5 Sixers summer league observations: Zhaire Smith shows flashes of brilliance in loss to Lakers

5 Sixers summer league observations: Zhaire Smith shows flashes of brilliance in loss to Lakers

If you stayed up into the early hours of Sunday morning on the East Coast to watch the Sixers take on the Lakers in their second MGM Resorts Summer League game, you got to see a number of incredible highlight-reel plays from Zhaire Smith.

However, you didn’t get to see much in the way of outside shooting. The Sixers shot just 38.3 percent from the floor and made only 3 of 29 three-pointers in a 96-79 loss to the Lakers.

Here are five observations from the Sixers’ defeat:

1. Friday night wasn’t a bad debut for Smith, but he showed lot more of why the Sixers think he could eventually be a special player against the Lakers. 

Smith scored his first basket of the night on a nice pump fake and drive to the rim for an authoritative dunk. 

Later in the first quarter, Smith made an impressive play in transition, attacking the lane and dropping off a no-look pass to Cameron Oliver for a dunk. 

At the start of the second, Smith found Oliver again after getting the fast break started with a steal, and Oliver’s dunk was high on style points.

Smith vs. Villanova product Josh Hart was a fun matchup to watch. Hart has a full season of NBA experience, but Smith held his own. Overall, Smith defended well, although he did get caught up on a couple screens.

Hart looked like the best player on the floor, showcasing his versatile offensive game. He finished with 24 points, most of it against defenders other than Smith. 

While it will continue to take time for Smith to get comfortable on the wing, he cuts well off the ball and seems to have a good feel for how to fit in an offense. The Sixers made a concerted effort to involve Smith more offensively. 

“We're trying to get him to be as aggressive as he can," Sixers summer league head coach Kevin Young told reporters after the game. "Especially with Shamet going out, there's more opportunity for someone to be that offensive guy. I don't think it's innately in his DNA, but this is a great environment for him to explore that."

In the second half, Smith forced a few shots and missed a couple open three-pointers. But he kept making incredibly athletic plays, throwing down a putback dunk, slamming in a lob off a baseline out-of bounds play and converting an and-one with a smart cut to the rim and strong finish. 

The hang time on the lob was absolutely ridiculous.

He scored a team-high 16 points, shooting 6 for 13 from the floor and 3 for 3 at the foul line, with three assists and three steals. 

"First one I might be a little nervous," Smith said after the game, "but this game I was relaxed. Talked to Coach [Brett] Brown. He said I played like a 'C' last game, try to get to a 'B.' I did good last game but just do better and be relaxed, play like yourself. It's the summer league; you're going to get better and you're going to learn." 

Smith probably won’t have many (if any) plays called for him in the regular season, so it will be important for him to contribute as a cutter, offensive rebounder and three-point shooter. 

2. Furkan Korkmaz couldn’t do it again. The night after his incredible 40-point performance against the Celtics, Korkmaz struggled to find that same shooting stroke against the Lakers. He had four points, shooting 1 for 9 overall and 0 for 7 from long range.

He missed an open three-pointer from the right wing on the Sixers’ first possession, and that set the tone. To be fair to Korkmaz, the Sixers’ offense didn’t generate many open looks for him, so he had to try to create scoring opportunities on his own. 

"In the game, I wasn't feeling good, wasn't feeling in shape," Korkmaz said. "It was back-to-back games. Everybody was focused but sometimes you are making shots, sometimes you are missing. Today was maybe one of my worst games." 

Can Korkmaz earn a spot in the rotation? He obviously shouldn’t be judged solely on this rough outing or on his offensive explosion Friday night. But he’ll have another opportunity to impress Brett Brown and make a case for earning minutes off the bench in the Sixers’ next contest Monday night against the Wizards at 5:30 p.m (NBCSP+).

3. Like in the first game, it was a mixed bag from Jonah Bolden. On a positive note, he seemed comfortable grabbing rebounds and quickly looking up-court to start fast breaks. 

