The NBA Draft Lottery is unjust, even (and especially) if Sixers win

The NBA Draft Lottery is unjust, even (and especially) if Sixers win

Let’s get this out of the way right at the top. If the Philadelphia 76ers pull the No. 1 overall pick at the NBA Draft Lottery on Tuesday, as a local sports fan, I am thrilled—but that doesn’t mean they deserve it.

In a just world, the No. 1 overall pick would belong to the Milwaukee Bucks, by virtue of owning the worst record in 2013-14. No lottery. No ping pong balls. No luck of the draw.

The Bucks are the worst team in the NBA. The Sixers were the second-worst team in the NBA. They should go one and two respectively.

Instead, there’s a decent chance they could actually wind up being Nos. 4 and 5.

Isn’t the whole point of the amateur draft in professional sports to correct the inequities of talent and restore competitive balance between franchises? To provide the underprivileged with a better future? To help the down-and-out climb out from under the shit heap?

Not in the NBA. If you happen to root for the worst team in the league in any given year, regardless of by how wide a margin, you have no reasonable expectation they will be able to rebuild around the best young athlete available in that year’s draft.

Philadelphia has seen how that works out firsthand, only in the NHL of all places. The league instituted its lottery system in '07, a year where the Flyers finished with the worst record—the first time the franchise missed the playoffs in 11 seasons.

The Chicago Blackhawks wound up with the No. 1 pick and took Patrick Kane. The Flyers selected James van Riemsdyk second.

Chicago is currently working on its third Stanley Cup in five seasons. JVR plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs now.

Why is such randomness allowed to exist? In the NBA, apparently it’s done in the name of preventing teams from “tanking,” or losing games on purpose, to land the highest possible pick—and we all witnessed how well that’s working.

The Sixers are Exhibit A as to why the lottery does absolutely nothing to prevent tanking. Even without the promise of landing the best player in this year’s class, the organization still found it was in their best interests to unload as much “talent” as it could.

General manager Sam Hinkie purposely spent as little money building the team as he could. He traded the former second overall pick in the draft for an aging veteran who had no intention of playing one second here. Something called Henry Sims and Hollis Thompson were among the Sixers earning top minutes by the end of the season. Why?

More ping pong balls, yes. Better odds of winning the lottery, yes.

Most of all, because landing a premier talent at the top of the draft is the only means of improvement in the NBA more often than not.

Basically, the Association is punishing clubs like the Sixers, who not surprisingly couldn’t crack the elites with a roster built almost solely around first-round picks no higher than No. 9 in a superstar-driven league. Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young and Jrue Holiday are nice players, but all their limbs put together aren’t worth one LeBron James.

Anybody remember the last time the Sixers were legitimately good? Not coincidentally, it was when 1996 No. 1 overall pick Allen Iverson was coming into his own as an MVP-type player.

I suppose the NBA’s issue with tanking is it will become an epidemic—as if it hasn’t already—and more and more if its bottom-feeders members will continue to lose on purpose in the hopes of landing the next Tim Duncan. To be fair, those concerns are not completely without merit.

The problem is these tanks can still hit landmines along the way. There’s no guarantee the first overall pick in any given year will alter the entire landscape and destiny of a franchise. There’s no guarantee he’ll even be a very good player.

Sixers fans won't have to travel far down memory lane to find a premium draft pick (No. 2 overall) who didn't pan out (Evan Turner).

And franchises like the Sixers who make these gambles to be as bad as they can be for one year run the risk of digging themselves into a bigger hole. If the rebound doesn’t happen quickly, have they created a culture of losing? They have plenty of money to spend under the salary cap, but can they lure name free agents?

It certainly isn’t a sound business strategy. Forget how many games were lost. How much revenue did the Sixers lose this year? How much did they disenfranchise the fanbase, particularly impressionable children who may turn their attention to other teams or hobbies, like bird watching, stamp collecting, or soccer?

Forget about the profits that were forfeit in the short-term. What kind of negative impact does losing have on the future revenue stream?

These are all pitfalls the Sixers had to consider and wisely ignored because the NBA is broken. With 30 teams, there simply aren’t enough Kevin Durants and Blake Griffins to make every franchise a viable contender or even competitive in any given season.

Parity is dead, so teams tank. And at the end of the road, they’re not even guaranteed to pick in the customary order of finish.

If the NBA thinks it’s special in this regard, they’re wrong. Different types of tanking go on in every professional sport, most frequently in the form of “letting the kids play.” The reality is the most tried-and-true method of improvement is through the draft, and generally speaking, teams have to lose in order to get the best picks.

The message the NBA Draft Lottery sends is it’s better to be kind of bad indefinitely than be excessively terrible for one year in the hopes of a brighter tomorrow. That’s not good for franchises, and it’s not good for basketball fans, either.

Unless your team wins the lottery, of course.

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 during a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds in the second period.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, the 5-foot-10, 184-pounder deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front off 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 real 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 enjoyment 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.