Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers Off-Season: 8. Is Spencer Hawes Good Enough For Our Starting Center?

Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers Off-Season: 8. Is Spencer Hawes Good Enough For Our Starting Center?

It’s been a tough three years with Spencer Hawes in Philadelphia. Our
prospect big man, who started 150 games over his first three seasons as
a Sixer, has been the quintessential NBA tease over his time
in Philly, playing well enough for stretches to gradually raise our
expectations, until he pulls the bottom out from under us with a week or
a month of subpar play, only to begin the cycle over again. The flashes
of growth and unteachable talent are always offset by flashes of
regression and general incompetence, and at the end of the day, it’s
exceedingly difficult to tell if we have a really good NBA player who
just needs to learn consistency, or a seven-foot mirage whose
deficiencies will always outweigh his perceived “potential.”

For the first few years, the Sixers were driven by necessity, and a
paucity of other viable options, to lean towards the former, and they
even rewarded his uneven play with a two-year, $13 million contract last
off-season. With the acquisition of Andrew Bynum later in the summer,
it was supposed to take the pressure of Spence to prove himself–he’d be
overpaid as a back-up center, for sure, but his inconsistency would be
less concerning in a lower-leverage role on the team, and who knows,
maybe he and Bynum would even be able to work well off one another, as
Bynum and Pau Gasol once did in Los Angeles.

Obviously, that pan didn’t plan out, and now with one year remaining
on his contract, the question remains of whether or not Spencer Hawes
will ever be an acceptable starting center in the Association. The
Sixers would really, really love him to be, considering he’s still only
25 (happy birthday last Sunday, Spence!), still not terribly expensive,
and when he plays well, the Sixers always seem to be able to reach
another level, as they did this March when he had his best month of the
season (14/10/4 on 51% shooting and 50% from deep, with two blocks) and
the Sixers went 8-9 for the month, their best month of 2013, sadly.

The numbers sorta bear out that last part, by the way. Take a look at Spence’s splits in Sixers wins vs. losses this season:

Wins: 12 PPG, 8 RPG, 3 APG, 50% FG, 42% 3PT, 2.0 BLK
Losses: 10 PPG, 7 RPG, 2 APG, 44% FG, 30% 3PT, 1.0 BLK

Every player is better in wins than losses, generally, but those are
pretty notable splits, especially in terms of his shooting numbers.
Passes the eye test, too–there’s just so much more that opens up for the
team on offense when he’s hitting his jumper, but everything seems to
really sputter to a halt when he’s clanking.

Anyway, you could make the argument, as Sixers brass will likely try
to, that Spence is a viable option at starting center going into next
year, if Bynum doesn’t work out and Al Jefferson costs too much and no
one in the draft really catches their eye. He still has an above average
PER (16.0 last year, not bad for a center), and set a career high in
Win Shares, supposedly worth about 4.5 wins to the Sixers last year.
Besides, he got better towards the end of the year, and he’s still only
25, which means there should be plenty of room for him still to improve.

I would bet against this happening, though. Forgetting his defense
for a second, let’s compare his numbers this year to his stats for the
Sacramento Kings back in 2009, his second year in the league:

2009: 11.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.9 APG, 47% FG, 35% 3PT, 1.2 BLK
2013: 11.0 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.2 APG, 46% FG, 36% 3PT, 1.4 BLK

Kind scary similar for a player in his age-20 and age-24 seasons, no?
There are some subtle efficiency differences to be found if you look
hard enough–Spence shot the ball about 10% better from the free-throw
line this year, averaged about half a turnover less a game, and had a
much better defensive rating (though a lot of that was his playing on
the 17-win, anything-goes Kings team of 2009). But for a player to go
through as many ups and downs as Spencer Hawes has as a player the last
four years and essentially be right back where he started
production-wise…it’s a little disconcerting for his long-term prospects.

And if he can’t be a superlative offensive player, his defense will
always make him a net liability. When discussing Hawes’ D, Sixer fans
will likely flash back to the Celtics series in 2012 where he was
profoundly abused by the likes of Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass,
proving himself downright unplayable over the course of the series
(though Coach Collins continued to play him just the same). This year,
Spence wasn’t much better, continuing to get swallowed up by more
physical, sizeable frontlines like that of hose on the Nets, who Hawes
averaged just five boards a game against in four games this season.
(According to Hoopdata,
Spence ranked 23rd in Total Rebounding Rate among centers who played at
least 20 minutes a game.) He was still routinely a crucial half-second
late on help defense, he still didn’t get his hands up to contest jump
shooters, and he never, ever took charges–only three all season, pretty
deplorable for a defensive anchor.

Spence would still be an asset as a backup center, and as a $6.5
million expiring contract this season, could have value to the Sixers in
trade scenarios, either as cap filler in a bigger deal, or as a
short-term loaner to a contending team in need of size in exchange for
future prospects and/or draft picks. As a starting center, I think it’s
safe to say he’s run his course in Philly, and that if we tip off the
season with him jumping at half-court, it probably means our
expectations for the year should be kept reasonably low. Much here
depends on Bynum, free agency, and the draft, but if the Sixers’ plan
for our big-man situation is to resign Hawes to another contract–of any
size or length–once his current expires, that’s really no plan at all.

Previously:

No. 10. Where Are We Now (And Where Are We Going)?

#9. Is Thaddeus Young Untouchable?

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

The Phillies are a lifeless team right now.

For a while the starting pitching was the biggest issue, then it was the bullpen, now it's the offense. The Phils have hit .224 since May 12, which was when their 2-7 road trip began. 

Their .268 on-base percentage over that span is worst in the majors and their .613 OPS is better than only the Mariners.

Players up and down the lineup are slumping. Odubel Herrera has hit .207 with a .246 OBP since the ninth game of the season. Michael Saunders hasn't given them much at any point. Maikel Franco had an eight-game hit streak snapped Monday, but even still is hitting .221 with a .281 on-base percentage. 

At this point, why not bring up Roman Quinn and play him every day? It makes too much sense right now.

Daniel Nava went on the 10-day DL Monday with a hamstring strain suffered Friday in Pittsburgh. It doesn't seem to be a serious injury, but why not use the open space as an excuse to bring Quinn up for at least a few days and see what he's got?

Quinn could infuse some energy and life to the top of a sputtering lineup. Bat him second, play him in the corner outfield and see what happens. At the very least, he'd be a defensive upgrade over Saunders. At the most, Quinn's hunger to stick in the majors could result in a hot streak that sparks the top of the order the way Herrera does when he's hot.

Quinn is hitting lately at Triple A, batting .333 with a .424 OBP over his last 15 games. He showed last September that he can be an offensive catalyst with his ability to beat out infield singles, bunt for hits and spray the ball. Yes, he strikes out too much for a leadoff-type hitter, but it's just hard to see the downside of a call-up right now.

The argument against bringing Quinn up now is that it's too early to sour on Saunders, a player the Phillies signed in hopes of trading at some point. But think about how much Saunders would have to do to have worthwhile trade value. Yeah, you could flip him somewhere for a negligible return or some salary relief, but he'd have to be extremely productive for at least a month to get a team interested in trading a minor-leaguer of any value for him.

Pete Mackanin has tried many things to spark the Phils' lineup, moving Herrera and Franco down, sitting guys, challenging guys. The best solution, perhaps the only solution right now, might be a move made over his head to promote the Phils' speedy, switch-hitting outfielder who has a future with them so long as he stays on the field, which he has this season.

As for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro, who have also hit very well at Triple A, they just happen to play the same positions as Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp, who have been the Phillies' most reliable bats the last few weeks.

Jason Kelce ignoring trade rumors as he tries to work on himself

Jason Kelce ignoring trade rumors as he tries to work on himself

Jason Kelce is aware of the rumors and reports that have surrounded his name this offseason. 

As much as he might try to avoid them, the Eagles' veteran center does not, presumably, live under a rock. So he's heard for months about the possibility of his long run with the Eagles coming to a close. 

After all, the Eagles have stockpiled an abundance of interior offensive linemen who can play center, and trading Kelce would save the team $3.8 million in cap space. 

So it all makes sense, but Kelce is trying to keep it out of his mind. 

"I think you'll drive yourself crazy if you're reading too much into what's going on," he said on Tuesday as the Eagles kicked off their voluntary OTAs. "My whole offseason has just kind of been really the only thing I can control is my game and the way I play and what I've been doing. So I've just really tried to hit the weight room, work on technique, work on things to try to get my game back to where it used to be."

How is he able to put it out of his mind? 

"Because worrying about it doesn't do any good," he answered.

While the Eagles have Isaac Seumalo and Stefen Wisniewski ready to play center if necessary, head coach Doug Pederson said on Tuesday that Kelce is still "the guy." 

Kelce, 29, was named to his second career Pro Bowl team last season, which might be a surprise to those who watched the Eagles throughout the year. Kelce wasn't as bad as some people think, but he also probably wasn't a Pro Bowl-caliber player. 

He got off to a very slow start in 2016 but did seem to get better as the season went on.  

"I feel at times last year, there were times I was dominant and games where I didn't really do a great job," he said. "You go back and watch film and try to make the corrections, try to make sure that moving forward I'm the same player I was in the past."

Kelce attributed many of his problems early last season to lousy technique. He's been trying extra hard to work on that part of his game as well as in the weight room. 

Often characterized as undersized, he said weighed 295 pounds on Tuesday morning. That's also his listed weight on the Eagles' website. 

All last season, Kelce said he played in the 290s, which was heavier than he had been in a long time. His goal this offseason is to make it up to 300 pounds by training camp, and then he hopes to keep the weight on. 

"I would certainly think so," he said. "As you get older, it gets a little bit easier to put on the weight and hold it on. I think everybody kind of finds that out."

Perhaps the biggest reason for the Eagles to keep Kelce around this season is the development of quarterback Carson Wentz in his second year. Kelce, as his center, might be integral to Wentz's growth. Although Kelce said he doesn't think of it like that when asked if that relationship gives him an advantage over others.  

Kelce has been with the Eagles since 2011 when he was a sixth-round pick out of Cincinnati. He's played and started 78 games in six seasons. 

He admitted last season he needed to play better or he knew he would become expendable (see story). So the rumors and reports this season likely aren't a shock to him. 

He's still not going to pay attention to them. 

"The reality is, we always have guys coming in, coming out," he said. "Now we happen to have a lot of really good depth at interior line. But like I said, it doesn't do me any good worrying about the what-ifs. All I can control is what I can control and that's how I go out and play, how I go out and prepare and how I try to get back to the player I've been in the past."