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Sixers Orlando Summer League Preview: Christmas in July

No-el, No-el, No-el, No-el. And four other things to look for.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Fourth of July! Early July is a crazy time of year for the NBA. Free agency has shown that some teams are nuts, with deals like Marcin Gortat's thank-you-for-helping-us-win-one-playoff-series five-year albatross contract and Ben Gordon's more-than-the-veteran's-minimum special already doled out. The Sixers figure to be inactive when it comes to signing free agents, but there are other focuses: the salary dumping market, the waiver wire, and, maybe most importantly for game-starved fans, SUMMER LEAGUES!

The Sixers, if you recall, are playing in both summer leagues. First up is Orlando, which starts tomorrow. You can find the full team roster and schedule here, courtesy of Derek Bodner. Here are five things to look for.


Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel

Debuting Savior of Sixers fans.

They looked up and saw a star,

shining in the East(ern Conference), taller than them all.

Okay, I'll stop. Hopefully, he proves to be worth the wait (and that song verse). Nerlens Noel is expected to debut for the Sixers tomorrow. The summer league Sixers aren't the real Sixers. But since the summer league team can probably produce something like 80% of the real Sixers' value, it might as well be. Nerlens should play in three games or so as a member of the Orlando team, as he will not be playing in back-to-back games.

What should we look for from Nerlens? Here's a few things:

  • Agility: the torn ACL can take more than a year to fully recover. Can he be as aggressive as advertised in his perimeter trapping defense and still get back to the paint to defend the rim? Will he be restricted in any way?
  • Jumper: see if he takes (and makes) some jumpers with the re-worked jump shot that he spent a full year rebuilding.
  • The Hair: no explanation necessary.

2. Pierre Jackson's Likely Summer League Explosion

Jackson couldn't play with the Pelicans last summer early on due to the Jrue Holiday trade limbo period and a bout with pinkeye (btb). But he made a mark in another minor-league environment: the NBA D-League. Jackson averaged 29 points per game (not that efficiently, but still 29 PPG!) during his time in the D-League. Summer league is a step up from regular D-League competition in talent, but not significantly so.

The Sixers re-acquired Pierre from the Pelicans for Russ Smith, the 47th pick in this year's draft. If there's any Sixer primed to dominate summer league play, it's him.

3. Hollis Thompson Trying to Maybe Do Things

Of the Liberty Ballers writers, I'm probably the least excited about anything related to Hollis Thompson. It's cool that he shot 40% from three on the season on a not-that-small number of attempts. But does he do anything else?

He finished the year with a 9.5 PER and an 11.3% usage rate. He has the tools to be a good defender but certainly isn't, yet. And when he finds himself covered when he catches the ball, he has no way of breaking down a defense and creating a shot for himself or others. He - maybe - has the 3 part of the D-and-3 down. He brings nothing else to the table, yet. Here's hoping he will develop some off the dribble moves and put them on display in Orlando.

4. Non-Roster Invitees

The Sixers have five players who are likely to be on the training camp roster playing for the Orlando team: Noel, Jackson, Thompson, Casper Ware, and 39th overall pick Jerami Grant. The rest of the roster is made up of guys trying to put themselves in that position.

The most notable, to me, of those players are Aaron Craft and Travis Bader. Until a few days ago, I knew little about Bader. Now, I've seen a little more and am at least intrigued. Bader, who played for Oakland University, is the NCAA all-time career leader in both three point makes and attempts. All-time. The Sixers, who are starved for shooting, could take a chance on Bader if he proves athletic enough to get open, accurate enough to hit enough of them, and passable enough on defense to make the offense worth it.

Craft, on the other hand, won't be getting anywhere with his offense. Much maligned by opposing fans in college for the heaps of praise thrown on him for his defense, leadership, and other intangibles, some draft projection systems actually think he could be a potential, if not likely, NBA player.

Also, both Craft and Bader will be playing for the Warriors in Vegas. That is, so long as they don't accept training camp offers from us (or even other teams) beforehand.

And finally, a reminder:

5. Rooting for Victories (and an Unnecessary Title Game)

This will be a nice change, huh? The Sixers will likely have as much young talent available as many of their counterparts, and wins would be a nice thing to get, even if they're ultimately meaningless. I can't prove this, but the Sixers have previously fielded some of the worst summer league teams of all time. Remember teams led by the likes of Jon Scheyer? Yikes.

With the roster guys available and playing, this is probably the first chance the Sixers have at realistically winning a summer league title. I don't think any previous efforts finished at .500. Even then, the developments, and not the results, matter. The first game starts tomorrow at 1PM, and you can catch it on tape delay on TCN tomorrow night. Because there's little else to do on your Saturday nights other than watching Sixers summer league basketball!

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