Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers Off-Season: #4. What the Hell Do We Do with Evan Turner?

Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers Off-Season: #4. What the Hell Do We Do with Evan Turner?

After enduring three years of absolutely vexing basketball from their former #2 overall pick, the Philadelphia 76ers are about to reach decision time with Evan Turner. The Extraterrestrial's rookie contract is in its final year next season, meaning that unless they ink him to an extension at some point before November, Turner will become a restricted free agent at season's end. The Sixers will then be able to match any offer sheet ET signs with another team, or have the right to let him walk to another team for nothing.

[10 Biggest Questions: 10. What are we now and where are we going? | 9. Is Thad Young untouchable? | 8. Is Spencer Hawes good enough for our starting Center? | 7. Are any of our mid-level FAs worth re-signing? | 6. What players are worth trading for? | 5. Free agent targets?]

If you've followed this blog with any regularity over Turner's three years, you'll know all about the mixed emotions we feel with any big decision regarding Evan. This decision--possibly the final one the 76ers make regarding their young wing--will be no different. There's nothing we here at the Level would like more than to see Evan turn the corner as a basketball player next season, prove that he can be an extremely valuable starter on a good NBA team, and be an important core player on the Sixers for years and years to come. The amount of personal investment I've put into Turner's success borders on the unhealthy, to have him part with the team at this point would be an extremely unsatisfying resolution.

But you probably don't need me to remind you at this point that Turner hasn't done much to encourage the team to show him any kind of long-term faith. If you look closely enough, you can find minor, gradual improvement in his numbers over the years--his three-point percentage, his assist rate, his scoring volume--but the bottom line is that in three seasons, Turner has still yet to display any efficiency as a scorer, shooting under 45% every season, never getting to the line even three times a game, and annually posting a PER lower than 13. According to the Offensive Win Shares stat, Evan continues to be an outright negative on that side of the ball, his usage rate far too high for a player who needs about 13 shots a game to score about 13 points a game.

As miserable as his scoring numbers are for a guy whose scoring is supposed to be one of his biggest assets, Evan does continue to provide value in other ways. He still finished second on the team last year in assists and third in rebounds, providing a versatility that, especially when combined with his career-best three-point shooting, allowed the Sixers to use him in different roles in different lineups and never lose that much in any one area in the process. ET's still not great at any one thing, which can be distressing at times, but he's above-average in enough different fields that it's hard to see him ever being a complete washout in this league.

Unfortunately for us, Evan still has that #2 pick shine to him, so even though he's not providing the value of an eight-mil-a-year-type player right now, that still might be the kind of contract he gets in the off-season. DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors is the most frequently cited comp for Evan, a similarly high-touted prospect who also struggled to score efficiently his first few seasons, and without Evan's high rebound or assist rates, but nonetheless commanded a four-year, $38-million extension from the Raps before he would hit free agency this summer. If ET gets that kind of contract in free agency, we can only hope it's not from us, since such a move would essentially strip the team of any remaining cap flexibility moving forward, for a player who doesn't seem particularly likely to take the Sixers to the next level at this point.

This is where getting Sam Hinkie as our new GM should be a difference-maker. As an analytically minded guy, and one with no personal connection to Evan Turner and his first three years as a Sixer, it's borderline-impossible to see him making his first act as Philly's new ship-steerer a four-year, $36 mil ET extension. Advanced stats have always been down on Turner, and during Hinkie's time with the Rockets, maintaining cap space for maneuverability's sake has always been a priority; he's not going to throw a lot of money at ET just to maintain the status quo with a middling asset. The hiring of Hinkie might have been the death knell for Turner's time with the 76ers.

For this upcoming season, though, the Sixers are actually in a pretty good place with ET. They can ride it out with him and see if he can't jump a level or two as a player, maybe mesh better with the team's yet-undetermined new coach or some new player personnel (possibly a re-signed Bynum?), then evaluate his value moving forward at season's end. There's a small chance that if he really improves that much, they'd have to pay more for him at season's end than they would by extending him now--as they certainly would have with Jrue Holiday after his breakout season had DiLeo and co. not extended him at the beginning of last year--but it's a small risk compared to the risk of locking him in for big money now, and at the very least, they'll always have the choice of letting him walk if the price tag is just too high.

Of course, if they don't feel like waiting until the end of the movie with Turner, they could also package him in a trade this off-season. Some team desperate for upside and in love with Turner's college numbers and continued versatility will undoubtedly still value him, and his contract has the benefit of being beefy enough to work as a valuable expiring deal as well, giving any team that acquires him a ripcord should they sour on Evan after a season's time. I'm still enamored with the idea of packaging ET with Spencer Hawes--as the Sixers supposedly did at last year's trade deadline, nearly landing Josh Smith from the Hawks--as the core pieces of a deal, parting ways with their tantalizing flashes of greatness, and getting a more stable contributor of some sort in return. I'd still be an emotional wreck letting ET go, but practically speaking, it might be time.

