Athletes Poised to Do Amazing Things in 2017

Sid QuashieFeatured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2017

Athletes Poised to Do Amazing Things in 2017

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    There is no doubt that sports fans are living in a time in which eye-popping stats are becoming the norm, and that’s why athletes such as Russell Westbrook and LeBron James are poised to do amazing things in 2017. It’s not just about numbers, however, it’s also about athletic feats that were once thought unattainable, such as James aiming for his seventh consecutive NBA Finals.

    Could it be that the impossible is becoming mundane, because we live in a time replete with so many athletes of staggering talent that we’re about to become spoiled by truly incredible accomplishments?

    This list is a homage to athletic greatness, lest any of us forget that we just might be living in a true Golden Age of sports superstar achievement.

    The criteria for inclusion on this list is that each of these athletes is on the cusp of equaling or surpassing a record, achieving something notable in their sport that hasn’t been done in decades or dominating their peers to such an extent that awe is the only appropriate response.

Russell Westbrook: NBA

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    When Kevin Durant bolted to the Golden State Warriors during free agency, many experts predicted that Westbrook would unleash the baddest version of himself on the league.

    But still, the fact that the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard is averaging 31.2 points, 10.6 assists and 10.6 rebounds through the first 39 games of the season, per Basketball-Reference.com, is kind of uh, staggering.

    Because with just a little more than half the season to go, Westbrook is making a real effort to become the first player since Oscar Robertson in the 1961-62 season to average a triple double.

    Robertson ended that season with 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists, and if Westbrook can somehow maintain this blistering pace, he has a real shot at equaling a feat that is nigh-impossible in today’s NBA.

    He earned his 17th triple-double in a January 8 win over the Denver Nuggets, nearly double that of his nearest competitor, James Harden of the Houston Rockets.

    No less an authority than LeBron James is a believer, and per James Herbert of CBS Sports (via ESPN), James said this in December:

    “He’s capable of doing it. He’s showing it. He’s like the Energizer Bunny, man. He just doesn't get tired. He doesn't get tired, and when you have that passion for the game, too, as well, it's very doable.”

Anthony Davis: NBA

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    In his fifth NBA season, Davis continues to astound with his improvement in all categories.

    Through 37 games, he is averaging 29.1 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.54 blocks, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

    He has already had a 50-point game this season (first game), and if he can stay healthy, Davis is on the cusp of becoming the only NBA player this season to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per game, a feat he also achieved last season, per NBA.com.

    At 23, Davis is putting up the kind of numbers that could rank him among his generation’s best players, as long as he remains healthy and doesn’t lose motivation playing for the moribund New Orleans Pelicans.

LeBron James: NBA

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    When James famously made his “Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven…” comment after he signed with the Miami Heat in 2010, perhaps he was referring to the number of times he would take a team to the NBA Finals?

    According to Odds Shark, James' Cleveland Cavaliers team is a heavy betting favorite to win the Eastern Conference and return to the finals this year, and if that happens, James will pass Tom Sanders of the Celtics and tie Bob Cousy in sixth place for most consecutive NBA Finals appearances.

    What has made James’ finals runs so amazing is that he has done it while playing for two different franchises, and while also logging 46,643 total minutes played by the end of his age 31 season, which ranks first in NBA history, per Luke Knox of ESPN.com.

    Already ranked third on ESPN’s #NBArank list of the 100 greatest players in NBA history, one more victory in the finals would give James four chips and nudge him closer to being judged on equal footing with boyhood idol Michael Jordan.

Mike Trout: MLB

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    It speaks volumes that Trout, the transcendent center fielder for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, won his second AL MVP in 2016 even though his team was many games under .500.

    But though the numbers don’t tell the entire story, they tell a lot of it, and Trout’s stats are astounding.

    Per Baseball-Reference.com, Trout has led the AL in runs four times since 2012, led the AL in walks twice and led the league once in extra base hits, RBI and stolen bases.

    Trout won his other MVP in 2014 and was also runner-up in 2012, 2013 and 2015.

    Going into the 2017 MLB season, Trout will be the clear-cut front-runner to win his third AL MVP, especially now that the members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America have shown that a team’s losing record will not disqualify a worthy candidate.

    If Trout wins the AL MVP in 2017, that means he will have been either first or second in voting since his first full season in 2012 (he only played 40 games in 2011), the definition of an amazing sports feat.

    And what’s even more scary is that Trout is only 25 and just now entering his prime years. It’s conceivable that Trout could surpass Barry Bonds’ record of seven MVPs before he turns 30.

Connor McDavid: NHL

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    If 2016 proved anything in sports, it’s that inexperience is no bar to excellence (thank you Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott).

