his work PC, but, he was white, in his thirties, and owned a PC shop. Porn wasn't altogether unlikely. She watched the man sign in then close the door behind her and Raymond. Slipping a USB thumbdrive into the machine, she waited until the programs on it installed themselves onto Mike's computer.
Peering over her shoulder, Raymond watched as a simple green text on black background popped up. “So why are we logging in from here?”
“First,” Gemini began, as she logged into something called “Project Greensky”, “this guy probably has all his security run through his PC, including all his cameras. I've already set up a program to erase the time we've been in here, along with a fair chunk of after we're done and disable any and all microphones. Second, the only difference between a hardline trace and phone is time. At least with a hardline, I'm not speaking so that's harder to sift for. Third, a chain store has a shit ton more survailance and variables. Here, we had two techs and no customers. Last, who would really look for an NSA agent in a small computer store?”
Raymond supposed that made sense. He watched as Gemini skimmed through text posts. “Okay, so what are we looking for?”
Gemini paused. “Aries.”
“Aries?” Raymond looked at the post Gemini had stopped on.
“Aries: Deep underground, Dallas. The stars are aligning, but the view is fantastic. If you need me, start to finish where the world around can be seen from inside a star, until Virgo rises to the occasion.
Virgo: You're a jerk, Aries. I love you like a brother, but you're a jerk.”
Gemini smiled and pulled out the thumbdrive. “That's what we needed. Not exactly a lead on Sagittarius, but help nonetheless. Up for a roadtrip?”
Raymond shook his head. “You've got to be kidding me. First, you've got me running from men in suits, then I find out my history teacher is a secret agent, now you're telling me we're going on a road trip? What about school? What about my mom? What about my life?” His voice pitched higher and higher.
Gemini moved in front of the office door. “This is your life now, Raymond. I apologize that I had to pull you into it, but your dad didn't exactly leave me much choice. It was pull you in or watch you get lost for good. Those people that stopped by your house? I've known them for at least five years and neither of them would hesitate to make someone disappear if they believed national security was at stake. These guys don't believe in due-process. Hell, most of us don't. The only things standing between you and never seeing the rest of the world again are me and a promise I made to make my C.O. happy. Luckily for you, what your dad wants is more than just your safety, so I'm less inclined to forget that promise and claim the reward that's probably on your head by now.”
“But I don't get it! I don't know anything!”
Gemini stared Raymond straight in the eye before shaking her head. “You know plenty. You came up with solutions that even your dad hadn't thought of. In that lonely, anti-social, black haired, earring wearing skull of yours is one of the most analytic minds of our time. My job is to get you to your dad and hope the two of you can figure out the mess we're in.”
Raymond swallowed back the fear. Maybe Gemini was right. She was certifiably nuts, but maybe she was right. “Okay. Let's say I believe you. Where are we going?”
“I'll tell you in the car.” Gemini looked at the clock on the wall and cursed. “We're running out of time, Raymond. You have two choices: stay here and hope what I'm telling you is a lie or come with me and try and save the last chance this country has.”
Raymond ran his fingers through his hair nervously. “You swear my dad is alive.”
“I swear on my sister's grave. It's not far from here, actually. I'd show you but were short on time.” Gemini opened the door and pulled another fifty from her purse. She also flashed something that looked like a wallet from her purse at Mike. “We were never here.” Mike nodded. “Might want to head out. I imagine Joey'll be back any time. Pleasure doing business with the government.”
Gemini turned away and rolled her eyes. “Right. Enjoy your lunch.” Grabbing Raymond by the wrist, she headed to the front, just as Joey walked in. Raymond pulled away at the door then held it open for Gemini before following her to the Escalade.
“So, where are we heading?” He asked as he buckled in.
“Southwest. Dallas, specifically Reunion Tower: the view there is three hundred and sixty five degrees inside a globe that looks like a huge star.” Gemini smiled and licked her lips. “Food's good, or was the last time I was there. In either case, we've got about two days to get there and a limited window to make contact.”
“And we're meeting who? Aries?”
Gemini nodded as they pulled onto the highway. “When war is coming, an arms specialist is handy, and Aries is one of the best.”
Raymond paused and thought about that. “Let me guess, a word play on the Greek god?”
Gemini laughed. “Told you that you were smart. Yeah. It was all Sagittarius's idea.” Mentioning him, her smile and laugh stopped.
“So you all have code names based on the horoscope. Who is Sagittarius, anyway?”
“Depends on the mythos.” Gemeni answered evasively.
Raymond flipped her off. “Okay, Ms. Vague, let's try again. Who in your group is Sagittarius?”
Gemini didn't answer for a full five minutes. “He's the one that guides us all: your father.”
