DETROIT — Sixers coach Brett Brown was well aware of the risk when he asked Ben Simmons, who played forward in high school and college, to run his team’s offense.
It was a gutsy call, at the time, that many critics scoffed and questioned.
In just his fourth career NBA game, Simmons pieced together a memorable triple-double Monday night to become just the third player in history to accomplish the feat in such a time span, and more importantly, help lead the Sixers (1-3) to their first regular-season win.
“It’s awesome to have a triple-double, but at the same time, it’s even better to have that win,” Simmons said. “Especially with these guys and a young team like this.”
It wasn’t a do-or-die game for the Sixers by any stretch, but Monday night’s 97-86 win in Detroit certainly rejuvenated a fan base that may have started casting doubt as to whether the Sixers are a legit playoff-caliber team (see observations).
Moreover, it served as much-needed validation for Brown and his young, talent-packed squad, following three straight losses, including Saturday’s 34-point blowout loss in Toronto.
“I’m happy for our guys,” Brown said. “They really came into the building knowing that we needed to get a win. To get rewarded with the win, it just validates some of the work that everybody has put in.”
Particularly Simmons, who entered this season with the eyes of Philadelphia watching his every move during his first tour around the NBA after missing all of last season nursing a fractured foot.
“We won, and, honestly, that means so much than stats for me,” said Simmons, who finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
Simmons doesn’t fit the mold of a prototypical point guard, but — then again — the NBA has evolved into a position-less league. Players of all shapes and sizes do everything nowadays. And Simmons — just four games into his NBA career — is among those leading the charge.
“I mean, we all see how gifted he is physically,” Brown said. “Him, with the ball, able to do the things he does, produces a lot of these mismatches and numbers.
“We’re able to post him. He’s able to seal the pick-and-rolls. You see how gifted he is in open court. He’s got that breakaway speed that is jaw-dropping. And he’s 6-foot-10.”
Simmons, to his credit, was extremely humble when asked about his triple-double accomplishment after the game. But it’s possible the 21-year-old phenom was unaware of the elite company he joined and how rare a feat it was to put up a triple-double just four games into his career.
When Simmons notched his 10th assist on Joel Embiid’s layup with slightly more than minute to play, he became the first player with a triple-double in his first four career games since Hambone Williams in 1967. The only other player in NBA history to do so? Oscar Robertson, in 1960.
“I feel like this stat line, we’ve kind of seen a snapshot of it the first three games,” Brown said. “It just seems a bit more special when it’s associated with a win.”
Win or not, Simmons has made it abundantly clear Monday night that — even with Markelle Fultz in the mix — he’s the Sixers’ point guard. No ands or buts about it.
When it was made clear in April that Brown wanted the versatile rookie to play point guard, the controversial decision was met with raised eyebrows. But Brown, to his credit, hasn’t wavered. And today, by all accounts, that gamble is paying off.
“You know, the decision to make him our point guard is challenged in some some way,” he said. “But as an organization, we stayed strong that that’s where we want to play him.”
It was a gutsy call by Brown at the time, and while the Sixers may only be four games into the season, it’s proving to be the right call.