5 guys to watch for Sixers in MGM Resorts NBA Summer League action

5 guys to watch for Sixers in MGM Resorts NBA Summer League action

The Sixers open their schedule for the MGM Resorts NBA Summer League against the Boston Celtics in Las Vegas on Friday night (7:30 p.m./ESPN). They will also face the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday (11:30 p.m./ESPN) and Washington Wizards on Monday (5:30 p.m/NBCSP+).

Before the game tips off, here’s a look at the names to keep an eye on for the Sixers in Sin City.

1. Zhaire Smith
The top spot goes to the Sixers’ new resident high-flyer. Anyone under the rim should look out for a monster put-back dunk attempt, which has quickly become Smith’s signature. 

While the acrobatics are awesome to watch, the Sixers will have their eyes on some more in-depth parts of Smith’s game. That starts with his ball handling and three-point shooting. The team wants to know whether the 19-year-old can deal with pressure defense at the next level when he has the ball in his grasp. Plus, will he be able to carry over his long-range shooting (45.0 percent on just 1.1 attempts per game as a freshman at Texas Tech) in the NBA?

“Just improving my game, just showing what I’ve been working on — shooting, handling the ball and defending,” Smith told reporters during the first session of summer league minicamp about what he is hoping to show in Vegas.

2. Jonah Bolden
Like everything involving the Sixers, it was a process to get Bolden back in summer league action. The team had to secure a letter of clearance from Maccabi Tel Aviv for the 2017 second-round pick to participate.

The Sixers are hoping another run in Las Vegas will help get some of the bad mojo off Bolden, who had a rough first year in Israel. In 55 total games for Maccabi Tel Aviv, Bolen averaged 7.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.2 steals in 20.8 minutes per game. However, the real issues were his shooting percentages. While Bolden shot 46.6 percent from the field, he only connected on 30.7 percent from distance and 52.7 percent at the free throw line.

We’ll see if another solid showing this summer for the Sixers earns Bolden a permanent stay with the team.

3. Furkan Korkmaz
Korkmaz is looking to continue his redemption summer in Las Vegas after already getting things underway during the FIBA Basketball World Cup European qualifiers. In two games for his native Turkey, Korkmaz averaged 23.7 points on 56.5 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three-point range.

That’s the player the Sixers were hoping to see when they drafted him 26th overall in 2016. However, an adjustment to American life and NBA basketball proved slow for Korkmaz. A broken foot further hindered his development as he flip-flopped back and forth from the Sixers and 87ers.

Now back in the desert, the 20-year-old is hoping to reclaim some of that magic from last summer when he averaged 14.6 points a night on 49.2 percent shooting in Vegas.

4. Landry Shamet
The other 2018 first-round pick may be flying under the radar, but Shamet still has plenty to prove. 

First up, Shamet will have to prove his 6-foot-4, 190-pound frame can hold up to the beating of professional basketball. That’s particularly true on the defensive end, where the former Shocker has known to be lacking quite a bit.

Offensively, Shamet will look to show that smooth shooting stroke (43.7 percent three-point shooter in college) and that he can play off the ball after having a usage rate of 20.7 last season for Wichita State.

5. Kevin Young
The man with all of the power in his hands. Sixers assistant Young will be the team’s head coach during the Las Vegas stint.

Young will be tasked with handing out minutes and getting players their shot all while emphasizing the Sixers’ style of play. With each of the 14 guys on the roster looking to make an impression, it will be a bit of a challenge.

“Yeah, there were really three things that we tried to focus in on — transition defense, pick-and-roll defense and being organized offensively,” Young said. “When you get out in that setting the games can get a little ratty. We want to be prepared for that with the defensive side of it with those things I just mentioned. Then offensively, we play an organized style of pace basketball during the season. That’s what we try to implement with these guys, which, again in the summer, it can be challenging. But that’s our goal.”

Good luck.

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Shaquille O'Neal on playing vs. Allen Iverson: ‘I was such a fan … I kind of coasted that year in the Finals’

Shaquille O'Neal on playing vs. Allen Iverson: ‘I was such a fan … I kind of coasted that year in the Finals’

Shaquille O’Neal was at the height of his very substantial powers in the 2001 NBA Finals. He averaged 33 points, 15.8 rebounds and 3.4 blocks in the Lakers’ five-game series victory and was a simple choice for MVP.

However, the Sixers took a Game 1 that Philadelphia fans will remember for a long time, led by Allen Iverson’s 48 points. O’Neal revealed on The Adam Lefkoe Show podcast that he was perhaps a little lenient toward Iverson. 

I have a little confession. D-Wade [Dwyane Wade] probably knows this,” he said. “There were four guys that when we played them, I was such a fan, I would let them do what they wanted to do. White Chocolate [Jason Williams] — I wanted him to go to work — Vince Carter, AI and Tracy McGrady. Every time we played AI … I could have blocked his shot multiple times.

“I just didn’t want to. I kind of coasted that year in the Finals where we wanted to go 16-0. We let him hit us for [48]. Listen, Iverson, he had his heart on the line, he played hard, he did it his way. I was glad to go into the Hall of Fame with him. It’s unfortunate that a lot of these great players will be judged because they didn’t win [a championship]. But listen, he’s one of the greatest to ever do it.

