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July 16, 2018

The biggest takeaways from Sixers' 2018 Summer League tour

Sixers NBA
070918-ZhaireSmith-USAToday Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today

Philadelphia 76ers guard Zhaire Smith against the Boston Celtics during an NBA Summer League game at Thomas & Mack Center.

If you're one of the brave souls who stuck around long enough to watch every minute of Sixers Summer League basketball, congratulations on being one of the most dedicated basketball fans in existence. For those of you who couldn't stomach seeing another avalanche of bricks cascade down the mountain, all judgment is being withheld on our end, especially with the summer sun shining down for most of the last couple weeks.

Summer League is not always (or even often) the best barometer of future success for any of its participants, which makes doing game-by-game analysis a bit of an exercise in futility. Particularly when it comes to players outside the lottery, the focus on my end is looking for bits and pieces of a fully-formed game that can translate to the NBA. No, Furkan Korkmaz is probably not going to be a 40-point game, No. 1 option type scorer, but what he shows in his second Summer League stay is some proof of where he's headed.

With Philadelphia now eliminated from the festivities following a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night — and boy, does Jaren Jackson Jr. look like a future stud — we have only six games of evidence to work with until the real Sixers reconvene for training camp in late September. Not exactly a treasure trove of data.

But for the sake of learning whenever we can, let's see if we can draw some conclusions from what went on out in Las Vegas.

Zhaire Smith might have real utility as a passer

The selling points of Zhaire Smith's game entering the NBA were fairly apparent: he's an elite, elite athlete and a stout, versatile defender, long and tough enough to bounce between assignments out of the gate. As the rest of his skills round into form, that was going to be enough to make him a rotation player.

But there may have been a collective under-selling of his passing ability, even if Smith was a little overzealous with no-look or look away passes out in Vegas. Without venturing into territory that was overly risky, Smith was able to find pockets of space in which to hit teammates, whether he was finding corner shooters or dropping off passes to big men in the paint.

A lot of Smith's assists or near assists weren't necessarily high degree of difficulty plays, but they do not fit within the framework of "former power forward" that we see used to describe his overall game. Unlike a lot of high-flying athletes, Smith doesn't just go barreling into situations, and instead showed a fairly high level of patience for plays to develop around him, especially in transition.

This is not to say that he's anywhere near a high-level passer like some of the guys he'll play with, but adding another unselfish and capable passer to the group is always a good thing. The more guys you have on the floor who play with their heads up in search of great shots, the better quality shots you'll be able to generate as a team.

There is, however, a rather large caveat that comes along with this acknowledgment.

...but the shooting and handling remain a real concern

The good news for Philadelphia is that Smith was a fairly willing shooter during his six games at Summer League, attempting shots that ranged from basic catch-and-shoot looks to more advanced shots off-the-dribble. On one particularly encouraging shot in the team's game vs. Milwaukee on Saturday night, Smith rose up confidently and hit a contested shot off-the-dribble, something that was not a regular part of his game at Texas Tech.


But on the whole, Smith's shooting left a lot to be desired in Vegas, and the combination of that reality with his lack of an advanced handle depressed his offensive numbers a great deal. By the stats alone, it was ugly for Smith: he shot a grand total of 17/53 from the field in Las Vegas, making 32.1 percent of his shots overall and just three of his 12 attempts (25 percent, for the math challenged) from beyond the arc. Neither one of those are going to be anywhere close to getting it done.

What stood out in Smith's struggle to get buckets was not the outside shooting, but the struggle to create good looks for himself generally. The responsibility of self-creation will be taken off his shoulders to a degree playing alongside Philadelphia's core, but he's going to need to be able to put it on the floor and get himself baskets eventually. We didn't see a lot of evidence that he's close to doing that in Vegas.

In fact, at the moment it looks like he's going to need to take a sizable leap forward as a handler in order to avoid a putrid field goal percentage. Smith just didn't create a lot of separation for himself in Vegas, and it led to him having to throw up some really tough shots around the basket in order to compensate. Most of these did not end up falling.

No one should be raising any red flags yet, because Smith's cutting away from the ball will be legitimately useful right out of the gate for the Sixers. Playing on a team with Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, he can expect his creation of separation to pay off a lot more once he's in a real NBA setting. There were quite a few plays in which Smith exploded out of a cut into space only for Demetrius Jackson or some other Summer League guard to dribble the air out of the ball and miss the read.

