Philly’s rookie stars look to motivate team in the final stretch of the season
With only eight games left in the season, it’s easy to see how the Sixers might start struggling. Luckily a couple of rookie stars seemed poised to bring new energy to the team.
The end of the season is always a drag, which is especially difficult for younger players. Philly’s core is one of the youngest in the NBA, and it shows during long stretches of the year.
There’s no question that Zhaire Smith’s return will be motivating for the team. He hasn’t played a single minute this year after a series of injuries early on in the season. Smith has a lot to prove after Philly traded Mikal Bridges for him in last year’s draft.
Not many fans can forgive an organization for passing up on a hometown product, especially when Bridges was just the ‘3 and D’ player the Sixers needed. Smith is extremely athletic, and with a 6’4 frame, he could provide valuable minutes for either Redick or Butler off the bench.
Smith was only one of Philly’s rookie stars to make headlines this past weekend. Shake Milton is one of few NBA player’s on a two-way contract with the G-League, and already he seems like a valuable rotation player.
Yes, Ben Simmons is out which means some of these players are seeing more minutes than usual. However, 13 points off of 6-8 shooting is no joke for a player out of the G-League.
Brett Brown would be foolish not to consider giving these two rookie stars more minutes as the season closes. Who knows, they just might be Philly’s X-Factor in the 2019 playoffs.
Maybe Smith will light a fire under Ben Simmons’s jump shot when he returns…
Is Philly ready for the playoffs?
It’s easy to say that the Sixers will steamroll their way through at least the first round of the playoffs. They handed the Bucks a 130-125 loss a week ago despite 52 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo.
After that, they barely beat Boston by three points and Joel Embiid needed 37 just to seal the victory. Yes, the 76ers are talented, but will their core have the focus to win a 7-game series against one of the teams?
The only way to find out is to give minutes to these rookie stars and let them prove they can be rotational players. Although Philly is lacking a real backup to Embiid, a couple more guards couldn’t hurt.
What makes them especially valuable is the recent consistency of Jimmy Butler. It was obvious to everyone that Butler was never going to put up more points than Embiid on a nightly basis. However, it is pretty surprising how much he shrinks in big games.
It wouldn’t be fair to criticize him without saying he did have two great games against the Bucks and Celtics. There are times where he doesn’t seem that effective, and even out of the chemistry of the offense.
Butler has always pushed his teammates, one of the reasons he wanted out of Minnesota. The great thing about this situation is both Milton and Smith have a lot to prove and they will look to the leadership of Butler.
Small ball isn’t going to the best solution against teams like the Celtics and Bucks over a 7-game series. Milton and Smith could bring a fire to the second unit that could beat any bench in the Eastern Conference.
There’s no doubt that Milton could bud into a rising star for Philly:
All stats via basketball-reference.com
Featured Image: Allen Kee via ESPN Images
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