Will Ben Simmons start shooting 3s this season? If he listens to Brett Brown, yes

Will Ben Simmons start shooting 3s this season? If he listens to Brett Brown, yes

Brett Brown knew the topic was coming.

“We’ll get to Ben [Simmons] in a moment,” he said in the middle of an answer Wednesday afternoon about the Sixers’ perimeter shooting at a luncheon with members of the media in Center City, his first extended public remarks about his team since May. 

He addressed a few other matters first, but Brown did indeed eventually “get to Ben,” a 23-year-old All-Star with perhaps the most discussed jump shot in basketball. Between the last time Brown had spoken about Simmons and Wednesday, a fair amount had happened with his point guard's jump shot.

We’d heard Tobias Harris say Simmons was knocking down three-point jumpers during offseason workouts, looked to Al Horford’s unique development as a shooter for context with Simmons’ situation, gotten Hall of Fame coach Herb Magee’s thoughts on the subject, learned Simmons was withdrawing from the FIBA World Cup to focus on preparing for the season and watched him make a bunch of jump shots in summer pickup games. 

For me, it starts here and here first, completely: the willingness to shoot,” Brown said. “The time that he has invested over the course of this summer is the best by a long shot that he ever has. His awareness of this thing in the marketplace — he's prideful, he gets it. His confidence that I saw when he came back to Philadelphia and played in our gym the past few weeks just stood out. It's shown as if he had invested time, and he was looking forward to showing us, showing his teammates, [showing] me, proving it to himself. I feel like he's going to have a tremendous season again. 

“He's a 23-year-old All-Star. … Overall, my judgment's going to be just a willingness to shoot. Might I at training camp have whoever's guarding Ben just go back to the paint and not defend him on a few? Maybe. But I'm with him. He is our starting point guard. He's my point guard. We're going to grow him as such. This stuff, where you have an opportunity to shoot, will certainly be cheerleaded by me, but most importantly, he's invested the time to shoot the shot better than he has. Now it gets back to that confidence, that willingness to shoot it when the opportunity presents.

How will Brown aim to encourage that confidence, and how far will it extend? Firstly, he said Simmons won’t be spending time in the “dunker spot,” the short corner/low block region Simmons occupied often last year when Jimmy Butler was handling the ball. With Butler’s departure, Simmons will be the team’s primary ball handler.

“I mean, let's face it, I'm sure he didn't like not having the ball in his hands and I don't blame him,” Brown said. “I think to give him the ball back, obviously, would be a more exciting environment then how it played out at the end of last year.”

One might reasonably have anticipated that development as a result of Butler heading to Miami. Where Brown wants Simmons to be when he’s off the ball, however, was perhaps more notable.

“You're probably going to see him in one of the corners,” Brown said. “I'm going to start there. We're going to encourage him to shoot threes.”

Anyone who was followed the Sixers over the last two seasons is likely familiar with Simmons’ history — or lack thereof — as a three-point shooter. He’s 0 for 18 in his NBA career from three-point range, with end-of-quarter heaves making up the large majority of those attempts

The Sixers’ offense is focused on living in the corners this season, with new assistant coach Joseph Blair advocating for tweaks to the team’s spacing principles (see story). If Simmons has improved his jump shot to the point that defenses need to give it some degree of respect, there’s no reason to keep him in the dunker spot.

Brown did later clarify that him “encouraging” Simmons to shoot threes doesn’t equate to an unconditional green light.

“With Ben, we're not going to hunt threes," he said. "When they are available, I want him to shoot them. Just sort of the reckless use of threes doesn't sort of tie into my initial statement of our team being huge. I do think we can play a style of play that is just smash mouth defense and bully ball offense; I think that this team has the ability to do that. So it leans more toward that than let's come down and crank out threes.”

Additionally, although Brown didn’t say this, Simmons shooting a high volume of jump shots at a low percentage would of course hurt the Sixers’ offense. 

As Brown said, however, “once he needs to be guarded, the rules change.” Defenses can’t collapse into the paint on Simmons, he becomes a threat to do more than pass or drive out of the pick-and-roll and there’s no longer one obvious man to use on double teams against Embiid in the post.

We’ve considered these changes in theoretical form for some time. If Simmons listens to his coach and takes jump shots when he’s open this season, we’ll start to shift from the theoretical to the real. 

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Ben Simmons hitting a 3 is nice, but everything else he did in Sixers' win over Knicks even more impressive

Ben Simmons hitting a 3 is nice, but everything else he did in Sixers' win over Knicks even more impressive

Ben Simmons hit his first NBA three Wednesday night against the Knicks.

By the end of the game, it almost felt like a footnote to those who watched the entirety of the Sixers’ 109-104 win at the Wells Fargo Center Wednesday night (see observations). That’s because the Knicks stormed out of the halftime break with a 15-0 run and led by as many as 17 before Simmons willed the Sixers to the victory.

Sure, it was great to see Simmons hit the three.

But the defensive effort he gave and the way he ran the team in the third quarter showed what makes Simmons truly special.

I thought Ben's defensive intensity was as good as it's been,” Brett Brown said. “I think that him in his leadership, sort of controlling the game and giving him the freedom to make play calls after free throws, as an example, and him doing a great job of being smart of what that looked like. I thought he was outstanding with his presence. I really thought he helped change the whole landscape, especially in the second half.

