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How Three Young Sixers Could Play a Vital Role This Season

Shake Milton, Zhaire Smith, and Matisse Thybulle don’t have much NBA experience, but the Sixers are going to need all three to step up in a big way to reach their championship goals.

Chicago Bulls v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

It seems that three young Sixers will have a chance to not only shine in Las Vegas, but also in the 2019-20 regular season (and playoffs?). The badass trio of Shake Milton, Zhaire Smith, and Matisse Thybulle have their work cut out for them. As the Sixers’ free agency haul rounds out, it seems like each will have a very important bench role going into this season. So let’s dive in and see what these guys can do, and how they could contribute to the Run It Back-ish Sixers.


While the Sixers’ roster is not quite yet locked in, there is still a pronounced lack of ball handling, even after the addition of Raul Neto. Elton and crew must have significant confidence in Shake Shake to enter the season with essentially two NBA proven guards. The second year guard out of SMU showed promise his rookie year, but was sidelined for a large portion of the season with a hand injury. With JJ Redick gone, it might not be too crazy to think that Shake will be the second or third best perimeter shooter. The prospect of relying on a second year player to take over for one of the best three point shooters of all time is daunting, but Shake might be able to make a substantive jump in his sophomore season.

While Shake appeared in 20 NBA games last season as deep bench depth, he also started 27 games for the Delaware Blue Coats, where he had a starring role. While averaging 35 minutes per game in the G League, he averaged 25 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists while slashing 49% from the field, 37% from three, and 80% from the line, with a usage rate of 27.4% and six three point attempts per game.

Shake’s ability to drive to the basket with both hands was on full display for the Blue Coats. While he is not an explosive athlete, he has a tremendous understanding of how to use his body to get to the rim. His length (7’0” wingspan) and incredible body control, especially in mid air, allow him to be THE Below the Rim Kid. When he slivers by defenders in to the lane, his length and reach allows him to extend beyond shot blockers, similar to the NetsCaris LeVert. Shake doesn’t shy away from contact either, often getting leverage and using his position to draw fouls and get a shot up through the contact. In the G League, Shake racked a .275 free throw rate, again, very similar to Caris LeVert’s .255 Free throw rate just last season. getting to the line If he cannot get to the rim, his length allows him to simply shoot over people. Much like we see with Kevin Durant (calm down, just an example), his release is naturally so high that he can shoot over contests, even in traffic. While he needs to adjust to the speed and physicality of the NBA, dominating G League competition in his first year is likely a sign of good things to come.

Shake’s lack of athleticism is going to make defense a bit of a problem at the NBA level, however, playing alongside what is bound to be a world destroying defensive team is sure to benefit him and will likely cover some of his defensive lapses.

Based on the shape of the roster and his new four year deal, it seems like Shake is going to have a rather large role for the 2019-20 season. How he handles that opportunity will go a long way towards shoring up the Sixers’ depth. In my opinion, the most likely case as of now is that he is the backup ball handler to Ben Simmons and run the offense while Ben is off the court. Much like TJ McConnell’s (lord carry him now) role last season, except now our initiator can shoot! The addition of Raul Neto might take some minutes from Shake, but Neto has been plagued by injury problems in the last couple seasons. . Shake will have to be ready to step up at any time over the course of this championship dreaming season.

But perhaps his biggest duty next season will be the game within the game.


With arguably the most bizarre rookie season in Sixers history, Zhaire Smith is set to officially gear up for the 2019-20 season. Smith’s atomic athleticism and ravenous defending will make him a playable wing for the Sixers off the bench.

Smith’s rookie season has a rather large asterisk next to it due to the allergy incident that stunted a year of the young man’s growth, but the reports are that’s he’s gained the weight back and added some muscle too. There is a profound difference in the ripped Smith we see now and the frail Smith we saw attended the Texas Tech game in February.

In the NBA games he played, Smith posted 7/2/2 in 18 minutes of game action per night. By far his best game came against the Chicago Bulls on April 10, 2019 where he scored a career high 17 points, a career high four rebounds, AND a career high five assists.

Last year held some sparkling bright spots in Smith’s limited time on the court. The shot was the most concerning part of his game, but his willingness to let that thang fly was admirable (especially following the Fultz saga). Smith will probably never be, nor have to be, a guy who needs the ball in his hands to make things happen on offense, but cutting off the ball and spotting up will be an incredibly useful skill set on this Sixers team. Although, we did see some moments in last year’s Summer League and at the end of the season where he looked comfortable playing iso ball and taking his man one on one.

His defense is clearly ready to contribute right now. It’s hard to overstate how great of an athlete Smith is, and how well he combines his athleticism with his IQ to make the difficult defensive plays look routine. So far we’ve seen his ability to get through and around screens and recover to his man; we’ve also seen his ability to contest shots without fouling, which is an incredibly underrated skill to have in the NBA. Quick feet, explosive leaping, active hands, a high motor, and just being flat out cool make Smith another intriguing piece for the All Defensive Maniacs in Philadelphia.

His first game of summer this league year showed that his athleticism was not lost after his long recovery.

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Zhaire Smith put on a show in Summer League.

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The recently drafted Sixers rookie, Matisse Thybulle (I pray you knock on as much wood as humanly possibly) will suit up for the Philadelphia 76ers this season, and his defensive versatility matched with this roster is smile provoking. While the starting lineup is set, Thybulle adds to the young bench mob of badass cool guys who will strap you up and refuse to even let you THINK about dribbling a basketball.

Much like Smith, defense is Thybulle’s calling card. Although he played zone in college which inflated some of his block and steal numbers, it’s clear that he has the tools and instincts to be a great NBA defender. His offensive game lacks polish or creativity at the moment, but in a spot up, non-ball handling role, Thybulle could be a great complement to the starters or simply grind out opponent bench lineups, cleaning up the defensive lapses that bothered the Sixers last season.

While the Sixers by no means had a bad defense in 2018-19, it was clear that the loss of defensive strategist Lloyd Pierce took a toll, as they dropped from 3rd in defensive rating in 2017-18 (103.9 DefRtg), to 14th in 2018-19 (109.0 DefRtg). While the additions of Al Horford and Josh Richardson will greatly benefit the Sixers’ defense. Thybulle and Smith will be the go to guys off the bench to lock down the perimeter when Richardson and Tobias Harris are off the court.

Thybulle stayed in college four years to develop his defensive skill set, while deferring to his more gifted offensive teammates for scoring. He will play a very similar role on this Sixers team, but knocking down shots from the outside will be a huge boost for this team. It will not only provide bench scoring, but will also give Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid the room they need to operate.

Shake, Smith, and Thybulle all have their work cut out for them if they want to be consistent contributors in the upcoming season. While they all have substantive flaws in their game, betting on upside and improvement seems like the best option. With Summer League beginning, it’s time for the trio to start making their mark on a team with championship aspirations.

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