TrueHoop: Spencer Hawes

The Sixers deserve better than cold water

November, 4, 2013
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
Michael Carter-WilliamsAP Photo/Alex BrandonThe 76ers' 3-0 start is a problem for their long-term goals. That, of course, is the real problem.

The Philadelphia 76ers are rolling, and the Phoenix Suns and the Orlando Magic look like a couple of very respectable teams. Their collective success might even suggest that the phenomenon of tanking doesn't exist. After all, playing two of your first three games against a pair of Eastern Conference favorites is an easy excuse for any team that wants to lose intentionally.

But the Sixers rejected the easy out. They smoked two of the best defenses in the NBA for a combined 221 points. Michael Carter-Williams, the No. 11 pick in the 2013 draft, came into the league as a guy you could find a reason to like if you wanted to but not exactly franchise point guard material. He was fearless -- historic, even -- in his debut. For the past two seasons, whispers of “bust” have followed Evan Turner. Now he looks like the heady triple threat he projected to be. Using his size and mobility to look like the league’s most lethal pick-and-pop monster? That'd be Spencer Hawes. Thad Young, meanwhile, is the paragon of efficiency out on the wing.

So, now the Sixers are 3-0 and the NBA’s unequivocal feel-good story of the 2013-14 season's opening week. A team whose over/under professional bookies placed at 16.5 wins is nearly 20 percent of the way there. Even pessimists can now imagine this team logging a win total in the 30s, especially if Carter-Williams puts up Lillardian numbers and Turner and Hawes continue their late blossoms.

And that would be great, wouldn't it? The team that some had pegged to challenge the 1972-73 Sixers who went 9-73 ends up more than doubling its projected win total and beating out teams with far greater expectations. In a just world, there would be a reward for this kind of overachievement.

Only, the conversation surrounding the undefeated Sixers is a more sober chorus of “Now just hold on there for sec.” Rather than celebrate the improbable, we have to examine its implications, as if Philadelphia has swallowed an opiate that makes it feel great in the moment but has long-term side effects.

Writing for TrueHoop after Saturday night’s win over Chicago, Hoop76's Eric Goldwein cautions that the ramifications of early success, however relative, could muck up a perfectly good plan:

They’re not even close to contending with contenders. But as currently constructed they’re not finishing at the bottom of the standings, either ... As strange as it seems, this roster might be too good -- and more importantly, too well-coached -- to lose 50-plus games.

This all puts [GM Sam] Hinkie in a tough situation. Winning breeds confidence in a way no other form of training can duplicate. It's good for morale. It's good for development. And it's good for the franchise's reputation.

Every game the Sixers win, though, is a major blow to their most valuable asset: their 2014 first-round pick. Keep the roster together, and they could land in the middle of the pack.

On Monday, Kevin Pelton writes that the best thing about the 0-3 start isn’t the confidence and pride it might breed in Carter-Williams, Turner and Hawes but rather “the potential to raise the trade value of the team's remaining veteran starters -- Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young.”

The problem isn’t that these critiques of the Sixers’ 3-0 start are wrong -- it’s that they're right. The only way for the Sixers to profit from the success is to part with the players who created it because, in real-world terms, a team such as the Sixers will be punished: Congratulations! You've surpassed our wildest expectations. You outplayed teams that were assembled with the express purpose of qualifying for the playoffs. In exchange, we will make it less probable that you will get your selection of the best young talent in June’s draft class and give it to those other teams. Here’s the No. 12 pick instead.

Somewhere along the way, the existence of tanking became the nub of the debate, but whether teams are actively engaged, partially engaged or only benignly engaged is irrelevant. Addressing “tanking” has always, at its heart, been about creating incentives for winning basketball games, for fostering an environment in which, this morning, a Sixers fan (or player, or general manager) can wake up, smile at finding “Philadelphia” atop the Eastern Conference standings and not have to see those three wins as Pyrrhic victories, or a down payment on a lesser draft pick, or just plain stupid because everyone knows you don’t try to win until it’s time.

