Let's give the new staff a chance before we write Evan Turner off completely

Let's give the new staff a chance before we write Evan Turner off completely

Jason Wolf of Delaware Online published an article today entitled "76ers' focus on analytics may hurt Evan Turner." The piece focuses on ET's underwhelming stats and general ineffectiveness as a scorer, which stand in fairly stark contrast to the Sixers' obvious new direction, one with a clear tilt in favor of advanced stats and a priority on efficiency. "It appears unlikely that Turner fits into the organization’s long-term plans," Wolf concludes, saying the Sixers will likely let the Extraterrestrial walk as a free agent next off-season, or deal him earlier if he proves tradeable.

Wolf's stance is not an uncommon one, and he very well might be right. The common thought on ET--one shared by Zach Lowe of Grantland, who recently named Evan to his "All-Intriguing Team"--is that he's a mistake of the old administration, and one that GM Sam Hinkie--far more concerned with the discovery of undervalued assets than the redemption of overvalued ones--will look to unload ASAP. If you believe the reports, Hinkie even tried to deal Turner once already, to the Suns on draft night for a mere low first-round pick, and the fact that the Suns may have turned that offer down should give you a sense of Evan's current value around the league.

Here's a thought, though: What if Turner himself is, at the moment, actually undervalued?

Of course, you're not going to find much in his first three seasons' worth of stats that would suggest such a conclusion. Wolf's right--Turner's been woefully inefficient, and according to Basketball-Reference, he's actually been a net negative on offense the last two seasons as far as Win Shares go. He doesn't get to the line enough, shoots too many long twos, and only just started converting threes at an acceptable rate for a wing player--a development which Evan has even admitted was the result of not doing much of anything.

But let's not totally isolate Evan from his circumstances here. ET has played for but one coach over his three-year career--Doug Collins, noted unbeliever i n advanced stats and analytics. (In a quote that haunts the dreams of most Sixers writers, Collins once even said he'd probably "blow his brains out" if he had to worry about that stuff, and called his head and gut his advanced stats.) Collins was infamous for his teams' offensive conservatism, favoring isos and pick-and-pops over attacking the bucket or really pushing the pace in transition, especially last season.

Consequently, it's worth noting that Evan wasn't the only talented player on the Sixers whose stats were never the model of efficiency. For all the praise Jrue Holiday rightly received for his All-Star breakout campaign last year, his advanced stats were hardly elite either--he posted an offensive rating of just 99, and was worth less than 0.6 wins on offense, again according to Basketball-Reference. He shot about four long twos (16-23 feet) a game, and converted less than 39% of them. He only got to the line about three times a game.

For what it's worth, Andre Iguodala also saw his PER and OWS, as well as his three-point and free-throw attempts, shrink in his two years playing for Collins. And Lou Williams, the only guard on the team in recent years whose stats actually held up well to the glare of analytics, was swapped out last season for Nick Young, a poster boy for shooting inefficiency. Clearly, with the given priorities of Collins and the front office that adored him, this was a team that was never going to be a model of efficient offense, almost regardless of personnel.

Meanwhile, it's also worth noting that Evan Turner actually was a fairly efficient scorer in college. He got to the line about six times a game (a good, if not quite elite, rate for a college career) his final two seasons, he shot threes in moderation but converted a decent percentage of them (high 30s), and he shot over 50% from the field. His Junior year at Ohio State--his last before declaring--he posted a LeBron-like PER of 30.0, and an offensive rating of 111.

Now, that's not all to suggest that Evan Turner could have been James Harden by now in the pros if not for Dougie getting his grubby, inefficient little paws on him as a rookie. Turner's struggles to adapt to the pro game, especially in his first few months, were very, very real, and were certainly as much based (and probably even moreso) on his relative lack of athleticism and his mediocre shooting stroke as any way he was being misused in the team's offense. Turner may in fact never be able to become a productive starter in the pros, at least not at anywhere near the level expected of him when he was the #2 overall pick back in 2010.

