Do any of the Sixers have a legitimate case for making the All-Star team?

Do any of the Sixers have a legitimate case for making the All-Star team?

After his fine performance last night against the Nuggets in Denver, sideline reporter Molly Sullivan asked Philadelphia 76ers breakout performer (of sorts) Evan Turner about his All-Star chances. The question took me by surprise, but not Evan, who clearly had been given the question some thought himself, and encouraged the Sixers' PR peons to get out the vote on his behalf. (He also concluded that regardless of whether or not he was selected, he knew that he was "on [his] way to becoming one of the best players in the league," which...well, hold that thought, ET.)

I hadn't really thought about Evan's All-Star chances, but it's true that an argument could conceivably be made for such a selection, as is true for a number of players on the Sixers--surprisingly so for the team with the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers' three notable veterans and their star rookie all have put up numbers this year that might at least merit them discussion in the All-Star debate--even though it's far from certain that any of them actually get picked (and a virtual impossibility that any get voted in by the fans).

But do any of them have a real chance, and are any of them truly deserving anyway? Let's break it down a bit.

EVAN TURNER

Case For: Evan is certainly having the best statistical season of his career, averaging a robust 19.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists a game. The points per game ranks Evan in a tie for fifth with Dwyane Wade among East backcourt players, and the only three other players in the entire league currently with a stat line over 19/6/4 will all certainly be making an appearance on All-Star Sunday: LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kevin Love. Evan is also posting career highs in PER, TS% and eFG%, and both getting to the line more than he ever has in his career (nearly five times a game) and shooting at a better rate once there (about 82%, easily the best among Sixers regulars). He's also assumed a leadership role on the Sixers, and hit some big shots for them down the stretches of games, including a takeover overtime period against the Bucks in Milwaukee, and the buzzer-beating, game-winning floater against Brooklyn in Philly.

Case Against: Well, Evan might be putting up career highs in all those advanced-stat categories, but on average, his numbers still ain't that great. His PER of 14.4 is nearly two points higher than any other season of his career, but it's still below the assumed NBA average of 15, and his offensive rating is still in the double digits, with 100 being a sort of baseline number for a productive offensive player. His superficial shooting numbers of 44% from the field and just 29% from deep are also pretty ugly, and though he's done a better job of protecting the ball in the last few weeks, his 102 turnovers on the season also rank him eighth in the entire league in total giveaways.

And there's also that pesky other side of the ball. Even if Evan is having a career season offensively, defensively he's been roundly deplorable, average as a one-on-one defender but utterly miserable as a team defender, consistently blowing rotations and serving as the most deficient cog in the Sixers' historically poor three-point defense. If there's one enduring image of the Sixers' 2013-14 season on the defensive side, it's a haggard-looking ET stumbling his way through a screen out to a shooter behind the arc, getting there a step too late as the shooter drains the trey and Malik shakes his head in disgust from the booth. You generally want your All-Stars to have a higher offensive than defensive rating, and Evan's 99 / 110 combo doesn't exactly make you feel particularly gooey inside.

Verdict: Unlikely. Evan has a better chance than he would in most years, given how miserable the East has been and how some of the East's traditional perennials in the backcourt--Boston's Rajon Rondo, Chicago's Derrick Rose, possibly now even Cleveland's Kyrie Irving--have been out with injury. But he's probably not even the best candidate on his own team, and if the coaches really wanted to grant a high-volume, low-efficiency scoring guard an All-Star bid, they'd probably select Toronto's DeMar DeRozan, who doesn't have Evan's all-around numbers but does have a higher scoring average, and more importantly, plays for a team that's actually winning, at least by crappy Eastern Conference standards. Evan may believe he's on his way to being one of the best players in the league, but he's probably not gonna get that validation from the league this year, and he doesn't quite deserve it anyway.

THADDEUS YOUNG

Case For: Well, if All-Star voting was weighted towards the later games, Thaddeus Young would have a pretty airtight case for inclusion. Thad has been playing on a pretty inarguable All-Star level over his last five contests, as I already broke down earlier this week, making up for his slow-ish start to the season and then some. As currently stands, he's one of only six Eastern Conference forwards averaging 17.5 points and 7.5 rebounds a game, and of those six, only LeBron James has a higher FG% than Thad's 49.5%, and only LeBron and Atlanta's Paul Millsap have a better three-point percentage than Thad's 40.9%. Throw in a steal-and-a-half per game, and above-average team defense--a rarity on the Sixers for sure--and Thad's got a compelling resume, for sure.

