76ers

NBA summer league: Waiting on Shake Milton's breakout game, Matisse Thybulle's active hands, more from Sixers' loss to Celtics

NBA summer league: Waiting on Shake Milton's breakout game, Matisse Thybulle's active hands, more from Sixers' loss to Celtics

The Sixers have turned the ball over 38 times in their first 80 minutes of summer-league play.

They paid for their sloppiness Saturday, falling to the Celtics at Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, 96-82, after beating the Bucks in their opener Friday, 107-106 (see observations).

The team's next game is Monday vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder at 3:30 p.m. (ESPNU).

Here are observations on Saturday's game:

• When his feet are set and he’s ready to let it fly, Mattise Thybulle’s jumper has looked smooth. He converted 4 of 9 three-pointers Saturday, starting with a spot-up jumper from the right corner on a sharp skip pass from Shake Milton for the game’s first basket. 

Thybulle’s mechanics have seemed to falter when his legs aren’t completely under him. 

The rookie’s active hands were as advertised Saturday. Just through anticipation and effort, Thybulle looks poised to pick up plenty of deflections and steals as a rookie. The 20th pick had 15 points and six rebounds vs. the Celtics.

• Zhaire Smith savors matching up against the opposition’s biggest offensive threat, and he got that opportunity against Carsen Edwards, the 33rd pick this year and one of the players included in the draft-night trade that sent Thybulle to the Sixers. Though Smith moved his feet well and took the assignment seriously, he did pay twice in the first quarter for being caught on top of screens as Edwards hit a pair of long, contested jumpers on Smith. 

Given the Sixers’ massive team size and Smith’s penchant for on-ball defense, guarding small, shifty guards is a clear way he could help the team this season. Saturday afternoon’s matchup against Edwards was good, early practice. The Celtics’ guard posted a game-high 20 points on 7 for 16 shooting.

• It was a mixed bag for Smith, who finished with 14 points on 4 for 9 shooting, offensively. 

The 20-year-old threw down a dunk in the second quarter that reminded you of his world-class athleticism, and he also knocked down two of his five three-pointers. 

However, his looseness with the ball led to four turnovers.  

• Marial Shayok has played well offensively in the Sixers’ first two games of summer league, leading the team in scoring with 19 points Friday and posting 14 points Saturday on 6 for 12 shooting. 

His shot is efficient and consistent, he has some ability off the dribble (albeit with a very strong preference for driving right) and he knows his limitations. And, outside of Shayok’s physical skills, his comfort and confidence in this setting has been evident. The second-round pick appears to have a keen understanding of what he does well and believes that it fits on an NBA court. 

• We’re still waiting on Milton’s breakout game in summer league.

The day after shooting 2 for 14 against the Bucks, Milton shot 2 for 15 vs. the Celtics.

Though the slow shooting start for Milton isn’t ideal, the measured way he’s run the offense has been encouraging. 

He has 13 assists and six turnovers thus far in summer league and has attempted 20 free throws. His experience as the go-to guy for the Delaware Blue Coats last season seems to be paying dividends with his intelligent decision-making and growing knack for drawing fouls. 

• The two tallest players in summer league matched up — the Sixers’ 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje and the Celtics’ 7-7 Tacko Fall. This might be the only time Koumadje faces a player with a height advantage over him. 

In the battle of the giants, Fall had the slightly larger impact with six points, four rebounds and one block compared to Koumadje's scoreless, rebound-less line.

• PJ Dozier, playing against his former team, showed his scoring ability but did not have his best all-around game. Dozier notched 13 points on 6 for 11 shooting but turned it over four times and was a minus-23.

• Terry Harris received his first action of summer league and wasn’t able to find many openings. The 23-year-old wing who’s known for his outside jumper was scoreless in nine minutes and missed his two shot attempts. 

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There are positive signs, but still glaring issues with Sixers

There are positive signs, but still glaring issues with Sixers

After dropping their second straight game in overtime Friday night in Oklahoma City (see observations), the Sixers at times sounded like a team looking for answers.

More of that is likely struggling to answer questions coming off another brutal loss. They have an idea why they’ve lost five of their last seven after starting their season 5-0. A large part of it is a group with a bunch of new faces that are still figuring each other out. On Friday, fouls were an issue as they allowed the Thunder to attempt 41 free throws.

For a team that has championship aspirations and got off to such a hot start, this isn’t where they expected to be 12 games into the season.

“Obviously we're frustrated,” Tobias Harris said to reporters postgame. “7-5 is not where we want to be. It's early in the season and right now we're going to progress and get better and figure out ways that we can help each other and help our team and go from there. This game is over. Tomorrow, we'll watch film on it, we'll find out which ways that we can better ourselves and be ready for the next game. [We’re] 7-5 right now but ... we'll just go into the next game and be ready to get that win and go from there.”

There are reasons for optimism — with Harris being arguably the biggest.

After missing 23 straight threes and looking lost recently, Harris splashed his first trey of the game and looked like a totally different player. He finished with 21 points on 8 of 16 from the field and 3 of 4 from three. He was much more aggressive and decisive than he’d been in the previous two games.

Josh Richardson, returning to his native Oklahoma, has continued to show signs of improvement. He poured in 28 points, his highest total as a Sixer. More importantly, he’s looked much more comfortable in the offense as he figures out his role.

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both had their moments. Embiid had a game-high 31 points and Simmons broke out after a quiet first half to play the entire second half.

One of the team’s biggest issues is figuring out the pairing of Embiid and Al Horford. The reality is Horford has never played with a center like Embiid who demands the ball and attention offensively. It’s been an obvious adjustment for Horford, who shot just 5 of 12 Friday and has done most of his damage with Embiid off the floor.

The uncomfortable offensive fit for the entire starting five has been a big reason the Sixers have been involved in so many close games. A familiar theme emerged Friday, as the Sixers held a nine-point advantage with 7:20 to go in the game. Instead of hitting the gas and putting the Thunder away, they gave up a 12-2 run and saw their lead evaporate.

These are talented players that have won in different places. They’re still learning how to win together.

“I was just telling Al about that,” Harris said, “and really it's just I think a matter of right now we are yet to be up like eight points and push that to 15 and really push what we're doing and move forward with that, and really imposing our will and dominating. And that's something that we have to get to and that's something I think we're still learning — how we can do that and how we can make those type of runs. That's something we definitely got to get better at.”

The good news is you see the talent and recognize some of the issues.

And Brett Brown has 70 games to figure it out.

“If you're sick and you don't know why, that's a problem,” Brown said. “We are in a tough spot right now, but it's a long year. I think that it doesn't take much for me to understand where we have to get better. And it's really that simple. If you're scratching your head, sort of confused, then I think we got some problems and that's not what I'm doing. I think the guys understand the areas that matter most that can best impact changing the way things are going and get back on the winning side.”

They know the problems, now they just have to answer the questions.

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Sixers Talk podcast: What went wrong in OKC?

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NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: What went wrong in OKC?

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Brett Brown's decision to have Furkan Korkmaz play key minutes in overtime, using more pick-and-rolls with Joel Embiid, and the loss to the Thunder.

• Should Brown have gone to Korkmaz when Tobias Harris fouled out in overtime?

• Do the Sixers need to rework their offense?

• The starting lineup looked good at times, but what went wrong in OKC?

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