MLPalooza aka the Owners MLP Event – Draft Grades

A place we never expected to be on this blog was publishing draft grades for an exhibition including owners, staff and employees of a pickleball league. Nevertheless, with all the chatter on social media about this event, we figured we would give some very unsolicited opinions about people that we have either barely seen play or not play at all. What’s the point of having a pickleball blog if you can’t give uninformed critique about very successful and talented people? The draft was completed a little while ago but this event will be held on the Sunday and Monday of MLP this weekend. Apparently, they’re calling this MLPalooza. Alright.

As a preamble to the draft grades, while DUPR is undoubtedly the best rating system on the market today, there are some flaws that have yet to be sorted out. As much as we love to write about pro pickleball, we care most about playing and have noticed some trends with DUPR that can be applied as general rules of thumb. Here are 2 flaws in DUPR that have been taken into account for our draft grades: (1) Small sample sizes can lead to inaccurate DUPRs because what you self-rate as is very important for your early DUPR, and (2) the gender-less and age-less aspect of DUPR is still very much a work in progress because of the limited sample available of competitive integration of players from different ages and genders. Until we have DUPR only tournaments, with zero restrictions on age and gender, we expect this will remain an issue.

These draft grades will serve as our de facto preview for this weird, but cool, event. The team combined DUPRs were put together by the never not grinding, Josh Gartman. This will take place on Monday.

Jorja Peaches (Jorja Johnson) – James Blake (#1), Wayley Louie (#16), Stacey Nishi (#17), Joe Saslow (#32), Brynn (#33) – Team DUPR: 16.89

James Blake would have been our first pick in this draft. Prior to MLP Daytona, he beat DJ Young in singles and his tennis pedigree along with continuing to look like he is in good shape makes for an ideal pickleball player. Singles is different than doubles, but if he’s able to hang with DJ in singles, this is a guy that should be able to dominate at this level. The rest of this team is a crapshoot for us. Louie and Nishi are both co-owners of Bay Area so there is probably some familiarity there, and they actually have a decent sample size in DUPR so they are probably legitimately right around their 4.0 DUPRs. Without any precedent to base this on, we anticipate it will be tough to compete against the best teams in this format with only one 4.5 plus player.

Grade: C 

Round ‘Em Up (Rafa Hewett) – Amer Delic (#2), Jorge Barragan (#15), Ritchie Tuazon (#18), Austin Wood (#31), Zubin (#34) – Team DUPR: 16.84

Amer Delic only has 9 results in his DUPR profile but he is a former pro tennis player. I don’t know if there was much opportunity for this team to have done better because knowing what value is in the draft is kind of tough when you haven’t seen anyone play. Barragan has a decent sample of results for his 4.27 DUPR and Tuazon should be at least competent enough with his 3.72 DUPR that includes some results from a DUPR 16 event in May. Tuazon talks a lot of trash about Tim Parks’ game so it’ll be fun to see how he holds up. You know Rafa Hewett had to pick his guy, Ritchie. Again, the hard part with these early draft picks is that you’re basically getting only 1 person with 4.5 ability and that gap from 3.5-4.0 and 4.5 can be very significant. 

Grade: B-

Delaminated Dinkers (James Ignatowich) – Brian Levine (#3), Kaitlyn Kerr (#14), Dan Tang (#19), Mimi Mercado (#30), Leigh Anne (#35) – Team DUPR: 18.04

Brian Levine was in the mix for the #1 overall pick.* We presume his age is what held him back from being drafted higher. Kaitlyn Kerr is probably the right pick in this spot given how little we know about the other people in this bracket. It is evident Kerr is playing a lot of pickleball, which can’t be said for a lot of these people drafted after her. Dan Tang has a DUPR slightly below 4.5, which is pretty good for a 40-ish year old male at this point in the draft. The problem is that it’s impossible to tell from his limited number of results how legitimate that is. We think the teams with two strong guys at the top are built most ideally for this format, but this team could have 3 players that play at a 4.0 plus level, which would be huge.

Also, is anyone else in this player pool going full dive in an exhibition match like Kaitlyn Kerr?

Grade: B+

Easy Eights (Lea Jansen) – David Grossman (#4), Connor Pardoe (#13), Jon Venison (#20), Braxten Pardoe (#29), Braxton Alley (#36) – Team DUPR: 18.04

This team could be interesting. There might have been better options available where David Grossman was picked but, since the draft, Grossman has played in a recent 4.5 event so he’s showing a 4.88 DUPR now. Graham D’Amico or Dom Catalano are more known commodities for us, but who the hell knows. Lea Jansen watched a lot of pro pickleball, but unclear how much owner amateur pickleball she consumes. Connor Pardoe doesn’t play competitively much anymore, but he has played a fair amount of pickleball, and you know from Jimmy Miller’s story that Connor has the potential to bring elite, Salome Devidze level line calling to this team. There may be enough depth on this squad to make them competitive as Braxten Pardoe looks to be a legit 3.5 plus player.

