The700Level

Are Sixers veterans hurting more than helping?

Are Sixers veterans hurting more than helping?

Notice how whenever the Philadelphia 76ers are missing one player in a game this season, it looks like they spend the whole game scrambling to plug up that hole (and end up leaving new holes elsewhere in the process)? It wasn't supposed to be like that this year. 

This was the season we were going to finally have depth, wasn't it? I remember doing those opening night roster exercises and smiling at how the Sixers legitimately went three deep at every position. But this December, you look around at the team and when one or two guys are out, you aren't sure if there are three left that you totally trust. 

Of course, there are reasons for this. We did a two-for-one trade of Nik Stauskas and Jahlil Okafor for Trevor Booker, and now Booker is out indefinitely with an ankle sprain. Furkan Kormaz busted his foot. Markelle Fultz is permanently three weeks away from being three weeks away. Other rookies are either overseas or not ready yet. A couple dings here and there and depth dissolves a lot faster than you realize. 

But the Sixers' front office has also largely failed this roster in giving them vets that provide stability and reliable late-game playmaking. I don't want to be too tough on JJ Redick, who has had some spectacular fourth quarters for Philly this season, but also some miserable, fumbly, head-scratching stretch runs. Last night against the Chicago Bulls was certainly among the latter group for JJ, as he had two bad turnovers and didn't even take a shot in the final five minutes, as the Sixers choked away an eight-point lead with under four to go and ultimately lost 117-115. 

The real problem is with Amir Johnson and Jerryd Bayless, who as Sean O'Connor pointed out repeatedly on Twitter last night, are being paid a combined $20 million this year and are downright unplayable at times. Johnson was leaden last night, putting up just 4 and two in 14 minutes and ultimately proving unable to hang with the ball-swinging, sweet-shooting, perimeter-focused Bulls offense. Bayless looked like he was on his way to heroism in the fourth, converting a four-point play to put Philly up nine, but then he bricked three straight wide open kill-shot triples to potentially put the game on ice (or at least on some sort of cold compression pack) and got burned badly on a crucial defensive possession in the final minute that ended in an open Bulls three.

It's been a common outcry for Sixers fans this season: How are we losing games because of our vets? For the most part, our young guys played well enough to win in this one, even late: Dario Saric in particular had his best game of the season (27 and 8) and was absolutely brilliant down the stretch, keeping the Sixers in it offense, while Ben Simmons and T.J. McConnell made countless huge plays on both sides of the ball. But Bayless and Redick got big minutes late and they largely fumbled the game away for Philly. It's been very frustrating, especially when the Sixers don't have a ton of other options to turn to: Brown's only alternatives are to play our young guys unsustainably huge minutes or look to the very end of a not-that-deep bench for unlikely relief. 

Hopefully it won't have to be like this all season: Fultz's healthy return would undoubtedly help, as would at least one of Korkmaz and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot proving consistently playable. But in the meantime, it's Don't Trust Anyone Over 25, and it's on the Colangelos a little for spending so much money on veteran players who thusfar haven't been the reliable Know-How-to-Win fixtures to help our young guys reach their potential, but rather vets our prospects have to hope can just hold the line and not cost them a shot at securing the game themselves.

Mask-wearing pioneer Rip Hamilton has advice for Joel Embiid

Mask-wearing pioneer Rip Hamilton has advice for Joel Embiid

Detroit Pistons star Richard Hamilton wasn't the first player to wear a mask in the NBA but sometimes it feels like he was.

Newsweek caught up with Rip this week to talk about his mask-wearing days and to see if he had any words of wisdom for Joel Embiid. Hamilton first wore a mask for breaking his nose, but he continued to wear it for the remainder of his career.

Embiid made his first playoff appearance of his career last night in Miami while rocking a new mask complete with a custom visor to protect his eyes. It was clearly bothering him but he didn't let it dictate his play.

