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NBA summer league: Alley-oops aplenty from Zhaire Smith and Norvel Pelle as Sixers hold on to win opener

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NBA summer league: Alley-oops aplenty from Zhaire Smith and Norvel Pelle as Sixers hold on to win opener

For the time being, we mostly have to rely on our imagination in projecting what the Sixers will look like in 2019-20.

However, we now have some idea — albeit, a very limited one — of what the Sixers will have in a few young members of their bench after the team’s first summer league game.

They beat the Bucks on Friday in Las Vegas, 107-106, holding off a late run from Milwaukee. The Sixers won despite turning the ball over twice in a panicky final 20 seconds. Sterling Brown's heave from near half court at the buzzer would have given Milwaukee a wild win.

Here are observations on the team’s opening game: 

• The Sixers’ first two baskets were high on the sensational scale.

Shake Milton got the assist on both, the first a fast-break alley-oop to Zhaire Smith, the second a lob to big man Norvel Pelle. The Sixers’ center, who recently received a two-way contract, added a second dunk about a minute later off a wraparound pass from Smith.

 

It sure didn’t take long to be reminded that several of the Sixers’ young players are standout athletes.

• Smith’s first-quarter alley-oop was not a fluke — he added a spectacular one in the second quarter and a reverse alley-oop late in the third.

The 20-year-old had 10 points on 5 of 8 shooting, five assists and two turnovers. Outside of the dunks, Smith’s passing and his decision-making in the pick-and-roll were positives Friday.

• Summer league games are often very disjointed, a product of throwing a collection of players with just a few days of practice together out onto the court. But, when Milton was on the floor, the Sixers’ offense had some semblance of cohesion. The second-year guard played under control and pushed the pace when appropriate.

Unfortunately for Milton, he just couldn’t get his jumper to fall Friday. He finished with 15 points on 2 for 14 shooting, seven assists and four turnovers. 

• The Sixers’ defense, anchored by Pelle and 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje, played well overall.

It helps to have strong individual defenders in Smith and Matisse Thybulle, but Pelle and Koumadje’s communication and ability to deter penetration were also noticeable. The two were, however, overzealous — to say the least — in their efforts to protect the rim, combining for 16 fouls.

Pelle had 12 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and two steals. He committed nine fouls (you foul out after 10 in summer league).

• Koumadje is an intriguing prospect. He’s agile for his height, has a solid sense for team defense and rolled well to the rim on a couple of occasions. His size also allowed him to throw down five dunks.

Like with 7-foot-3 Boban Marjanovic, stepping out to defend centers with shooting range and switching onto guards are issues.

In 14 minutes, Koumadje had 11 points, seven rebounds, five blocks and seven fouls.

With Pelle already locked into a two-way contract, it would be surprising if the Sixers gave the other spot to Koumadje. He would, however, make sense as an early pick in the G League draft for the Delaware Blue Coats. 

• Thybulle said Monday that his main goal in summer league was to get comfortable. He seemed to still be adjusting to the pro game and a return to man-to-man defense Friday after playing zone for the past two seasons at the University of Washington. The 6-foot-5 wing gambled often on defense and had four turnovers. He fouled the Bucks' Daulton Hommes on a three-pointer with 19.5 seconds remaining and the Sixers leading by four points.

That said, there were numerous positives for Thybulle, including a spot-up three-pointer from the left wing in the second quarter, three steals and several sharp close-outs on Bucks shooters.

• While it was not a major revelation, Marial Shayok, the No. 54 pick in this year’s draft, gave a glimpse of his skill navigating around screens and scoring off the dribble. Shayok had a team-high 19 points in 21 minutes, including a number of important baskets in the fourth quarter, and made 3 of 6 shots from three-point range.

Another shooter, Terry Harris — Tobias Harris' younger brother — did not see the floor Friday.

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NBA trade deadline: 6 trade targets for the Sixers

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NBA trade deadline: 6 trade targets for the Sixers

We've reached Dec. 15, a significant date in the NBA calendar. It's the first day that most players who signed this summer are eligible to be traded

NBC Sports Philadelphia's Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick look at six players who might make sense for the Sixers to target. The trade deadline is Feb. 6. 

Josh Hart, G/F

Most basketball fans in Philadelphia will be familiar with the name. Hart had an impressive career at Villanova, helping the Wildcats to a national championship. After starting his career with the Lakers, he was part of the Anthony Davis trade and wound up in New Orleans. With a Brandon Ingram extension likely, it would be a cost-cutting move for the Pelicans

Hart can do a little bit of everything. He’s athletic, has a decent handle, is a strong rebounder at 6-foot-5 (7.8 per 36 minutes) and is shooting the ball decently (36.5 percent on 6.1 attempts). He’s still just 24 so it’s reasonable to suggest he could get better — especially if he’s surrounded by players like the Sixers’. His defensive versatility and ability to hit shots are likely the most attractive qualities he has.

Bogdan Bogdanovic, G

The 2014 first-round pick is playing some of the best basketball of his young career over the last few weeks. He can create off the dribble and navigate pick-and-rolls well as a ball handler and is even better moving off the ball. While the jumper will stand out (38.6 percent on 6.9 attempts a game), he’s also an excellent passer, averaging 3.9 assists a night.

The defensive end is where you worry about Bogdanovic, but there are signs he may be improving in that regard. He has good length at 6-foot-6 and decent feet. With the Sixers’ defensive prowess, it could help mitigate those concerns. 

So, why could such a useful player be available? Money and fit. Multiple players on the Kings have gotten paid and De’Aaron Fox is up next. With Fox and Buddy Hield, it's hard to see his long-term fit.

