Regarding Evan: A Chat With Michael Levin About the Sixers' Enigmatic New Starter

Regarding Evan: A Chat With Michael Levin About the Sixers' Enigmatic New Starter

With second-year two-guard and recent starting-lineup fixture
Evan Turner's play in the last three games scintillating Sixers fans and
suddenly changing perspective on the entire season, I had no choice but
to turn to our old friend, Michael Levin of Liberty Ballers, to help us
make sense of the madness. We talked a whole lotta Extraterrestrial, as
well as some trade deadline stuff, and where the team goes from here.
Check it out, and as always, head over to LBs for some fantastic daily Sixer discussion.

Andrew: So with the possible exception of my roommate, I think
you're the only person I know as emotionally invested in the success of
Evan Turner as I am. Personally speaking, how happy have the last three
games made you?
 
Michael Levin, Liberty Ballers: Oh man. It's been a dream.
I've been watching most of the games at work due to the time difference,
so there have been many a fistpump at my desk that caught a few odd
looks from the coworkers. I'm just thrilled for him. Like, more than I
am for the Sixers, I'm happy for him.
 
Yeah, same.
 
I don't think I've ever wanted anyone to
succeed more than Turner at a professional level. And for him to
finally put it together, REALLY put it together, excites the s--- out of
me.

Were you surprised when you first heard he had been moved to the starting lineup? What do you think motivated the move?

It did seem kind of sudden. We got the Eskin tweet
about him starting and it was like, OK this could happen, and then it
was just over. They couldn't take him out of the starting lineup if both
his legs got cut off.

I haven't been Doug's biggest fan lately, but I totally agree with
what he said about prompting the move. The Sixers were doing really well
for a while with Jodie. If the goal is to win games (which it was for
the organization) then why mess with what's working? When it stopped
going so well, he made a change. Simple as that.

Still, it seemed like Turner had been in Collins' doghouse for a
while, and perhaps most of all the few games before the move. Don't buy
into the notion that maybe ownership muscled Collins into playing their
No.2 pick more?

I'm sure that was certainly a consideration. Ownership and Rod
Thorn probably had some - "let's see what he can give us" prompting for
Doug. But I don't think it was all them, same as I don't think it was
all Doug. He does what's best for the team to win games now. I have
problems with that on occasion, but I don't think it was a vendetta
against Turner that was keeping him out of games. Evan just wasn't
playing that well.

What were your thoughts after his first start, the 1-12 game in Milwaukee?

Haha,
well that wasn't exactly ideal. But he was rebounding, as he always
had, and that's a seriously tangible skill. Rebounds are good. We like
them. So even if he's missing from the field, he's valuable in that
regard. Maybe not that valuable if he's 1-12 every night, but there's
more to his game than just scoring, which is why I think he'll be a
fairly complete player even without a reliable outside shot. Though the
shot has been beautiful in the last three.

What's impressed you more in Evan's three games since, the scoring or the rebounding?

Scoring.
I mean, we knew he could rebound. Before those three games, he was
still the best wing rebounder in the league. Now he's just lengthened
his lead. He's better at finishing and absorbing contact than he had
been during his pro career thus far, and the last three games he's shown
an array of moves to get to the basket and get fouled while putting up
shots that have a chance to go in. I think he's had 3-4 And-1's during
the recent stretch. That's so valuable for a team that has a lot of
trouble getting to the line.

It seems like he's sort of a rhythm scorer, too. Is it possible
that just getting off the bench had been the answer for Evan all along,
that he couldn't really do what he does best in limited bench minutes?

Yeah, he's not good in spurts. We saw that for 1.5 years. He
needs to get in rhythm, find out how to exploit the defense, and
dominate the ball. I think he'll continue to get better off-the-ball the
longer he's in, but right now, he's most effective handling himself and
occasionally using his teammates. The double teams that will eventually
come are going to help him rack up assists also.

That swoop-and-pull crossover move that gets him space for a
fadeaway jumper—could you see that being a trademark move for ET in the
years to come?

I hope not. I'm not a huge fan of that move,
unless he starts faking that way and drives past his over-committing
man. He's never going to be a great jumpshooter and I'd rather he not
rely so heavily on an off-balance shot for getting his points.
 
The jumper has looked better in recent games, though.
 
It's
been gorgeous. Fading away off the dribble just isn't effective over a
long period of time. He may make a few now, but that's not a repeatably
good shot.

Let's talk about the rebounding for a minute. I remember when
Turner was on draft boards, the one risk people mentioned with him was
that despite his all-around game, he lacked that one defining elite
skill that was guaranteed to translate to the pros. Is rebounding that
one defining elite skill for Evan?

Yeah, I mean rebounding translates. That's maybe the only thing
in the world that NBA people agree upon. And he's been awesome his whole
career at getting rebounds. Sometimes he's steals those rebounds from
his teammates, but I, uh, don't really mind that at all. But at the same
time, Evan is such a unique player. He can't really be categorized
because he's so unique. He's got some old school craftiness to him that
makes up for his lack of elite athleticism.

I don't think he'll ever be one of the 10 best players in the
league, but his understanding of the game and overall well-roundedness
that makes him so difficult to defend will propel him to some pretty
special places.

Despite worries that that well-roundedness would make too much of
an overlap with Andre Iguodala, it seems like he and 'Dre have found a
nice chemistry on the court as co-starters thusfar. Do you expect that
continue, or do you harbor any worries about the team's two flex players
being redundant?

They're definitely redundant. There's no question that they
share much of the same skills. But Andre's jumper has been bafflingly,
happily, absolutely lethal this year and that helps them co-exist. You
could certainly find a few more perfect pairings than Dre/ET but they're
both talented enough to make it work. I think even more awesome plays
are still to come.

So Jrue/Evan/Dre from here on out, then? Can it work out in the long-term?

JTI
is definitely the future. Barring something completely unforeseen,
that's your starting 1/2/3 for the next 3 years. The rest of the time
will be spent trying to find a 4/5 that compliments them. A stretch four
would be beautiful and a defensive-minded center that can score inside
wouldn't hurt either. Basically, Ryan Anderson and Dwight Howard. I'll
call Orlando.
 
I think with something similar, they're a championship contender in 2 years.

So
you think the success that Evan (and by extension, the Sixers w/ ET in
the starting lineup) has had is sustainable? This isn't just a fluke
that'll come down in hard regression soon enough?

I don't think I'm ready to book tickets to his Hall of Fame
induction but I think he's where he needs to be. He's being set up in
the situation that's best for his skills and is surrounded by guys that
are just as talented as he is. There will be off-shooting nights but the
things he does well, he will continue to do well - that's good enough
to keep him in our good graces.

Are you worried at all about his mental state moving forward as
the spotlight continues to shine brighter on him? Mystery problems
reported by Stan Hochman and stories about their days as Ohio State
teammate from Mark Titus' recent book don't exactly paint Turner as the
most stable of NBA dudes.

I'm extremely unworried. He's been in the spotlight at OSU and
shined and faced a ton of adversity as a Sixer already. He's bouncing
back nicely and I don't think any talk from a 143 year old reporter or
an annoying blogger teammate should worry anyone. He's still a kid,
there's obviously people that don't like him and people he doesn't like.
I'm concerned with basketball. He's not DeMarcus Cousins. He's a good
guy and, by all accounts lately, a good teammate.

It seems like the rest of the guys are pumped about his recent success.
 
Yeah you can tell they're rooting for him also. Except maybe Meeks, and even he's saying all the right things.

Speaking
of Meeks, is this the last we see of him? Collins had success with a
shorter rotation against the Knicks, is that something we see more of as
the season advances?

He went shorter rotation because he could - they had a rare few
days off between games and he could afford to run his main guys for
longer. It's still the lockout-shortened season so tired legs are a
concern. I can see Lavoy getting pushed out of the rotation but
Vuce/Lou/Meeks/Thad are going to be the 4 off the bench for significant
time each game once Hawes gets back.

Assuming we do get a healthy Hawes back—with Spence's return and
Evan's ascent, does this change our post-season prospects at all, do you
think? Or are you still saying four seed, first-round win and
second-round bust?

I'm a little more optimistic than I was last time we spoke, but I
think that's because the Evan Turner shine hasn't worn off yet.
Presuming Hawes can be a serviceable player the rest of the year, they
could hang with a 2nd round team depending on matchup. I don't think
they can beat Miami, but anyone else is possible. If it's Chicago, I
could see them going to 7 games and getting lucky. Turner's the
X-factor. Nobody knows how could he's going to be. The past three games,
he's been phenomenal. If that continues, there's no telling where this
team can go.

Safely though, I'll stick with a first round win and a second round
loss. But with the Turner improvements, that's a good sign for next
season and bringing in some extremely useful parts in the offseason.
 
So with the trade deadline tomorrow—we don't expect the team to do anything, right?

I
feel like I'm always disappointed with the team when I'm hoping they
make a move but there's still some possibilities running around in my
head. Noce's expiring, Speights' trade exception, and a few 2nd round
picks make me hoping for a minor move or two. Some people are hoping for
a Lou Williams trade, but I can't imagine them dealing him even though
he'll likely opt out this offseason. I'd put it at a 50% chance of them
making a small move.

Any dream scenarios? Not including Dwight Howard, natch.
 
