NBA summer league: Alley-oops aplenty from Zhaire Smith and Norvel Pelle as Sixers hold on to win opener


For the time being, we mostly have to rely on our imagination in projecting what the Sixers will look like in 2019-20.

However, we now have some idea — albeit, a very limited one — of what the Sixers will have in a few young members of their bench after the team’s first summer league game.

They beat the Bucks on Friday in Las Vegas, 107-106, holding off a late run from Milwaukee. The Sixers won despite turning the ball over twice in a panicky final 20 seconds. Sterling Brown's heave from near half court at the buzzer would have given Milwaukee a wild win.

Here are observations on the team’s opening game: 

• The Sixers’ first two baskets were high on the sensational scale.

Shake Milton got the assist on both, the first a fast-break alley-oop to Zhaire Smith, the second a lob to big man Norvel Pelle. The Sixers’ center, who recently received a two-way contract, added a second dunk about a minute later off a wraparound pass from Smith.

It sure didn’t take long to be reminded that several of the Sixers’ young players are standout athletes.

• Smith’s first-quarter alley-oop was not a fluke — he added a spectacular one in the second quarter and a reverse alley-oop late in the third.

The 20-year-old had 10 points on 5 of 8 shooting, five assists and two turnovers. Outside of the dunks, Smith’s passing and his decision-making in the pick-and-roll were positives Friday.

• Summer league games are often very disjointed, a product of throwing a collection of players with just a few days of practice together out onto the court. But, when Milton was on the floor, the Sixers’ offense had some semblance of cohesion. The second-year guard played under control and pushed the pace when appropriate.

Unfortunately for Milton, he just couldn’t get his jumper to fall Friday. He finished with 15 points on 2 for 14 shooting, seven assists and four turnovers. 

• The Sixers’ defense, anchored by Pelle and 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje, played well overall.

It helps to have strong individual defenders in Smith and Matisse Thybulle, but Pelle and Koumadje’s communication and ability to deter penetration were also noticeable. The two were, however, overzealous — to say the least — in their efforts to protect the rim, combining for 16 fouls.

Pelle had 12 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and two steals. He committed nine fouls (you foul out after 10 in summer league).

• Koumadje is an intriguing prospect. He’s agile for his height, has a solid sense for team defense and rolled well to the rim on a couple of occasions. His size also allowed him to throw down five dunks.

Like with 7-foot-3 Boban Marjanovic, stepping out to defend centers with shooting range and switching onto guards are issues.

In 14 minutes, Koumadje had 11 points, seven rebounds, five blocks and seven fouls.

With Pelle already locked into a two-way contract, it would be surprising if the Sixers gave the other spot to Koumadje. He would, however, make sense as an early pick in the G League draft for the Delaware Blue Coats. 

• Thybulle said Monday that his main goal in summer league was to get comfortable. He seemed to still be adjusting to the pro game and a return to man-to-man defense Friday after playing zone for the past two seasons at the University of Washington. The 6-foot-5 wing gambled often on defense and had four turnovers. He fouled the Bucks' Daulton Hommes on a three-pointer with 19.5 seconds remaining and the Sixers leading by four points.

That said, there were numerous positives for Thybulle, including a spot-up three-pointer from the left wing in the second quarter, three steals and several sharp close-outs on Bucks shooters.

• While it was not a major revelation, Marial Shayok, the No. 54 pick in this year’s draft, gave a glimpse of his skill navigating around screens and scoring off the dribble. Shayok had a team-high 19 points in 21 minutes, including a number of important baskets in the fourth quarter, and made 3 of 6 shots from three-point range.

Another shooter, Terry Harris — Tobias Harris' younger brother — did not see the floor Friday.

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