Sixers Finish Summer League; Michael Carter-Williams Frustrates But Intrigues

Sixers Finish Summer League; Michael Carter-Williams Frustrates But Intrigues

Orlando is over, and the Sixers will be packing up shop for a couple months now. The Sixers finished their Summer League set with a 1-4 record, their one win coming when they barely beat the Nets on the last day in a battle of the league's two worst teams, in a game that was (perhaps mercifully) untelevised. Needless to say this team was not overflowing with talent; I would be surprised if more than one or two of the players not already signed by the Sixers actually ended up on an NBA team next year. (And even a couple of those might not survive the summer.)

But of course, the team's record itself is of little import compared to how our impact prospects played, namely anointed Point Guard of the Future Michael Carter-Williams, who kicked the league off with a 26/7/8 performance that was actually more up-and-down than that final line would actually indicate. That performance was likely Carter-Williams' best of the week, as his 8-23 shooting night in that game would somehow end up being the highest percentage he shot in any of the five games, which also consisted of 4-20, 5-16 and 3-16 outings, dragging his final FG% for Orlando to a sparkling 27%.

Simply put, MCW has real, real trouble putting ball in basket. This comes as no surprise to Sixers fans, who have long been warned that Carter-Williams' shooting touch was highly lacking in his college career, but the degree of his struggling this week was pretty damn harsh. It's not just that he can't shoot straight--his stroke actually looks OK, though for whatever reason, it doesn't end up going in that much--it's that he doesn't have a particularly stocked arsenal of moves when it comes to getting his shot off. Often times he would drive to the basket, get stopped eight to ten feet out, and just kinda chuck the ball at the basket, with predictably limited success. He doesn't seem to have much in the way of floaters or up-and-under moves, which a guy with his lousy outside shooting results needs badly to be any kind of effective on offense.

Turnovers were also an issue for MCW. Again, nothing unexpected, but Michael was almost pushing double-digits with the giveaways in a couple of these, and it's pretty hard to be effective as a distributor when you're coughing the ball up that much. Many of the TOs were forgivable, but some were just the result of carelessness--being loose with his dribble, leaving his feet before deciding what he was going to do with the ball, wedging passes into spaces that were barely there, if at all. Between the turnovers and the misses, there was a whole lot of sighing and head-shaking to be done watching Carter-Williams this week.

So, a complete disaster, then? Well, I'm not willing to go quite that far. Carter-Williams struggled in predictable areas, and mightily so, but he also impressed in expected areas as well. His near double-digit turnover games were also near double-digit assist games--an unsustainable ratio, but one that shows that he's being aggressive with his play-making, which is generally a good thing. He had a couple lead passes in the half-court (especially to Arsalan Kazemi, who he developed a nice chemistry with) that were impressive in their both vision and their execution, and there were stretches--particularly in the second half of a narrow loss to Orlando--where he was getting into the paint and kicking out to open teammates on virtually every play, creating easy scoring opportunities like a point guard is supposed to, first and foremost.

And though he appears to be currently helpless scoring the ball from most areas of the court, he did show an impressive ability to finish around the basket, as well as the tenacity to drive at it continuously. His size allows him to finish over smaller defenders, and his wiriness allows him to contort his body to get around help defenders in mid-air. Of course, unless you're LeBron James, you can't just attack all the time, as eventually defenders can play you solely to drive and you'll end up getting your shot blocked a whole lot (as MCW certainly did as the week went on), but it's a good instinct, and one which when (hopefully, eventually) paired with an improved outside shot and a decent floater could make him quite a terror on offense.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YpP7oKLn0Y
But really, if you want to find value in MCW's Summer League performance, it'd mostly come on the other end of the ball. As raw as he is offensively, Carter-Williams seems likely to be an immmediate contributor on defense, where his length gives smaller point guards real trouble and his athleticism allows him to recover from the pick-and-roll in a way few defenders of his size could. OKC Summer League point guard Dwight Buycks impressed enough in his Orlando audition to get a two-year contract from the Raptors, but he was totally helpless against Carter-Williams, who blanketed him all game and held him to just two points and three assists (with three turnovers) in his limited minutes. In a league being gradually overrun by young, lightning-quick point guards, to have a potential stopper like MCW is really a tremendous asset to the Sixers moving forward.

What's more, Carter-Williams impressed with his ability to anticipate passing lanes and reach in for steals. Now, steals is often an overrated statistic when evaluating defense, since a high steal tally often means a predilection towards gambling, lunging for swipes that don't come to fruition and leave you (and subsequently, your whole team) out of defensive position, but MCW didn't guess wrong a whole lot, and when he did get hands on the ball, he excelled at transitioning into the fast break, with the speed and handling to finish himself and the smarts to kick ahead or cross-court to open teammates. On a team that's going to struggle in the half court like the Sixers invariably will next year (and maybe a couple years after), being able to get those easy points off turnovers will be tremendously key for them to stay in games.

