Post-Draft Extras: Sixers Graded, Reynolds Snubbed, Turner Summarized

Post-Draft Extras: Sixers Graded, Reynolds Snubbed, Turner Summarized

So the night is over, the dust has settled, and the Sixers pick appears final: Evan Turner, Ohio State Buckeye and 2010 National Player of the Year, is your newest Philadelphia 76er. (The team had no second-rounder, having traded it to Milwaukee as part of last year's Meeks-Ivey blockbuster). In his post-draft team grade column, I was afraid that ESPN draft guru Chad Ford would rip the Sixers for taking a player so similar to Andre Iguodala, the possibility of which he had previously tut-tutted, but Ford actually complimented the Sixers' decision, giving their draft night an A- grade. Sez Ford:

The 76ers snagged the best player in college basketball and have to be
thrilled. Turner's versatility and ability to lead in big moments are
the stuff that makes players great. His lack of elite athleticism and
his high turnover rate are some cause for concern, but most see him with
similar upside to Brandon Roy.

Of course, Ford does still mention the overlap with Iguodala presenting a likely issue:

More problematic is Turner's fit in Philly. He and Andre Iguodala are similar players and both are at their best with the
ball in their hands. I think it's likely that the Sixers will try to
find a trade for Iguodala this summer. If they can replace him with a
shooter, Turner could be the guy who turns the Sixers back into a
contender.

For the record, I would really like to see the Sixers at least give it a try with both Turner and Iguodala. So much of the problem with 'Dre at the team's forefront last year is that he didn't really have anyone on his skill or IQ level to really run with--at least until Jrue's emergence as his playmaking equal late in the season, which seemed to loosen up Iguodala's game considerably and allowed both to thrive. Add Turner to that mix--maybe the smartest player in the draft--as well as a quality passing big man like Hawes, and this could be the team most conducive to 'Dre's point-forward skills that he's ever played with. I'm not saying it's a guaranteed recipe for success--no matter good your team is at sharing the ball, eventually SOMEONE has to put it in the net--but I just want the team give it a chance before we ship of 'Dre to the Celtics or Rockets for 30 cents on the dollar.

Also, I'm surprised Chad doesn't mention it, but I can't help but be the slightest bit disappointed that Turner was the only move the Sixers made last night. There were rumors floating around that Philly was gonna try to buy in to late in the first round, and I was pretty excited at the prospect of them doing so--I thought maybe they could grab one of those project big men who kept slipping out of their projected near-lottery status, like Kentucky's Daniel Orton, South Florida's Solomon Alabi, or Marshall's Hassan Whiteside. Taking a flier on one of those guys to maybe groom into the pivot of the team's future could have been a dice-roll worth throwing, and teams were selling those picks fairly cheap. Oh well--at the very worst, the team did the right thing with their one move, and with this team, "nothing catastrophic" is just about the best compliment you can give for their personnel moves.

Happy as the night was for the Sixers, however, one of Philly's favorite sons was sadly left with his cheese out in the wind. Scottie Reynolds, heroic Villanova combo guard and the face of Big Five basketball for the last two-plus years, was passed over 60 times last night to become the first AP All-American in post-merger history not to get picked by anyone on draft night. We were worried after Reynolds' horrible end to his senior season (Scottie shot a combined 4-26 in Nova's two NCAA games, after feuding with teammate Corey Fisher and receiving a surprise benching from coach Jay Wright) that his stock would slip, but I think most of us were hoping some team would at least take a second-round chance on the college star. In any event, we here at the Level salute Scottie's excellent four years at Nova, and wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors, whether it be in the D-League, overseas, or outside basketball altogether.

Meanwhile, as he does every year, ESPN star fan-analyst Bill Simmons did a Draft Diary column, and it was interesting to see that as a sidebar in this year's edition, Simmons asked Evan Turner's Ohio State teammate Mark Titus to talk a little about Turner's draft night performance. Mostly, he talked about Turner's wardrobe, saying he hoped he'd pull a Lady GaGa with his get-up. Failing that...

