Notes from a week of losing Sixers basketball

Notes from a week of losing Sixers basketball

While you were out tryptophanning it up this Thanksgiving season, the Philadelphia 76ers played a trio of basketball games, and like a good little bottoming-out basketball team, they lost all three of them. As I wrote earlier, this was the start to a pretty key stretch of the season for the 76ers, one that saw them playing a good number of teams they'll be in competition with for lottery balls come late May, and it was important for them to start to gain some separation from them in the race to the bottom. They've done that now--at 6-12, they now have the seventh-worst record in the league, with plenty of opportunity to sink even further--and though it's not always fun to watch, it's unquestionably important for the team's future.

Anyway, for a variety of reasons, it'd be pretty understandable if you took this last week off from Sixers basketball. If you did, here's a handful of things you missed that are of minor significance to the team's short-or-long-term outlook.

1. Defense is becoming increasingly come-as-you-are. In the three L's, the Sixers gave up an average of about 114 points per to the Magic, Pelicans and Pistons, and currently rank dead last in the league in terms of points, assists, blocks, steals, and three-pointers given up per game. That's due to a certain extent to the team playing at the top-rated pace in the league, leading to bigger totals in just about everything, but the Sixers are also giving up the fourth-worst three-point field-goal percentage and the eighth-worst two-point field-goal percentage on that gargantuan number of attempts, leading to predictably disastrous results.

The team's lassez-faire attitude in defending the three-point arc has always struck me as particularly egregious, to the point where I wondered if it was somehow Coach Brown's strategy to let other teams fire away from three, and just hope to get long rebounds off misses that they could take off the other way with. Given how furious Brown looked on the sideline as Brandon Davies repeatedly failed to switch onto Pelicans sharpshooter Ryan Anderson behind the arc off pick-and-pops on Friday night, I'm guessing that's probably not actually the case. Get it together, guys.

2. Thad's back. In the literal sense, Thad has returned to the team after three games missed while he was with his family after the tragic death of his nephew. In the less literal sense, however, Thad has also returned to form in the past week, averaging 21 and eight on 51% shooting over last week's three outings. He's also hitting from three again, draining six triples in 13 tries after going just 2-10 in his nine previous contests, and playing with the kind of energy and activity we've come to expect from Thad, especially over last season. It's not enough to help the team win games when nobody else seems to be giving a damn on the defensive end, but that's fine for now.

3. Evan is hitting from three again. After an absolutely brutal start to the season from range--an incomprehensible 6-39 over his first 15 games--Evan Turner drained a much more reasonable six of ten tries from deep this week, including a 3-3 night from beyond against the Pelicans. Evan gave good offensive efforts in all three games, keeping up his season-long consistency with an average of 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists on 56% shooting in the three L's. The defense comes and goes (mostly goes) with the Extraterrestrial, but as long as he can keep those offensive numbers up, and if he starts to hit the three with any degree of consistency he'll have some serious trade value when the new year rolls around.

4. Hollis Thompson has taken over from James Anderson in the starting lineup. Not guaranteed to stick, but on Sunday, Coach Brown tinkered with his starting five for non-injury-related reasons for the first time all season, inserting Hollis Thompson at the three, sliding Evan to the two and moving James Anderson to the bench. Thompson had been playing better off the bench, and it's been a season-long struggle for Anderson to find consistency, so the move wasn't terribly surprising, though Brown remarked that the switch was for defensive purposes against the sizeable Pistons, and is not necessarily something to be read into much.

I'm fine with the lineup switch on a per-matchup basis, but I still like Anderson more in the starting five--mostly because I don't like Turner at the two so much for this team, and I still believe in Anderson developing into something resembling a starting two-guard in this league. Anyway, Thompson's performance against Detroit (Six points, six rebounds, three assists, four fouls) was mostly middling, and Anderson had 11 points off the bench, so it seems pretty likely that the adjustment will be reversed in time for tomorrow night's game against the Magic. Worth keeping an eye on, though.

5. Anthony Davis went down. This is obviously related to the Sixers only tangentially, but New Orleans (and the NBA community in general) took a big hit in yesterday's Pelicans-Knicks game when Anthony Davis left with what turns out to have been a fracture in his left hand. Davis could miss about a month or longer with the injury, which is a really bad break for a team that was just starting to find its groove, crawling their way back up to .500. They were able to hold on to beat the ailing Knicks last night without their star forward, but their schedule doesn't have a lot of cupcake games on it the rest of the calendar year, and Davis--owner of the league's second-best PER--will certainly be missed.