On the whole? I'd be lying if I said I came away from the Sixers' week in Orlando convinced that Michael Carter-Williams was absolutely the guy to quarterback the next good 76ers team. If he can't score--like, at all--that's a pretty tough problem to get around, regardless of how much he contributes elsewhere on the floor, and there's a lot of feel-for-the-game stuff that he still needs to learn about leading a team and directing an offense and all that stuff. But Rich Hoffman of Liberty Ballers has done a good job of putting MCW's shooting and scoring in perspective as his "swing skill"--the area in which the degree of his improvement will determine the degree of his ability to be effective as an NBA player. You'd rather know for a fact that he can do it, but the fact that being able to do it is pretty much all that's keeping him from being a good pro is cause for optimism, since it's a partially learnable skill, and you'd rather have a super-talented guy with one gaping hole in his game than someone who's just across-the-board mediocre.

For some additional perspective, I'd advise you to look at the Summer League case of Utah's Trey Burke, taken two spots ahead of Michael Carter-Williams in the 2013 draft, the highest-picked point guard of the whole class. Burke's struggles in Orlando arguably eclipsed even Carter-Williams', with the rookie point also finishing with a final FG% in the 20s, as well as a disturbingly arid 1-19 mark from three over the week. (Even MCW managed to hit four total from deep over five games.) Burke did not impress terribly with his playmaking or defense, and seemed to struggle to get any kind of easy baskets--the few shots he made seemed to all come off tough fadeaways and long catch-and-shoots, which, cool, but when playing against the weak competition of Summer League, making it look easy is always a better sign for a player's pro prospects than making it look hard.

Now if I was a Jazz fan, I'd be pretty f'ing scared right now about that pick. Unlike Carter-Williams, Burke wasn't an offensively raw product in college--he averaged nearly 19 a game at Michigan, shooting 46% from the field and 38% from deep, sweeping the Player of the Year honors and was supposed to step in right away as the Jazz's starting point guard and best perimeter scorer and playmaker. And what's more, if Burke isn't scoring and distributing with ease, he's not contributing a whole lot on the court, as he's undersized as a defender and rebounder and not terribly effective in those areas. The situation with Burke reminds me (to my eternal chagrin) of our own Evan Turner, another consensus Player of the Year whose Summer League difficulties before his rookie season were indicative of the very real issues he was going to have adapting his college-dominating game to the pro level. It's not a death sentence for Burke, exactly--anybody can have a bad stretch of games, and I'm sure there's no shortage of excuses the Jazz camp have for their #9 pick's poor play, likely with varying degrees of credibility--but again, if I was a Utah fan, I'd be tempering my expectations considerably for what could be a pretty rough rookie season for Burke.

I'm not trying to pick on poor Trey Burke here--I'm sure there are Jazz blogs out there doing that well enough already--but I'm just trying to illustrate why you'd ultimately rather have a Summer League performance like that of Michael Carter-Williams, whose difficulties were very real and very problematic, but were also expected to a degree, and were tempered with similarly expected contributions in other areas. The issues with MCW are fixable, the issues with Burke, I wouldn't be so sure. Now, that's not to say that Carter-Williams will definitely (or even probably) fix said issues--it's entirely possible his scoring and shooting difficulties will remain such a problem that he will ultimately prove unplayable. But that's the gamble that Sam Hinkie took all along with our #11 pick, and if he's willing to bet long-term on Carter-Williams, then the young point guard deserves our faith and patience as well.

Ultimately, Michael Carter-Williams and the Philadelphia 76ers just might be the perfect fit for one another next season. Carter-Williams will undoubtedly struggle from the field tremendously all season--if he shot even 35% from the field, that might be considerable as a win for the Sixers--and the offense will suffer for it. But he'll learn, and in the meantime, the Sixers will lose, and hopefully by the time MCW gets enough of a feel for the pro game to be effective on both ends of the court, we'll have a couple high draft picks with which to give him the help on offense that he needs--considering his current go-to guy on offense is Thaddeus Young, who's only once averaged over 15 points a game and may not even be on the team at this point next year. Hell, Ricky Rubio has yet to score 11 a game or shoot over 36% from the field, but he's still looked at as a cornerstone of the Timberwolves' rebuilding process for his ability to contribute in all other facets of the game--passing, defending, even rebounding--and his remaining upside at age 22. No reason to think MCW couldn't turn out similarly, and on the Sixers, he'll get the chance to do so.

As he often does, my dad summed it up perfectly while we were watching MCW's up-and-down performance in his Summer League debut: "Well, he's going to stink this year, but that's OK." Sounds about right on all accounts.