Case Against: Well, those are all pretty good numbers that Thaddeus has on his resume, but none of them are really eye-catching or jaw-dropping enough to capture the attention of voters that probably haven't watched a ton of Thad this year, or really know the little things he does on a night-to-night basis to help the team win ballgames. And as with everyone else in this column, the fact that the team hasn't actually won a whole lot of ballgames hurts his case, especially as compares with someone like Millsap, part of an overachieving Atlanta team fighting for home-court advantage in the East.

Verdict: Thad probably falls just short, both in theory and reality. If you figure the East takes about five forwards, three of those slots would unquestionably be taken by LeBron, Indiana's Paul George and New York's Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron's frontcourt mate Chris Bosh and the previously mentioned Paul Millsap both have stronger cases for better teams than our Thad. An injury or a lack of acceptable centers could give Thaddeus a sliver of opportunity, but he'll probably have to wait for another year--maybe on a better team--before being given serious consideration.

SPENCER HAWES

Case For: Like ET, Spence is having easily the best offensive season of his career, a make-good campaign that finally validates his high draft selection seven summers ago and proves he does have a ceiling somewhere near where his boosters initially predicted. His 14.9 points per game rank him third among East centers--with both the players ahead of him, Atlanta's Al Horford and Brooklyn's Brook Lopez, being out for the season with injury--while his 8.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game rank him third and second among the same pool. Most impressively, Spence has by far the best three-point percentage of all centers with his 44%, which is actually tenth-best in the whole league, and his true shooting % of 59.4 is also best of East centers besides the injured Lopez.

Case Against: Well, again as with Evan, defense is kind of a problem. Spence does have the blocks to his credit--1.5 a game, among the best for Eastern centers--but his actual nightly team defense can be problematic, as you saw last night against the Nuggets, when his inability to move while defending the pick-and-roll resulted in a lot of open jumpers for the Denver guards and easy dump-off opportunities for their big men. When you're the defensive anchor for what has to be considered the league's worst defensive team, you tend to get a little of the blame for that.

Verdict: Well, it's going to be interesting. Spence definitely benefits here from playing in the crappy, injury-decimated East, where he a has a quasi-legitimate claim to being the second-best center in the conference this year, but given that neither the coaches or fans have to name even a single center to the East squad--the only requirement is six "frontcourt players," with two wild card players, none of whom are required to be a true pivot--it's entirely possible he gets left out anyway.

If the coaches do insist on having two centers for tradition's sake--because there certainly aren't any getting fan-voted in--they'll probably choose Indiana's Roy Hibbert, a true defensive anchor for the league's best D, and then they'll have their choice of Detroit's Andre Drummond, Chicago's Joakim Noah and Hawes. I'd say Hawes beats Noah thanks to his superior offensive numbers (and the perception that Spence is having a career year, while Noah has struggled to match his previous bests), but Drummond's insane rebounding numbers (12.4 a game in just 32.5 minutes) and insaner field-goal percentage (61.3%, best in the entire East) makes him a real threat to Spence's candidacy, despite Drummond also playing largely subpar defense on a struggling team.

I'd peg Spence as having about a 25% chance of making the squad at the moment, with a chance for that number to go up or down a bit depending on how both he and the team do in the next few weeks. Those aren't overwhelming odds for Spencer, but that's about infinity times better a chance than he's had in any season prior, so he should take it and like it just the same.

MICHAEL CARTER-WILLIAMS

Case For: Well, if you're judging him in comparison to all other first-year players, not only is MCW the clear Rookie of the Year, he's basically an MVP candidate. He's leading all rookies in points, rebounds, assists, steals and PER, and there isn't even a particularly close second. True, this is a historically weak draft class that Carter-Williams is competing with, but even if you hold his numbers against all rookies from every year, they stand up--the only two other players to ever average 17 points, seven assists and five rebounds in their debut season are a couple guys you probably heard of, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson. Oh, and if you factor in MCW's league-leading three-plus steals a game, he's putting together a stat line that no basketball player has posted at any point in their career, like, ever.

