Pondering the Unponderable: The Cases For and Against Trading Evan Turner

Pondering the Unponderable: The Cases For and Against Trading Evan Turner

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The Philadelphia 76ers
trading Evan Turner this season, regardless of return, will be something
I personally consider unforgivable. However, I acknowledge this is an
emotional and highly irrational reaction of mine, based on the emotional
investment I've made in following the highs and lows—more lows than
highs, if we're being honest—of his career up until this point. Trading
him at this point for me would be like trading an occasionally
irritating family member for Thanksgiving and holiday celebrations—even
if there's a chance it could make the group better, it's just not
something you even consider.

That said, GM Tony DiLeo's relationship with Evan Turner is probably
less of an emotional one and if he thinks it makes cold hard business
sense to see what type of return Evan Turner could fetch on the open
market, it's hard to really fault him for doing so. And I'm not gonna
act like Evan Turner should be untouchable from a basketball
standpoint—there's no doubt that he's failed to live up to his #2
overall pick status thusfar in his career (though considering none of
the other five #2 picks taken since Kevin Durant have been all that good
thusfar either, maybe it's on us for having unreasonable expectations),
and if they don't trade him, the Sixers are gonna have to make some
tough decisions about his future in the years to come.

So in the interest of fairness and objectivity, I've decided to
present both sides of the case when it comes to the prospect of trading
away the Extraterrestrial. My mind won't be swayed on this one, but
check out the two sides of the argument and let me know if you think it
might actually be a good time to send him on his way.

THE CASE FOR TRADING EVAN TURNER:

1. He's still extremely inefficient as a scorer.
Evan is averaging a career-high 13.7 points a game this season, on 43%
shooting, both of which are acceptable numbers considering Evan's
position on the floor and on this team. But if you look a level or two
deeper, the inefficiencies in his scoring become pretty glaring. 82
Games points out
that an absolutely ridiculous 81% percent of Turner's shots come on
jumpers, far too many for a small forward. But the reason for that may
be that Evan still hasn't learned how to be productive driving towards
the basket—Zach Lowe of Grantland notes that the Sixers average less than a point per possession when ET drives, the second-worst such number among tracked players.

And, of course, like pretty much everyone on the Sixers, Evan
doesn't get to the free-throw line. His per-36-minutes average of 2.5
FTAs is pretty well in line with the rate of his first two seasons,
showing a lack of improvement in that are—and he's gotten worse as the
season's gone on, shooting just six FTs over his last five games, with
two of those coming on Saturday when the Bobcats were intentionally
fouling in the final minute. Once at the line, he's shooting just under
75%—not terrible, and better than his 68% last year, but not such a
fantastic percentage that it helps compensate for how rarely he gets to
the line. For some perspective, Thunder forward Kevin Durant has made 91
free throws over his last ten games. Evan Turner has made 92 free
throws all season.

Consequently, advanced stats are consistently down on the
Extraterrestrial for his inefficiency. His PER of 13.0 this season is a
career high, but still below-average for the league, and according to
Offensive Win Shares, Evan's offensive production has actually cost the
Sixers a tenth of a win this season. On a team that already struggles to
score, it's easy to understand why Evan's inability to put up easy
points around the rim and at the free-throw line could be seen as a big
hindrance to this team moving forward.

2. When he slumps, there might not be five more self-destructive players in the league.
Following Evan Turner over an entire season is an exceedingly
nerve-wracking proposition, because you never know when his production
might fall off a cliff—and once he's in the tank, it might be a whole
month or even longer before he gets out. From December 19th to January
18th, he averaged just over ten points a game on 40% shooting, 28% from
deep and just 60% from the free-throw line, where he got to less than
twice a game. And a handful of times a year, there'll be games where he
just gives you nothing, as he did against the Pacers last week where he
went 1-10 for two points, seemingly pulling the entire team into his
vortex of suck.

Is it a confidence thing with Evan? It certainly seems like it—there
are nights where he misses his first couple jumpers and you just know
he'll be lucky to get even two more to go for the rest of the game, and
then there are nights when he starts off hitting a couple easy ones,
grabbing a couple boards, and can feel him taking off into flight,
suddenly untouchable. But for a guy whose gonna be looked on to be the
team's most reliable perimeter scorer and shooter, it's really hard to
write off those slumps when they're so, so hard for the rest of the team
to overcome.

3. He does a lot of little things that make it seem like he might be frustrating to coach or play with. Undoubtedly
it's tough for someone like Evan, a one-time NCAA Player of the Year
and #2 overall pick, to accept the idea of being a role player (or at
they very least, not a star player) on a team that could really use
star-type production. But he sometimes plays with the entitlement of a
star, whether he's standing in the corner with his hand up, pleading for
the ball even though he's probably not the play's best option, or when
he lingers back in transition, not sprinting up to finish because he
expects to be the one to bring up the ball in the first place, despite
the team already having a couple other pretty good ball-handlers.

