Newsday’s sixth annual list of top New York-area sports stars features a new No. 1 — a tall, skinny 33-year-old.
Come to think of it, No. 2 on the list also is a tall, skinny 33-year-old. Coincidence, or theme?
Our list of 22 stars for ’22 has the usual rules: Current athletes only! Coaches, executives, announcers and radio hosts are not eligible. And only players based east of the Hudson are included, other than Jets and Giants.
Not that the Jets and Giants deserve much consideration here anyway.
Also, as always: Ability and achievement obviously count, but star power counts more.
1. Jacob deGrom, Mets
The Mets’ ace seemed to be headed for a third CY Young Award in four years when his 2021 season ended after 15 starts, at which point he was 7-2 with a 1.08 ERA and 146 strikeouts in 92 innings. Assuming he recovers fully from his somewhat mysterious forearm/elbow injury, the Mets hope deGrom will return to form quickly.
2. Kevin Durant, Nets
Earth’s best basketball player calls Brooklyn home, exactly what the Nets need in an ongoing quest for attention. Durant returned from a season lost to an Achilles tendon injury to average 26.9 points in 2020-21. Through early 2021-22, he led the league by far with nearly 30 points per game while carrying a heavy load of minutes played.
3. Aaron Judge, Yankees
Injuries had been chipping away at Judge’s image since his 2017 rise to superstardom, but he stayed mostly healthy in 2021 and returned to form, batting .287 with 39 home runs and 98 RBIs and making big plays in the outfield, including centerfield. He was fourth in the AL MVP voting. Judge will be a free agent in 2023. Buckle up!
4. Max Scherzer, Mets
This could be brilliant or a disaster, but it will not be boring. Scherzer turns 38 in July but got a three-year, $130 million contract as deGrom’s co-ace. He has won the Cy Young Award three times and struck out more than 3,000 batters, but what about that dead arm thing last autumn? One thing we know: He won’t be intimidated by New York.
5. Gerrit Cole, Yankees
After topping our stars list last year, things got a little, um, sticky for Cole. He did not seem quite the same after MLB cracked down on the use of Spider Tack and other such substances last spring, and he was knocked out of the AL wild-card game after two innings-plus. But it is not as if he flopped. He was second in the AL Cy Young voting.
6. Adam Fox, Rangers
Does Fox get bonus points here for being from Jericho? Yup. No apologies for that. But Fox would merit a high rank even if he were from Juneau. The reigning Norris Trophy winner is that good, and he still is only 23. He had 42 assists in 55 games last season and is among the early league leaders and on pace to surpass that in 2021-22.
7. Kyrie Irving, Nets
Say what you want about the Nets’ lightning rod — everyone else has — but there is no denying Irving’s talent and how important his return figures to be for the team’s playoff staying power. Last season he averaged 26.9 points and 6.0 rebounds. But the path forward is full of questions, including a big one: Will he ever play in Brooklyn?
8. Pete Alonso, Mets
"Polar Bear" is not as cuddly as he was during his 53-home run season in 2019, but he did have 37 home runs in 2021 and continued to work at his role as a face of the franchise. After a sweep by the Phillies in August — and with Alonso slumping — he issued a fan pep talk. The Mets won three in a row, capped by his walk-off homer.
9. Francisco Lindor, Mets
The 10-year, $341 million deal Lindor signed to start the 2021 season brought his famous smile to his face, but once the games began, fans frowned. The shortstop struggled and was booed, and he got into a dugout scuffle with teammate Jeff McNeil in May. But Lindor did have some moments and hit 20 homers in 125 games.
10. James Harden, Nets
At 32, Harden is not the same player he was in his NBA MVP season of 2017-18, but along with Durant, he has been carrying a heavy load awaiting the potential return of Irving to reassemble the Nets’ three-star constellation. Harden was averaging near-triple-double statistics through mid-December despite shooting woes.
