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July 10, 2022

Summer League observations: Sixers drop to 0-2 in Vegas with loss to Nets

The Sixers and Nets played a sleepy Summer League game on Sunday in Las Vegas, with Brooklyn emerging victorious in a 91-84 win over Philadelphia.

Here's what I saw.

The Good

• This was a better outing for Charles Bassey than we saw on Saturday, and he deserves some credit for having a decent outing in spite of how poor Philadelphia's perimeter play was for most of this game. With Isaiah Joe knocked out for the game after his first stint on the floor, Philadelphia's roster took an immediate hit with nobody to step into those shoes.

Bassey found a way to make it work with whoever was out there, and he managed to help them out in the scoring department without needing to rely wholly on dunks and layups. A long two early in the game was a sign of things to come, and though some scouts had hope that Bassey would eventually be able to expand his shooting range, focusing on that has not exactly been the top priority. Nevertheless, he canned a trail three in the second half, looking quite comfortable from downtown.

To my eye, this was also a more disciplined defensive effort from Bassey, who still has to cut down the fouls to be a reliable option off of the bench. That's going to come with baby steps rather than one giant leap forward, and Bassey managed to block shots, redirect others, and (mostly) avoid hacking Nets drivers in the process of ending Brooklyn threats.

Slow and steady progress is still progress. 

• I am begging Cassius Winston to simply shoot more and hunt his own shot. He's one of the best offensive players in this group, and his volume finally started to match that reality on Sunday. It was not a shocker that he ended up posting his best line of Summer League to date — 16-5-7 on good efficiency. Let it fly, young man. 

• Charlie Brown Jr. probably had the lowlight of the game for Philadelphia, which we'll get to below, but he was one of their best players the rest of the afternoon. He made it into NBA games last year on the strength of his defense, and you still see that showing up in this setting, but getting past that initial impression is what's going to make or break his career.

The shot, as we've talked about with Brown and what feels like 1000 other Sixers prospects, is what will ultimately decide his fate here. Brown has been a decent, sometimes outright good shooter in the G League, but that hasn't translated to the NBA yet, his form often funky and prone to changes from one shot to the next. Seeing him hit a pair of threes on Sunday, and hit them with relatively clean mechanics, is a great sight for any Brown booster.

• Malik Ellison has been a constant source of energy whenever he has been in a game for Philadelphia this summer, so it was nice to see him get a start on Sunday and continue to make energy plays on both sides of the ball. Rarely have you seen him give up on a play, and that commitment gives him the opportunity to do something like this in transition:

Most of his offensive success has come on off-ball action, making himself available by running the floor or cutting into space. But he has played a role and played it well, finding a way to stand out a bit in a chaotic setting.

The Bad

• It is hard to overstate just how bad Philadelphia's guard play has been in Summer League, setting aside what we've seen from Isaiah Joe. Every guy they're running out there either has glaring flaws that are hard to work around, has underperformed relative to expectations, or is in the midst of a horrendous shooting slump. Perhaps all of those things at the same time, depending on who the player is.

Part of the justification for taking Jaden Springer in the first round last season was his youth relative to the rest of his class, the thought being that his value would hold up better over time than a lot of his peers. The problem so far is that Springer hasn't done much to prove his weaknesses/limitations are going to be put in the rearview, and if he inches closer toward the end of his rookie contract with no resolution for those problems, reclaiming value is going to be pretty tough.

The more we see him trying to attack off of the dribble, the more convinced I am that he absolutely has to shoot to make it. When he's able to leverage his strength and thickness on drives, he manages to get to the line at a good clip. But so many of his trips to the basket are total adventures, balls being deflected in every direction before the opponent gets a run-out. Even when he maintains possession, Springer is often forced into tough shots due to a lack of top-end burst and the tendency to load up for a two-footed jump. Having to take and make contested shots is tough even for score-first players, and Springer isn't that.

(One of the oddities of Summer League is being able to hear much more of the courtside chatter because there are fewer fans in the building. At one point, with Springer bringing the ball up, someone was screaming "NO LEFT HAND, NO LEFT!" like a madman.)

Springer did hit a wing three in the first half Sunday — the box looks to have credited it as a long two with a foot on the line — but if we're focusing on the details, it only came after he stared down the defender and sized up the situation for a moment or two. He's not going to have the luxury to waste time before shooting at the NBA level, certainly not in the immediate future with the Sixers at the least.

Aside from Springer, it has not exactly been scintillating from the rest of the group. Trevelin Queen remains one of the most "interesting" guys in this Summer League group, and he's a wing-sized guy so I'm cheating a bit by throwing him in here. But interesting does not necessarily equal good (and definitely has not up to this point in Vegas), and Queen's decision-making/aggressiveness has not been justified by the end product. He is not at all shy about getting shots up and trying stuff to see what works, and the ball finally started to go through the hoop some in the second half of this game. But you would like to see more stretches of stuff working at some point, given his age relative to the competition.

(Cassius Winston and Queen are the yin and yang of this group. One needs to be a lot more aggressive hunting his own shots, and the other needs to be less aggressive doing absolutely anything.)

If you don't get good guard play in Summer League, you're going to have a tough time doing much of anything unless you have a big, playmaking wing to make up for that. Those guys tend to get drafted high and/or paid a lot of money, and the Sixers aren't in that sort of territory right now.

The Ugly

• Isaiah Joe left in the first half due to a shoulder issue and never returned, and the same could be said about my interest level in watching the game. Even though I would consider myself a Joe skeptic relative to the fanbase, he has been both productive and fun to watch in Summer League, so they lost entertainment and basketball value all at once. Won't somebody think of the beat writers?

(Obviously, hope Joe is okay. He was spotted courtside with his teammates shortly after being looked at in the back, so fair to assume it was a precautionary move rather than a serious knock for Joe.) 

• The Summer League broadcast returned from a commercial break and immediately missed the ensuing play in service of putting a still image of the Thomas and Mack Center logo on the screen. Once they returned, the broadcast feed was messed up enough that they had to rewind for about five seconds of game time, only to snap back forward in time. I would say it fits the quality of the basketball happening, but I complained about the local broadcast pretty often last year, too, so not sure there's a correlation.

• Charlie Brown Jr. stole a ball from the Nets and then immediately committed a backcourt violation by swatting the ball toward his own basket. That could be the full summary of this game, honestly. 

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