Regarding Evan: A Chat With Michael Levin About the Sixers' Enigmatic New Starter

Regarding Evan: A Chat With Michael Levin About the Sixers' Enigmatic New Starter

With second-year two-guard and recent starting-lineup fixture
Evan Turner's play in the last three games scintillating Sixers fans and
suddenly changing perspective on the entire season, I had no choice but
to turn to our old friend, Michael Levin of Liberty Ballers, to help us
make sense of the madness. We talked a whole lotta Extraterrestrial, as
well as some trade deadline stuff, and where the team goes from here.
Check it out, and as always, head over to LBs for some fantastic daily Sixer discussion.

Andrew: So with the possible exception of my roommate, I think
you're the only person I know as emotionally invested in the success of
Evan Turner as I am. Personally speaking, how happy have the last three
games made you?
 
Michael Levin, Liberty Ballers: Oh man. It's been a dream.
I've been watching most of the games at work due to the time difference,
so there have been many a fistpump at my desk that caught a few odd
looks from the coworkers. I'm just thrilled for him. Like, more than I
am for the Sixers, I'm happy for him.
 
Yeah, same.
 
I don't think I've ever wanted anyone to
succeed more than Turner at a professional level. And for him to
finally put it together, REALLY put it together, excites the s--- out of
me.

Were you surprised when you first heard he had been moved to the starting lineup? What do you think motivated the move?

It did seem kind of sudden. We got the Eskin tweet
about him starting and it was like, OK this could happen, and then it
was just over. They couldn't take him out of the starting lineup if both
his legs got cut off.

I haven't been Doug's biggest fan lately, but I totally agree with
what he said about prompting the move. The Sixers were doing really well
for a while with Jodie. If the goal is to win games (which it was for
the organization) then why mess with what's working? When it stopped
going so well, he made a change. Simple as that.

Still, it seemed like Turner had been in Collins' doghouse for a
while, and perhaps most of all the few games before the move. Don't buy
into the notion that maybe ownership muscled Collins into playing their
No.2 pick more?

I'm sure that was certainly a consideration. Ownership and Rod
Thorn probably had some - "let's see what he can give us" prompting for
Doug. But I don't think it was all them, same as I don't think it was
all Doug. He does what's best for the team to win games now. I have
problems with that on occasion, but I don't think it was a vendetta
against Turner that was keeping him out of games. Evan just wasn't
playing that well.

What were your thoughts after his first start, the 1-12 game in Milwaukee?

Haha,
well that wasn't exactly ideal. But he was rebounding, as he always
had, and that's a seriously tangible skill. Rebounds are good. We like
them. So even if he's missing from the field, he's valuable in that
regard. Maybe not that valuable if he's 1-12 every night, but there's
more to his game than just scoring, which is why I think he'll be a
fairly complete player even without a reliable outside shot. Though the
shot has been beautiful in the last three.

What's impressed you more in Evan's three games since, the scoring or the rebounding?

Scoring.
I mean, we knew he could rebound. Before those three games, he was
still the best wing rebounder in the league. Now he's just lengthened
his lead. He's better at finishing and absorbing contact than he had
been during his pro career thus far, and the last three games he's shown
an array of moves to get to the basket and get fouled while putting up
shots that have a chance to go in. I think he's had 3-4 And-1's during
the recent stretch. That's so valuable for a team that has a lot of
trouble getting to the line.

It seems like he's sort of a rhythm scorer, too. Is it possible
that just getting off the bench had been the answer for Evan all along,
that he couldn't really do what he does best in limited bench minutes?

Yeah, he's not good in spurts. We saw that for 1.5 years. He
needs to get in rhythm, find out how to exploit the defense, and
dominate the ball. I think he'll continue to get better off-the-ball the
longer he's in, but right now, he's most effective handling himself and
occasionally using his teammates. The double teams that will eventually
come are going to help him rack up assists also.

That swoop-and-pull crossover move that gets him space for a
fadeaway jumper—could you see that being a trademark move for ET in the
years to come?

I hope not. I'm not a huge fan of that move,
unless he starts faking that way and drives past his over-committing
man. He's never going to be a great jumpshooter and I'd rather he not
rely so heavily on an off-balance shot for getting his points.
 
The jumper has looked better in recent games, though.
 
It's
been gorgeous. Fading away off the dribble just isn't effective over a
long period of time. He may make a few now, but that's not a repeatably
good shot.

