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.

No. 12 Villanova at Elon: Wildcats eager for CAA road win

villanova-elon-matchup_0.jpg

No. 12 Villanova at Elon: Wildcats eager for CAA road win

No. 17 Villanova (3-1, 1-0) at Elon (2-2, 1-0)
Rhodes Stadium, Elon, N.C.
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

Climbing in the national rankings, Villanova looks for its fourth straight win this weekend in a road CAA contest. Here’s a look at the matchup:

Scouting Villanova
After a season-opening loss to Pittsburgh, the Wildcats have won three straight, including a 31-14 rout of Lafayette last week. The Wildcats’ defense continued to flex its muscle in that victory with senior defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon scoring on a 25-yard fumble return to go along with his two sacks and sophomore linebacker Jeff Steeb returning an interception 45 yards for a TD. For the season, Villanova’s defense has now scored four touchdowns in four games while its rushing defense ranks 21st in the country, allowing just over 100 yards per game. Offensively, running backs Aaron Forbes and Javon White formed a nice tandem last week with both scoring and Forbes running for a career-high 111 yards on 11 carries.

Scouting Elon
The Phoenix bounced back from two straight losses to start the year with a home rout of Fayetteville State and a massive 27-10 road win over nationally ranked William & Mary last week. Just its second victory over over a top-10 FCS program, Elon was led by a 120-yard, two-TD rushing game from Malcolm Summers and an opportunistic defense that intercepted three passes. Elon does have some question marks offensively with several underclassmen in prominent roles, including sophomore Daniel Thompson, who took over for the injured Connor Christiansen at quarterback after the first game. But Elon’s passing offense still ranks third in the CAA with 206.5 yards per game.

Series history
This will be Villanova’s first-ever game vs. Elon, which joined the CAA in 2014.

Storyline to watch
Kpassagnon, an NFL prospect, was the biggest reason why Villanova extended its winning streak to three, putting all kinds of pressure on Lafayette and setting the tone by scoring a defensive touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. He’ll have a chance to do that again and try to rattle a young quarterback early. And he may need to have another big game in what figures to be a low-scoring affair between two hot defenses.

What’s at stake?
Elon and Villanova are among six teams that are 1-0 in the conference, meaning the winner of this game could rise to the top of the conference after just two games.

Prediction
Elon’s win last week was very impressive, but it seems unlikely that this young Phoenix squad can knock off two nationally ranked teams in a row. Villanova 24, Elon 14.

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Howard, Phils can spoil Mets' season

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Howard, Phils can spoil Mets' season

Phillies (70-89) vs. Mets (85-74)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

Just three games remain in the Phillies' season. After a 24-17 start, the season went predictably downhill. However, the Phils have a chance to play spoiler to a big-time rival with the New York Mets in town. Alec Asher is on the hill for the Phillies while Robert Gsellman faces the Phillies for a third times this year.

Here are five things to watch on Friday night.

1. End of the road for the Big Ticket
There are just three games left in Ryan Howard's tenure with the Phillies.

It's been a long ride for Howard. There'll be plenty on Howard this weekend (and there's a pregame ceremony for him on Sunday), but here are some of his stats from his 13 years in Philadelphia.

Howard has hit 381 home runs and has 1,192 RBI with the Phils. He has 10 seasons of at least 20 home runs and has a run of six straight seasons from 2006 to 2011, his first six full seasons, with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI. He twice walked more than 100 times in a season and he racked up 276 doubles.

The long-time first baseman has hit 47 home runs against the Mets, his second highest total against any team (52 vs. Atlanta). In 174 games, Howard has 157 hits and 73 walks against the Mets.

Howard goes into the weekend with 197 home runs at Citizens Bank Park. Overall, he's racked up 1,465 total bases at CBP. He has, however, struck out 880 times in 769 games there as well.

2. Playing spoilers
While the Phillies are firmly outside of the playoff race, the New York Mets are in the driver's seat for a wild card spot. The Phillies could have something to say about that.

The San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals both won on Thursday while the Mets were off. That leaves the Mets one game ahead of the Giants for the first wild card spot and two games up on the Cardinals for a playoff spot. 

If the Mets win two of three this weekend, they clinch homefield advantage in the Wild Card game on Wednesday. With one win, they guarantee that they cannot be eliminated this weekend. Their magic number is two to clinch a playoff berth, so a combination of wins and Cardinals' losses can get them into the postseason. 

The Phillies can throw a wrench into the Mets' gameplan with a strong showing this weekend. While they've lost six of seven, the Phillies will likely get up for games with playoff implications. Furthermore, the Mets have the incentive to clinch as soon as possible as to avoid needing Noah Syndergaard to pitch on Sunday, so they can hold him for the National League wild card game on Wednesday.

3. Asher closes out impressive month 
Asher has made four starts since coming up earlier this month and has been much more impressive than his late season stint in 2015. 

After going 0-6 with a 9.31 ERA last year, he's 2-0 with a 1.66 ERA. However, despite picking up a win last weekend against the Mets, he struggled late and left room for improvement. 

Asher began his start Saturday vs. the Mets with a perfect game through three innings. He worked around three baserunners in the fourth inning, but came unglued after a couple errors in the fifth inning. While poor defense is not his fault, it would have been a good sign if he could have picked up his defense. Instead, he barely made it through the inning after four unearned runs.

Normally, a team would look for length out of their starter when handed such a large lead, so Asher only making it through five is disappointing. He still hasn't allowed more than two earned runs and has induced plenty of weak contact with his two-seam fastball.

The Mets will be the first (and only) team he faces twice this season.

4. Third time the charm vs. Gsellman?
Gsellman will be making his seventh career MLB start on Friday and it will be his third against the Phillies.

In two starts against the Phils, Gsellman is 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA over 13 innings. He has 13 strikeouts against them while allowing 10 hits and three walks. 

All four runs he allowed to the Phillies came in his first start. He had held the Phils to one run over six innings but departed after loading the bases with none out. The Mets' bullpen promptly allowed all three inherited runners to score.

On Sunday, Gsellman dominated, shutting out the Phils for seven innings. He allowed just five baserunners and struck out eight in the 17-0 win. 

The 23-year-old rookie has a 2.56 ERA through seven appearances in the majors. He started the season in Double A, but he will likely get a playoff start if the Mets gets to the Division Series.

5. This and that
• The Phillies have just two extra base hits in 50 plate appearances against Gsellman. They are hitting .222/.271/.267 against him. 

• Eight Phils have hits off Gsellman. Freddy Galvis is 2 for 5 with a double and Jimmy Paredes is 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI. 

• Michael Conforto hit a home run off Asher last season. No Mets hitter has more than one hit against him, in part because none of them have faced him more than three times.

• The Phillies have 601 runs on the season, the fewest in baseball by 39 runs. The Mets have the fifth worst total with 659 runs.

• Jeanmar Gomez is 0-3 with a 19.13 ERA in September. He's allowed 18 runs (17 earned) in eight innings.