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jayson Tatum lights up Virginia, Wake Forest

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jayson Tatum lights up Virginia, Wake Forest

We're have just a few weeks left in the college basketball regular season, so everyone is looking for a big win. Or in the case of a top prospect, a big performance to show all the scouts.

Let's take a look at whose stock rose and whose fell this week among eight top freshmen.

Jayson Tatum, forward, Duke (6-8/204)
America is finally seeing the Jayson Tatum that was highly touted coming into his one-and-done stint with the Blue Devils. The move to power forward has ignited his game and helped catapult Duke in its seven-game winning streak. His line Saturday against Wake Forest — 19 points on 6 for 11 shooting, 3 of 5 from three, and seven rebounds — was pretty good and he made some clutch free throws to clinch the win.

But can we talk about his Virginia game? Seriously, this may be the gem of his college career. Tatum's Blue Devils were held to just 21 points (he had seven of those) by Virginia's stingy defense in the first half. So what does he do? Score 21 by himself in the second half to lead the Blue Devils past a top-15 team. He had 28 points on just 13 shots, making 6 of 7 from three while adding eight rebounds, a block and a steal. He had a 7-0 run by his lonesome that put Duke up for good. He's likely a three at the next level, but Tatum displayed all the tools to be an effective three while dominated at the four, a much-needed boost for the soon-to-be top-10 Blue Devils.

Lauri Markkanen, forward, Arizona (7-0/225)
The three-point shooting slump isn't quite done yet for the Finnish freshman, but at least he's found his scoring touch again. Markkanen had a pair of double-doubles in Wildcat wins this week over Washington St. and Washington, all while only making 1 of 6 from beyond the arc. He's now just 4 for 19 from three in his last five games, a slightly worrying stretch that has brought his three-point percentage down to 46.5 percent.

Still though, he didn't fail to produce in 68 minutes combined over a three-day span. First, he had 19 points and 11 rebounds vs. Washington St. in a 78-59 win, his first double-figure rebounding effort since his last game vs. the Cougars. He then came through with 26 points and 13 rebounds against Washington in a 76-68 win. He was able to hit some jumpers but also competed inside, making his way to the free-throw line nine times and making eight from the stripe. It's certainly encouraging after some lackluster showings over the last two weeks.

Markelle Fultz, guard, Washington (6-4/195)
After missing two games last week with a knee injury, Fultz came back fully healthy with a pair of nearly identical performances. On Thursday, the impressive freshman shot 7 for 16 from the field, 2 of 6 from three, and had 19 points to go with four assists during an 83-81 loss to Arizona State. Two days later, he shot, get this, 7 for 16 from the field, 2 of 6 from three, in the loss to Arizona. He did make to the charity stripe more often (make 10 of 15 from the free-throw line) and finished with 26 points and six assists.

In the defeat, Fultz still played 38 minutes and scored or assisted on over 55 percent of the Huskies' points. Sure, he had four turnovers, but when you have the ball in your hand as often as he does, it's bound to happen. It's a pretty good idea of what he'll be doing for a team that finds itself at the top of the lottery this year. He showed off every part of skill set — shooting, getting the rim, finishing, etc. — Saturday and nearly led the 9-18 Huskies to a win over the No. 5 team in the country.

Lonzo Ball, guard, UCLA (6-6/190)
Most players don't dominate a game while taking the fewest shots among his team's starters. Most players aren't Lonzo Ball. Ball messed around with a triple-double while taking just nine points Saturday night, coming up just short with 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the Bruins, who beat USC, 102-70.

Three teammates scored more points than Ball, but that's in part thanks to how well he spreads the ball and runs the offense. His maturity doesn't just come on offense. He's also solid on the defensive end, in part thanks to his 6-6 frame at point guard.

Malik Monk, guard, Kentucky (6-4/185)
Kentucky's catalyst keyed the Wildcats to two more wins this week as they extended their win streak to four. Monk was his normal volume shooting self in the two games against Tennessee and Georgia. He took a total of 31 shots, up from 30 over two games the week before. While he made just 10 of the 31 attempts, the formula seems to be working because the Wildcats keep winning.

He had 20 points with four threes and eight rebounds in a blowout win over Tennessee. The more impressive effort came with worse stats in the road victory against Georgia. He made just 3 of 11 but got to the free-throw line for 11 attempts and got it done for Kentucky in other ways, notably five assists and three steals. Monk has been labeled an offense-only guard, so the trio of steals are a welcome sight. How he'll defend ones and twos at the next level will be a real defining challenge for him.

Quick Hits
• Florida State lost consecutive games and forward Jonathan Isaac was relatively quiet, scoring 15 points on 14 shots over the two games. He had just three free throw attempts yet still reeled in 12 rebounds and had four blocks.

