The700Level

Commence the Tiago Splitter era in Philadelphia

Commence the Tiago Splitter era in Philadelphia

When the 20th anniversary of the 2016-17 season comes and we feel the need to commemorate the truly special moments of this most bizarre of NBA seasons, one that I will invariably go back to will be the 2:16-to-go mark of the first quarter of game No. 73 -- a game I happened to witness live in Brooklyn. I was watching the Sixers and Nets go through the motions of a largely meaningless late-March affair, when all of a sudden: Who the hell is that wearing No. 47? It seemed unfathomable, but there was only one logical explanation: Tiago Splitter was actually playing in a regular-season Sixers game. 

It might be impossible to fully grasp the significance of this without going back through the last four seasons of Sixers history, which saw countless NBA luminaries -- Danny Granger, Earl Clark, Gerald Wallace, Ronny Turiaf, Keith Bogans, Travis Outlaw, Andrei Kirilenko and so very many more -- pass through Sixers lore without ever actually playing in a Philly regular-season game. They were cap filler, they were ballast, they were names changing dotted lines and nothing more. It seemed absolutely for sure that Tiago Splitter, injured and past his prime when traded from the Atlanta Hawks at the deadline in the second Ersan Ilyasova deal, would become a part of this richest of Process Legacies. Hell, even the fact that he wore No. 47 -- most famously donned by Kirilenko during his Utah days -- seemed to pay tribute to this lineage. 

And yet, there he was on the court today: Tiago Splitter, the guy who played in two NBA finals with the San Antonio Spurs, the guy who was traded to the Hawks in a cap-clearing deal two summers ago and almost immediately vanished from NBA relevance, the guy who was ten games away from reaching free agency without ever having to notch a "PHI" line on his Basketball Reference page. And he played seven minutes for us, scoring four points on 1-2 shooting with three boards and a block. I will never forget a single second of it. 

This was undoubtedly a corner-turning moment of some sort for the Philadelphia 76ers -- though the exact meaning of the occasion remains ambiguous. Maybe it means that the Sixers aren't so embarrassing a franchise anymore that we feel the need to do veterans the favor of not forcing them to put Philly service time on the resume. Maybe it means that the Sixers are no longer willing to write the months of March and April off as losing time, as they play the young guys and dream about next season. Maybe it means that Brett Brown was really, really worried about Shawn Long getting into early foul trouble last night. Whatever the meaning, it feels pivotal, and if Tiago Splitter never plays another second for the Sixers -- his legs may have fallen off from shock in the locker room over actually having been used, for all we know -- he's now a Process Truster for life. 

Oh, and the Sixers won the game, 106-101 -- their 28th W, as many as they had the last two seasons combined. Sometimes these days, it's hard to even tell what team we're even watching.

Eagles still better off at QB than Giants

Eagles still better off at QB than Giants

The Eagles may have lost Carson Wentz for the season, but it could be worse. A lot worse. The Eagles could be the in the New York Giants’ shoes.

How much better are the Eagles than their loathsome NFC East rival to the north this season? Even with a season-ending injury to an MVP-caliber player under center, the Eagles still look vastly superior to their Week 15 opponent on Sunday. In fact, would you even trade their quarterback situation with the Giants?

We try to answer that question and more while we examined whether the Giants do anything better than the Eagles in 2017. Anything at all!

Probably not though.

QUARTERBACKS

Eli Manning may have a couple of Super Bowl rings, and his supporting cast with the Giants is awful, but I can’t understand why there was such a clamoring to have him remain the team’s starter. Their record is 2-11. He’s averaging 6.0 yards per pass attempt this season – only Joe Flacco has been worse. And Manning turns 37 in less than three weeks, so what’s the upside? He looks shot. At least Nick Foles gives the Eagles some hope heading into his 29th birthday. At this stage of their respective careers, you would take Foles, and it’s a no-brainer. Heck, plenty of people would take Davis Webb over Manning.

Advantage: Eagles

RUNNING BACKS

The Giants’ backfield is better than many suspected at the beginning of the season. Of course, turning out marginally better than the worst backfield in the NFL isn’t a huge accomplishment. Orleans Darkwa runs with power, and Wayne Gallman is a nice change of pace when he’s not fumbling the football. Both average better than 4.0 yards per carry. Shane Vereen looks cooked in the third-down role. Of course, the team doesn’t run the ball much, and none of the trio is a home-run hitter of the caliber of Jay Ajayi for the Eagles. Neither Darkwa nor Gallman looks like a better prospect than Corey Clement, either.

