Simmons didn’t waste any time proving his coach was right.
Playing at a new position — power forward — as part of Philadelphia’s new-look starting lineup in the team’s opening action from the NBA’s bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort, Simmons took two 3-pointers, and made one, in a 90-83 scrimmage victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.
“Just playing,” Simmons said. “We’ve been practicing, working on just finding that corner. I’m very comfortable over there, and I’ve been shooting those shots, so I’m glad my teammates are finding me.”
Both triples came in catch-and-shoot situations in the corner. The first, which came in the first quarter, saw Simmons hesitate before eventually deciding to shoot, missing badly.
On the second, which came in the third quarter, Simmons caught the ball and immediately moved into his shooting motion, calmly draining the shot and jogging back down court.
“I get excited [watching it] … He doesn’t flinch,” Brown said. “The sport told him, ‘I’m open, nobody is guarding me, shoot it,’ and he did. There was no hesitation about what’s next, or, ‘What decision do I have to make now?'”
Brown has been getting peppered with questions about Simmons and his jumper all year long. When he was asked about it Thursday, he went away from his prior public statements — including when he hoped Simmons would take at least one per game earlier this season — and said the entire topic has been discussed too much.
“I mean, I’ve said since we’ve all known each other and I’ll say it again, I think this area is arguably one of the most overrated topics that I’ve been a part of in coaching,” Brown said Thursday. “So to quantify I want to see X number of jump shots … Ben Simmons is going to play basketball, and the sport is going to tell him what he should or shouldn’t do.
“[But] I feel like his spirit, his mindset coming down here, him willingly finding space and finding 3s, that has been a paradigm shift. That has been an attitudinal change, a philosophical, internal decision that he has made, because I have just seen a player that is cocky and just playing and when the game says you should shoot because nobody is on you, he does, and he doesn’t blink and his teammates love it and so does his head coach.”
Given the fact Simmons’ 3-point shot has been such a big topic of conversation for so long, the fact he took two of them overshadowed everything else that happened in the game. But just as important, if not more so, for Philadelphia’s chances of making a deep playoff run inside the bubble was the success that the team’s new-look starting five had together.
The grouping — Shake Milton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Simmons and Joel Embiid — had never played together in live competition before Friday’s scrimmage. And although it only played together for a little less than 6 minutes, and it only was a scrimmage, the Sixers had every reason to be encouraged by what they saw.
In the 5 minutes, 33 seconds that group played together, Philadelphia outscored Memphis by four points. More importantly, though, Simmons looked very comfortable playing power forward. Simmons — who finished with nine points, seven rebounds, nine assists and three steals in 22 minutes — spent a lot of time operating at the elbow, catching the ball there and initiating the offense.
“I’m happy with it,” Simmons said. “I can guard 1-5, I can play everywhere, but catching in those positions, I love those spots. I work on those spots, and my footwork there. I just got to keep working and taking what’s given to us.”
Overall, Philadelphia was dominant in the first half, leaping out to a 54-28 lead at the halftime break after forcing 14 turnovers (that became 19 Sixers points) while shooting 51% from the field and forcing the Grizzlies to go 10-for-35 (28.6%) from the field and 4-for-15 from 3-point range.
Embiid sat out the second half for rest purposes, and the rest of Philadelphia’s starters were out before the end of the third quarter as Memphis kept its starters in until the end of the game and narrowed the gap in the closing minutes.
In the other ongoing stor line from Philadelphia’s training camp, Embiid and Al Horford played 3 minutes, 44 seconds together across the end of the first quarter and the start of the second. Brown said that he expects to continue playing Embiid and Horford together in the late first and third quarters and early second and fourth quarters moving forward, saying he likes the flow of having them together in those portions of the game.
And, after the game, Harris continued to only answer questions by reiterating that Kentucky state Attorney General Daniel Cameron needs to arrest the officers involved in the death of Breonna Taylor earlier this year.
“We need justice for Breonna Taylor, and I’ll continue to preach that message after every single game,” Harris said. “If you want to hear it, I’m always here to give interviews and use my platform in the best way possible, but those individuals need to be held accountable, and that’s my message.”