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?

Jordan Matthews eager to return after missing first-ever game

Jordan Matthews eager to return after missing first-ever game

Jordan Matthews experienced something new on Sunday. Something he hoped he’d never have to experience. 

He was relegated to spectator.  

After never missing a game dating back to little league – through high school, college, and into his third season in the NFL – a right ankle injury kept him out of Sunday’s 32-14 loss in Cincinnati. 

“It’s definitely not fun,” Matthews said. “But it’s one of those things where I try not to dwell on it or be like ‘woe is me.’ There’s people going through way worse things in America than me missing a football game.”

The Eagles certainly could have used Matthews on Sunday. But they should get him back this weekend when the Birds host Washington for a 1 p.m. kickoff at the Linc. Along with Ryan Mathews and Dorial Green-Beckham, Matthews is listed as questionable. 

But he seems confident he’ll be good to go. 

“I think one game is definitely going to be enough for me,” Matthews said. “I’m definitely going to try to get back out there Sunday.” 

On Friday, during his first media availability in two weeks, Matthews said he chose to find the positives in his absence from Sunday’s game. Namely that Paul Turner and Trey Burton got some extra reps. 

Burton had five catches for 53 yards and Turner, in just his second NFL game, had six catches for 80 yards. 

“I try to see the positives,” Matthews said. “I liked seeing what PT was able to go out there and do. I was happy for him and his first live-game action, being able to go out there and make plays. I was also proud of Trey. His role got to expand with me being out and I think he played extremely well. He got to show what he can do and show how he can help this team. We just have to continue to utilize him moving forward. There’s always a positive in it. 

“We might not see it now, in a loss, but just think, some of those guys are going to be weapons for us in the future. And we saw they can go out and perform well without me in there, so I think it’s going to end up being a positive. But I definitely can’t wait to get back out there.”

Earlier in the week, head coach Doug Pederson said that even with Matthews’ returning, the team would still try to get Turner involved. Since the team sees Turner primarily as a slot receiver, that means Matthews could see time outside this weekend. There’s an even better chance when taking Green-Beckham’s injury into account. 

Before the season, Pederson talked a lot about wanting to play Matthews both inside and outside, but this season, Matthews has been in the slot for 74 percent of his snaps. Forty-four of his 57 catches have come from the slot too. 

On the play where Matthews hurt his ankle against the Packers, he was actually lined up outside and caught a back-shoulder throw from Wentz. 

“I was actually joking with Carson,” Matthews said, “I was like ‘bro, the reason I got hurt was because our back shoulder was better than Jordy [Nelson] and Aaron [Rodgers’]. So it didn’t mesh well with the universe. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way on Monday night for everybody to see, so the football gods took my ankle. So it’s all good. … That’s a joke.”

Matthews, despite being in his third season, is clearly one of the Eagles’ leaders on offense, especially in a very young receivers room. He’s looking forward to playing Washington after he thinks they were the first team that “actually came out and beat” them earlier in the year. 

With four games left in the regular season, the Eagles’ playoff chances are extremely slim. But Matthews thinks it’s important for the team to finish strong, especially with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. 

With Wentz, Matthews thinks the Eagles have already taken the first step toward building something special. 

“He’s the guy,” Matthews said. “He looks like the guy, he walks like the guy, he talks like it. And he goes out there and plays like it. It’s more we have to continue to ride around him and coach Pederson and be positive and go out there and produce.”

Eagles-Redskins scouting report: Secondary must stand up vs. Kirk Cousins

Eagles-Redskins scouting report: Secondary must stand up vs. Kirk Cousins

Eagles (5-7) vs. Redskins (6-5-1)
Sunday, 1 p.m. on Fox
Redskins favored by 2; over/under 47

When the Eagles went into FedEx Field in Week 6, they had an opportunity to leave 4-1 and in great position in the NFC East. Instead, what ensued was a stretch of three divisional losses in four weeks by a combined 18 points.

Two months later, the Eagles are out of the race at 5-7 while the 6-5-1 Redskins are still battling for an NFC wild-card spot. The 'Skins would be out of the playoffs if the season ended today — they currently hold the seventh spot in the NFC, behind the Bucs (7-5) but ahead of the Vikings and Packers (6-6).

This is obviously a crucial game for Washington, but the Eagles are just as desperate after losing by 11, 14 and 18 points the last three weeks. Don't underestimate the role desperation and a few weeks of embarrassment can have on a team's ability to bounce back. It was partly why I cautioned in these scouting reports the last two weeks not to count out either Green Bay or Cincinnati, teams that had more talent and stability than a few weeks of midseason losses indicated.

Cousins and Reed
The next time the Eagles limit Kirk Cousins will be the first time. In four games against them, he's completed 63 percent of his passes, averaged 336 yards, thrown 10 TDs and two interceptions and rushed for another score. Washington has averaged 31 points and won three of the four contests.