That's all pretty good, and so is this: When Michael Carter-Williams plays for the Sixers, they're 9-11, which in the East would be a winning percentage that would easily get them into the post-season. Without him, they're 1-10. So that means so far this year, MCW is the difference between the Sixers being a playoff team and them being historically awful--a perception that also passes the eye test when you watch the team play with and without him. If that doesn't make him one of the 12 most valuable players in the talent-and-injury-depleted East, it's hard to say what would.

Case Against: Well, even though they did a brilliant job of demonstrating just how important he is to the Sixers by virtue of his absence, the 11 games MCW missed with various lower-body maladies does hurt his campaign a little, since that's a pretty large percentage of games to be sitting out pre-All-Star break. And even though he's actually been better than a lot of us predicted in terms of shooting the ball in his rookie season, a 41% FG percentage and 31% conversion rate from deep is still probably gonna stick out to some people as a negative, as are his 3.6 turnovers per game, which is currently the highest TOV rate in the whole league.

And despite the 3.1 steals a game, the defense still comes and goes a little with MCW, as he's had some trouble adjusting to Brett Brown's team defensive scheme coming from two years of playing zone in Syracuse, often finding himself lost or behind the play. The steals absolve a lot of sins, but as with Spence, playing point for the league's least-efficient defense has to be held against him to a certain extent.

Verdict: You know what? I'm saying he goes. If the East has to bring at least four backcourt players to the game, I'm not sure that you can make a case that there have been four better guards in the Eastern Conference this year than Michael Carter-Williams. Miami's Dwyane Wade will certainly be there, as will Cleveland's Kyrie Irving if he's healthy enough to play, and you have to think that Washington's John Wall, averaging 20 and nine for one of the East's only competent teams, will get his first All-Star bid as well.

But after that, who's beating out MCW? It's pretty slim pickings--the only player with a real argument is Atlanta's Jeff Teague, but even that is mostly record-based, as Carter-Williams is out-rebounding and out-stealing Teague about two to one, and out-scoring him on comparable field-goal percentages, despite being the nominally inferior shooter. It might still come down to record, but you tell me what's more impressive--getting a team that's made the playoffs each of the last six seasons to a handful of games over .500, or getting a team that everyone expected to be near-unprecedentedly horrific to double-digit wins by Jan. 1st, despite missing 11 games?

And then there's this: Who's the real story of this NBA season? Michael Carter-Williams has been one of the headliners of 2013-14 since he went toe-to-toe with LeBron and came out on top on opening night, and he's barely let up since then, blowing away the rest of his rookie class, making it to the top 15 in league jersey sales despite the official NBA Store not even selling his jersey, swinging fantasy leagues and making the Sixers an unexpected League Pass must-watch. I know these things aren't supposed to matter, but you tell me who NBA fans would want to see playing in this game with the league's best, Michael Carter-Williams or Jeff Teague? Brandon Jennings? DeMar DeRozan? Get that weakness outta here. It's gotta be MCW.

So, apologies Evan, but if we're gonna stump for any Sixer's All-Star chances, it's gonna be our rookie phenom. Tell your friends, write your local congressperson, tackle Mike Brown or Randy Wittman if you see them on the street and make sure they know what's what. Michael Carter-Williams deserves to be playing on that Sunday in February, and it's up to us to make it happen. Or at least to whine about it loudly and interminably when it doesn't.

Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

The Eagles released Rueben Randle and Chris Givens on Sunday, ending the brief and disappointing Eagles careers of both veteran wide receivers.

The two receivers were among eight players released by the team on Sunday evening.

Randle caught five passes for 26 yards in the preseason and Givens caught one for 19 yards.

The Eagles tried to bolster their receiver corps by adding the two receivers this offseason, signing Randle to a one-year, $1,025,000 contract and Givens to a one-year $760,000 deal.

Randle got $500,000 guaranteed and Givens $180,000 guaranteed, so the two moves will count $680,000 against the Eagles’ 2016 adjusted salary cap of $161,570,362.

The moves leave the Eagles with eight wide receivers: Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, Josh Huff, Paul Turner, Marcus Johnson, Cayleb Jones and David Watford.

