Tony Wroten, James Anderson and the new look Sixers in the first week of training camp

Tony Wroten, James Anderson and the new look Sixers in the first week of training camp

The Philadelphia 76ers have descended upon the Philadelphia Center for Osteopathic Medicine, meaning training camp is officially underway. The new-look Sixers will play their first pre-season game on Oct. 6th (though they'll be going all the way to Bilbao, Spain for that one) and will debut at the Wells Fargo Center about a week after that. In the meantime, however, we're treated to transmissions from the first couple days of practice, including the team's first scrimmages and those scrimmages' first lineup implications.

First off came the revelation a couple days ago that the Sixers' off-season acquisition James Anderson was getting looks with the squad's first team during scrimmages, leading reporters to conclude that he will begin the season as the team's starting two-guard. Anderson has started just six games thusfar in his three-year NBA career, and the numbers have not been pretty--about eight points and four rebounds a game on 35% shooting, with nearly as many turnovers as assists.

So why Anderson? Well first and foremost, it's a general paucity of options. There was previously some thought that Arnett Moultrie would crack the starting lineup at the four, which would slide Thaddeus Young down to the three, while Evan Turner would start at shooting guard. But Moultrie's season-delaying surgery has Thad once again the likely starting power forward, and ET the small. The team's only other options for a backcourt partner to Michael Carter-Williams would be Khalif Wyatt and Darius Morris, both of whom would give up a good deal of size at the position, or Tony Wroten, whose terrible outside shooting would make him a poor fit with the already brick-happy MCW.

James Anderson does have himself some size--he's a hearty 6'6", 210 pounds--and the reputation of being a shooter and scorer, even if that hasn't really translated to the pros yet. When asked at a recent media scrum about what he could bring to the Sixers, Anderson mentioned his three-point stroke, but that hasn't been a real weapon for him yet at this level, where he's been a career 33% shooter from deep--though it was a more reliable weapon for him in college, where he shot 38% from three (with high volume) over three years.

At the very least, Anderson does bring decent athleticism to the position, with a potential to be a weapon in the open court. More than anything else than camp started, new coach Brett Brown has preached pace as a priority of the new Sixers administration (as well as the fitness required to maintain such a pace), and the 24-year-old Anderson certainly fits into that. Observe this footage of him dunking on Nuggets guard Evan Fournier in the open court last year, possibly the season's most underrated slam:

If he can defend competently, shoot a little bit and give that kind of effort running the floor, there's a pretty good chance James Anderson will end up getting serious minutes on this team. They'll likely be filler minutes, as it's unlikely that Anderson will blossom into a serious piece on this team four years into his career after washing out with model organizations like the Rockets and Spurs (twice!), but they'll help make the team coherent, which is important for the team's watchability, if nothing else.

The real story of training camp, however, has been combo guard Tony Wroten, who was the star of the team's most recent scrimmage, the only one open to reporters thusfar. Wroten impressed media and coaches alike with his athleticism and play-making, with Coach Brown even going so far as to call Wroten the "star of the day" and say that he "resurrected the gym" after Spencer Hawes tweaked his ankle earlier in the practice. (He'll be fine, presumably.) You can see a couple of Wroten's highlight plays in this post-scrimmage video interview with the Washington native, including a perfectly executed 2-on-1 break and a just lovely baseline dish to a plunging teammate for an easy layup.

Like Anderson, Wroten is sure to get a fair deal of opportunity with this team based on the style Coach Brown evidently wants to play with his young team. In fact, more than maybe any other player on the team besides the injured Nerlens Noel, the sublimely athletic T-Wrote looks the ideal fit for Brown--an up-and-down player with passing smarts, finishing ability, and practically unlimited defensive potential.

Of course, the downside of this is the dreaded potential quarterback controversy, which may be coming somewhere down the line between Wroten and MCW. It's tempting to consider playing them together, since both players have the size and athleticism to guard either points or twos--Coach Brown even compared Wroten to former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans, who has spent plenty of time at the one, two and three--and they would likely be a deadly defensive combo.

But as previously mentioned, the shooting woes the two would have alongside one another would likely be too considerable to ignore. Wroten's lack of an outside stroke has earned unflattering comparisons to Rajon Rondo, shooting just 38% from the field and 25% from deep in his rookie season with the Grizzlies. (Perhaps even more discouragingly, Tony shot just 9-56--16%--behind a shorter three-point line in his one season in college). Considering that Carter-Williams is pretty damn far from a marksman himself, as anyone who watched him in Summer League can attest to, it's hard to imagine how the two could play together for extended stretches without totally annihilating the team's floor spacing.

