This is Less Encouraging: Sixers Buy In for Two More Years of Spencer Hawes

This is Less Encouraging: Sixers Buy In for Two More Years of Spencer Hawes

It didn't seem likely that Spencer Hawes was gonna be part of the
Sixers' future moving forward. The team is badly in need of size, true,
but he isn't the kind of size we want—stiff, relatively immobile,
defensively cringe-worthy, post-play-bereft size, the kind of size that
basically got swallowed alive by Kevin Garnett in last year's playoffs.
If you watched that Celtics series, you were pretty confident it would
be the last time you were watching Spencer Hawes in a Sixers uniform,
and the move to get young and athletic in the draft—one of which Spencer
still is, the other of which he most certainly is not–seemed to signal
the same.

Well, shucks. It looks like the Sixers gone done and pulled a fast one
on us yet again. Not only have we re-upped with our starting big man of
last year, we're paying $13 million over two years for the privilege. No
matter what way you look at it, $13 million is a lot of money to pay
for a guy who was basically unplayable in the most important series the
Sixers have played in nearly a decade. Hell, it's a lot to pay anyone
whose starter potential you're still not confident in (five seasons into
his career!), despite the fact that the Sixers are already paying that
much to seventh man Thaddeus Young, and may very well elect to pay that
much to sixth man Lou Williams as well.

So what's the justification here? Well, Spencer is still young (24 years
old) and a legitimate seven-footer, a pair of commodities which has
certainly gotten players less talented than he more money and patience
in the past. And you might recall that for a stretch there early last
year, before he got hurt (oh yeah, there's an injury history too, but
let's not even worry about that for the moment), where he was playing
like a legitimate Most Improved Player candidate, posting double-digit Game Scores
in each of the team's first six games. He was hitting his jumper with
stunning regularity, he was passing out of the high post and hitting
teammates open under the basket, he was crashing the boards and grabbing
rebounds with authority. He might have even dunked once.
 
He would post only seven more such scores for the remainder of the
season, however. Shortly after returning from injury, the jumper stopped
falling, the passes became riskier and he started getting badly
out-muscled under the net, grabbing double-digit rebounds only once in
his last 18 games. As his numbers and minutes began to plummet, we were
left to wonder whether the early hot streak's cooling off was due to
injury or just inevitable regression to the mean.

(He also had two straight 20-point scoring outings against the Bulls in
the playoffs—most of which came after Joakim Noah go hurt—leading to a
lot of "Spencer Hawes gonna make himself some money this off-season"
type peanut gallery comments. I think we all assumed his ensuing play in
that series and then against the Celtics more than cancelled that
stretch out, but maybe not.)

Is the contract justifiable based on the potential Spencer has shown in
those stretches? No, I don't think it is—you could wait on a player like
Hawes forever waiting for him to grow into the player he occasionally
shows tantalizing glimpses of being, and in fact, the Sixers are already
committed to doing just that for the similarly frustrating Evan Turner
for at least a couple more years. At least Evan is still just a Junior
in the NBA—Hawes has been around for five seasons now, and has never
shown the ability to be a consistent contributor on a good team,
especially not against the top level of competition. It's probably not
gonna happen for Spence—especially on the defensive end, where he has
repeatedly proven to be a horrendous liability—and the Sixers can't
afford to spend $6.5 mil a year betting on the 20% chance that it does.
They have too many holes that, even with Spencer in tow, still badly
need addressing.

The only thing you can really console yourself with about this contract (unless you're Michael Levin)
is that it's only for two years. All of the Sixers' contracts except
for Thaddeus Young could be off the books by that point two years from
now, so maybe the Sixers front office—whoever's running it these days–is
setting the end of the 2013-14 season as a chance to hit "reset" on the
team if it doesn't work out as currently constituted. And frankly, I'd
accept this Hawes deal if it meant that the Sixers were going to let Lou
Williams walk, and still try to do some dealing with Iguodala and
Brand. But if the team does re-sign Lou, for something like five years,
$35 mil, and then doesn't do dick about 'Dre and Elton, and yet again
enters the new season with basically the same roster...well, this is
might be a pretty tough team to root for next year.

