July 09, 2022
The Summer Sixers clawed their way back into Saturday's game against the Raptors, but a plague of turnovers ultimately undid them in a 97-77 loss.
Here's what I saw.
• Isaiah Joe pushed the Sixers to a win with crunch-time heroics in the team's final game in Utah, but this may well have been the best game he's had so far this summer. Joe got hot from three early, knocking down threes on a variety of shot types, and he was an active presence on the other end of the floor, frequently punching above his weight.
One of Philadelphia's highlights of the first half was a possession where Joe ended up switched on to Christian Koloko, a seven-foot-one center drafted just a couple of weeks ago by Toronto. Looking dead in the water once Koloko caught the ball near the paint, Joe managed to hold his position long enough to meet Koloko at the summit a moment later, ultimately tying him up for a jump ball. He would lose that handily, but you ultimately can't blame the guy for failing to meet a big man in midair twice in a row.
That's the sort of moment that the Sixers need more of — not Joe playing a center to a standstill, necessarily, but Joe capably dealing with bigger, more athletic players. He has a long way to go before he's got the frame to match most NBA vets in the strength department, and he'll probably be skinnier than the competition for most of his career. But progress there will help him capitalize on the competitiveness he has consistently shown on that end.
I am really burying the lede here, though. Joe's shooting was absolutely ridiculous against Toronto. He hit movement threes on sideline out of bounds plays, basic catch-and-shoot jumpers, pull-up jumpers from well beyond the three-point line, and the attention he drew out to that level allowed Joe to turn the corner and create some advantage situations for Philly off-the-dribble. He reached a level of comfort where it felt like nothing the Raptors did bothered him or even made him think twice.
When you send a guy to Summer League after two seasons in the NBA, this is the sort of dominant effort you need to see at least once, reinforcing why they're still in the organization even if they've started their career slow.
With Paul Reed moving to the sideline and perhaps finally moving into "Too Good For Summer League" territory, Joe is one of a small handful of guys who need to step to the forefront and lead. He was one of the only guys who had any juice off-the-dribble on Saturday, his shooting helped keep them in a game that they looked to be fading out of early, and he's making a good impression so far this summer.
• Filip Petrusev looked better in limited action than I think I was expecting, even though the raw production was nothing spectacular. The big question with him has been whether he can be a credible defender at the NBA level, and he looked better on that front in this game than I can remember him being last summer. He played with discipline, locked down rebounds in his air space, and didn't look out of sorts when asked to defend in space.
• I think there are legitimate excuses for Charles Bassey looking off the pace at times in Summer League so far, most of them stemming from the level of guard play they've gotten. He's not a guy who can/should be expected to create his own offense, so when you put him on a team filled with guys that have creation issues of their own, he's going to be overextended by default.
That being said, Bassey's limitations are on display as a result of the roster around him. He's being asked to create on a handful of possessions per half from multiple spots on the floor, and he looks lost in the woods. Giving him the ball in the post is enough of an adventure, and when Bassey was given the ball at the top of the key during a first-half possession, it could have been accompanied by a rendition of "Yakety Sax."
At least those problems can fade a bit by putting him on the floor with NBA-level ball-handlers. The bigger worry is that Bassey still has a way's to go if you're hoping he can harness his physical gifts and become a useful defensive piece on the back end. The flashes are there because it's hard not to make a few noteworthy plays with that type of length and athleticism, but there are still too many moments where his body and mind move at different speeds. It leads to some silly fouls as he goes for block attempts that really aren't there, and he gives up some needless offensive rebounds due to that same overzealousness or the occasional positional mistake with the ball in the air.
When Bassey keeps it simple, you can see there is talent there. But as is the case with many young guys, he hasn't found the sweet spot quite yet.
• I am going to struggle to evaluate Jaden Springer for what I assume is his entire career, honestly. He has a lot of moments every night where it looks like he simply doesn't have the requisite skill level to establish himself as an NBA-level guard. His handle is ordinary at best, and on the rare occasion he decides to take a three, he's often not close to making it. There was a hesitant three taken in the first half that Springer came close to air balling a shot from the left wing.
Of course, Springer managed to hit a transition three from the corner moments later, and you wonder whether some of this stuff will simply come with more time and reps. The dribbling issues become less clear as he puts a guy on his hip and is simply too strong to get through without fouling. In these moments, you can convince yourself that he just needs reps. He is younger than a lot of the guys in this most recent draft class, after all.
Still, it does feel like he has a lot of work to do in order to become what he has to be in order to get minutes on this specific team.
• As much as I want to love Trevelin Queen and his adventurous playmaking style, more time watching him is starting to make me feel like we're watching another version of Tony Wroten. The problem is that he's competing for a spot on a team that wants to contend, not a team in the midst of a dramatic rebuild like Wroten was. Doc Rivers is not going to have a ton of time or patience for a guy who throws wild passes on a routine basis.
When he's able to pull them off, Queen has had some of the most beautiful passes I've seen watching Summer League. Those moments, though, are too few and far between right now. And outside shooting hasn't been there for him in any way, leaving him to create all of his value through that playmaking, off-the-dribble moves, and defensive contributions. He hasn't quite been good enough in any of those areas to make up for his flaws.
• Someone can check the math on this, but I think 90 percent of Julian Champagnie's points have come on uncontested dunks and layups in transition. Feels like an unsustainable way to carve out a living in professional basketball.
• I have enjoyed the Cassius Winston experience more than I expected to. If you would have told me coming out of Michigan State that he would barely shoot the ball from deep and still find a way to contribute on offense, I wouldn't have believed you. The shooting was sort of his whole deal, and as an undersized guard, he's not going to have a promising future without it.
But with Winston getting a lot of on-ball reps for the summer Sixers, he has spent that time probing, prodding and slithering through the cracks in opposing defenses, always keeping his head on a swivel in a search for passing opportunities. He is piling up assists with ease on a team short on offensive talent, and open looks are coming for Philly all over the floor as a result. Winston is getting bigs 1-2 dunks on lobs per game and creating open threes for others.
Unfortunately, he did not take good enough care of the basketball against Toronto, and his defense remains poor. Summer League, baby.
• I have watched a decent amount of Summer League basketball over the years, and even though the bar for "good enough" on offense is fairly low, the Sixers did not come remotely close to clearing it in the opening quarter against Toronto. Outside of Cassius Winston, who did at least a relatively decent job of running offense, Philadelphia struggled to do something as basic as throwing the ball toward guys who were paying attention. Perhaps it should also be noted that guys who did not have the ball would be better off actually paying attention to the basketball game they played in.
Have to wonder if the upgrade in off-court activities between Utah and Vegas played a role in an absolutely miserable start, honestly.
• 20-plus turnovers in a 40-minute game is absolutely disgusting.
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