He'll get the start at season's outset regardless, but it's not hard to envision a scenario in which MCW struggles badly from the floor to begin the season, while Wroten has himself a couple highlight plays as the primary playmaker of the second unit, and fans start calling for T-Wrote--who also has first-round pedigree, and is actually a solid year-and-a-half than the rookie Carter-Williams--to start in his stead. Dealing with such matters will likely rank among the biggest challenges for Coach Brown in his first season at the helm of this young team, though he'll have the advantage of impossibly low expectations to give him room to do whatever experimenting is necessary with this roster.

In any event, this is all just off one scrimmage, and perhaps Wroten struggles in the next one while MCW has himself a couple nice alley-oops and layup finishes to be the gym-resurrector of the afternoon. Long way to go with this bunch, and it's entirely probable that the rotation the team starts the season with bears little or no resemblance to the one they end with.

One other, less familiar name to take note of from these early scrimmages: Hollis Thompson. The undrafted 22-year-old Georgetown product signed with the Sixers for training camp after spending last season with the Tulsa 66ers of the D-League, and though his stats there weren't great--eight points and four boards on about 45% FG, 29% from deep--he does have the athleticism and motor Brown is looking for, and did convert at 44% from beyond over three years at Georgetown, which might be enough for the shooting-starved Sixers to give him an extended look this year. (Reports also say that Thompson impressed at the practice, for whatever that's worth.)

Finally--yes, enigmatic power forward Royce White did actually play in the scrimmage, which means that his legs are indeed still attached to his torso and it's possible that he'll actually get a chance to crack the team's injury-depleted frontcourt rotation. However, those getting overly excited at the prospect of White triple-doubling it up in the post for the Ballers should take a quick read of Michael Levin's fine column wisely advising against putting any sort of stock in the Iowa State alum's performance this year, or even remembering that he's on the team in the first place. Until we see him out there on the court during actual NBA action, he's the Sixers' heavily tattooed unicorn--like Andrew Bynum with slightly saner follicle mood swings.

New Jersey product Tim Adleman limits Phillies to 1 hit over 8 innings

New Jersey product Tim Adleman limits Phillies to 1 hit over 8 innings

Cincinnati Reds starter Tim Adleman came into Friday night’s start against the Phillies with an ERA above six, having allowed 10 runs in his last 5 2/3 innings. 

So, naturally, he gave up just one hit over eight scoreless innings. 

The 29-year-old righty dominated the Phillies in just his 20th career MLB start en route to his third win this season, pitching easily the best game of his young career in a 5-2 Reds’ win (see game recap).

It was understandably the best that Reds manager Bryan Price had seen from Adleman.
 
"It wasn't just because of the line score," Price said. "It was really command-based. Really good both sides of the plate. Had a nice sinking fastball, could straighten it out when he needed to. A very, very good changeup. I don’t think he even used a breaking ball there until the eighth inning.

"So it was really that good."

At just 100 pitches through eight, naturally the question for Price was whether to allow him the chance at a complete game. However, Price needed to get reliever Asher Wojciechowski work to get him ready for a start next week.

"I wanted to stay in there pretty badly, but you understand the move," Adleman said. "Wojo needed to get some work. It had been a while since he threw and it's a game in May. It's not a game that's deeper in the season. … I totally understand."

For his eight innings, Adleman attacked the Phillies' batters early in counts and didn't allow a batter to reach third all night. He retired the leadoff batter in all but one inning and allowed just four batters to reach base.

The Phillies' only threat came in the first inning. An Andres Blanco single was followed by an Aaron Altherr hit by pitch. That brought up Thursday's hero -- Tommy Joseph -- with two men on and just one out. Adleman utilized his changeup on a 1-2 pitch, inducing a weak grounder back the mound for a 1-4-3 double play. 

In three at-bats against Joseph, Adleman recorded three ground ball outs, all on the changeup, which is his primary off-speed offering.

"The scouting report is that he's a really good fastball hitter. Does a lot of damage on fastballs," Adleman said, "So if you can get him in situations where you're confident he's looking for a fastball and then cut a changeup on him, it can be really effective. Obviously, you have to keep it down, but that's the same with all your pitches."

Joseph's at-bats set the trend for the rest of the Phillies' lineup. The Reds’ starter kept the ball down and didn’t allow another baserunner until he walked Blanco to lead off the seventh. Sixteen of his 24 outs came on ground balls and only five pitches were hit past the infield. 

Adleman stated his goal was to use the Phillies’ aggressiveness against them with strikes early in the count and it worked. It was his first time pitching into the eighth inning in his career and he did so with almost exclusively his fastball and changeup.

"I think it had a lot to do with that little pause [in his delivery] and he did a good job changing speeds on us," Joseph said. "He basically did it with two pitches, which says a lot about how hard this game can be. Hats off to him. 