Why the 76ers are legitimate contenders

February, 8, 2012
By Ryan Feldman, ESPN Stats & Info
The Philadelphia 76ers are perhaps the biggest surprise in the NBA this season, leading the Atlantic Division at 18-7. It’s their best start since starting with the same record in the 2000-01 season, when they won the division and advanced to the NBA Finals.

The team’s top eight scorers this season are identical from last season when it finished with a 41-41 record. So what has led to this impressive turnaround?

The Sixers defense has been phenomenal, holding teams to 86.6 points per game -- second in the NBA -- compared to 97.5 per game a season ago. They’ve held opponents to fewer than 100 points in each of their 18 wins.

The last time a team held opponents below 87 points per game for a season was the 2003-04 season, when the Pistons, Spurs and Pacers did it. The Pistons beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals that season.

Accounting for pace, the Sixers are first in the NBA in points per play allowed (10th last season), and third in points per play allowed in transition and in points per play allowed in half-court situations.

Specifically, the Sixers are great in pick-and-roll situations. They’re first in the league in points per play allowed against pick-and-roll ball-handlers and are holding teams to 34.2 percent shooting in those situations, also tops in the NBA.

Last season the Sixers were 24th in points per play allowed against pick-and-roll ball-handlers and allowed teams to shoot 43.2 percent in those situations.

Taking all this into account, the Sixers lead the NBA this season with a points-per-game differential of +10.1. Only four teams in the past 25 seasons have finished +10.0 or better, and all four of those teams won the NBA Championship.

The Sixers lead the NBA with a +4.3 turnover differential -- up from +1.2 last season -- and are second in points per game off turnovers at 19.6, an increase of more than three over last year.

It’s not just defense in this regard; Philly has a league-low 10.7 turnovers per game and easily leads the league in opponents’ points per game off turnovers.

As a result, the Sixers have by far the best points per game off turnovers differential in the NBA, more than double the next-closest team.

In addition, the Sixers have a 2.11 assist-to-turnover ratio this season -– the Bulls are second at 1.62.

Spencer Hawes
Elton Brand is playing seven fewer minutes this season than last season, and they’ve all gone to fifth-year man Spencer Hawes. The latter is averaging more points, rebounds and assists, and shooting a higher percentage from the field in the same amount of minutes this season.

Only two of the Sixers’ first 14 wins were against teams that are currently above. 500, so there were questions about their legitimacy.

Over the past five games the Sixers have gone 4-1 against teams that were in the playoffs last season and would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. Philly has held its past seven opponents below their season scoring average.

Kevin Love and height liars in shoes

December, 29, 2011
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images Kevin Love and Derrick Williams have different listed heights

Stumbled across this when I wrote of Dwight Howard as a 6-9 center. Some of you just could not accept the recorded fact that Dwight Howard is six-foot-nine. This, despite a link to evidence of Howard’s barefoot height. I was astounded, perplexed and in search of even more synonyms to describe a state of utter confusion, shock, and befuddlement. We have his pre-draft measurements--his pre-draft measurements! Why do you insist on listening to some sorcerer’s Magic listing?

Others believed that barefoot height does not matter because “in shoes” is the favored metric. I’ve heard it before, the argument goes: “They play in shoes.” I can be sympathetic to this logic line--for a second.

In-game Dwight Howard may well tower to 6-11. But, do we record NFL player height “in helmet”? Do we weigh boxers “in gloves”? Do we act like jockeys are centaurs and measure them “on horse”? Of course not, because there is no need to tweak traditional human measurements.

Moreover, there are those who aren’t listed “in shoes.” I asked around for some names of infamous height liars, and many thought Kevin Durant shaded short at 6-9. It turns out KD is just the victim of being a truth teller in a liar’s world. Per his draft combine, Durant really is a barefoot six-feet-nine-inches. But how are fans supposed to believe KD when he dwarfs a “6-9” guy who is 6-6 in real life? This is the problem with allowing a flexing metric to govern our perspective.

The good news: We have more accurate information on player height than ever before. Draft prospects used to get measured at the NBA’s pre-draft camp, an experience that was bundled with an intensive five-on-five drill. Many players eschewed the camp’s game action, so they also went unrecorded.

