NBA summer league

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

USA Today Images/Stephen R. Sylvanie

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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Zhaire Smith 2.0, Matisse Thybulle's defense, Shake Milton at point guard and more to watch with Sixers in summer league

Zhaire Smith 2.0, Matisse Thybulle's defense, Shake Milton at point guard and more to watch with Sixers in summer league

Basketball is almost back.

Amid the free-agency frenzy, the Sixers held their summer league minicamp from Monday through Wednesday at their facility in Camden, New Jersey. The team is now in Las Vegas, with its first game set for Friday afternoon.

Their full schedule is below: 

Friday, July 5: Sixers-Bucks, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Saturday, July 6: Sixers-Celtics, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Monday, July 8: Sixers-Thunder, 3 p.m. (ESPNU)
Wednesday, July 10: Sixers-Pistons, 3 p.m. (NBA TV)

And here are a few storylines worth watching:

Zhaire Smith 2.0

The resilient, relentless Zhaire Smith endured plenty in his rookie season (see story). He returns to summer league eager to compete defensively and continue growing confidence in a jumper he had to rebuild after losing approximately 40 pounds following a severe allergic reaction.

Smith's explosiveness didn’t magically return all at once either.

“[Body] went through a whole lot,” Smith said Monday. “It took my athleticism. When I first came back, I tried to dunk and that didn’t work very well. I had to rebuild all of that again, but now I’m all good.”

Smith’s shot, which he gradually reconstructed with the help of player development coach Tyler Lashbrook, looks as it did at the tail end of last season — a good sign for someone seeking consistency. There’s a clear emphasis on proper footwork and extending his follow through. 

From the Sixers’ perspective, Smith’s defensive talent would seem to fit well on a team that’s staked its identity on that side of the ball. 

Zhaire’s exciting to me,” said Connor Johnson, the head coach of the Delaware Blue Coats and Sixers’ summer league team. “He’s a guy that’s getting better every day. Getting so much stronger and really becoming comfortable in his body. And you can see his athletic ability, especially on the defensive end. He’s got an unbelievable ability, in my opinion, to stay in front of the ball, fight through screens and be an on-ball, point-of-attack defender.

A defensive duo 

You don’t have to stretch to find the similarities between Smith and Matisse Thybulle, the 20th pick in this year’s draft.

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for the two to form a connection. 

“For me, it’s really cool playing with Zhaire because me and him are really similar players,” Thybulle said Tuesday. “Having him be such a good defender and already knowing what to do, he’s someone I’ve been watching, looking up to and trying to kind of mimic his game — follow in his footsteps a little.” 

The two were part of the same group in various drills at the end of practices and are starting to build a relationship.

Like with Smith, Thybulle’s jump shot is something to monitor. He shot 35.8 percent from three-point range in his four seasons at the University of Washington but dipped to 30.5 percent as a senior.

An initial impression with Thybulle’s shot is that he seems to have success when he’s in rhythm and has his feet set. 

Smith, Johnson and Shake Milton all praised Thybulle’s active hands and sharp instincts defensively. 

“Man, he gets in the passing lanes like crazy,” Milton said Wednesday. “You’ve got to be careful — you can’t really be loose with the ball around him. Quick to the ball, he’s active and he makes it tough on you.”

The Sixers' backup point guard? 

Though the Sixers signed veteran Raul Neto to a one-year deal Wednesday, Milton should still have an opportunity to earn minutes this season.

The 22-year-old, who received a four-year NBA contract Tuesday, can play both guard spots and shoots a well-balanced, uncomplicated jumper.

Milton had the ball in his hands a lot with the Blue Coats, and Johnson said a key part of summer league for Milton will be further demonstrating his abilities as a point guard. 

“The best thing we can do for Shake and for the Sixers is show his versatility,” Johnson said Monday. “Show that he can play in multiple ways. He can play off the ball; he can play with the ball; he can play in more of a scoring role; he can play as more of a facilitator. We’re just trying, for all of our guys, to expand their skill set, expand their versatility, so they have multiple options for themselves, and then also for our program.”

Before the draft, as inquisitive reporters watched Milton working out at the Sixers’ facility and wondered what was next for the SMU product, general manager Elton Brand said, “I haven’t seen a player so excited to play in summer league.”

Milton, who missed last year’s summer league with a stress fracture in his back, explained Tuesday why that’s the case.

“I mean, I didn’t get to play last year,” he said. “It sucked having to sit there and watch everybody out there practicing and having fun. Summer league is such a great opportunity to get together and play, so I’m excited.”

Others to watch 

Smith, Thybulle and Milton are three of the 14 players on the Sixers’ summer league roster. 

Norvel Pelle, a recent recipient of a two-way contract, second-round pick Marial Shayok and Terry Harris, the sharpshooting younger brother of Tobias Harris, are three others to watch.

High-scoring guard PJ Dozier and 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje are also players of interest, and two possible candidates for the Sixers’ vacant two-way spot (see story).

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