If I had to guess, though, I'd say Hinkie takes a wait-and-see approach with ET. Maybe he lets Evan play up his trade value with one of his patented early-season hot streaks, then sells high and lets another team deal with his inevitable regression to the mean. Maybe he lets him play out the season with no promises of return, makes him a reasonable offer in the off-season and encourages him to go let another team beat it. Maybe he just wishes him luck and sends him on his way, offering to write a glowing recommendation for his future employer. All are in play for Hinkie and Turner, and all could very conceivably be the smart long-term play for this team.

The one thing he probably won't do is extend him now for too much money out of some irrational insecurity that he'll end up breaking out this season and make him look silly for not having locked him up while he had the chance. That's all we can really ask for right now with our new GM and his inherited frustrating prospect, and that's really not something we could have taken for granted in previous years.

Eagles' rookies adjusting to NFL life while contributing in key roles

Eagles' rookies adjusting to NFL life while contributing in key roles

Their quarterback is a rookie, of course, but so is their current lead running back, two offensive linemen who’ve started games, two of their wide receivers, their cornerback who’s played the second-most snaps and one of their more surprising defensive linemen.
 
There are rookies up and down the Eagles’ roster. But not just rookies. These are guys in key roles.
 
With Carson Wentz starting all year, Wendell Smallwood currently at tailback and Bryce Treggs starting last weekend in place of Nelson Agholor at wide out, this became only the second season in the last 30 years the Eagles have had a rookie start a game at quarterback, running back and wide receiver.
 
It also happened in 2012 with Nick Foles, Bryce Brown and Damaris Johnson.
 
Throw in Jalen Mills, second on the team in cornerback reps; Destiny Vaiao, the Eagles’ first undrafted rookie since Sam Rayburn in 2003 with two sacks in a season; offensive linemen Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Isaac Seumalo; plus special teamers like Kamu Grugier-Hill and C.J. Smith, and rookies really make up a significant portion of the roster.
 
“All of us being in the same situation, it really helps just knowing we’re all rookies and we’re all out here trying to make plays and help the team,” said Smallwood, whose 4.4 rushing average would be fourth-highest ever by an Eagles rookie if he gets 31 more carries.
 
“It kind of keeps us together. Looking at each other and seeing the other guys doing good, that gives you the confidence that you can make plays, too. They’re in the same position as me being rookies.
 
“I look at Carson and he’s got so much on his plate, man, and he’s going out there and doing it, why can’t I do it? I look at Jalen, he plays a lot. It goes unsaid but we definitely watch each other and it pushes you to do well as well.”
 
After a 3-0 start, the Eagles are 5-6 going into their game Sunday against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
 
Their playoff chances are dwindling but if nothing else this season could be serving as a launching pad for a number of rookies who seem to have bright futures here.
 
Wentz should be the Eagles’ quarterback for the next decade. Smallwood is their most promising rookie running back since LeSean McCoy in 2009. Vaitai will be a starter whenever Jason Peters decides to retire. Seumalo has a shot at becoming a starter somewhere along the interior of the O-line. Mills has been uneven but never stops battling. Treggs hasn’t done a lot but at least he can run and did reel in one 58-yard pass.
 
On a roster decimated by years of terrible drafting and Chip Kelly’s talent purge, the Eagles had to get contributions from their rookies this year to be competitive, and they have.
 
“Rookies, in unchartered territory for some of them, but really for us, in one respect, we say there are no more rookies,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said.
 
“You've been into it this far. The expectations are high on them from themselves, and of course as coaches we put high expectations on them. We just want to focus on today. Let's go out there today and have a good practice today, because we believe what we do today will show up on Sunday.”
 
There are two big challenges facing rookies. No. 1 is on the field, No. 2 is off the field.
 
On the field, rookies are dealing with a 16-game season that runs into January after playing 11 or 12 games in college and finishing the regular season in mid-November.
 
“The college football season is winding down so they kind of hit that wall just a little bit now with us,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “We have five games left and they are either getting ready for a bowl game or not going getting ready for Christmas break. So that's obviously a challenge with the young players, just keeping them plugged in mentally and physically going down the stretch.


 
“And then just the grind of how important every single rep in practice is, to get it right in practice, and that corresponds to the game. And you just can't show up and go through the motions during the week and expect it on Sunday. Not at this level. 
 
“You might get away with that in college because you're a better athlete or you're a better team than your opponent, but here, everybody is good. The challenge is for them to practice well because then it helps them when crunch time comes in the games.”
 
Mills isn’t a starter, but he has played 454 snaps, which is about two-thirds of the Eagles’ defensive reps this year. That’s 10th-most on the team, fourth-most in the secondary.
 
