Notes on Royce White's unofficial Sixers debut from Friday

Notes on Royce White's unofficial Sixers debut from Friday

Hey, the Sixers are 2-1 in the pre-season! A winning record! That doesn't mean anything close to anything, but it's a novel concept for a team whose regular season is surely going to start a losing one, and nearly as surely stay a losing one for the remainder of the year. The Sixers moved back over .500 in this exhibition stretch on Friday with a win over the Celtics at the lovely Bob Carpenter center in Newark, Delaware, where their new D-League affiliate team (the 87ers!) will eventually play its regular season home games.

The Sixer fans that tuned in to the game on Friday night likely did so for one reason that had nothing to do with the team winning or not--the chance to see enigmatic forward Royce White in action for the first time as a Philadelphia 76er (and for many of us, the first time period). The Sixers' new big man, picked up from Houston in an off-season trade, has long been promised to have All-Star-type potential, but fans have never seen it in a pro game, as his anxiety disorder (and accompanying fear of flying) and controversial battle against some NBA health policies have thusfar kept him from playing in the regular season.

Royce White did indeed play for the Sixers on Friday, however, and fans that saw him can now say with relative certainty that it's more than anxiety and machine-raging keeping Royce from stepping in and being an instant Rookie of the Year candidate. His Sixer debut was a heavily flawed one, one that shows how long he has to go to be a productive rotation player in the NBA, but one that did flash a little of the potential we've so long heard about that makes him so enticing as a prospect.

The most pronounced aspect of his debut performance was, of course, the fouling. Royce checked in with about six minutes to go in the first quarter, and by the 3:21 mark, he already had four fouls, picking up his fifth within a minute of checking in again in the third quarter. Some of the calls were kind of ticky-tack, but he's definitely a little careless with his screen setting on offense--he got called for two moving picks in that first quarter, and could have easily been whistled for one or two others--and occasionally too aggressive with his ball-stopping on defense.

Even more alarming than the fouling might have been Royce's shooting. A stretch four White is not, as his two jumper attempts--one open from the free throw-line, one from solidly beyond the arc--both went so long he nearly banked them in, while he also airballed one of his two free throws on the night. Royce's post moves do not seem particularly sophisticated at this point, either, so it might be a little tough for him to find ways to score in the half-court for this team.

The defense was also a little touch-and-go for White. In addition to the surfeit of fouls, Royce also had a little trouble negotiating the pick-and-roll on defense, over-committing on the ball-handler and failing to rotate back to his man, a particular issue when guarding Celtics big Kelly Olynyk, an excellent outside shooter. He does seem to have good hands on D, at least, as he was once able to make up for his poor defensive positioning by getting a hand on a cross-court pass to Olynyk, starting the fast break the other way.

And indeed, it seems like transition will be where White can really excel for this team. An excellent rebounder--White grabbed three in less than ten minutes, one a hard-fought board over Gerald Wallace--White also has the ball-handling skills to go length-of-the-court with it, as he did off a rebound in the first quarter. For someone whose conditioning has oft come in to question, he also looks to be in decently athletic shape, if still a little doughy, as he was able to drive baseline past Olynyk in the third quarter for a resounding dunk.

Ultimately, it was more bad than good with Royce White's debut effort, but it was nothing that we shouldn't have expected, and nothing that can't be improved. In his player profile on White for ESPN, hoops scribe Tom Haberstroh suggested that White should probably hang out in Delaware for the whole season with the 87ers, playing himself back into game shape and learning to cut out his more careless mistakes. That would certainly make sense, though given how little interest the Sixers seem to have in actually winning ballgames this year, it wouldn't be shocking to see them let Royce do the same on the pro squad.

Either way, Royce should certainly be one of the most interesting subplots to follow on the Sixers this year, as he hopefully learns how to play a more fundamental game that allows his considerable talent--which we only really saw a fraction of on Friday night, and will hopefully see further glimpses of tonight against the Nets--to shine through. The most important thing about his game on Friday was that he got on the court at all, and now it's up to Royce and the Sixers' staff to figure out how his presence can actually be a positive for this team.

Instant Replay: Nuggets 106, Sixers 98

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Instant Replay: Nuggets 106, Sixers 98

BOX SCORE

The Sixers were shorthanded against the Nuggets and it showed.

Playing without Jahlil Okafor, Robert Covington and Jerryd Bayless (see below), the Sixers didn’t get enough throughout the game from their offensive leader Joel Embiid. He finished with 17 points, but scored only seven through the first three quarters. 

The Nuggets’ second-half push led them to a 106-98 victory over the Sixers. 

How it happened
The Sixers led 27-18 after the first quarter and led by 10 with 3:27 to go in the first half. The Nuggets, however, closed out the second quarter on an 11-3 run. Jamal Murray scored 14 points in the quarter. 

The Sixers faltered in the third as the Nuggets outscored them 23-17. They shot 5 for 19 (26.3 percent) from the field, including 0 for 6 from Embiid, who scored one point off a free throw. Danilo Gallinari and Will Barton combined for 17 of the Nuggets’ points. After only committing five turnovers in the first half, the Sixers committed seven in the third quarter alone. They dropped to 0-11 when trailing after three.

The Nuggets opened the fourth quarter on a 5-0 run. The Sixers were left chasing down the stretch. Embiid drained a three with 1:15 remaining to bring the Sixers within four, but that wasn’t enough. The Nuggets held them off to improve to 8-14 while they Sixers dropped to 4-17. 

