Michael Carter-Williams Shows the Good and the Bad in Sixers Summer League Debut

Michael Carter-Williams Shows the Good and the Bad in Sixers Summer League Debut

26/8/7 seems like a pretty good stat line for a professional debut, doesn't it? That's what Michael Carter-Williams posted today in his first game in uniform for the Philadelphia 76ers, as they faced off with the Houston Rockets in the opening contest of the Orlando Summer League. The Sixers lost the game 88-80 to a decently talented Houston squad, but really, it was all about seeing our #11 pick in action for the first time, evaluating his strengths and weaknesses and getting a taste of what it'll be like to watch him in his rookie season. And 26 points, seven rebounds and eight assists...seems like we're in pretty good shape with our point guard of the future, right?

Well, forgive the obviously leading rhetorical questions, but the answer (of course) is both yes and no. Carter-Williams did produce today against the Rockets, for sure, but all of it comes with plenty of stipulations. He scored 26 points, but it came on 8-23 shooting, including 0-6 from deep. He handed out eight assists, but he also turned the ball over nine times, including six times in the first quarter-and-a-half. He grabbed seven boards, but was in poor position for many others that he possibly could've grabbed. You could argue that in the end, the good outweighed the bad with MCW--I'd say it probably did--but there's gonna be a lot of growing pains with this guy, next year especially, and today was a good preview of that.

Let's focus on the bad stuff first, primarily the turnovers. Nine turnovers is a lot for one game, and a good number of them today came from the result of incessant ball pressure, which MCW was said to have difficulty with in college and which definitely took him out of his game today and resulted in him coughing the ball up a couple times 30-plus feet from the basket. He also occasionally struggled while attempting to turn the corner against his defender--smaller, quicker guards like Patrick Beverley and Casper Ware--and let his frustration at being unable to get to his spots result in him shoving off, or trying to force penetration that wasn't there.

Shot selection was also an issue, which should be unsurprising from that 8-23 shooting line. After some earlier success near the basket--more on that in a minute--MCW got a little too comfortable with attempting to create shots by careening towards the basket and then kinda hurling the ball at the basket from his jumping-off point, with unflattering results. Carter-Williams' other most frequently cited fault as a pro was definitely on display today, as his jumper was pretty damn miserable all afternoon, without a single outside shot of his falling--not looking particularly close either.

Finally, defense was a mixed bag for Carter-Williams as well. When the Rockets' offense broke down, or they got second-chance opportunities, too often he failed to recover to his man and just kinda drifted around hoping to secure rebounding position or get back out in transition. He also occasionally struggled to stay in front of his man on defense--he got crossed over pretty brutally by Beverley on one position--forcing big man help or just allowing the opposing guard to sneak around him for a tough layup.

That's the bad, and there's a lot of it. But I only get that out of the way early so we can talk about the good, of which there was also an exciting amount. Carter-Williams turned the ball over a lot, especially at first, but he also showed incredible vision in spots, showing impressive aptitude in pushing the ball in transition and making lead passes--the types of passes that take a superlative level of point guard intelligence to think to atetempt, let alone to actually make. He also showed early how valuable he can be in the pick-and-roll, using his height to make on-the-mark passes to the roll man over the top of the defensive trap, creating opportunities for easy post scoring. And in the fourth, he also showed his ability to make simple drive-and-kick passes to shooters off penetration, creating open three-point looks for teammates. (Though MCW started with six turnovers and just one assist, he ended with nine and eight, showing an ability to make mid-game play-making adjustments.)

And though the jumper obviously wasn't dropping for Carter-Williams--wasn't even coming close, really--he still got to 27 points by driving relentlessly to the basket. His size advantage allowed him to finish over smaller defenders, and his quickness coming down the lane resulted in him getting to the basket before help could arrive. It resulted in a lot of layups, and a lot of fouls--MCW got to the line 11 times, hitting ten, with pretty solid free-throw-shooting form for a 68% shooter for his college career. It seems pretty likely that Carter-Williams might not be a high-percentage shooter for a long time, if ever, but if he can get to the basket and the line like he did tonight, he can still make a positive impact for the Sixers.

