Christ Koumadje

Major takeaways on Zhaire Smith, Marial Shayok and the Delaware Blue Coats

Major takeaways on Zhaire Smith, Marial Shayok and the Delaware Blue Coats

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Malika Andrews, the NBA G League season is expected to be canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

If that's the case, the Sixers’ G-League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats, will finish with a 22-21 record — the franchise's best since the 2016-17 season.

Since the G League is largely about player development, though, let’s highlight four notable players who spent time with the Blue Coats and see how they fared this year: 

Marial Shayok 

Shayok, who posted 23.0 points per game (third in the G League), can score at all three levels. Though not an exceptional athlete, he has a good sense of pace and angles. The 24-year-old seems to enjoy having the ball in important moments, too.

He only played two games with the Sixers as a rookie on a two-way deal, sinking a three in Milwaukee on Feb. 6 for his first NBA points. 

Blue Coats head coach Connor Johnson focused on Shayok’s defense in the G League, asking him to pressure the ball and consistently fight over screens. He also used Shayok often as a primary ball handler and looked to develop him as a distributor.

“If someone closes out on him, he can’t shoot it, but can he find somebody else? Making that next play is a big point of emphasis for him, and I think that will be what continues to drive his progression,” Johnson said in January. 

Like another young player who put up eye-catching scoring numbers as a rookie with the Blue Coats, Shayok has a 7-foot wingspan. Shayok turning into a version of Shake Milton would obviously be an excellent outcome for the Sixers.

It appears he would be most likely to make an impact at this stage with his three-point shooting.

“I’ve always been a scorer and have developed my shot as years have gone by,” he said in July. “I really just simplified my game, knowing that teams need shooting.”

Zhaire Smith 

Smith spent a lot more time on the floor in his second professional season than his first, which was derailed by a severe allergic reaction that led to him being hospitalized and losing over 35 pounds. He played a similar amount in the NBA this year, though, appearing in seven Sixers games. 

“He’s expecting me to develop all around,” Smith said in the preseason of Brett Brown’s expectations. “Last year we tried to develop, but then obviously I had the setback. He feels like this is my rookie year, like this is [about] development.” 

Smith played in 28 games this season with the Blue Coats, averaging 13.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists. After a 4-for-18 start from long range in the G League, he shot the three well, finishing with a 37.6 percent mark on 4.2 attempts per game. 

“I’m trying to hunt threes now, I’m not trying to go to the rim and dunk,” he said with a smile in January. “I’m being lazy now, trying to shoot the threes. Give me three-balls.”

He also looks to have improved his ball handling and finishing around the rim, though neither of those skills is a strength. A blend of firm on-ball defense, athleticism and spot-up shooting is likely what would earn Smith regular playing time with the Sixers moving forward. He was one of several Sixers who had a tough time with Trae Young on Jan. 30, when the Hawks guard finished with 39 points and 18 assists. Eventually, that’s the kind of matchup where the Sixers would probably like Smith to be able to hold his own in a couple of stints off the bench. 

The team picked up Smith’s third-year option in October, so the 20-year-old will be on the roster next season barring an offseason trade.

Norvel Pelle 

One of the Blue Coats’ biggest success stories, Pelle actually began his professional career with Delaware back in 2013, when the franchise was known as the 87ers. 

After a period of uncertainty because of the 45 days on his two-way deal running out and the Sixers’ desire to be flexible heading into the trade deadline, Pelle earned a full NBA deal. If he’s not waived by July 6, his contract will be guaranteed for next season.

There are certainly a good number of players with more talent than Pelle, but he legitimately might be the most fearless center in the NBA, never deterred by the possibility of a ferocious dunk in his face.

“Next play,” he told NBC Sports Philadelphia in December. “At the end of the day, I’m a shot blocker, so if I get dunked on, I get dunked on — that’s my mentality. Next play.” 

Christ Koumadje 

Koumadje led the G League in blocks this season, swatting four shots per game. He also averaged a double-double (11.3 points and 10.9 rebounds), a significant step up in production after he posted 6.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game as a senior at Florida State. 

The 7-foot-3 Koumadje has a “mean streak,” in Johnson’s words, and was not hesitant to trash talk or voice his disagreement with officials’ decisions. While the competitiveness can be a positive, Johnson said on Jan. 25 after Koumadje was ejected in a Blue Coats’ win over the South Bay Lakers that he’d prefer the big man to model himself after a steady personality like Amir Johnson and be less of a “wild card.” 