That's not all of it. He also defaults to takeover mode a little too
quickly, going multiple possessions in a row dominating the ball even
when he's not hitting on his jumper and can't get to the rack on his
own, and he gets eye-rolly and lazes back on defense with the refs when
they don't bail him out (which they pretty much never do, though I'd
argue he deserves more calls than the gets). And his thirst for
defensive rebounds, both because they help pad his stat lines and
because they allow him an easy opportunity to initiate the offense on
the other end, occasionally results in him leaving his man too early on
defense, and at least a couple times a season, causes the Sixers to lose
an easy board out of bounds because he's battling for it with one of
our big men and neither player ends up getting it.

Evan certainly wouldn't be the only player guilty of doing any one
(or every one, for that matter) of these things, but when you're Carmelo
Anthony putting up 29 a game with a PER of 24 on a playoff-bound team,
it's obviously a lot more forgivable than when Evan does them. Partly as
a result of all this, his relationship with coach Doug Collins has been
notoriously up-and-down, and it wouldn't be shocking if Collins OK'd
his dismissal in favor of a more reliable, lower maintenance player.

4. He might cost more money than he's worth pretty soon. Next
year is Evan's last under his rookie contract, meaning that if the
Sixers want to keep him past then, they'll either have to get him to
agree to an extension before November or risk having to match whatever
contract he can land on the open market when he becomes a restricted
free agent in Summer 2014. It's hard to know exactly what a player as
up-and-down as Evan might be worth in free agency, but his people could
point to the 4-year, nearly 40-mil extension inked by the Raptors' DeMar
DeRozan—another inefficient wing scorer, and one without Evan's
impressive assist/rebound numbers—at the beginning of the season as
proof that ET is worth eight figures a year.

Would the Sixers agree with that? Again, hard to say, especially
since a lot of it probably depends on how Turner would finish the year
for the Ballers. But considering the money they already have wrapped up
in Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young (about $20 mil a year between the
two), and considering that if we want to keep Andrew Bynum after this
year, he might cost as much as $20 mil a season on his own, to also add a
$10-mil-a-year commitment to Evan would basically be committing to
those four guys as our team core, with only bit players to fill in
around them. If they think the player Evan is now is they player he's
always going to be, the team might not feel comfortable making that
commitment, and it'd be hard to blame DiLeo and company for their
hesitance.

THE CASE AGAINST TRADING EVAN TURNER:

1. Slowly but surely, he is improving as a basketball player.
His per 36 averages in scoring (13.6) and assisting (4.5) are both
career highs, as is (as previously mentioned) his PER (13.0), all three
getting better from his first year to his second to his third. He's also
gotten astronomically better from beyond the arc, converting at a 39%
rate from deep this year and already hitting more total threes (36) than
he did in his first two seasons combined (25). His turnover rate has
also increased, but only slightly (from 2.2 per 36 last year to 2.4 this
year), showing that his increased prolificity as a playmaker hasn't
come at any great expense to his team.

Of course, these improvements have been subtle, and not nearly as
fast-developing as Sixer fans would probably like. But they are real
improvements, and show that as flawed as Turner still is as a scorer and
basketball player, there's still plenty of room for the 24-year-old
third-year player to get better, and you'd hate to see him continue to
make those advancements while wearing another team's jersey.

2. When he's on a hot streak, he looks like an All-Star. The
flipside to Evan's incredible streakiness, in which he can go weeks
(even months) without looking like a legit NBA player, is that when he's
on, there are few players in the league that can match his
productivity. From November 18th to December 18th—the month directly
preceding the month-long slump I cited in the Case For—Evan averaged
18.2 a game on 46.7% shooting (and 47.4% shooting from deep), drawing
three FTs a game and converting 81% of them. Those numbers, taken along
with his rebounding and assisting (and just 2.2 turnovers) over that
stretch, would easily put Evan into All-Star consideration if he
averaged them for a whole season.

Of course, averaging those numbers for a month is a lot easier than
doing so for a whole season, and Evan is still pretty far from proving
that he can do the latter. But the fact that he can do it for
stretches—and a month is a long-enough stretch that it can't be written
off as a regression-corrected fluke, I don't think—means that at least
the potential is there for him to do it for a whole season. And
generally, when you get a young player that holds that kind of
potential, you hang on to them for as long as you possibly can, before
the situation becomes completely untenable.

