Numbers of Note from the Sixers' pre-season

Numbers of Note from the Sixers' pre-season

We're over halfway done with the Sixers' exhibition season, and while it's not necessarily worth going too deep into the analysis for each and every game at this point--especially when they lose by 56 combined points over the course of two contests--there are definitely some trends still worth noting. Here's some of the numbers, good and bad, that have stood out most to me across these five games, that tell us most about how this Sixers team has been doing, and how they might do once the season tips off in earnest two Wednesdays from now.

Michael Carter Williams: 25 assists, 7 turnovers. MCW's shooting/scoring numbers have been predictably erratic this pre-season--about 8.5 points a game on 39% shooting and 30% from deep, which is probably even a slightly optimistic projection for his numbers in the season to come--but his passing numbers have really been quite impressive. Through the first three games, he had racked up 16 assists to just one turnover, and though those numbers have evened a little in the last two games, a 25:7 (about 3.5:1) assist/TO ratio for a point guard is still very respectable, and shows how reliable Carter-Williams can be as the team's primary ball-handler and decision-maker.

(I've generally been quite impressed with MCW this pre-season, his on-ball defense and his creating for others really standing out in most of the games. I certainly don't think he'll help us win games right away, but i could see him being a very solid game-managing PG for a better Sixers team a couple years down the road.)

James Anderson: 11 threes in 23 attempts. Projected as our starting two to start the season, James Anderson has excelled in the most important area for his position and role--three-point shooting, rightfully expected to be a major weakness of this team going into the season. JA has provided a very good J-Rich facsimile through five pre-season games, hitting nearly half of his attempts from downtown, and nailing at least two in every game so far. He runs to the right spots, and the ball is delivered--usually from MCW, who's done a nice job of spotting him in the half-court--he doesn't hesitate.

Still only 24 and with some additional complementary scoring skills, if his shooting stroke remains this steady, Anderson could be a really nice asset for this team--either as a role player going forward, or as a trade chip at the deadline or in the off-season. Here's hoping he doesn't go the way of Maalik Wayns once the season starts.

Tony Wroten: 28 free throws in 36 attempts. I'm not even as concerned with the number or percentage of FTs converted for Wroten--though the 78% he's been shooting for the line is certainly well above the 58% he shot his one full year in college, which is good to see. Far more important, however, is the number of FTs attempted--36, over seven a game, in only about 24 minutes a game. That's good foul drawing by just about any standard, but for the Sixers, it's practically Chamberlain-ian--by contrast, Jrue Holiday led the team last year in FTAs a game with an impossibly meager 3.1 a game, in nearly 38 minutes a contest.

Wroten's aggressiveness, particularly in transition, appears to be his most valuable attribute to this Sixers team that has so badly struggled to earn free points at the line these last few years. That quality alone should assure that T-Wrote gets plenty of minutes in the rotation this year, even if the second-year Washington guard remains pretty raw in some other areas.

Tony Wroten: 15 assists, 18 turnovers. Of course, if you were thinking that maybe he should be starting at point guard over Michael Carter-Williams...maybe think a second time on that. As good as Wroten has been pushing the ball and getting to the line, he's been just as bad when it comes to decision-making, especially involving his teammates. The Sixers' game against the Celtics was the only time this pre-season that Wroten racked up more assists than turnovers, and yesterday, against the Bobcats, he gave the ball away a team pre-season-high six times.

Wroten's combination of questionable passing instincts and poor outside shooting--he did manage to shoot 4-8 from deep against the Thunder, but has gone 1-12 on treys in the four other games--means he might never be a starter in this league, but if he can keep the mistakes down and the aggressiveness up as a change-of-pace guard off the bench, he could still be a real contributor this year and beyond. Coach Brett Brown will have his work cut out with T. Wrote this year, for sure.

Evan Turner: 79 points.. ET is gonna be the unquestioned first scoring option for this team this year, and as disastrous as that recipe has been sporadically throughout his first three years in the league, the pre-season returns thusfar have been surprisingly undismal. ET's averaging nearly 20 a game in pre-season minutes--though Coach Brown has occasionally been leaving him in there for a full 36--on about 47% shooting, also averaging nearly eight free throws a game, which again, Wilt Chamberlain. He's been aggressive getting to his spots, he's shot and maneuvered with confidence, he's still grabbing seven boards a game, he's conducted himself as a leader off the court...it's been a pretty impressive pre-season showing for the Extraterrestrial.

Of course, the better and more professional Evan looks on the floor this season, the more likely it is that Brown and Sam Hinkie and company will be grooming him for a mid-season trade--not to mention that with Evan, we've learned that the bottom could always fall out at a moment's notice, meaning we probably shouldn't let ourselves get too accustomed to this Evan who looks like a truly competent scoring threat. Still, it's always fun to watch ET succeed, and if he can continue to play his way off this crappy Sixers team in the regular season, it'll bring a big ol' smile to my face with every drained off-balance 16-footer.