He was certainly a smart player to use an Exhibit 10 contract on, and it’s worth continuing to track his progress. 

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Checking in on Sixers' Marial Shayok, the G League’s top scorer; 7-foot-3 Christ Koumadje’s triple-double and ‘mean streak’

Checking in on Sixers' Marial Shayok, the G League’s top scorer; 7-foot-3 Christ Koumadje’s triple-double and ‘mean streak’

Marial Shayok read the pass, jolted toward the ball and watched it glance off his hands and out of bounds. 

It didn’t matter to him that his team was leading by 28 points in the third quarter, or that he was on his way to a game-high 22. He wasn’t happy.

The Sixers’ rookie slammed the scorer’s table and screamed: "F---!"

There wasn’t much to be frustrated about for the Delaware Blue Coats — the Sixers’ G-League affiliate — or for Shayok during their 111-88 win Saturday at 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware, over the Long Island Nets. The 24-year-old is averaging 24.6 points per game, best in the G League (minimum five games played). He doesn’t have an exceptional burst, but he’s a savvy scorer with a polished mid-range game and minimal wasted motion on his jumper. Within a stretch lasting just over three second-quarter minutes vs. Long Island, Shayok scored 10 points thanks to a mix of timely pump fakes, hesitations that bought time and space, and effective work using screens both on and off the ball. 

While he’s developing all of those skills, they haven’t come out of nowhere. A late bloomer, Shayok scored 18.7 points per game as a redshirt senior at Iowa State, boosted his stock throughout the pre-draft process and was drafted at No. 54 by the Sixers. Blue Coats head coach Connor Johnson wants to see improvement in other parts of Shayok’s game.

I think he’s a very talented scorer,” Johnson said. “He can score in a lot of different ways — he’s a confident scorer, he’s a good finisher at the rim, he’s got a great ability to get a mid-range jump shot off, and he’s a good, consistent three-point shooter. He walks in with those skills.

"I think he’s gotten better as an on-ball defender. I think the two areas for him to improve are his on-ball defense, which we work on every day, and his ability to use his scoring to create shots for others. So, if someone closes out on him, he can’t shoot it, but can he find somebody else? Making that next play is a big point of emphasis for him, and I think that will be what continues to drive his progression.

The defensive focus is a logical one, and it helps to explain why Shayok might have been so miffed about letting that potential steal slip away. Shayok did pick up three steals Saturday, and the Blue Coats’ system asks him to play an aggressive style of defense. While the Sixers prefer to have the perimeter defender “force the ball off the screen” in the pick-and-roll, with the big man dropping into the paint, Johnson explained that Delaware uses that scheme exclusively. 

“The Sixers, they kind of get a choice — they can read situations more,” he said. “We’re locked in on these guys — they’ve gotta have ball pressure all the time, they’ve gotta fight over every screen. So, they create that habit and when they go back down there, they get a little bit more room to operate. But they’re already ready to play the most demanding, physical style. I think he’s bought into that really well and he did a good job fighting over today.”

Shayok thinks his 7-foot wingspan can be an asset.

“Just being locked in throughout the whole play,” he said. “Using my length and making it tough for the offensive player. Just trying to do what I can to cause havoc.”

As a two-way player, Shayok is limited to a maximum of 45 days in the NBA between the start of G League training camp and the end of the Blue Coats’ regular season, and he’s not eligible for the NBA playoffs. 

Shayok named Tobias Harris as a Sixer who’s provided mentorship during his stints with the Sixers, and encouragement to “keep doing what I’m doing.”

He’s yet to make his NBA regular-season debut and show any of his intriguing offensive skill set in a meaningful game with the Sixers, but he said he’s not looking too far ahead. 

“I just want to take it a day at a time,” he said of his goals. “Win the day, and continue to get better every day.”

Koumadje's "mean streak" and first triple-double

Christ Koumadje stands 7-foot-3 and a quarter inches tall — without shoes. He is a very unlikely candidate to record a triple-double, and yet he did it Saturday for the first time in his life. The Florida State product had 12 points, 16 rebounds and a franchise-record 10 rejections. 

