There are clearly things happening behind the scenes at MLP. You don’t just announce the relocation of an event across the country to a different state less than a month before it happens without having other stuff going on. There are bigger fish to fry than a Challenger Shuffle Draft, but the beat still goes on with MLP. Without any announcement (obviously), MLP has changed the format of the Shuffle Draft by allowing teams to drop 2 players, instead of only one. It is a big boost for teams that drafted poorly considering that teams in season 1 could only make 1 swap per Shuffle Draft. It’s unclear what MLP’s motivation is for changing how the Shuffle Draft works other than we’ll let teams try to fix their mistakes when the standings don’t matter at all. Tell us you don’t care about the rest of the MLP season without telling us you don’t care about the rest of the MLP season.
We understand the reality of the circumstances means that the remaining events take a backseat to the bigger picture, but it is possibly causing a diminishment of the MLP product with another change in 2023. There was more fan investment leading up to this season 2 of MLP than we have seen before and MLP is throwing that out the window. Are we overreacting? Possibly. But if you want fans to care about your product, you need to give them a reason to care about it. Let’s get to analyzing the results of the Shuffle Draft that were announced on Saturday.
Los Angeles Mad Drops drop Olivia McMillan and Jordan Kinney for Allison Harris and Andreas Siljestrom. Substitute Cierra Gaytan-Leach for Brooke Buckner
The Mad Drops get a major benefit from winning (losing?) the MLP tiebreak scenarios to secure the first pick in the Shuffle Draft.* Drafting a female who would be unavailable for the 2nd event, Brooke Buckner, and a 2nd male who had not played a tournament since October 2022, Jordan Kinney, could be described as sub-optimal team construction. Thankfully for the Mad Drops, they end up in last place and get by far the best female available in Allison Harris.
With the additional drop, the Mad Drops were able to swap Jordan Kinney for Andreas Siljestrom. Siljestrom has not been playing tournaments recently and his health was an issue in season 1, but he was in the mix as a high upside 4th round pick at the time of the draft. The female pool after Harris was pretty weak, but Gaytan-Leach has shown she can perform in MLP as she gets in as a substitute for the pregnant Brooke Buckner. Gaytan-Leach is coming off a pregnancy and just started playing tournaments again. From a substitution standpoint, the pick-up makes enough sense, but we’ll have to see where her game is at.
To correct something we said on our latest podcast, the rules have not changed for injuries/substitutions from season 1. Corrine Carr’s pregnancy was treated as a substitution in season 1, not an add/drop as we had thought on the podcast.
Florida Smash drop Dominique Schaefer for Mari Humberg
Speaking of sub-optimal team construction, the Smash opted for two completely unproven doubles players in Collin Shick and Dominique Schaefer. Shick in the 2nd round was an extreme reach but he sticks around for another event as a high upside option. Schaefer is talented but it was clear her doubles game is not ready. Humberg, on the other hand, has been steadily getting better results on the APP. She has reached the podium and had a good run in mixed with CJ Klinger last weekend in Dallas. Again, the female pool of players was quite thin after Allison Harris and Humberg should represent a fairly significant doubles upgrade for the Smash on the women’s side. It seems unlikely that Humberg can move the needle enough for Florida even though she is an upgrade.
Milwaukee Mashers drop Pesa Teoni and Christa Gecheva for Callan Dawson and Riley Bohnert
It was not a shock to see the Mashers make a move on the men’s side. Pesa Teoni is a replacement level player and Callan Dawson has played a ton with DJ Young back in the day. Callan will be an upgrade in men’s doubles and is arguably an improvement over Teoni in mixed. Callan probably should have been drafted in season 1 and he gets back into the MLP fold for season 2.
The more surprising move was dropping Christa Gecheva. As a late round female pick, Gecheva is a higher floor, lower ceiling type of player with some ability to play singles. Teams are much more apt to make moves after this first event when their 2024 Premier lives aren’t dependent on the results, and you have to think the Mashers don’t make this change if these results mattered for 2024. We have been intrigued with Bohnert but probably haven’t seen enough of her to feel confident she is an upgrade. There may be more upside with Bohnert, though.
New York Hustlers drop Sarah Ansboury for Kelsey Grambeau
This is a notable move for the simple fact that it demonstrates legacy players have little rope in pro pickleball these days. Sarah Ansboury appeared to be the main culprit for NYC’s below expectations performance in Atlanta so they take a shot on an up and comer, Kelsey Grambeau, to move the needle. The move looks to be a good one. We were wrong on Ansboury being a strong pick in the third round despite the strides she has made in her game this year as a legacy player. The game is changing and, unfortunately for Ansboury, there’s only so much one can do to stay relevant. Grambeau has been getting some strong APP results and will get the opportunity to prove herself on the MLP stage.
California BLQK Bears drop Marshall Brown for Erik Pailet
This was unexpected and it’ll be interesting to see where this one gets BLQK. Marshall Brown was solid but not spectacular in Atlanta, but BLQK’s quarter-final departure had to be a disappointment for a team that had championship aspirations. That is the danger of taking two men later in the draft when you don’t get the right ones. Despite some slippery shot making, neither Anderson Scarpa nor Marshall Brown has game changing type ability in their player profiles and that showed in Atlanta.
Erik Pailet was on our radar for the season 2 draft, but his results weren’t really there at the time to justify a top 48 inclusion. He has a bit of a weird style but he is a player that should be able to impact the game in mixed. While Marhsall Brown was likely a Rafa Hewett pushed selection, Erik Pailet could be a Geoff Nguyen recommendation. Nguyen is the GM for BLQK owner, Ritchie Tuazon’s, other MLP team, the Bay Area Breakers. Pailet is a staple at Nguyen’s Piccadilly Courts in California. BLQK should have far more intel on Pailet than we have but this looks to be a transaction that doesn’t move the needle a great deal. California is a strong team, and it feels like they could have done better in Atlanta with the original version of their roster so this new version with Pailet should also be right in the mix.
When we expressed some displeasure with the additional moves available to teams online, there were a number of people that took no issue with less restrictions on Shuffle Draft transactions. To us, changing in the rules in the middle of a calendar year doesn’t seem necessary and de-emphasizes the value of the draft between season 1 and season 2.
On the other hand, it is a zero-sum game for the player pool when you consider that there are 48 Challenger players – no more, no less. In addition, the extra moves should create a more balanced Challenger event. The Mad Drops are no longer basically a free win and it looks like every other teams that made at least one move have a shot at being better in Dallas.
The Mad Drops will be the most intriguing Challenger team. Allison Harris would certainly be a number 1 female if we re-drafted today and getting Tardio to pair with Siljestrom in men’s doubles makes this an extremely scary team to face. They are still flawed and have question marks with two of their new players not having all that many tournament reps recently.
William Sobek is the one notable undrafted male or female. Sobek entered his name in MLP for the first time this year and was not picked up by anyone. Sobek is a guy that can impact winning so it’s surprising someone did not want to take a shot with his play-making ability. It sounds like he may have injured his ankle in New Jersey so that could have hurt his stock. He would have made sense for any team that dropped a guy in this Shuffle Draft.
*This has been edited to clarify that the tiebreaker determination for MLP is not weird, but the situation in itself with Allison Harris being the clear best pick-up makes it a weird circumstance.
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