The game got off to a predictable start. The Sixers were crushing the Guangzhou Loong-Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association in their preseason opener Tuesday.
Then, it happened.
With time winding down in the first half and the Sixers with a comically large lead, Ben Simmons pulled up from the right wing and took what Marc Zumoff would describe as a healthy three.
“I mean, it was dope,” Josh Richardson said. “I was wondering why the crowd was standing up and everything and I was like, 'What's happening?' And I looked at the situation and I looked at the clock and I was like, 'Ah, OK.' So I kind of stood in the corner and I kind of did this with my hands like, 'Just shoot it if you want it, bro.' ... He shot a deep one, too. It was a couple steps behind the line. It was great to see him make one in a game.”
The Eagles won Super Bowl LII, the Phillies won the 2008 World Series, our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence — all a distant second in Philadelphia history to Simmons burying his first (preseason) NBA three.
Yet, the generally reserved and efficient-speaking Simmons was unfazed.
“Time running down, I had the ball, so I had to take a shot.”
Did the encouragement of the crowd make you want to shoot?
“I didn’t really hear anything.”
How did it feel?
“I work every day, so to me, it shows. I’m in the gym every day putting in work, so I feel like it’s paying off.”
Surely his head coach, who talked at his annual luncheon about all the work Simmons had put in this summer and how excited he was to see Simmons confidently shoot, was thrilled by the made three.
“He made a shot. Good. And that's kind of personally the extent of it for me,” Brett Brown said. “I think the whole thing is so overblown. I think in general, it's so inflated the attention, and that's what I think. … He's young, we got a long season. I'm just not gonna react over it, and I really mean that. He made a three.”
Perhaps it is “overblown” in the sense that all of Philadelphia is freaking out over a made three in a preseason game against a non-NBA team but for the Sixers, it’s a pretty big deal.
And it’s a huge deal for Simmons. There is no denying how uniquely talented Simmons is. He was the Rookie of the Year and an All-Star before his 23rd birthday. He could legitimately become a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.
But Simmons’ reluctance — practically a refusal — to shoot jumpers has stunted his NBA growth. It caused Brown to take the ball out of Simmons’ hands in the playoff in favor of Jimmy Butler. It relegated Simmons to the “dunker” spot on the floor and made him almost a non-factor offensively in the series against Toronto.
Simmons may be downplaying the significance of making the shot, but he knew this was something that had to happen. That’s why the videos of him banging step-backs and fadeaways made the rounds — Simmons was ready to show the world he could do it.
“I mean, he works on it every day,” Mike Scott said. “When I went in this morning to shoot he was in there working on transition, dribble-up threes — he works on it. We’ve all seen videos of him over the summer hitting them. That’s all his hard work. And a lot more to go. I’m glad he’s confident, he’s shooting it and it was cash. He cashed out.”
As the clock was winding down when Simmons crossed half court, you could see all his teammates encouraging him to fire.
And he did.
“We wanted him to shoot it, for sure,” Tobias Harris said. “He’s one of the best shooters to ever shoot the basketball. Let it fly. He’s 100 percent from three, so I don’t want to hear nothing.”
Brown may have initially downplayed the impact of what this meant to him, Simmons and the rest of the team, but he knows how critical it is.
Sure, it was just one shot in the preseason but if it’s a sign of bigger things to come, it could change the entire narrative around Simmons this season — and for his career.
“I just think it's so overblown and we all get why it's discussed a lot and we understand that the stage of April, May and June — we get like it stands out,” Brown said. “But I still stand by my personal opinion is I think it's overblown and I think it's going to end up growing organically just fine.”
If Ben Simmons hitting threes becomes a non-story, it could be the biggest story of the Sixers’ season.
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