Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers Off-Season: 8. Is Spencer Hawes Good Enough For Our Starting Center?

Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers Off-Season: 8. Is Spencer Hawes Good Enough For Our Starting Center?

It’s been a tough three years with Spencer Hawes in Philadelphia. Our
prospect big man, who started 150 games over his first three seasons as
a Sixer, has been the quintessential NBA tease over his time
in Philly, playing well enough for stretches to gradually raise our
expectations, until he pulls the bottom out from under us with a week or
a month of subpar play, only to begin the cycle over again. The flashes
of growth and unteachable talent are always offset by flashes of
regression and general incompetence, and at the end of the day, it’s
exceedingly difficult to tell if we have a really good NBA player who
just needs to learn consistency, or a seven-foot mirage whose
deficiencies will always outweigh his perceived “potential.”

For the first few years, the Sixers were driven by necessity, and a
paucity of other viable options, to lean towards the former, and they
even rewarded his uneven play with a two-year, $13 million contract last
off-season. With the acquisition of Andrew Bynum later in the summer,
it was supposed to take the pressure of Spence to prove himself–he’d be
overpaid as a back-up center, for sure, but his inconsistency would be
less concerning in a lower-leverage role on the team, and who knows,
maybe he and Bynum would even be able to work well off one another, as
Bynum and Pau Gasol once did in Los Angeles.

Obviously, that pan didn’t plan out, and now with one year remaining
on his contract, the question remains of whether or not Spencer Hawes
will ever be an acceptable starting center in the Association. The
Sixers would really, really love him to be, considering he’s still only
25 (happy birthday last Sunday, Spence!), still not terribly expensive,
and when he plays well, the Sixers always seem to be able to reach
another level, as they did this March when he had his best month of the
season (14/10/4 on 51% shooting and 50% from deep, with two blocks) and
the Sixers went 8-9 for the month, their best month of 2013, sadly.

The numbers sorta bear out that last part, by the way. Take a look at Spence’s splits in Sixers wins vs. losses this season:

Wins: 12 PPG, 8 RPG, 3 APG, 50% FG, 42% 3PT, 2.0 BLK
Losses: 10 PPG, 7 RPG, 2 APG, 44% FG, 30% 3PT, 1.0 BLK

Every player is better in wins than losses, generally, but those are
pretty notable splits, especially in terms of his shooting numbers.
Passes the eye test, too–there’s just so much more that opens up for the
team on offense when he’s hitting his jumper, but everything seems to
really sputter to a halt when he’s clanking.

Anyway, you could make the argument, as Sixers brass will likely try
to, that Spence is a viable option at starting center going into next
year, if Bynum doesn’t work out and Al Jefferson costs too much and no
one in the draft really catches their eye. He still has an above average
PER (16.0 last year, not bad for a center), and set a career high in
Win Shares, supposedly worth about 4.5 wins to the Sixers last year.
Besides, he got better towards the end of the year, and he’s still only
25, which means there should be plenty of room for him still to improve.

I would bet against this happening, though. Forgetting his defense
for a second, let’s compare his numbers this year to his stats for the
Sacramento Kings back in 2009, his second year in the league:

2009: 11.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.9 APG, 47% FG, 35% 3PT, 1.2 BLK
2013: 11.0 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.2 APG, 46% FG, 36% 3PT, 1.4 BLK

Kind scary similar for a player in his age-20 and age-24 seasons, no?
There are some subtle efficiency differences to be found if you look
hard enough–Spence shot the ball about 10% better from the free-throw
line this year, averaged about half a turnover less a game, and had a
much better defensive rating (though a lot of that was his playing on
the 17-win, anything-goes Kings team of 2009). But for a player to go
through as many ups and downs as Spencer Hawes has as a player the last
four years and essentially be right back where he started
production-wise…it’s a little disconcerting for his long-term prospects.

And if he can’t be a superlative offensive player, his defense will
always make him a net liability. When discussing Hawes’ D, Sixer fans
will likely flash back to the Celtics series in 2012 where he was
profoundly abused by the likes of Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass,
proving himself downright unplayable over the course of the series
(though Coach Collins continued to play him just the same). This year,
Spence wasn’t much better, continuing to get swallowed up by more
physical, sizeable frontlines like that of hose on the Nets, who Hawes
averaged just five boards a game against in four games this season.
(According to Hoopdata,
Spence ranked 23rd in Total Rebounding Rate among centers who played at
least 20 minutes a game.) He was still routinely a crucial half-second
late on help defense, he still didn’t get his hands up to contest jump
shooters, and he never, ever took charges–only three all season, pretty
deplorable for a defensive anchor.

Spence would still be an asset as a backup center, and as a $6.5
million expiring contract this season, could have value to the Sixers in
trade scenarios, either as cap filler in a bigger deal, or as a
short-term loaner to a contending team in need of size in exchange for
future prospects and/or draft picks. As a starting center, I think it’s
safe to say he’s run his course in Philly, and that if we tip off the
season with him jumping at half-court, it probably means our
expectations for the year should be kept reasonably low. Much here
depends on Bynum, free agency, and the draft, but if the Sixers’ plan
for our big-man situation is to resign Hawes to another contract–of any
size or length–once his current expires, that’s really no plan at all.

Previously:

No. 10. Where Are We Now (And Where Are We Going)?

#9. Is Thaddeus Young Untouchable?

