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?

Best of MLB: Beltre's 2 home runs lift Rangers over A's

Best of MLB: Beltre's 2 home runs lift Rangers over A's

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Adrian Beltre hit his second home run of the game with two outs in the ninth inning, a two-run shot that rallied the Texas Rangers past the Oakland Athletics 7-6 on Monday night for their third straight win.

Beltre, who finished with four hits, had two singles in his first three at-bats before hitting a solo homer in the seventh. His game-winning drive came on the first pitch from Ryan Madson (3-4).

Until then, Texas had trailed since Danny Valencia hit a two-run homer for Oakland with two outs in the first. All 13 runs in the game were scored with two outs.

Texas turned three double plays behind starter Martin Perez, who has induced a major league-best 25 in 21 games.

Valencia also had the first of three run-scoring doubles in a three-run third that gave the A's a 5-1 lead (see full recap).

Blue Jays' Sanchez wins 10th straight decision
TORONTO  -- Aaron Sanchez pitched seven shutout innings to win his 10th consecutive decision, Kevin Pillar had three hits and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the San Diego Padres 4-2 on Monday night.

Sanchez (11-1) became the first Blue Jays pitcher to win 10 straight since Roy Halladay won 15 decisions in a row in 2003. Halladay and Roger Clemens (1998) hold the club record.

Making their first appearance in Toronto, the Padres were held scoreless until Alex Dickerson hit a two-run homer off Bo Schultz in the ninth.

Dickeerson's drive into the fifth deck extended San Diego's team-record streak of games with at least one home run to 23. The 2006 Atlanta Braves were the last National League team to homer in 23 straight games.

Roberto Osuna replaced Schultz and got two outs for his 21st save (see full recap).

Orioles top Rockies for 5th straight win
BALTIMORE -- Adam Jones scored the winning run in the 10th inning on a low throw to the plate by pitcher Jordan Lyles, and the Baltimore Orioles beat the Colorado Rockies 3-2 on Monday night for their fifth straight victory.

Jones reached on a one-out single off the third-base bag and took third on a single by Jonathan Schoop. Manny Machado followed with a comebacker to Lyles, who fumbled the ball before throwing home. Catcher Nick Hundley caught the ball near the ground and lost the handle while attempting to tag the sliding Jones.

Lyles (2-3) was charged with an error on the play.

Getting two RBIs from Jones, the Orioles climbed a season-high 18 games over .500 (58-40) and improved to 37-14 at home.

Chaz Roe (1-0) worked the 10th for the win (see full recap).

Trade candidates — especially Jeremy Hellickson — lead Phils to shutout of Marlins

Trade candidates — especially Jeremy Hellickson — lead Phils to shutout of Marlins

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Jeremy Hellickson was standing in front of his locker speaking with reporters after his second strong outing in a week against the Miami Marlins when Cameron Rupp walked by an offered his take on all the trade talk surrounding the veteran pitcher.

“He’s not going anywhere,” Rupp said loud enough for everyone in the room to hear.

Hellickson laughed at his catcher’s commentary.

“I hope not,” he said.

If Hellickson really wants to stay with the Phillies and finish out this rebuilding season instead of moving to a contender for the final two months — and possibly beyond — he did himself a disservice Monday night.

He enhanced his attractiveness to potential buyers by pitching six shutout innings in the Phillies’ 4-0 win over the Miami Marlins (see Instant Replay).

Hellickson, who sports a 3.65 ERA in 21 starts, needed just 70 pitches to get through the six innings. He was lifted for a pinch-hitter with runners on second and third and two outs in a scoreless game in the top of the seventh. Ryan Howard struck out, following Cody Asche and Peter Bourjos, as the Phillies whiffed on a golden scoring chance.

“I hated taking Hellickson out of the game there, but we had an opportunity to score and I had to go for it,” manager Pete Mackanin said.

“After we didn’t score, I didn’t think we had a chance to win this game. I just thought that with their bullpen we were in trouble.”

The Phillies ended up winning with a rally against Miami’s bullpen. Tommy Joseph delivered a clutch, two-out double against Fernando Rodney in the eighth to score Maikel Franco from first. That was the only run the Phillies needed. They tacked on three against the sloppy Marlins in the ninth to finish it off.

Hellickson, David Hernandez, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez then combined to allow just one base runner in three innings to finish off the Phillies’ 11th shutout of the season. That’s the most in the majors.

“Our bullpen did a great job,” Mackanin said.

