76ers

'Freakish' Ben Simmons believes Sixers have right mindset going into 2017-18

'Freakish' Ben Simmons believes Sixers have right mindset going into 2017-18

Ben Simmons is healthy and champing at the bit.

After suffering a Jones fracture in his right foot that cost him the 2016-17 season, the Sixers' point guard/forward is gearing up for his rookie season. The 21-year-old has been working out at the Sixers' practice facility in Camden, New Jersey.

"I'm excited," the 2016 No. 1 overall pick said Thursday. "I haven't played in a year. I've been playing pick up the last few days, so it's been really good. I'm feeling great and I'm ready to get out there."

The Sixers partnered with PAL in refurbishing a gym that was unveiled Thursday in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of Philadelphia. Simmons, teammate Amir Johnson and owner Josh Harris were on hand for the event. The gym was in such bad shape, a staffer referred to it as "unusable" before PAL and the Sixers got involved on the three-year project. 

For Simmons, he hopes it's just the start of his philanthropy work around the city. 

"Now that I'm healthy," he said, "I think I want to contribute a lot more to the city of Philadelphia. I think that's what they deserve. "

Simmons is equally eager to contribute on the court. Head coach Brett Brown said last season he planned to use the 6-foot-10 Simmons as a point guard. He reinforced that stance Thursday (see story)

With the arrivals of Markelle Fultz and JJ Redick, two players that seem to suit Simmons' skill set perfectly, Simmons is ready to accept the challenges ahead.

"We have a great team," Simmons said. "A great young team. Some great vets we've acquired in the past season. But I'm just looking forward to going out there and just building."

One of those vets is Johnson. A second-round pick by the Pistons out of high school back in 2005, Johnson has also spent time with the Raptors and Celtics. 

During those stints, he's seen some special players. He played on a loaded Pistons team that featured Chauncey Billups and Philly native Rasheed Wallace. With Toronto, he got to play DeMar DeRozan and another local product in Kyle Lowry. He spent the last two seasons playing alongside Isaiah Thomas in Boston.

For as much talent as he's been around, he's never seen anyone quite like Simmons.

"Unbelievable, man," Johnson said of Simmons. "Freakish athlete. The stuff I've seen him do just training, it almost seems like it's not fair. You get a guard to switch on him, you get a big to switch on him. He's just an unbelievable athlete and an unbelievable scorer and an unbelievable passer. He can do it all."

The promise of a young core that features Simmons, Fultz and Joel Embiid has fans salivating. The addition of a veteran sharpshooter like Redick has created palpable playoff buzz.

Johnson is battle tested. He's played in 42 career playoff games (24 starts). He knows what it takes to get to the postseason and sustain success. Johnson came to the Sixers because of his relationship with Bryan Colangelo and because he saw what they were building.

But as far as playoff talk goes, Johnson is pumping the brakes.

"One thing I know is it's very hard to win in this league," Johnson said. "For us, as a team, all we can control is working out, getting better as individuals and getting better as a team and taking it one day at a time. I know a lot of people have a bunch of talk about playoffs but it's very hard to win even a single game."

Unlike a couple of his fellow young teammates, Simmons hasn't been as boisterous when it comes to talking about the Sixers in the postseason. Simmons is just focusing on the here and now.

Besides, his ultimate goal is much bigger.

"At the end of the day, our goal is to win games, and that means championships," Simmons said. "So for us, playoffs is definitely where we want to be. And we want to win rings. I think everybody has the right idea in their heads."

Banged-up Fultz is latest chapter in Sixers' painful rookie history

Banged-up Fultz is latest chapter in Sixers' painful rookie history

CAMDEN, N.J. — Brett Brown has been here before. The scenario isn’t as drastic in the past, but it’s familiar nonetheless: starting the season with an injured rookie for the fifth straight year.

Markelle Fultz will begin his first NBA season dealing with ongoing right shoulder and right knee soreness. The No. 1 pick is expected to play on opening night Wednesday, but will come off the bench after appearing in only two preseason games. 

Brown has learned to manage this type of situation after years of experience. Nerlens Noel missed Brown’s entire first season because of an ACL injury. Joel Embiid sat out the following two seasons with foot injuries. Ben Simmons suffered a season-ending foot fracture in last year’s training camp. 

The biggest lesson? 

“To go slow,” Brown said. “To not put them in a position where it’s going to produce some difficult times.” 

Fultz was likely to be a starter when the Sixers traded up to draft him first overall in June. The 19-year-old guard hasn’t had that much experience since then thanks to injuries in both summer league and preseason. 

The Sixers face John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry in the first three games alone. That would be a tall defensive task if Fultz were to start. 

“This league is driven by men, this league is driven by veterans,” Brown said. “To just put him in that environment is just, I think, poor coaching and I’m not doing it.”

Just as Simmons took advice from Embiid during his injury, he is offering words of wisdom to Fultz.

“[You’ve] got to to take your time and you definitely have to take care of your body,” Simmons said. “Put your body first. There’s no need to rush.”

The Sixers have the backcourt depth to adjust without Fultz in the starting lineup. They have been turning to veteran Jerryd Bayless at shooting guard alongside Simmons, their intended backcourt pairing last season. 

In the meantime, Brown will balance Fultz’s health, his growth as an NBA player, and the team’s success. 

“The end game needs to be developing Markelle Fultz," Brown said. 

Joel Embiid disappointed Brett Brown has him on another minutes limit

Joel Embiid disappointed Brett Brown has him on another minutes limit

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid would like to play 48 minutes every game. The Sixers are looking at a maximum of 20 for opening night.

"I don't really know if there's a solid number," Brett Brown said Monday after practice. "I can tell if you were to choose a number, it's somewhere in the teens."

Embiid was hoping for more playing time on Wednesday against the Wizards, his first regular-season game since Jan. 27 (left knee surgery).

"I didn't know about that, but that's very disappointing," Embiid said Monday of the minutes restriction. "I feel great and hopefully that changes based on today's practice and tomorrow's practice."

The Sixers are being cautious with Embiid, who has both a lengthy history of injuries and a massive new contract extension. He clocked 15 minutes in both of his preseason games last week. Embiid felt he could have played twice as many minutes.

While the Sixers aren't ready to go as high as 30 minutes yet, they could exercise some wiggle room based on the flow of the game.

"There will be some minutes restrictions, but it's also a judgment of how is the game being played, not just looking at rote, rigid number," Brown said.

The NBA's new timeout rules could impact Embiid's playing time. The updated format changes include a decrease in the maximum number of timeouts allowed (18 to 14), 75-second team timeouts and fewer timeouts in the final minutes of the game. 

"One of the things that we're doing this year unlike previous years is there's a little bit of a looseness in relation to it doesn't have to be rigid if the game didn't dictate some track meet," Brown said. "This is like I'm coaching in the London Olympic Games again. The game moves. I can have guys at a scorers table for two minutes with no stoppage. So sometimes the torrid pace of a game doesn't favor Jo where you go flying up and down."

In addition to individual games, it remains to be seen if Embiid will be cleared this season for back-to-backs. The Sixers face their first set of consecutive games this Friday and Saturday against the Celtics at home and the Raptors in Toronto.