Starting in 2009, the NBA Combine allowed for athletes to undergo a physical while engaging in less strenuous drills. From that point forward, the data filled out--save for the occasional European prospect.

After the draft, teams got to (and get to) determine the height of their employees. This is what you see on the player card, and this is what largely informs the public idea of how tall a player is. There is a yearly physical to keep tabs, though teams rarely make changes. For example, the Warriors informed me that Andris Biedrins is their only player to receive a height alteration over the last decade, due to a spurt that took him from 6-11 to 7-0.

While I believe that teams are mostly honest in their height-recordings, the arbitrary “shoes or no shoes” allowance irks. It seems that a larger body should codify one way of doing this, rather than accept an over two-inch margin of error. And what if a team blatantly lies? I asked NBA spokesman Mike Bass about this, and he responded: “I am not aware of any instance where the team was asked (by the league) to change a player's listed height.” Perhaps I am cynical and paranoid, but I could easily envision a dystopian future where David Kahn successfully trades “7-1” Michael Beasley.

For now, teams own the means of height deduction. Despite all the hard work Jonathan Givony of Draft Express does in compiling draft height data, the almighty player card is the loudest guy at the bar. When I asked him about team listings, Givony remarked: “Generally these pre-draft measurements are ignored when the NBA puts up the player's heights on their rosters and bios online. Don't ask me why.”

My theory: That official NBA seal is mightier than established facts. At least Givony’s numbers give me a reference point for my 2011-2012 All Height Liars Team. Without ado, further:

All Height Liars Team

PG: Jose Juan Barea (“6-0”): We don’t know Barea’s real height, but J.J. looks like he could bathe in a sealed thimble. This is my only data-blind submission, but only because Barea’s height deception is so easily seen.

SG: Tyreke Evans (“6-6”): Leon Trotsky’s political strategy was to announce the next far-fetched program right as you were beginning to mobilize against his current far-fetched program. Sacramento will try to convince you that Evans is a point guard. As your brain bounces like a slapped speed bag, they’ll tell you he’s 6-6. His pre-draft height is 6-4 and unlike Trotsky, he can’t maneuver left.

SF: Thaddeus Young (“6-8”): Thad is really 6' 5.75.” I could just as easily rank Donte Greene here, but Young gets the edge on account of being a more notable player. Also notable: Three teams (Wolves, Kings, Sixers) have the market cornered on height liars. This may be because they’re replete with tweeners.

PF: Kevin Love (“6-10”): He measured at 6' 7.75," but that isn’t what makes Kevin Love’s height deception so dastardly. It’s that K-Love is photographed at the height level of a “6-8” Derrick Williams. Now some would say, “This makes his rebounding all the more impressive.” I’m not so forgiving. Turn in your World Championship trophy, you dirty heightener, you.

C: Spencer Hawes (“7-1”): He measured at 6' 10.5,” the same as Joakim Noah did. But Spencer somehow gained a two-inch advantage on Noah in the official listing. If Hawes lacks leaping ability, it could be because he’s wearing platform shoes.


I want accuracy, I want “in shoes” to be more unfashionable than socks with sandals. But as I look at this list, I can grasp why some cling to height vagaries, why you might prefer a “6-10” Kevin Love to an undersized striver. Disputed height provides more room for myth making, which is the essence of sports entertainment. These are the fables we tell each other, so as to inspire and awe. And if the sheer height of the giants animates our stories, can you blame people for wanting the freedom to embellish another inch or two? “In shoes,” is a license to take a man and make him Paul Bunyan. “In shoes” is so close to reality that it makes Paul Bunyan feel real.

Since he was picked in medieval times, we have no pre-draft record of Kevin Garnett’s stature. In hushed tones, basketball fans rasp, “You know, he’s really 7-1. He just hides his true height.” Perhaps he does. I would be quite disappointed to learn that there really is no psychological reason behind Garnett’s listing, that he really is a barefoot 6-11, that he only seems bigger in my mind’s eye. That one-to-three inch “in shoes” zone means a player can be tall as your imagination reasonably dictates. Even the doubt sown by a short-seeming listing can trigger Bunyan visions.

