Summer League Observations: Sixers drop Summer League opener on Grizzlies

The Sixers had a hard-fought opener of Summer League against the Memphis Grizzlies Tuesday night, eventually falling 103-99 in their first game in Utah.

I saw the following.

The good

• After one game, I’m willing to put Paul Reed on the Too Good For Summer League clock. In all honesty, I assumed I would open in Utah because Reed consistently dominates the lower tiers of competition and was home in an NBA playoff run last season. But you need to back up your assumptions with evidence, and Reed offered plenty in Tuesday’s Grizzlies game.

Reed started alongside Charles Bassey and didn’t seem at all concerned who was on the floor next to him. If you can count on Reed for anything, it’s activity, and he slipped everywhere against Memphis, shooting through gaps for offensive rebounds, layups and frantic plays that helped the Sixers stay within range of a hot-shooting Memphis. As his touch wore off, Reed made up for it by continuing to grind on the glass for second and even third opportunities.

The surprise, at least based on the aesthetic, was when Reed extended an early three from the free throw line. This is where Reed should be encouraged to pull off some confident threes when they come his way, and if he can pull them off with any semblance of consistency, it opens up some unique lineups for Philly that will benefit opponents a chore will be scoring against it.

(I don’t have much faith in Reed’s threesome, but hey, it’s Summer League, dare to dream a little.)

Perhaps the best part of Reed’s performance was his ability to play good defense without being baited into stupid fouls. Reed supported a team full of perimeter players who were struggling to keep the boys in front of them and was constantly put into assist situations where he showed the value of his length and athleticism.

If the Sixers are interested in hearing what everyone has on this Summer League roster, they’re probably better served by letting Reed sit and everyone else try out. I certainly don’t think getting minutes in competitive basketball games in the offseason is a bad thing for Reed, but I don’t think he has anything to prove against guys who are mostly struggling to show they even get into the league belong. His real tests will come later this year when he gets a chance to play real minutes from the start.

• While Isaiah Joe plans the Summer League campaign to end all Summer League campaigns, I’m skeptical he’ll find a way to crack the rotation this year. But you have to start somewhere, and Joe fought his way through a tough start to the game to at least make that impression.

The outside touch still isn’t there for Joe, who bombed from the jump and never let up, but I think the variety of looks is important to consider. Philadelphia had him pull-up threes, catch-and-shoot looks, take threes out of motion, and lead him across the floor to different points depending on the lineup and playstyle they decided on for a particular possession.

As the game progressed, Joe got more opportunities to handle the ball and create offense, and then managed to have some nice moments as the Sixers worked to repel a three-point barrage from the Grizzlies. Joe racked up a few assists as a lead ball handler and probably could have added more with better shooting/decision making from teammates.

• Grant Riller’s opportunity to influence the Sixers has probably come and gone – their need for small ball handlers isn’t really there anymore – which is a shame as there’s likely an NBA-level skill package in there. Injuries have been one of the big issues for him over the years and he’s looking damn good physically right now, no matter how long this current run lasts.

With his legs under him, Riller’s ball handling ability and shake stands out in an environment where a lot of guys just hope to become competent ball handlers. Compared to the guys around him, there was an obvious difference between Riller handling the ball and basically everyone else, which is both a compliment to his game and an indictment of the rest of the group.

The bad

• Not a finished product at 19, Jaden Springer is hardly something to yell and yell at him about. But even if he didn’t put up a tough fight for minutes this year, I would be pessimistic about his chances of playing this season. The game is still moving a bit too fast for him and that’s not something you wanted to see after a year of work and development with the G-League team.

The real disappointment is that defensively he is off the pace where he should have high ground to support his fall while you wait for everything else to catch up. There were certainly moments when his athleticism flashed, and he can still be a pain on the ball, but he had far too many mental failings/failures against Memphis. It wasn’t always his type who got an open three because of hesitation or misreading a play, but Springer was often the type to set off a negative chain reaction, leading to too many possessions that ended in undisputed Grizzlies Springer.

This can’t happen to him, nor to any young man hoping to possibly land a part (even a starring role) in this year’s Sixers. They’ve already gotten deeper this off-season and that puts extra pressure on the youngsters to be flawless on both sides. Springer was well behind at the start of the summer.

It was also a bad night of shooting for Springer, but what worries me more is that he falls into a category where too many sixers have been: reluctant shooter. Let it fly, young man. No consequences for missed threes in the Summer League.

On the bright side of Jaden Springer, you can certainly see the athleticism and strength shining through when he’s just playing out there instead of thinking. Much like last year, his second half was a fair bit better than his first half, and he arguably came late in the game of the game, snatching the ball off a rolling Xavier Tillman to put the Sixers around for a chance at a tie or prepare to win the game.

I’m struggling to find a way to describe Springer’s ball handling ability. I certainly don’t think he has a good grip as you rarely see him create a break from a defender, which was seen when he was stripped on the crucial play. On the other hand, he’s (often) good at keeping the ball to himself while navigating traffic, which is an important skill for a man likely to need to compensate for his throwing limitations with free-throw generation. His best moments on Tuesday pretty much all came when Springer headed for the basket, his ability to make contact impressive despite his poor shooting from the field.

Finding the right pace will be crucial for him. The gears are still awfully slow, but he has talent.

• Charles Bassey was a guy that a lot of people (myself included) wanted to see get burned late last year, especially when Doc Rivers put DeAndre Jordan on the floor over and over again. There were some decent moments for him on Tuesday, games where athleticism flashed and Bassey’s raw talent was clear, but he was rarely able to convert those moments into results. It was a lot of flying around with no end product in sight.

One could argue that it doesn’t matter much because he would be asked what he would do if he played for the big club, which is just rim running and dunks after putting up screens for James Harden and/or Tyrese Maxey. There won’t be many designed post-ups for Bassey in the NBA. But there were problems beyond the lack of the basket. The Grizzlies managed to hit the offensive glass to the ground with Bassey despite playing many of his minutes with Reed at his side.

I think Bassey is a guy whose night-to-night performance will be heavily tied to the Guardian Game, and the Guardian Game wasn’t all that special in this instance.

the ugly

• It’s Summer League, man. Most of the game is ugly.


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