The Sixers' hopes of going an improbable 2 for 2 in Summer Leagues this July came to an end last night, as they were downed 77-68 by the Chicago Bulls, in one of the ugliest games you're likely to see (at least until the Sixers' regular season). Tons of turnovers and unsightly misses, with neither team even shooting 40% from the field--there were more made free throws in the game than made field goals. The Bulls were slightly less gross than we were, and they won to advance to the Vegas Quarterfinals. The Sixers will play a consolation game against the D-League select team tonight at 8:00, then part ways until the preseason.
The loss mostly goes on our point-guard play, or lack thereof. Casper the Friendly Summer Leaguer took the game off, leaving Tim Frazier and Scottie Wilbekin to man the point. The two combined for two points on 1-13 shooting, with two assists and three turnovers. Looked every bit that bad watching them, too.
In likely his last game for us this summer, Nerlens was struggling. Ailing with a cold, as well as a turned ankle, a tweaked hamstring, and probably some early symptoms of scurvy and the bends, Nerlens wheezed his way through this one, off on his game all night, though still scrapping his way to 14 points (5-13 FG, 4-7 FT) and five rebounds, though he went blockless for I think the first time this summer. Most impressive on the night for Noel was the couple interior whip-passes he made to a cutting K.J. McDaniels under the basket, further signs of good chemistry between our promising young frontcourt. Rest yourself up some, Nerlens, get on a good cardio program, and we look forward to seeing you again in the fall.
It was a mostly brutal night on the whole. Thank God, then, for Jordan McRae.
Jordan McRae, if you recall, was the Sixers' final acquisition on Draft Night in June, a Tennessee shooting guard nabbed by Sam Hinkie from the Spurs at the #58 slot, third-to-last in the second round. McRae has not only been the Sixers' MVP so far in Vegas, he's probably been one of the five best players on the court across all 24 teams present. (ESPN's Kevin Pelton pegged at him at #3 in his Vegas Power Rankings a couple days ago, and last night's game certainly would not have dropped him any.)
All McRae did last night was score 25 points on eight shots. He hit all five of his two-point attempts, all ten of his free throws, and one of his two three-point attempts--the one make being a buzzer-beater well beyond the arc to end the first half, and the one miss coming in the final minutes after the game had essentially been decided. (On the call, Rick Kamla and Brent Barry begged him not to take the triple to preserve his perfect game, but alas.)
25 points. On eight shots. For some perspective, the rest of the Sixers combined to score 43 points on 58 shots. So 25 on eight is looking pretty good by comparison.
McRae's been doing it all week, though--with the exception of Wednesday's win against the Lakers, which McRae sat out to rest his ankle. Across his four games in Vegas, though, McRae's now averaging 21 points a game on 50% shooting. Only two sophomore sons of famous '90s scorers--Washington's Glenn Rice Jr. and New York's Tim Hardaway Jr.--have higher scoring averages than our Jordan.
How is he doing it? The simplest way: He gets to the basket. I don't know if the Sixers have had a player since Iverson who seems to enjoy (and succeed at) attacking the bucket quite like Jordan has his past four games. In the half court, on the break, wherever, he's always keeping his eyes on the prize. And with his length (6'5" with a seven-foot wingspan), athleticism, and grown-man build, he can get there pretty much whenever he wants, either finishing or getting a whistle in the process. To say that McRae doesn't shy away from contact would be selling it short--like, Yuki Tagashi short. He all but drapes himself in the arms and bodies of his defenders, getting to the line 37 times in just four games so far.
What's more, offense isn't even totally his calling card. McRae's defensive potential is probably what really lured Hinkie in on draft night, with his length and quickness probably seeming like an even greater advantage when coming up against the Dwyane Wades and Bradley Beals--maybe even the LeBron Jameses and John Walls, as the situation may dictate--of the Eastern Conference. The early defensive returns on McRae have been fairly impressive this summer as well, and he's second on the team so far with his 1.8 steals per game.
So how the hell was he available to us at 58? Well, the biggest reason is almost definitely his age. A late-blooming, four-year player at Tennessee--an impact player only in his Junior and Senior years--there was some thought that there might not be a ton of remaining upside to Jordan's game. His age could also be an explanation as to why he's managed to be so dominant in Las Vegas, since the great majority of the players are entering their first or second year as a pro, many of them still younger and less physically developed than McRae.
Also, McRae's outside shot has yet to prove particularly reliable for a two-guard. He shot 34% on threes in college, which didn't prevent him from being an efficient scorer for his position, but does hurt a team's ability to stretch the floor a little--particularly one already as paint-locked as the Sixers. (McRae's hit 6-16 from distance so far--pretty acceptable.) Outside of the scoring column, McRae also isn't exactly a box-score-stuffer, and thusfar in Vegas, he's only averaging 2.5 rebounds and one assist a game.
Still, even with these concerns, McRae has been a revelation for a #58 pick. He fits in beautifully with what appears to be Sam Hinkie's master plan of a team build around length, athleticism and motor, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him play a large role in the Sixers' rotation this regular season. And if not, his Vegas performance should at least earn McRae the opportunity to prove he deserves such a spot.
This is what the Summer League is about, people. Ogling the prospects that we know are gonna play a large part of the Sixers' future, and discovering new hotties we didn't even know were hiding in plain sight for us all along. It's been a fun summer to be a Sixers fan for sure, and if it has to end tonight, the memories should carry us well into autumn.