“It’s a grind, for sure,” he said. “My body’s used to right now getting ready to shut down or go to a bowl game, so physically you have to learn how to take care of yourself and how to recover. The older guys help me through that. 
 
“That means for me getting a minimum of nine hours sleep every night and making sure I eat healthy. Our cafeteria does a great job getting us healthy food. Just have to take care of your body and eat healthy.
 
“Mentally it’s a grind. Being mentally sharp the same way I was in Week 1, that’s tough to do. Just stay focused. Anything negative or anything that could cloud my judgment or anything that doesn’t have to do with football, I have to just eliminate that from my life right now.” 
 
Wentz, of course, is the centerpiece of the Eagles’ 2016 rookie class. 
 
Even though his numbers have dipped after a very hot start, he’s still on pace for the fourth-most passing yards in NFL history by a rookie, the seventh-best intereption ratio and the seventh-highest completion percentage.
 
Wentz said when it comes to making sure the other rookies are grounded and stay positive, he takes the lead from the veterans on the offense.
 
“I think we all have a hand in it,” he said. “When things are going poorly, in the huddle all eyes are on me, but we have some really good leaders. Jason Kelce, Brent Celek, Darren Sproles, Jason Peters, they’ve been around, they get it, they do a great job, and I try to follow the lead a little bit and take the lead a little bit. 
 
“That’s one thing we don’t lack is leadership on both sides of the ball.”
 
There’s a football adjustment for these kids but there’s also a hidden non-football aspect that fans don’t see.
 
Remember, these are kids — 21, 22, 23 years old — who all of a sudden are making an enormous amount of money, have tremendous demands on them from outside and are thrown into a foreign city without friends or family trying to make a living.
 
“The hardest thing for me was adjusting to life,” Jason Kelce said. “You’re in a whole new city, for the first time you’re off on your own, paying taxes and doing all these other things and it’s easy to kind of get overwhelmed in your thought process instead of really focusing just on the little things. 
 
“It’s a tough just getting to the point where you feel comfortable because there’s so much drastic change everywhere. There’s all this chaos around you outside football and it can be a little much. 
 
“For me with young guys, you just tell them to keep staying with it, keep improving it, keep paying attention to the details. 
 
“You can run into certain situations where guys over-think things and it can really affect how they’re playing out there and if you’re an older guy you try and take that burden off of them and just try to remind them to go out there and play hard and focus on the minute details that allow you to be successful and just go play.”

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

The Sixers (4-15) continue their homestand against the Boston Celtics (11-8) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night (7:30 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. A green giant-sized challenge
Just crumple it up and move on.

That's about the only thing the Sixers can do after getting ran out of the gym by the Orlando Magic on Friday. Instead of looking like a team that hadn't played since Monday, the Sixers appeared flat in a 105-88 loss.

Outside of Joel Embiid's first 20-point, 10-rebound game (he had 25 points and 10 boards) and a strong effort from Jahlil Okafor (16 points and 13 rebounds), not much else went right for the Sixers.

Now Embiid will sit the second game of a back-to-back set and Okafor will be thrust into the starting lineup, as the Sixers try to deal with Boston big man Al Horford. 

Horford, the Celtics' prized free-agent acquisition, is coming off his best game so far for his new team. He recorded 26 points, eight rebounds and six blocks in the Celtics' 97-92 win over the Kings on Friday.

2. Little big man
Even with Horford coming off a productive performance, the Sixers' game plan against the Celtics has to focus on slowing down Isaiah Thomas.

The 5-foot-9 guard continues to put up big numbers in the scoring department. Despite his shooting percentages taking a dip this season, Thomas still ranks ninth in the NBA with a career-high 25.7 points per game. 

And even though he is a willing passer (averaging a career-high-tying 6.3 assists), expect Thomas to try and score early and often against the Sixers. After all, the reserve-turned-All-Star has put up 21.5 points per game against the Sixers during his career, his highest mark against any opponent.

3. Dial up the long-distance defense
The Sixers need to be aware of Thomas and just about all of his teammates when they toe that three-point line.

The Celtics rank fifth in the league in three-pointers attempted (31.1), three-pointers made (11.3) and eighth in three-point percentage (36.3) per game.

The C's have four players shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc, and perhaps a bit surprising, three of them are big men. Jonas Jerebko (46.4 percent), Horford (42.4 percent) and Amir Johnson (40.0 percent) have all been on target from long range.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are both questionable. Embiid (rest), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

The Celtics have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost five games in a row overall and eight straight to the Celtics.

• The Celtics rank 25th in rebounding with 42.2 a night.

• Dario Saric had two points Friday against the Magic and has failed to reach double digits in scoring five of his last six games.