The stat line looks good: 18 points (7 of 9 from the field, 3 of 4 from the line, 1 of 1 from three), 13 assists, seven rebounds, a block and a steal.

But that doesn’t even come close to telling the story. 

The Sixers were up two at the half on the Knicks, who were shooting the lights out. Then New York came out of the break guns blazing, led by guards Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. Furkan Korkmaz, starting for Josh Richardson, struggled mightily on the defensive end. Brown then turned to Shake Milton, who didn’t fare much better.

At that point, Brown stopped messing around and put Simmons on Ntilikina. Simmons not only stopped the bleeding defensively, he pushed the basketball up the floor at every turn.

With his unique skill set, Simmons has Defensive Player of the Year potential. His explosiveness and guard skills at his size are what made him the No. 1 overall pick and an All-Star.

Yes, it was against the Knicks, but all of that was on full display.

“I wouldn't say like my role, it's just how I am as a player,” Simmons said when asked about jumpstarting his team in the third. “I hate losing, hearing our fans boo — I mean, that annoys me also, that fuels the fire. So, for me, I'm all about winning. However I gotta get it done, I'm gonna get it done.”

Oh, and by the way, Simmons hit a three.

Early in the first quarter, Korkmaz took a couple dribbles to his right and got the ball to Simmons in the corner on a bounce pass. Then Simmons rose up with no hesitation and … swish. He then trotted down the other end of the court as if he’d made 100 threes before it.

It only took 172 games, but Simmons did it. When asked about his reaction, Simmons downplayed it in typical Simmons’ fashion.

“You saw my reaction,” Simmons deadpanned.

When pressed further, Simmons did admit that he was glad to see the fruits of his labor this summer pay off.

“I mean, it feels good. Yeah, you put work into something and it pays off.”

The Sixers have been unbelievably patient with Simmons’ unwillingness to shoot. So much so that there’s been criticism of Brown for not “forcing” Simmons to shoot more.

To hear Simmons tell it, it sure sounds like he’s grateful for his coach not going that route.

“I think it's getting better with time and different experiences,” Simmons said. “I think I'm just growing as a player and that's what happens when you give somebody a little bit more leeway and trust in them a little bit more.”

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Joel Embiid keeps his new vow, though he thinks technical and flagrant fouls are 'starting to get ridiculous'

Joel Embiid keeps his new vow, though he thinks technical and flagrant fouls are 'starting to get ridiculous'

Joel Embiid has one suspension in his career, a two-game verdict handed down by the NBA on Halloween for a fight with the Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns and subsequent “escalation” that included shadowboxing to the delight of the crowd at Wells Fargo Center and jabs on social media in the wee hours of the morning. If he’s true to his word, that will be his last.

That’s what Embiid said Wednesday night after a second-quarter incident with Marcus Morris in the Sixers’ 109-104 win over the Knicks for which he was assessed a technical foul and Morris was given both a technical and a Flagrant 1.

“Obviously get away from the whole situation, which I did,” Embiid said. “I backed away. I vowed to never get suspended again, so that’s never going to happen. I’ve gotta limit my technical fouls. If someone is going to push me on the ground, that’s something I can’t control. But what I can control is I can’t be the instigator and actually start it. Going to do my job. My teammates need me to be on the floor, so that’s what I believe.”

Embiid was strong in his criticism of the referees’ decision to give him a technical. 

I didn’t have anything with him. I just got thrown on the ground and I literally don’t know why I got a technical foul, being the victim. I didn’t do anything. I feel like it’s starting to get ridiculous with the flagrants. Even the last one — I mean, I make a play and they still call a flagrant. This one, I have nothing to do, and I get thrown on the ground, and I get a technical foul. … It’s just annoying.

In the midst of his comments, he seemed to catch himself. A player who wants to avoid fines, suspensions and the like would probably be wise to adopt a more diplomatic approach.

“I feel like we’re all humans,” he continued. “Referees, they’re great guys, they’re great people. Maybe they see something else. I guess I trust whatever they feel that they see.”

Brett Brown surely remembered what happened in a near-identical spot on the floor a little over three weeks earlier, when much of his team ended up in an angry mass of bodies on the ground after Embiid and Towns got tied up. He was quick Wednesday night to plant himself between Morris and Embiid, extending his arms just in case it was necessary to separate the two. He was pleased with Embiid’s response.

“I was happy with that,” he said. “He had the maturity to walk away.”

Though trouble does seem to find Embiid, it would be naive to attribute his history with technical and flagrant fouls solely to bad luck. The two-time All-Star gets under the skin of opponents, embellishes contact, lets overmatched and undersized opponents know they cannot stop him. 

“He’s too big to be flopping,” Morris told reporters. “Just flopping and then grabbing. I’m not the one that’s going to take that. He knows that. He knows what I’m about.” 

The idea of Embiid avoiding such drama completely in the future sounds improbable. But for Embiid, the goal of having his absences be due exclusively to load management, not league-mandated punishment, is reasonable enough.

He said he’ll play in the Sixers’ upcoming home back-to-back, Friday vs. San Antonio and Saturday vs. the Miami Heat and his friend Jimmy Butler. 

So far, so good on that vow.

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