The Summer Sixers Totally Awesome Vegas Vacation: Top 5 Things We’ve Learned

Sadly, the Summer Sixers season is coming to an end. The Sixers are currently 1-3 and look to get a consolation game on Friday. There were many positives and negatives that came out of the past four games. As Summer League wraps up, the Blue Route (@BlueRouteTPL) will be shifting to #GoBirds mode and will cover everything and anything player development on the Philadelphia Eagles.

Here are my top 5 takeaways from our Summer Sixers this year.

#1 Zhaire Smith is Better than You Think

Through four games, Zhaire is averaging 13.2 points and 2.8 assists in 27 minutes per game. He’s shooting 48% from the field and 38.5% from three. The on ball defense is as good as advertised. Most importantly, Zhaire’s body looks close to ready for playing time in the NBA. There is no doubt that Zhaire’s athleticism is 100% back to what it was during his days as Texas Tech. However, what I’ve been most impressed with is Zhaire’s handle this summer. Here are some of Zhaire’s best examples of his improved handle this summer.

Zhaire Smith has clearly been working on his handle this offseason

Zhaire’s ability to utilize his handle, create space, and pull up from three and the midrange has been a pleasant surprise. In an interview after the comeback victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Zhaire mentioned, “I like the pull-up jumper, I feel like that’s my game.” I think a vast majority of us underrated Zhaire’s offensive game, and he’s only now scratching the surface of what kind of NBA player he can become. I expect Zhaire to be given the same treatment Landry Shamet received as a rookie last season in the area of 20 minutes per game for the Sixers.

#2 Come on, Brett, Take the Thybulle by the Horns

Through four games, Matisse is averaging 12 points and 2 steals in 26.4 minutes per game. Matisse is shooting 37% from three and looks ready to be part of Brett’s nine man rotation right now. Watching Matisse Thybulle and Zhaire Smith anticipate the passing lanes on the perimeter has been one of the highlights of this year’s Summer League. It’s July and overreactions are a natural part of what makes Summer League so great, but Matisse Thybulle looks every bit like an elite 3&D wing that will make an instant impact in the NBA.

Similar to Zhaire Smith, I’ve been impressed with Thybulle’s offensively ability. He’s flashed some offensive ability that I didn’t expect to exist in his arsenal. Matisse Thybulle has done an excellent job knowing his role in the offense and making quick decisions with the basketball. Here is a clip of Matisse doing exactly that.

Matisse Thybulle making quick decisions with the basketball in the offense

It’ll be interesting to see how quickly Thybulle cracks Brett’s rotation this year. With James Ennis re-signing and Brett Brown’s reluctance to start rookies from the jump, getting Matisse minutes in the rotation will most likely be a gradual process. Regardless, he’s been incredibly productive. Now let’s keep Matisse Thybulle wrapped up in bubble wrap between now and September. The Sixers cannot afford to lose another rookie to injury this year.

Matisse Thybulle is ready to make an instant impact on the Sixers this year

You have to love the confidence we’re seeing from Matisse Thybulle from the perimeter so far. Thybulle is not afraid to shoot the open three. If Matisse can consistently make these kinds of shots next year, there is no doubt he’ll quickly show Brett Brown that he deserves minutes off the bench.

#3 You Shayok Me All Night Long

Through four games, Marial Shayok is averaging 14.7 points and 4.3 boards in 22 minutes per game. Similar to Zhaire’s handle, Shayok’s ability to put it on the floor and create space has been a pleasant surprise this summer. Marial Shayok was a guy that I had zero expectations from. Based upon the current make-up of the Sixers, Shayok appears destined to suit up for the Blue Coats this fall. Regardless, Marial Shayok has been one of the top bright spots for the Summer Sixers this year.

Marial Shayok was not a guy I watched extensively at Virginia Tech or Iowa State. I didn’t expect much mainly due to his lack of athleticism and inability to defend at an NBA level. Now the defense is still suspect, but boy was I wrong. Most notably, Shayok’s jump shot looks incredibly smooth off the bounce. If he can do this consistently, then there is no doubt that he will shine in Delaware this year. Here are some of Shayok’s best highlights showcasing his handle this summer.

#4 “You Got Me Ringing Pelle’s Bells”

Through four games, Norvel Pelle is averaging 7 points, 6.8 boards, and 2.8 blocks in 19.1 minutes per game this summer. Compared to where he was at this time last year, Norvel Pelle has made significant leaps and has turned some heads in the process. Shake’s absence of a pick-and-roll in the Summer Sixers offense these past couple of games have really hindered Pelle’s ability to roll to the basket and finish above the rim.

Norvel Pelle is a guy that relies on a point guard that can facilitate the pick-and-roll. That is simply not going to happen from guys like Jalen Jones and PJ Dozier. Norvel is currently on a two-way deal with the Sixers this year and will be battling with Kyle O’Quinn for minutes at the backup center spot.

Rolling to the basket and finishing is what Norvel Pelle can bring on offense.

With JJ Redick heading to the Pelicans, could the Sixers be looking to run more pick-and-roll this year? This is an area where Norvel Pelle thrives. Plenty of bigs, such as Clint Capela and Rudy Gobert, have made this their bread and butter in the NBA. When Joel Embiid went to the bench, it was a mad rush by opposing offenses at the rim. Providing rim protection is what Norvel Pelle brings, and he deserves his shot.

#5 Stop Freaking Out about Shake Milton

Shake Milton signed a 4 year, 7-million dollar deal prior to the start of Summer League, and the timing could not have been better. It has been an underwhelming Vegas trip for Shake Milton this year. Through four games, Shake is averaging 9.7 points, 4.3 assists, and 3.3 turnovers per game. After a solid first game where he impacted the game in all facets, Shake’s offense has quickly become non-existent. The jumper went cold, and he missed the last game with an ankle injury.

No doubt that Shake’s shooting percentages have been terrible this summer. However, can we all calm down a little bit about Shake Milton? This is clearly not the Shake Milton we’ve watched throughout the course of the 27 games he played for the Delaware Blue Coats, where he put up 25 points per game and 37% from three on 5.8 attempts per game.

I would like to ask everyone to pump the brakes on making statements such as “Shake doesn’t belong in the NBA” and “He’s a bust” after just a few Summer League games. I get that he needs to play better. I’m not denying that the question of whether or not he should be the secondary ball handler is legit. However, similar to how everyone reacted negatively after Robert Covington signed his extension with the Sixers, I think we’re seeing the same reaction from fans around social media and local radio. Let’s all take three deep breaths.  

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