Phoenix Suns

Sixers rally past Suns for upset to advance in MGM Resorts NBA Summer League

Sixers rally past Suns for upset to advance in MGM Resorts NBA Summer League

After finishing up pool play in the MGM Resorts NBA Summer League earlier this week, the Sixers opened the tournament portion of their slate on Thursday still looking for their first win in Las Vegas.

They won't have to wait any longer as the 30th-seeded Sixers battled back in the second half for an 88-86 win over the third-seeded Phoenix Suns at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Sixers (1-3) will next play on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. when they face the No. 14 seed Milwaukee Bucks, who knocked off the No. 19 seed San Antonio Spurs in overtime.

The Suns, who suffered their first defeat after winning their first three matchups, will play a consolation game before wrapping things up for the summer.

Now let’s dive into some observations from Thursday’s action:

1. Zhaire Smith and Mikal Bridges will likely be linked together for the rest of their NBA careers and the pair shared a court for the first time as professionals in this one.

Of course, Villanova product Bridges was drafted by the Sixers with the 10th overall pick in the 2018 draft before being dealt a short time later to the Suns for No. 16 selection Smith and Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-rounder.

The Sixers made the move knowing Bridges was the better player at the moment but with an eye toward Smith’s immense potential. However, both players looked every bit the part of rookie on Thursday with some bright spots and some negatives.

In 21 minutes of play, Smith had eight points on 2 of 5 shooting to go along with two assists. That included this one three-pointer right in Bridges' face.

Bridges contributed seven points and was also 2 of 5 from the field in addition to four steals and two blocks in 27 minutes. The thing that may stick with the former Wildcat is he couldn't get a handle on the ball under the rim in the final seconds for a potential game-tying shot.

2. Isaiah Miles has never received serious attention for an NBA roster to this point in his career but that should change in the near future.

The former St. Joe’s standout is a prototypical stretch four in today’s game and he showed exactly why against the Suns.

Miles poured in a team-high 20 points on 7 of 10 shooting, including 6 of 8 from three-point range. He also battled inside to pull down six rebounds and put his body on the line to take a charge in the second half when the Sixers were making their push.

“We started 0-3. We had a 30 next to our name as a seed, and we kind of took that as disrespect,” Miles said, per the Sixers' website. “We had to make a stamp on this tournament, so we wanted to come out and show that, and work hard. I’m proud of these guys. We worked hard against a really good Phoenix Suns team. We live to fight another day.”

The 24-year-old has played in France and Turkey since leaving Hawk Hill, but his skill set says he deserves a shot back in the United States.

3. Jonah Bolden made some pretty bold claims about being determined to come from overseas and join the Sixers for the 2018-19 season. His performance in Sin City has suggested otherwise, but that doesn’t mean things have been all bad for the big man.

Bolden has played some solid defense throughout the Sixers' summer league stint and the Australian took things up a notch in Thursday’s victory as he locked down No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton.

Ayton entered the contest averaging 16.0 points (67.0 percent shooting) and 11.0 rebounds. Bolden limited the center to 10 points on 4 for 10 shooting and nine boards with six turnovers.

Bolden’s own offense was nothing to write home about as he was held scoreless and had four turnovers. However, he should still be able to put on the tape and feel pretty good about his effort.

4. Things are so much easier for summer league teams just thrown together with random guys when they have strong play from their lead guards. Thankfully for the Sixers, both Furkan Korkmaz and Demetrius Jackson finally found a rhythm on the same night.

Korkmaz, who had been virtually nonexistent since his 40-point explosion in the opener, bounced back with 18 points, five rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes.

Jackson was a main reason the Sixers battled back after intermission. He found his way to the rim consistently as he contributed 10 points, five dimes and three boards.

5. Nevada product Cameron Oliver has felt right at home during the Sixers’ MGM Resorts NBA Summer League run in Las Vegas.

The forward has made some good plays and even better celebrations. He continued that trend on Thursday.

Oliver came off the bench to finish with 10 points and four boards. Reserve guard Askia Booker also tacked on 11 points and six assists for the Sixers.

Shaquille Harrison led the Suns with 17 points while New Jersey native Davon Reed put up 16.

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He'll always be linked with Mikal Bridges, but Sixers' Zhaire Smith deserves chance to craft own story

He'll always be linked with Mikal Bridges, but Sixers' Zhaire Smith deserves chance to craft own story

For the rest of their careers, Zhaire Smith and Mikal Bridges are probably going to be compared. That’s the reality of being involved in a memorable draft-night deal in which a local kid goes from thinking he’s playing for his hometown team to taking off his Sixers hat and getting ready to fly to Phoenix. 

Thursday night, Smith and Bridges will match up for the first time, as the Sixers take on the Suns in the first round of the MGM Resorts NBA Summer League tournament. Inevitably, their respective performances will be closely scrutinized.

Bridges may have a better game than Smith on Thursday. He’ll probably have a better rookie season, too, given that he’s almost three years older, has a more polished game and should get plenty of minutes on a rebuilding Suns team.

The Sixers knew Bridges was a player who could help them immediately when they selected him — that’s why he was their “1A,” according to coach and interim GM Brett Brown. And they felt Smith could eventually be a “special” player — that’s why he was their “1B.” Brown decided the opportunity to have Smith and a valuable asset in Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick was a “Godfather of a deal,” too good to pass up.

If Smith notches a triple-double and embarrasses Bridges, it will be too early to say Brown made the right decision. And if Bridges scores 40 points and Smith looks terrible, it will be too early to say Brown made the wrong move. Because Smith’s potential is one of the biggest reasons why he was an enticing pick, we won’t know who “won” the deal for at least a couple years, even if it’s tempting to make a verdict based on one matchup, or one month, or one season.