I realized there was virtually no chance of Evan going over the top with
his wardrobe, because pretty much nothing about Evan could be described
as "flashy." On the court, the bread and butter of his game is his
midrange jump shot (unexciting yet effective). Off the court, he's a
well-mannered and respectful kid who can be found reading books,
watching film, or working on his game in the gym on weekend nights.
This substance-over-style attitude was reflected last night in demeanor
and dress [...] While Al-Farouq Aminu regrettably wore glasses that made him look like
Squints from "The Sandlot," Evan wore the same prescription glasses that
he's worn for years. These glasses paired with this year's atrocious
draft hats made Evan quite possibly the first top 2 pick in NBA history
to also look like the draft's biggest dweeb.

It's true that Turner's wardrobe, combine with a naturally nasal speaking voice, did kind of give him a certain honors-student / AV Club air. But a final note on that, as well as a message to those who still think we should have taken Favors, the upside pick, over Turner, the safe choice...

The last few years, NBA TV has taken to replaying most of the old drafts from the 80s forward in their entirety. It's fascinating to watch these timestamped NBA portraits for any number of reasons--watching the evolution of ESPN graphics and music, seeing the different hairstyles that Hubie Brown and Doug Collins have gone with over the years, and listening to the sound of teams get super-excited about players and decisions we know never really panned out (John Calipari raving about taking "sure thing" Kerry Kittles over Kobe Bryant in 1996 remaining my all-time favorite) all among them.

My favorite thing, though, is the interviews with the players. It's not usually about the questions asked, or about the answers given--no revelatory information is ever shared in these perfunctory Q&As--but about how the player carries himself in the interview. You don't often see it analyzed as a prospect projection metric, but I swear that more often than not, you can tell who the future pro stars are going to be from how they conduct themselves in these pieces. The best players are quick, thoughtful, engaging, and most importantly, comfortable in their own skin. The eventual busts are dull, rote, fidgety and almost unwatchably awkward. It's not a perfect grading rubric--nobody was more charming in their post-draft interview than the Timberwolves' Isiah "J.R." Rider, and I don't know if you'd exactly say he turned out as hoped--but generally speaking, show a non-NBA fan one of these drafts, and they'll be able to pick out the future building blocks of the league by how they handle Craig Sager and company.

Which brings me to my obvious and perhaps biased point: When it came time for him to do his introductory conference with the press last night, Turner was a stud. He was composed, he was considerate, and he sounded about ten times more comfortable answering my question about his potential status as the Sixers' next real franchise player than I did asking it. (Hey, it was my first time actually piping up in one of those things, cut me some slack.) He sounded knowledgeable about the team, rehearsed in his responses but never robotic. And as he got up to leave, I could hear the other reporters--not all of them Sixers fans, presumably--whispering amongst themselves about what a great kid he was. It was heartwarming, for real. (Btx, John Wall was similarly impressive in his presser, and he and Turner actually shared a nice bro embrace in between interviews that I wish I was quick enough to have gotten a photo of--it could be like that famous Biggie and Tupac photo in ten years.)

Favors was...less so. He talked in a hushed, low murmur, and appeared to be hiding behind his (admittedly enormous) Nets draft cap at times. He gave clipped answers to questions and said generally little of interest. He didn't sound like a complete dunce or anything, he just sounded like something of a dullard. Now, in the grand scheme of things, does that really matter? If Favors can finish on the break, patrol the paint and play inside-out, will anyone care in five years if his favorite sandwich is peanut butter and jelly and he only got a C+ on his high school book report on Moby Dick? Of course not. Besides, Favors is only 19, and has as much of a chance to grow into his own skin as a person than as a player as the years progress.

But when picking this high in the draft--and the Sixers might not get to pick this high again for a long time--do you really want to choose a franchise savior that can't even handle a room full of (predominantly) scruffy-looking middle-aged dudes, let alone 20,000 screaming fans at Madison Square Garden? Regardless of what either player ends up being on the floor, what the Sixers need arguably more than anything is a leader, someone to change the culture of the locker room and be the primary figure to answer for both the team's successes and their failures. They need someone to do for them what Brandon Roy did for the Blazers, what Chris Paul did for the Hornets, what Kevin Durant did for the Sonics/Thunder. Whether or not you believe Turner is that guy--and I'm pretty sure that I do--one thing I think we can definitely all agree on is that Favors isn't.

