Is Jrue Holiday an All-Star? Breaking Down the Damaja's Mid-Season Qualifications

Is Jrue Holiday an All-Star? Breaking Down the Damaja's Mid-Season Qualifications

It's pretty cool to even be talking about All-Star consideration for one
of our young, homegrown guys this season. It took Andre Iguodala eight
years and a lucky hot start from the Sixers to be given even strong
consideration for the All-Star team, but this year, fourth-year point
guard Jrue Holiday is putting up career-best, Most Improved Player-type
numbers that have forced his name into the discussion. However, the
Damaja's case is far from cut and dry, so let's analyze his chances from
five relevant factors and see what kind of odds he has of making it to
H-Town this All-Star Weekend:


Superficial Stats. This is the category where Jrue is the
strongest. His first-level stats—the kind you'd see in a box-score—are
almost across-the-board excellent. Not only is he third in the league in
assists with his 8.9 a game, but he's thirteenth in the league in
scoring with his 18.9 a game. His 45% shooting and 36% from three are
very acceptable for a point guard, and even though he still turns the
ball over too much (3.7 a game, one of the league leaders), that number
is down from the league-leading four-something he was averaging earlier,
and is no longer such a blight on his resume. He's also grabbing four
rebounds a game and averaging over a steal per, for a very strong
overall stat line. There's no question that Jrue is a worthy All-Star by
these numbers alone.


Advanced Stats. Jrue starts to slip a little here. His
advanced stats, while still quite good, fall a little short of All-Star
worthiness. His PER is a team and career-high 18.7—up four whole points
from last year—but usually, an All-Star PER is considered to be around
20 or higher, with Jrue's efficiency hurt by his relative lack of free
throws (just 3.5 a game, low for a lead guard) and his high turnover
rate. More damning is Jrue's defensive rating of 108 (the higher over
100, the worse), which is a big slip from his last few years. His low
defensive rating means that his Win Shares per 48 minutes–roughly
determining how many wins a player is worth over the course of a game—is
actually lower than it was his sophomore season, when he was averaging
just 14 and 6.5 a game. Defensive metrics are a lot less reliable than
offensive ones in basketball, but that still hurts Jrue's argument among
the NBA statheads.


Team Record. For better or worse, All-Star qualifications are
still built largely around team success—statistically, Andre Iguodala's
season was virtually identical last year to his last two or three, but
he was an All-Star for the first time because the Sixers had gotten off
to a 16-6 start and were still one of better teams in the East by the
time of the break. This year, Jrue will be getting no such boon from the
Sixers, who at 15-17 are arguably doing better than many would've
expected with 'Dre, Lou Williams and Elton Brand all gone and Andrew
Bynum still riding the pine with injury (and in fact would be in the
playoffs if the season ended today, somehow), but who aren't exactly
turning heads and making people go "How are they doing this???" with
their record. The record doesn't hamper Jrue's chances the way it would
if the team were 9-23, but nobody's gonna choose him just to make sure
the Sixers are represented at the Mid-Winter Classic this year, that's
for sure.


Eastern Conference Competition. Jrue is definitely helped by
the relative dearth of strong guards in the East this season. After
Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo—current leaders for the fan-voted guard
slots, and almost pre-ordained sure things for the game, one way or
another—there's a huge drop-off in All-Star obviousness. Deron Williams
and Joe Johnson have both disappointed in Brooklyn, Derrick Rose has yet
to play a game for Chicago, and none of the Knicks guards have
complete-enough stat lines to really earn consideration. Brandon
Jennings and Monta Ellis boast a superior record in Milwaukee, but their
shooting numbers are markedly inferior to Jrue's, so it's hard to see
them posing all that much of a threat. Kyrie Irving would be a shoo-in,
and might still be chosen, but missing 11 of the Cavaliers' team's 32
games hurts his case a little.


Really, when you get down to it, Jrue is third among qualified
Eastern guards in scoring and second in assists, playing for a
borderline playoff team. That's a pretty strong argument right there.

Name Recognition.
Another not-particularly-fair aspect of All-Star competition is that
certain names ring out among voters and coaches, while other names
aren't quite there yet. I would say Jrue fits more into the latter
category, as a zero-time All-Star who while obviously playing the best
ball of his career, hasn't exactly been setting the league on fire in
Philly—tellingly, he's not even close to qualifying in the fan vote,
ranking only eighth among guards, behind "name" players like Ray Allen
and Deron Williams. First-timers always have a tough time breaking
through in these votes, and ones without the huge hype of a Kyrie Irving
are even further behind the 8 ball.


Still, I'd say Jrue is coming around in this regard. During the game
in Portland, where Jrue lit up the Blazers for 29 and 9, the announcers
kept talking about the Damaja's pending All-Star campaign, and after
his performance certainly sounded convinced of his worthiness. A couple
more wins out West and Jrue's name is certainly gonna be out there,
forcing people to recognize.