Three of the four pitchers that the Phillies used in the game — Hellickson, Hernandez and Gomez — are very much available for trades. They all pitched well with a gaggle of scouts sitting behind the backstop. A number of contending clubs — the Cubs, Orioles, Giants, Rangers and Blue Jays — had scouts at the game. Pitching, starting and relief, is high on the needs list for most of those teams.

Of course, the Marlins are looking for pitching, too. They have interest in Hellickson, though it’s not clear whether he is a top target of theirs. Maybe he will become a top target after what he’s done to the Marlins in the last week. Hellickson has pitched 14 innings over two starts against the Marlins. He has given up just six hits and a run.

“Just executing,” said the pitcher, explaining his success. “In my last two games the ball has been down for the most part. I’ve just gotten a lot of easy outs. The ball's down and not missing too many spots right now.”

Hellickson will be a free agent this winter and does not appear to be in the club’s future plan. Nonetheless, he has steadfastly said he would like to remain with the club for the rest of this season. Phillies management is not opposed to keeping Hellickson. He provides veteran stability and innings to a young rotation. But management would move Hellickson for a player that has the potential to help in the future.

Trade rumors can be distracting for a player. But Hellickson, who has been dealt twice in his career, is locked in.

“It doesn't bother me,” he said. “Once I'm in this locker room — obviously you still see it on TV and stuff — my focus is on helping us win today. Now it's on to the next start. It's been like this for a few years now so it's pretty easy to go out there right now.”

Mackanin said he had no idea what will become of Hellickson’s fate. But if the pitcher stays, he won’t complain.

“At this point, I don’t want to lose him,” Mackanin said. “I wish he could stay here. He’s that solid for us. He’s been like that the whole year.”

The Phillies needed a good pitching effort to pull this one out. Their hitters struck out 13 times, left 11 men on base and went just 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position.

“We don’t show plate discipline,” Mackanin lamented. “We’re taking fastballs early in the count that are hittable pitches. If you’re going to take fastballs early in the count that are hittable pitches, you cannot swing at breaking balls in the dirt. That’s all I can say about that. We have to have more plate discipline.”

On the positive side of that, Franco and Rupp both walked three times, and Franco’s two-out walk in the eighth became the biggest run of the game on a night when Jeremy Hellickson and his status with the Phillies was the biggest storyline.

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Marlins 0

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Marlins 0

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Jeremy Hellickson continued to enhance his trade value and Tommy Joseph had the big hit in the Phillies’ 4-0 win over the Miami Marlins on Monday night.

Hellickson shut down the Marlins for the second time in a week. The next time he pitches, it could be for them. The Marlins are one of the teams interested in the veteran right-hander. Scouts from several other contending teams were in attendance for Hellickson’s strong outing.

Joseph’s two-out double in the top of the eighth broke a scoreless tie.

Phillies pitching held the Marlins to two hits. The Phils have 11 shutouts this season.

Starting pitching report
Hellickson pitched six scoreless innings and gave up just a hit and a walk while striking out one. He exited for a pinch-hitter after just 70 pitches. The right-hander has pitched 14 innings and allowed just one run in his last two starts, both against the Marlins. He has lowered his season ERA to 3.65.

Miami’s Jarred Cosart came up from Triple A and pitched five scoreless innings. However, he threw 92 pitches. He allowed three hits, a walk and struck out one.

Bullpen report 
Trade candidate David Hernandez pitched a strong seventh inning for the Phils, picking up the win. Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez closed it out.

Miami right-hander Kyle Barraclough came up big in the top of the seventh inning. He struck out Cody Asche, Peter Bourjos and pinch-hitter Ryan Howard with runners on second and third to preserve a 0-0 tie.

Marlins right-hander Fernando Rodney struck out the first two batters in the eighth then gave up a four-pitch walk to Maikel Franco before Joseph’s two-out double delivered the game’s first run.

Rodney took the loss.

A.J. Ramos was charged with three runs in the ninth, two unearned.

At the plate
The Phillies survived 13 strikeouts, a 1-for-9 performance with runners in scoring position and 11 men left on base to score the win.

The Phils had just six hits. Joseph had a pair of them and now has 25 RBIs in 54 games.

Cesar Hernandez gave the Phils some cushion with an RBI single in the top of the ninth. Miami’s defense fell apart after that and the Phils scored two more runs to put the game away.

Asche had a hit to break an 0-for-26 skid. Bourjos is 0 for his last 17.

Trade talk
Andres Blanco is out for six weeks so he’s no longer a trade candidate, but others are (see story).

Up next
Jerad Eickhoff (6-11, 3.98) pitches against Miami right-hander Tom Koehler (7-8, 4.42) on Tuesday night. Koehler pitched eight innings of two-run ball in beating the Phillies last week at Citizens Bank Park.