'If it's open, I'll take it' — How things have changed with Ben Simmons' shot

'If it's open, I'll take it' — How things have changed with Ben Simmons' shot

CAMDEN, N.J. — A little less than a year ago, Ben Simmons had a simple response to the question of whether he was planning to attempt three-point shots.

“No. I’m not going to come out and shoot threes,” he said. 

There were other parts of his offensive game he hoped to improve on, Simmons said, but the three-point shot wasn’t in the picture for the 2018-19 season.

When asked Monday at the Sixers' media day his thoughts on Brett Brown encouraging him to take threes, Simmons' answer was, in typical fashion, concise. However, his attitude had changed.

“It’s just a part of the game,” Simmons said. “If it’s open, I’ll take it.”

Outside shooting is indeed just a part of basketball, but it’s one that those who follow the Sixers have been fixated on with Simmons. The 23-year-old All-Star does so many other things well, from sparking the offense with his breakneck speed and creative passing in transition to guarding just about every position on the floor.

He’s yet to make a three-point shot in the NBA, though, and his track record both with any type of jump shot and from the foul line is poor. He shot 23.8 percent from 10 feet and out last season, while his free throw percentage improved slightly, from 56 to 60 percent.

The criticism about Simmons’ biggest weakness has been widespread, and he acknowledged Monday that he’s heard it and let it affect him in the past. He said something changed this summer. 

I think I was just too worried about what people are saying and what was going on around me, outside noises. And I was able to really block them out this summer and not really focus on what people were saying. At the end of the day, I don’t really care anymore unless it’s coming from someone in my circle or somebody that’s trying to help me get better.

Simmons worked on his game in Los Angeles this summer with trainer Chris Johnson, who released several videos full of highlight-reel dunks and swished jumpers. 

“We’ve been working on everything from ball handling to touch around the rim, floaters, jumpers, threes, whatever it is,” Simmons said. “Getting a consistent rhythm. I feel comfortable.”

Tobias Harris trained some with Simmons in L.A. and was impressed with what he saw.

“He’s a gym rat," Harris said. "He was in the gym all summer up until now. ... I’ve seen a lot of growth in him, not only on the basketball floor but off the floor, too — his maturity and where his mindset is on this upcoming year."

Simmons agreed with Harris’ assessment. He’s aware of the high expectations around the Sixers and is determined to meet them. He mostly deflected questions about individual accolades — besides stating his ambition to win Defensive Player of the Year — and said his focus is on winning a championship.

“It’s actually funny, I was talking to my brother about that the other day,” he said. “I was talking to him; ‘I just think I’m locked in.’ I don’t know what’s changed, a switch or whatever it was, but I feel locked in. I feel ready. This summer’s been huge for me, just working.”

So, how will that shift in mentality manifest itself in games this season? Will things really be as straightforward as Simmons taking jumpers when he’s open, or will he ultimately prefer to take the interior shots he already knows he can convert at a decent rate in NBA games? 

While Brown has said he wants Simmons to be confident shooting jumpers, there won’t be an unconditional green light — he won’t “hunt threes" for his point guard. What does Simmons and the Sixers not actively seeking out long range shots but still shooting them when open (and with confidence) actually look like? What kind of impact would it have on the Sixers' offense?

A reporter wondered whether all the questions about Simmons’ jumper ever get tiring.

“The jump shot stuff, I don’t really care,” he said.

He might be the only one.

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Furkan Korkmaz sparks sudden blaze, then leaps over logic

Furkan Korkmaz sparks sudden blaze, then leaps over logic

There came a point Friday night during Furkan Korkmaz’s career-best 24-point performance when everyone at Wells Fargo Center seemed to collectively shrug and say, “Sure. Why not?”

Korkmaz had already flashed his trademark skill, hitting four three-pointers in under two minutes during a sudden blaze at the end of the third quarter.

With a little less than seven minutes to go in the Sixers’ 100-89 win, he stared down Bulls center Cristiano Felicio. The 22-year-old then crossed Felicio over, blew past him, dunked and let out an exultant scream. 

“At that time of the game, I was really feeling it,” Korkmaz said. “I got that confidence. When I saw the open lane, I just took off. I was also not expecting that, but I just dunked it. That was a good moment.”

