Sixers test Ben Simmons' defensive versatility in loss to Celtics

Sixers test Ben Simmons' defensive versatility in loss to Celtics


Ben Simmons is not letting himself off the hook for his mistakes. 

After assessing his performance in the preseason opener a seven out of 10, he cracked down on his errors in the Sixers’ 110-102 loss to the Celtics on Friday (see observations).

“Tonight, six or five,” Simmons graded himself. “Too many turnovers, obviously, too many offensive fouls on (Aron) Baynes.”

Simmons committed a game-high five turnovers, compared to just one against the Grizzlies. He accounted for over 20 percent of the team’s total 24 giveaways. Simmons’ early foul trouble (four total) factored into that. He was whistled for two offensive fouls against Baynes while trying to score on the big man at the basket. 

“We’ve got to continue to grow the jump stop, avoiding the collision and coming into a maybe more controlled environment,” Brett Brown said. 

Simmons scored eight points in 23 minutes (see highlights). He shot 3 for 8 from the field and struggled at the line (2 for 6). Brown is encouraging Simmons to shoot more jumpers throughout the preseason.

The Sixers are learning something new about Simmons each game. On Friday, they studied how he matches up defending smaller players. Simmons started the game on power forward Jayson Tatum. He switched to small forward Gordon Hayward, shooting guard Jaylen Brown and was later tasked with standout point guard Kyrie Irving. 

There was a seven-inch height differential between Irving and Simmons, not to mention six years of experience, four All-Star appearances and an NBA championship. 

“It was good to be matched up against a great point guard like him and get a feel for that,” Simmons said. 

Irving noticed areas of improvement for Simmons in that matchup. The 2011 No. 1 pick also saw potential in his 2016 counterpart. 

“It’s going to be an adjustment [for Simmons],” Irving said. “Understanding that when he’s at the point guard role and he’s there, he’s going to be going against some dynamic players, including myself. 

“He did an incredible job of running the team tonight. He’s a great young player. He’s going to continue to get better. Coach Brown’s putting the ball in his hands, so when you have the ball in your hands, you’re able to make some decisions. But on the defensive end, it’s our job to take advantage of that.” 

Simmons could get another look at these same matchups in a matter of a few days. The Sixers play the Celtics again on Monday in Boston. 

Sixers avoid another near-disaster with comeback

AP Images

Sixers avoid another near-disaster with comeback


The Sixers got back on track at the Wells Fargo Center with a 120-116 down-to-the-wire win Friday over the Nets. They had to climb out of a 13-point deficit and play disciplined down the stretch to overcome the Nets, who have proved pesky this season. 

The Sixers moved up to 38-30 with the victory while the Nets fell to 22-48.

• Fans sang “Happy Birthday” to Joel Embiid while he shot free throws and then got creative with a new chant: “E-M-B-I-I-D Embiid” to the tune of “E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles.” Embiid posted 24 points, a career-high 19 rebounds, four assists and two blocks in spite of shooting 6 for 23 from the field. He was a perfect 11 of 11 from the free throw line.

• A timeline for determining Markelle Fultz’s availability still has not been set, Brett Brown said pregame. 

“I think at some point soon a decision is going to have to be made so that we can progress forward,” Brown said. “But sincerely, there is nothing going on right now that you all don’t know that I know.”

When asked if he thinks Fultz will play this season, Brown replied, “I truly don’t know.” 

• Former Sixers Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas returned to the Wells Fargo Center for the first time since being traded to the Nets in December. Okafor was greeted with some boos when he checked in, and the jeers got louder when he touched the ball. Okafor scored 10 points with three boards in 13 minutes.

Okafor said it was “weird” being in the visitors’ locker room and spending the night in a hotel. He actually got lost finding his way through a different arena entrance. 

“Being here where my NBA career basically started, it feels good to be back and see some familiar faces,” he said before the game. 

• Justin Anderson (11 points) got playing time after falling out of the rotation as of late. He dropped nine points in the first quarter off a trio of threes. More importantly, Anderson played tough defense with Embiid on Spencer Dinwiddie with 21 seconds left in regulation to maintain the Sixers’ lead. 

• Ben Simmons neared another triple-double (21 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds), which is becoming a common occurrence. Dario Saric (nine points) failed to score in double digits for only the second time since the beginning of December. 

• D’Angelo Russell, who averaged 24 points in the first two games against the Sixers, scored only eight points (3 for 14 from the field). The Nets were led by 21 points and 10 rebounds from Chester, Pa., native Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. 

• Hall of Famer Allen Iverson stood courtside to watch the game go down to the wire. Check out the whole video to see how he addressed the crowd. 

• Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman was also in attendance. 

Wait, Ben Simmons might not be a PG forever?

USA Today Images

Wait, Ben Simmons might not be a PG forever?

NEW YORK — Ben Simmons was on the verge of becoming an All-Star NBA point guard in only his first season. But is that position set in stone for the rest of his career? Not necessarily, according to Brett Brown.

"I think to anoint him 'you're only a point guard forever' is not in my mind," Brown said before the Sixers' 118-110 win over the Knicks. "I think it's going to be a one (point guard) or a four (power forward), that's where I see him."

Simmons doesn't have his sights sets on an or in this situation. 

"Definitely a one, not four," Simmons said. "I don't want to play a four. I mean, I'll play the four but I don't want to be predominantly in the four position because I feel like I can do a lot more from the point guard position, as you've seen."

The 6-10 Simmons has been powering through the one spot and setting milestones along the way. He passed Magic Johnson for second-most triple-doubles by an NBA rookie (eight) with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists Thursday against the Knicks. Simmons now ranks second among rookies behind only Oscar Robertson, who holds the record at 26. 

He also joined Oscar and Magic as the only three players to reach 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in a rookie season. Simmons is averaging 16.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.7 steals in 34.5 minutes. 

Despite those stats and Simmons' pass-first mentality, Brown still sees an opportunity at power forward. 

"There could be advantages with other four men, slower four men, trying to guard him," Brown said. "Right now, I try to post him a lot. I think that's offensively, if the game is slowed down, where he can have the most impact. But I think four-one, one-four is sort of where my mind is at, tilting more to a one." 

All of this is not to say Simmons is replacing Dario Saric in the starting lineup at power forward tomorrow. It still remains to be seen how the Sixers pair Simmons and sidelined rookie Markelle Fultz, who can play point and shooting guard. The design of rotations could also change because of additions in free agency. 

"We'll look at that as our team's future unfolds," Brown said.

In the meantime, Simmons knows where he wants to be on the court. 

"If he tries to (move me to power forward), I'll let him know," Simmons said with a smile. "We have such a great relationship where I can talk to him. I wouldn't be opposed to trying it, but if it just didn't feel right then obviously I'd let him know."