The Eagles' margin of error on defense is extremely small in this game. To win, they'll need a better effort against a Redskins' ground game that gashed them for 230 yards last time, they'll need to generate consistent pressure on Cousins and they'll need Jordan Reed to not be himself.

Reed, the NFC's most dangerous tight end, is questionable with a Grade 3 AC joint separation suffered on Thanksgiving. Reed was a warrior on Turkey Day, leaving the game in the second quarter, standing on the sideline in a sling, probably receiving a little (ahem) help at halftime, and then dominating in the second half in Dallas. Reed finished that game with 12 catches for 95 yards and two TDs, but was hurt badly enough to miss last week's game.

The Eagles were fortunate to avoid Reed in the season's earlier matchup. Fortunate because he destroyed them last December, catching nine passes for 129 yards and two TDs in a 14-point win. Washington uses its tight ends more than any offense in the league, and Reed is a mismatch even for an Eagles team that has allowed the fewest catches (31) and receiving yards (327) to tight ends. 

With Reed out in October, backup Vernon Davis burned the Eagles for two catches, 50 yards and a TD. But it sounds like Reed will play Sunday after telling reporters that his range of motion is back.

The issue in stopping Washington is the Eagles just don't have enough defensive backs to defend everything. It's why they need Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham to get consistent pressure and keep Cousins out of a rhythm. They haven't been able to do that. They had no sacks in Washington in Week 6 and have failed to sack Cousins in two of the last three meetings.

Without forcing Cousins to get off his spot and get the ball out quickly, the Eagles' secondary hasn't shown anything to inspire confidence they can stop DeSean Jackson, Jamison Crowder, Pierre Garcon, Reed and Davis at the same time.

To make matters worse, this is the first week Washington's All-Pro left tackle, Trent Williams, is back from a four-game substance abuse suspension. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams has allowed just three sacks in his last eight games against the Eagles.

Which Wentz will show?
Last week was Carson Wentz's worst game as an NFL quarterback. He missed wide-open throws, threw three interceptions and could have thrown more and barely exceeded 300 yards despite throwing the ball 60 times. 

He didn't look like the guy we saw the first four games of the season, and quite frankly he hasn't looked like a top-20 QB since October. 

The lack of weapons and occasionally poor protection are major reasons why, but Wentz isn't void of blame — he's simply missed some makeable throws.

Against Washington back on Oct. 16, Wentz was just 11 of 22 for 179 yards as the Eagles lost the time of possession battle. The best days belonged to Ryan Mathews (9 carries, 60 yards) and Jordan Matthews (three catches, 75 yards). Both are questionable heading into this one. 

Wentz didn't throw a single pass at Josh Norman in the first meeting. At times, Norman has followed the opposing team's top receiver, but don't expect him to do so this Sunday. Norman has lined up on the left side 64 percent of the time this season and in the slot just nine percent. 

Slot matchup
Matthews has run 73 percent of his routes from the slot and should draw third-round pick Kendall Fuller. As long as Matthews is sufficiently recovered from his ankle injury, this should be a good matchup for the Eagles. 

Fuller has been beaten repeatedly this season, allowing 42 catches (on 53 targets) for 542 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterbacks have a 123.9 rating against him, third-worst among all slot corners. (Malcolm Jenkins is actually worst in this category with a 137.9 QB rating allowed in the slot.)

Fuller has also struggled to wrap receivers up after the catch, allowing an NFL-high 213 yards after the catch. Picking up yards after a reception is something the Eagles have struggled to do all year.

Run game
The Eagles were shutting running backs down until they played the Redskins in October. Since-demoted RB Matt Jones rushed for 135 yards, current starter Rob Kelley rushed for 59, and both had a run of 45-plus yards.

Cox, Barwin and LB Nigel Bradham had awful games that afternoon against the run. It also didn't help that the Eagles were credited with 12 missed tackles. 

Run-stuffer Bennie Logan left that game early with a groin injury and missed the next three weeks. Since returning, however, Logan hasn't been himself, struggling to rush the passer and stop the run.

The Kerrigan factor
The Eagles always have trouble containing Redskins pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan, who had three sacks in the first meeting. 

Kerrigan has been a force in 2016 with 44 QB hurries, which is three more than Kahlil Mack and second-most among outside linebackers to Von Miller.

Kerrigan has nine sacks in 11 career games against the Eagles, and Washington is 5-1 when he has at least one against them.

Prediction
Close game, better performance from Wentz and an awakening in the run game, but not enough defensive talent to shut down what Washington will try to do deep with Jackson and Crowder, over the middle with Reed and short with Garcon.

Redskins 31, Eagles 27