Without
looking, something like Lou/Noce/1st for Favors or Kanter. That would
assume that Utah loves Lou (they probably don't) and have the money to
re-sign him. I can't imagine the Jazz don't want to move one of their 4
talented big men for a point guard and while I don't feel like Lou is a
point guard, perchance Utah does. This was a dream scenario, so it
doesn't have to have a basis in reality!

As an avowed coveter of high-upside big men, even those who come
at risk, were you a little jealous about the Warriors trading for Andrew
Bogut today? Especially when we didn't hear word one about the Sixers
getting in the mix for the Bucks' talented center?

Not really. I thought the injury risk was too high, actually,
and I've never been in love with Bogut. Strangely, this doesn't bother
me with Oden (I'd still gamble on him - I think I'm hopelessly in love),
but Bogut never struck me as a franchise cornerstone. Now a healthy
Bogut would be the best big on the Sixers and fit perfectly with JTI,
but it's been some time since he was healthy and I wouldn't want them to
give up the pieces it would take to bring Bogut in for an unhealthy
version of him.

Going back to Turner for one more question—why do you think it is
that writers/fans like you and I live and die with every one of his
jumpers? Is it just that we want him to meet the expectations of a No. 2
pick, or is it something about him personally?

For me it's both. The fact that he doesn't look or sound like
your stereotypical baller is endearing somehow and it didn't hurt that
the draft in which we picked Turner was the first draft I covered for
Liberty Ballers. Meeting him in the elevator on the way up to Media Day
pretty much cemented my love for him right then and there. And yes,
since we're pining for him to be the best player of all time, each
jumper that goes in feels like some sort of grand vindication for all
the slack he took from the people who jumped so quickly to their
conclusions about him.

Also, he tweets about dumb cable movies and has very informed opinions about Backstreet Boys vs. N Sync.
 
Michael: Which certainly helps him with the teenie bopper crowd.

Last Q: Any predictions for Pacers/Sixers tonight, either for the team or for Evan?
 
I'm thinking the Sixers, with two days off, will ride some
Turner momentum into a win, but Hawes' return and a pesky Indiana team
certainly aren't a cakewalk. I just don't think they're very good from
the eye test, but everything else says otherwise so I'm probably taking
them lightly. If they faced off against the Celtics, Magic, or Knicks in
the first round, I'd pick them to lose. I'm not a Pacers believer.
 
Another prediction: Evan Turner scores 53 points and delivers a baby on court.

One
more bonus Q I forgot to ask: If the Reign of Turner continues, have
you guys at LBs thought of any good "Linsanity"-style nicknames for it?
 
I've been trying! Here's some that I came up with [on Twitter] which will gain absolutely no steam:
 
#TurnermentTime #InTurnermentCamp #InturnermittentlyAwesome #Turrrrrrrrrneriffic #ChinkInTheTurner
 
#EVANscerated #EVANescance #EVANgelical #EVANquished #DarthEVANder #MassEVANffect and things like that.

There's a good one out there. We'll find it.
 
I'm on the case.

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Flyers’ “Ghost” headed home Monday on a high note — for a change.

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere recorded three assists for the first three-point night of his NHL career Sunday as the Flyers edged the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in the final game of a three-game Western Canada road trip (see story). In one night, he matched his offensive output of his previous 10 games played. 

He was a healthy scratch for three games in the meantime. On many other occasions, he has struggled while dealing with the NHL’s proverbial sophomore jinx following a standout rookie season. 

“It’s been a while coming,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s good to get some points, but I thought it was more important to get two points for our team.”

The win moved the Flyers (28-24-7) within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently held by Toronto, in the Eastern Conference. With considerable thanks to Gostisbehere, the club’s much maligned power play scored on two of three man-advantage opportunities. 

“He played great,” Wayne Simmonds said of Gostisbehere. “He had his confidence and a little bit of swagger.”

Gostisbehere’s first assist enabled the Flyers to get off to a quick start offensively as Simmonds deflected in his point shot only 1:11 into the game. On the Flyers’ second goal, Gostisbehere head-manned the puck to Sean Couturier on a rush. Jakub Voracek easily put Couturier’s big rebound into a gaping net with Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller caught out of position.

One minute and 27 seconds later, Brayden Schenn took Gostisbehere’s pass and put in a shot from the slot. Altogether, Gostisbehere’s assists enabled the Flyers to build an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the game’s first 23 minutes.

“Ghost has had his ups and downs this year, but he's a heck of a player and has unbeliveable skill,” Simmonds said. “He can be a catalyst offensively for us, that’s for sure.”

Gostisbehere now has four goals and 18 assists on the season. Until Sunday, the 23-year-old had seemed like an apparition of his former self. 

