What Philly Is Overreacting To: The Sixers

What Philly Is Overreacting To: The Sixers

Until recently, there have been basically two camps of Sixers fans.

We have a peaceful village of people who enjoy this surprisingly competittive basketball team. They understand Rome was not built in a day, and consider stockpiles of young talent their chief form of currency. Let's call these people Ed Stefanski.

The rival tribe consists of sinister, warmongering hockey fans who want to slash and burn all of the club's resources. They've been reading from the book of Chuck, and pray one day the Liberty Ballers will be rebuilt in the likeness of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

My friends, you don't have to choose between these two ridiculous factions any longer. Dissatisfied with the core philosophies that guide both sides, I decided to break away and start my own group, and you are all welcome to join.

Our principal belief: the Sixers could play in the NBA Finals this year.

While the opposing coalitions squabble with each other over blueprints, we are focused on the bigger picture. Right now, that's the Eastern Conference standings.

The Sixers are positioned comfortably in seventh place, and are poised to strike at the higher seeds. A win last night along with a Knicks loss would have elevated them to sixth. Of course, neither of those things actually happened... but with 18 games to play, there is plenty of time.

Atlanta might not want to get too cozy in the fifth spot either. The Sixers are only four games back of the Hawks, who are just 3-7 in their last 10. Nobody seems to be talking about this, but even if Philly is unable to pass New York, the Hawks are very much in their sights.

So the Sixers could rise as high as fifth in the East, which would establish them as what? The best of the medicore teams?

There is some truth to that. We are not an idealistic people, and must concede there is a higher order of competition in the NBA. We also believe the Sixers soon could join their ranks.

First, eliminate that awful 3-13 start from the record book. That might as well have been a completely different team, and had it not been for that horrid stretch, the Sixers would be on pace to easily eclipse 50 wins. It's not an arbitrary total either, as it's usually the minimum number of victories a franchise representing the East in the Finals will reach.

The Sixers have come even further since then though. Just as the team is better now than they were at Game 1, they're better now than they were at Game 41. In fact, in the last 22 contests, they are 16-6. A .727 win percentage spread across an entire season would put them in the hunt for 60 W's, and the best record in the conference.

Obviously, that deserves some context. They haven't beaten a lot elite clubs during that span, have been home more often than away, pissed a few of them away, etc. If nothing else at least, it suggests they still may be on the rise. 

And while it's true the Sixers are only 2-7 against the top four seeds in the East this season, would you consider any of them unbeatable? Take away a highly unusual 45-point fail at Chicago, and the average margin of losing to these teams is by less than five points.

That Bulls game is clearly an outlier, and they responded with a revenge win a few weeks later. Philly has gone the distance with Boston and Orlando every time they stepped on the court, falling by no more than four in any meeting so far. Miami looks like they are imploding.

Is that crazy cult leader really suggesting the Sixers can match up with anybody in the East?

Well, sort of. All things being equal, I have to admit any one of those teams is still in a better position to make a Finals run in 2011. Key components from the Celtics, Heat, and Magic have all been there before, and the Bulls are incredibly talented. Chances are Philadelphia can't outlast three out of four of them in seven game sets.

Why is everybody so quick to count the Sixers out though? Because they don't have a superstar? Yeah, there's a revelation.

With the recent emergence of Evan Turner as a respectable NBA player, what the Sixers do have is a dynamic team that is eight or nine players deep, several of whom the sky is the limit for their potential. Maybe somebody will finally realize theirs at the end of one of these close games they keep losing.

And maybe this Finals talk is only a pipe dream. Maybe I should go back on my medication.

Maybe the fact that the Sixers are good—and fun to watch—yet incomplete isn't a bad thing either. Maybe, when the time is right, they will take the next step, and this is simply all part of that process.

AP Photo

Nelson Agholor unlikely to play Eagles' preseason finale, even if he could use the work

Nelson Agholor unlikely to play Eagles' preseason finale, even if he could use the work

Starters typically don't play much if at all in the final preseason game, but what does that mean for the Eagles and Nelson Agholor?

Agholor may be a starter by default, but the second-year wideout has followed up a disappointing rookie campaign with an uninspired summer thus far. More reps might be of value for a young player in Agholor's position.

Doug Pederson apparently disagrees, telling reporters on Monday that Agholor "probably" won't make an appearance in the Eagles' preseason finale this Thursday against the Jets. When pressed for an explanation, the head coach gave a curious response.

"One, I don't want to risk an injury necessarily," Pederson said. "Two, he's right on track with where he needs to be, so I'm not concerned with Nelson."

Any assertion that Agholor is "on track" is debatable. The 2015 first-round pick has just two receptions for 30 yards in preseason action. To make matters worse, he's also dropped three passes, including a costly deflection that went for an interception against the Colts on Saturday.

Minimal production and lapses in concentration plagued Agholor throughout last season, and there's little evidence those issues are behind him. Regardless, Pederson sounds unconcerned.

"Every day he comes out here and puts in a quality day's work," Pederson said. "He works extremely hard, and I've seen what he can do in practice.

"Is there the occasional drop here or there? Yeah. What he did after the drop (against the Colts), you probably didn't notice the blocking downfield, the things he did away from the ball. More than being a receiver — obviously, catching the ball is number one — but we pride ourselves in being physical in the run game and blocks down the field, and the things he did in this football game put him in a really good position going into the regular season."

To his credit, Agholor has shown a willingness to contribute without the ball in his hands. The 23-year-old threw a key block on Josh Huff's eight-yard touchdown run on Saturday.

Of course, Agholor wasn't taken 20th overall for his ability to pancake defensive backs. The Eagles are hoping he can become a viable target in the passing attack.