Then again, maybe Spence just pretended to be bad for most of the second
half of last year just to drive his value down so the Sixers would be
able to get him for cheap. You never know!

Record-breaking crowds flood the Parkway for NFL Draft Experience in Philly

Record-breaking crowds flood the Parkway for NFL Draft Experience in Philly

Who needs to the Pope when you have Ginger Jesus?

The NFL Draft Experience joined a long list of wildly popular events in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and all along the Ben Franklin Parkway.

The NFL announced today that nearly 100,000 fans enjoyed the experience, the most-ever for a draft-related event, on day 1 of the draft alone.

Fans flooded into the Experience with people from all across the country in town to support their respective teams. Eagles fans clearly dominated the crowd, however, as you couldn't go a few minutes without hearing an E-A-G-L-E-S chant. 

ESPN also showed some love all night long. SportsCenter's Scott Van Pelt called the story of the night in Philadelphia the city of Philly itself. Adam Schefter called it the "wildest, most raucous crowd in draft history." Jon Gruden called Philly "one of the greatest football towns on the planet."

Aside from not being totally in love with their first pick Derek Barnett upon first blush, Philly fans showed off wonderfully. Even the booing of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell came off as cute.

The Draft Experience is open again on Friday from noon until 11:00 pm and on Saturday from 10:00 am until 6:00 pm. It's free for all fans.

Try the games, avoid the cheesesteaks. And bring some sunscreen (ugh).

By the numbers: Jeremy Hellickson legitimately among NL's best the last year

By the numbers: Jeremy Hellickson legitimately among NL's best the last year

Unless you're a die-hard Phillies fan, you might not grasp just how good Jeremy Hellickson has been since the start of 2016.

Hellickson, who allowed one run in six innings Thursday to improve to 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA this season, hasn't just been solid — he's legitimately been one of the best pitchers in the National League.

Some stats to back it up:

• Hellickson has a 1.11 WHIP the last two seasons. That's a better mark than Noah Syndergaard, Johnny Cueto, Cole Hamels, David Price, Dallas Keuchel, Jose Quintana and Chris Archer have.

• Over the last calendar year, Hellickson's 3.29 ERA ranks ninth-best in the NL. Over that span he has a lower ERA than some really good pitchers like Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke, Carlos Martinez, Hamels, Quintana and Rick Porcello. It's almost identical to Chris Sale's 3.26 ERA over that span.

• Hellickson over the last calendar year has walked 2.03 batters per nine innings. That's fifth-best in the NL behind only Mike Leake, Bartolo Colon, Madison Bumgarner and Syndergaard. (Jerad Eickhoff is a spot below Hellickson at 2.05 and then comes Max Scherzer at 2.08).

• How has Hellickson been so effective with so low a strikeout rate? He's thrown exactly 250 pitches since 2016 on the low-outside corner and low-inside corner. That's fifth-most in the majors, behind only Jon Lester, Zach Davies, Keuchel and Kyle Hendricks. Paint.

This stat refers to zones 17 and 19 in the image below.

Of course, Hellickson has done this with an extremely low strikeout rate. He's never been a big strikeout guy, but he did say Thursday he's been a bit surprised to have this much success in 2017 with his lowest career K rate. 

Hellickson has a very low batting average on balls in play which will regress closer to his career average, but it's not as if luck is the sole factor here. As mentioned above, he's hit spots as well as almost anyone in the majors. 

And the changeup, his elite pitch, gets some swings and misses but more often results in weak contact and quick outs. The worm will turn at some point, but Hellickson shouldn't be expected to fall off a cliff and revert back into a pitcher with a high-4.00s ERA.

The Phillies did well with this acquisition two offseasons ago and may have been fortunate things with Hellickson worked out the way they did. He has even more trade value now than he did a year ago.