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.

Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

The Eagles released Rueben Randle and Chris Givens on Sunday, ending the brief and disappointing Eagles careers of both veteran wide receivers.

The two receivers were among eight players released by the team on Sunday evening.

Randle caught five passes for 26 yards in the preseason and Givens caught one for 19 yards.

The Eagles tried to bolster their receiver corps by adding the two receivers this offseason, signing Randle to a one-year, $1,025,000 contract and Givens to a one-year $760,000 deal.

Randle got $500,000 guaranteed and Givens $180,000 guaranteed, so the two moves will count $680,000 against the Eagles’ 2016 adjusted salary cap of $161,570,362.

The moves leave the Eagles with eight wide receivers: Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, Josh Huff, Paul Turner, Marcus Johnson, Cayleb Jones and David Watford.

Barring any other personnel moves, Matthews, Agholor, Green-Beckham, Huff and Turner appear headed for the final 53-man roster.

Randle’s decline is fairly astonishing.

Two years ago with the Giants, he caught 71 passes for 938 yards, and last year he caught 57 passes for 797 yards and eight touchdowns. He had four catches of 40 yards or more in 2015, fourth-most in the NFL. In four seasons in New York, he caught 188 passes for 2,644 yards and 20 TDs.

Yet the Giants had no interest in re-signing him. Now the former second-round pick’s career is in jeopardy at the age of 25.

Givens, a fourth-round pick of the Rams in 2012, was with his third team in two years this summer. His once-promising career could be over at the age of 26.

Most notable among the six other players released was offensive tackle Andrew Gardner, who started 11 games in an Eagles uniform.

Gardner, who had also spent time with the Dolphins and Texans, started eight games at right guard and right tackle for the Eagles in 2014 and was the Eagles’ opening-day starter last year at right guard. He suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot during a Week 3 game against the Jets at the Meadowlands and missed the rest of the season.

Also released was a member of last year’s draft class, sixth-round pick Randall Evans out of Kansas State. Evans spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad but was activated for the Pat Shurmur season finale against the Giants at the Meadowlands and got into the game on special teams.

The Eagles also released veteran defensive tackle Mike Martin, who played in 46 games for the Titans the last four years, including five starts. Also released were long snapper John DePalma and cornerback Denzel Rice, the latter of who played in five games last year and got 20 defensive snaps in the season finale against the Giants last year.

The Eagles also placed linebacker Joe Walker (knee) and defensive end Alex McCalister (calf), two rookie seventh-round picks, on season-ending Injured Reserve.

Teams have until Tuesday to reduce rosters to 75. The Eagles’ roster is currently at 73, and they have to reduce it to 53 by 4 p.m. next Sunday.

The Eagles finish the preseason on Thursday night at the Linc against the Jets.

Best of MLB: Josh Donaldson mashes 3 home runs to lead Blue Jays past Twins

Best of MLB: Josh Donaldson mashes 3 home runs to lead Blue Jays past Twins

TORONTO -- Josh Donaldson had his first career three-homer game, Troy Tulowitzki also went deep and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Minnesota Twins 9-6 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Donaldson hit a solo homer off Kyle Gibson in the second, then delivered a go-ahead, two-run blast off Pat Light (0-1) in the seventh.

Dozens of fans tossed hats onto the field to celebrate the home run hat trick after Donaldson, the AL MVP in 2015, hit a solo shot off Alex Wimmers in the eighth. Groundskeepers and even the Blue Jays mascot helped clear the hats away.

Donaldson's fourth multi-homer game this season and the 10th of his career also marked the 17th three-homer game in the majors this season.

Jose Bautista had his first three-hit game of the season for the AL East-leading Blue Jays.

Minnesota lost its season-worst 10th straight. The Twins have lost seven straight in Toronto.

Scott Feldman (7-4) earned the win by getting two outs in the seventh. Jason Grilli worked the eighth and Roberto Osuna finished (see full recap). 

Pirates win 8th straight on road, sweep Brewers 3-1
MILWAUKEE -- Ivan Nova threw six sharp innings before leaving early because of a hurting left hamstring and the Pittsburgh Pirates hit three solo homers to rally past the Milwaukee Brewers 3-1 on Sunday for their eighth straight road victory.

John Jaso and Gregory Polanco each homered in the sixth off Brewers starter Chase Anderson (7-11) to complete Pittsburgh's first sweep at Miller Park since 2004. Starling Marte added a solo shot in the eighth.

Nova (4-0) retired 10 of his final 11 batters after allowing Jonathan Villar's solo homer in the third. He scattered three hits and struck out four before being pinch hit for in the seventh.

