76ers

Ben Simmons' self-awareness came through at practice Wednesday

Ben Simmons' self-awareness came through at practice Wednesday

There has just been a different vibe to Ben Simmons coming into the 2019-20 season.

No, I’m not talking about his quotes about falling back in love with the game. And no, I’m not talking about him launching and swishing a three in the Sixers’ first preseason game.

He’s always been confident in his game — at least he’s always expressed it. There’s just a different aura around him. There’s a maturity that the 23-year-old is exuding that we haven’t quite seen before.

When asked after practice about why he doesn’t feel like he needs to improve as a shooter in order for the Sixers to reach their goals, he gave arguably the most articulate and thoughtful response of his professional career.

It's not that I don't need to do it, it's something that I'm working towards getting better as a player, as you would do as a writer — everybody works to get better. Or him behind the camera — he wasn't the best the first day he started. And that's just my game. I'm confident that I'm not a great shooter. I'm getting better, though. But it's a game. There's five people on the court. I lack something that I'm not as great at but other areas I'm very great at. I run the floor as well as anybody. I'm physical, I can rebound the ball. As a 6-10 point guard, I can guard one through five. So that's just one thing that's coming into my game which I'm excited about. I love getting better. I love spending time in the gym and building confidence.

It’s no secret that in years past Simmons hasn’t always been the most forthright or talkative player on the team. He generally gave short answers and appeared like he just wanted to get the media availability over with.

He has spoken to the media more than ever during training camp and coming into the preseason. He’s focused more on becoming a leader and wanting to make sure his bevy of new teammates are up to speed on the team’s terminology and concepts.

While Simmons' newfound clarity came before his team’s roster overhaul, bringing in players like Al Horford and Josh Richardson certainly hasn’t hurt.

“I think prior to everybody getting in, everybody signing, I already felt that,” Simmons said. “That's just based off me putting in that work and being in the gym every day. With the addition of the new guys, it helps. We got a great team with guys want to be here every day, guys enjoy being around each other and just want to play.”

The Sixers' goals are as lofty as they come. They want to win a championship. Nobody around the team has been shy about saying it. 

Certainly not this version of Ben Simmons.

“I feel like everybody is very motivated,” Simmons said. “Al leaving Boston and Josh coming from Miami, the rooks coming in, Matisse [Thybulle] has been killing it. Guys just have a chip on the shoulder and I feel like guys want to be better and win a championship. And that's the level we're at. I think we have a great team.”

After all the talk about his shot and his role being lessened in the playoffs, does he have a chip on his shoulder?

“Nah. Not at all.”

And yeah, he can still be a little snarky when he wants to be.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Ben Simmons responds to potentially playing a different role for Sixers

Ben Simmons responds to potentially playing a different role for Sixers

Ben Simmons is exceptionally versatile, and he does not have a difficult time describing the multitude of things he can do well on a basketball court besides shoot. 

“I’m a basketball player at the end of the day,” he said in a video conference call Tuesday. “You know me, you put me on the floor, I’ll make anything happen, whether it’s plays, buckets, stops. I’ll guard anybody 1 through 5, I’ll run the floor, I can get to the rim, I can score the ball and I make plays happen. 

“So wherever you put me — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 — it’s going to happen. I don’t really look at it as a title or position. That’s mainly for you guys to put down in your articles.” 

Reporters’ articles on Monday were obligated to mention that Brett Brown said he has been using Simmons exclusively as a power forward in the Sixers’ practices at Disney World, and that he’s been employing Shake Milton as the team’s starting point. Simmons did not seem worried about whether that shift meant he’d now have the ball in his hands less often. 

“It’s basketball, you’ve gotta get the ball,” he said.

Fair enough. 

In the eight games Milton and Simmons started together between Jan. 25 and Feb. 9, the two-time All-Star was often stationed as a playmaker at the elbow and still had many chances to be the hub of the offense, like on the play below vs. the Lakers. Milton dished the ball off to Simmons and then set a cross screen to free Tobias Harris, who Simmons hit for an open three. 

