Daily Cup of City 6 (2/21/13)

City 6 Cup 2

 

Today’s Action

7:00 PM: Drexel (11-15, 7-7 CAA) @ Delaware (14-13, 9-5 CAA) – NBC Sports Network

On January 28th, Drexel lost a heartbreaker at home to the Blue Hens, 66-64, despite Damion Lee recording a career-high 30 points.  The Dragons’ downfall was an ice-cold shooting performance from the field, shooting 34.4% (27.9% excluding Lee), compared to Delaware which shot an efficient 50.9% for the game.

Drexel will want to slow the game down in tonight’s re-match; Delaware plays at the 69th highest tempo in D-1 whereas the Dragons’ tempo comes in at 311th.  The first match-up was played at Delaware’s pace with each team recording 67 possessions.  If Drexel can conform the game to its style and shoot the ball closer to its 41.6% season average, the Dragons have a good chance to pull out a victory.  A win would bring Drexel within one game of Delaware for the 3rd seed in the conference tournament with 3 regular season games remaining.

7:00 PM: Temple (17-8, 6-5 Atlantic 10) vs. La Salle (18-6, 8-3 Atlantic 10) – CBS Sports Network

The Owls host Big 5 rivals La Salle in the teams’ only meeting of the season with a lot on the line.  Not only is every game crucial for these Philadelphia foes as both teams find themselves on the bubble for the NCAA tournament, there are also conference and Big 5 implications at stake.  La Salle currently finds itself only one game back of Saint Louis for first place in the A-10 while Temple can pull within one game of La Salle for 4th place in the conference with a victory (significant with the top 4 teams receiving a first round bye in the A-10 tournament).  However, the Owls are also presently situated only 2 games ahead of 13th-place St. Bonaventure which would drop them out of the conference tournament entirely.  Finally, a La Salle victory would clinch a Big 5 title and their first 4-0 outright Big 5 title since 1989-90, while a Temple victory would mean a shared title between the two teams.  I’ll be in attendance at tonight’s game so I’m sure to come away with key insights and a stomach full of dollar dogs.

Sixers Freeze Up in Minnesota

Without Kevin Love, 'The Godfather' came up huge for Minnesota.

Without Kevin Love, ‘The Godfather’ came up huge for Minnesota.

Evan Turner spent his all-star break on vacation in the Bahamas.  Five seconds into the game, Turner looked to still have his mind there as Andrei Kirilenko raced behind him for a lay-up off a half-court dish from Ricky Rubio.  Turner was not alone as the entire Sixers team looked to still be on vacation allowing Minnesota to race out to a 35-25 advantage after one quarter.

In that first quarter and throughout the game, Sixers fans were treated to the Nikola Pekovic show, who we learned goes by the nickname of ‘The Godfather’ in Minnesota.  After every Pekovic basket, the PA announcer chanted Nikola to the tune of the horn from the Ricola commercials while also occasionally mixing in the theme music from The Godfather.  We heard that PA horn often in the first half, with Pekovic posting a double-double by halftime with 14 points and 11 rebounds, including 5 on the offensive end.  Together with Derrick Williams, who tallied 12 points and 5 rebounds in the first 24 minutes, the Minnesota front court absolutely dominated Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen early and often.

Desperate to slow down Pekovic and Williams, Doug Collins opted to start Kwame Brown and Damian Wilkins in place of Hawes and Lavoy Allen to start the 2nd half.  You know it’s an emergency when Collins decides to break out Kwame Brown.  Ultimately, this move didn’t amount to much as the Minnesota front court still did its damage.  However, the Sixers were able to bring back the deficit to single digits when Evan Turner got hot and dropped 14 points in the third quarter.

The Sixers eventually got their defense in gear in a big way as they prevented the Timberwolves from making a single field goal over the final 11 minutes, 43 seconds of the game.  Unfortunately, the early deficit proved too big to overcome as Philadelphia could draw no closer than 4 points, ultimately falling 94-87.  It proves when you come into a game missing key players, you can’t come out slow and not play a full 48 minutes.