    And that’s no less true in the NHL, as the Edmonton Oilers’ McDavid, 19, rips up the league in what amounts to his first full season, as he only played in 45 games last season.

    Per Hockey-Reference.com, through January 8, McDavid leads the league in assists (34) and points (48) and is second in points per game (1.14), goals created (17) and hat tricks (1).

    The second-year wunderkind has lived up to all expectations as the No. 1 pick in 2015, and through January 8, the Oilers are 21-14-7 and third in the Pacific Division.

    Despite not being old enough to buy his teammates a drink at a bar, McDavid is Edmonton’s captain and unquestioned leader, and he is poised to become the second-youngest NHL player to win the Art Ross Trophy awarded to the points leader at the end of the season.

    Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby won the trophy at the age of 19 in 2007, so McDavid would be following a future of Hall of Famer player should he triumph.

    That would be quite amazing, because only two of the 14 voters in an NHL.com preseason panel picked the youngster to win the award.

Tom Brady: NFL

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    At this point there isn’t much more praise to heap on Brady, who by most objective analysis is one of the three greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

    Since the Super Bowl was first played on January 15, 1967, only 12 quarterbacks have won more than one title.

    When Brady’s New England Patriot’s won Super Bowl XLIX 28-24 against the Seattle Seahawks on February 1, 2015, he became only the third quarterback in NFL history with four Super Bowl victories, joining his boyhood idol Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw.

    And Brady is now on the brink of doing what no signal-caller has ever done: win five Super Bowls.

    The Patriots are strong favorites to win Super Bowl LI. As an example of this overwhelming support, 11 of 12 sportswriters and editors from SI.com picked New England to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy in February, and if that happens, Brady will stand alone in NFL history with five rings and a legitimate claim to not only being the greatest quarterback in league history but perhaps even the greatest player to ever wear a football uniform (cue the howls from Jim Brown, Dick Butkus and Jerry Rice fans).

Dak Prescott: NFL

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    While Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts fell seconds short of becoming the first true freshman quarterback to win a national title since Jamelle Holieway did it in 1985, Dallas Cowboys quarterback, Prescott has a chance to raise the stakes forever, by becoming the first rookie ever to start a Super Bowl, not to mention win one.

    Although that may be a tall order, what Prescott has already done makes it more likely than not that he can guide his stacked team to the promised land.

    Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, who has been covering pro football for 43 years, wrote that Prescott’s rookie season was the best he’d ever witnessed and was the greatest first-year campaign in NFL history.

    Prescott threw 23 touchdowns against just four interceptions and led the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.

    Per Odds Shark, the Cowboys have 9-2 odds to win the Super Bowl, second only to the New England Patriots.

    Remember, just starting in a Super Bowl would place Prescott alone in NFL history. Winning one would make him a legend.

Serena Williams: Tennis

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    Jason Oxenham/Associated Press

    On July 9, 2016, Williams (then 34) defeated Angelique Kerber in the Wimbledon women’s singles final, earning her 22nd Grand Slam singles title and tying Steffi Graf’s record for the most singles titles in the Open era.

    After failing to break the Grand Slam record in the U.S. Open in September 2016, Williams enters 2017 poised to etch her name in tennis history.

    With one Grand Slam singles championship, she will own the record, and there really won’t be much her detractors can say other than she doesn’t have the all-time record for Grand Slams, which is owned by Margaret Court with 24.

    And who’s to say that Williams couldn’t put together the kind of season in which she wins three of four Grand Slams and then retires as the undisputed greatest female tennis player of all time?

    In a December 2015 Harris Poll, taken before Williams tied Graf, Williams was ranked fourth when this question was asked:

    “Thinking about the sports you know, please indicate which two you think are the greatest sports stars of all time.”

    She finished behind Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali.

Demetrious Johnson: UFC

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Johnson, 30, the current UFC flyweight champion is nicknamed “Mighty Mouse,” because even though he’s only listed at 5’ 3”, he possesses destructive power.

    With his victory on December 3, 2016 over Tim Elliott in The Ultimate Fighter 24 Finale main event, Johnson notched his ninth consecutive UFC title defense, tying him with future Hall of Fame fighter Georges St-Pierre for the second-most consecutive title defenses in UFC history.

    Johnson has held the flyweight title since 2012, and his technical style and arsenal of skills have made him one of the most respected fighters in MMA history.

    With one more win in 2017, Johnson will tie Anderson Silva for the most consecutive title defenses in UFC history, and a second win in this calendar year would cement his legacy as one of the most dominant fighters of all time.

    Although the UFC has not announced his next fight, Johnson is expected to resume hostilities with No. 1 contender Joseph Benavidez, a man he has defeated twice before.