“It was difficult,” Embiid said of the mask. “But to me it wasn’t really about getting used to it because at the end of the day, no matter how much it bothers me, I’ve still got to be a basketball player."

Hamilton has famously said that he embraced the mask to the point of it becoming his "Batman cape" which allowed him to be more aggresive.

"Over a period of time I started to get used to it. As basketball players, a lot of times you go to the basket and it’s a lot of elbows being thrown, guys are getting poked in the eye," he told Newsweek this week. "You tend to clench up because you don’t want to get hit in the face. Once I started wearing that mask I wasn’t clenching up no more. I was willing to take contact more. I was able to get to the free throw line more because now I’m not scared of getting hit in the face. It kind of made me into a more aggressive and better basketball player."

Hamilton's message to Embiid prior to the series?

"Embrace it. Make it cool. Make it fun. Make it like a prop. Don’t get caught up in saying like, 'I got a piece of plastic on my face. I’m worrying about how I look, I’m worrying about my perception when I shoot.' When you’re out there in, like, shooting drills, don’t be so caught up in putting the mask on and trying to worry about how you shoot with it on. Put it on in the game and just wear it because our game is a non-thinking sport. React. You gotta read and react as quick as possible. The less thinking you do, the better you’ll be."

Rip also took notice of Embiid's frustration with the mask following the game. He encouraged Jo that it only gets easier.

I’ve thrown my mask off numerous times lil bro @joelembiid ...It will get more comfortable game by game ..Trust The Process. #MaskOnMaskOff#YouGotTheJuiceNow #Holdat #Yessir#Mask #TnT #nba #nbaplayoffs #sixers#sixersvsheat #LoveThisGame

Eagles players with the most to gain at OTAs – S Tre Sullivan

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Eagles players with the most to gain at OTAs – S Tre Sullivan

The Eagles don’t hit the practice field as a team for another five weeks, yet each year coaches point to players who distinguish themselves during the months of April and May. These are the players with the most to gain in phases one and two of OTAs.

There isn’t an unheralded prospect in better position to climb the Eagles’ depth chart this spring than Tre Sullivan.

Never mind the fact that vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas just got done lauding Sullivan’s performance in a pre-draft interview on Thursday. The 24-year-old also happens to be one of only four safeties on the Eagles roster for the time being, creating a huge opportunity for an undrafted free agent from Shepherd College.

Competition will come soon enough, as safety is an obvious target for the Eagles in the upcoming draft. Even then, Sullivan could find himself in the mix for a big role with a good spring.

Last season, Corey Graham was the Eagles’ third safety behind Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. Graham, a free agent departure, wound up playing nearly 40 percent of the team’s snaps.

This isn’t merely a backup job. There’s serious playing time at stake – and Sullivan can get a jump on the competition.

Sullivan made a name for himself in last year’s preseason opener against the Packers with a vicious hit on wide receiver Malachi Dupre. It was a scary moment, as Dupre was knocked out by the collision, but also a clean play and an example of the defensive back’s physicality.

Sullivan forced a fumble on the hit and finished with four tackles. He would go on to acquit himself well in three other preseason games, eventually landing on the Eagles’ practice squad.

Listed at 6-foot-0, 200 pounds, Sullivan is a relatively average size for a safety, but plays downhill and hits like a truck.

The Eagles liked the instincts and aggressiveness they saw on the field. Now, Sullivan has a chance to work out and learn from coaches in an environment where there really aren’t any other young players right now and he can be the focus of a lot of attention. Phases one and two of OTAs and the two weeks before the draft in particular could be a pivotal period.

If Sullivan impresses during these early stages, it could go a long way toward solidifying his place with the team.

Even if Sullivan is bested for the third safety spot, he could still wind up on the 53-man roster. The Eagles may opt to carry five since Chris Maragos primarily plays on special teams.

Sullivan will likely enter training camp as a player who’s considered to be on the bubble, and what he does when the pads go on will be most important. However, if he showed up and really nailed these workouts, that could go a long way toward how the team views him heading into this summer.