Undisclosed Location – somewhere in central Illinois
Dimitri Veschenko walked into what looked like an abandoned factory building that sat next to a state highway. The dim light pooled over the weathered door and cast a look of pallor of Dimitri's face. He waited for the hidden cameras to acknowledge his presence, not that the face that he'd used a keycode to gain entry to the premises hadn't already tipped off those inside. Still, security and procedure where what kept the nation running. Order, discipline, justice: these tenets guided him, focused him. He understood the rules and expected everyone else to live by them. The problem was as much as he sought order, it was the nature of humanity to do their own thing. Inevitably, someone would selfishly believe that their way was better, damn the consequences, and you ended up with what he had now: a rogue agent.
Walking in to the door, he nodded at David Zimmerman, who was on watch duty. David was a rookie, but he was tough, determined, and had proven himself to Dimitri to be completely devoted to searching out threats to United States. David buzzed Dimitri in then went back to watching the security cameras. It likely going to be a slow night, which was a bit of a buzz kill, but Dimitri was counting on having a little time to sift through Elise Kirkpatrick's files. Heading down the stairs, he glanced up at the video wall, monitoring keywords, data streams, phone records, GPS coordinates, and news reports for anything of note. His assistants, Carla Jenkins and Zebulon White, were at their stations, hopefully getting more information about the man he'd identified as “William Jeremy”.
Dimitri rubbed his jaw, still sore from the roundhouse the man had hit him with. His back was sore from the bull rush that followed. Before he'd been able to get up, the man had vanished into the treeline. It had taken an hour to get the guy's information, fifteen minutes to locate his apartment, and five minutes to figure out the man was gone. The apartment didn't even feel lived in: no food in the fridge, no magazines, no mail. There was a shredder but had been empty. Even the bedroom was empty: no toothbrush, no comb, nothing. Trash pickup, apparently, had just been by. William Jeremy was, for all intents and purposes, a ghost. Even the paperwork they'd gleaned from the school he'd worked out turned to be fabricated. Whoever had done the work for this guy's personality, it ran deep.
“I've got a hit, boss.” Carla said, smiling as she stood. “Corporal William Barrows, age 30, U.S. Army special forces. Honorable discharge in 2008. Masters in military history from Princeton. Worked in the Sudan, South Africa, and the UK as an instructor before disappearing in 2012. Lost known address had him in Tahiti.” She handed Dimitri a tablet then brushed her bangs back from in front of her face. “He's definitely tied to Leonard Michaels. Corporal Barrows was part of a series of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan with Michaels, all black ops, wet works. This guy is as smart as he is deadly.”
Dimitri glanced over Barrows's record as he headed to his office. “Commendations over two tours, distinguished service, bronze star. Hell, his record is almost as good as Michaels's.” He sat down in his chair and frowned as Carla took a seat on the edge of his desk. “I gather there's more.”
Carla nodded, smoothing out her skirt absently. “Timing with this new identity coincides with Michaels's faked death. Not a sure bet, but it's pretty damning circumstantially. The fact that he obviously knew Ms. Kirkpatrick is as good a sign as any that she'd be put here, by her intentions or not, to compromise us.”
Dimitri pondered that. “I know that she was working on our counter-insurgency program, but not how deeply. I already know from her records that she believes herself to be deeply patriotic, but I don't get why she'd go rogue over Raymond Michaels.” Carla laughed. “You don't have siblings, do you, Dimitri?”
Dimitri frowned at that. “I don't actually, but I'm not sure I get your point.”
Carla stood and moved toward the door of Dimitri's office. “Elise has two, or, should I say, had.” Dimitri's eye arched before gesturing for Carla to continue. “Her twin, Anna, and her younger sister, Jillian. Jillian would've been eighteen this year, but died during a robbery at a gas station while Elise was on tour in Afghanistan. My guess, being her C.O.'s son and about the same age as her little sister, she felt responsible for him.” Carla shrugged. “Never attribute to malice what can equally be attributed to stupid or hormones.”
Dimitri frowned at Carla. “I thought we were supposed to forgive being hormonal.”
Carla laughed. “Oh, you guys can forgive it all you want. I've known many a woman who've done something stupid because they felt it was the right thing to do. Then again, so do men. You just don't talk about it as much.” Carla stepped around the door and headed back toward the monitor wall, leaving Dimitri to think.
“Why are you doing this, Elise?” Dimitri pondered. “What do you know? What was so important that would give up everything and became a traitor?”
“So, is this where I get to ask why my dad is the head of a super-secret organization?” Raymond stared out the window at the fields that lined the highway, wind turbines spinning in the distance. “Because, frankly, if that's the case, why am I being dragged into it? Why was I risk?”
Gemini sucked on her lip. “What you're asking doesn't have an easy answer. Pretend for a moment you are a man with a lot of money, very powerful friends, and a metric butt tonne of pull. You want someone to disappear? Easy. Suspend constitutional rights? Cakewalk. Manipulate the press? A simple phone call. Convince a few people that the old way wasn't working? Child's play. Convince a nation? That is where things get tricky. Convince the world?
