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.

Eagles' QB-rich support system for Carson Wentz paying dividends

Eagles' QB-rich support system for Carson Wentz paying dividends

In the wake of the Sam Bradford trade, the Eagles' announcement a week before the opener that Carson Wentz would start Week 1 was met with some skepticism and overwhelmingly tempered expectations.

But it looks like the kid can play.

And the Eagles aren’t just looking smart for drafting and playing Wentz. They’re also looking pretty smart for filling their coaching staff and quarterback room with decades of quarterback experience.

“It's a tight room,” head coach Doug Pederson said.

It’s also a knowledgeable one.

Pederson is a former NFL quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich is a former NFL quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo is a former college quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. And backup Chase Daniel has been in the league since 2009 and in Pederson’s offense since 2013.

If Wentz has a question, he has plenty of guys to ask. And it seems like this support system, which at one time looked like overkill, might be one of the keys that has allowed the rookie to take the NFL by storm.

“There’s no doubt. There’s no doubt,” the veteran backup Daniel said. “Obviously, he’s a very bright young mind, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the coaching in the quarterback room has played a good part into his maturation and his bringing along so fast. There’s no doubt about it.”

Through three games, Wentz has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 769 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. He's the first rookie in NFL history to put up those numbers in the first three games of a career. Oh yeah, and the Eagles are 3-0.

It’s hard to believe that about a month ago, Wentz was gearing up for a redshirt year as the third quarterback behind Sam Bradford and Daniel. Now, he isn’t just the future franchise quarterback. He is the franchise quarterback.

And Wentz gives his quarterback-heavy coaching staff plenty of credit.

“It’s huge having them,” Wentz said. “I could never say enough how much they understand the game. They get it. They know what it’s like. As a former quarterback, they know what I’m going through and how I’m seeing things, so it’s been huge.”

The Eagles were clearly smitten with Wentz from the time they saw him in Alabama for the Senior Bowl. Eventually, de facto GM Howie Roseman was able to maneuver to the No. 2 pick to draft Wentz.

But Wentz went No. 2 and not No. 1, so it’s almost impossible to not peek over at Los Angeles and see how first overall pick Jared Goff is doing. So far, he isn’t doing much of anything. It doesn’t mean that eventually Goff won’t be a good quarterback, but through three games, he’s been inactive once and hasn’t yet played. The Rams are sticking with Case Keenum for now.

NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling compared the support system for Goff with the Rams and Wentz's with the Eagles. We’ll take a deeper look into what he started:

Rams
• Head coach Jeff Fisher: Defensive coach

• OC Rob Boras: Never a QB coach; coached tight ends in NFL from 2004-15

• QB Coach Chris Weinke: Former NFL QB for seven seasons; was highly-thought of QB draft guru with IMG academy for four years

• Vet QB Case Keenum: In league since 2012; best QB he's played with is Matt Schaub

Eagles
• Head coach Doug Pederson: 12 years as NFL QB; QB coach in Philly; OC in KC

• OC Frank Reich: 14 years as NFL QB; QB coach in Indy with Peyton Manning in 2009-10; QB coach and OC in San Diego

• QB Coach: John DeFilippo: College QB; QBs coach at Fordham, Columbia; QBs coach with Raiders, Jets, OC with Browns

• Vet QB Chase Daniel: In league since 2009; learned under Drew Brees; has been in Pederson's offense since 2013

It’s very possible if Wentz becomes a great quarterback that other teams copy the Eagles’ quarterback-heavy approach.

But it’s not just about getting a bunch of smart people and a talented rookie in the same room. Everything else has to work. The rookie has to be a diligent learner and all of the teachers have to check their egos and work together.

“I let John (DeFilippo), I let the quarterback coach run the meeting,” Pederson said. “If I interject, I interject. The way it works is I send my message through Frank (Reich), Frank through the position coaches. At the same time, if I want to interject something, I will interject. Just making sure there's one voice in the meeting room and they are not hearing three different answers from three different people, the message is the same.”

Practice squad quarterback Aaron Murray, who joined the team a couple weeks ago, thinks the quarterback room has “definitely” helped Wentz achieve his early success. While he is just a practice-squader, go ahead and add Murray — who was in the offense for two years in Kansas City — to the list of quarterback minds happy to help Wentz.

Murray, a fifth-rounder out of Georgia in 2014, has been impressed with Wentz’s ability to pick up protections and schemes at a young age. He compared him to Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith in that regard. While Murray, along with everyone else, is happy to give Wentz tips, he tries to not overload him.

“You still want him to just go out there and play,” he said.

Murray is the newcomer to the room, but he’s been impressed with the dynamic so far. He’s not the only one. It looks like this quarterback experiment might just work.