Inside the box score
• Embiid struggled for most of the game, shooting 2 for 11 from the field through the third quarter. He totaled 16 points on 5 of 15 shooting. Embiid did record a career-high five blocks, but also had three turnovers.

• Dario Saric followed up Saturday’s double-double with another strong performance: 17 points on 6 of 12 shooting and eight rebounds.

• Ersan Ilyasova (eight rebounds) and Sergio Rodriguez (seven assists) also scored 17 points each.

• The Nuggets were led by a season-high 24 points from Gallinari. Barton dropped 22 points and eight rebounds, while Murray also scored 22 points off the bench. 

(Lots of) injury updates
Okafor missed the game because of gastroenteritis and will not travel to Memphis. Covington was out his second game in a row with a left knee sprain. Bayless sat out his fifth straight game with left wrist soreness. 

Nelson applauded
St. Joe’s alum Jameer Nelson received a warm welcome from the Sixers’ crowd when he checked in for the Nuggets. The 13th-year NBA veteran was a leader on the 2003-04 Hawks team that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and went 27-0 in the regular season. Nelson played high school basketball in Chester, PA. On another St. Joe’s note, Nelson’s former teammate Dwayne Jones has been helping the Sixers rebound during shooting drills at practice and pregame warmups. 

Up next
The Sixers are traveling to Memphis Monday night to play the Grizzlies (13-8) on Tuesday. The team will continue on to New Orleans to face the Pelicans (7-14) Thursday.

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Phillies have completed the signing of veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit to a one-year, $7.5 million contract (see story). The deal could be announced Tuesday and will require the club removing a player from the already-full 40-man roster.

Benoit is one of three additions that the Phils have made to their bullpen this offseason — the club traded for veteran right-hander Pat Neshek and picked up lefty David Rollins on waivers — and more will likely come, probably on minor-league contracts, before the team reports to spring training.

Now that the bullpen has been addressed, let’s take a look at what could be next for the Phillies this winter.

• The addition of Benoit could create enough back-end bullpen depth that GM Matt Klentak could look to trade either Jeanmar Gomez or Hector Neris. Gomez saved 37 games in 2016, but struggled down the stretch. Neris showed great promise in recording a 2.58 ERA and striking out 11.4 batters per nine innings in 79 games in 2016. The hard-throwing righty is young (27), talented and inexpensive so the Phils would have to be overwhelmed by an offer to move him. Last year, Klentak moved a young closer in Ken Giles for a significant return from Houston, so he has history in making these types of moves.

• In addition to more potential comings and goings in the bullpen, the Phils will look to add a backup infielder and maybe a backup catcher in the coming weeks. Andres Blanco could return as that extra infielder. A.J. Ellis could return as the catcher. But nothing is firm. In fact, Klentak hinted Monday that he’d be comfortable bringing Andrew Knapp up from Triple A to be the backup catcher next season.

“I don’t think we need a veteran backup catcher,” Klentak said. “If it works out, we’re open-minded to that. But Andrew Knapp just finished his age 25 season in Triple A. He has a full year of at-bats in Triple A. At some point for both he and (Jorge) Alfaro, we’re going to have to find out what those guys can do at the big-league level. During the 2017 season, we’ll have to find out — not just about those two guys — but others.”

• One of the biggest remaining issues facing Phillies management this winter centers around the outfield and the offense. Basically, Klentak and his advisers are weighing the merits of adding another veteran hitter — the club already traded for Howie Kendrick — to improve the offense or giving a significant playing opportunity to a promising youngster and potential future core piece such as Roman Quinn in what currently projects to be one opening in the outfield.

“That topic is the one that we have spent the most time discussing, not just here but this offseason, about striking the right balance between adding a veteran bat or veteran free agent to this team to make our team better, but again, not taking playing time away from players that need the playing time.

“That’s part of the dynamic that we have to consider there. Roman Quinn came up at the end of the year and, at times, looked like a legitimate major-league contributor. But we also have to be mindful of the fact that he hasn’t logged a single at-bat at Triple A yet.

“This doesn’t have an obvious answer. We are continuing to talk about trade acquisitions and talk to agents for free agents to see if the right opportunity exists to blend all those factors together. But what we do not want to do is bring in so many veterans that we are denying opportunities to our young players.”

This brings us to a situation that could potentially satisfy the team’s desire to improve the offense without taking away a playing opportunity from Quinn.

J.D. Martinez of the Detroit Tigers is an outfield bat that the Phillies like. They like his production and the fact that he’s signed for just 2017. In other words, he wouldn’t block a young prospect’s pathway to the majors, at least for long.

Martinez, owed $11.75 million, which is very affordable for the Phillies, is a serious trade candidate for the cost-cutting Tigers and the Phillies have spoken to Tigers officials, dating to the early part of the offseason.

According to sources, the Phillies and Tigers could be a trade fit if the Tigers were to deal second baseman Ian Kinsler. If the Tigers move Kinsler, they could look to move Martinez to the Phillies for second baseman Cesar Hernandez. Phillies officials have said they are in no hurry to deal Hernandez, but the team does have depth at second with a pair of prospects (Scott Kingery and Jesmuel Valentin) on the way and a ready-made stopgap in Kendrick at the position. 

So keep an eye on Kinsler. If he moves, the Phillies could pursue the veteran bat that would make their offense better. And it would not cost Quinn an opportunity as he could play left field with Kendrick moving to second.