• Kansas' Josh Jackson provided 16 points on 14 shots Saturday, as the No. 3 Jayhawks defeated No. 4 Baylor. Jackson, by making his only attempt vs. the Bears, is up to 35.3 percent from three.

• NC State fired its coach this week, but that didn't stop Dennis Smith Jr. from being his normal self. In a pair of losses to ranked teams, Smith had 43 points, nine assists and seven rebounds combined.

Now a country music artist, ex-Phillie Brett Myers hopes to play in Philly

Now a country music artist, ex-Phillie Brett Myers hopes to play in Philly

Much like he was on the mound, Brett Myers is giving everything he has to create a name for himself in the music industry. And he is doing it by being his "own man." 

Unlike the mainstream pop-country that appears in your head when you think of the genre, Myers has set out to be different. When asked about the country music of today, Myers does not agree with the direction it is going. His first album, "Backwoods Rebel," describes the former Phillies’ starter and his music accurately — rebellious and unconventional. Myers’ music is country with a twist of rock but holds back from the mainstream pop country of today. 

“They kill it, don’t get me wrong,” Myers said this week in a phone interview with CSNPhilly.com. “But it’s not my cup of tea. Every song is about a girl and sitting on a tailgate. I think it is pop country that is out now. Country music is about songwriting and storytelling. I see these guys like Luke Bryan singing these songs, and I see they have six guys write the song. I mean, does it really take six guys to write a song? That frustrates me because I am a singer and songwriter. I live in this world. I don’t live in their fairytale world that they are singing about. 

"I think a lot of people want to listen to their music because it takes them away from their everyday life. But I want to write about everyday life stuff. I can only write about what I know and what I’ve seen. I don’t feel like this country music stuff we listen to today really grasps real-life stuff like country music is supposed to be.” 

For the last two years Myers has dedicated himself to this craft and produced two albums — he is working on his third. At first, it was strictly writing and no singing. The former pitcher was convinced to sing and now has the itch to play in front of live audiences.  

The end goal: get back to the City of Brotherly Love. 

“My main priority this year is to play a couple shows in Philly,” Myers said. “That’s all I want to do is play a show at the Fillmore or one of those venues they have in Philly. I know half the people there would come to watch me suck. And the other half would come to see me (do well). That’s the way Philly is and I am perfectly OK with it. I would enjoy it.”

The misconception with Myers’ post-retirement career is most people do not see it as a serious endeavor. He wants to clear the air. Myers is as serious as it can be when it comes to his music, but he still hasn't had the chance to play in a big venue in Philadelphia. 

He has played a few shows in Florida — his home state — but knows Philadelphia is his best chance to validate his music career. 

“The two shows we’ve done, I can tell you we don’t suck,” Myers said. “I got two guys from ‘Puddle of Mudd’ in the band. An original member from ‘Shinedown’ in the band. These guys have platinum records on their walls. And I think to myself, 'Why would they be a part of this if they thought it sucked?'"

He does not want a promotional team behind him; instead, he wants to go against the grain and make it in the industry on his own. 

“Twitter, Instagram, try to do some podcasts here and there,” Myers said. “My buddies have a syndicated radio show that I go on and put my music on. A couple people in Philly have written articles about when I first came out with my album. Good or bad.

“With the second album, I didn’t get the same publicity as the first because it wasn’t a shock. So not many people know it’s been out since August. I am working on the third one now, but this is why I need to play live (for more publicity).”

As he did with baseball, Myers doesn’t do this because he wants to make money. He loves it.

“I’m not going to do it if doesn’t make sense," he said. "Because I’m doing it for nothing. I’m putting my own money into this thing, but my band is not going to play for free. If I can make enough money to pay them and pay for our expenses. I don’t care if I make a dollar out of this.

“I want to create my own genre. Meaning I am southern rock and country, that’s how I classify my music. I don’t just say, 'Yeah I’m a country music artist’ or whatever. Because I know I am not mainstream country. That’s what people think country is right now, pop country. I don’t offer that and I never will. I don’t believe in selling out to make a dollar. I’m writing this for me and people who want to enjoy it.”

Country music and his children have his full attention these days, which makes it is hard for Myers to keep up with his old team. He did offer some words about the front office dealing with the young players and how there is always a chance the Phillies could surprise people in this season. 

“Honestly I don't know what their clubhouse personalities are so I really couldn't tell you if they have the same similarities," he said. "But you know, we were that young team coming up. It took us a while to figure it out, but Pat Gillick and his team put together a great group of personalities with a good mixture of young talent and veterans.

“I wish them the best, but you never know what the season has in store for anyone. Teams look good on paper then can't perform on the field. That's what makes baseball so great you never know what's going to happen. It's just so unpredictable.”