Three Summer League games are now in the books.  If you have been watching, you have seen a little bit of good, a lot more bad, and some really ugly (The first half of the Thunder game was some of the worst semi-professional basketball of the 21st century).  Regardless of the quality of the games, the summer league is unquestionably all about hope. So without further adieu, I offer you Things I Hope I’m Right & Wrong About: Summer League Edition.

Things I hope I’m right about…

I hope I am right that Zhaire Smith will turn into an on ball defensive stopper capable of slowing down elite point guards who routinely scorch the Sixers.  Smith was often in his man’s grill during each summer league game. He more than held his own during the time he spent covering Carsen Edwards in the Celtics’ game.  He routinely fought over screens to stay glued to Edwards. In the 3 games, Smith tallied 4 steals and was a +32, far and away the best +/-number any Sixer posted. His combination of quickness, power and athleticism should allow him to stay in front of elite ball handlers while not getting overpowered by stronger guards.  If Zhaire commits to making this type of bulldog defense, ala Patrick Beverley, his calling card, he should force himself into Brett Brown’s rotation. The highlight reel dunks will be a nice bonus as well.

 

I hope I am right that Matisse Thybulle will remind us of Robert Covington on the defensive end of the floor.  Watching Matisse for the first time live, I was repeatedly reminded of Roco. While he is a few inches shorter, his movements  appeared extremely similar to Cov’s. He repeatedly displayed Roco-like active hands, as he challenged both shots and passes all over the floor.  His activity and instincts resulted in 6 steals and 5 blocks. As a bonus, Matisse repeatedly knocked down open catch and shoot threes when he was able to set his feet.  If he is able to continue this when the games actually count, he could become an immediate contributor.

 

I hope I am right that Marial Shayok’s shooting stroke is NBA ready.  In the two games he played (he missed the third with knee soreness) Shayok displayed a quick, clean shooting stroke both off the dribble, and in catch and shoot situations.  He also showed some ability to put the ball on the floor and create shots when defenders closed out too aggressively on him. This is a skill that the Sixers desperately need.  Overall, Shayok made 13 of his 25 shot attempts including 5 of 13 from deep. At 6’6 he is a little under-sized to play the three. However, his 6’11 wing-span should help offset this at both ends of the floor.  Shayok signed the second of the Sixer’s two way contracts on Sunday. In the short term minutes seem unlikely. As the season progresses Shayok’s shooting/scoring ability could land him time on a team that may be lacking in both  areas.

 

Things I hope I’m wrong about…

I hope I am wrong, but the idea of Shake Milton serving as the back-up point guard seems at best, shaky.  In two and a half games (Shake left midway through the third after spraining his ankle) Milton compiled a mixed bag of statistics.  He averaged just shy of 10 points a game, but this came with the hideous shooting numbers of 6-35 including 1-13 from three. He also tallied 13 assists, but added 9 turnovers.  As bad as the numbers were, they are not what really concerned me. More problematic was what appeared to be a lack of ability to beat anyone off the dribble. He also showed little explosion finishing at the basket and repeatedly dribbled into bad situations.  While dribbling into bad situations can possibly be attributed to the quality of summer league play, the lack of athleticism cannot be explained away. Perhaps Shake’s size and actual offensive structure will alleviate some of these deficiencies, but after watching his performance, I have my doubts.

 

I hope I am wrong, but I worry we are going to cringe every time Matisse and Zhaire attempt to put the ball on the floor in the half-court.  In three summer games, Matisse totaled 9 turnovers and Zhaire 12. The vast majority of these turnovers occurred when they attempted to create off the dribble.  Thybulle in particular displayed a very loose handle. It would be best if both players, at least early in their careers, follow what I used to call the “Cov Rule” in honor of Roco.  The rule is simply this, “If you need to take more than one dribble, don’t take any.” To be fair, I am sure Cov is unaware of this rule and has certainly never followed it. But if he did, he would be a far more efficient player.  Zhaire and Matisse will be as well, at least until they spend a significant amount of time improving their ball handling skills.

 

I hope I am wrong, but I fear we will all regret trading the Celtics the 33rd pick.  They used this pick to select Carsen Edwards. Prior to the draft I really hoped the Sixers would select Edwards.  Pick 33 or 34 seemed like a perfectly obvious spot to do this. But Elton made the Thybulle trade, and rather than shrewdly giving up the 34th pick, he gave up the 33rd. In his first three summer appearances Edwards averaged 19 points in 24 minutes.  He shot 54% from the floor including a stellar 12-25 from three.  Edwards is a 6’1 undersized combo guard. His NBA success is far from certain. But he possesses a skill that for some reason the Sixers seem allergic to. That skill is putting the ball on the floor to create your own shot by either blowing by your defender, or using the threat of this to generate space for jump shots.  If things had gone to plan, Markelle Fultz would have provided the Sixers with this. That obviously did not come to pass. Edwards could have potentially filled some of that void.  Instead, I am left to pray we don’t watch him do it in that hideous Celtic green.

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