But isn't it possible that we're all approaching this the wrong way? Maybe instead of looking at the many ways Turner's efficiency woes mean he won't fit in with the new Sixers administration, we should be looking at this as an opportunity for a talented offensive player--and Turner is still that, make no mistake--to finally be given the proper instruction and motivation to use his skills in an efficient way, as preached by two men in Brett Brown and Sam Hinkie who hail from perhaps the two franchises most praised in the entire sport for their ability to maximize player potential and minimize player failings. Isn't it possible that the best is yet to come for ET, and that might be worth something to the Sixers more than trade value?

Turner will still just be 25 years old when the season starts. That's younger even that Jeff Green, another talented but historically inefficient player with high draft pedigree, was last season with the Celtics, when he had something akin to a breakout year (especially in the last few months of the season), posting career highs for the season in PER, field goal and three-point percentage, and points per 36 minutes. Green's breakthrough was also largely attributable to a change in circumstance--in his case, finally getting to play big minutes as a starter and featured offensive player in the wake of injuries to the likes of big-name players like Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and occasionally Paul Pierce. Green still has a ways to go in consistency before officially realizing his star potential, but he'll get even more of a chance to prove himself this year, in a Sixers-like rebuilding year for Boston, with Garnett and Pierce now traded and Rondo still out with injury.

Could that be Evan this year? It's certainly not definite, and I probably wouldn't bet money on it--I've been burned by Evan too many times in the past to continue in blind faith--but it's possible, and in my opinion, it's worth finding out. I certainly hope that Brown and Hinkie give Turner a fair and true chance, work with him to help him understand what he needs to do to help the team run more efficiently, and allow him to show that the Doug Collins stink can wash off him enough for him to become a net positive player on offense again. AFter all, that's the advantage of having a season that everyone knows going in is already lost--there's no downside to expending the time and effort to figure this things out.

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

BOX SCORE

Brett Brown was ready to do it Wednesday night. The matchup against the Kings presented an opportunity to experiment with playing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together. That pairing had to wait two days, though, after the Kings game was postponed

On Friday, Embiid and Okafor shared the court for just under 13 minutes in the Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), who also rolled out a duo of bigs in Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I thought we had our moments,” Embiid said. “We shared the ball, we made shots. Obviously we need to play more together and learn how to play with each other.”

Embiid and Okafor first played together for 5:29 in the second quarter. They scored all of the Sixers' 12 points during that time, including a pair of threes by Embiid. They also combined for five boards. The Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9, with the bigs in together.

The benefits of the floor spacing was apparent. Oftentimes in the game, Okafor could be seen open at the basket with a hand up for the ball while Embiid was also getting looks from long range. 

“I liked our spacing, I liked the high-low stuff we were doing,” Brown said. “I think when you post Joel, that Jahlil is going to play sort of hide-and-seek on the other side of the floor, and work that low zone, and become — I hope — a potent offensive rebounder. When you post Jahlil, Joel has the ability to space to three.”

Brown turned to Embiid and Okafor again in the fourth. At that point, the Magic had a 23-point lead. Their next 7:25 together was a chance to give them a long run in live game action. They combined for another 12 points and four rebounds. All of their buckets were layups, dunks or free throws. Both teams scored 19 points with Embiid and Okafor in that segment.

Both Embiid and Okafor finished the game with double-doubles: 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Embiid; 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Okafor. 

“I thought they played well together,” Vucevic said. “I thought it was tough to guard them because they’re both really good offensively.”

Okafor credited his friendship with Embiid, which dates back to high school, as a key to coexisting well on the court. Both emphasized their off-the-court relationship would help them in a game situation. 

“I think the communication piece went really well,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me, I was talking to him.”

Scoring and communication always seemed to be the easier parts of the pairing to tackle. Defense, though, was the challenge given that one of the centers would have to guard the four spot. Okafor noted their transition D as an area that needs improvement.

