Sunday, November 30, 2014

Mark Sanchez and the Sixers: Narrative Denied

Not Shown: Sports
So there are two main stories in my part of the world and laundry that I care about. They are:

1) How Mark Sanchez is having a career rebirth from being exposed to Chip Kelly, and

2) That the Sixers are now 0-16 to start the NBA season, and how everything involved in that is just the worst.

Let's take each in turn.

It's a truism in NFL commentary: the quarterback gets too much credit when a team wins, and too much criticism when a team loses. With Sanchez, I'm not sure there's ever been a more clear indication of the trend. In the Cowboys game, Sanchez is at the wheel as the team goes up 14-0 early... but the first drive is mostly set up by back to back runs for LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles for 55 total yards, and the second is finished by a 27-yard crossing pattern and score by WR Jordan Matthews where the man was open by yards, and just about any QB in the league completes that pass. On the third drive, Sanchez cost the team points by missing the similarly open WR Brad Smith, and refusing to take short first down yardage on third with McCoy in the flat, preferring instead the covered TE Zach Ertz in the end zone. The rest of the game was marked by similar weak work in the red zone, only 15 yards passing after intermission, and the single best point of not turning the ball over.

Now, did Sanchez actually play badly? Not at all. Not turning the ball over in 60 minutes of an NFL game is a great and wonderful thing, especially on the road. He kept the tempo up, and tempo is a massive thing for the Eagles. He converted on third down, and won a road game against a team that's over .500. But it's not as if he was the only freaking factor here.

The running game went for 250 yards. The special teams were their usual dominant selves. The defense made Tony Romo look hurt, and DeMarco Murray irrelevant. The QB contributed to the victory; he didn't create it.

But as for Sanchez having a career rebirth here? Let's see him win a game where the rest of the team isn't dominant. Let's see him win a game against a team that might not be secretly mediocre -- and yes, the Cowboys could easily tailspin their way out of the playoff picture, especially if they lose against Chicago next week, then have to come to Philly to face the team that just punked them.

Basically, let's wait and see what happens next week against the Seahawks, because if the Eagles win that game, 13-3 and a first-round bye looks in sight.

And if that somehow happens, we might have a much bigger story than Sanchez with a career rebirth to consider. Instead, it might be how Sanchez got himself, and a franchise, a ring. With, well, a lot of help from the running game, the defense, and the special teams...

2) The Sixers dropped their 16th in a row to start the season tonight, this time against a Mavs club that told F Dirk Nowitzki, still their best player, to take the night off for no other reason than they didn't think they needed him to win. And, well, they were right.

Now, no one in their right mind thought this Sixer team was going to be good. The whole point here, in GM Sam Hinkie's hard path to build something that isn't just an ordinary low seed, but an actual serious title competitor, is to bank hard for the future. But the question is whether the present is ruining the future, in that the entirety of the next good Sixer team is not all comprised of people who aren't here yet.

I don't know if G Michael Carter-Williams' progress as an NBA player is being ruined by all of the losing. I'm not even sure if he's actually all that great, independent of the losing. MCW has good size and realistic instincts, and has the raw skills to be a solid defensive player. He also is good in the open court, the only guy on the roster right now who could be in the rotation of a good club. But he might not be a starter on a playoff team. There's really no way to know except to give him a ton of playing time and see what happens.

How about C Nerlens Noel? Well, he's been as advertised. Raw on offense, trying hard on defense, growing in the role, but able to be taken out by any amount of veteran savvy. He's not likely to be the Rookie of the Year -- no one involved in what might easily be the worst team in NBA history is getting an award -- but he's been watchable.

Next up on things to think good things about is rookie swingman KJ McDaniels. He's been getting better every week, and if his good games ever coincided with one from Noel and MCW, the club might finally get a win. Highlight dunks and defensive closeouts are here, along with a shaky handle and inconsistent shooting. I think he's a keeper, but if he's the third best player on your club, your club is horrible.

I haven't gotten to the team's leading scorer (G Tony Wroten, a usage mirage and talent without intellect) or other starters (F/C Henry Sims, wretched, G Hollis Thompson, worse). There also hasn't really been a guy on the roster otherwise who looks like an NBA player, unless you want to think that Robert Covington or Jerami Grant might be something.

But that's all irrelevant, really. The only real question is whether the progress of the individual players are being ruined by the losing. And on that, there's no evidence. McDaniels' numbers have been on the upswing. So has Noel. We'll see if anything comes out of the benchies; considering how well the Association scouts, and the number of undrafted players on this roster, there's not much in the way of good odds, there.

So it really comes down, not to whether the team is suffering with the losing... but if Carter-Williams is.

He's the one with the reversion issues. He's the one struggling with a sophomore slump, or a longer than expected recovery from off-season knee surgery. He probably can't co-exist with Wroten (no loss, really), needs to improve his shot desperately and can't have done that with the rehab. He's the face of the franchise (as if they have one yet), the key to Noel getting good looks on offense, the guy with the trade rumors after the draft day machinations with Elfrid Payton, the guy with the ROY trophy.

Noel and McDaniels, along with Joel Embiid and Dario Saric? All likely to be parts of the next Sixer team that's worth watching for more than scouting for the future, especially if Noel and Embiid can co-exist in the same frontcourt.

MCW?

Maybe. Maybe not. Especially if the next best player in the draft is a point guard, and so far, the top pick in the 2015 draft is Emmanuel Mudiay, a point guard from the Congo who makes people think of John Wall.

Because, well, the Narrative around the Eagles and Sixers Does Not Matter, and has never mattered, because the Eagles and Sixers are not sportswriters.

They don't care about stories, or narrative, because these things do not exist.

What exists are wins and losses. 

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