But I’m an “in socks” fanatic, congenitally averse to myth. I just want to know how tall Kevin Garnett is. And I just want you to know how tall Kevin Garnett is.

Magic act getting better by the game

December, 28, 2010
By ESPN Stats & Info
It took a little while to get going, but the additions of Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson are now having the impact the Orlando Magic desired. The New Jersey Nets aren’t the best litmus test, but the Magic beat them handily on the road last night, 104-88, as the trio combined for 43 points.

Hedo Turkoglu has been impressive in this three-game run. He netted 20 more points on Monday, the third straight game in which he shot 50 percent or better from the field. Turkoglu was 3-for-15 in his first two games back with the Magic.

It also seems like guard J.J. Redick is comfortable with the team’s new additions. He scored 15 points Monday, his fourth straight game scoring in double figures.

This was the second straight game in which Redick did something significant. On Christmas Day, he hit a key shot on a rare isolation play in the final minute of the Magic’s rally against the Boston Celtics. In this game he was a team-best plus-23. Redick was aggressive early, going 3-for-6 from 3-point range in the first half. His 10 shots in the first two quarters were a team high. Redick had only attempted 10 or more shots in a game, seven times prior to Monday.

Elsewhere, with Dirk Nowitzki suffering a second-quarter knee injury, Shawn Marion stepped up scoring-wise for the Dallas Mavericks in their 103-93 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Marion was 10-for-29 in his previous three games, but 10-for-15 in this one.

That should help Marion, who entered shooting 43.9 percent from the field in December, avoid his worst shooting in a calendar month since he shot 43.4 percent in April, 2005 (minimum five games played). The Mavericks have won all seven games this season in which Marion scored at least 15 points.

Dallas became just the fifth team since the ABA-NBA merger to win 11 of its first 12 road games. Seven of their 11 road wins have been against teams with a winning record. The 2009-10 Celtics were the last team to start a season by winning 11 of its first 12 on the road. Prior to that, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last team to do so was the 1993-94 Houston Rockets.

Lastly, we have the statistical oddity of the night: Jason Maxiell played five minutes and 53 seconds in the Detroit Pistons 105-100 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats. In that time, the Pistons were outscored by 19 points.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Maxiell’s minus-19 is the worst plus-minus for any NBA player who played six minutes or fewer in a game this season, surpassing the minus-18 posted by Philadelphia 76ers center Spencer Hawes in a 123-116 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on November 5.

Saturday Bullets

February, 27, 2010
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz

Paul Westphal will play who he wants to play

February, 24, 2010
Abbott By Henry Abbott
Yesterday, Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty made a nice little chart showing that the Kings have had the least consistent playing rotations in the NBA this season.

On the same day, Sam Amick of the Sacramento Bee quoted three Kings: Sean May, Spencer Hawes, and Tyreke Evans, talking about how the strange minutes distribution (pity Donte Greene, who started a game, sat after four minutes, and never got back in) has been difficult for players.

To my reading, the most pointed quotes of all came from Evans, who was clear that he thinks the coach's decisions are hurting performance:

"Guys never know when they'll be having their time to play or they might be (starting)," Evans said.

"They're going into the game confused, and when they get into the game they want to impress the coach and (try) to play well. … It's probably hard for a player to keep that focus when they know that if they're playing bad they might not go in again."

Hawes, meanwhile, was mushier, mostly just saying that it was tough, which is fairly obvious:

"All year we've kind of been dealing with that," he said. "When you think you have kind of gotten over that hump, it comes back up again. That's the philosophy, so you've just got to deal with it.

"Everyone up and down the roster has had a taste of that, so everyone can relate. I think it's kind of tough, the not-knowing part on a game-to-game basis, to get in that rhythm. But that's the way it's going and there's not a whole lot you can do about it."