MLB Notes: White Sox scratch Chris Sale after 'clubhouse incident'

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USA Today Images

MLB Notes: White Sox scratch Chris Sale after 'clubhouse incident'

CHICAGO -- Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale has been scratched from his start against the Detroit Tigers after he was involved in what the team says was a "non-physical clubhouse incident."

The White Sox declined to describe the incident, but said it's "currently under further investigation by the club" and that Sale was sent home from the park.

The move was announced less than a half hour before Saturday's game. Sale was going to attempt to become the first 15-game winner in the majors.

The White Sox planned to use multiple relievers in his place. The start of the game was delayed by rain.

With the White Sox fading from playoff contention, Sale's name has been mentioned as a possible trade target for contending teams.

The left-hander is 14-3 with a 3.18 ERA.

TWINS: Suzuki leaves game after taking foul ball off mask
BOSTON -- Minnesota Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki left Saturday night's game against the Boston Red Sox in the second inning after getting hit in the mask with a foul ball.

Suzuki appeared to have a cut on his chin as he walked to the dugout with a team trainer.

Boston's Dustin Pedroia was at the plate and fouled one off the catcher.

Suzuki was replaced by Juan Centeno.

PADRES: Cuban prospect signs deal with $7 million signing bonus
WASHINGTON -- Top Cuban prospect Jorge Ona and the San Diego Padres have agreed to a minor league contract with a $7 million signing bonus.

The 19-year-old outfielder receives $4.9 million within 30 days of the deal's approval by the commissioner's office and $2.1 million on Jan. 15. The deal is pending a physical.

Ona was ranked as the No. 8 international prospect of the 2016 class by MLB.com and the fourth-best available Cuban player earlier this year by Baseball America.

General manager A.J. Preller said during a conference call Friday that the contract is for 2017. He hopes Ona will play in the fall instructional league and then report for spring training and start his pro career next season.

Instant Replay: Pirates 7, Phillies 4

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Associated Press

Instant Replay: Pirates 7, Phillies 4

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- Gregory Polanco and David Freese hit two-run singles during a five-run fifth inning to rally the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 7-4 victory over the Phillies on Saturday at PNC Park.

Polanco’s hit put the Pirates ahead 4-3 and chased starter Aaron Nola. Freese’s hit off Severino Gonzalez pushed the lead to three runs and Francisco Cervelli capped the inning with a sacrifice fly as Pittsburgh won for the fourth time in six games.

Nola (5-9) allowed six runs in four-plus innings to take the loss. Center fielder Odubel Herrera went 3 for 4 with a triple as the Phillies outhit the Pirates, 12-7.

Catcher Cameron Rupp left the game in the third inning after being struck in the left ear flap of his helmet by a pitch from Pirates rookie right-hander Tyler Glasnow (see story). Rupp was found to have no concussion symptoms.

Starting pitching report
The bad Nola returned after pitching six scoreless innings in his previous outing Monday against the Miami Marlins. Prior to shutting down the Marlins, Nola allowed a combined 30 runs in five starts while failing to get past the fourth inning four times.

On Saturday, Nola gave up six hits, walked two and struck out five. He needed 80 pitches to get 12 outs.

Nola’s clunker came after Phillies starters allowed no more than one run or five hits in four of the previous five games. On Friday night in the opener of the three-game series in Pittsburgh, rookie right-hander Zach Elfin pitched a three-hitter for his first career shutout in the Phillies’ 4-0 victory over the Pirates.

At the plate
Herrera is 6 for 9 in the first two games of the series after going 4 for 41 in his previous 11 games. He tripled in the sixth inning and scored the game’s last run on a single by Andres Blanco.

Cesar Hernandez hit a pair of RBI singles and was one of four Phillies with two hits along with Blanco, Tommy Joseph and Carlos Ruiz, the last of whom took over behind the plate for Rupp. Joseph also hit an RBI single.

The Phillies held a 12-8 edge in hits.

Up next
The Phillies finish their three-game series with the Pirates at 1:35 p.m. Sunday then open a three-game series against the Marlins on Monday night at Miami.

The projected starters for the next four days:

Sunday afternoon --- RHP Vince Velasquez (8-2, 3.15) vs. RHP Jameson Taillon (2-1, 3.44)

Monday night --- RHP Jeremy Hellickson (7-7, 3.84) vs. LHP Wei-Yin Chen (5-4, 4.99)

Tuesday night --- RHP Jerad Eickhoff (6-11, 3.98) vs. RHP Tom Koehler (7-8, 4.42)

Wednesday afternoon --- RHP Zach Eflin (3-3, 3.40) vs. LHP Adam Conley (6-5, 3.58)

Former Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn signs 2-year deal with Coyotes

Former Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn signs 2-year deal with Coyotes

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Coyotes have signed former Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn to a two-year contract.

The 26-year-old defenseman had four goals and 12 assists in 72 games with the Flyers and Los Angeles Kings last season. Schenn and Vinny Lecavalier were traded by the Flyers to the Kings last January in exchange for Jordan Weal and a third-round draft pick in last month's entry draft.

In his career, Schenn has 28 goals and 100 assists in 566 games with the Kings, Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs. In three-plus seasons with the Flyers, Schenn scored 12 goals and added 30 assists.

Schenn was the first-round draft pick - fifth selection overall - by the Maple Leafs in 2008.

Coyotes general manager John Chayka called Schenn "a good, young defenseman" who will be "a solid addition" to the Arizona blue line.

- CSNPhilly.com contributed to this story.