The Sixers in the first half against the Charlotte Bobcats: 28 points. Of course, if the Sixers do start trading Evan and their other veterans, prepare for some truly abysmal basketball. As bad as the pre-season has occasionally been with Evan, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes in the lineup, without them yesterday in Charlotte, the Sixers barely even registered as a Summer League team, and played accordingly, making the Bobbers look like the '01 Lakers by comparison.

I think the lesson here with MCW, who went 4-12 with five assists, five rebounds and three TOs against Charlotte, is that he's more useful the more talented players he has on his team to work with, and when he's gotta run the show on his own, it's not gonna end pretty. Maybe that's the point of this tanktastic season, anyway, but I hope he doesn't have to play too many games like this in the pros--his psyche might not survive until the days where we could actually use him to be good.

Flyers skate update: Matt Read's 400th game; Andrew MacDonald scratched

Flyers skate update: Matt Read's 400th game; Andrew MacDonald scratched

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Matt Read did not have to worry about being an NHL draft bust.

He did not impress scouts enough to be drafted at all while playing collegiate hockey at Bemidji State in Minnesota. Instead, the Flyers' winger had to make the NHL the hard way — as a free agent.

“Out of college, I signed with the Flyers and was just doing everything I could to get an opportunity to make the team,” Read, 30, recalled after the team’s morning skate before the Flyers take on the Vancouver Canucks.

His hard work and determination were rewarded here as he drew into the Flyers lineup for his 400th NHL career game.

“If you told me as a 12-year-old self I was playing 400 games in the NHL, I’d be pretty happy, obviously,” Read said. “I don’t have enough words to describe (what the accomplishment means.) Every day in the NHL is a blessing, I guess. You show up every day, work hard and have fun. As a kid, I wanted to be a professional hockey player, and I get to live it out everyday, which is amazing.”

Read originally signed as a free agent with the Flyers in 2011. Unlike many other NHLers, he has played his entire career with the same organization.

“The opportunity to play for the same team for six years is almost unheard of in the National Hockey League these days, so (I) take advantage of it and enjoy it,” Read said.

What has enabled him to stick?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m just showing up at the rink every day to work hard, have fun, be a team guy and do as much as I can to make this team better.”

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said he has a “solid level of trust” in Read.

“There’s a lot of different pathways towards the NHL,” Hakstol said. “I think what you see in that guys that are able to hit a milestone like 400 is, there’s a level of dedication and consistency in terms of work habits to get there. Obviously, Matt has demonstrated those. It’s a hell of a milestone. (But) probably first and foremost on his mind, I would think, tonight is playing a good hockey game and helping our team.”

MacDonald gets night off
Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald received the night off as Hakstol made him a healthy scratch. The move was somewhat surprising, because MacDonald has played every game since he was scratched Nov. 19 against Tampa Bay.

Hakstol said MacDonald needed a rest. As a result, Brandon Manning was shifted to the right side from the left and paired with Ivan Provorov.

According to the coach, Manning has not had trouble switching sides this season.

“He’s done a pretty good job,” Hakstol said. “If you look at it, particularly this year, he’s been pretty efficient in making that transition. Is it easy? No.”

Neuvy gets the nod again
Hakstol did not think goaltender Michal Neuvirth needed a rest. He got the nod for his fourth straight start and sixth in the last seven games overall.

“He’s been the guy that’s been in a rhythm for us and he’s done a pretty good job and he’ll go back tonight,” Hakstol said.

Neuvirth was not complaining about the heavy workload.

“It’s good to be playing,” Neuvirth said. “The more I play, the more comfortable I feel. It’s been good.”

He also prepared to be comfortable with the risk of added fatigue.

“It is what it is — you’ve gotta be ready anytime, any day,” Neuvirth said. “It’s a good opportunity for me and it’s gonna be a good challenge.”

Former Flyers coach enshrined
Late former Flyers coach Pat Quinn has been honored with a life-sized statue outside the home of the Canucks. The monument, funded by a group of Quinn’s friends and business partners, was unveiled over the weekend.

Quinn began his coaching career with the Flyers in 1977-78 before holding coaching and managing positions with the AHL Phantoms and four other NHL clubs, including the Canucks. He guided the Flyers to a 35-game unbeaten streak — a record for North American sports — in 1979-80, when they reached the Stanley Cup finals.

Loose pucks
• The Flyers’ .667 winning percentage in Vancouver ranks as their best in any current NHL city. 

• Despite outshooting their opponents in 15 of 20 games dating to Jan. 1, the Flyers are 5-8-2 in the 15 contests.