That’s not to say that Smith will be a total non-factor as a rookie and the Sixers are banking entirely on potential. With his defensive ability, athleticism and impressive feel for the game, he should be able to contribute off the bench. He’s shown flashes of those tools already in summer league. But Smith still needs plenty of work as an offensive player, especially with his ball-handling. His transition from college power forward to NBA wing is going to take some time. 

Bridges’ transition to the NBA seems like it will be a bit easier. His length, defense and three-point shooting all project well at the next level. It wouldn’t have been too hard to find an important role for him on the Sixers next season. For Smith, it’s not as clear if he’ll be able to make an immediate, significant impact. Brown admitted as much at the introductory press conference for Smith and fellow first-rounder Landry Shamet.

"We believe entirely in time he has the ability to be incredibly unique, maybe even great,” Brown said. “So I think so that the city and you all hear me say, Mikal Bridges would have come in and slotted in and played right away. Zhaire is going to be fighting for some minutes and we’re going to develop him and we are excited to do that and he may jump into this thing in a quicker way. …We believe we are going to take Zhaire and put him into our development system and polish up all of those things and we are excited. The city of Philadelphia is going to love him because of his complete competitiveness, his athleticism and his toughness. He is bred for the city of Philadelphia.”

Unlike Bridges, however, Smith wasn’t bred in the Philadelphia area. There may be some fans who will always resent the Sixers for the trade, regardless of the player Smith ends up becoming. Even Brown admitted that the human side of it was “disturbing.” It seemed like the perfect story, until it wasn’t.

But let’s keep in mind that Smith deserves a chance to craft his own story in the NBA, as does Bridges.

If Smith or Bridges dominates Thursday’s matchup, it’s only natural that many fans’ strong draft-night reactions will resurface. Ultimately, though, Thursday night is a fun summer-league matchup between two promising young players who have yet to play a regular-season minute in the NBA. 

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Sixers' 1st-round trade all about flexibility to chase star players

Sixers' 1st-round trade all about flexibility to chase star players

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers had plans for options “1A” and “1B” with the No. 10 pick in the 2018 NBA draft. Then, they had plans for their future.

For the first time in years, this draft wasn’t about the Sixers finding the next big star in the making. It provided an opportunity for the them to potentially acquire a player who’s already made his mark in the NBA. 

“We are star hunting,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “Or we are star developing. That’s how you win a championship.” 

The Sixers began their night by drafting Villanova forward Mikal Bridges 10th overall. Beyond his collegiate ties, he grew up locally and his mother works for the organization. It was an easy fit, both on and off the court, with his skills to contribute this coming season. The Sixers ranked Bridges option “1A” among all prospects. 

The draft, though, was far from over. As the first round continued, so did discussions with other teams. The Suns came to the Sixers with an offer they couldn’t turn down — Texas guard Zhaire Smith, also known as the Sixers’ “1B,” and the Heat’s 2021 unprotected first-round pick. That’s right, unprotected. 

The Sixers had to put the personal connections aside. They said yes to the deal.

“There is a human side to this that is kind of really hard to explain,” Brown, who approved the final decision, said. “We all, I am assuming, go from this level of excitement and coincidence, like you can’t make this up, to something as a group, we sit there and we field offers. Again, one we knocked back that was a great opportunity, really a great opportunity. 

“And then there it is. There’s this thing that involves our 1B. It wasn’t like it involved another player. It was our 1B who we had targeted and brought back twice and studied the things that we felt he could improve on to really be quite different in the NBA because of his incredible character and athleticism and toughness. 

“And then there’s a 2021 pick, and we all understand that that could be the year that high school people are allowed into the NBA and that is far out. And it also could be the thing … that could be the thing that flips it with us having more assets to enhance a realistic trade for a star.” 

There are times with trades like this that the pick becomes an afterthought, a throw-in to complete the deal. Not in this case. 

The Sixers are looking to elevate the roster with “high-level talent.” While they have the salary cap flexibility to land a mega free agent like LeBron James or Paul George, there are no guarantees. If they were to try to acquire a star through a heavily-packaged trade, the inclusion of a first-round pick could be the difference maker in making it happen. Kawhi Leonard headlines the NBA’s the top trade prospects.  

“We talked about it all the time and it always comes back to what you hear us say all the time, ‘How do you get a star?’” Brown said. “You’re going to need assets, we understand that. If you’re going to really want to go out into a trade, they’re going to look at what do you have. The more good things we have obviously the better off we can attract the stars that we all know are out there … 

“It happened organically. It wasn’t something that we sought. They chased us. They chased us and they chased us hard. Obviously, the rewards, the assets that they gave up were something that was hard for us to backpedal from.”

What the Sixers do with the 2021 pick remains to be seen. What is certain in the now is the team sees potential for Smith. The 19-year old averaged 11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals last season as a freshman. He isn’t projected to be the immediate contributor that Bridges was, but the Sixers have time to develop rookies with their successful young core already intact. 

“The fact that he has a foundation that is incredibly unique in his relation to his athleticism [made him 1B],” Brown said. “The foundation that he has in his character, the foundation that he has in his defense, the incredible growth that we are seeing in his shot, his ability to create his own shot. There is no mystery of how we want to play here in Philadelphia, nor is there no mystery on the direction our sport is growing … We believe entirely in time he has the ability to be incredibly unique, maybe even great.”

The Sixers’ draft night trade could be just the beginning of a summer of major moves. 

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