"Next time we'll see if we can't get him back."

In a way, Adleman was getting the Phillies back. He made the third start of his career at Citizens Bank Park last year on May 14. He took the loss against Friday’s starter, Aaron Nola, while allowing three runs in five innings.

Born in Staten Island, Adleman was raised in New Jersey, but grew up a Yankees fan. He hadn't been to CBP until college, where he faced Villanova while playing for Georgetown. 

At 29, he's a little old for a second-year starter because he took a winding road to the major leagues. Drafted by the Orioles in 2010, he was nearly out of baseball by 24. He spent two years in independent leagues before catching on with the Reds and debuting in the show last season.

The journeyman starter had struggled in his last few starts, which helped his ERA balloon to 6.19. However, his Friday night opponent seemed more than happy to take some air out of the balloon. Adleman became the fifth pitcher in the last six days to come into a start against the Phillies with an ERA of 5.00 or above and allow one run or less over at least five innings. 

"It feels good," Adleman said of his night. "Philly's a good young team and Nola is making quite a name for himself. He out-pitched me last year and coming into tonight I knew I had an opportunity to right the ship so to speak."

Pete Mackanin calls team meeting after Phillies hit low point with 21st loss in 26 games

Pete Mackanin calls team meeting after Phillies hit low point with 21st loss in 26 games

BOX SCORE

When the opposing pitcher comes in with an ERA that matches the area code for San Diego -- 6.19 -- and holds you scoreless on one single over eight innings, well …

You've reached the low point of your season.

And it's time for a team meeting.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin called for a little powwow after his club suffered a 5-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night (see Instant Replay). Don't let the final score fool you. It wasn't that close. The loss was the Phillies' 21st in the last 26 games. They were held to three hits for the fourth time in the last six games -- five losses -- and have scored just nine runs over that span.

Mackanin acknowledged that this was the low point for his team, which owns the worst record in the majors at 16-30. Cincinnati starting pitcher Tim Adleman entered the game with a 6.19 ERA, but he pitched like an ace in holding the Phillies to just a first-inning single over his eight shutout innings (see story). Adleman walked two, struck out four and at one point set down 16 straight Phillies. The 29-year-old right-hander has made 20 starts in his big-league career and this was by far the best.

"Yeah," Mackanin said when asked if the loss was the season's low point. "We need to step it up. We’re better than this. I know we’re better than this. We’ve just got to start playing as aggressive as we can and take it to the other team. Be aggressive at the plate and pound the strike zone."

That apparently was Mackanin's message to the club in his postgame meeting, though he would not talk about it.

"He just wants to see us play with a little more fire and a little more energy," Aaron Altherr said. "You know, it’s something we’ve got to do. Today wasn’t too great. But, like I said, hopefully we can right the ship and start winning some games again."

Tommy Joseph was tight-lipped on the content of the team meeting.

"That's basically stuff that was between us," he said. "There's a pretty good understanding that we need to get going in here and that was really it. I think the rest is pretty self-explanatory and what he had to say is between us.

"It's definitely not a lack of effort. Everybody is out there trying to get the job done. I think there are certain nights when the job is getting done. When things start to spark a little bit, everybody feeds off that. Obviously there are some nights where that doesn't happen. It's definitely not from a lack of effort. Everybody is going out there busting their ass, so it's just a matter of sometimes it goes our way and sometimes it doesn't."

Mackanin used slumping Odubel Herrera in the leadoff spot for the first time this season and he produced a ninth-inning double after Adleman exited. The Phillies actually loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, but a fielder's choice ground ball and then a strikeout by Maikel Franco, the potential tying run, ended the game. Franco struck out swinging wildly at a full-count breaking ball from Raisel Iglesias.

Joseph mentioned that Adleman changed speeds well and used a slight hesitation in his delivery to throw off hitters.

But was it more the pitcher or more just a bad offense?

"It’s hard to tell," Mackanin said. "That's a daily question. Are we not hitting the ball like we should or is the pitcher that good? It seems like I look up and every other pitcher we face has a 6.00 ERA, but I think it’s all because we’re missing good pitches to hit. We’re getting pitches to hit and we’re not hitting them."

Aaron Nola did not have a good start. He gave up a pair of homers in falling behind, 3-0, after two innings, and, obviously, there was no coming back, not with this offense.

The Philies are 5-18 in the month of May.

Or should we say Mayday?

"We’re trying to stay positive, as positive as we can throughout this stretch," Altherr said. "You know, it’s tough sometimes when things are going the way they are. We’re just going to keep being positive, keep trying to bring as much energy as we can to win some games."