Ultimately, I'll say that Jrue does get in this year. Were he in the
loaded West, with Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, James
Harden and Stephen Curry (among others) all clamoring for inclusion,
he'd have a much, much tougher time. But in the relatively weak East,
with three spots basically up for grabs, even if the coaches decide that
the games Kyrie Irving missed don't matter and that Deron Williams
isn't having that miserable a season, it's virtually impossible
to imagine Jrue getting screwed out of all three backup slots. Unless he
and/or the Sixers fall apart over the next few weeks (always a
possibility) or a couple of the Nets/Knicks guys lead their teams on hot
streaks that beef up their stats significantly (probably less likely), I
do believe it's gonna be a Holiday in Houston come February 17th.

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Earlier this week, Doug Pederson admitted cornerback Eric Rowe had some “hiccups” during the spring, and seemed to indicate they stemmed from learning a new defense. 

Rowe says that wasn’t the problem at all.

“It wasn’t the new defense that was giving me whatever hiccups [Pederson] was talking about,” Rowe said on Wednesday as he reported for his second training camp (see Day 3 observations). “It was just, I was having trouble breaking on top of the routes, specifically the curl routes. But fade ball, deep post, digs, I didn’t have any trouble there. It was just curl routes. I just knew I had to work on it after the OTAs.”

Rowe, 23, said the problem was technical; he just needed to get his feet down quicker.

Whatever the problem, whatever the hiccups, it seems as though Rowe’s standing within the organization and on the depth chart isn’t what it once was.

Many thought he would be a starter in 2016, like he was at the end of 2015, but that wasn’t the way things were in the spring. Instead, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks took those positions, and it looks like Nolan Carroll, returning from an injury, and rookie Jalen Mills, who hasn’t yet practiced in pads, are vying for playing time, too.

In back-to-back days earlier this week, Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz failed to mention Rowe’s name while listing players at the cornerback spot. Coincidental omissions or a vocalized unofficial depth chart?

Rowe could possibly go from starter to deep bench player, but that’s not what he’s planning on.

“I know I had a little ups and downs in OTAs, but now the pads are coming on,” Rowe said. “I feel like it’s a fresh start for me and I’m just ready to get out here.”

Pads go on Saturday.

“Right now, I think I still stand in a good position (with the team),” Rowe said. “Football is about the game with pads on. Now we’re really about to see in a couple days when we put the pads on.”

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

He looks like a small back. He's built like a small back. He wants to play like a big back.

Wendell Smallwood, trying to make the Eagles as a reserve tailback, stands 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, but he said he’s got a surprise for defenders that think he’s one of those itty-bitty backs that dances around looking pretty … until they get hit.

“I think that’s what most people expect,” he said Tuesday. “But when I actually put my head down and fight for those extra yards and get under guys, guys start to say, ‘Hey!’ They start to feel me a little bit.

“So I definitely think that started to show my last year in college, and I started becoming more of an inside zone type of runner instead of an outside runner.”

None of this should be a surprise considering Smallwood’s position coach is Duce Staley, who during his 10-year NFL career was much more interested in running over people than around them.

Smallwood is nowhere near as big as Staley, who played at about 235 to 240. But that’s the kind of back he wants to be.

“It’s definitely important to me and it’s definitely what Duce wants me to do,” Smallwood said. “He wants me to hit the holes and hit ‘em hard and that’s the reason he got me here.

“Duce, he doesn’t like small backs. He doesn’t. I don’t think he believes in those guys. He was a big boy. Running dudes over left and right. That’s what he wants.”

Smallwood played sparingly as a freshman at West Virginia, shared time with Rushel Shell as a sophomore, then took over last year when he led the Big 12 with 1,519 rushing yards and added nine touchdowns, 26 catches and a 6.4 rushing average.

The Eagles plucked him out of Morgantown in the fifth round, and in an uncertain running back picture, he’s got a realistic chance to not just make the team but also play a role.

Just don’t expect him to play like a typical guy his size.

“I don’t consider myself a small back anymore,” he said. “People have always said that and I kind of started to agree, but then I looked at some of the guys who are around and I’m not a small back at all.

“I’m not little and the running style I like to do is suited for a big back, and my catching kind of throws people off. I definitely think I’m a mixture of both.”

Smallwood ranked 13th in Division I in rushing yards last year, and his 6.4 average was tied for ninth among backs with at least 200 carries.

He said a lot of defenders expect him to be a finesse back, a guy who likes to juke safeties and linebackers instead of bowling them over.

“Get me going downhill and I’ll get you what I can get you,” he said. “A lot of [defenders] kind of take the easy route and think it’s going to be easy and then the rest of the game they’re going low and trying to take my legs out.”

Look at the Eagles’ running back picture.

The starter is Ryan Mathews, who is talented but injury-prone. The backup right now probably is Kenjon Barner, who has 34 career carries. Then there’s Darren Sproles, whose 3.8 average last year was his lowest since 2009 and second lowest of his 11-year career.

With a strong camp, there’s no reason Smallwood can’t work himself into that picture.

The last frontier for the Northern Delaware native is blitz pickup. Something he was never asked to do at WVU.

“I don’t think I did basically any in college,” he said. “They didn’t ask me to block at all. I was mainly running routes.

“But as soon as I got here, Duce emphasized, ‘If you want to get on the field, you’re going to block. If you’re not going to block, you’re not going to play.'”