Barring any other personnel moves, Matthews, Agholor, Green-Beckham, Huff and Turner appear headed for the final 53-man roster.

Randle’s decline is fairly astonishing.

Two years ago with the Giants, he caught 71 passes for 938 yards, and last year he caught 57 passes for 797 yards and eight touchdowns. He had four catches of 40 yards or more in 2015, fourth-most in the NFL. In four seasons in New York, he caught 188 passes for 2,644 yards and 20 TDs.

Yet the Giants had no interest in re-signing him. Now the former second-round pick’s career is in jeopardy at the age of 25.

Givens, a fourth-round pick of the Rams in 2012, was with his third team in two years this summer. His once-promising career could be over at the age of 26.

Most notable among the six other players released was offensive tackle Andrew Gardner, who started 11 games in an Eagles uniform.

Gardner, who had also spent time with the Dolphins and Texans, started eight games at right guard and right tackle for the Eagles in 2014 and was the Eagles’ opening-day starter last year at right guard. He suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot during a Week 3 game against the Jets at the Meadowlands and missed the rest of the season.

Also released was a member of last year’s draft class, sixth-round pick Randall Evans out of Kansas State. Evans spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad but was activated for the Pat Shurmur season finale against the Giants at the Meadowlands and got into the game on special teams.

The Eagles also released veteran defensive tackle Mike Martin, who played in 46 games for the Titans the last four years, including five starts. Also released were long snapper John DePalma and cornerback Denzel Rice, the latter of who played in five games last year and got 20 defensive snaps in the season finale against the Giants last year.

The Eagles also placed linebacker Joe Walker (knee) and defensive end Alex McCalister (calf), two rookie seventh-round picks, on season-ending Injured Reserve.

Teams have until Tuesday to reduce rosters to 75. The Eagles’ roster is currently at 73, and they have to reduce it to 53 by 4 p.m. next Sunday.

The Eagles finish the preseason on Thursday night at the Linc against the Jets.

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- A.J. Ellis’ first game as a Phillie certainly went a lot better than Carlos Ruiz’s first game as a Dodger.

Ellis’ first hit with his new club helped the Phils salvage one game of a weekend series with the New York Mets on Sunday afternoon. The Phillies won it, 5-1 (see Instant Replay), behind a solid start from Vince Velasquez, excellent bullpen work and Ellis’ big hit, a tie-breaking, two-run double in the top of the seventh.

The Phillies had lost the first two games of the series by a combined score of 21-5. Their pitchers gave up eight homers in the first two games.

On Sunday, Velasquez and a quartet of relievers held the Mets to seven hits, all singles.

Ellis joined the Phillies just 24 hours earlier after being traded from the Dodgers on Thursday. He had been with that club his whole career.

Ruiz, of course, had been with the Phillies his whole career.

Ruiz’s first game with the Dodgers did not go nearly as smooth. The veteran catcher had trouble handling the pitches of closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning Friday night and that contributed to the Dodgers blowing a one-run lead and losing to the Chicago Cubs in 10 innings.

Leaving the Dodgers was difficult and emotional for Ellis. He was able to bury himself in the game Sunday and came away feeling pretty good.

“It’s just great to be playing baseball again,” he said, standing in front of his locker, a blue Dodgers equipment bag (that will soon be swapped out for a Phillies bag) at his feet. “You kind of lose yourself in the competition and then just play again.

“Regardless of what’s happened in the last four days, it feels good to drive in runs, feels good to help put your team ahead and help contribute to a team win.”

During his 24 or so hours with the Phillies, Ellis has immersed himself in learning a new staff of pitchers. He caught starters Jerad Eickhoff and Jake Thompson in the bullpen before Saturday’s game and warmed up several relievers during that game.

On Sunday morning, he arrived at Citi Field, saw his name in the lineup and immediately began prepping to catch Velasquez, the hardest-thrower on the Phillies’ starting staff.

Velasquez bounced back from three poor outings in which he gave up 19 runs in 17 1/3 innings and held a hot Mets lineup to a run over five innings. The only negative was that Velasquez could not pitch deeper into the game because his command was poor and needed 103 pitches to complete the five innings.

Nonetheless, Ellis, who was the personal catcher for Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles, liked what he saw of Velasquez.

