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.

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 in a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, the 2015 first-round pick deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front on 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 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 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.