76ers

Which young player will make the biggest improvement for the Sixers in 2019-20 season?

Which young player will make the biggest improvement for the Sixers in 2019-20 season?

With training camp getting closer, there are plenty of topics to discuss involving the 2019-20 Sixers. Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia's Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick.

In this edition, we ask: Which young player will make the biggest improvement for the Sixers this season?

Hudrick 

It has to be Zhaire Smith. 

Smith appeared on his way to having a lost rookie season after suffering a broken foot and a severe allergic reaction not long after. He lost a ton of weight and basketball seemed secondary to the young man’s health.

But to his credit, Smith worked his tail off. He put up shots with a tube in his stomach. He regained some of his strength and the freakish athleticism he was known for was still in his bag. He miraculously played six games at the end of the regular season and was legitimately in the conversation for playoff minutes.

In those six games, Smith flashed the ability to defend at an extremely high level. His quickness, his understanding of how to fight through screens and just his overall defensive tenacity makes him super intriguing. To see what he battled through last season, you know he has the work ethic and will to get the most out of his athletic abilities.

And, oh yeah, he’s still just 20 years old and learning how to play guard after being a power forward at Texas Tech. He’ll have to make open looks to stay on the floor — something he’s worked on tirelessly — but if he just hovers around league average, what he brings on the other end of the floor will far outweigh anything. He’s continued to add muscle this offseason and could become a defensive demon off Brett Brown’s bench. He'll likely have to fight off rookie first-round pick Matisse Thybulle and 2016 first-rounder Furkan Korkmaz for minutes, but Smith should be up for the challenge.

I also wouldn't be surprised to see him be the first Sixer to participate in the Slam Dunk Contest since Andre Igoudala was robbed of the title in 2006.

Levick

There are quite a few options here, especially if you have a broad definition of “young.”

Joel Embiid and Josh Richardson are still only 25 and 26 years old, respectively, and neither seems to have reached their potential yet. Ben Simmons is 23. Shake Milton is 22 and on a full NBA contract for the first time — same with rookie Matisse Thybulle.

However, I’m confident in going with the youngest player on the team, 20-year-old Zhaire Smith. As a rookie, Smith suffered through a broken foot, a severe allergic reaction and a dramatic weight loss. He’s on the other side of all that now and should play a role for the Sixers in Year 2.

You’d assume the first seven spots in the Sixers’ rotation are entrenched, at least to start the season, with Mike Scott and James Ennis the first two men off the bench. There are minutes to be earned after that, though, and Smith, who played in just six regular-season games last season, has the skills to take them.

Smith knows what his greatest strength is and wants to keep building upon it.

“Every goal he’s ever told me about what he wants to do has to do with defense," Sixers player development coach Tyler Lashbrook told NBC Sports Philadelphia in June. "‘I want to be All-Defense. That’s what I want to do.’ Love it. Love to hear that. Absolutely, man. Let’s do it. That’s a fun thing to hear from somebody. Especially when he’s so young, to know that’s what he cares about is really something.”

A tremendous athlete who threw down plenty of highlight dunks this year in summer league, Smith’s physical abilities — and relentless work ethic — mean that his ambitions aren’t so outlandish in the long term. In the short term, I expect him to help the Sixers off the bench. 



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

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

The Sixers (7-5) will look to get back into the win column in Cleveland when they take on the Cavaliers (4-7) this afternoon.

Here are the essentials for today’s game:

When: 3 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m.
Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia+ 
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch:

Time to get right

There’s no such thing as a good loss, but man, the Sixers’ losses have been particularly brutal. On Friday night, they held a nine-point lead with 7:20 to go but gave up a 12-2 run and eventually lost in overtime to the Thunder.

The Sixers have glaring issues — especially in their starting five — but Brett Brown feels like he knows what they are.

“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.”

We'll see.

Taking care of business

This Cavs team isn’t as bad as perhaps we all thought coming into this season. They start two extremely young guards in Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, but they’re still flanked by veteran bigs Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson.

Cleveland also gave the Sixers all they could handle earlier this week — especially veteran guard Jordan Clarkson (20 points). The Sixers were able to sneak out of the Wells Fargo Center with a 98-97 win. Then again, when is the last time this team played a game that wasn’t close?

While the Cavs are maybe better than anticipated, this is a team the Sixers should be able to get well against. On Tuesday, they held Cleveland scoreless for over three minutes to close out the game. They need to bring that for 48 minutes and get right with a win over a team they’re clearly more talented than. 

Sorting out the bench

Furkan Korkmaz was scorching hot for a six-game stretch. He shot 50.9 percent from three and averaged 13.8 points in mostly bench minutes. In his last three games, he’s just 4 of 16 from distance. The issue with Korkmaz is if he’s not hitting shots, he doesn’t bring much else to the table. You saw Oklahoma City pick on him in overtime after Tobias Harris fouled out.

Korkmaz has been getting the most minutes off Brown’s bench recently. Should he be? Rookie Matisse Thybulle got off to a roaring start, but has looked overmatched offensively. With that said, he’s just so special defensively, Brown should deal with the growing pains on the other end. In games Thybulle has played at least 12 minutes, the Sixers are 6-1.

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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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