3. As much as his scoring comes and goes, the rest of his production remains pretty consistent.
Whether you're looking at one of his month-long stretches of scoring
excellence or total incompetence, Evan's other numbers have stayed
pretty consistent. (Over his best scoring month of the season, he
averaged 6.8 boards and 4.6 assists, over the worst, 5.8 boards and 4.6
assists.) Even on his worst scoring nights of the season—the two-pointer
against Indiana, the one-pointer (!) against Memphis—he grabbed a
combined 15 rebounds and handed out a combined 13 assists, allowing his
on-court presence to not be a complete negative. Throw in a steal a game
and solid on-ball defense, and ET almost always finds a way to
contribute on any given night.

And really, when taken in his entirety, there aren't a lot of
players in the league who can match ET for box-score stuffing. The list
of players averaging a 13/6/4 this season is not a long one—the only
others to do it are Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Paul Pierce and Josh
Smith. Obviously, all those other guys are much more consistent and
efficient with their scoring than Evan, but it shows how rarefied the
Extraterrestrial's level of all-around production is. It's gonna be hard
to replace all of that in one trade.

4. For at least one more season, we've got Evan pretty cheap.
Though he has a potentially big payday coming up in Summer 2014, for
the next season, the last year of Evan's rookie contract only costs us
$6.7 million. That's still pretty good for a young starter, and after
that, the Sixers can either ink him to an extension both sides find
reasonable, or dare him to find better on the open market. The Sixers
still hold most of the power in the situation, so there's no real
urgency for them to deal him at this point, unless they get a return so
incredible as to make the deal a no-brainer.

That of course begs the question—what could we even get for Evan
Turner in a trade at this point? Nobody, possibly not even Tony DiLeo,
has a good answer to that at this point, but it seems like like the
Sixers could go one of two directions with him—either using him as the
primary asset in a deal for a more expensive but more reliable veteran,
or unloading him along with one or two of the team's mid-level guys
(Young, Hawes, J-Rich) for an expiring contract and a draft pick. The
former won't allow us the financial flexibility keeping Evan for another
season would, and the latter probably wouldn't replace his production
for at least another season or two. It's always tough to get fair return
for your player when you're the motivated seller, and the Sixers likely
won't be an exception here.

5. We still don't know what he'll be able to do with Andrew Bynum on the floor.
All emotion aside, this to me is the real reason why you don't trade
Evan Turner this season. Yes, we don't know when (or if) Andrew Bynum
will be back this season, but as we've been saying here on the Level all
season, if there's ANY chance he can come back healthy and productive,
you have to stay the course and continue to plan the team around him.
And as improved as Evan has been this season (in his good stretches,
anyway), he could be even better with Bynum around to play a two-man
game with and to give him extra space on his jumper.

And maybe not—maybe with Bynum clogging the middle, Turner's
rebounding rate plummets and his drives to the basket (along with his
free throw attempts) go from rare to non-existent. But you just don't
know, and you'd hate to see the Sixers give up on this team's
Bynum-Jrue-Thad-ET core—which, with everyone playing at a high level, I
do believe could be the core of a very, very good team going
forward—without ever even giving it a chance. Unless, of course, the
Sixers (again) know something about Bynum that we don't, in which case
none of this really matters anyway, and we should all jump on the Denver
Nuggets bandwagon before it's too late.

Roman Lyubimov getting comfortable, impressing with hard, heavy style

Roman Lyubimov getting comfortable, impressing with hard, heavy style

Ron Hextall said when Flyers training camp began there were spots to be won and spots to be taken from others.

Even though it’s still early in camp, it seems fairly clear Russian forward Roman Lyubimov is going to steal someone’s job among the bottom-six forwards.

He’s been the right wing on Boyd Gordon’s line in camp with Chris VandeVelde on the left side. 

That fourth line worked again Tuesday night as the Flyers opened their home preseason schedule with a 4-0 win over the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center.

The 6-2, 207-pound Lyubimov plays a heavy game. He is tenacious in one-on-one battles and, perhaps more importantly, jumps on loose pucks after faceoffs as demonstrated during the 2-0 loss in New Jersey on Monday.

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol took notice.

“It’s a nice trait for a player to have automatically and it’s an important trait,” Hakstol said.

“His competitiveness and his battle level on 50-50 pucks, things like that, hasn’t changed from Day 1.”

After spending six years in the KHL, it appears Lyubimov has found a home here. He’s already making a nice adjustment to the smaller rink, too.

“Last couple of years, playing for the Red Army team, there were some pretty physical games,” he said, via translator Slava Kouznetsov. “I think it was pretty close to NHL games. I just have to adapt to the smaller ice.”

He logged 3:55 ice time on the penalty kill against the Devils — second only to rookie defensive prospect Ivan Provorov — and Hakstol has his sights set on using him in that capacity if he makes the final cut.

