It was the type of defensive performance that Sixers fans hope become a regular occurrence in future years.
The Sixers, led by a front court that includes Nerlens Noel, Ronald Roberts Jr, Jerami Grant and K.J. McDaniels, blocked 8 Rockets shots, held them to 34.4% shooting from the field, and forced 24 turnovers to only 9 Rockets assists.
Sure, it was against a Rockets summer league team that, quite frankly, isn't all that good. And it's going to be easier to block shots against Tarik Black and Jabari Brown than it will against Tim Duncan and Blake Griffin. But the length, athleticism, and intensity were on full display, and it was a fun thing to watch for a fan base looking towards the future.
Nerlens Noel wasn't quite as flashy as he was in the first game, but it was probably more in line with what we can expect his contributions to be going forward. The driving, acrobatic finishes and drawing fouls was great to watch in the opener against Orlando, but it's not something that we should really expect much of at this stage in Noel's development, and tonight showed some of the real problems Noel will face if he tries to put the ball on the floor all too frequently. But how quickly he gets off of his feet, how well he moves on the perimeter, how disruptive he is on the pick and roll, those are all great signs for him going forward. I was actually more impressed with him on the defensive side of the court this game than I was against Orlando. Hopefully his ankle, which he seemed to be favoring a little bit towards the end, turns out to be nothing.
Ronald Roberts Jr, his front court mate, didn't have quite the statistical impact he had after averaging 12 points and 7.5 rebounds during his first two games, but he looked just as good in his 19 minutes tonight as he previously did. He ended up with 9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and a block (to go along with 2 turnovers).
Another guy who continues to impress is K.J. McDaniels, who finished with 15 points (4-8 shooting, 2-2 from 3), 5 rebounds, and a blocked shot, as well as a nifty move in transition. He's growing into that 3-and-D role very quickly.
Casper Ware provided shots. He ended up with 16 points on 14 field goal attempts, while struggling a bit on the perimeter, going 1-5 from downtown. I'm not going to get on Ware too much, as the Sixers summer league team really doesn't have many players who can create from the perimeter, especially after Pierre Jackson went down. Aaron Craft, as good as he is defensively, and (start sarcasm tag) being so much more valuable right now than Andrew Wiggins (end sarcasm tag), is simply over-matched on the offensive side of the court.
Hollis Thompson also shot the ball much better from the perimeter than he did against Orlando, going 4-7 from three point range on his way to 14 points on 10 field goal attempts. I tweeted this out during the game, but Thompson's adjusted field goal percentage with his feet set last year was 61.2%. Off the dribble? 33.9%. Get that man in his spots and he's money.
Speaking of having a set shot, Travis Bader can really shoot. Stationed in the corner, coming off a screen, he has a wonderful shot. But you wouldn't know it from watching the game or looking at the box score, as he ended the night shooting 1-3 for 3 points. I just don't think he's quick enough or gets enough elevation to get his shot off against NBA defenders.
Finally, Jerami Grant and JaKarr Sampson both had by far their best games of the summer. Sampson ended the night with 13 points on 5 shots, to go along with 8 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks, and 2 assists, and Grant added 12 points on 4-9 shooting, 5 rebounds, a steal, and a three pointer made(!). With how much Grant had been struggling, being able to get a few shots to go in and build up that confidence is a good thing. Hopefully he can ride that momentum out for the rest of the summer league.
Finally, after the game TCN had a series of interviews, which included Joel Embiid, Brett Brown, and Sam Hinkie. I wanted to highlight a few quotes from Sam Hinkie.
On the drafting of Joel Embiid:
"I think a lot of people, very naturally, very reasonably, think 'what if that goes wrong? What if I make that decision and it messes up?' I think of the regret in the other way. I think "What if this is the one opportunity, and you say no to it?'"
On the drafting of Dario Saric, and the wait for him to come over:
"It's one of the things that makes me proud to be the president and GM here, is the commitment from our ownership. It's the reason I took the job. You could tell, if you really did your homework, you could tell that Josh Harris and David Blitzer and the rest of our crew had what I thought was an appropriate weight on trying to achieve their goal. And their goal, like you said, is lofty. Their goal is not easy. I said this the day I took the job: our challenge is not for the faint of heart. This is rough, it has some bumpiness to it, it has some randomness to it, but we're going to try to reach for something great."
On not speaking with the media:
"I would say, I'm particularly open during several times a year. And then there are a few that we're not. I want my words to mean something. And I don't want to just talk to talk, because, by the way, it will get really boring quickly, especially when you realize I'm not revealing anything, and the whole thing is sort of a waste of time.
"Our organization is way bigger than me, way bigger than our coach. It should be about our players. It really should. I want our players to get all the credit for this."