Pekovic’s final tally was 27 points and a career-high tying 18 rebounds.  For Philadelphia, Jrue Holiday played through foul trouble to record 16 points, 5 assists, and 5 steals, Evan Turner finished with 19 points (most of that coming in the aforementioned third quarter), and Damian Wilkins gave the Sixers good minutes off the bench with 13 points.

On a postivie note, viewers at home were treated to video of Thad Young looking spry in warm-ups earlier in the day.  Hopefully, he’s able to return sooner than later with a Sunday comeback against the Knicks being reported as the earliest possible date of return.  The thin and overmatched Sixers front court could greatly use his return.

Sixers Once Again Pass On Josh Smith

Fans won't be seeing Josh Smith in a Sixers uniform this season.

Fans won’t be seeing Josh Smith in a Sixers uniform this season.

News came out today that the Sixers reportedly declined a trade offer from the Atlanta Hawks of Josh Smith for Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes.  Sixers fans may remember the team brought the 6’9″ power forward to town during the 2008 offseason when he was a restricted free agent.  Ultimately, Josh Smith re-signed with Atlanta as Philadelphia signed free-agent Elton Brand and the rest was middle-of-the-pack history.  With the team once again opting against bringing Smith aboard, let’s examine the pros and cons of such a deal.

As a disclaimer, Spencer Hawes is far and away my least favorite player on the SIxers.  I hate how he frequently gets out-muscled by smaller players for rebounding position and his soft finishing around the rim.  The only time I ever enjoyed watching Hawes on a basketball court was when he was sporting his legendary mullet.  Evan Turner also often draws my ire, whether pulling up for his flat jump shot with 18 seconds left on the shot clock or doing his bull in a china shop routine driving the lane (which involves a head-down drive right into the defender, throwing up a wild shot, and then pouting to the ref with out-stretched arms after the whistle remains silent).  Speaking purely as a fan watching the games, I would have traded the pair for a bag of basketballs and then gave the balls to the courier as a tip.  However, during this analysis, you need to look at things from a franchise perspective and maximizing all of its assets.  How would this trade have affected the team’s prospects both short-term (the rest of this current season) and long-term (the 2013-14 season and beyond)?

Short-Term

Josh Smith is a very effective offensive player on the blocks and an absolute terror in the open court; I could get lost day-dreaming about Jrue throwing lobs to Smith on the break.  That being said, Josh Smith is a terrible fit for the Sixers in the sense that the team has a similar player already starting at power forward in Thad Young.  Both are undersized fours who make up for a lack of height with elite quickness and athleticism.  Take a look at the stats for the two players on the season:

Player MPG PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT% 3P% Usage PER
Smith 35.7 17.4 8.6 4.1 1.2 2.2 46.0% 50.0% 35.4% 26.7% 17.21
Young 35.5 14.9 7.4 1.7 1.6 0.9 52.2% 57.0% 20.0% 19.7% 17.80

Smith dominates the ball more on offense accounting for the greater number of assists and slightly higher scoring output, while also being a more active weak-side shot blocker.  He is a much more polished post player but still has a terrible habit of taking too many long jumpers.  On the other hand, Young puts up similar numbers with a much lower usage rate and actually has a slightly higher Player Efficiency Rating thus far this season.

Unfortunately, a front line of Young and Smith would not work from a size standpoint; so while you could certainly play a small portion of the game with a big lineup of Young, Smith, and one of Bynum (if healthy)/Allen/Moultrie, the insertion of Smith would cut into Thad’s minutes (more or less a null gain based on this season’s stats).