Finally, even if he was occasionally victimized on defense, Carter-Williams did show how he can be a force on that end too, blanketing Patrick Beverly for most of the first half, and forcing turnovers--most notably with a full-on GIMME DAT steal in the third quarter that resulted in an easy open-court layup in transition--like he did at Syracuse, where he averaged nearly three steals a game. The talent and skill was clearly there with MCW on defense, but his discipline sagged occasionally, which is something the coaching staff will of course have to get on him for. (Assuming we get a coaching staff at some point.)

Also perhaps pointing out that MCW didn't exactly get a ton of assistance from his teammates in this one. Temple products Michael Eric and Khalif Wyatt both had their moments on offense, but only Rodney Williams joined Carter-Williams in double-digit scoring for the Sixers, with the team's only second-year pro Arnett Moultrie being essentially a non-factor (four points and six boards in 25 points) and MCW college teammate James Southerland posting a 2-8 shooting night. Michael was basically the team's entire offense for much of the game, and considering that, a lot of his offensive errors become excusable in the name of aggressiveness.

All in all, I think you walk away from this Michael Carter-Williams game feeling generally encouraged. The talent is there, and unlike Evan Turner's less-than-impressive Summer League debut for the Sixers, you can really see how the skill translates to the next level, even if it's gonna be a little slow going at first. For what it's worth--probably not a ton--NBA TV color analyst Dennis Scott seemed incredibly enthused by MCW's performance, even some of his more careless moments, seeming to believe it was all coming from a good place. Here's hoping.

Sixers play again tomorrow at 1:00, this time facing the Pacers' summer squad. We'll get some quality Justin Holiday action tomorrow, as hopefully he'll be back by then from brother Jrue's wedding to U.S. Women's Soccer forward Lauren Cheney. You remember his brother, right?

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.

Best of MLB: Josh Donaldson mashes 3 home runs to lead Blue Jays past Twins

Best of MLB: Josh Donaldson mashes 3 home runs to lead Blue Jays past Twins

TORONTO -- Josh Donaldson had his first career three-homer game, Troy Tulowitzki also went deep and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Minnesota Twins 9-6 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Donaldson hit a solo homer off Kyle Gibson in the second, then delivered a go-ahead, two-run blast off Pat Light (0-1) in the seventh.

Dozens of fans tossed hats onto the field to celebrate the home run hat trick after Donaldson, the AL MVP in 2015, hit a solo shot off Alex Wimmers in the eighth. Groundskeepers and even the Blue Jays mascot helped clear the hats away.

Donaldson's fourth multi-homer game this season and the 10th of his career also marked the 17th three-homer game in the majors this season.

Jose Bautista had his first three-hit game of the season for the AL East-leading Blue Jays.

Minnesota lost its season-worst 10th straight. The Twins have lost seven straight in Toronto.

Scott Feldman (7-4) earned the win by getting two outs in the seventh. Jason Grilli worked the eighth and Roberto Osuna finished (see full recap). 

Pirates win 8th straight on road, sweep Brewers 3-1
MILWAUKEE -- Ivan Nova threw six sharp innings before leaving early because of a hurting left hamstring and the Pittsburgh Pirates hit three solo homers to rally past the Milwaukee Brewers 3-1 on Sunday for their eighth straight road victory.

John Jaso and Gregory Polanco each homered in the sixth off Brewers starter Chase Anderson (7-11) to complete Pittsburgh's first sweep at Miller Park since 2004. Starling Marte added a solo shot in the eighth.

Nova (4-0) retired 10 of his final 11 batters after allowing Jonathan Villar's solo homer in the third. He scattered three hits and struck out four before being pinch hit for in the seventh.

Tony Watson pitched a clean ninth for his 10th save in 13 opportunities (see full recap).

Archer strikes out 10, Rays hit 3 HRs in 10-4 win vs Astros
HOUSTON -- Chris Archer struck out 10 in seven innings, Corey Dickerson hit a three-run homer and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Houston Astros 10-4 on Sunday.

Matt Duffy and Nick Franklin also went deep for the last-place Rays, who have homered in 21 of their last 24 games.

Houston, in the hunt for an AL wild card, had won three straight.

Archer (8-17) gave up three runs and four hits with two walks. With his strikeout of A.J. Reed in the sixth, the right-hander joined David Price and James Shields as the only Tampa Bay pitchers with multiple 200-strikeout seasons.

The Rays jumped out early against Doug Fister.

Fister (12-9) allowed four runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings, the fourth time in his past seven starts he has permitted four or more runs (see full recap). 

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.