He said he was oblivious of the achievement until an assistant coach informed him when he checked out late in the fourth quarter, and he was surprised to learn he’d made franchise history.

“That’s the franchise record? That’s pretty cool. Hopefully I can get 12 and keep it up,” he said with a deep chuckle.


(Image courtesy of Kevin Gallagher)

For Koumadje, Johnson’s priorities are maintaining verticality on defense, expanding his offensive package beyond dunks, and staying free of foul trouble. He managed to play nearly 33 minutes against the Nets, though he earned a third-quarter technical foul for a discussion with an official that evidently crossed a line.

I think he has a mean streak, an emotional streak to him that, if fueled the right way, can really help and be a positive and if fueled the wrong way, can be a negative.” Johnson said. “It can take him out of what makes him successful, make him focused at yelling at the refs as opposed to yelling at his teammates and as opposed to what we need from him from a team perspective.

"So, I think part of our challenge is to channel that energy in the right direction, and knowing that for him to get to the next level — and he, like all these guys, is close to doing that — that sort of stuff won’t be tolerated. He’s gotta be as locked in as he can be every minute he plays.

In a league that values unlocking potential and trying to discover just how much a player might have to offer, Koumadje’s competitiveness — seen in the occasional thumbs down gesture to opponents after a block, the sustained effort in the second half of a blowout and yes, the disputes with referees — is an interesting quality.

What are the origins of that fieriness?

“I think it just comes from my background,” he said. “Being from Chad, in my neighborhood with my cousins playing soccer, we always compete. … You just get that from being around that type of mentality. You hate losing. Whenever I’m on the court, I just try to give all I’ve got.”



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Sixers waive Christ Koumadje, Haywood Highsmith and Isaiah Miles

Sixers waive Christ Koumadje, Haywood Highsmith and Isaiah Miles

Updated: 2:17 p.m.

The Sixers have waived Christ Koumadje, Isaiah Miles and Haywood Highsmith. Those moves leave the team with its regular-season roster of 15 players, with Marial Shayok and Norvel Pelle on two-way contracts.

Because Koumadje, Miles and Highsmith signed Exhibit 10 contracts this summer, they can be incentivized to join the Delaware Blue Coats. Under the terms of an Exhibit 10 deal, a player who is waived can receive a bonus of up to $50,000 if he signs with the team's G-League affiliate and stays there for at least 60 days. 

Koumadje played four years of college basketball at Florida State and stands 7-foot-3 without shoes. He’s seeking to become the first NBA player from the country of Chad. Senior vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley said in June at a pre-draft workout featuring Koumadje that the big man is agile for his size, which Koumadje attributed to playing soccer and running before fully focusing on basketball.

Koumadje has been seen working on his game with 7-foot-2 player development specialist Roy Hibbert. He said at media day that the Sixers’ player development staff has been helping him develop some of the finer points of his offensive game, such as non-dunk finishes near the basket and ball handling.

A 6-foot-4 wing, Highsmith played in 46 games for the Blue Coats last season, averaging 12.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. He also played in five games for the Sixers, with the team converting his contract to a two-way deal in January. Highsmith, who was waived by the team this summer to free up the two-way spot used on Pelle before signing his Exhibit 10 deal, played at Division II Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia.

Miles played his college basketball much closer to the Wells Fargo Center, at Saint Joseph’s, and is, like Highsmith, a native of Baltimore, Maryland. The 25-year-old was on the Sixers’ summer league teams in 2017-18 and 2018-19, and last played for Limoges CSP in France’s Pro-A league.

Based on what we saw in the preseason, below is a rough, projected depth chart by position. The backup point guard picture isn't yet clear, while several of the players at the shooting guard and small forward spots are interchangeable:

Point guard

Starter: Ben Simmons

Depth: Josh Richardson, Raul Neto/Trey Burke, Shake Milton

Shooting guard

Starter: Josh Richardson

Depth: Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, Shake Milton, Zhaire Smith, Marial Shayok (Two-way player)

Small forward

Starter: Tobias Harris

Depth: James Ennis, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz

Power forward

Starter: Al Horford 

Depth: Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, Jonah Bolden 

Center

Starter: Joel Embiid

Depth: Al Horford, Kyle O’Quinn, Jonah Bolden, Ben Simmons, Mike Scott, Norvel Pelle (Two-way player) 

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