Alec Burks, G/F

As a low-risk/high-reward signing, Burks was expected to add a scoring punch to the Warriors’ bench as they looked to cost effectively retool their roster. Instead, Golden State has been crushed by injuries and finds itself with the worst record in the NBA. Burks has been solid in stepping up into a larger role. He looks recovered from the injuries that plagued him over the last several seasons.

Still just 28, Burks can flat out score. He hasn’t been the most efficient player (43.2 percent from the floor, 35.7 from three), but just has a knack for creating and scoring — not skills prevalent on the Sixers’ roster. Though it’s not the sexiest skillset in today’s NBA, Burks excels in the midrange and is an excellent free throw shooter (89.7 percent). Like Bogdanovic, Burks isn’t the best defender, but offers good size and length.

Davis Bertans, F

Bertans was involved in a complicated situation during free agency in which he was dealt from the Spurs to the Wizards with the understanding that San Antonio would then sign Marcus Morris. At the last minute, Morris reneged on his agreement and decided to sign with the Knicks. 

“That was an unfortunate situation that was handled unprofessionally on a couple of different levels,” Gregg Popovich told reporters in September. “We made that move to make the signing that we did and got blindsided. Davis was a special player, as we all know. He’s young and getting better and better. We hated losing him.”

In his fourth NBA season, the Latvian forward is having an elite shooting year. He’s averaging 15.7 points per game, is ninth in three-point percentage among players with at least 45 attempts (45.6 percent) and is 12th in three-point shots taken per game (8.5).

Outside shooting hasn’t been a significant problem for the Sixers, at least in terms of efficiency — they’re hitting 37 percent from three. Bertans, though, would provide some of the off-ball movement, respect from opposing defenses and ability to hit tightly contested jumpers that the Sixers lost in JJ Redick. 

Bertans’ salary for this year is $7 million, and he’ll be a free agent after the season.

Jordan Clarkson, G

According to SI.com’s Sam Amcico, the Sixers are “supposedly among those with interest” in Clarkson.

The 27-year-old Clarkson is averaging 14.3 points and 2.5 assists in 22.6 minutes per game for the 6-20 Cavs. He’d be able to give the Sixers scoring and shot creation off the bench.

However, it seems like it would be difficult for Elton Brand to acquire Clarkson for an appropriate price because the 6-foot-4 guard has a salary of close to $13.5 million for 2019-20.

Langston Galloway, G

Galloway, the No. 2 scorer in St. Joe’s history, could be a decent fit with the Sixers.

Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press reported during the preseason that the Pistons were “very open” to trading Galloway

Through the Pistons’ first 26 games, Galloway, who’s in the final season of a three-year, $21 million contract, has boosted his value a bit. He's averaging career highs in points (11.9), field goal percentage (44.8) and three-point percentage (42.9). 

“Langston is a pro," Pistons head coach Dwane Casey said, per The Athletic's James L. Edwards III. "He’s a security blanket. He’s always doing the right thing, whether he makes a shot or misses a shot. He’s always making the right play. The other side of Langston (is) his defensive ability. If you notice, we put him on the hot players because he’s a tough guy, he’s consistent and persistent. His shooting is the ultimate crown on top.”

Sounds like someone who could help a contender.

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Sixers at Nets: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers at Nets: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Updated: 12:01 p.m.

The 20-7 Sixers, winners of five in a row and 13 of their last 15, might be seriously shorthanded for Sunday night's game against the 13-12 Nets.

Below are the essentials:

When: 6 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 5:45 p.m.
Where: Barclays Center 
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia 
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

2 big men might be out 

Joel Embiid is doubtful because of an upper respiratory illness, while Al Horford is questionable with the left knee soreness and left hamstring tightness that’s caused him to miss the past two games.

Embiid played 31 minutes Friday vs. the Pelicans, right around his season average, and has missed five of the Sixers’ first 27 games because of injuries, load management and a two-game suspension for an Oct. 30 fight with the Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns. The Sixers have a 3-2 record without Embiid, 4-0 without Horford. 

If one or both players are out, Norvel Pelle would seem well positioned to again receive meaningful minutes. The 26-year-old was Embiid’s main backup Friday and had a real impact in his 12 minutes (see story). 

‘Honestly, I liked that they fouled’ 

The final few minutes of the Sixers’ win over the Pelicans were laborious, and one reason why is that New Orleans had early success with intentionally fouling Ben Simmons. The Australian missed three of his first four attempts after the Pelicans turned to the “Hack-a-Simmons” strategy.

“My belief is he's going to have to go through some of that to get where we want to deliver him,” Brett Brown said. 

Simmons, who’s shooting 58.3 percent on free throws this year, made his final four foul shots vs. New Orleans. When the Sixers hold a lead late in the game, it’s an approach they very well may continue to see.

“Honestly, I liked that they fouled,” Tobias Harris said. "I think it’s good in these type of situations for him to get used to that, because come playoff time if a team decides to do that, we can’t afford to take him out of the game. ... If teams decide to do that he’ll be confident enough to be able to knock those shots down and we’ll need that, especially when we’re talking long term, down the road.” 

Not satisfied 

Though the Sixers are now the only NBA team that’s undefeated at home, they were far from thrilled after beating the Pelicans. 

Harris said he thought there was “a little bit of contentment.”

Embiid acknowledged the team wasn’t as engaged as it had been Thursday in Boston.

“I think we should bring the same intensity every game,” he said. “We didn’t do that tonight. Last night you could tell we were more focused than tonight. It happens — back-to-back, guys are tired. But you’ve still gotta take care of business, and we got that win.”

The Sixers’ lapses in effort and defensive execution didn’t cost them, in part because they only turned it over nine times. It also helped that Simmons, Harris and Embiid all scored 20 or more points as teammates in the same game for the first time

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