Regarding the players the Sixers would have given up, despite his flaws, Hawes has been an average center on the season with a 15.12 PER that currently ranks 33rd among NBA centers.  With Bynum still sidelined and a hypothetical Hawes departure, Philadelphia would be forced to divide minutes at the 5 between Allen, Moultrie, and Kwame Brown.  Allen and Moultrie are really better off playing the power forward position and Brown is a $6M mistake.  Of course, a healthy Bynum would solve this problem but you could have said that about a lot of the Sixers problems this season.  In Evan Turner, the Sixers would lose another valuable rebounder but a player who continues to struggle with his shot (42.7 FG% and only 48.7% True Shooting Percentage) and ranks 37th among small forwards with only a 12.76 PER.  I would think Dorell Wright (14.07 PER) could soak up and improve upon Turner’s minutes after mysteriously falling into Doug Collins’ doghouse.

Verdict: Neutral.  Smith is a horrible fit with our roster and Philadelphia would lose valuable size and rebounding in Hawes and Turner, two attributes in short supply for the Sixers.  Ideally, seeing that Turner and Hawes have trade value, management would find a player who worked better within the confines of the current roster.  It doesn’t look like that is their mindset though based on current reports.  In hypothetical trade world, I do love to think about the athleticism and defensive potential of a Smith-Young-Bynum front court for 10-15 minutes a game; that line-up would be fun to watch.  Ultimately, the team is floundering either way if Bynum is injured so why not go with the more aesthetically pleasing option and the Josh Smith high-wire act.

Long-Term

Taking a look at the salaries of the three players reportedly involved in the offer, Turner is signed through 2013-14 for $6.7M, Hawes is under contract through 2013-14 for $6.5M, and Smith is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.  As discussed earlier, Josh Smith is not a good fit with Thad Young on the team so I would not look to re-sign him.  Shedding the Turner and Hawes contracts would leave the Sixers with $33M committed to Holiday, Young, Richardson, Brown, Allen, and Moultrie.  Next year’s salary cap is still undetermined but will likely be in the $60M to $70M range.  Philadelphia would have more than enough space to offer Bynum or another star a max contract as well as sign a couple wings at mid-level deals and fill out the bench.

Verdict: Pro-Trade.  Hawes and Turner have their uses as part of a rotation but were both overpaid in my opinion.  Freeing up cap space would be a preferable option to keeping the pair around.  However, management is likely not of that mindset considering just this past offseason, it signed Hawes to the two-year deal and picked up Turner’s option.

It looks like we’ll be watching the same-look Sixers tomorrow night in Minnesota.  In your opinion, should the Sixers have pulled the trigger?  Discuss in the comments below.

Sixers-Timberwolves Game Preview (2/19/13)

The Sixers take on Minnesota with Kevin Love confined to the bench.

The Sixers take on Minnesota with Kevin Love confined to the bench.

In their first game following the NBA all-star break, the Sixers travel to Minnesota to take on the European All-Stars Wednesday night at 8pm.  Hopefully, Jrue gleaned some tips from LeBron on his Cleveland days and how best to lead a team with a limited supporting cast with Thad Young likely still out and Andrew Bynum’s status still up in the air.  A full-strength Minnesota squad is a match-up nightmare for Philadelphia with aggressive big men who clean the glass on both ends.  In the teams’ first meeting this season, the Timberwolves out-rebounded the Sixers 47-40 while also shooting 13-25 from downtown in a 105-88 blow-out that wasn’t even as close as that score indicates.  However, no one would confuse a 19-31 Minnesota squad with a formidable opponent and this is the type of game the Sixers must absolutely win if they’re going to climb back into the playoff picture.

Fortunately for Philadelphia, the Timberwolves are not fully healthy as Kevin Love remains out with a broken hand and Andrei Kirilenko has missed the last 5 games with a quadriceps injury, although the team has maintained he would return following the all-star break.  Also, the 3-point shooting from the previous match-up was a huge outlier as Minnesota ranks dead last in the league this season at 30.1% from behind the arc.  Mickael Gelabale, who has been starting in place of the injured Kirilenko, is the only player on the team with an above-average 3PT% at 42.3%.

One thing going against the Sixers in this match-up is that Ricky Rubio finally appears to be rounding into form following his return from an ACL injury, averaging 15.0 ppg, 10.0 apg, and 2.3 spg in his past 6 games.  Rubio is an absolute joy to watch play the game and as instinctive a passer as you’ll find in the league.  However, his shot is still very much a work in progress, with his 34.3% FG% right about at the 35.7% mark he set in his rookie season.  Also, while Rubio is a better defender than given credit for, he is still more of a gambler than a strong man-to-man defender.  Holiday should be able to get into the lane against him when the Sixers have the ball.

Keys to the game:

  • Holiday needs to win his match-up with Rubio.  Keep Ricky out of the lane in pick-and-roll situations and force him to take long jumpers.  Conversely, Jrue shouldn’t settle for deep twos and needs to get into lane and draw some fouls on Rubio in the process.  Although guards like Ridnour and Barea are solid rotation guys, they don’t impact the game in the way Rubio does.
  • The Sixers big men have to man up and keep strong rebounders like Pekovic and Kirilenko off the offensive glass.  As mentioned, the Timberwolves have struggled to shoot the rock this season so limiting their chances will go a long way to a Sixers victory.

Prediction: The absence of Kevin Love, who exploits the Sixers’ interior rebounding weakness as well as anyone in the league, proves huge and the Sixers win to start the second half of the season off right.

 

 

Daily Cup of City 6 (2/19/13)

City 6 Cup 2

 

Yesterday’s Action

Drexel (11-15, 7-7 CAA) defeated Hofstra (6-21, 3-11 CAA) last night 63-54 to move back to .500 in conference play and 1 game back of George Mason for the 4th seed and first round home court advantage in the conference tournament.  The Dragons won the game via the turnover battle, only committing 9  (3 below their season average of 12) while getting 12 steals in forcing the Pride into 19 turnovers on the evening.  Drexel jumped out to a 10-point halftime lead which never fell below 5 points the rest of the way.  The Dragons were led by Damion Lee and Frantz Massenat with 17 and 16 points, respectively.

In a comeback that may have kept their NCAA bubble hopes from bursting, Villanova (17-10, 8-6 Big East) repulsed Rutgers 71-63 (13-12, 4-10 Big East) late last night at the Pavilion.  The Wildcats made it hard on themselves, digging a 10 point deficit at halftime.  However, a 23-10 run saw them earn the lead midway through the second half.  Villanova won the game by playing aggressively on the offensive end and continuing to earn trips to the free throw line, shooting 25-36 from the charity stripe on the evening, as opposing to only allowing 15 attempts for the Scarlet Knights.  A balanced scoring attack saw all five started for the Wildcats reach double figures.

Daily Cup of City 6 (2/18/13)

City 6 Cup 2

Today’s Action

7:00 PM: Drexel (10-15, 6-7 CAA) vs. Hofstra (6-20, 3-10 CAA) – NBC Sports Network

Having lost 3 of 4 February games, the Dragons will roll out the welcome mat for the Hofstra Pride, a team it defeated on the road January 23rd thanks to a half-court buzzer beater by Frantz Massenat.  Drexel will need to contain Hofstra’s Taran Buie (Penn State transfer and half brother of former Penn State guard Talor Battle), who tied a season-high with 29 points going 7-11 from behind the arc in the teams’ first meeting.

Drexel needs to take care of business against a team lower in the standings to build momentum toward the CAA conference tournament and best utilize its puncher’s chance at making the big dance.  Only 7 teams are eligible for the CAA conference tournament as ODU and Georgia State are banned due to announcing a conference change and UNC-Wilmington and Towson are prohibited from participation due to low APR scores.  Drexel currently sits at 5th in conference seeding, 2 games behind George Mason for a 4 seed and home court advantage in the first round.

