Connor Johnson

Sixers' Marial Shayok named to Midseason All-NBA G League Team

Sixers' Marial Shayok named to Midseason All-NBA G League Team

CAMDEN, N.J. — Marial Shayok caught the ball Thursday night in Milwaukee, squared his shoulders and drilled a three-pointer on the first shot of his NBA career. He’s done a lot of that this season in the G League.

The 24-year-old rookie was named on Monday to the Midseason All-NBA G League Team, one of 12 players selected from the Eastern Conference.

Shayok has averaged 23.3 points, third in the G League, shot 36.4 percent from three-point range on 7.4 attempts per game, and also added 5.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists per contest. 

Blue Coats head coach Connor Johnson has been focused on improving Shayok’s defense and ability to create for others. Johnson’s team plays a fast style (third in pace in the G League) and values constant ball pressure, a system he hopes can aid Shayok’s development (see story).

The Ottawa, Ontario, native’s three-point shooting would seem to be his most obvious path toward contributing in the NBA.

“I’ve always been a scorer and have developed my shot as years have gone by,” Shayok told NBC Sports Philadelphia in July. “I really just simplified my game, knowing that teams need shooting. I really wanted to work on that, especially the past two years at Iowa State.”

After practice Monday, Shayok scrimmaged with other low-minute players and player development staff, matching up against Zhaire Smith and showcasing his smooth scoring.

As a two-way player, Shayok can spend 45 days in the NBA between the start of G League training camp and the end of the G League regular season. He is not eligible for the NBA playoffs. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Sixers' Zhaire Smith is 'hunting 3s' in the G League

AP Images/Matt Rourke

Sixers' Zhaire Smith is 'hunting 3s' in the G League

Zhaire Smith pump faked, took two strong dribbles from the baseline to the rim, slammed the ball through the hoop and flexed his muscles. 

A casual fan settling in for the Delaware Blue Coats’ 119-109 win Monday afternoon over the South Bay Lakers at 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware, would have seen a bouncy, athletic young player.

But, after making four of eight three-point shots Monday, Smith explained that he’s aiming to be more than that.

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

The 20-year-old wing has shot 36.6 percent from three-point range in 18 games this season with the Blue Coats, though that number is skewed by a 4-for-18 start. He’s made 41.5 percent since Dec. 3.

Smith hasn’t appeared in an NBA game for the Sixers in his second professional season. He was preoccupied with recovering from a broken foot and a severe allergic reaction for much of his rookie year after being acquired by the Sixers in a draft-night trade.

“He’s expecting me to develop all around,” Smith said on Oct. 18 of Brett Brown’s plan for him. “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 thinks he’s making progress.

I feel like I’ve improved a lot,” he said Monday. “Especially last year — last year was kind of like rehab. But looking back to my freshman year of college, I feel like I’ve made a big jump. I feel like I’m improving. … Shooting, ball handling and just being confident. Especially playing the guard position. Looking back at Texas Tech, I was playing the four and three. So, [now] I’m on the wing and I’m improving. It’s coming quickly.

Smith’s shot is one of the biggest differences in his game. He released the ball from over the top of his head in the summer of 2018.

Then, he compensated for his weight loss after the allergic reaction by moving the ball over to the right.

His current form involves a bit of a load back into the shot pocket, but it’s been working for him lately. 

He was able to produce shots from a variety of situations Monday — catching and firing off good passes, jab stepping or shot faking before releasing off bad ones.

“I thought Zhaire shot really well from three,” Blue Coats head coach Connor Johnson said. “I thought his shots looked out of sync and out of rhythm. Recently, he’s not getting these catch and let ‘em go — he’s catch, hold it a second, jab step sort of stuff. But to me the more important part is he’s making them. His form looks good and he’s confident.

"We’ve gotta find more ways to get him easier catch and shoot, rhythm threes, but at the end of the day he’s knocking them down at a high rate lately, which is really good to see.”

As the Blue Coats prepared to take the floor for the start of the second half, assistant coach Xavier Silas approached Smith for a few words, which Smith quietly digested.

A couple of minutes later, Smith caught the ball in the left corner, faked a jumper and drove into the body of 6-foot-10 Kostas Antetokounmpo. His layup attempt glanced off the rim and out of bounds.

“Hey, Zhaire — that’s great,” assistant coach Isaiah Fox yelled out from the sidelines, rising from his seat. “That’s great! Do it again.” 

In the G League, Smith can get that kind of feedback and encouragement in an environment where his mistakes don’t jeopardize the Sixers’ chances of winning high-stakes games.

“[The coaches] always just tell me ‘be aggressive,’” he said.

It’s very possible Smith’s first extended opportunity in the NBA won’t come in Philadelphia. Though the Sixers decided to pick up his third-year option, it seems there is no place for him at the moment on the team’s bench. 

And, with the Feb. 6 trade deadline nearing, he’d appear to have some value for another team intrigued by his potential and curious if he can one day reach his high ambitions.

He claims he doesn’t have much time to follow the Sixers or worry about what their situation might mean for his future. 

“Focusing on what’s happening right now,” he said. “When I have an off day or something and I’m not doing anything, I’ll watch the Sixers. I try my best to watch them, but usually I’m busy.”

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

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.”

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers