In the wake of a crazy free agency period, the 76ers have retooled and are prepared for the start of the NBA season this October.  But after spending more than $400 million dollars on the starting lineup this offseason, Elton Brand finds his bench a bit thinner than in recent memory.

While Mike Scott and James Ennis are here to stay and Kyle O’Quinn should fill in nicely at the center, the remaining bench pieces for the Sixers are quite young.  Three of these young players, in particular, will need to step up this season if the Sixers want to seriously contend for an NBA championship.

Zhaire Smith

In typical Sixer rookie fashion, Zhaire Smith suffered a foot injury last summer during the NBA Summer League.  And while the injury was not supposed to be season-threatening, the 20-year-old ended up experiencing a severe allergic reaction in the fall to food he consumed.  This slowed his recovery and caused him to miss most of the season.

But on March 24th, Smith was finally able to make his NBA debut.  The rookie averaged 7 points and shot a respectable 38% from the three-point line in just 6 games this season.  Upon the conclusion of the season, it was quickly decided that Smith would participate in the NBA Summer League once again this season.  The Sixers first game is today against the Bucks.

Everybody knows Zhaire is extremely athletic and can play serious defense.  In just one season at Texas Tech, he averaged over one block and one steal per game and his YouTube highlights boast plenty of putback slam dunks.  At 6’4”, he is the ideal size to be a terrific on-ball defender in the NBA.

The Sixers have 7 players 6’8” and over which means Zhaire will be an important piece to the team’s backcourt.  If he can simply come in and play strong defense against opposing team’s smallest guards, he will be of value this season.  But where he can make himself extremely useful is in combination with Ben Simmons.

Time and time again Simmons has shown the ability to find cutters and throw pinpoint outlet passes.  And if Zhaire commits himself to run the floor and making hard cuts, he can be a huge beneficiary of those passes.  Brett Brown makes it a habit to leave Ben in the game for almost all of the first quarter so that he can facilitate bench players while Joel Embiid rests.  I look for that trend to continue and Ben and Zhaire to develop chemistry quickly. In addition, while playing without Joel on the court, the lane will be totally clear for Smith to fly through for alley oops and backdoor cuts.

While many will complain about Smith not having a technically sound jump shot and not making enough three-pointers, I will simply look at his transition play, cutting, and defense.  His shooting will come with experience, but this team is ready to win a championship. And by knowing and playing his role, Zhaire can be a serious contributor this season.

Matisse Thybulle

After a draft day trade, the Sixers were able to land the back to back Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Matisse Thybulle.  While Zhaire Smith is very inexperienced and has tremendous raw talent and athleticism, Thybulle is a seasoned, 4-year college starter at Washington.  In his time at Washington, Thybulle emerged as one of the top defensive players in the country and helped his team to reach 2 NIT Tournaments and the NCAA Tournament during his senior season.  This is the type of experience that will be so valuable as Thybulle joins a Sixers team with championship aspirations.

Matisse shares a similar skill set with Zhaire Smith.  Both will grind on defense but will need to work on their offensive games.  Where Thybulle will have the upper hand on Smith is at the three-point line.

Many Sixers fans may be concerned after seeing that Thybulle only shot 31% from beyond the arc this season, a 7% drop from his percentage the previous season.  However, this number is a bit misleading. For his career at Washington, he shot almost 36% from the three-point line, but his role changed dramatically throughout those 4 years.  During both his Sophomore and Junior seasons, Thybulle took about 9 shots per game. This is mainly because Washington was not as talented during those seasons and they needed more people to take shots in order for them to win.

But during his Senior campaign, a year when Washington won 27 games including one NCAA tournament game, Thybulle was not relied on to score.  His shots per game dropped to about 7 and his points per game dropped from 11 to 9. As he transitioned into a more specialized defensive role, he took far fewer shots and thus the 31% he shot this season was with much smaller sample size.

Thybulle can be a capable three-point shooter in the NBA.  His shot is smooth and he has a high release, a real weapon against the size and length of NBA defenders.  While it may take time for him to develop into a true threat from the line, it is evident that he has the skills to be a terrific ‘three and d’ player.  Thybulle needs to develop confidence in his shot and the only way to do that is to actually take shots. With Embiid and Horford down low, shots will be there for all the Sixers wing players.  Thybulle needs to shoot them confidently and if he can make a solid percentage this season, he is sure to be in the regular bench rotation.

Shake Milton

On the heels of a rocky, yet busy rookie season, Shake Milton has gotten a payday and will likely compete for minutes this season at backup point guard.  Shake has signed a four-year contract with the Sixers, demonstrating Elton Brand’s supreme confidence in him to develop and produce for this year’s team.

As a second-round pick out of SMU, Shake appeared in 20 games this season for the Sixers and 27 games for the Delaware Blue Coats of the NBA G League.  In those 27 G League games, Shake was nothing short of dominant. He averaged almost 25 points per game while shooting 37% from three-point range.  

While bench players like Mike Scott and James Ennis are capable of hitting threes, they are not expected to produce much offensively besides spacing the floor.  But Shake Milton has a chance to seriously contribute on the offensive end.

At 6’6”, Shake has an ideal body for a long point guard or a competent shooting guard.  He has proven in his time at SMU and in the G League that he can be a proficient all-around scorer.  This scoring ability is something the Sixers will desperately need with their defensively minded bench.

According to NBA Insider Shams Charania, the Sixers have signed veteran point guard Raul Neto.  So Shake figures to compete with him for minutes at backup point guard. But his scoring mindset will certainly be a good change of pace to Ben Simmons’ facilitating style of play.

If Milton can continue to develop his three-point shot and familiarize himself with the pace and physicality of the NBA game, he can be a real weapon for the Sixers.  As he prepares to play on his second summer league team, Shake should be a leader for the younger guys and it will be exciting to see what the Sixers actually have in this in this intriguing young prospect.

As the Sixers begin Summer League, these three players will be on full display.  Although free agency has seemed to die down, the Sixers offseason is still extremely intriguing.  Zhaire, Matisse, and Shake will be relied on this season, so let’s see what they can do in Summer League.

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