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?

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Carson Wentz takes pride in not letting plays die easily. 

In Sunday’s 34-3 win over the Steelers, one play he didn’t let die ended up being the back-breaker in the blowout. 

We’re, of course, talking about the 73-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles at the 13:08 mark in the third quarter. Coming into the second half, the Eagles had a 10-point lead, but this touchdown pushed it to a 20-3 advantage and the rout was on. This play was a tone-setter (see story)

“That’s something that we talk about a lot,” Wentz said after the game. “We always say that a play is never dead. I like to make plays when we need to and everyone just does a great job of getting open in those situations.”

This was the first big off-schedule play Wentz has hit during his three weeks as the team’s starter, but the signs were there. In the Chicago game, there were several times where he showed his ability to extend plays. We broke them down in a film review last week (see story).

Throughout the week, Wentz had been compared to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. One of the reasons was their shared ability to extend plays and make something happen. Big Ben showed his ability in the first quarter and almost connected on a huge touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton in the back of the end zone, but the receiver couldn’t pull it in. 

When Wentz got his shot later in the game, Sproles was able to pull it in, then make something happen with his feet. 

“I saw Carson scrambling this way,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Darren was literally right in front of me and when I saw him wheel, my first reaction was to find the sideline to see if he stepped out to be quite honest.  He hadn’t, and Carson just — it was like in slow motion — floated that ball up the sideline and Darren did the rest from there. It was a tremendous play from those two individuals. I guess the last thing I did is I always look back to make sure there are no flags on the ground on those long plays.”

There were no flags. Touchdown. Game. 

Let’s take a closer look at the play: 

Wentz is in shotgun with Sproles in the backfield with him. The Eagles come out with three-wide on the far side of the field and a lot of space on the near side. 

Stephon Tuitt, who actually had a pretty good game against the Eagles, takes this route to the quarterback. When he gets to left guard Allen Barbre, Barbre either didn’t see him or didn’t react quickly enough. 

While Sproles is still running his short out, Wentz feels the pressure and is able to step up through the hole created by Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks. As soon as he makes it through, Wentz still has his eyes downfield. 

Now Wentz is through the hole and sees Sproles finishing his out-route. This is when Wentz, on the run, motions to Sproles to take off. This is something we’ve seen Wentz do a few times during his three weeks as Eagles quarterback. 

Wentz was left with a tough decision here. He could have run for 10, maybe even 15 yards. It was wide open, but he decided to try to make a play with his arm instead. 

“I always want to be a thrower first,” he said. “Even when a play breaks down, I’m always looking [to throw] because that’s where the big plays are happening. If I scramble I might get 5, 10, 15, 20 yards, but I’m not that fast. I always want to get it to the guys that can make plays. We always want to make plays when they’re there, and that’s what happened.”

With the line of scrimmage at the 27, Wentz has enough awareness to run horizontally to make sure he didn’t cross. And as soon as Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell takes that first step toward him, Wentz sees how much room Sproles has to work with. 

Ryan Shazier, who was covering Sproles on the play, froze and then started to step toward Wentz too. He said he thought the quarterback crossed the line of scrimmage, but Wentz was aware enough to stay behind.  

Once Sproles catches the ball in open space, he begins to do Sproles things. Defensive back Sean Davis took a bad angle on him and once he gets close, the veteran turns it inside. Davis said he was trying to buy time for the rest of his defense to get there and stop Sproles. It didn’t work. 

“Man, it’s Sproles!” receiver Nelson Agholor said. “Did you think he was going to get tackled?”

While he’s blocking downfield, Dorial Green-Beckham actually trips himself up and does a somersault. But it didn’t matter — Sproles didn’t need a great block. He pretty much did it himself. 

“Anytime that you can put it in the hands of [Sproles] something special can happen on any play, and he did the rest of it,” Wentz said. 

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Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Michael Raffl had just finished playing alongside Travis Konecny, the 19-year-old kid that has Flyers fans abuzz about the now and future.

Yet for Raffl, he wasn’t thinking forward. Instead, he was looking back.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t do that when I was 19, that’s for sure,” the 27-year-old said smiling, eyes wide open. “No, it’s impressive, he’s a really, really good hockey player.”

Konecny had that resounding affect Wednesday night at the PPL Center, recording a goal and an assist while leading the Flyers to a 2-0 preseason win over the Devils (see 10 observations).

He dazzled with speed and shiftiness.

He showed off vision and smarts.

When he touched the puck, he had everyone’s attention.

Paired with Raffl and Brayden Schenn in a game featuring mostly prospects, the 2015 first-round pick made the molding of Ron Hextall’s roster that much more difficult. With the general manager looking on, the highly touted winger started fast before making his imprint during a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds in the second period.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, the 5-foot-10, 184-pounder deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front off a backdoor pass for a 2-0 advantage.

“We had a cycle play going and he had a nice fake up top there and I was just going to the net,” Raffl said. “Somehow I was all by myself and he saw me, put a perfect pass on my tape and I just went around the goalie and put it in.”

Following his first goal, Konecny nearly tacked on another less than a minute later when he appeared to hit the crossbar on a shot. He also flirted with a few more assists.

“I think I just played relaxed,” Konecny said. “I came into the game tonight trying not to do too much and just keep things simple. The main thing for me was getting pucks out of the zone, so I think I did that well tonight and hopefully I can keep building on it.”

Relieving pucks from the zone isn’t a real problem when you possess the speed and skill of Konecny, who racked up 101 points last season at the junior level.

At just 19, that’s where he’ll have to return if he doesn’t crack the Flyers’ roster.

With cuts already made and more coming, that sometimes is on Konecny’s mind.

“It weighs on you a little bit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it and it’s definitely the time I need to step up and make sure I’m playing good hockey,” Konecny said. “And just earning another day — that’s just the way I’m looking at it. Every day I wake up and just work hard and move forward from there.

“I think everyone comes into camp and tries to give them (management) a reason not to send you back and make it hard on them.”

Wednesday night didn’t hurt his chances.

“He played a good hockey game,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Had an impact offensively. He did a pretty good job. There’s some youthful mistakes in there, but overall, he had a real good night tonight playing with Raf and Schenner.”

Placing Konecny with two capable NHL forwards offered the Canadian an opportunity to prove what he could do if he was in fact on the big club.

“We played well together,” Konecny said. “I think from the start we just had a lot of communication, we talked in the room, in warmups, we all knew what we were going to do throughout the game and in certain scenarios.”

If anything, Konecny left an impression on Raffl.

“He’s a very smart player,” Raffl said. “Once he has the puck, he makes smart decisions with it. It was very easy to play with him out there. He plays a mature game and I really enjoyed it.”

Time will tell if more enjoyment is in store come Oct. 14.

Loose pucks
Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon combined for the shutout. Stolarz started and made 11 saves over 29:23, while Lyon played 30:37 and stopped seven shots. “I like both of our guys tonight,” Hakstol said. “Stolie did a good job, he made a difference in this game in the first 10 minutes, those two or three really good saves there. Then Alex came in halfway through, which isn’t an easy thing to do and was ready to go and did his job.” … Schenn, MacDonald and defensive prospect Robert Hagg finished with an assist apiece. … With the roster currently standing at 49, the Flyers expect to make 15 cuts on Thursday. … Defenseman Nick Schultz is out four to seven days with a lower-body injury suffered in Tuesday night’s preseason game. ... The Flyers are off Thursday before likely practicing Friday ahead of Saturday's preseason game at 7 p.m. against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.