Let's talk about the rebounding for a minute. I remember when
Turner was on draft boards, the one risk people mentioned with him was
that despite his all-around game, he lacked that one defining elite
skill that was guaranteed to translate to the pros. Is rebounding that
one defining elite skill for Evan?

Yeah, I mean rebounding translates. That's maybe the only thing
in the world that NBA people agree upon. And he's been awesome his whole
career at getting rebounds. Sometimes he's steals those rebounds from
his teammates, but I, uh, don't really mind that at all. But at the same
time, Evan is such a unique player. He can't really be categorized
because he's so unique. He's got some old school craftiness to him that
makes up for his lack of elite athleticism.

I don't think he'll ever be one of the 10 best players in the
league, but his understanding of the game and overall well-roundedness
that makes him so difficult to defend will propel him to some pretty
special places.

Despite worries that that well-roundedness would make too much of
an overlap with Andre Iguodala, it seems like he and 'Dre have found a
nice chemistry on the court as co-starters thusfar. Do you expect that
continue, or do you harbor any worries about the team's two flex players
being redundant?

They're definitely redundant. There's no question that they
share much of the same skills. But Andre's jumper has been bafflingly,
happily, absolutely lethal this year and that helps them co-exist. You
could certainly find a few more perfect pairings than Dre/ET but they're
both talented enough to make it work. I think even more awesome plays
are still to come.

So Jrue/Evan/Dre from here on out, then? Can it work out in the long-term?

JTI
is definitely the future. Barring something completely unforeseen,
that's your starting 1/2/3 for the next 3 years. The rest of the time
will be spent trying to find a 4/5 that compliments them. A stretch four
would be beautiful and a defensive-minded center that can score inside
wouldn't hurt either. Basically, Ryan Anderson and Dwight Howard. I'll
call Orlando.
 
I think with something similar, they're a championship contender in 2 years.

So
you think the success that Evan (and by extension, the Sixers w/ ET in
the starting lineup) has had is sustainable? This isn't just a fluke
that'll come down in hard regression soon enough?

I don't think I'm ready to book tickets to his Hall of Fame
induction but I think he's where he needs to be. He's being set up in
the situation that's best for his skills and is surrounded by guys that
are just as talented as he is. There will be off-shooting nights but the
things he does well, he will continue to do well - that's good enough
to keep him in our good graces.

Are you worried at all about his mental state moving forward as
the spotlight continues to shine brighter on him? Mystery problems
reported by Stan Hochman and stories about their days as Ohio State
teammate from Mark Titus' recent book don't exactly paint Turner as the
most stable of NBA dudes.

I'm extremely unworried. He's been in the spotlight at OSU and
shined and faced a ton of adversity as a Sixer already. He's bouncing
back nicely and I don't think any talk from a 143 year old reporter or
an annoying blogger teammate should worry anyone. He's still a kid,
there's obviously people that don't like him and people he doesn't like.
I'm concerned with basketball. He's not DeMarcus Cousins. He's a good
guy and, by all accounts lately, a good teammate.

It seems like the rest of the guys are pumped about his recent success.
 
Yeah you can tell they're rooting for him also. Except maybe Meeks, and even he's saying all the right things.

Speaking
of Meeks, is this the last we see of him? Collins had success with a
shorter rotation against the Knicks, is that something we see more of as
the season advances?

He went shorter rotation because he could - they had a rare few
days off between games and he could afford to run his main guys for
longer. It's still the lockout-shortened season so tired legs are a
concern. I can see Lavoy getting pushed out of the rotation but
Vuce/Lou/Meeks/Thad are going to be the 4 off the bench for significant
time each game once Hawes gets back.

Assuming we do get a healthy Hawes back—with Spence's return and
Evan's ascent, does this change our post-season prospects at all, do you
think? Or are you still saying four seed, first-round win and
second-round bust?

I'm a little more optimistic than I was last time we spoke, but I
think that's because the Evan Turner shine hasn't worn off yet.
Presuming Hawes can be a serviceable player the rest of the year, they
could hang with a 2nd round team depending on matchup. I don't think
they can beat Miami, but anyone else is possible. If it's Chicago, I
could see them going to 7 games and getting lucky. Turner's the
X-factor. Nobody knows how could he's going to be. The past three games,
he's been phenomenal. If that continues, there's no telling where this
team can go.