So even if in five years Favors is the next Amar'e Stoudemire and Turner the next Randy Foye, I'll still believe that Stefanski, lord love him, made the right decision--the only decision--on draft night, 2010. At least that's what I'll tell myself when we're anticipating the lottery yet again, hoping that this time we finally get the guy who turns it all around.

(Photo again from the Sixers' Twitpic account. Turner will be introduced by the Sixers at a press conference around 12:30 today, if you want to see him in action yourself, or check it on CSNPhilly.com after.)

Phillies MVP Jerad Eickhoff proved people wrong, changed expectations

Phillies MVP Jerad Eickhoff proved people wrong, changed expectations

It feels appropriate with the season coming to an end and the recent struggles of the Phillies' entire pitching staff to again point out how consistent Jerad Eickhoff has been in 2016.

Tuesday's rain delay likely cost him a shot at reaching 200 innings — he's sitting on 191⅓ with one start left — but his season has obviously been a success whether or not he reaches that mark. 

Some may argue Odubel Herrera has been the Phillies' MVP this season, but I'd go Eickhoff. Maybe that's just based on the inconsistencies of his rotation mates, but there's real value in a guy who gives you six quality innings each time out. Eickhoff this season was basically John Lackey — a reliable mid-rotation workhorse with solid but unspectacular numbers.

ESPN's longtime prospect analyst Keith Law mentioned Eickhoff this week in an Insider post looking at players he judged incorrectly. Eickhoff and Cubs Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks were the first two pitchers mentioned.

In his assessment of what went wrong with his initial evaluation of Eickhoff, Law wrote:

"I hadn't seen Eickhoff in the minors and, based on what I'd heard about him, had him as a back-end starter, saying he had the repertoire to start but giving him a limited, back-end ceiling. Eickhoff had a good curveball with Texas. But the Phillies' staff has encouraged him to throw it more often, and it's been a difference-making pitch for him. His curve accounted for 40 percent of his swings and misses in 2016, and it's one of the most effective curveballs in MLB right now; that pitch alone has made him more than just a back-end starter, and he has been the Phillies' most valuable starter this year. He is probably a league-average, No. 3 starter going forward with the arsenal he has — average fastball, plus curveball, inconsistent slider that flashes plus but on which he makes too many mistakes — and with 4-WAR potential, given his durability."

Eickhoff's curveball was what made a lot of us take notice late last season. He used it to shut down some good lineups in September, and he finished 2015 with back-to-back seven-inning, 10-strikeout games against the Nationals and Mets.

This season, he grew up. He incorporated the slider more and that led him out of an early-season funk. Early in the year, hitters were laying off his curveball and swinging at any fastball near the zone because it's a hittable pitch. Once he started showing another breaking ball, the game plan for the opposition became more complicated.

There was nothing fluky about Eickhoff's 2016 season. He'll enter the final day of the season 11-14 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. 

It's pretty startling to compare Eickhoff's numbers since joining the Phillies to Cole Hamels' with the Rangers. Have a look.

• Hamels with the Rangers (44 starts): 3.42 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 2.8 K/BB ratio, .244 opponents' batting average

• Eickhoff with the Phillies (40 starts): 3.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 3.9 K/BB ratio, .244 opponents' batting average

It's not an apples to apples comparison because Hamels has pitched about 40 more innings than Eickhoff in a tougher league and in a tougher ballpark. It doesn't mean that going forward they will be equals. It just means that over the last season and a half, their production has been close to equal.

Nobody would have expected a year ago that Eickhoff would be the best piece in that trade. But until Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams graduate to the majors in full-time roles and produce, Eickhoff will be the unexpected centerpiece of that blockbuster deal with the Rangers.

He's a walking example of solid scouting and even better player development by the Phillies.

Union want to send off Tranquillo Barnetta with MLS Cup win

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USA Today Images

Union want to send off Tranquillo Barnetta with MLS Cup win

CHESTER, Pa. — Union head coach Jim Curtin knows it may seem like a weird situation to some.

