Although many veterans from the likes of Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Patrick Beverly were on the sidelines doing their best Nick Nurse impression, there were still many things to take away from the Philadelphia 76ers annual Blue versus White scrimmage on Saturday, Oct. 14 held at Chase Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware.
One of them was ten-time All-Star James Harden, who participated in pregame warmups but was nowhere to be found once the game started after not getting introduced with the rest of the team.
“I told everybody yesterday that we’re going through normal practice, and there’ll be skill work afterward,” 76ers Head Coach Nick Nurse said. “As you could see, I kind of put all the veterans out of the game. So, I’m cool.”
Although the veterans didn’t see any action on the court, that didn’t stop their competitive juices from flowing. Beverly was coaching Team Melton (White) like it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals, while Harris and P.J. Tucker were racing up and down the sideline in an attempt to match Beverly’s coaching style for Team Maxey (Blue).
“Pat actually wants to coach and I’m not surprised that he took the board and was ready to go and took it fairly seriously,” Nurse said. “He does want to coach, he sends me some things from time to time in the summer with the youth teams he’s coaching. He was probably a little too animated, out on the corner a little too much maybe, but other than that he was good.”
Because of Harden and other key veterans earning the day off, many young up-and-comers got a chance to show off their game in front of the Sixers’ faithful for the first time. Tyrese Maxey, Ricky Council IV, Javonte Smart, Filip Petrusev, and Mo Bamba rounded out the starting five for Team Blue, A.K.A. Team Maxey, while De’Anthony Melton, Terquavion Smith, David Duke Jr., Kelly Oubre Jr., and Paul Reed made up Team White, A.K.A. Team Melton’s starting five.
There are many names within the two lineups that are new faces, but they certainly got an opportunity to shine on Saturday, which is something that will only help them in the long run according to Nurse.
“I just think that nobody gets better unless there’s minutes on the court,” Nurse said. “First and foremost, I want minutes for those guys and then there’s gotta be opportunity chances. That’s usually talked about as creating offense and shot attempts and all those kinds of things. I just think that you do have to focus in on those guys maximizing their time here and that means minutes and chances.”
Two players in particular that put on a show were Summer League standouts Ricky Council IV and Terquavion Smith. Council, a rookie out of Arkansas, put his top-tier athleticism on display, highlighted by a one-handed slam that was immediately followed up by an acrobatic layup on the following possession in the first of two games played on the day. Smith garnered ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ out of the crowd, as well, going toe-to-toe with Council at one point in what felt like a dunk contest.
In addition to the ultra-competitive Beverly auditioning for a potential post-NBA career, a 2,500-seat arena filled with raucous fans was undoubtedly cause for motivation to make these jaw-dropping plays.
“The fans were great, shoutout to them for pulling up and supporting us always,” Smith said. “It was a good atmosphere today.”
“I’m glad they came out and supported a regular Blue and White scrimmage,” said Council. “That shows a little bit how the crowd is gonna be during the season.”
Council and Smith caught the eye of not just the crowd, but also new Blue Coats’ Head Coach Mike Longabardi, who had high praise for the duo that he will be spending a lot of time coaching this season.
“I really think they put a lot of time in. If you go back, they were together for two Summer Leagues, we had some workouts in Los Angeles they were at, and then the month of September, they did an amazing job just coming in, being there, and working on their games five, six days a week,” Longabardi said. “They built the chemistry together, now we just have to hope that it transfers over from when we practice and play. I think it will. I think they’re all hungry. I think they all love basketball, they love to play and they want to get better.”
The two rookies, who are still adapting to the lifestyle of the NBA, also have the support of 2022-23 Blue Coats’ champion Jaden Springer, who was back in Wilmington for the first time since April 4, 2023, when the Coats took a 1-0 series lead over the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the G-League Championship.
“It’s always good to come back, especially spending two years in the G-League, so it’s always a good feeling to be out here,” Springer said. “They [Council & Smith] asked me about it [G-League] a couple times, and I was just telling them ‘You go there, that’s where you can get better and work on your game.’ They’ve been around all preseason, so they’re gonna take what they learned here and take it to the G-League. Just go hard and attack with the right mindset, you can be great.”
For Springer personally, the former first-round pick is looking to emerge as a key rotational piece for the Sixers this season after spending most of last year with the Blue Coats. So far, so good as the 21-year-old feels as comfortable as ever entering his third season as a pro. It’s shown in his performance throughout training camp and the preseason, which has grabbed the attention of Nurse and the rest of the coaching staff.
“I think it’s just from the work,” Springer said. “Ever since the staff came in, I’ve been in the gym with them almost every day. We’ve been getting after it, so I feel like it’s become easier and more comfortable and it’s come to me more naturally.”
Even though it was just a team scrimmage, the intensity was through the roof at Chase Fieldhouse on Saturday. That is expected to be the new norm under Nurse, who is notorious for never letting his foot off the gas pedal. Between players laying out on the floor and “coaches” arguing with the referees, it seems Nurse has definitely left his imprint on the Sixers so far, and gave the fans a good first impression of the hustle and grit that they can expect from the team this season.
“I think it’s always good to get out, you know, do some things in the community for the fans,” Nurse said. “We had a really good kind of normal type session beforehand. We had a good practice, and a good stretch of player development work as well. But from my standpoint, we got our work in today, and that was important.”