While playing for the Russian Army, Lyubimov was used in a shutdown role and on the PK with little power-play time.

“I was more defense-oriented,” he said. “If you don’t let the [opponent] score on you, it’s easier to win games. Here, I’ll see what the coaches want me to do. I watched a lot of NHL games. One of my criteria was to be good at the penalty kill.”

The only hard question Hakstol has to answer is Lyubimov’s adjustment to the smaller rink.

“I think he is still working through that but he is game for it,” Hakstol said. “He doesn’t look for open ice in terms of shying away from traffic areas. He is battling in those high traffic areas.”

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare made the adjustment quickly, coming over from France. Michael Raffl played a couple games with the Phantoms after coming over from Austria.

It’s possible the Flyers could start Lyubimov with the Phantoms and then call him up.

“He plays a small-ice type of game,” Hextall said of Lyubimov. “He goes hard to the net, he’s good on the wall, does all those little things. Space I don’t think will affect him as much as other guys.”

He had a prime scoring chance in Tuesday’s game against the Islanders, chasing down a puck behind the net and getting a wraparound that was blocked at the post by defenseman Kyle Burroughs.

Lyubimov finished with 12:07 of ice time and two shots.

His best shot to make the cut is to take away VandeVelde's spot on the fourth line (see story). Once Bellemare returns from the World Cup of Hockey, someone has to go. Another factor here is whether the club carries 23 players instead of 22.

Lyubimov said what impressed him about the Flyers was how players are treated here, on and especially off the ice.

That was always something former Flyers loved about their late owner Ed Snider. He treated them as family, not employees.

“There is a difference,” Lyubimov said. “Everything here is comfortable and done for the players. Here I live five minutes from the rink. In Moscow, it’s 45 minutes. Everything works for me here.”

So much so, Lyubimov is bringing his wife, Katrina, and their 1-year-old daughter Alexa, over this fall to live here even though he has just a one-year deal worth $925,000.

“I want to stay here more than a year,” he said. “I will do whatever I have to do. This is the place I wanted to come.”

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- Nerlens Noel’s recent comments on the logjam of big men on the Sixers' roster did not come as news to head coach Brett Brown. While Noel had not been this publicly outspoken on the issue, he and Brown have been having open discussions about it. 

“I have been talking to Nerlens a lot and I have a fondness for him,” Brown said Tuesday on the first day of training camp. “I don’t begrudge Nerlens Noel at all for what he said. I don’t have any problems with it.”

The Sixers' crowded frontcourt this season is a continuation of last season’s conundrum in which Brown was tasked with playing Noel and Jahlil Okafor, two natural centers, together. The depth has increased with the return of Joel Embiid and additions of Dario Saric and Ben Simmons. 

So when Noel doubled down on Monday by saying, "I don't see a way it can work,” Brown recognized where the center's opinions were coming from as he enters his fourth season in the NBA. 

“I feel if we do anything well, we communicate with our players freely,” Brown said. “It is one hundred percent transparent – hard conversations ahead, easy conversations ahead. I have spoken with Nerlens about this a lot. 

“My messaging and my mood and attitude and things that come out of my mouth haven’t changed once. I feel very confident that I’m giving him the advice that he should hear from me and it still allows me to do my job. 

“We have talked about it freely, like I have talked about it with Jahlil and Joel. Those situations are part of pro sports. They’re ever-present with me and us right now.”

Noel has been a rare mainstay among a revolving door of players over the past three years. He is in a unique situation with Brown in that the two have experienced a long list of the team’s ups and downs together. Noel feels comfortable talking honestly with Brown about his viewpoints. 

“I’ve known Brett probably longer than most guys here and we’ve built a different type of relationship,” Noel said. “It’s been very front and forward and we talk and we keep it real. That’s what he’s been doing with me and that’s why I’m able to continue to talk to him about myself and him just telling me what position I’ll be in – he’ll try to put me in – to succeed.”

With Brown having an understanding of Noel, his focus is on what Noel can bring to the team this season. He believes Noel has an edge over Embiid and Okafor for minutes early on because Noel the only one of the trio starting camp without restrictions from previous injuries. 

There is a tough competition for playing time among the bigs, and camp is about proving oneself through basketball, not through personal opinions. Brown was impressed on the first day of camp by the manner in which Noel approached the morning practice amid the comments.

“He has handled it with me and in the training session today like a pro,” Brown said. “He came to mean it. He didn’t back down at all. There was no moping or sulking or him being stubborn. He played. That’s what he has to do. I think that’s a real reflection of anybody of how you handle adversity. Today he handled it like a true pro and a true competitor.”