We thought we’d have some MLP fun with the quick turnaround announcement that the pre-Columbus Shuffle Draft will be held next week on Monday, August 29th. We don’t mean to beat a dead horse as we know MLP is trying to figure these things out but this information needs to be more publicized. You have to go the “News” section of their website to find this information and it’s not readily findable on their social other than you can make an application to be in the Shuffle Draft pool. We know this is not easy and they are figuring things out, but when we are having trouble finding information, it probably means most regular folks aren’t even seeing it. We’ll continue to say that a more resources have to be put to the publicity aspect of MLP.
The other thing you probably didn’t hear about unless you listen to pickleball podcasts is that MLP will be expanding to 16 teams next year. In short, we both think this is not a good idea. MLP is rapidly growing but it’s hard to comprehend where the need to add all these teams is. We already had trouble getting on board with 12 teams, but 16 seems insane. Without the PPA players, it is already a watered-down product to a certain extent but teams are really going to have to dig deep with 64 total players.
There has been a lot success with MLP overall but expanding to 16 teams feels similar to when shows like ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ or ‘Deal or No Deal’ get extremely popular so network executives decide to put it on as many primetime weeknights as possible until people get tired of it. Another downside of 16 teams is that it is going to make things hard to track for casual pickleball viewers. We don’t mean to use NML as the barometer for everything but if we’re finding it hard to keep up with 12 teams during a weekend, how the heck are regular fans going to keep up with 16?
Rob Nunnery said the term used towards him on his new podcast with Adam Stone was “hypergrowth” and this truly is hypergrowth happening. Let’s hope it is not at the expense of what the best growth is for MLP, which is still the best pickleball product out there in our view.
That’s a long-winded introduction for what is supposed to be a Shuffle Draft preview of sorts. Following the big trade announcement over the weekend, we’re going to highlight our 5 most interesting teams going into the Columbus Shuffle Draft.
(1) The 5s
The 5s have a bit of a problem in that they are kind of like the Utah Jazz of MLP (sorry for the deep NBA cut all you non-NBA fans). The 5s are too good to break up but probably not good enough to win a championship. With the Ranchers having the Jackie Kawamoto trade levelling their team up about 3 notches and James Ignatowich proving he can hold his own, it’s going to be a tough mountain to climb for any non-Rancher or BLQK (assuming Parris Todd is healthy) teams in Columbus.
The trouble for the 5s is that they have a solid team across the board. Their women and men’s doubles teams are arguably as strong as any two pairs in MLP. However, they have struggled to be better than average in mixed. Nunnery will be healthier in Columbus than he was in Newport, but he has never been a mixed demon, and Erik Lange has always been more of a men’s doubles specialist. Not to mention that with the health of Nunnery and Jardim along with Lange, this team is not built for a Dreambreaker either.
It will be a surprise if this team does not make the elimination portion in Columbus, but it will be equally as surprising if the team wins it all the way they are constructed.
It’s one of those things where there have to be discussions of blowing things up, but it is also very unlikely to happen with only one event left in the year. The fact is that this team is still good. It is always possible a team like this could make a trade or two to significantly shake things up as they have strong enough players that should have value to other teams. The predictable move, though, is for the 5s to stand pat and ride out this group for 2022.
(2) Mad Drops Pickleball Club
The Mad Drops had a poor showing in Columbus. The Corrine Carr trade for Olivia McMillan did not pay any dividends and Adam Stone missed another event due to injury. After the Drew Brees co-ownership announcement, it’s clear wanted to make something happen, which they did in a huge, two-team trade that was announced on Saturday with Vivienne David and Adam Stone going to the Jackrabbits for AJ Koller and Mary Brascia.
Let’s push to the side the fact that the Jackrabbits have a co-owner, Ritchie Tuazon, of two teams (BLQK is the other), who apparently wants to make it as hard as possible for both his teams to win.