Korkmaz wasn’t done, though. He missed a well-earned heat check on the Sixers’ next possession, but dropped in a floater shortly after. And, just to confirm that it was indeed his night, he took a charge on Bulls star Zach LaVine. 

Which play did he enjoy more?

“It’s a tough question, but I think I would say the dunk,” Korkmaz said honestly.

This isn’t the first time Korkmaz has changed a game this season with his shotmaking. He had nine key fourth-quarter points Wednesday vs. Brooklyn, blew up the Bucks’ zone in the third quarter on Christmas and made the game-winning three on Nov. 2 in Portland.

The Sixers declined Korkmaz’s third-year option last year, then let him sit on the free-agent market until July 25. Though they billed him as a young, promising player, their actions suggested Korkmaz was not a prominent part of their plans. He appeared to be on the fringe of the rotation.

Brett Brown hasn’t passed up many chances to laud Korkmaz, and he had a great opportunity Friday.

It’s really quite a — to say it's incredible would be too dramatic — but it's a heck of a story, isn't it? Just where he was and where he is. For us to see him — and he's young, can't forget his birth certificate — for us to see him come in and do JJ [Redick]-like stuff and have that type of a bomber, that was different. … We ran probably, I don't know, five plays in a row going to him. 

“I had flashbacks of JJ. We jumped into JJ's package and he changed the game. He gave us a spark and whether it was a three ball — I don't remember JJ dunking like that … but the long shot and just like bam, bam, bam — quick points, buckets — fueled our defense.

While Korkmaz deserves credit for translating his hypothetical value as a shooter into real contributions this year — he’s made 71 threes, tied with Tobias Harris for most on the team, and converted 39 percent — he will probably not maintain Friday's euphoric high. 

He’s devoted time and energy to improving his defense, but the question of whether he’ll be able to hold his own in the playoffs remains open and valid. If he’s not sinking shots, his impact tends to not be positive. Any moves the Sixers make before the Feb. 6 trade deadline could shift his role, too.

But, for the time being, he is playing with an apparently limitless self-belief.

“As a player you just need to get that confidence,” he said. “When you start to feel good on the court and also your teammates see that, your coaching staff sees that — I think today everybody saw that I was feeling it — and I knew that I had to shoot those looks. I just take the open shots, that’s all I do.”

Brown is clearly relishing in Korkmaz’s success.

“He's quality people,” Brown said. “He's a genuine person and you're proud of that, too. Good things happen to good people ... He's put in the time and to his credit, he came in and changed the landscape of an NBA game. And he did it quite emphatically. It wasn't like it was swept under the carpet. He did it where ESPN and all of us and his teammates, probably more importantly, felt his success.”

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Furkan Korkmaz, Al Horford building a budding bromance

Furkan Korkmaz, Al Horford building a budding bromance

Sometimes, new teammates just seem to click. For one reason or another, guys gravitate towards one another.

For the Sixers, a budding bromance seems to be brewing between veteran Al Horford and youngster Furkan Korkmaz.

After Korkmaz had a monster game, scoring a career-high 24 points in the Sixers’ win over the Bulls Friday, Horford couldn’t help but gush over the Turkish wing.

He’s just great,” Horford said to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters postgame. “He continues to get better, his confidence continues to grow. He’s a guy that’s a big piece for us. He’s figuring it out and as the season goes on, you can just see the improvement.

Then he took to Twitter to show even more love.

To which Korkmaz endearingly responded.

The play in the picture was this dunk off a drive which got Korkmaz to 22 points.

This isn’t the first time the pair have shown a kinship. After Korkmaz hit a few big shots on Christmas day against the Bucks, Horford was effusive in his praise. And when Korkmaz hit the game-winner in Portland, he credited the 33-year-old Horford.

I knew that Al (Horford) was going to set a good pick and try to get me open to make the shot. … I was wide open. I just let it fly, and I made it. That was also a huge comeback from double digits (down). Horford, I think, made a lot of shots.

While their bromance is alive and well, Ben Simmons also took to Twitter to celebrate his teammate’s big night.

Tobias Harris also retweeted that post.

Safe to say, the Sixers are pretty Furkan happy right now.

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