One very, very important thing to remember about this Sixers season

One very, very important thing to remember about this Sixers season

Yeah, I know. Hard to imagine there's anything left for me to preach about regarding the Philadelphia 76ers after the 5000-plus-word torrent of a team preview I unleashed yesterday, for a team that most people probably don't care to read more than a couple sentences about. Still, there was one more point that I wanted to make, one that I believe it critical for every Sixers fan to properly process before tonight's tip-off, one which I thought was important enough to give its own article. And that point is this:

The Philadelphia 76ers are probably not going to get Andrew Wiggins in the draft next June.

That's not optimism, me predicting that the Sixers are somehow going to exceed their limited talented level and end up with a final record that will place them well out of draft lottery contention. That's not cynicism either, me feeling like the Sixers are too incompetent or cursed a franchise to properly pull off a tank job. That's just math, pure and simple.

Let's start with the obvious, a point that I already made in my preview yesterday: The Sixers are not going to be the only really, really bad team in the NBA this season. Phoenix has vaulted themselves to the top of the Tanking Rankings--really--with the Marcin Gortat trade. Boston has already jettisoned two future Hall-of-Famers in the name of a full-on rebuild. The Bucks made more off-season moves than anyone and just ended up with an incoherent mess of a roster. The Kings haven't been good in almost a decade, the Bobcats haven't been good...ever, pretty much. Having to fend off all these teams at the bottom is a challenge tantamount to what Miami faces in Three-peating--even if they're the favorites, you can better believe they'll be tested every step of the way.

But OK. Let's say for arguments' sake that the Sixers easily win their game of one-downsmanship with all of those anti-contenders, and by May they can basically coast to the finish and even win a garbage-time game or two, secure in having the league's worst record. Let's say that they walk into the lottery May 20th with the most ping-pong balls out of anyone, and therefore the best chance of anyone at grabbing that #1 pick. Do you know what their odds would be, in that case, of actually getting that #1 pick?

25%.

One in Four.

That's right--even if the Sixers do everything right (by doing everything wrong) and leave Phoenix, Boston and everyone else in the dust for the worst-overall record, they're still 3:1 underdogs to actually get that #1 pick. In fact, not since the Magic took Dwight Howard in 2004 has having the most ping-pong balls actually led to being awarded the top-overall draft slot.

Since '04, the team that has won the lottery has been the team that's finished (respectively, in order) 6th, 5th, 7th, 10th, 3rd, 5th, 8th, 4th and 3rd from the bottom in the standings. You'll also notice that no team to finish second from the bottom has won either since '04--you have to go back to our own 76ers, back in 1996, to find the last team who won the lottery with the second-most ping-pong balls. (In the '03 draft, where Cleveland landed LeBron, the Cavs and Nuggets both had a 22.5% chance, after finishing with the same league-worst record in the regular season.)

Over those nine drafts since 2004, the team with the most ping-pong balls has ended up picking 2nd five times, 3rd once and 4th three times. (Due to the way the draft works, with only the first three picks determined by lottery selection, it's mathematically impossible for the team with the most ping-pong balls to draft lower than fourth.) And--somewhat stunningly--of those nine picks made by teams with worst-overall records, zero of the players selected have yet made an All-Star team, with the Grizzlies' Mike Conley probably coming the closest among a group that also includes plenty of flame-outs, like Hasheem Thabeet, Michael Beasley and Tyrus Thomas.

Now, this all isn't to say that the math doesn't still favor ending with the season's worst record as the way to end with the best odds at getting the top-overall pick, or to suggest that the Sixers should actually avoid ending with the season's worst record, since it clearly never leads to the #1 selection. It's just to say that securing the worst-overall record is not the same thing as securing the first-overall pick, and that in fact, the correlation between the two has been practically non-existent the last decade.

And if you want to get a little sinister, there might even be another factor at play here. It's long been believed by NBA conspiracy theorists that the draft is rigged, going back to the infamous "Frozen Envelope" hypothesis that suggests that David Stern engineered the 1985 draft so that college star Patrick Ewing would end up going to the Knicks, and persisting to this very day, where believers maintain that New Orleans and Cleveland won the last couple lotteries because Stern wanted to sell the league-owned then-Hornets and make it up to the Cavaliers for allowing "The Decision" to happen.

I don't believe in all that--though it wouldn't exactly shock me if you told me it was true--but if you do, you have to think that new commissioner Adam Silver will not want to reward a team like the Sixers for treating the '12-'13 regular season like an 82-game-long tryout for next season's less-terrible squad. Silver has already said to have been perturbed by the Sixers' actions this off-season, and if you believe that he has the final say on who picks first come June, you can bet that he'll want to disincentivise future tanking efforts by awarding #1 to some team that actually fought to make the playoffs. (Assuming there's even one left, anyway.)

So dream of Andrew Wiggins all you want, but even if the '14 Sixers end up making the '73 Sixers look like the '83 championship squad, the chances are against Wiggins coming to Philadelphia.

But you know what? That's OK. Really.

This isn't going to be a one-player draft. It's not going to be a two-or-three-player draft either. There are at least a half-dozen players that have been tabbed by scouts and experts as potential franchise players, and probably another half-dozen that could easily enter that conversation with strong play in the upcoming college and international seasons. If Wiggins was the only real prize in the draft, you wouldn't see nearly as many teams attempting to bottom out so dramatically this year, because most smart GMs know that it's not worth planning your team's entire future around a 1 in 4 chance--especially when so many other teams are trying to do the exact same thing.

Now, if the Sixers do end up with the worst-overall record, and their team logo is only the fourth-to-last placard pulled out by the NBA's next Deputy Commissioner, I'll be bummed for sure--even if there's a chance that the guy taken with the #4 pick ends up being as good as the guy taken first overall, you always want to at least be able to make the choice for yourself. But there's plenty of shiny new toys to go around among all the greedy little NBA children, and so long as the Sixers don't finish outside the bottom three or four--which, HAH--they and we should end up just fine.

Bottom line: Don't wig out over Wiggins, guys. You can be damn sure Sam Hinkie won't.

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.