Safely though, I'll stick with a first round win and a second round
loss. But with the Turner improvements, that's a good sign for next
season and bringing in some extremely useful parts in the offseason.
 
So with the trade deadline tomorrow—we don't expect the team to do anything, right?

I
feel like I'm always disappointed with the team when I'm hoping they
make a move but there's still some possibilities running around in my
head. Noce's expiring, Speights' trade exception, and a few 2nd round
picks make me hoping for a minor move or two. Some people are hoping for
a Lou Williams trade, but I can't imagine them dealing him even though
he'll likely opt out this offseason. I'd put it at a 50% chance of them
making a small move.

Any dream scenarios? Not including Dwight Howard, natch.
 
Without
looking, something like Lou/Noce/1st for Favors or Kanter. That would
assume that Utah loves Lou (they probably don't) and have the money to
re-sign him. I can't imagine the Jazz don't want to move one of their 4
talented big men for a point guard and while I don't feel like Lou is a
point guard, perchance Utah does. This was a dream scenario, so it
doesn't have to have a basis in reality!

As an avowed coveter of high-upside big men, even those who come
at risk, were you a little jealous about the Warriors trading for Andrew
Bogut today? Especially when we didn't hear word one about the Sixers
getting in the mix for the Bucks' talented center?

Not really. I thought the injury risk was too high, actually,
and I've never been in love with Bogut. Strangely, this doesn't bother
me with Oden (I'd still gamble on him - I think I'm hopelessly in love),
but Bogut never struck me as a franchise cornerstone. Now a healthy
Bogut would be the best big on the Sixers and fit perfectly with JTI,
but it's been some time since he was healthy and I wouldn't want them to
give up the pieces it would take to bring Bogut in for an unhealthy
version of him.

Going back to Turner for one more question—why do you think it is
that writers/fans like you and I live and die with every one of his
jumpers? Is it just that we want him to meet the expectations of a No. 2
pick, or is it something about him personally?

For me it's both. The fact that he doesn't look or sound like
your stereotypical baller is endearing somehow and it didn't hurt that
the draft in which we picked Turner was the first draft I covered for
Liberty Ballers. Meeting him in the elevator on the way up to Media Day
pretty much cemented my love for him right then and there. And yes,
since we're pining for him to be the best player of all time, each
jumper that goes in feels like some sort of grand vindication for all
the slack he took from the people who jumped so quickly to their
conclusions about him.

Also, he tweets about dumb cable movies and has very informed opinions about Backstreet Boys vs. N Sync.
 
Michael: Which certainly helps him with the teenie bopper crowd.

Last Q: Any predictions for Pacers/Sixers tonight, either for the team or for Evan?
 
I'm thinking the Sixers, with two days off, will ride some
Turner momentum into a win, but Hawes' return and a pesky Indiana team
certainly aren't a cakewalk. I just don't think they're very good from
the eye test, but everything else says otherwise so I'm probably taking
them lightly. If they faced off against the Celtics, Magic, or Knicks in
the first round, I'd pick them to lose. I'm not a Pacers believer.
 
Another prediction: Evan Turner scores 53 points and delivers a baby on court.

One
more bonus Q I forgot to ask: If the Reign of Turner continues, have
you guys at LBs thought of any good "Linsanity"-style nicknames for it?
 
I've been trying! Here's some that I came up with [on Twitter] which will gain absolutely no steam:
 
#TurnermentTime #InTurnermentCamp #InturnermittentlyAwesome #Turrrrrrrrrneriffic #ChinkInTheTurner
 
#EVANscerated #EVANescance #EVANgelical #EVANquished #DarthEVANder #MassEVANffect and things like that.

There's a good one out there. We'll find it.
 
I'm on the case.

As Aaron Altherr's audition begins, Pete Mackanin says Cody Asche 'needs to step it up'

As Aaron Altherr's audition begins, Pete Mackanin says Cody Asche 'needs to step it up'

ATLANTA — Nearly four months late, Aaron Altherr is finally getting his shot to show the Phillies he deserves to be part of their future outfield plans.

Altherr, 25, was activated from the disabled list before Thursday night’s game against the Braves and was in the lineup, batting fifth (see story). Altherr will see a lot of playing time over the final two-plus months of the season. He’s essentially auditioning.

“We want to see him play as much as possible,” manager Pete Mackanin said before the game. “So if he stays healthy, I’m going to keep running him out there. That’s what this year is all about. We’re finding out about the guys that are here. He is a potentially important part so we want to see what he does. I’m anxious to see what he does.”