9:00 PM: Villanova (16-10, 7-6 Big East) vs. Rutgers (13-11, 4-9 Big East) – ESPNU

Villanova, coming off its best road win of the season Saturday over Connecticut, will look to stay the course at home against the struggling Scarlet Knights in the teams’ only meeting of the season.  Saturday’s win was a huge shot in the arm for the tournament chances of the Wildcats, a team currently projected to be on the bubble of the tournament field.  With 3 of its final 5 games coming against ranked opponents, it’s critical that Villanova hold serve tonight and continue to build its tournament resume.

The Rise of Kronum

Kronum All Star Photo

The 2012 All-Stars look forward to more exciting action in 2013.

Today begins our look at Kronum, a sport founded in the Philadelphia area in 2008.  For those Kronum virgins out there, I highly encourage you to watch some quick videos on the sport either by visiting the official league website or through the league’s YouTube channel (this How to Play video would be a helpful one).  As with any new concept, the game is difficult to describe until someone sees the product for him or herself, either live or via video (so if you’ve never seen the sport before, the following paragraph may make less sense than giving Joe Johnson $20M a year).

In a nutshell, however, Kronum is a mixture of handball, soccer, and basketball, played ten to a side on a circular field divided into four quadrants.  The offensive team can shoot at any of four goals with different zones on the field awarding different point values (see diagram below);  so if you ever wished the hot spots in NBA Jam T.E. existed in real life, this is as close as you’re going to get.  Each player switches between offense and defense with possession changing either when the ball goes out of bounds, the defense makes a save or steal and clears the ball to the center ring (think half court basketball), or following a score.

Kronum Field

Now that I’ve detailed the bare bones of the sport for those unfamiliar, let’s turn to the main focus of today’s discussion. Why has the sport attracted such a rabid following in the Philadelphia area and beyond?  Beyond the simple fact that the game is fun to play, let’s discuss a few key components that have helped the rapid ascension of the sport in the public eye.

First, the hybrid nature of the game provides something for everybody.  You grew up wanting to be the next Lionel Messi?  You can lead the league in kick scores.  You worked on your post-up game to be the next Tim Duncan?  Go to work dunking over a wedgeback in the goal zone.  You always wanted to headbutt someone a la Zinedine Zidane?  Kronum isn’t for you, maybe try UFC.  The point is, there’s a facet of the game that appeals to nearly every type of athlete, whether playing or watching it. As the game is still evolving, new moves and strategies are being developed all the time and chances are, you can incorporate your own unique style into it to further the sport’s growth.

Furthermore, similar to a start-up company, both players and fans feel a sense of ownership and pride in the growth of the game.  It’s exciting to rank among the forerunners of players in the professional league, have your high school team declared one of the earliest official club teams, or be the first person in your area to own official playing equipment to play at home.  Going forward, the sport’s expansion into new markets and audiences validates the time and energy someone placed in this new endeavor, furthering his or her commitment and appreciation of the sport.

Additionally, people want to be on to the next big thing before it hits the mainstream.  We see this scenario all the time in the world of music where fans become cult-like in their following of a local band or artist because they see the potential for something truly great.  Joining in the Kronum movement now is like telling all your friends about Eminem after Infinite and soaking in the credit once Slim Shady LP drops (or so supporters hope).  Only time will tell the extent to which the sport will succeed but based on the support of its followers, they clearly feel it is heading for big things.

What additional factors do you believe play a role in the sport’s appeal?  Discuss in the comments section below as we look forward to bringing you additional coverage in the world of Kronum!

State of the Sixers

Post-victory streamers have been seen too infrequently this season for Sixers fans.

Post-victory streamers have been seen too infrequently for Sixers fans this season.

As the 2012-2013 season approached, Sixers fans were more excited for the upcoming campaign than at any time in the post-Iverson era.  The acquisition of Andrew Bynum provided Philadelphia with its first legitimate post presence since the world’s most entertaining basketball analyst donned the red, white, and blue (that’s Charles Barkley for those of you who don’t watch basketball on TNT).  However, disaster quickly struck as Bynum experienced a pre-season knee injury and the Sixers’ high hopes for the season went down the gutter (sorry, too easy).