For the Mad Drops, the trade puts them in a better but still problematic place as they have solved their #1 guy issue but they still have a #2 girl problem. This team still has two #2 women and Corrine Carr has struggled for the most part in 2022 outside of a couple of bronze medals with DJ Young. There are women out there that could help this team out more than Corrine – Bobbi Oshiro, Lacy Schneemann and Cierra Gayten-Leach all are viable options. Both players close to Corrine Carr are now out of the picture for the Mad Drops, which makes it far more likely she gets dropped. There’s only so many transactions you can make though and, at the end of the day, this team is still going to have two #2 females and that will make it harder to win.
For the men, AJ Koller and Julian Arnold should be a scary fun team to watch. It’s unclear how Julian Arnold will do in a more beta role but that is one tough men’s team. In mixed, both players can take a lot of court and make things happen, which should make up for what this team will lack in firepower of a #1 female. Mary Brascia is solid, but still improving at this point.
As noted in our trade reaction article, the Mad Drops have more potential than they did previously as their guys are very strong, but you need to put the right players around them. Will this be almost a full overhaul of their team after the Shuffle Draft? After the trade, one would have to think the answer to that question will be a resounding yes.
(3) ATX Pickleballers
The ATX Pickleballers took a step back after Austin where they made the elimination round, which was surprising to us and seemed like it may not be sustainable. In spite of their elimination round appearance, the ATX also felt they could make upgrades and decided to move to drop the veteran Altaf Merchant in favor of another lefty, Pablo Tellez. The surprising thing about the Newport stop is that Dylan Frazier had a rough showing both in men’s with Tellez and mixed with Jade Kawamoto. You really do wonder if losing the energy and fire of Merchant was a bigger hit than ATX realized when dropping Altaf.
Dylan and JW struggled mightily in the first MLP event last year and that still makes no sense given where their career trajectories have gone since then. Considering Jessie Irvine and Susannah Barr were the two women on that team, the best explanation for their poor showing was the lack of energy and leadership on their first MLP team. It may be the case for Frazier that the MLP setting means he needs team members with some real fire and leadership. Ansboury is a veteran but it’s not the same as what Altaf offers. Look at us being the intangibles guys.
It just feels like there’s something missing from this team beyond the shortcomings of the players and the best players available out there do not provide what Altaf Merchant gave to them. It’s hard imagining this team going back to Altaf as they are so weak in singles if they go to a Dreambreaker with Altaf is their 4th guy. Nevertheless, we also don’t expect this team will simply run this same group back for another round in Columbus.
(4) Florida Smash
The Florida Smash made a head scratching move that did not work out for them after Austin by trading Maggie Remynse for Michelle Esquivel. The intriguing thing about this team is that we know the men aren’t going anywhere with JW Johnson being the best player at MLP and Travis Rettenmaier being a part-owner of the Smash. The question is whether they can solve their female duo. It’s a tough spot being in the middle of the draft for the women because you get where your draft slot is, which is two solid but not spectacular players.
We have certain players we bang the drum for. On the men’s side it is Gabe Tardio and on the women’s side is Bobbi Oshiro. It was so obvious, at least to us, that Oshiro could have been a significant improvement for a lot of teams’ #2 female, and we think that could even be applicable to the Smash. The trade options are not a whole lot when the value you can offer up is limited and they don’t even have a sister to offer up anymore to get the sibling trade value boost.
JW Johnson can compensate for a whole lot as we saw in Austin but for their best shot to win this team will need an upgrade to their women. How that can be done is a whole other question.
(5) Hard Eights
As much as we bang the drum for some players, we also go the other way and it can sound like a broken record. Sorry again to John Cincola, but this team should be one that can compete with the best out there. Yes, their women lost 21-5 to Anna and Jackie in the semi-finals, but those rally scoring games can go quick once they get out of hand. We can’t quit talking about it if the Hard Eights aren’t going to do anything but there are upgrades out there for Cincola, and the team is doing themselves a disservice if they don’t try to change something up before Columbus.
This team talked about how close they were as a team in their post-game interview after their win to get them to the semi-finals, but don’t you have to give the championship a chance? It has become apparent this team almost certainly can’t win with Cincola as their #2 guy. It’s a little bit of a 5s situation being in good but not good enough purgatory. It’s hard to break up good but not good enough.
Whether they can upgrade to a championship team is to be determined, of course. But the opportunity is there for the Hard Eights. Will they take it?
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