Simmons averaged 20.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.4 assists during that stretch, and the Sixers went 4-4. He may not be as commanding an all-around presence as his star teammate, but Milton is a multi-dimensional offensive player, one Simmons feels complements him effectively. 

“He plays really well,” Simmons said of Milton. “He can shoot the ball, he has a high IQ, he can get to the rim, he can finish. He’s just somebody you can play with, and you can say something to him and he’ll put it into play and try it out. And that’s what you need in somebody like Shake or players like that. He’s developing still and he’s come a long way since the first day I’ve seen him play. He’s only getting better.”

If the Sixers ultimately decide to start the never-used lineup of Milton, Josh Richardson, Harris, Simmons and Joel Embiid — Brown emphasized again Tuesday that it’s still “incredibly early” in this second training camp of sorts — one imagines we’ll see less of Simmons as a middle pick-and-roll ball handler and more of him as a screener. Ideally, that would mean fewer possessions where the defense sags off and Simmons’ weakness as a shooter hurts the team.

It also should mean greater opportunity for Simmons to grow pick-and-roll partnerships with Milton and Richardson.

Given how the Sixers had fallen short of their expectations before the NBA’s hiatus, Simmons is open to experimentation. He just doesn't care about the labels.

You've just gotta work with different things,” he said. “You’ve gotta try different things out, see if they work. We’re not at a stage where we can be comfortable yet. I’m still trying to figure it out myself ... what feels comfortable, what’s right for this team and how we’re gonna win. 

“If it’s this way, then I’m all for it. I’ve been having fun in that position — whatever you guys say, the four — whatever it is. But at the end of the day, when you see me I’m on the floor, I’m making plays.

As for who will handle the ball late in close playoff games, Brown has not yet settled on an answer. 

“He does have the ball at times,” Brown said of Simmons. “I have played him as a four-man. And so I suspect that will continue where I use him in many ways, and I think that when it gets a little bit closer than four days into practice, I’ll probably be able to give you more detail. 

“But I think about it all the time and we still have a lot of things as it relates to just to the preseason games, the eight regular-season games — the runway is long. We have enough time to establish a lot of these things that might remain a little uncertain or flexible.”

With Simmons’ unique skill set, the ultimate correct answer might not be a simple or conventional one. 

Subscribe and rate Sixers Talk: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | YouTube



Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

2 NBA players tested positive for COVID-19 in Orlando; Richaun Holmes breaches 'bubble'

2 NBA players tested positive for COVID-19 in Orlando; Richaun Holmes breaches 'bubble'

Former Sixer Richaun Holmes breached the NBA’s health and safety regulations by picking up a food delivery, he said Monday afternoon. 

Holmes will now have to quarantine for eight additional days. 

Earlier Monday, ESPN reported that the Rockets’ Bruno Caboclo unintentionally broke quarantine. 

Shortly after Holmes released his statement, the NBA and NBPA announced that two players of the 322 tested in Orlando since July 7 were positive for the coronavirus. Those players never cleared quarantine, according to the joint statement. 

All-Star Rockets guard Russell Westbrook announced Monday that he tested positive for COVID-19 before Houston’s departure and is quarantined. New Sixer Ryan Broekhoff said Sunday he didn’t travel with the Sixers to Orlando so that he could focus on his family after his wife tested positive.

Joel Embiid was skeptical last week that all players would follow the league’s protocols.

“Some guys like to go out and some guys like to do stuff, (there are) some guys that like adventure,” he said. “So that’s the way I’m thinking. I know myself. I know I’m not going to put everybody else at risk, but the question is, is everybody else going to do the same? And just being around this business, I surely don’t think so.”

A second-round pick of the Sixers in 2015, Holmes played the first three seasons of his career in Philadelphia as an athletic, high-energy backup big man. He’s had the best season of his career with the Kings, posting 12.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game this year. 

Subscribe and rate Sixers Talk: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | YouTube



Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers