Sixers analysis

3 observations after Sixers' summer league opener in Utah

Nick Nurse and the Sixers dropped their first game of summer league Monday night.

Terquavion Smith
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

The Sixers couldn’t quite secure a summer league victory Monday night in their 2023 opener.

The team narrowly dropped its first game in the Salt Lake City summer league, losing a 94-92 decision to the Grizzlies.

In a 40-minute game, Terquavion Smith was the Sixers’ top scorer with 18 points on 6-for-16 shooting. 

Jaden Springer had 11 points on 3-for-11 shooting, four rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals. 

Next on the Sixers’ summer schedule is a Wednesday night meeting with the Jazz at 9 p.m. ET. 

Here are observations on their first contest of the summer: 

Bold rookie guards 

The Sixers took a while to find their footing.

Smith missed his first two foul shots and air balled a mid-range jumper, Kenneth Lofton Jr. (21 points, 13 rebounds) scored an and-one layup on Filip Petrusev, and David Roddy hit a three-pointer to give Memphis a 10-2 edge. The Grizzlies looked like the more experienced, less nervy team. 

However, rookie two-way contract players Smith and Ricky Council IV soon gave the Sixers a boost. Smith got rolling from long range, knocking down a couple of threes in the first quarter. Like at NC State, he wasn’t reluctant at all to let it fly or deterred by rough patches.  

As he gained comfort, Smith made solid passing reads out of the pick-and-roll and drained smooth pull-up jumpers. He sunk two threes in the closing minutes as well. 

Council went for one of his characteristically explosive dunks over Lofton. Though he didn’t convert the audacious attempt, Council drew a foul. His college success getting to the free-throw line carried over early in summer league. Council is not a slippery driver, but he showed a decent sense for how to shift pace and use his physical strength.

In the third quarter, Council broke free for a slam. 

He ended the evening with 11 points (4 for 8 from the floor) and six rebounds. While both Council and Smith have plenty to work on, each did a nice job playing aggressively and trusting their game. 

Springer's Year 3 debut 

Springer darted over to block two shots in the first quarter with impressive, instinctive rotations. In addition to his on-ball defensive talents, the 20-year-old’s natural feel for impactful defensive recoveries is an intriguing skill.

The Tennessee product posted all 11 of his points before halftime. His jumpers didn’t fall Monday, but Springer had several strong drives and scored inside with both hands, including a lefty fast-break lay-in. 

Still, we assume Springer will need to be a somewhat willing and able three-point shooter to earn regular NBA minutes. His form, confidence and percentages all improved last season, so we’ll see if he can keep trending up. 

Springer’s decision-making on the fly is another important area offensively. He was blocked on a couple of ventures into the paint and also had an ill-advised runner swatted away. 

Along with Springer, Petrusev is another notable Sixers summer league returnee. The Serbian center had a mixed night, recording nine points, six rebounds and seven fouls. Petrusev generally did not stand out, although his sharp dish to D.J. Steward (15 points) for a backdoor layup was a bright moment. 

Nurse’s first Sixers action 

Flanked by assistants Rico Hines and Bobby Jackson, Nick Nurse wore a blue Sixers polo shirt and coached the team for the first time. (He’ll be in charge for the Sixers’ next two games in Salt Lake City, too.) 

While the Sixers' new head coach appeared relatively relaxed on the sidelines, he was not remotely disengaged. Nurse called plays, shouted out instructions, and seemed to grow especially animated at the end of quarters. He even subbed out Makur Maker after a contested pull-up jumper and had a brief sideline conversation with the big man. In the fourth quarter, Nurse unsuccessfully challenged a goaltending call. 

True to his reputation, Nurse varied defenses, asked his guards to exert pressure in the backcourt at times, and aimed to unsettle the opposition. 

His last play didn’t pan out — Roddy blocked a go-ahead Louis King three-point try in the final seconds — but we imagine Nurse won’t care very much about Monday’s result. He’s clearly done early work to establish some of his core principles with the Sixers’ summer leaguers.

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