“We’re both used to going right to the rim,” Okafor said. “I think I had a couple easy buckets. That’s something we’ll be able to fix.” 

Brown had based his decision of when to play Embiid and Okafor together on the matchups. While the two could boast their own edge on the offensive end, Brown didn’t want to play them in a scenario in which they’d be at a huge defensive disadvantage. 

“It’s not offense to me, it’s defense. That’s the thing that is most challenging,” Brown said. “We want to play fast. We want to put points on the board. You don’t want to play in the 80s. You don’t want to do that, that’s not our sport anymore. So you want to make sure that you're capable of guarding the opposition.”

Vucevic noticed the challenge from an opposing perspective. He understands the necessary changes since playing alongside Biyombo.  

“It takes time for them to get adjusted, especially for the guy that will be playing the four defensively,” Vucevic said. “They’re not used to that because they always back down to the paint guarding the fives. It’s a different look. They have to work on it, communicate, and I think they’ll be fine.” 

On a night with few highlights in a 17-point blowout loss, Brown was able to take away a positive from this anticipated duo.

"I thought Jahlil and Joel did a really good job," he said. 

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Joel Embiid didn’t see four quarters of basketball from the Sixers in their 105-88 loss to the Magic Friday night (see Instant Replay). Their efforts were inconsistent as they fell flat in long stretches and allowed the Magic to build up double-digit leads as high as 29 points.

The Sixers gave up a 16-0 run in the first and shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) in the quarter. The Magic, who had lost a one-point game to the Grizzlies in Memphis the night before, rallied together to seize this opportunity.

“They just made a lot of shots that we didn’t,” Embiid said. “That’s the game, but we didn’t play hard all 48 minutes and we need to do a better job next time.”

The Sixers didn’t break 30 points until 4:33 to go in the second and attempted just two free throws in the first half. By the end of the third, the Magic had a 21-point lead which they held on to with in ease in the fourth. 

The Magic outshot the Sixers on all areas of the floor: 47.4 percent to 37.9 from the field and 50.0 to 28.1 from three. While the teams had nearly equal percentages from the line, the Magic shot 18 for 26 compared to only 7 for 10 from the Sixers. 

“They missed a lot of shots,” Magic forward Jeff Green said. “We got stops, were aggressive, guys just played hard and created for one another and played as a team.”

Covington injured
The Sixers are waiting to learn more news on the extent of Robert Covington’s injury. In the fourth quarter, Covington exited and did not return after suffering a left knee sprain when he collided with T.J. McConnell chasing a loose ball in front of the Sixers’ bench. If the starting small forward has to miss time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown is thinking ahead to possible lineup changes. 

“We'll try to figure out what his next week represents,” Brown said. “If we aren't with him, maybe there's a chance we can look at Dario [Saric] a little bit at the three.”

Covington is averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 27.5 minutes per game. Saric has been coming off the bench at power forward behind Ersan Ilyasova. He started 10 games earlier this season at the four spot. 

Embiid honored
The Sixers honored Embiid during a timeout for being named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (October and November). Embiid was appreciative of the award and has his sights set on the bigger picture this season.

“All the hard work I’ve put in, it feels great,” Embiid said earlier in the day at shootaround. “Obviously, maybe the bigger picture is Rookie of the Year, that’s what matters. … I don’t have my mind set on that. But if I can get it, that would be nice.”

Brown sees this recent showing as just a glimpse into what Embiid will be able to do over his career. Embiid leads the Sixers with 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. 

“This in infant stages, early days for him,” Brown said. “His body of work, given his lack of playing basketball, really is jaw-dropping for what I think he can be. To jump in and get rookie of the month I think is a real, sort of, quick snapshot view of him now. I think what he’s going to be is going to be extremely special.”

Embiid also is shooting 51.4 percent from three, including 3 for 5 against the Magic. When asked if he would like to participate in the three-point contest All-Star weekend, he said "it would be nice" and noted he would have to work on the speed of his release.