Scratches: Defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Nick Schultz

Lineup
F: Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds

Weise-Couturier-Voracek

Raffl-Cousins-Read

VandeVelde-Bellemare-Lyubimov

D: Provorov-Manning

Gostisbehere-Streit

Del  Zotto-Gudas

G: Neuvirth

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The dew on the infield grass had barely dried when Andrew Knapp was marched out to the firing squad at Phillies camp early Sunday morning.
 
He took his position at first base and looked across the diamond where Phillies instructors Doug Mansolino, Chris Truby and Larry Bowa were lined up at third base, shortstop and second base, respectively. Armed with fungo bats and a dozens baseballs each, the trio of sharpshooters proceeded to smash bullet one- and two-hoppers at Knapp, who was tasked with pulling them out of the dirt to complete the putout.
 
“Good job,” shouted Bowa, a tough grader when it comes to infield work, as Knapp finished up the hellacious early-morning drill.
 
Knapp is a catcher by trade, but he will continue these intense individual sessions at first base throughout the spring — in addition to his regular defensive work behind the plate.
 
A 25-year-old switch-hitter, Knapp was the Phillies’ second-round selection in the 2013 draft. He’s getting a lot attention in this camp because he has a shot to make the club as a reserve player. The Phils are in need of a backup catcher and a backup first baseman and Knapp, in big-league camp for the second time, is trying to show he can handle both assignments in one package.
 
“Last year it was more of a happy-to-be-here thing,” he said. “I was just trying to pick as many brains as I could and take in as much knowledge as I could.
 
“But this year it’s more of a let’s-go-win-a-job kind of deal.”
 
General manager Matt Klentak and manager Pete Mackanin first floated the idea of carrying Knapp as a two-position reserve at the winter meetings.
 
Of course, it came with a lot of qualifiers. Knapp is still considered a developing player and team decision-makers would have to consider what impact a reserve role would have on his development. Also, the prototypical backup catcher in the majors is a plus defender who has experience handling a big-league pitching staff. Knapp has never played in the majors and his defense is considered a work in progress. Later in the winter, the Phillies signed two big-league veteran catchers (Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan) to minor-league deals and they are very much in the mix for the job.
 
“I kind of understand there’s a definite value in having a veteran guy as a backup, but I think I can do the job on the field,” Knapp said.
 
A potential separator for Knapp could be his bat and his versatility if he can continue to develop it. He is not a novice at first base. He played there as a sophomore at the University of California. Knapp also has this going for him: He’s on the 40-man roster and with so many young prospects on it and the probable need to add an outfielder like Chris Coughlan later in camp, that could work in Knapp’s favor.
 
Another factor that could held Knapp’s chances: The Phillies’ development blueprint calls for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro to get the bulk of the playing time at first base and catcher, respectively, at Triple A.
 
“You’d like to see him get 500 at-bats, but it’s not a perfect world,” Bowa said. “Our Triple A team is loaded. He might find himself in the same role at Triple A. if that’s the case, it might be best if he came here if he swings the bat like he can and he can provide versatility.
 
“A guy like him can give you some options and flexibility. When you face the Mets and they have three stud right-handers throwing 95, it might be nice to have a guy like that to give (first baseman) Tommy Joseph a blow.”
 
Knapp had a brilliant season with the bat at Double A in 2015. He hit .360 with 11 homers, 56 RBIs and a 1.050 OPS in 55 games, earning him the franchise’s Paul Owens Award as minor-league player of the year.
 
Knapp tapered off at Triple A last season. He hit .266 with eight homers, 46 RBIs and a .719 OPS over a full season. Knapp’s day last summer typically started with defensive work at 1:30 in the afternoon.
 
“I would get my hitting in, but I don’t think there was as much of a focus on it as there was the year before,” he said. “I do think last year I took a real step forward defensively, especially in the second half of the year. I kind of had a tough first half, but the second half I really honed in on the defensive part, blocking and throwing mostly, just kind of keeping everything in front and shutting down the running game.”

A lot of eyes will be on Knapp when the exhibition games start next week.
 
“We need to find out if he’s capable of doing it,” Mackanin said. “Catching is a defensive-oriented position. We need good defense. We need good game calling, a catcher who can handle pitchers, and that’s what we’re going to be looking at from a guy like Knapp as well as the other guys. We’re going to take a good long look at that.
 
“He’s definitely in the mix. I want to play him a lot to see him. We all want to see what he can do offensively and defensively. From what I’ve been told he’s shown a lot of improvement and we’re going to look for that. We’re looking for the 25 best men. There’s a good chance he might be one of them.”
 
Knapp is determined to show that he is.
 
“It’s open for someone to go take it and I want to be that guy,” he said.