Early on Tuesday morning, as soccer fans around the area were just waking up, the Union issued a press release that stated that Tranquillo Barnetta would be leaving the team at the end of the 2016 season (see story)

There was no trade. No sale. No contract dispute. No off-the-field issues. 

It was simply a case of a player — a really good player — deciding before the end of the season that he wanted to say goodbye to MLS and finish his pro career with his hometown club in St. Gallen, Switzerland. 

“I think it’s unique maybe to the American public and fan bases that a guy announces it and there’s still [part of] a season left to play,” Curtin said during his weekly press conference. “I think it’s strange for everyone to hear it that way. But in Europe that’s kind of the norm. To get out ahead of it shows what kind of man and leader he is. He addressed the team and didn’t want it to be a situation where something leaked out. He’s a true pro. I’m honored to have coached him and I want to prolong it as long as I possibly can.”

In other American leagues, of course, a talented but aging player with Barnetta’s pedigree might drum up a bidding war to try to get one more good contract in free agency before he retires, perhaps using a strong playoff performance to do so. But, as Curtin alluded to, global soccer is a whole different animal. And Barnetta never planned to use his 2016 performance as a launching pad to a new deal with Philly or something bigger on a different MLS team.

His plan all along was to retire for the hometown club he cheered for as a kid — and he made sure he’d have the freedom to do so when he signed with the Union last summer.

“We offered several years but he was very content and adamant about taking an 18-month deal,” Curtin said. “A lot of people say they’re not about the money but Tranquillo truly means when he says it. He came here at a very big discount to what his value was in the European market. And he had a goal of playing for his hometown club, which I respect at the end of the day.”

If there’s any knock against Barnetta, it’s that he essentially treated MLS as a short-term project, a way to try something new after an illustrious career in Switzerland and Germany, to live in a different part of the world and see different cities throughout the United States.

But make no mistake, he earned that right and he never tried to hire his future ambitions. And even if his tenure with the Union will be a short one, it’s been very beneficial for both sides.

Barnetta, for instance, learned about the grueling travel demands in MLS and the more physical nature of the league compared to ones in Europe, all while showing the sublime skill that made him a three-time World Cup veteran for Switzerland.

And the Union leaned on his talent and leadership at the end of their disappointing 2015 season and throughout the entire 2016 campaign with Curtin calling him “the best player that ever wore a Philadelphia Union jersey.”

“He’s a great example for our young guys,” the Union coach added. “He’s got a close relationship with a lot of the veteran guys. And he’s just a pleasure to have in the locker room. He comes to work with a smile on his face but when it’s time to work, he’s the hardest worker there is. A true professional. And the pedigree is the highest we’ve ever had in this club.”

You can make the case that acquiring players with great pedigrees hasn’t always worked to the Union’s benefit (see: Mbolhi, Rais), but it’s hard to find any fault in the Barnetta deal, especially when you consider Philadelphia got him at a discount and that Curtin and technical director Chris Albright orchestrated the signing at a time when the franchise was in a state of flux and sporting director Earnie Stewart had yet to join the fold. 

For someone that’s played in three World Cups, the Champions League and one of the top leagues in Europe, Barnetta may not be the biggest name out there. But getting him when they did was still something of a coup for Philadelphia. And the benefits will likely be reaped for a long time to come as the Union followed last year’s Barnetta signing with a couple of big moves in the offseason and this summer’s long-term acquisition of U.S. national team starter Alejandro Bedoya — the combination of which has them thinking about the playoffs and a whole lot more even as Barnetta’s departure looms.

“It’s something we want to celebrate rather than pity and feel bad,” Curtin said. “We’re happy for the time we’ve had him here. And now we’re gonna make it last as long as we possibly can. The rest of the games out, in the pregame talk, we’ll say, ‘Let’s extend this thing as long as possible and use it as a rallying cry.’ You don’t want it to come to an end. And when it does come to an end, you want it to be a special moment.”

What kind of special moment?

“We want his last game with the Philadelphia Union to be an MLS Cup.”