“Most people are more than willing to passively let things change around them as long as they, themselves, aren't directly impacted in a noticeable way. Human beings, despite being creatures of change, inherently prefer order as long as their base hierarchy of needs are met. Once you get past physiological needs and personal safety, most people are willing to ignore the rest of the world. If you're not worried where your next meal is coming from, that the roof over your head isn't going anywhere, who cares about some protests about the top one percent. Sure, it's nice entertainment, but, to the average person, they don't care.
“Conversely, if you threaten a person's job or home with revolution, even if that change would inherently benefit them in the long run, most will fight it. So, we have the scenario we have now: two Americas. One is the wool that's been pulled over everyone's eyes, slowly eroding their personal freedoms at the cost of an artificial sense of security. The other is the shadow world, trying to shift everyone into an intellectualist utopia, where there is no reason to have guns because the government will protect you, where there is no reason to speak up because the government will tell you what's best to think, where there is no reason to believe in God or Allah or the Flying Spaghetti Monster because there is no such thing and the only thing a person needs to have faith in is the state.”
Raymond looked at Gemini as she finished her diatribe. Then laughed. “You can't be serious. I mean, you had me going, but the wool? The Flying Spaghetti monster? Wow.” Raymond wiped his eyes. “Great imagery. What I don't get is why bother? Doesn't the current system work?”
Gemini pulled onto an off-ramp then headed to a fast food drive through. “Pop quiz: where are we at?”
Raymond rolled his eyes. “A burger joint. Why?”
Gemini pulled into the drive through and ordered. She gripped the wheel and frowned as they pulled around. “How does the food get here?”
Raymond shrugged. “Semi, probably a couple of times a week, maybe more.”
Gemini paid for the food then continued. “And how does the semi get the food.”
“Bakeries, farms, food processing plants. I'm presuming there's a point you're going to get to soon.”
“Getting there, smart ass. These are in turn owned by corporations who largely believe that it would be in their best interest for public to continue buying products and services with the minimum of fuss. They lobby the government to make sure they don't get screwed over, and, unlike the rest of us, have plenty of money. Plenty of money, as you saw earlier, is a great motivator. Now, in and of itself, that's not exceedingly harmful as long as people aren't actively getting hurt.
“Now take a small handful of these effete assholes. Suddenly they decide that, if they ran the show, they could force everyone to live what they felt like was a better life. Take your pick: socialists, neoconservative evangelicals, old school hippies now teaching humanities at Illinois State, bigots who smile while they gladhand the NAACP. Hypocrites, one and all, but with one goal in mind: to run the things they want them ran. In the past, the fact that each of them was vying for power kept the others in check. About three years ago, a rookie intelligence officer proposed to their superiors an idea of how to run this shadow government in such a way that the United States could appear to behind all the special interests while preparing to shift into this utopia, this nation where all the flaws of communism were solved, where the only threat to pulling it off would be if the people themselves were smart enough to not just protest, but fight back.”
Gemini looked at Raymond before pulling back onto the freeway. “But people aren't smart. A person is smart. Most everyone else stops caring once their basic needs are met. I bet you don't even know your neighbors names or how many kids they had.”
Raymond thought about it and realized, even back in Harrisburg, he hadn't really known his neighbors, and that was in a small town. “So, what was this plan?”
“It was the wool the government pulled over your eyes. It's why your dad is important. When he found out about the plan, he realized what it would take to stop it. He also knew that, if anyone initiated it, the United States will cease to exist as it is within months.” Gemini sipped her shake then sighed. “We just didn't think people would pull the trigger this fast.” Crossing the Illinois-Missouri border, Gemini sighed. “I almost wish I hadn't have dragged you into this. Tell me, Raymond, what would you do if you knew your government was about to go to war with its own people?”
“Arm myself, set up provisions, and find a good spot to hole up in.” Raymond chewed on his burger as he thought it through. “I guess I'd try to find like minded people, preferably ex-military or scientists, and prepare for the worst.”
“Exactly. And if you're the government wanting to take over, it would be in your best interest to eliminate those people, preferably in a way that the populous was completely unaware of. Step one: create a paramilitary unit capable of taking out the government. Step two: use that paramilitary group to infultrate potential resistance groups and take them over, making them into willing copies of the original paramilitary group, determined to stand against the rebels you couldn't control. God, I was so naïve.”
“What do you mean, you were?”
Gemini clenched the wheel. “It was my plan: the Gemini Gambit. I was the one that gave it to my superior, Dimitri Veschenko. The man who stopped us at Leonardo's was my boss. He was the one that suggested to his superior that the US engage in the Gemini Gambit as a way to prevent an uprising. His boss was Secretary of National Security at the time. Now, he has a more public role: Vice-president Walter Patron.”
*Edit: Spacing, because it didn't copy right from my word processor.
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