Altherr, a ninth-round draft pick in 2009, played in 39 games for the Phillies last season. He hit just .241, but 20 of his 33 hits were for extra bases and he had a .827 OPS. He was slated to be the team’s everyday rightfielder before suffering a wrist injury that required surgery early in spring training.

Altherr is healthy now and eager for his chance.

“I’m good to go mentally and physically,” he said Thursday afternoon. “I’m definitely excited to be back up.”

Altherr took Peter Bourjos' spot on the roster. Bourjos was placed on the disabled list with a sprained right shoulder two days after running into the outfield wall in Miami.

With Mackanin committed to giving Altherr playing time, it will be interesting to see how the skipper divides up playing time with the remaining outfielders, especially when Bourjos recovers. Bourjos was a trade candidate before his injury. He could still be moved in a waiver deal once he’s healthy in August. Tyler Goeddel, Cody Asche and Jimmy Paredes also play corner outfield spots and much heralded prospect Nick Williams is expected to be here at some point (see Future Phillies Report).

Asche is walking a tightrope. He entered Thursday night’s game mired in a 4-for-51 skid and Mackanin seems to be losing patience.

“As I said earlier in the season, this is a very big year for Cody to prove that he can be part of the future and he needs to step it up,” Mackanin said.

Jason Peters impressed by Doug Pederson, questions Chip Kelly

Jason Peters impressed by Doug Pederson, questions Chip Kelly

Heading into his 13th season, Jason Peters has experienced a lot during his exceptional NFL career. So when the eight-time Pro Bowler says head coach Doug Pederson is more respectful of veteran players than the previous regime under Chip Kelly, you take notice.

"I think so," Peters stated frankly on Thursday at training camp. "The last couple years, there wasn't a lot of vets, and any vet that stood up and had something to say, we got rid of him.

"Doug was a player here, he understands veteran players and he understands the game, so I think it's better."

Addressing the media for the first time since last season, Peters faced a series of questions about how Pederson differs from his unique predecessor. Schemes and philosophies were topics of discussion, as well, but perhaps the sharpest criticism levied by Peters was Kelly's lack of appreciation for what an NFL player goes through to be ready on Sunday.

"Any time you've got a coach who's been there, done that, he knows about the trenches and he knows about the two-a-days, it definitely helps with a veteran team as a whole," Peters said.

Peters admitted Kelly's practices took their toll on players. If that sounds like a familiar complaint, it's probably because former Eagles cornerback Cary Williams voiced a similar opinion in 2014. On Thursday, Peters echoed and expanded upon Williams' sentiments.

"The same practices that we did in training camp were the same spring practices, exactly the same, so it's pretty much we had training camp the whole offseason," Peters said. "Even OTAs were the same exact practice. It kind of wore us down."

Peters also maintained the unusual practice schedule during the regular season was no help, either.

Most teams practice Monday and take Tuesday off. Kelly did the opposite, so there was no real break leading up to gameday.

"We practiced on Tuesdays when Chip was here, and you felt it on Sundays," Peters said. "I did anyway."

Pederson has mentioned on several occasions the Eagles intend to do everything they can to keep Peters fresh and prepared for Sundays this season, which the 34-year-old says is "just being smart." One way that could manifest itself is an occasional day off during the week.

Although Peters' criticisms of Kelly weren't limited to the workload on veterans, the left tackle indicated the constant uptempo attack may not have done the offense many favors, either.

"If you run 100 times in a row, back to back to back, don't you think your 50th time you're going to be a little slower?" Peters asked. "But if you get a little bit of a rest, you're going to be a little bit faster.

"It's give and take. When you go back to the huddle and you get that wind, you're just a little stronger when you go back to the line, so I think it will help."

Peters added that the simplicity and predictability of Kelly's system became a problem, as well.

"I mean, this is the National Football League, and if the running back is to the left and you're running the zone read, where do you think the ball is going?" Peters asked rhetorically. "To the right.

"They caught up to us. We had some good years there back to back, then last year we had that down year. We just needed to change a little bit up, especially with [quarterback Sam Bradford] back there. They know he's not gonna run it, so it kind of put our hands behind our back."

While Peters believes the return to a more sophisticated, traditional NFL offense under Pederson — one that uses snap counts and chip blocks to help its offensive linemen — will be an enormous improvement for the Eagles.