He had a less-than-ideal recovery period from offseason hip (labrum) and abdominal surgeries, due to his participation with Team North America in the World Cup. Then he suffered a facial cut in the Flyers’ season opener and took a bruise on his right hand in December.

He also struggled defensively to the point where he was scratched — for the first time in his NHL career — in November and was later benched and pulled out of the lineup again. Heading into Sunday’s game, he had a woeful minus-22 mark, but he was only on the ice for one Canucks' goal.

He helped the Flyers shut out the Canucks in the first and third periods. 

“We don’t like how they came back, but we held the lead and, like I said, we got the two points,” Gostisbehere said.

Ghost’s offensive showing evoked memories of his seemingly other-worldly 2015-16 season. In 64 games last season, he notched 17 goals, the most by an NHL rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf, then with Calgary, who scored 20 over a full 82-game schedule in 2005-06. Gostisbehere also enjoyed a historic 15-game point streak in 2015-16, the longest ever for a first-year rearguard, and he was a runnerup for the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

His return to form Sunday bodes well as the Flyers face two Metropolitan Division rivals this week, first Washington at home on Wednesday and then the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday in an outdoor game that will pack plenty of hype and pressure. 

After those games, the Flyers face a more compressed schedule than they have lately. The Feb.12-27 portion of their calendar contains only five games. But starting Feb. 28, they will play their final 21 games of the regular season over 41 days as they push to make the playoffs.

“We definitely know we’re a playoff team, for sure,” Gostisbehere said. “It shows. It’s a big test for us (this) week, playing these really good teams.”

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Dave Hakstol’s Flyers returned home from Vancouver on Monday not quite resembling conquering heroes.

Sure, they salvaged two points from their three-game trek to Western Canada, but for a team that supposedly sees itself as a wild card, that just ain’t gonna get it done.

The Flyers required at least four points — ideally, five — from the trip to give us some proof they’re a legit contender for the wild card.

Right now, their wild-card hopes remain on life support.

Yes, they’re only two points behind Toronto. Thing is, the field of wild-card contenders have officially caught up and even passed them.

When the Flyers left for the trip, they were even in points with the Maple Leafs while holding down the 9-seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto had the second wild card.

Hakstol's team is the 11-seed now. Toronto, Florida and the New York Islanders are ahead of them with games in hand.

This trip should offer enough evidence to general manager Ron Hextall that his team is still floundering.

There are no moves Hextall can initiate at the trade deadline that will guarantee a playoff spot without mortgaging the future.

Since their return from the All-Star break, the Flyers are 3-5-1. Those numbers don’t suggest they’re headed to the playoffs.

And even if the Flyers were to qualify as the second wild card, they would face a very early exit against the Washington Capitals.

Again.

At this point, with the March 1 NHL trade deadline staring Hextall in the face, he has to be a seller at the deadline.

If you trust Hextall’s long-term plan of patience, you understand that what this is about is preserving assets and preparing young players to be integrated into the system next year and the year after, and the year after that.

Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto are two unrestricted free agents who could help someone else right now.

Streit has been strong this season on the power play, which is his forte. He’s the perfect deadline rental.

Even if Hextall would like to have Streit’s veteran leadership on the blue line next season on a one-year, low salary to “tutor” Robert Hagg or Sam Morin or Travis Sanheim, he could still move Streit now and re-sign him later this summer.

Del Zotto, at 26, will get a nice return in draft picks or a prospect. Del Zotto is going to want a big contract this summer (he’s making $3.87 million now).

There’s no incentive for Hextall to go that direction given the sheer number of young, outstanding defensive prospects in the system that will be arriving shortly, all of whom come with very low salary cap hits.

Don’t blame Hextall for not getting involved in the Matt Duchene/Gabriel Landeskog saga that is going on in Colorado. GM Joe Sakic is asking a lot.

Hextall seems reluctant to part with any future prospects or young players just to get the same in return.

Much of the fan base has been saying for a while now it’s time to move team captain Claude Giroux. He's in the midst of his fourth consecutive season in which his numbers have declined, and in some respects, dramatically from his two best seasons — 2011-12 (93 points) and 2013-14 (86 points).

Yet there is no indication from Hextall or anyone in the Flyers' organization that such is even being contemplated.

Or that the organization feels Giroux’s leadership abilities have been assumed by Wayne Simmonds, who is arguably the most popular Flyer, two years running now.

Hextall still sees veterans such as Giroux, who is only 29, as a player who would help the transition of younger pups coming along — Travis Konecny, German Rubtsov, Nick Cousins, Jordan Weal, etc. — and he also believes Giroux can recapture his offense.

In short, Hextall is not going to tear his roster apart nor is he going to make a blockbuster trade next Wednesday. But he will likely try to sell veteran assets that make the team younger in some way.

Which is the correct thinking for the Flyers now and right into this summer, as well.