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Dammit Spencer Hawes Stop Teasing Us Like This

Apr 1, 2013, 10:00 AM EDT

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On March 3rd of this year, exactly four weeks ago to the day, Spencer
Hawes had the worst game of his career, and arguably one of the worst
games ever posted by a starting center in the National Basketball
Association, at home against the Golden State Warriors. In about 20
minutes of game action, he scored 0 points on stunning 0-9 shooting,
with four rebounds and two dimes, but also three turnovers and three
personal fouls. (Amazingly, the Sixers still won the game somehow.) It
was an absolutely embarrassing performance in an already disappointing
season that made you wonder if Doug Collins was going to gently,
tenderly asphyxiate him as he slept on the team plane that night,
putting him out of both of their misery.

Since that game, Spencer Hawes has basically been Marc Gasol.

OK,
that’s not really true—Gasol has the defensive-anchor bonafides that
Spence, at his best, simply never will, as anyone who watched Hawes
whiff on blocked shot after blocked shot as a help defender in the last
two games against the likes of Kemba Walker and Shaun Livingston will
attest. But if you gave Spencer Hawes’ stat line over the 16 games since
the Golden State humiliation to an impartial observer and asked them to
name the player responsible for it, Memphis’ all-around beast of an an
All-Star center would be the most logical guess. I mean, look at this
thing:

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That’s 16 games for which Spence is averaging 15
and 10 a game, on 53.5% shooting along with 50% from three (!!!) and
even 84% from the foul line, to go with about four assists and two
blocks a game, and just two turnovers and 3.4 personal fouls in 32
minutes a night. Those aren’t just All-Star numbers; if he had them for a
full season they’d be putting Spence in All-NBA discussion, better than
(or at least comparable to) the lines posted by the likes of Joakim
Noah, Tyson Chandler and (yes) Marc Gasol. Again, Spence will never have
the all-around defensive impact of those three stars, but when you’re
getting statistical production of this caliber from your big man, it’s
hard to be too critical.

This should be cause for excitement, right? After all, despite being
in his sixth NBA season, Spencer is still just a
young-and-impressionable 24 years old, not hitting the quarter-century
mark until late April. He’s signed for another year with the Sixers for
an unexorbitant $6.5 million, and with no assurances for the future with
Andrew Bynum, to have a backup plan (for next year and after) like this
version of Spencer Hawes could give the team a ton of options when
figuring out where their team goes from here. And hell, he’s helping
them win games—after losing their first five after the Golden State
game, the team has gone 7-4 since, including the team’s first three-game
winning streak since early February, cemented with the team’s most
recent victory over the Bobcats.

Unfortunately, Sixers fans have seen this movie before. At the
beginning of last year’s lockout-shortened season, Spence looked like he
was going to fulfill Yahoo hoops writer Adrian Wojnarowski’s prediction
of winning the year’s Most Imrpoved Player honors. He averaged a
double-double over his first eight games, on league-leading 63%
shooting, with three assists and a couple blocks as well. Then injuries
slowed down his season, and when he came back, seemingly fully healthy,
he was back to the player he was the year before—bringing it some
nights, disappearing others, showing flashes of a blue-chip player but
never doing it with any degree of consistency.

And after three years as a Liberty Baller, that’s what most of us
have taken to be the norm with Spencer—inconsistency. Like the Sixers’
other tease of a lottery pick, Evan Turner (who, incidentally, has also
come to life a bit lately, scoring 20 in back-to-back games for the
first time since January), it’s impossible to trust that the Spence we
see when he’s draining jumpers and finishing on putbacks and running our
offense from the high post is the same one we’re going to see this time
next week, or next month, or next year. Seemingly at a moment’s notice,
he can lose the range, let himself get pushed around inside, and try to
force passes as a distributor, turning into a liability on both ends of
the court.

In the eight games that preceded his recent hot streak—all Sixer
losses, besides the Golden State catastrophe—Spence averaged just nine
points sand seven rebounds on awful 32% shooting, with as many turnovers
and assists, just one block a game, and 0 three-point makes. Even if
this is his longest stretch of quality play—and 16 games is nothing to
sneeze at, certainly—there’s simply no guarantee that his level of play
next year, or even for the rest of this season, will come anywhere near
this. Every game is a new opportunity for Spence’s play to start
regressing back to the mean.

At this point in the season, when it’s too late for an improved
Spencer to do anything for us but cost us ping-pong balls in the
lottery, it’s hard not to be a little angry at this guy for teasing us
once again. We’d finally contented ourselves that the Big GOPper was
just never gonna be that good, that his miserable defense would always
outweigh his sporadically inspired offense, that his pedigree and
potential was always gonna come with too many caveats to be worth
investing in. But now here we are again, wondering “Well, maybe this
time it’s for real?” And maybe it is—possibly maybe—but given Spence’s
past history, you’d have to be described with a “G” word that you can’t
find in the dictionary to believe it with any seriousness.

At the very least, Sixers fans should be thankful that Spence is
under contract with the team for another season, since it means there’s
no chance (less of a chance, anyway) that the Sixers will reward his
recent hot play with a short-sighted, long-term-damaging multi-year
contract extension, as you know they’re just itching to do. Do it for a
whole season, Spencer—next season, perhaps, if you’re so inclined—and
then we’ll have some degree of faith that you’re the real deal. Until
then, we wish you’d stop strutting around all coy and peacock-like on
the court when we know it’s all just gonna end in frustration and
disappointment.