In any case, rather than reacting to all that feedback with some ode to improved consistency, Westphal instead decided to try another new roster manuever. He made Hawes (and only Hawes) inactive last night against Detroit. That was specifically in response to those kinds of comments. Hawes has started the majority of the games this season. Westphal explained the move to the Bee's Jason Jones:

"I saw where he's having a hard time understanding his role," said Kings coach Paul Westphal. "He should understand it (after) tonight."

I know what you're thinking. What a lot of drama! I wonder what the next conversation between Hawes and Westphal will be like?

They could make a reality show out of that locker room scene!

Well, in a hilarious, imagined, animated robotic way, they did. I insist you watch that. Honestly.

UPDATE: Similar insight into Daryl Morey's negotiations with Donnie Walsh.

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Tyreke Evans did a lot of impressive stuff Friday afternoon in his debut as the Sacramento Kings' point guard. On the game's very first possession, he dished the ball off to the weak side, then rumbled to the block where he backed in a smaller, hapless Sean Singletary, who was whistled for a foul.

Tyreke Evans Tyreke Evans: A different kind of point guard.
(Garrett Ellwood/NBA via Getty Images)

The play call wasn't a coincidence. When the Kings had Evans and some of the other top names come in for their point guard workout, they had the prospects play 2-on-2 inside of 15 feet. Evans' dominance that day gave the Kings a glimpse of how they could use a big, strong point guard to bolster a team that got pushed around last season. 

Evans is nothing if not assertive. When matched up against the likes of Singletary -- and even 6-4 Andre Owens -- Evans repeatedly dished the ball off, darted to the post, then waited for entry pass against a helpless defender. 

When Evans wasn't pushing opposing guards around on the block, he was tripping up defenders with his nasty crossover and getting to the rack.

"He can get into the paint whenever he wants," Kings head coach Paul Westphal said. "I like the way he attacks."

Making Evans a point guard has its virtues, because there are worse places for the ball to be on a Kings' offensive possession than in his hands. Evans is an incredible one-on-one player, something he demonstrated repeatedly Friday against the Pistons in both teams' first Summer League game. The rookie finished with 15 points on 4-10 shooting from the field and 7-10 from the stripe. 

As good as Evans was off the dribble for himself, he rarely looked to create for others. Not once did Evans complete a play for a teammate, something that should concern anyone with a vested interest in the Evans experiment at the point. A couple of times he lobbed passes into traffic, but only if his path to the basket was stymied -- and he failed on virtually every one of those attempts. Evans finished with four turnovers, and his only two assists came on simple entry passes into the post. 

"Hey, let us put some offense in before you say he can't do that," Westphal said, when asked if Evans truly had the instincts to run point. "He's just scratching the surface of what he can do. I think once he gets comfortable with the system and his teammates -- and they get comfortable with him -- there will be a lot of things he can do." 

Westphal might have a point, but what kind of system can the Kings run if there's no legitimate playmaker on the floor who can move the ball with confidence? Kevin Martin is an offensive efficiency machine (greater than 60% true shooting percentage each of the past four seasons), but like Evans, he's best as a one-on-one scorer who would benefit greatly from a pure point who knows how to find a scorer.

Look at the Kings' individual assist rates over the past few seasons, and you'll find that, apart from beleagured point guard Beno Udrih, the team's best distributors were Brad Miller and John Salmons. Spencer Hawes might be a high post threat as a shooter, but there's not much evidence that any semblance of an offense could be run through him. Jason Thompson? Andres Nocioni? Anyone? 

It's entirely possible that Evans' uncanny instincts will allow him to find his inner distributor. Maybe he'll develop the sort of skills that aren't showcased in 2-on-2 workouts. That metamorphosis would be a blessing for Sacramento, but it would also compromise some of what makes Tyreke Evans...Tyreke Evans -- the biggest, strongest, most devastating one-on-one guard in this year's draft class.

There were faint rumors that the Kings might get involoved in the Hedo Turkoglu chase, and there probably wasn't a team in more desperate need of Turkoglu's services as a point forward than the Kings. With their fortunes wed to the extremely talented, but self-sufficient, Evans at the point, the Kings might have to get their playmaking from someone else.