Grade: C+

The Real Dill (Vivienne David and Travis Rettenmaier) – Graham D’Amico (#5), Brooks Wiley (#12), Mikey Gendell (#21), Julio De Pietro (#28) – Team DUPR: 16.92

We don’t mean to put the pressure on Graham D’Amico, who already expressed his discontent for being drafted by his Florida Smash co-owner, Travis Rettenmaier, but this team should be right in the mix to win. It was recently shared by the Florida Smash Instagram account that D’Amico’s most recent DUPR update has him at a 5.00. Although he profiles as a right-side player from the one exhibition match we saw at MLP Daytona, D’Amico being competent as an amateur pickleball player is very important. D’Amico has also started working out with Pickleball trainer to the stars, Connor Derrickson, even if he’s feeling sore from a previous workout! Elite athlete stuff right there.

The rest of this team is interesting. Brooks Wiley has some pop in the limited clips we have seen, and he seems to play pickleball regularly. We have never seen Gendell play, but having younger players in these formats is probably ideal. Julio De Pietro, another Florida Smash guy, was the weakest player on the court in a match involving Kaitlyn Kerr, Tim Parks and Steve Kuhn, but he showed a basic level of competence that is good to see with a 4th round pick in this format.

Grade: A-

Grifters (Zane Navratil) – Tim Klitch (#6), Doug Ellin (#11), Steve Kuhn (#22), Jeff Nishi (#27) – Team DUPR: 17.05

Zane Navratil sure knows how to draft a team if he wants to schmooze his way to the top! All kidding aside, this is one of the better teams out there. The question will be whether age becomes an issue. The only player under 50 is Jeff Nish, their last pick. Tim Klitch can play but, based purely on playing ability and age, we would have opted for Dom Catalano at this spot. Based purely on friendship and networking connections, Tim Klitch would have been our first-round pick as well! 

Don’t get us wrong, Klitch can play. His DUPR is 4.98, but age should be a priority in amateur team formats. Doug Ellin has a super weird playing style, regularly gets high level play, moves well for his age and should be able to wreak some havoc on lower-level players. Steve Kuhn, AKA the real lob doctor, has a decent level of competence and, despite limited movement, has some old man playing pickup hoops at the Y type of stuff to his game that could cause a lot of player’s trouble. The question that will be answered with this team is whether skill level prevails over age. 

Grade: B+ 

Scorpions (Jessie Irvine) – Dominic Catalano (#7), Geoff Nguyen (#10), Kathleen Louie (#23), Tim Parks (#26) – Team DUPR: 17.53

Our view of the draft is the sweet spot for drafting were the #5 to #8 selections. It allowed teams to get two 4.5 level players and having that talent discrepancy in two areas might be crucial. Dominic Catalano hasn’t competed much the past few years and his movement may not be at peak performance these days, but he has played a lot of pickleball. Combine that with the very experienced founder of the Courts at Picadilly, Geoff Nguyen, and you have a good foundation for this team. From a pure winning standpoint, Ben Johns probably made a mistake passing on Nguyen twice. 

We know nothing about Kathleen Louie. She has a 4.48 DUPR across 48 matches with recent results from a DUPR 18 event in California, which is promising, and she got a 5.0 35 plus bronze at the PPA OC Cup. Competitive tournament reps matter and Louie has some sneaky potential to be a late round steal of the draft. Tim Parks looks to be playing more rec pickleball these days and should be a fine 4th round pick. Parks doesn’t dink or drop all that well, but he can hit a forehand drive and his hands should hold up to a certain degree at this level. This could be a strong Dreambreaker team if Louie can play any singles.

Grade: B

Steampunks (Ben Johns) – Derk Pardoe (#8), Camryn Irwin (#9), Ron Saslow (#24), Brad Schaeble (#25) – Team DUPR: 17.97

Ben opted for Derk Pardoe and Camryn Irwin at these two spots. There are three possible reasons for this: (1) Ben may know them better than we do and think they are better than Nguyen, (2) he chose them for personal reasons, or (3) he simply wanted to allow Irvine to have Nguyen on her team. Derk and Camryn have higher DUPRs than Nguyen by a significant margin, but that discrepancy may be closed and surpassed by Nguyen’s age and gender. Ron Saslow looks to be a legitimate 4.0 player and we noted with Ignatowich’s team that having three players that are clearly 4.0 plus could be important. We couldn’t find a DUPR profile for Schaeble so who really knows.

Grade: C

*This article has been edited to remove that Brian Levine was not a high level professional tennis player.

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2 thoughts on “MLPalooza aka the Owners MLP Event – Draft Grades

  • June 15, 2023 at 4:26 am

    “elite, Salome Devidze level line calling”

    one of the best lines ever written on the NML blog


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