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August 20, 2019

How Sixers forward Mike Scott, who 'ain't no bitch,' found a home in Philadelphia

Mike Scott is big enough in Philadelphia to have a "hive" of dedicated fans, but he doesn't consider himself above anyone or anything. Over his first summer here, he has received what seems like countless requests for appearances — weddings, bar mitzvahs, surprising a loved one — and when it lines up with his free time, Scott has been happy to show his face.

Except, he says, when it involves something outside of his wheelhouse, like the time he received an invite to record a verse for a local artist's song.

"I don't rap and dance, that's not my thing," Scott said at a media breakfast on Tuesday. "I like watching rap battles, and of course, I like music, but I stick to my lane."

On a Sixers team filled with big egos and moneymakers last season, understanding his lane was a quality the Sixers needed Scott to have. With Jimmy Butler passing up open threes, Joel Embiid demanding the ball in the post, and Ben Simmons wanting to run at every opportunity, there was not a lot of room for a role player to rock the boat.

And Scott is okay with that, though he admits it took him some time to figure out his place in the league. 

Like most NBA players, Scott was a prolific scorer in high school and had a decorated college career, and his days as the biggest and baddest guy on the floor ended as soon as the Hawks drafted him in 2012. As a second-round pick, he may have been down the pecking order in Atlanta, and Scott says his natural stubbornness refused to let him think about much more than shooting, the skill that has made him attractive to the four different teams he has suited up for so far in his career.

But a conversation with Doc Rivers in Los Angeles last season finally made everything click for Scott, seven years deep into his NBA career. The message was not super complicated, and Scott jokes today he's unsure why it took him so long to embrace doing the work beyond shooting and scoring. But the theme of the chat with Rivers was an important one — do the dirty work, because it will keep you on the floor when the shot isn't there.

"Find a way to earn minutes and do the little things. Dive on the floor, make the extra pass, box out somebody," Scott said. "I'm man enough to say it, took seven years for me to understand that, sh*t, my jumper's not working, what else am I going to do?"

That message, along with his stated admiration for role players like Houston Rockets wing P.J. Tucker, has Scott focused on what could be the most important offseason of his career. No team he has been on has had the sort of preseason expectations this Sixers team will carry into next season, and he has taken the responsibility of playing a role on that team seriously.

"I don't need to change my game, just become more versatile. Put the ball on the ground a little bit more, not too much, don't get too carried away with it," Scott said. "I'm not trying to turn into Kyrie or anything...I've been working with Paul Millsap a lot, with how his game is so simple and how he does simple one-dribble, two-dribble moves, especially [for when] they run me off of the line."

The Sixers have to thread the needle with Zhaire Smith and Matisse Thybulle this season, finding minutes to develop them while also trying to edge out teams like the Milwaukee Bucks for the No. 1 seed. Learning how to stay ready whether you're playing five minutes or 35 is tough for a lot of young players, and Scott sees part of his job in Philadelphia to pass on the lessons that took him too long to figure out when he was a young player in Atlanta, too headstrong to make sense of all the messages he was getting.

As he puts it, Scott feels natural, "being an O.G." 

He will have help in that department from a man he called one of his favorite (and most professional) teammates ever, Al Horford. Scott believes Horford could easily drop 20 points per game if that's all he was interested in, but his career has been a case study in how to win and impact basketball games even if your box score doesn't leap off of the page. Even Embiid, Scott said, will almost certainly learn and improve from being around Horford every day.

The next step for Philadelphia is the hardest one for a team to take. Embiid and Simmons have received accolades, awards, and have won at a high clip in the early days of their young career, but it will take selective sacrifice to bring it all together and win a championship. For Embiid, that means willingly accepting games off to preserve himself for the postseason. For Simmons, that means stepping out of his comfort zone and wanting to live with the results of a work-in-progress jumper.

In some respects, Scott's basketball journey has been littered with lessons of sacrifice. As a high school freshman, his father prevented him from playing basketball because he wasn't satisfied with his grades. When John Chaney's retirement muddied Scott's previous commitment to play at Temple University, Scott played another year at a prep school before heading to Virginia on a full ride.

And so today, Scott can face scenarios most players dread, like a midseason trade, and embrace them. He was in Charlotte with the Clippers last season when he, Tobias Harris, and Boban Marjanovic received word they'd be taking their talents to Philadelphia, and he reproduced an imitation of the departed giant while describing how he found out.

"Me and Tobias were in the hallway in Charlotte after the game, sh*t, 3 a.m. in the morning, we were hype. In each other's room, hype. And then Bobi comes down the hallway, 'I'm coming too!' We got Bobi? Aw, man, it's over," Scott said with a smile. "Most people feel some type of way, they feel sad — oh, I'm trash, they don't want me. I was excited, I feel like I got a [clean slate]."

"I got here and I was like f*ck it, I'm going to ball out."

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