Now, sitting at 22-29 following the All-Star break, the Sixers find themselves 4 games back of the Milwaukee Bucks for the 8th and final playoff spot.  An optimistic Sixers fan (does such a person exist?) would have hoped the season-ending injury to Rajon Rondo would have triggered a tailspin for the 7th place Celtics and a possible sell-off of key players.  Instead, the opposite has happened in a well-documented turnaround that has seen Boston go 8-1 since losing Rondo.  Unless a Celtics trade does come to fruition, Philadelphia’s best bet at earning a playoff spot is catching Milwaukee.

Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the remaining schedules favor the Bucks as the Sixers have a 12/19 home-road split including 10 back-to-backs, while Milwaukee has a 15/16 home-road split with 9 back-to-backs.  Although your grandfather’s days of going to the game for a nickel are still alive and well (thanks to $0.04 tickets on Stubhub) and the team wouldn’t appear to gain much of a home court advanatage playing in front of an empty arena, the Sixers have historically performed much better at home and this season is no exception.  Also, Milwaukee has already secured the tiebreaker having won all three meetings thus far with only one match-up remaining.  Bynum recently reported he was still feeling pain in his knee, so those fans hoping a quick return from the big man will lead to a torrid Philadelphia comeback should properly temper their expectations.  Hollinger’s playoff odds currently have the Sixers with a 12% chance of making the playoffs, with even Toronto given a better chance following the Rudy Gay trade despite being behind the Sixers in the standings.  It’s never a good sign when a team named after a popular Jurassic Park character is given more respect than you.  But given the current deficit and the remaining schedule, I hate to say I agree with those odds.

Despite meager odds at avoiding the lottery, Sixers fans do have positives to look forward to the rest of the season.  First, Jrue Holiday has made the proverbial jump and the 4 year, $44 million contract the Sixers signed him to before the season looks like a steal.  He and Russell Westbrook are the only two players in the league currently averaging at least 19 ppg and over 8 apg with Jrue accomplishing the feat in spite of opposing defenses entirely geared to stop him (and while not having Sally Jesse Raphael’s fashion sense).  Now, he obviously still has things he needs to work on.  He needs to cut down on his 4 turnover per game average, although his turnover rate of 12.71% is not much above the league average of 11.20% per www.hoopdata.com.  He would also benefit from taking less long twos and getting to the free throw line more often.  However, Holiday is still only 22 years old and has improved his game each season, so no need to think he won’t continue to do so, which is very encouraging considering he’s already the youngest all-star in Sixers history.

Second, prior to his hamstring injury, Thaddeus Young was proving he could handle the increased minutes and role as a starting power forward.  Young’s season totals sit at a very respectable 14.9 ppg and 7.4 rpg and his player efficiency rating ranks top 30 in the NBA out of all forwards.  Additionally, Thad was still providing the type of all-over-the-court hustle and energy Sixers fans have come to expect despite the jump from 27.9 mpg to 35.5 mpg.  He almost certainly leads the league in turning garbage into gold.  If nothing else, this season has proved to the Sixers that they have two key building blocks already in place.

But finally, the most intriguing aspect of the season going forward is an increased opportunity for Arnett Moultrie.  The Young injury has opened the door for the rookie who has run with the chance.  Moultrie appears to have great athleticism and the ability to be a strong finisher at the rim in the pick-and-roll game (rare attributes in a Sixers big man), as well as being a solid rebounder and defender.  I’d like to see Moutlrie continue to carve himself a bigger place in the rotation as the season goes on.

What are your expectations for the rest of the season?  Anything you would like to see Collins do differently from a strategic or rotational standpoint?  Though the odds aren’t in their favor, let’s hope the Sixers can climb out of this deficit and back into the playoff picture.