Ricky Rubio tempted the hearts of both Thunder and Kings fans -- but their respective GMs went with the conservative picks. Smart long-term thinking ... or overcautiousness?  Did the Spurs get the steal of the draft? And did Orlando help itself with Vince Carter? 

James HardenRoyce Young of Daily Thunder: "I'd been calling for [James] Harden for almost two months now. I don't think there's any player that fits us better than him. Oklahoma City was statistically the worst team at shooting guard in the league last season. Harden is talented and can do multiple things. He can step on the court tomorrow and make this team better. I truly think he's going to be a fantastic player. But for some reason I feel like the guy that just let a girl get away. Ricky Rubio was the most unknown thing about this draft. Honestly, we have no idea what he's going to do. All we've got are some YouTube clips and six games in Greece to base anything off of. But there was just something about him. I have no idea what it is. He was intriguing. He was cool. He had potential we could only imagine. And the idea of him in a Thunder uniform just got very appealing in the last 48 hours ... Common sense says James Harden is the perfect pick. We can assume Rubio was the best player available, but we don't know that. But the desire to field a freaking cool team said pick Rubio. Not to say Harden makes uncool -- I mean, he's got a beard and he wore a bow tie! -- but the flash of Rubio can't be ignored. But Sam Presti is smarter than all of us and he's got the common sense. He doesn't care about alley oops and behind-the-back passes. He cares about wins and losses. And in three years when James Harden is the perfect complementary piece to the Thunder Three, I don't think you'll care about how cool the team is."

Tyreke EvansZach Harper of Cowbell Kingdom: "The decision was made with Tyreke Evans as the newest member of the Sacramento Kings and it brought about mixed emotions and feelings. I honestly thought that Ricky Rubio was the best-case scenario for the team. He seemed to be perfect for guys like Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes to develop. He seemed to be a great guy to put alongside Kevin Martin to get him open, easier shots. He seemed to be the smartest business decision with instant national exposure surely to come and international interest after that. But in the end, the Kings didn't feel like he was tough enough and that Tyreke Evans was the best player now, five years from now, and ten years from now. And you know what? Geoff Petrie is probably right about all of this. The Kings biggest problem for years was having a glitz and glamour squad that made offense look easy and fun while defense was the great divide ... The Kings were soft both physically and in spirit .. The Kings clearly decided it was time for a change in philosophy and culture. They grabbed a veteran coach who has been there before. And now they've grabbed the player to match the toughness and offensive attack that go along with that coach. Tyreke Evans means no more moments of the Kings point guard being abused on either side of the ball. From now on, the Kings are the enforcer at the point for 48 minutes. From now on, the Kings are going to be tougher and more physical with their opponents. Shots to the mouth will be responded to."

DeJuan BlairGraydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell: "Those looking to react negatively to what was an unequivocally great night for the Spurs will look at the questions surrounding [DeJuan] Blair's knees and claim he isn't all he is cracked up to be. They will say he slid to 37 for a reason. I have two responses to that: First, there is no way in Hell the Spurs could have landed a more talented player at 37. Yes, there are a couple questions surrounding our early second round pick. Welcome to the reality of having only second round picks. Second, even if Blair's knees are a long-term issue, they are exactly that: A long-term issue. With the Jefferson trade, the Spurs announced their intention to make a run for a 5th title and make it now. Aside from Blake Griffin, I would argue no big was more prepared to come onto an NBA squad and readily earn significant minutes than DeJuan Blair. The truth of the matter is, being able to select Blair with the 37th pick is an unmitigated coup. Blair was a dream, someone we mentioned just in case the front office became unexpectedly aggressive and moved up into the lottery. Well, sometimes dreams do come true."

Orlando Magic Daily: Five reasons the Vince Carter deal makes sense for Orlando.
Nets Are Scorching: Courtney Lee -- and a whole lotta cap space --  is coming to the swamp. 
Valley of the Suns: Earl Clark and PHX -- a nice fit.

(Photos by Jesse D. Garrabrant, Jennifer Pottheiser, Andy Lyons/NBAE via Getty Images)