“His pitch count got elevated the first two innings and he was able to grind through the last three,” Ellis said. “The stuff is electric. He has so many weapons, so many options. When he keeps growing and keeps polishing that gift up, it’s going to be really, really special.

“So I’m excited to be able to continue to work with him, excited to work with him and (pitching coach) Bob McClure and (No. 1 catcher) Cameron Rupp, kind of talk to them about things, things he sees, things we see, and together we can build a plan for him going forward in his career.”

Two things are going to help the 24-year-old Velasquez reach his potential.

First is good health. He’s had arm problems in the past and there remain concerns about his long-term durability. That’s why the Phillies are closely monitoring his workload as this season winds down.

Second is command, control, economy of pitches – whatever you want to call it. Velasquez needs to be more efficient. Too many times he’s left games in the middle innings because of a high pitch count.

“Definitely,” he responded when asked if lowering his pitch counts and working deeper into games was the key to his improvement. “It’s going to help the longevity, it saves the bullpen, it helps out everybody. Not just on my end, but the whole team in general.

“And,” he joked, “then I can also work on my swing by getting some more at-bats.”

Despite the high pitch count, Velasquez walked just one. He struck out seven. He is up to 129 innings for the season. That includes five innings in a rehab game at Double A Reading. The Phillies will look to keep him at about 150 innings for the season. That could be three, four or five more starts, depending on how long the right-hander lasts. He’s averaged just over five innings in his starts this season.

“I think that would be the right move,” Velasquez said of the 150-inning target.

NFL Notes: Chiefs S Eric Berry signs franchise tender

NFL Notes: Chiefs S Eric Berry signs franchise tender

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Chiefs safety Eric Berry signed his franchise tender and reported to camp Sunday, though he is almost certain to miss Kansas City's preseason finale against Green Bay this week.

Berry was given the franchise tag early in the offseason but had not signed the deal, which means he could skip all of training camp without being fined. The deal will pay him just over $10.8 million this season, making him the league's highest-paid safety.

Kansas City plays its first regular-season game Sept. 11 against San Diego.

Berry played in every game last season, less than a year after he was diagnosed with cancer. He made 55 tackles, a pair of interceptions and resumed his role as the heart and soul of the defense.

Falcons: 2-time Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson signs
ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons signed veteran free-agent safety Dashon Goldson on Sunday.

The Falcons will be without rookie starting strong safety Keanu Neal, the first-round pick, for at least the first two regular-season games with a right knee injury. He will have arthroscopic surgery on Monday.

Coach Dan Quinn has said that backup Kemal Ishmael would fill in for Neal as the starting strong safety.

Goldson, a 2012 All-Pro with the 49ers, had 110 tackles in 15 starts with the Redskins in 2015. He spent his first six seasons with San Francisco and played with Tampa Bay in 2013-14 (see full story).

Bills: Ryan says standing for anthem pays respect to military
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan believes standing for the national anthem is a way for NFL players and coaches to show respect and give thanks to members of the armed forces.

Ryan says he can appreciate how some players have personal or religious beliefs that lead them to not stand for the anthem. However, he adds people should appreciate the "gift" they have in playing football, which is the result of "the men and women that serve our country."

He was asked about his opinion before practice Sunday, a day after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said he is refusing to stand for the anthem because he believes the United States oppresses African Americans and other minorities.

Ryan did not specifically reference Kaepernick in his response (see full story).

Colts: Former Patroits RB Steven Ridley signs
INDIANAPOLIS -- Free agent running back Steven Ridley signed with the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

Ridley was cut Thursday by Detroit, which had signed the sixth-year veteran in April.

Ridley, 5-11, 220 pounds, has played in 60 career NFL games with 26 starts. He went to a Super Bowl with New England in 2011, his rookie year, when he was a third-round selection, and again in 2014, when he was hurt.

Indeed, he's been injury prone, appearing in six games for the Patriots in 2014 and nine for the Jets last year.

He has 685 carries for 2,907 yards and 22 touchdowns in his career.

Indianapolis also waived wide receiver Justin Berger, safety Alden Darby, guard Eric Herman, defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin, tight end Mike Miller, running back Chase Price, cornerback Winston Rose, defensive end Delvon Simmons, wide receiver Josh Stangby and inside linebacker Junior Sylvestre.