Tony Watson pitched a clean ninth for his 10th save in 13 opportunities (see full recap).

Archer strikes out 10, Rays hit 3 HRs in 10-4 win vs Astros
HOUSTON -- Chris Archer struck out 10 in seven innings, Corey Dickerson hit a three-run homer and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Houston Astros 10-4 on Sunday.

Matt Duffy and Nick Franklin also went deep for the last-place Rays, who have homered in 21 of their last 24 games.

Houston, in the hunt for an AL wild card, had won three straight.

Archer (8-17) gave up three runs and four hits with two walks. With his strikeout of A.J. Reed in the sixth, the right-hander joined David Price and James Shields as the only Tampa Bay pitchers with multiple 200-strikeout seasons.

The Rays jumped out early against Doug Fister.

Fister (12-9) allowed four runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings, the fourth time in his past seven starts he has permitted four or more runs (see full recap). 

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- A.J. Ellis’ first game as a Phillie certainly went a lot better than Carlos Ruiz’s first game as a Dodger.

Ellis’ first hit with his new club helped the Phils salvage one game of a weekend series with the New York Mets on Sunday afternoon. The Phillies won it, 5-1 (see Instant Replay), behind a solid start from Vince Velasquez, excellent bullpen work and Ellis’ big hit, a tie-breaking, two-run double in the top of the seventh.

The Phillies had lost the first two games of the series by a combined score of 21-5. Their pitchers gave up eight homers in the first two games.

On Sunday, Velasquez and a quartet of relievers held the Mets to seven hits, all singles.

Ellis joined the Phillies just 24 hours earlier after being traded from the Dodgers on Thursday. He had been with that club his whole career.

Ruiz, of course, had been with the Phillies his whole career.

Ruiz’s first game with the Dodgers did not go nearly as smooth. The veteran catcher had trouble handling the pitches of closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning Friday night and that contributed to the Dodgers blowing a one-run lead and losing to the Chicago Cubs in 10 innings.

Leaving the Dodgers was difficult and emotional for Ellis. He was able to bury himself in the game Sunday and came away feeling pretty good.

“It’s just great to be playing baseball again,” he said, standing in front of his locker, a blue Dodgers equipment bag (that will soon be swapped out for a Phillies bag) at his feet. “You kind of lose yourself in the competition and then just play again.

“Regardless of what’s happened in the last four days, it feels good to drive in runs, feels good to help put your team ahead and help contribute to a team win.”

During his 24 or so hours with the Phillies, Ellis has immersed himself in learning a new staff of pitchers. He caught starters Jerad Eickhoff and Jake Thompson in the bullpen before Saturday’s game and warmed up several relievers during that game.

On Sunday morning, he arrived at Citi Field, saw his name in the lineup and immediately began prepping to catch Velasquez, the hardest-thrower on the Phillies’ starting staff.

Velasquez bounced back from three poor outings in which he gave up 19 runs in 17 1/3 innings and held a hot Mets lineup to a run over five innings. The only negative was that Velasquez could not pitch deeper into the game because his command was poor and needed 103 pitches to complete the five innings.

Nonetheless, Ellis, who was the personal catcher for Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles, liked what he saw of Velasquez.

“His pitch count got elevated the first two innings and he was able to grind through the last three,” Ellis said. “The stuff is electric. He has so many weapons, so many options. When he keeps growing and keeps polishing that gift up, it’s going to be really, really special.

“So I’m excited to be able to continue to work with him, excited to work with him and (pitching coach) Bob McClure and (No. 1 catcher) Cameron Rupp, kind of talk to them about things, things he sees, things we see, and together we can build a plan for him going forward in his career.”

Two things are going to help the 24-year-old Velasquez reach his potential.

First is good health. He’s had arm problems in the past and there remain concerns about his long-term durability. That’s why the Phillies are closely monitoring his workload as this season winds down.

Second is command, control, economy of pitches – whatever you want to call it. Velasquez needs to be more efficient. Too many times he’s left games in the middle innings because of a high pitch count.

“Definitely,” he responded when asked if lowering his pitch counts and working deeper into games was the key to his improvement. “It’s going to help the longevity, it saves the bullpen, it helps out everybody. Not just on my end, but the whole team in general.

“And,” he joked, “then I can also work on my swing by getting some more at-bats.”

Despite the high pitch count, Velasquez walked just one. He struck out seven. He is up to 129 innings for the season. That includes five innings in a rehab game at Double A Reading. The Phillies will look to keep him at about 150 innings for the season. That could be three, four or five more starts, depending on how long the right-hander lasts. He’s averaged just over five innings in his starts this season.

“I think that would be the right move,” Velasquez said of the 150-inning target.