For the first time since letting my inner fan out at a Blue Coats game in February, my mentor, Jason Blevins, entrusted me to represent what is now The Painted Lines as a beat reporter in Camden to cover the Summer League team’s practices while he departed for Las Vegas early to cover NBA Summer League. In my first days on the job, I absorbed valuable information, sights, and sounds. Here are my observations from the Sixers’ summer league camp.

Connor Johnson

Every player on the roster is very fond of summer league and Blue Coats’ head coach Connor Johnson. They appreciate how he holds everyone to the same standard and holds everyone accountable for maintaining focus no matter their experience or name. They appreciate his approach of preaching mind over X’s and O’s. He allows them to play openly, within a wide concept of how to play the game the correct way, while focusing on confidence, focus, and fine-tuning fundamentals.

Zhaire Smith

The 2nd year guard is extremely engaged at all times. He shows very little emotion; no laughing, barely smiling, intense body language. He is bent on improving every day and the results show. His jump shot has improved significantly since the end of his lone season at Texas Tech. The release point used to be around his forehead. Now, it’s above the right shoulder. He seems to long-arm the shot a bit on his follow-through, but it does not appear to hinder the result of his shot.

Yesterday, the guards were working on free throws together. Zhaire went to the line and calmly knocked down the first. The drill coach made him laugh and wait for the ball before giving it back. It did not disrupt his rhythm, as he calmly knocked down the second freebie. 

Matisse Thybulle

Matisse Thybulle, although always locked into the drill, is clearly very happy to be there and is “living the dream” as a young NBA player. He’s always smiling, humble, and grateful for the opportunity.

Thybulle has strong fundamental shooting mechanics. He has balance when he curls and spots up for a jumper, he has a slight dip to create upwards momentum, he doesn’t need a ton of time to get the shot off, his release is above his head and at the height of his jump, and he holds his follow-through. While he wasn’t hitting triples consistently in drills and I expect him to be a below-average three-point shooter in his rookie season, his mechanics check a lot of fundamental shooting boxes that make me believe he can become a consistent threat beyond the arc at the NBA level.

A Budding Friendship

Zhaire and Matisse appear to already be really close friends. They’re always talking to one another and are always competing with one another in drills.

Shake Milton

The 2nd year guard is impressed by Thybulle. Yesterday, Milton noted that it is imperative to take care of the ball when playing against the rookie because he always has active hands in the passing lanes and is very effective at creating turnovers. I expect Thybulle to ignite a lot of the team’s transition opportunities in Vegas.

With his emphasis on leadership and a more refined and developed skill set, Shake Milton feels he is prepared to take the next step as a reliable rotation piece on an NBA team. I do think he needs to add some muscle mass, but that will come with NBA training and the state-of-the-art equipment at the training complex.

Norvel Pelle

Fresh off of signing a 2-way contract, Norvel Pelle was extremely excited to have the opportunity to showcase himself in Las Vegas. Pelle was giddy just being in the gym and talking in front of cameras and microphones. He stated that he had suspected he would be receiving a contract offer and, when he received it, he immediately called his mother to share the news. She began to scream in excitement and, as Pelle was sharing the story, his grin expanded into a smile and he cracked a laugh recalling the moment. Pelle has the chance to deepen the Sixers’ bench, but he first must show he is ready for that role in summer league.