Advantage: Eagles

WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS

The Eagles have three players with more yards and touchdowns than the Giants’ leading receiver. Alshon Jeffery has 732 yards and eight touchdowns, while Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor both have 663 yards and seven scores. New York’s receiving corps was also decimated by injuries to Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall. Despite the losses, speedy Evan Engram is having an incredible rookie season for a tight end, becoming the primary weapon in the passing attack with 55 catches, 623 yards and six touchdowns. Clearly, Engram’s stellar play hasn’t been enough to compensate. Now wideouts Sterling Shepherd and Roger Lewis are questionable to play Sunday, too.

Distinct advantage: Eagles

OFFENSIVE LINES

The Giants’ best O-lineman, right tackle Justin Pugh, is questionable as well with a back injury, and hasn’t suited up in weeks. That’s a problem, because their line wasn’t very good to begin with. Left tackle Ereck Flowers has improved as the season progressed, and isn’t near as bad his reputation might suggest. Otherwise, there aren’t many bright spots up front. The Eagles have had their issues. The hope is Stefen Wisniewski can go with an ankle injury, and Halapoulivaati Vaitai has looked beatable in recent weeks. At least their issues are confined to the left side. From center to right tackle, the unit is great.

Advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE LINES AND LINEBACKERS

If games were won and lost on reputation, the Giants’ D-line would be among the scariest units in the league. Damon Harrison, Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are all All-Pro/Pro Bowl players, yet New York ranks 31st against the run and is tied for 30th in sacks. The stars are not living up to the hype. Surely, it hasn’t helped that roughly all of their linebackers are on injured reserve. The Eagles still rank No. 1 against the run, though they’ve looked a little shaky of late, and are tied for ninth in sacks. Their defensive end rotation with Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Bennett is becoming quite dangerous, with 20.5 sacks between them.

Slight advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Don’t worry, the Giants’ issues on defense aren’t limited to the front seven. The club also ranks 31st against the pass, and unlike so many other areas of the roster, injuries aren’t solely to blame. Janoris Jenkins was hurt all year and eventually landed on IR. For Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple, it’s been a question of effort and will they or won’t they quit on their teammates. Apple has since been benched and left on the inactives list. The Eagles’ secondary has its flaws, but attitude isn’t one of them. They’re also an opportunistic bunch, with three players – Jalen Mills, Rodney McLeod and Patrick Robinson – with three interceptions, and three more with two.

Advantage: Eagles

SPECIAL TEAMS

As bad as the Eagles’ special teams have been for at times this season, the Giants have been worse. Their kicking game stinks – Aldrick Rosas has made only 75.0 percent of field-goal tries. Their coverage units stink, with a blocked punt and a punt return for touchdown. And their return game stinks, with a 19.4 average on kickoffs and a 5.1 average on punts. We’re going to assume the re-signing of Bryan Braman this week fixes some of the issues the Eagles have experienced, and they’re back to being one of the top all-around units in the league.

Advantage: Eagles

COACHING

Ben McAdoo had one of the most meteoric rises and falls you will ever see. In a matter of three years, McAdoo was hailed as a genius for reinventing Manning, usurped the head coaching job from Tom Coughlin, and guided the Giants to the playoffs. Eleven months later, he was out of a job. Perennially overrated defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo took over in the interim, so no groundbreaking changes on the sideline for the time being. McAdoo’s timeline might be a cautionary tale for Doug Pederson and the Eagles. As far as this game is concerned, the staff that’s not in the midst of upheaval has the edge.

Distinct advantage: Eagles

OVERALL

There was no shortage of warning signs for New York entering heading into 2017. Sure, they managed to go 11-5 and make the playoffs a year ago, but had not won more than seven games in any of the previous three seasons. I’m not sure anybody saw 2-11 coming, although with an aging quarterback, shaky offensive line, and no running game, the Giants needed their defense to shoulder the load. Obviously, that didn’t happen. The Eagles have the injury under center, but I’ll take Foles with his roster over the current version of Manning and his crew of flunkies. And I wouldn’t think twice.

Distinct advantage: Eagles

Richaun Holmes' mishap does not end well

billydonovan.jpg
ESPN broadcast

Richaun Holmes' mishap does not end well

You will not find Billy Donovan on the Thunder's injury report after Friday's game against the Sixers.

But Oklahoma City's head coach may be icing down alongside his players or popping a few Advil.

Why?

Donovan took an errant pass straight to his face during the Sixers-Thunder game at the Wells Fargo Center. Richaun Holmes was looking to collect an assist on a JJ Redick jumper, but the Sixers' big man put a little too much mustard on the pass.

The one-handed dish went right to Donovan … who was not ready to catch it, and why would he be? Holmes also just barely missed former Sixers player and head coach, Maurice Cheeks, who is an assistant under Donovan.

At least that was Holmes' only turnover of the game.