11. Julius Randle, Knicks
Late in the 2020-21 season, Randle was serenaded with "M-V-P" chants at the Garden, and the idea was not all that farfetched. Then he struggled badly in the first playoff round against Atlanta. Still, he was the NBA’s Most Improved Player and secured a four-year, $117 million contract extension. Early reviews in 2021-22? Meh.
12. Saquon Barkley, Giants
Barkley appeared certain to be a fixture in our top 10 for years, given his personality, his status as the No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft and a rookie year in which he totaled more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage. But an ACL injury robbed him of all but two games in 2020, and 2021 brought an ankle injury and more questions about his future.
13. Mathew Barzal, Islanders
The Islanders pride themselves on their four-line balance and defense-first approach, but Barzal stands out as a dynamic, can’t-look-away playmaker among his more utilitarian teammates. The 2017-18 Calder Trophy winner has matured into a more complete player under the tutelage of coach Barry Trotz, but he has not lost his flair.
14. Artemi Panarin, Rangers
"Bread Man" saw his 2020-21 season take a bizarre, geopolitical turn when he was accused without evidence of assaulting a woman by a former coach (and Vladimir Putin ally) in his native Russia and ended up sitting out nine games. Panarin returned in March but was not himself. By early in 2021-22, he had returned to his customary form.
15. Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees
Yankees fans might never completely warm up to Stanton (or to his contract), but after two injury-marred years in 2019 and ’20, he managed to play 139 games in 2021 and display all of his streaky, scary power in hitting 35 homers and totaling 95 RBIs. He also helped in the outfield by necessity, and it seemed to focus him at the plate.
16. Sabrina Ionescu, Liberty
After arriving in 2020 as the top pick in the WNBA Draft and one of the biggest names in women’s basketball, Ionescu saw her rookie year end after three games because of an ankle injury. She returned in ’21 and hit a game-winner in the opener but otherwise had ups and downs. Her jersey ranked No. 1 among all WNBA players in sales.
17. Daniel Jones, Giants / Zach Wilson, Jets
Do the rules allow two players to share one spot? They do when we say they do. In this case, both quarterbacks are names too big not to mention but too underwhelming to merit their own places. Jones has been more productive, but he has had three years to prove himself. Wilson has had only one — and he has not done so, either.
18. Anders Lee, Islanders
The Islanders’ captain makes his debut on this list, in part for his importance on the ice — had he not been hurt, the Isles might well have won the ’21 Cup — in part for his community service, in part because, well, he is the captain. This is his fourth season since succeeding John Tavares; most fans (and players) can’t imagine another choice.
19. Valentin Castellanos, NYCFC
"Taty," as the young Argentine widely is known, already had established himself in NYCFC history by winning the MLS Golden Boot for scoring 19 goals in the regular season. But that was a mere warmup for the MLS Cup against Portland, in which his header gave NYCFC an early lead en route to winning on PKs for its first championship.
20. Derrick Rose, Knicks
The long-ago NBA MVP is 33 now, but he is more than a fan favorite just for sentimental value. Rose still can play. He was the Knicks’ best player during a brief playoff appearance last season. Ankle surgery sidelined him two months into 2021-22, opening the door for the revival of another big-name thirty-something: Kemba Walker.
21. Aroldis Chapman, Yankees
There are more 100-mph pitchers in the majors than there were when Chapman, who will turn 34 in February, began. But there still is something electric about watching the lefty reliever bring world-class heat for the Yankees. In 2021, he had 30 saves, including the 300th of his career — the fourth lefthander to reach that milestone.
22. Sean Johnson, NYCFC
Only one player in MLS history had waited longer than Johnson’s 321 regular-season games to reach an MLS Cup final. When he got there, the goalkeeper made the most of his opportunity, stopping Portland’s first two penalty kicks in a shootout won by NYCFC, 4-2. Net result: New York’s first significant pro sports championship in a decade.