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Sixers’ Cameron Oliver has earned starting role on Summer League team

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Oliver’s two-way energy and impact should qualify him as the Sixers’ Summer League team’s starting power forward.

NCAA Basketball: New Mexico at Nevada Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

It took one game, but the starting power forward battle between Cameron Oliver and Chris McCullough on the Philadelphia 76ers’ Summer League unit is arguably already decided. Winner: Cam Oliver. Oliver sat Friday, as McCullough started against Boston, and vice versa on Saturday dueling Los Angeles.

McCullough shot 0-for-6 from the floor with four rebounds in 12 minutes while Oliver bested his peer with 12 points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes. The production outcome favors Oliver and Oliver’s relentless motor makes him a much more appealing power forward option next to Jonah Bolden in the Sixers’ frontcourt. Oliver’s last game, ironically, came with the Delaware 87ers this past season and he aced his 2018-19 debut with Philadelphia.

The Celtics outworked Philadelphia, which caught some outrage from yours truly watching on his couch Friday night, while Oliver’s refreshing hustle and determination stood out. At 6’8” and 225 pounds, Oliver’s 7’1” wingspan allows him to block shots weak side via elevating and rejecting.

Oliver assists Jackson and perfectly times Alex Caruso’s layup attempt to initiate a fast break opportunity the other way. Rim-protecting upside at the four to pair with Zhaire Smith and Bolden? Yes, please. (Videos courtesy of Streamable.)

Oliver also played the passing lanes Saturday night. He intercepted a Caruso pass, located a ball handler and sprinted up the floor as a lane filler. ZhAIRe (I might trademark that nickname) scans and finds Oliver bursting to the basket, who throws down an emphatic one-hand flush. Oliver finished with three steals.

Nemanja Bjelica isn’t the most mobile PF and probably won’t parallel Ben Simmons’ movements on fast breaks. Oliver could be a complement if Bjelica falters and Philadelphia’s looking for a big who can glide in transition. He’s mobile and powerful, two traditional PF traits that play into Oliver’s favor, plus he’s also balanced (floor-spacer, shot-blocker).

Zhaire Smith and Cam Oliver’s Saturday night sequence might’ve injected adrenaline into my veins. I went berserk after Oliver threw down the reverse two-hand dunk in transition, and Oliver’s showmanship proved to be one of the night’s lone standout Sixers moments. Pick-and-roll lob threats are vital to attract help defenders and open real estate up along the perimeter.

Oliver’s highflying attributes could be a useful element if the Summer Sixers’ offense stalls and isn’t connecting via jumpers, akin to Saturday night’s performance.

Oliver, in the second half, momentarily fumbles the Smith feed but recovers and utilizes his chiseled frame to snatch the ball and convert down low. At times, he failed to finish over length and utilize his hulking frame; but Oliver’s sculpted physique helps him rip the ball and finish powerfully. If we compile a list of features Oliver has already displayed in the above clips, they are that he’s mobile, athletic, a lengthy rim-protector and strong, among others. The 21-year-old forward can physically match up with NBA bigs and isn’t deterred offensively.

In Delaware during the 2017-18 season, Oliver shot a healthy 40.0 percent clip from deep but he came up empty on three attempts against Los Angeles. Oliver owns clean mechanics but his footwork and balance could use some refinement. On one of his threes Saturday night, his right foot went to the far side court’s out-of-bounds line but his smooth release and motion allowed him to follow a linear path.

He misses short, but Oliver can sink catch-and-shoot threes when afforded the opportunity. He’s a legitimate stretch four, despite what his numbers indicated.

Oliver punctuated his 12-point scoring outing with a transition alley-oop dunk, which he later told NBA.com Sixers writer Brian Seltzer, was his favorite dunk of the night. I noted Ben Simmons’ lack of highflying teammates following their 4-1 series loss to Boston and Oliver’s springboard build and power is a textbook fast break complement. You’re not impeding Oliver’s momentum when he’s airborne.

While Bolden hasn’t been as springy as advertised, Oliver will elevate on a whim and already sports three impressive Summer League dunks.

Oliver finished with a 12-point, eight-rebound, three-steal and two-block performance and it’ll be interesting to see how Sixers assistant coach Kevin Young allocates his PF’s minutes tonight against Washington at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBA TV.

Odds favor Oliver consuming most of the team’s PF minutes and the 21-year-old former G League talent has earned ample playing time. With training camp and two-way spots up for grabs and July serving as a measuring tool, Oliver is drawing attention via his a two-way presence.