This news is of note to the Sixers because of the draft pick owed to them by New Orleans in next year's draft, which the Pelicans get to keep if it lands in the top five. Losing Davis for a month or so won't likely put the Pelicans in danger of dropping that far in the standings, but it might keep at least them in the lottery, which is good news for the Sixers. Still, AD is one of the league's great young stars, and no side benefit to the Sixers would really be worth any threat to his long-term greatness, so we here at the Level wish him a thorough recovery.

Oh, and Tony Wroten's back. He did this the other night, which was cool:

Sixers return to action tomorrow night at home to the Magic. As my father would say, hope you all had a happy Tanksgiving.

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

The Phillies made a couple quiet additions as the winter meetings ended, signing veteran outfielder Daniel Nava and lefty reliever Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts.

Nava, 34 in February, is a left-handed hitter who can play the outfield corners and first base. He came up with the Red Sox and became a fan favorite in Boston in 2010 as a 27-year-old rookie. Some Phillies fans will remember him for hitting a grand slam off Joe Blanton in his first major-league plate appearance.

Nava had a few decent years in Boston, the best of which was 2013, when he had 536 plate appearances and hit .303/.385/.445 with 29 doubles, 12 homers and 66 RBIs. 

Nava's numbers and opportunities have dropped every year since. He was designated for assignment by Boston in 2015, latched on with the Rays, signed the next year with the Angels and was traded late in the season to the Royals.

Over the last two seasons, Nava has hit just .208, albeit with an on-base percentage 99 points higher because of his 30 walks and 10 hit by pitches.

Burnett, 34, has spent five of the last seven seasons in the Nationals' bullpen. He had a 2.85 ERA in 283 appearances from 2009-12 and parlayed that success into a two-year, $7.25 million contract with the Angels. However, he barely pitched in 2013 and 2014 for the Halos because of an elbow tear. He returned to the Nats last season and allowed two runs in 5⅔ innings.

Burnett, perhaps more so than Nava, has a chance to fill a role with the Phillies if he can stay healthy. He's shown he can get outs at the highest level, posting a 2.38 ERA in 2012 with 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.14 ERA with 8.9 K/9 in 2010. That was a long time ago now, and Burnett's fastball has dipped from averaging 90-91 mph to 88.

According to Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith, Burnett will receive a $1.25 million salary if he makes the team and can earn another $1.75 million in incentives based on his number of appearances.

Burnett has an opt-out date of March 26, meaning he can become a free agent a week before the regular season begins if it looks to him like he isn't in the Phils' plans.

Nava's chances at cracking the opening-day roster seem longer because the Phillies are expected to make more depth signings between now and the start of camp. They've prioritized finding some offense in the corner outfield and that could come in the form of more minor-league deals, a guaranteed contract or trade. One potential fit I examined last week was Mariners outfielder Seth Smith, a hitter more proven than Nava (see story).

These minor-league deals were commonplace for Phillies general manager Matt Klentak last offseason, when the only free agent he signed to a major-league deal was reliever David Hernandez. 

Last season, three players who were signed to minor-league deals with invites to spring training made the team on opening day: outfielder Cedric Hunter, utilityman Emmanuel Burriss and reliever James Russell.

Others, such as former closers Edward Mujica, Ernesto Frieri and Andrew Bailey, failed to make the team out of camp. Bailey eventually earned a call-up; the other two didn't.

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixers point guard and Meek Mill collaborator Lou Williams is enjoying quite the run off the bench for the Lakers recently.

Over Los Angeles' last four games, Williams has posted totals of 40, 38, 24, and 35 points. 

The six-man is averaging 34.5 points per game over the stretch, and his 137 points are the most off the bench in a four-game span by any player since 1970-71, when stats were first recorded, per Elias Sports Bureau, via ESPN. Williams is now averaging 19.3 points this season, which is 4.4 more than his highest average with the Sixers.

Williams isn’t the only player who used to play for the Sixers that is playing well for the Lakers this year. Nick “Swaggy P” Young, who also comes off the bench, is averaging 13.3 points per game. Just a few weeks ago, Swaggy P stole a pass intended for Lou Williams, and then proceeded to hit a game winner against the Thunder. Swaggy P, however, is currently sidelined with a right calf strain, but is getting closer to a return.

"Lou Will" was also talked about last April during Kobe Bryant’s final NBA game, when he was beefing on Twitter with another former Philadelphia athlete, LeSean McCoy.