But Bolden couldn’t ever assert his will on the game. He’s 3 for 10 from the floor overall in summer league. A second quarter air ball from long range was a low moment. Just like last summer, there’s a lot to like about his game, but it also seems rough around the edges. He's said he plans on playing for the Sixers this season, but you'd think the team would feel a lot better about the idea of bringing him over if his game was more refined.

Bolden had five points, four rebounds and three steals in 23 minutes.

4. The Sixers’ offense was not the prettiest thing to watch, which you expect in the second game of summer league. 

Down 17 early in the third quarter, the Sixers found a little more of a rhythm to avoid being completely blown off the floor, though the Lakers extended their lead late after the Sixers cut it to single-digits at one stage. Demetrius Jackson had a couple strong drives to the hoop in the second half, while Askia Booker had nine points on 4 for 11 shooting after going scoreless against Boston. 

Oliver was another bright spot, posting 12 points and eight rebounds. 

5. It’s a shame for the Sixers that Landry Shamet’s summer league campaign was cut short by a right ankle injury (see story). You sense that Shamet, a smart playmaker at Wichita, could’ve helped get the Sixers’ offense flowing.

It also just would’ve been great to experiment more playing Shamet both on and off-ball. For Shamet, it’s a missed opportunity to acclimate to the increased physicality of the NBA and start to find his niche at the next level, although he said he can still gain something from his summer league experience. 

"Just watching and learning," Shamet said. "I've been in this situation before where I've had to watch with my foot injuries. There's a lot of information still to be taken in, lot of learning. That'll be no problem, it'll just be something where I continue to take information in." 

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The 10 best trades in Sixers history

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The 10 best trades in Sixers history

The Sixers have been on the losing end of quite a few trades, both in recent and distant history. They’ve also pulled off some bargains and successful blockbusters, too. 

We ranked the top 10 in Sixers history:

10. Toni Kukoč, Nazr Mohammed, Theo Ratliff and Pepe Sánchez to the Atlanta Hawks for Roshown McLeod and Dikembe Mutombo 
Ratliff was the NBA’s leader in blocks per game for the 2000-01 season and made the only All-Star Game of his career. But when he hurt his wrist, the Sixers decided to swap centers and picked up Mutombo. The Hall of Famer won his fourth Defensive Player of the Year award and was vital in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Bucks, averaging 16.6 points, 15.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks.

9. Johnny "Red" Kerr to the Baltimore Bullets for Wali Jones 
The Sixers got a bit of good fortune in this deal. After averaging 11 points and 8.3 rebounds for the Bullets in the 1965-66 season, Kerr was selected by the Bulls in the expansion draft. Instead of playing, however, he retired and took over as the team’s first head coach. Meanwhile, Jones spent seven seasons in Philadelphia and started at point guard for the 1966-67 NBA champions. 

8. Fred Carter to the Milwaukee Bucks for a 1977 second-round pick (Wilson Washington) and a 1978 second-round pick (Maurice Cheeks)
A Philadelphia native who later coached the Sixers, Carter was near the end of a playing career that had peaked with him scoring over 20 points per game. He only played 47 games for Milwaukee before retiring, while Cheeks played 853 games in Philadelphia and became a Hall of Fame floor general. GM Pat Williams also deserves credit for later turning Washington into three draft picks and spending one of those on 1979 second-round selection Clint Richardson, a key bench piece on the 1983 championship team. 

7. $125,000 the New Jersey Nets for the rights to the 51st pick (Kyle Korver) 
The Nets had to use the $125,000 for summer league expenses and a new copy machine after a second consecutive NBA Finals appearance, according to Zach Lowe. Korver has the fourth-most made three-pointers in NBA history, is 10th in three-point percentage and has earned about $77 million in his career. 

6. George McGinnis and a 1978 first-round pick (Mike Evans) to the Denver Nuggets for Bobby Jones, Ralph Simpson and a 1984 first-round pick (Leon Wood)
The Sixers’ timing on this trade was nearly perfect. While McGinnis was an All-Star the year after leaving Philadelphia, his production soon dropped off and he was done with professional basketball by 1982. Jones spent the majority of his Hall of Fame career with the Sixers and won the NBA’s inaugural Sixth Man of the Year award in 1983.