Given O’Neal’s 44-point, 20-rebound Game 1 performance, the notion of him taking it easy on Iverson is difficult to buy. Still, it’s evident he has a deep respect for Iverson. Wade and Candace Parker are very much in the same boat — both players chose No. 3 for that reason.

At All-Star Weekend in February, Wade crossed paths with Iverson and the two shared an emotional moment weeks after the tragic death of Kobe Bryant.

“I couldn’t do anything but embrace and tell him how much I appreciate him, tell him how much I love him,” Wade said on the podcast. “As I’ve always said, it was [Michael] Jordan, Kobe and Iverson for me. Those are the three players that I modeled my game after — that’s who I wanted to be like. I wore No. 3 probably because of Allen Iverson. … I just thanked him. It was just a good embrace that we both needed at that moment.”

A two-time WNBA MVP and five-time All-Star, Parker had a unique story on the origin of her admiration for Iverson. Her older brother, Anthony Parker, began his professional career with the Sixers in the 1997-98 season.

“I remember one day my brother came home from a game and he handed me Allen Iverson’s finger bands,” Parker said. “I wore the Allen Iverson finger bands all the way through high school. … I was obsessed with him. I remember when I met him, he was the first person I met that he shook my hand and I had no words.”

Both Parker and Wade are convinced Iverson would have benefited from the way the NBA has changed since his retirement. They cited the load management movement as one factor — Iverson led the league in minutes per game seven times and played at least 39.4 minutes a night in each of his first 12 seasons. The two also believe that the league's shift away from big men and increase in pace would have suited Iverson’s game. 

“AI’s one of the greatest players of all time,” Parker said. 

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Non-stop drama, a high-tech mask and Joel Embiid's playoff debut

Non-stop drama, a high-tech mask and Joel Embiid's playoff debut

NBC Sports Philadelphia is re-airing Game 3 of the Sixers-Heat 2018 playoff series Sunday night at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia. 

At 26 years old, Joel Embiid has played 19 career playoff games. The lead-up to the first one was full of frustration, drama and angst.

Minutes after the Sixers’ 17-game winning streak ended with a loss to the Heat in Game 2, Embiid posted on his Instagram story, “F---ing sick and tired of being babied.” 

He’d been a glum observer from the sidelines that night, still out with an orbital fracture of the left eye he’d sustained in a collision with Markelle Fultz on March 28, and had seen his teammates cool off from three-point range and allow a 36-year-old Dwyane Wade to score 28 points. Embiid wanted to play, thought he should be permitted to and figured it couldn’t hurt to let the world know how he felt. 

Not for the first time — and certainly not for the last, either — Brett Brown found himself fielding awkward questions about how his players were being handled medically. 

“He just wants to play basketball," he said at the podium. “He wants to be with his team, he wants to play in front of the fans and he wants to see this through. When he’s not able to do that, he gets frustrated, and I respect his frustrations. … I do know the spirit he delivered that [Instagram story] you just talked about reflects my conversations with him.

"It’s completely driven by team, competitiveness, I want to play basketball, that type of feeling more than anything.”

Thanks to a high-tech, customized mask with goggles that was made of polypropylene and embedded carbon fiber filaments, Embiid was cleared for Game 3 in Miami, resembling the "Batman" villain Bane and the rapper MF Doom. The mask was an unavoidable nuisance — Embiid removed it from his face on free throws — but it allowed him to play basketball again, shifting the drama from social media to the court.

Embiid tossed the mask up in the air, spiked it on the floor and generally didn’t treat the device with much reverence. Head athletic trainer Kevin Johnson got a good amount of screen time as the Sixers’ medical staff ran repairs and ferried masks out to Embiid. Justise Winslow was not amused by the situation. When he saw the mask lying on the ground around the foul line at one point in the second quarter, he stepped on it, then unsuccessfully tried to break it with his hands.

"He kept throwing it on the ground. I don't know if he didn't like it or what,” Winslow, who was later fined $15,000 for the incident, told reporters. “I was talking to JoJo, we were smack talking, trash talking, going back and forth. No love lost.”

The back-and-forth with Winslow seemed to invigorate Embiid, though he probably didn’t require any additional fuel.

“Little do they know, I have about 50 of them,” he said to reporters in Miami. “It’s going to take much more than that to get me out of the series. It’s going to be a nightmare for them, too.” 

It was a casually bold prognostication, and also not an entirely outrageous one. The Sixers sprinted away from the Heat in Game 3, turning a two-point lead entering the fourth quarter into a 20-point win. They were, without a doubt, the better team when Embiid played.

We haven’t actually mentioned anything yet about how Embiid played. If he didn’t have a black mask shielding his face, the cliched (but accurate) description of his performance would be that he looked like himself. Embiid had 23 points in 30 minutes, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks. He made three threes, drew 15 free throws and protected the rim well, limiting Heat players to 4 for 14 shooting on field goals he defended. 

Mask on or mask off, regular season or playoffs, he was clearly going to be the main story more often than not. 

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