However, we've already begun to see some pitfalls for Smith as he makes a tough transition at the next level. His athleticism is insane, but it will not give him as pronounced an advantage as it did in the Big 12 without some added craft. He's an intelligent player who will likely find a way to help even with some clear weaknesses, but it doesn't make those weaknesses any less real.

Furkan Korkmaz's shot diversity looks improved

Once again, no one should be expecting Korkmaz to be a regular threat to score 40 points in an actual NBA game. In fact, even hitting that threshold once would probably be overachieving for the young Turkish wing, who will be fairly low in Philadelphia's pecking order even in high-end outcomes for his career.

Still, Korkmaz's performance at this year's Summer League was firmly positive, both because he showed some things we haven't seen much of in the States yet and because he looked like a clear and obvious better player than he did in his first Summer League run with Philly.

That's in stark contrast to the other foreign-born player he was selected with in the late first round two years ago, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. 

In TLC's second Summer League stint last season, he didn't do a whole lot to stand out from the crowd, in spite of having a better teammate (Markelle Fultz) than anyone who suited up for this year's Summer League team. The French wing's defensive lapses, shooting woes, and lack of self-creation ability all reared their head again, even after a full rookie season to work on them in Philadelphia.

Korkmaz didn't get anywhere near as many NBA minutes last year as TLC did in his own rookie year, but the jump from summer to summer was much more profound for the Turkish wing. With Landry Shamet sidelined, Korkmaz ended up a lot more of Philadelphia's offense than he or the team probably expected him to, and he did a decent enough job masquerading as a lead playmaker over the last week or so.

With the ball in his hands more, Korkmaz also managed to show off more variety as a shooter than he's ever been afforded in a Sixers uniform. Instead of being relegated to a catch-and-shoot guy in the corner or a completely off-ball player, Korkmaz flashed some affinity for taking guys off the bounce. It was something we've seen a little of in international play and was a welcome sight in a Sixers uniform.


How much value does that add to Philadelphia's real ballclub? Probably not a ton. The most the Sixers are probably going to ask Korkmaz to do is shoot threes and attack closeouts, because they have better talent to do things like run the offense. Even if he was doing his best James Harden impression in Vegas, Korkmaz is not going to be freed up to take stepback 27 footers against the actual Celtics and Lakers.

But no one should be upset about seeing him show off a few more tricks at Summer League, because it's the sign of a player working to improve. All in all, a productive run for Korkmaz.

Jonah Bolden is probably not ready for primetime

On the other side of that Korkmaz shaped coin is a player many Philadelphians had high hopes for entering this summer. With Amir Johnson coming off the books and Richaun Holmes never a Brett Brown favorite, many assumed Jonah Bolden might walk into a backup role after spending the last year overseas.

It might be...okay it's definitely time to recalibrate those expectations, especially since Johnson is expected to be back on a veteran minimum deal. Relative to what people expected, I would argue Bolden probably had the most disappointing Summer League of any Sixers player, and showed far too many worrying signs for someone with another year of professional development under his belt.

A lot of people will focus on the missed threes, and it's a fair place for the mind to drift because there were plenty of them. But it was the lack of plus instincts that really brought things into perspective for the young big man. Even on plays where his athleticism and length allowed him to make plays, they were only necessary to begin with because Bolden's focus and/or awareness was not where it needed to be.

That's not the sort of sentence you want to be writing about a player at Summer League who you need to be a factor against much better competition. To Bolden's credit, he had some really nice flashes when he was fully engaged, and his defensive work on DeAndre Ayton against the Phoenix Suns was really encouraging. Bolden got into Ayton's face, didn't back down in the post, and contested the No. 1 overall pick well without fouling.

But the Sixers need more from their backup bigs than engagement only when it involves a premium matchup. The reason Johnson became the preferred option for Brett Brown last season is because the head coach knows what he's getting out of the veteran big. It may be unspectacular, but he can count on Johnson to work and end up in the right defensive position more often than not.

With a roster crunch that will force the Sixers to make some tough decisions between now and the regular season, it would not be shocking for Bolden to remain overseas for another season. It might end up being the best thing for him in the end, because if his output at the NBA level is anything like Summer League, he's not going to get a lot of developmental burn in Philly this season.


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