5. Luka Mitrović, Artūras Gudaitis and a 2017 first-round pick (De’Aaron Fox) to the Sacramento Kings for Carl Landry, Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson, the right to swap picks in 2016 and 2017 and a 2019 first-round pick (Later traded — Celtics took Romeo Langford) 
We have this deal among our top 10 not because of the final results, but as an appreciation for the value Sam Hinkie often extracted. In this trade, the Sixers essentially moved up from No. 5 and No. 3 in the 2017 draft and took the No. 14 pick in the 2019 draft. In exchange, they gave up Mitrović and Gudaitis, neither of whom has played in the NBA. Though the fruits of the deal were ultimately squandered when Bryan Colangelo traded up to take Markelle Fultz, that’s an impressive haul.

4. World B. Free to the San Diego Clippers for a 1984 first-round pick (Charles Barkley) 
The Sixers had to patiently wait for this trade to pay off after making it in 1978. Free, now an always-jovial and charming team ambassador, was a heck of a scorer. He posted over 30 points per game in the 1979-80 season and averaged nearly 25 over an eight-season stretch. Still, parting with Free was obviously a price worth paying for the chance to draft Barkley, one of the best players in Sixers history.

3. Mel Bennett to the Indiana Pacers for a 1980 first-round pick (Andrew Toney) 
Much like the trade above, the Sixers were generously rewarded for playing the long game. They traded Bennett in 1976, then watched from afar as he posted a modest 3.9 points and 3.3 rebounds per contest in 129 career NBA games. The eighth pick in 1980, Toney was a two-time All-Star, an NBA champion in 1983 and, of course, “The Boston Strangler.” 

2. Caldwell Jones and a 1983 first-round pick (Rodney McCray) to the Houston Rockets for Moses Malone 
To upgrade a team that had won 58 games and lost to the Lakers in the Finals for the second time in three years, Williams landed the reigning MVP. While Jones stuck around until he was 39 years old and McCray played 10 professional seasons, Malone’s services should have been much more expensive, in hindsight. He won another MVP award in 1983 as his new team came just one game short of fulfilling his famous “Fo’, Fo’, Fo’” prediction. 

1. Connie Dierking, Paul Neumann, Lee Shaffer and cash to the San Francisco Warriors for Wilt Chamberlain 
Shaffer retired shortly after the trade, while Dierking and Neumann both had some solid NBA years left. Neither player, however, was in Chamberlain’s stratosphere. Chamberlain averaged 27.6 points, 23.9 rebounds and 6.8 assists in three-plus seasons as a Sixer, winning the championship in 1967. He probably shouldn’t have been dealt for anything less than multiple All-Stars — or perhaps an All-Star and a heap of first-round picks — but the Warriors were struggling financially and gave up a player who’d led the league in scoring for five consecutive seasons. 

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The 10 best draft picks in Sixers history

The 10 best draft picks in Sixers history

In sports, we often talk about building through the draft. 

Sure, a shrewd trade or free agent signing can help put a team over the top, but generally a decent core has to be in place. Good draft selections helped usher in some of the best eras of Sixers basketball.

With that in mind, we take a look at the 10 best draft picks in Sixers history. 

10. Andrew Toney, 1980, first round (8th overall)
Toney was a two-time All-Star and big part of the Sixers’ last title in 1983. Drafted out of Louisiana-Lafayette, “The Boston Strangler” averaged 15.9 points a game in his eight-year career. There are many who believe Toney was on a Hall of Fame path before a foot injury forced him into retirement at the age of 30. If only Toney’s career wasn’t cut short, he’d likely be much higher on this list.

9. Doug Collins, 1973, first round (1st overall)
While our freshest memories of Collins are as the Sixers’ head coach, he had a productive NBA career after coming out of Illinois State. Collins averaged 17.9 points a game and helped usher in arguably the greatest era of Sixers basketball. Unfortunately, Collins also succumbed to foot and knee injuries. He retired in 1981, just before the 1983 championship, at the age of 29.

