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August 12, 2021

Instant observations: Sixers move to 2-0 in Summer League with win vs. Hawks

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Led by excellent performances from Tyrese Maxey, Isaiah Joe, and Paul Reed, the Sixers moved to 2-0 to open Summer League with a 96-88 overtime victory over the Atlanta Hawks. Not quite revenge for the second-round loss, but a fun one nonetheless.

Here's what I saw.

The Good

• There are moments where Paul Reed tries to do far too much, over-dribbling in the post or stringing together moves on his way to the basket, ultimately flinging some crazy attempt up at the rim. You' can only scratch your head on the possession or two per game when he loses sight of everything around him.

But make no mistake, the tools combined with his effort are promising on their own, and Reed already has tricks in his bag to provide value as he builds his feel for the game. Reed was a one-man wrecking crew in the third quarter, willing the Sixers to points on several possessions by punishing every missed box-out assignment and moment of weakness. The guy competes his butt off, so it's pretty easy to figure out how he became a fan favorite so quickly (and the nickname definitely helped). 

On Thursday evening, Reed used his length to finish at the rim, step through and around players as he attacked closeouts, and dissuade Hawks players who ended up in his orbit at the rim. He needed every bit of that wingspan to put Philadelphia ahead in the final 20 seconds, tossing up a tough lefty layup on a drive that took high-level balance to finish after starting his move from the perimeter.

If the ball finds energy, as the old saying goes, it's no surprise that Reed constantly finds himself around the ball, pinging off of opponents in search of extra possessions he can create for his team. Philadelphia was not exactly dialing up plays for Reed, with Maxey dominating the ball and control of the offense for most of the game, and that made Reed's impact on the game all the more impressive. Great night for him.

• I have no problem with Tyrese Maxey jacking shots up at Summer League, particularly if they are pull-up jumpers from deep. He needs to work on folding that into his game to become a more dangerous pick-and-roll guard for the Sixers, so he might as well shoot them when consequences don't exist.

Maxey's outside shooting struggles notwithstanding, he continued to show the progression he's made as a downhill attacker since joining the Sixers. There were moments where he settled for midrange looks or a floater or two, but most of Maxey's night inside the paint was spent at the rim, with the Kentucky product either earning trips to the foul line or finishing at the cup. He has an advanced understanding of how to manipulate bigger defenders in front of him for a kid his age.

And when it was time for somebody to step up and seize the game in the final minutes, it was Maxey who took charge as Philly's alpha dog, shaking off earlier misses to knock down a stepback three before giving the Sixers a late lead with a shot near the rim moments later. As we saw in the playoffs, this kid carries himself the same whether it's late in a high-pressure playoff game or a meaningless Summer League shootout, and being able to shake off seven consecutive missed threes to dial one up in crunch time is something you can't teach.

He even earned himself a well-known fan:

Not a bad night at the office for the kid — 31 points, six rebounds, and five assists later, the Sixers had a victory. And Maxey even sprinkled a few highlight blocks in there for good measure, a rare occurrence for a small guard.

• It's hard not to be drawn to fearless shooters, and Isaiah Joe might be the most IDGAF marksman on the Sixers. That can work against him from time to time — a pump fake would create an extra open look or two for him each game — but it's ultimately a weapon for Philadelphia, and should serve him well as he gears up to fight for real minutes this season.

Thursday night, Joe was one of the few guys on the roster prepared to help Maxey carry the scorer's burden, going off in the second quarter in order to keep the summer Sixers in the game. Like teammate Furkan Korkmaz, one of the reasons to be excited about Joe is his shooting versatility. He's deadly as a standstill catch-and-shoot player, but the Sixers can run him off of screens or through handoffs and still count on him to make shots, with Joe flashing additional comfort as a stepback shooter in Las Vegas.

One thing we saw Thursday that we didn't get a look at during his rookie season? Ballhandling and playmaking. Joe was used as a pseudo point guard at times when Maxey hit the bench, and he showed more creativity in the pick-and-roll than I think most of us knew he was capable of:

Utility as a secondary ballhandler would be a big deal for Joe, and being able to exploit a weak defender (in many cases, Sharife Cooper vs. Atlanta) should excite people in the organization.

I'm still a bit skeptical of his chances to get and stay in the rotation this season, he's going to provide competition at the very least. It's nice to see him flashing some new stuff this early, and hopefully, he gets a few more chances to handle the rock before Summer League is over.

The Bad

• For the second consecutive game, Jaden Springer's defensive tools and instincts were on full display. The rookie was able to make up for almost every mistake or misread he made by remaining light on his feet, getting back in position before his man ever had an opportunity to punish him. Unfortunately, he was also pretty impotent on offense, continuing to look like a work in progress there.

The shot is what many will focus on in his early days, and it was ugly as sin for most of Thursday night's game. That is a real concern for a guy who is going to basically be a three-and-D guy if he hopes to get on the floor this season.

But I am slightly more worried about his handle than most seem to be, at least as it pertains to his driving ability. Springer's physicality will allow him to shield some guys off as he drives to the basket, though his ability to dictate where he wants to go seems a bit limited. Through two games in Summer League, that has left him in a lot of tough spots and forcing up tough looks because he can't generate separation.

Here's the good news: Springer was better in the second half for the second consecutive game, utilizing a jab step to create several open looks for himself on the perimeter. For an 18 year old, he plays with a ton of patience on both ends of the floor, and the moves he does have suggest that his craft could improve over time. With improved spacing on an NBA roster, that should get a little easier for him, and he did have some nice dishes to teammates off of his own live dribble. 

• Rayjon Tucker needs to settle down just a bit. Played a little out of control at times in the second half, which helped Atlanta stay in front longer than they probably should have.

The Ugly

• I'm sure she won't be for everybody, but Renee Montgomery is the exact sort of color commentator the NBA needs more of. Clear enthusiasm for the sport she's covering is a big plus in my book, and that's a surprisingly rare trait in this business. 

• This is not a "The Sixers should have taken Sharife Cooper!" complaint because I think it would have been tough to develop him here as they bring along Maxey, but it seems crazy that Cooper fell all the way to 48 on draft night. He's already a high-level passer, has a great handle, and gets to the rim constantly. I suspect there are a lot of guys drafted ahead of him who will be out of the league long before he is. 

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