Sixers summer league

3 observations after DJ Steward goes off for 36, Sixers win summer league finale

DJ Steward saved his best for last.

DJ Steward
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The Sixers won their final summer league game of 2023 because DJ Steward saved his best for last.

Steward had 36 points on 13-for-20 shooting and six assists Sunday in Las Vegas, leading the Sixers to a 117-114 win over the Pelicans.

After a 1-2 performance in Salt Lake City, the Sixers went 2-3 in Vegas.

Here are observations on their summer league finale: 

Smith’s final summer action 

Jordan Tucker drilled a catch-and-shoot three-pointer for the day’s first basket. Terquavion Smith one-upped him about a minute later, convening a four-point play.

Smith then pressure Dyson Daniels in the backcourt, forcing a Pelicans turnover. And shortly after that, he fed Greg Brown III for a pick-and-roll layup. Smith seemingly had at least one of those show-stealing bursts in every summer league game he played. Looking ahead, perhaps Smith can one day add that type of spark off the bench in the NBA.

The 20-year-old guard had a second straight off shooting game, ultimately coming back to earth following a 7-for-10 outing in the Sixers’ loss Thursday to the Hawks. Smith posted 14 points on 4-for-14 shooting and six assists.

Across eight summer league games, he averaged 14.9 points and 4.4 assists, shooting 39.4 percent from the floor and 37.9 percent from three-point range. 

Jaden Springer, who sat out Sunday, finished summer league recording 18.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 2.2 assists per contest.

Steward and Smart the stars 

Javonte Smart was yet again productive and a low-risk facilitator for the Sixers. He had 23 points on 9-for-17 shooting, nine assists and zero turnovers. 

The 24-year-old didn’t miss a summer league game and totaled 41 assists and eight turnovers. While those numbers don’t suggest Smart is a fantastic passer by NBA standards, his summer-league play enhanced the impression that he’d likely do mature, minimal-mistake work (and defend hard) if called upon.

Steward wrapped up his summer league very well. He’s displayed a handy floater and been savvy about when to use it, which is especially valuable for a 6-foot-1 guard. Just like Smith, Steward has flashed real “microwave” scoring ability and had ultra-confident stints where nearly everything he puts up goes in. 

Almost on their own, Steward and Smart kept the Sixers in Sunday’s game after New Orleans surged ahead in the third quarter. 

Brown helps Sixers finish on top 

Along with Springer, the Sixers didn’t play Filip Petrusev, Azuolas Tubelis, Louis King, and Marcus Bagley.

Hyunjung Lee got an extended run and delivered a four-point play on his first shot. A college sharpshooter at Davidson, Lee recently signed a deal to play with the Illawarra Hawks in Australia’s NBL. He chipped in 10 points on 3-for-4 shooting, including a slick fourth-quarter jumper after pump faking and letting a defender fly past him. 

Brown remained the Sixers’ starting center and showcased his strengths one more time, blocking two shots and throwing down dunks on the fast break and off the offensive glass. 

He jammed in an audacious two-handed jam through traffic, too. Brown’s athleticism won’t shine so much in the NBA, he’s undersized for an interior player, and his three-point shooting doesn’t yet appear dependable. With all of that said, the 2021 second-round pick is still only 21 years old and clearly possesses intriguing NBA tools. 

The Sixers’ summer league trend of building hefty leads and failing to hold them continued Sunday. Though they had a 21-point advantage in the first half, the fourth quarter was a back-and-forth affair. 

Fittingly, Smart drove and kicked the ball to Steward for a go-ahead three with 66 seconds left. And with 7.0 seconds to play, Brown slammed in Smart’s missed layup to put the Sixers up 115-111. He made a blunder on the subsequent play, fouling E.J. Liddell on a three, but Dereon Seabron missed a game-tying long-range try on the final possession and the Sixers escaped Vegas with a victory. 

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