LAS VEGAS — So much for defense being Filip Petrušev’s weakness.
The Serbian power forward/center is known for his ability to space the floor and knock down perimeter shots. But it was thought he lacked the footwork needed to guard NBA-caliber players. While the NBA Summer League isn’t the NBA, Petrušev has shown here that he’s a better defender than expected. Whether stealing passes, blocking shots or contesting them, the 50th pick in the draft always appears to be in the right spot.
The Sixers didn’t know what to expect from the 6-foot-11, 234-pounder at the beginning of training camp. He arrived here Aug. 5, one day after the start of camp. He had traveled to Vegas from his hometown of Belgrade. The trip took longer than expected because he spent two days in a Turkey airport awaiting the right paperwork.
After missing the first practice, the 21-year-old was mostly a practice bystander the second day. Once he became a full participant, Petrušev was the backup center to Charles Bassey. But he started the first two games for the Sixers (2-0) in the summer league after Bassey’s agent held out his client because of a lack of a contract.
“We always kind of, I think, thought of him as a finesse offensive guy, and obviously it’s a little bit of a European-big stereotype,” said Sixers assistant Brian Adams, who is coaching the Sixers team. “Then he was down there and blocking a lot of shots, showing he was a great rim protector. We couldn’t be more pleased.”
Petrušev produced three blocks and one steal in 19 minutes in Monday’s 95-73 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. He added five points on 1-for-4 shooting, four rebounds, and one assist. Petrušev followed that up with t wo blocks, one steal, and eight points on 4-for-7 shooting, six rebounds, and two assists in a 96-88 overtime victory Thursday over the Atlanta Hawks.
This past season for Serbian-based KK Mega Basket, Petrušev swept the Adriatic Basketball Association’s MVP award, top-prospect and top-scorer awards. In addition to leading the league in scoring (23.6 points), he led it in minutes played (32.0 per game) and field-goal percentage (57.9%). He also made 41.9% of his three-pointers and averaged 7.6 rebounds.
Mega wanted him to focus primarily on offense, but Petrušev’s approach entering summer league was showcasing his defensive ability.
“I wanted to show that I can play defense, especially coming into the NBA,” he said. “I’ll be a role player for sure at the beginning. So just getting those limited minutes, I’ll be able to just give 100 percent on offense and on defense.”