Peters knows it's on the players to do a better job in 2016, too. At the same time, he feels as though the deck might've been just a little stacked against them.

"We can't really blame it on that, we're professionals," Peters said.

"[The coaches] call the play, and we execute it. But when the [opponents] know, and they're professionals too, and they know what the play is, it's tough."

Eagles camp Day 4 notes: Brandon Brooks out; starting O & D

Eagles camp Day 4 notes: Brandon Brooks out; starting O & D

As the Eagles kicked off their first full-squad practice in the bubble on Thursday afternoon, a big part of the offense was missing. 

Starting right guard Brandon Brooks was nowhere to be found. In his place, with the first-team offense, was veteran Stefen Wisniewski. 

Brooks, who signed a five-year, $40 million deal to join the Eagles this offseason, missed practice with a hamstring injury and is listed by the team as day-to-day. 

The only other player that missed practice is running back Ryan Mathews, who is on the Active/Non-football Injury list with an ankle injury he suffered while training last week. 

Offensive starters
Thursday’s light afternoon practice was what Andy Reid used to call a “10-10-10” practice. The term is back under Doug Pederson. Basically, it’s a light practice that goes continually through offense, defense and special teams. But it’s not very conducive for observations because of the format, which is meant to allow the offense or defense to look good. 

But we did get a chance to see the starting units. 

Here’s what the first-team offense (they came out in 11 personnel) looked like to start practice: 

QB: Sam Bradford
RB: Darren Sproles (Mathews was out)
TE: Zach Ertz
WR1: Nelson Agholor
WR2: Chris Givens
Slot: Jordan Matthews
LT: Jason Peters
LG: Allen Barbre
C: Jason Kelce
RG Stefen Wisniewski (Brooks was out)
RT: Lane Johnson

Notes: It’s worth noting that Matthews is still working in the slot way more than he is outside. And Givens, after a nice spring, got the nod to work outside with the first team.

Defensive starters
The defense first came onto the field in the nickel package, so we’ll start there: 

LDE: Vinny Curry
RDE: Connor Barwin
LDT: Fletcher Cox
RDT: Bennie Logan
LB: Jordan Hicks
LB: Mychal Kendricks
LCB: Leodis McKelvin
RCB: Nolan Carroll
Slot: Ron Brooks
S: Malcolm Jenkins
S: Rodney McLeod

Notes: We listed the defense in nickel, but when the Eagles were in base, Nigel Bradham was on the field as the strongside linebacker. The most important thing to note is that when the team was in base, Ron Brooks stayed on the field and moved outside. That’s what the team did most of the spring and it hasn’t changed yet. We’ll have to keep an eye on that. 

North Dakota’s hero
Earlier this week, there were several reporters and a TV crew from North Dakota to watch the progress of their hometown hero Carson Wentz. Wentz said it was cool to see some familiar media faces, especially because he knows how closely fans in his home state are still following his career. 

The rookie hasn’t been home much recently, so he wasn’t sure if the buzz has died down at all since the draft, but he suspects there are many more Eagles fans at home now. 

“I know now that football season is starting to kick up, it’s starting to heat up back home,” he said. “Everyone’s all interested in the Eagles, more than just the local teams around there. It’s pretty exciting. Exciting time for the state of North Dakota, for sure.” 

Odds and ends
• We’ll start with Wentz, who made a great toss on Thursday down the field about 40 yards to shifty wideout Paul Turner. Just a beautiful ball from the rookie. 

• Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Jalen Mills made another play. This time, he was able to get between the ball and Jordan Matthews near the right sideline. Perfect coverage. If he keeps this up once the pads go on Saturday, he’ll earn some playing time this season. 

• Jason Peters spoke for the first time this year after Thursday’s practice. We’ll have plenty on his thoughts and comments, but here’s what stuck out to me: He really didn’t like the way Chip Kelly did some things. He clearly didn’t like the tempo offense or Kelly’s management style. When asked, Peters agreed that Pederson’s staff is way more veteran player-friendly. 

“Any vet that stood up and had something to say, we got rid of him,” Peters said. Yikes. 

• Sproles, Agholor and Rueben Randle worked as the punt returners on Thursday. Obviously, Sproles is the guy, but this gives us an idea of the depth there. 

• Pads go on Saturday. 

• The first open practice (of two) is this Sunday at the Linc at 10 a.m. No tickets needed, just show up.