Agholor has dealt with questions about his production and confidence going back to last year. He knows as well as anybody that he needs to improve, although he doesn't necessarily feel that growth needs to take place in an exhibition game.

"The most important thing to me right now is practice, and I got an opportunity to go out here and practice and progress from the game to today," Agholor said. "We went over some corrections from the game, so that was a step, and now when I go out here, I have to show signs of progression.

"(Coach Pederson's) decision is his decision. For my mind, I need to make sure I go out here today and get better as a football player."

But are Agholor's troubles holding on to the football correctable through practice? Drops are often attributed either to a receiver's hands or his concentration, both of which tend to be difficult flaws to overcome.

Concentration has been more to blame in Agholor's case. If there's a positive, he realizes that. Agholor looks at a drop like the one he had against the Colts that wound up going for an interception and tries to figure out exactly what broke his concentration on that play so that he won't make the same mistake again.

"As a wide receiver, when you watch that, the end result, the drop, isn't on my mind," Agholor said. "It's 'What was my route?' to go to that. Did I do too much to take my focus away from receiving that football? And I felt like I did.

"I felt like my pattern to get to the football — I made man moves and they were actually in a zone — and all those stairsteps made my eyes and my hands not be in the right place to receive the football at the right time."

Nobody is putting more pressure on Agholor to eliminate these mistakes than he is.

"That's what you have to do in this league, and that's what you have to do for a football team, especially when they count on you," Agholor said.

"My teammates count on me to be explosive with the football and without the football. I want to always do it with the football because that's my job. I'm a wide receiver. But as a player on the field, I have to make sure I'm explosive and I have to make sure I make plays without the ball in my hands too."

Perhaps that's why Pederson is showing so much faith in his young receiver. Work ethic has never been an issue for Agholor, and he's going to do whatever he can to become a reliable weapon for the Eagles. When he comes up short, it's not for lack of effort or preparation.

Fortunately, there's still time for Agholor to turn things around. If he can give the offense somewhat steady production in 2016, nobody will remember the preseason or even how he struggled as a rookie. Agholor realizes that too, so he's worried only about getting ready for opening day against the Browns on Sept. 11.

"I have a responsibility because I will be a guy that's out there," Agholor said. "In my mind, my number's going to be called multiple times and I need to answer the phone. That's how I look at it."

Eagles LB Myke Tavarres reportedly changes mind, will stand for national anthem

Eagles LB Myke Tavarres reportedly changes mind, will stand for national anthem

Several hours after telling ESPN that he would join Colin Kaepernick in not standing for the national anthem, Eagles rookie linebacker Myke Tavarres has apparently changed his mind. 

Tavarres' agent told FOX29's Chris O'Connell Monday afternoon that the linebacker will stand for the national anthem Thursday in the Eagles' preseason finale against the Jets.

All right then. 

For what it's worth, Crossing Broad found this picture from Tavarres a few weeks ago, when he certainly seemed to be pro-America.

Happy Independence Day!! 🇺🇸

A photo posted by Myke Tavarres (@myket14) on

Carson Wentz back at practice, frustrated he’s out for Eagles Thursday night

Carson Wentz back at practice, frustrated he’s out for Eagles Thursday night

Carson Wentz was on the fields at the NovaCare Complex wearing a helmet and ready to practice on Monday for the first time since fracturing his ribs on Aug. 11 against the Bucs.

He’s getting better. Just not quickly enough.

Despite being back at practice Monday afternoon, Wentz will not play in the Eagles’ preseason finale against the Jets on Thursday night. The original hope was that the No. 2 overall pick would be ready for the fourth preseason game.

“That’s a no-go for this week, but I’ll be ready for Week 1,” Wentz said.

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said a CT scan on Wentz’s ribs showed one was completely healed, while the other was just 60 percent healed (see story).

Wentz said he expects to be fully healed by Sept. 11, when the Eagles open the season against the Cleveland Browns. But by then, he will have missed three of his four opportunities to play in the preseason. And, as the third-stringer, he won’t even be active on game days.

“It’s tough,” Wentz said. “With all injuries, it’s tough not being on the field, especially as a competitor coming in here, these preseason games were going to be big for me. It’s tough, it’s frustrating, but it just kind of is what it is.”

In his only game this preseason, Wentz went 12 for 24 for 89 yards and an interception. He also ran three times for 15 yards. During that game, he showed flashes of why the Eagles were so high on him, but it was just a taste.

After Thursday night, he will have spent the rest of the preseason as a spectator during games, taking mental reps instead of real ones.

Mental reps help, certainly. Wentz stands on the sideline and mentally inserts himself into the play. What would he do here? What would his read be there? What would he do with a certain protection?

“You’re really just trying to be locked in like you were the guy in the game,” he said.

Mental reps are great. But they don’t replace the real ones. Nothing does.

So while Wentz has been working to get better since going down with the ribs injury earlier this month, he’s lost valuable practice and game reps that he won’t get back. Pederson said once the season starts, the team can’t help him make them up because it will be too focused on getting the starters ready to play.

“You have to make the most of every opportunity you have in practice,” Wentz said. “I feel confident with where I am. Obviously, I missed the couple preseason games. I know when my number gets called, I’ll be ready.”

Pederson on Monday said he was less concerned about Wentz because Wentz is the third-string quarterback behind Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel. That was the plan before Wentz’s injury. Then the injury cemented that plan.

Does Wentz have any hope that he’ll play during his rookie season?

“I’ll be ready to go,” he said. “It’s not up for me to decide. We’ve been talking about this forever now. I know I’ll be ready to go and I’m excited for when I’m back out there. Practicing today, I’m excited for that too.”