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July 08, 2024

3 Sixers Summer League storylines to follow

The Sixers' 2024 NBA Summer League schedule kicks off on Monday. Here is what to watch for over the next two weeks.

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Jared McCain 7.5.24 Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

Sixers No. 16 overall pick Jared McCain's NBA career begins with the Salt Lake City and Las Vegas Summer League circuits over the next two weeks.

The Sixers begin their 2024 NBA Summer League journey on Monday evening, as they face the Oklahoma City Thunder in their first of three games in Salt Lake City before traveling to Las Vegas to play five or six contests (to be determined based on their record in first four games).

While the Sixers' 2014 Orlando Summer League Champions banner will fly forever, this event is not about wins and losses. Summer League is for development and competition among young players hoping to break in.

For an in-depth breakdown of the Sixers' roster for this year's Summer League — with notes on 11 noteworthy players — click here

For now, here are a few storylines worth following over the next two weeks:

Jared McCain's shot creation and point-of-attack defense

McCain could light Summer League on fire with his three-point shooting, and it would be a ton of fun to watch, but it would not actually tell us much that we do not already know. McCain's reputation as a long-range sniper is established by now; he was one of the best shooters in the country during his lone season at Duke in which he shot 41.4 percent from beyond the arc on considerable volume and made 88.5 percent of his free throws. 

What we do not know about McCain is how ready the other facets of his game are, and that is going to determine his short-term outlook for the Sixers. Even with his tremendous shooting stroke, he will not play consistent minutes as a rookie unitasker on a team trying to win a championship.

Despite being a 6-foot-3 guard, McCain averaged just 1.9 assists per game with the Blue Devils. He will not need to be a primary creator of offense on a team starring Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey and Paul George, but it would be an important step in his development if he can at least make defenses pay when they inevitably try to run him off the three-point line and beat them with the ball in his hands.

The allure of a Maxey-McCain backcourt is enticing on the offensive end of the floor; two guards who attract such noteworthy gravity because of their shot-making ability sharing the floor is a nightmare for opposing defenses. But it will not be consistently viable until McCain — like Maxey did in the final months of 2023-24 — takes a step forward on the defensive end.

During his media availability last month after the Sixers selected McCain at No. 16 overall, team President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey said that concerns about the guard's defense are valid, but argued that over the course of his lone collegiate season, McCain went from a player consistently being hunted by opposing offenses to one of his teams more reliable defensive players on the perimeter.

McCain told the media a few days later that one player he is studying as he works on his craft as a defensive player is Houston Rockets guard Fred VanVleet, who has a similarly uninspiring frame but uses smarts and disruptive approaches to bother opposing ball-handlers. McCain is not going to become a positive-impact defender -- or even a neutral one -- at any point in the near future, but the closer he can get to being passable on that end, the closer the Sixers will be to unlocking a dynamic offensive pairing with McCain and Maxey.

Will Ricky Council IV look like a man amongst boys?

Sort of like Spring Training in baseball, Summer League is not for accumulating impressive statistics; oftentimes it is for displaying or experimenting with new skills or techniques. A player's shooting percentages, for example, may not be of the utmost importance in this environment.

However, there are times when players believed to have major promise simply look like a small fish in a big pond, and that can cause serious alarm bells. On the other hand, each year there are a few instances in which a player is clearly too good for Summer League action, dominates all of their competition, and sometimes is even pulled from the remainder of the slate after a few games (this is what happened to Maxey in 2021).

Coming off a momentum-building rookie season spent mostly on a two-way deal, Council is hoping to become a rotation regular for Sixers head coach Nick Nurse in 2024-25 — particularly with some significant holes still existing in the depth chart of a new-look team.

Council is an outstanding athlete, whose leaping ability and strength make him both a threat to grab a rebound every time a shot is missed by either team and a pestering defender. He has also used those physical gifts to become a surprisingly effective slasher who goes up strong at the rim and has better touch around the basket than one would expect.

His jumpshot remains very much a work in progress; Council shot 37.5 percent from beyond the arc in his NBA minutes last season but only attempted 32 triples. The Sixers will likely ask him to be more aggressive in seeking out spot-up three-point tries, but it would also be nice to see him overwhelm the competition with his outlier athletic tools.

Battle for final two-way contract

The Sixers handed out two of their three two-way contract spots within hours of the 2024 NBA Draft concluding, inking deals with former five-star recruit and Philly native Justin Edwards out of Kentucky and the late-blooming scorer out of Memphis, David Jones.

That leaves one spot remaining, and with incumbent Terquavion Smith suiting up for the Portland Trail Blazers this week, his time with the Sixers is likely up.

The Sixers could very well be keeping the spot open in hopes that an intriguing prospect currently on another roster falls through the cracks, but they also may be treating Summer League as an audition of sorts for a host of players looking to earn that final slot.

A few options who could make sense are Judah Mintz, a guard out of Syracuse who was surprisingly undrafted — likely due to his struggles as a three-point shooter — but is a master of getting the free throw line, and Max Fiedler, an unconventional big from Rice who likes to operate as the hub of an offense. 

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