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July 06, 2023

Quick Six: Sixers beat Jazz in Summer League behind strong guard play

The Sixers looked pretty good out west Wednesday night.

The Sixers earned their first win of the 2023 summer, coasting past the Utah Jazz for a 104-94 win in Summer League action.

Here's what I saw.

It is hard to take your eyes off of Terquavion Smith during his brief run at Summer League so far. He might pull up for a three that misses badly, he might throw a dangerous mid-air pass that most coaches would discourage, and he might forget to bring the ball with him as he goes up for a dunk in transition. But those mistakes have been few and far between up to this point, with Smith standing out from the crowd during Philadelphia's first two games in Utah.

As was noted following their loss to the Grizzlies, his passing has managed to stand out in part because it's not the part of his game that was best advertised coming out of college. Smith has done a good job of using the threat of his shot to make plays for others so far, which is aided by his speedy and effortless mechanics. His first two opponents have been so on edge about the shot release that they've allowed him to half-rise into a handful of shots before rifling a pass into a cutter or roller.

Smith's ability to break players down off of the dribble has impressed, too. With moments to go in the first half on Wednesday, he hit a beautiful move on his way to the hoop, stepping around a defender on his way to the basket for a gorgeous and fluid-looking layup:

The scary thing is that Smith will almost always play with better spacing/shooters around him at the pro level, giving him more space to set up defenders and attack with that combination of speed and outside touch. The shot wasn't falling in this game, but still a lot to like.

Every Ricky Council IV move to the hoop looks like it is destined to end in destruction. He's one of the more vicious dunkers they've had in the program in recent years, which is more noticeable in this setting because you're not going to be spoonfed looks by a ton of high-level playmakers. No matter — when Council has gotten opportunities on the break, they are turning into crazy highlights.

A sampling from his aerial assault on Wednesday night:

From a pure entertainment perspective, the 2023 Summer Sixers have been a delight so far, playing uptempo, high-flying basketball with at least a bit of halfcourt fluidity. You take what you can get in the summertime.

Before we let the hype train go off of the rails for Council, there continue to be real concerns with his approach in the halfcourt, because the lack of a jumper (and lack of confidence in the jumper) gets him into trouble spots from time to time. He has a big, bruising frame already, which bodes well for his ability to generate free throws and get to the rim, but what is the plan when opponents are strong and/or disciplined enough to wall him off?

In a team with a better supporting structure, on a floor with more space, I could see him making better use of what he has to add to what he can do in the open floor. He has tried to make up for the shooting issues in other ways, too, and he looks like a threat to hurt unprepared teams on the offensive glass.

The concern coming out of the first two games of Summer League is that Jaden Springer sort of looks like a better version of the same guy we've seen for years, rather than a young guy set for a breakthrough. His strengths, most of them on the defensive end, are familiar. Most of the issues he's dealing with right now are also familiar, which doesn't bode well if you're hoping he can get a shot at real minutes.

Springer's scouting report coming out of college dinged him as a two-footed leaper, which is the sort of thing that sounds silly to think about until you watch him play regularly. It has been a constant problem as he tries to finish around the basket, with the third-year guard able to get around or through his defender before essentially giving the defense an extra beat to recover. It leads to a lot of ugly attempts around the basket that are turned away by a rotating shot blocker.

If there is good news, it's that Springer's ability to overwhelm like-sized players has allowed him to draw foul after foul at Summer League, and he coasted to double-digit free throws in this game because of that. What I can't shake is the feeling that most genuine NBA players would make a mockery of this competition level heading into their third season, and it has still been pretty up and down for him.While Springer is still quite young, even for a third-year guy, you would like to see more improvement on his weaknesses, rather than the sharpening of his strengths we've seen.

The sneaky standout of Summer League for Philly so far has been Javonte Smart, the LSU product who spent all of last season in the G-League after getting opportunities in Milwaukee and Miami during the 2021-22 season. TBD if he can sustain the level of shooting he has shown off in Utah, but a name to keep an eye on at the least. 

(On the other side of the coin, Utah's Ochai Agbaji committed 10 fouls and managed to foul out of a Summer League game. Quite impressive.)

Something that has been cool to hear at Summer League in Utah has been the noise coming from Philadelphia's bench whenever a positive play is made by a Sixers player. For a bunch of guys just fighting to carve out a professional career, it can be easy to get lost in your own world and not worry too much about what's going on the moment you hit the bench in this setting. But there has been a lot of whooping, hollering, towel-waving, and excited jumping from the pine, which reflects well on the group they have with them.

And it certainly reflects well on the coaching staff, led by new Sixers head coach Nick Nurse. Perhaps his presence is enough to get that bench focus, with the young guys aware they have a direct line to the big club's head coach. There has been very little letup so far, even from guys who have spotty defensive track records, and no matter what the reason for it is, summertime enthusiasm is always welcome.

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

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