Staley’s No. 22 wasn’t available, but Smallwood is happy to wear the jersey number of another one of his favorite backs growing up, Correll Buckhalter’s No. 28, who he seems quite similar to.

It’s not fair to compare Smallwood to Staley, Buckhalter, Brian Westbrook or any other former Eagles back until the pads go on and we see what he’s really made of.

But Smallwood said he’s thrilled Staley is his coach and said there’s nobody he’d rather be playing for.

“I think he’s a great fit for me as a coach,” Smallwood said. “I need a kind of guy who drives me, tough guy, who’s not going to let up, who’s going to keep his foot on my back. I definitely need that kind of coaching.

“Just being around him growing up and seeing what he did when he was here and how he runs and him being one of my favorite backs, I was kind of star-struck to be around him, and now he’s my coach. It’s definitely a great situation for me.”

Patience being tested after Phillies' embarrassing 10-run loss to Marlins

Patience being tested after Phillies' embarrassing 10-run loss to Marlins

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Wednesday was a miserable day for the Phillies, but there was one winner among the group.

Bench coach Larry Bowa was ejected from the game in the fourth inning, sparing him from having to watch a full dose of the carnage that befell the team in an embarrassing 11-1 loss to the Miami Marlins (see Instant Replay).

Manager Pete Mackanin wasn’t as fortunate as Bowa. He had to stick around for all nine innings as Zach Eflin struggled through a poor start and the weak-hitting Phillies came within an out of being shut out for the second straight game.

“He was mad at the umpire,” Mackanin said of Bowa. “He couldn't control himself. He had to let it out.

“In this game, when you win, you get giddy. When you lose, you want to hang yourself. You have to stay even keeled. You have to stay consistent. At least I have to. I have to try to stay consistent emotionally. 

“I used to be more emotional when I was younger. Over time, I just learned that it doesn't do you any good. My fate is left in the hands of the players.”

The players have not performed all that well since coming back from the All-Star break. Wednesday’s loss dropped the club to 4-9 since the break, dropping it to 11 games under .500. The Phils are averaging just 2.6 runs per game over that span and the pitching has been spotty. The baserunning, particularly by Cesar Hernandez, has been poor, as well.

“This game is all about consistency,” Mackanin said. “Repeating your delivery. Showing plate discipline. Not getting yourself out. Making the plays. Doing the little things on a consistent basis. Over the course of 162 games, the teams that do these things the best are the best teams.”

Wednesday’s loss dropped the Phillies to 2-4 on the first two legs of this 10-game trip. But all is not lost. The Phils play the Braves in Atlanta the next four days. The Braves have the worst record in the majors.

“We're going to Atlanta,” said Mackanin, not realizing he was about to damn his club with faint praise. “I think we have a good chance to compete against Atlanta to end the month on a positive note.”

The Phils came up short offensively and on the mound Wednesday. Actually, they had 10 hits, but only one was for extra bases, and they left 10 men on base while getting just one hit in eight chances with a runner in scoring position. (The Phils were 2 for 21 in those situations in the series.) Marlins lefty Adam Conley pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings and pitched out of bases-loaded trouble twice.

Eflin was hit hard early. The Marlins scored three runs in the first inning, two on a scorching two-run homer to left by Giancarlo Stanton. The bruising line drive left Stanton’s bat at 112 mph.

In all, Eflin was tagged for nine hits, including the homer and a pair of triples, and seven runs in five innings. Mackanin said Eflin “was not the same guy” that pitched a three-hit shutout in his previous start at Pittsburgh.

“I didn't like the mix of pitches he used,” Mackanin said. “We were hoping he'd use his curveball a little bit more. I thought he made some good pitches that the umpire missed. But that wasn't the reason. He just wasn't the same guy. We stranded 10 runners — had some chances to get something going but couldn't capitalize.”

Eflin was grazed on his pitching hand by a pitch during batting practice Tuesday, but said that did not affect him at all.

“I was just up with everything,” he said. “I wasn't executing. That's what it came down to. I was leaving all my pitches up in the zone and didn't give my team the best chance to win the ballgame. I didn't do my job. I've got to work on being consistent and staying down in the zone.”

Eflin is just 22. He had a 1.80 ERA in four previous starts in the month of July. He will be right back out there when his turn in the rotation comes up again next week.

But Mackanin seems to be losing patience with others. He laughed when a reporter asked him if it was time for a lineup shakeup.

“What do you think?” Mackanin said with some exasperation. “We've faced some tough pitching lately. It's an up-and-down season. That's the type of team we have. We don't have consistency in the lineup. Let's put it that way. That doesn't bode that well.”

Riding out a rebuild means Mackanin doesn’t have a whole lot of options at his disposal. He probably will have a new face to put in the lineup Thursday night in Atlanta, though. It appears as if Peter Bourjos will go on the disabled list and Aaron Altherr will be activated (see story). Altherr was projected to start in the outfield until blowing out his wrist in spring training. He is healthy now (see story). Maybe he can bring a spark to a lineup that has been mostly lifeless since the All-Star break.