“It’s awesome. It’s great,” Daniel said. “Everyone has a say in there and everyone in the room, it’s pretty crazy, everyone in the room, really except Carson, has been around it, has been in it and played. Obviously, he’s played, but been around for a while. He’s just a sponge, he’s just taking it all in.

“Maybe some stuff he doesn’t need to take in. Maybe some stuff he wants to do his own way, which is great. You want your own personality out there. But yeah, he’s been great. It’s been great for us too as players. We have almost a 2-to-1 coach-to-player ratio. It’s been great. Everyone has little tidbits here and there and we roll.”

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Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies’ bullpen continued its ugly, late-season collapse on Tuesday night. It was tagged for six runs in a 7-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves. The Braves rallied for the tying and go-ahead runs in the bottom of the eighth inning (see Instant Replay).
 
The loss came two days after the bullpen gave up 14 earned runs in four innings in a 17-0 loss to the New York Mets on Sunday and it left manager Pete Mackanin more than a little bit frustrated.
 
“The bullpen has just not been doing the job,” Mackanin said.
 
Jerad Eickhoff gave up just one run (on a solo homer by Freddie Freeman) over four walk-free innings to open the game. He was up 6-1 after four innings when the rains came and stopped the game for an hour and 53 minutes.
 
With Eickhoff bounced by the weather, Mackanin had to go to his bullpen. He used four relievers — Severino Gonzalez, Luis Garcia, Joely Rodriguez and David Hernandez — and all gave up runs.
 
Phillies relievers have pitched 77 1/3 innings this month and allowed 69 earned runs for an ERA of 8.03. So that’s one more thing Matt Klentak has to fix this winter, along with the offense that Mackanin wants to see addressed (see story).
 
Ultimately, Hernandez took the loss when he gave up three hits and a run in the bottom of the eighth. The other run in the inning was charged to Rodriguez.
 
As unbelievable as it may sound with rosters being expanded in September, the Phillies played this game shorthanded.
 
They did not have reliever Edubray Ramos. He had a sore elbow, Mackanin said.
 
They did not have outfielder Peter Bourjos, who had gone home to be with his wife for the birth of their child.
 
They also did not have outfielder Tyler Goeddel, who is out with a concussion.
 
Not having Bourjos or Goeddel forced Mackanin to use Darin Ruf in left field after Roman Quinn went out with an oblique injury in the sixth inning. Ruf failed to make a catch on a long fly ball by Tyler Flowers to the gap in left-center. The non-play extended the eighth inning and fueled the Braves’ comeback.
 
“It should have been caught,” Mackanin said. “If Quinn's out there, he catches it. He wasn't out there.”
 
Hernandez was the only free agent that the Phillies signed to a major-league contract this winter. The Phillies signed him with an eye toward using him as the closer. But Hernandez struggled much of the season and slipped into the middle innings while Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez rose to high-leverage roles.
 
Gomez lost the closer’s job last week and Mackanin was saving Neris to close out this game. That meant Hernandez had to pitch the eighth. He couldn’t protect the lead. He gave up the game-tying hit to Mallex Smith and the go-ahead hit to Emilio Bonafacio.
 
“Neris was going to close for us,” Mackanin said. “I thought about using him with two outs in the eighth. But, at some point, somebody else has to do a (bleeping) job. Somebody else has to (bleeping) step up. In two games now, every reliever I brought in has given up a (bleeping) run. That's unheard of.”
 
The bullpen’s unraveling threw cold (rain) water on Eickhoff’s solid start and Ryan Howard’s big night. Howard belted his 24th homer, a grand slam in the first inning, to highlight a 14-hit attack and help the Phils jump to a 6-0 lead.
 
“Eickhoff looked like he was having one of his best games and then the rain came. So that was our first disappointment,” Mackanin said. "Other than that, Howie swung the bat great. Hit that grand slam. We got 14 hits, but we stranded 12 runners. We have to keep adding on.”
 
Quinn had three of the Phillies’ 14 hits then added to his collection of injuries with the oblique strain that bounced him from the game in the sixth. He hurt himself taking a swing.
 
Oblique injuries generally keep a player sidelined for at least three weeks, so Quinn’s season is likely over. He missed six weeks with a similar injury at Double A Reading this summer. The 23-year-old outfielder came up from the minors on Sept. 11 and has been auditioning for a spot on next season’s opening day roster.
 
“It looks like it,” Mackanin said when asked if Quinn was done for what remains of the season.
 
Injuries have been a consistent hurdle for Quinn ever since he was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft. He has missed significant time with a ruptured Achilles tendon, a wrist injury that required surgery, a torn quad muscle and an oblique strain. Now he has another one.
 
“It’s the same one I hurt before,” Quinn said. “It’s frustrating.”
 
Right now, just about everything is frustrating with this team. Good thing there are only five games left.

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