In a draft that didn’t boast much talent, the Sixers did well in 1973. After taking Collins, they selected George McGinnis — who spent four years in the ABA before two All-Star seasons with the Sixers — and Caldwell Jones in the second round.

8. Ben Simmons, 2016, first round (1st overall)
Sure, this is a little bit of a projection, but it’s hard to argue with the returns on Simmons so far. In his third NBA season, he made his second All-Star appearance and appears well on his way to All-Defensive Team honors. Though it’s early in Simmons’ career, he is the franchise leader in assists per game and assist percentage. The team also won 50 games in both of his first two seasons and was on track to be at or near that mark again before this season was suspended.

7. Joel Embiid, 2014, first round (3rd overall)
Much like Simmons, there’s a bit of projection, but Embiid’s first four NBA seasons have been dominant. His 24.1 points a game trail only Wilt Chamberlain and Allen Iverson. He also has the highest usage rate and rebounding percentage in team history. He’s a three-time All-Star and has been named Second Team All-Defense and All-NBA in each of the last two seasons.

While Embiid was supremely talented coming out of Kansas, it took some guts to take him given his injury history. Injuries have haunted him in his young NBA career, but he is on an extremely special trajectory. After seeing what’s become of the careers of Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, this pick looks even better.

6. Allen Iverson, 1996, first round (1st overall)
While there may be better players and better value draft picks on this list, there is nobody more beloved than A.I. Iverson is all over the Sixers’ record books. He’s the franchise leader in threes made and steals per game. He’s second in points — both total and per game — minutes, steals and usage rate. He also led an improbable and memorable run to the Finals in 2001. Though it may have been a no-brainer to take the 6-foot guard from Georgetown, Iverson’s Hall of Fame career gets him on this list.

5. Charles Barkley, 1984, first round (5th overall)
“The Round Mound of Rebound” struggled to get on the floor his rookie year coming out of Auburn because he was “fat and lazy.” But once Barkley’s career took off, he became a perennial All-Star and bona fide superstar. Sir Charles was a six-time All-Star and is third in franchise history in rebounds and fifth in points. Unfortunately, the Sixers failed to surround Barkley with enough talent and he was traded to Phoenix in 1992 before finishing his Hall of Fame career in Houston. 

4. Maurice Cheeks, 1978, second round (36th overall)
If you’re going off sheer value, you could make an argument for Cheeks in the top spot. Easily the greatest NBA player to ever come out of West Texas A&M, Cheeks was a five-time All-Defensive team pick, a four-time All-Star and a world champion in 1983. Cheeks has the most steals and assists in franchise history. Getting a Hall of Famer at 36th overall? Not too shabby.

3. Chet Walker, 1962, second round (12th overall)
Selected by the Syracuse Nationals — who became the Sixers the following season — Walker had an excellent career. Only John Havlicek scored more points in the 1962 draft class. The Bradley product was a three-time All-Star with the Sixers and helped the team win its first title in 1967. Unfortunately, Walker was traded to the Bulls during his prime and went on to make four more All-Star teams in his Hall of Fame career. 

2. Billy Cunningham, 1965, first round (5th overall)
Cunningham is the only person on this list to be involved in both Sixers championships. After a stellar career at UNC, “The Kangaroo Kid” joined Walker, Hal Greer and Wilt Chamberlain and helped form one of the best starting fives in NBA history that won it all in 1967. Cunningham is in the top 10 in just about every stat in team history and was a four-time All-Star in Philadelphia during his Hall of Fame playing career.

It’s fair to note that if the Sixers never draft Cunningham, they don’t get the best coach in their history. Cunningham coached and won the most games in team history. His .698 winning percentage and 66 playoff wins are also franchise-best marks. He took the team to the Finals three times, winning it in 1983.

1. Hal Greer, 1958, second round (13th overall)
Greer’s resume speaks for itself. The Marshall product, who was also selected by the Nationals, went on to become the franchise leader in points, field goals made, games and minutes. He was a key cog on that 1967 championship team. He made 10 All-Star teams during his 15-year career, all spent with the Sixers/Nats.

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