76ers

Ben Simmons' willingness to shoot jumpers could change everything for Sixers

Ben Simmons' willingness to shoot jumpers could change everything for Sixers

Ben Simmons notched his 18th career triple-double Saturday night in the Sixers' win over the Mavericks, but that’s not the big story.

Simmons willingly took four jump shots and made two of them. For most perimeter players, this isn’t much of a development. For Simmons, it’s huge.

But to his credit, this isn’t a one-game phenomena. Ever since the Sixers’ Christmas day loss in Boston, Simmons has been taking jumpers regularly. Save for the team’s win in Phoenix, Simmons has taken multiple jump shots in every game since.

While Brett Brown hasn’t been forceful, Simmons know how his coach feels about him shooting more.

His jump shot is going to come on his own terms,” Brown said. “Never have I pivoted away from saying, ‘Hey, I’d like to see a jump shot.’ I want to start growing him to corner threes …

“It’s coming. It’s coming and it needs to come. Tonight, he was [2 for 4] from longer shots outside the paint. So it’s coming, but it’s coming on his terms. He’s aware that we’re not going to do what we want to do unless he [takes jump shots]. To me, it’s not anything else but a mentality.

It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the loss to the Celtics seems to have served as a catalyst to Simmons’ newfound willingness to shoot. In their playoff loss to Boston last season, Simmons struggled mightily, largely due to the way Brad Stevens clogged the paint and basically dared Simmons to shoot.

The addition of Jimmy Butler should help the Sixers challenge the Celtics and the rest of the East’s elite. With that said, the Sixers’ three stars are an imperfect fit. Simmons expanding his range could unlock the full potential of the trio. It also makes the Sixers scary on the offensive end with the number of ways they can beat you.

No one can question Simmons’ court vision or athleticism, but adding a jumper to that arsenal makes him as dangerous as any player in the league.

I just want to get better,” Simmons said when asked why he’s been shooting more. “I’m not really worried about the immediate outcome. I think it’s just the start of something special in my game that I’m adding. I think it’s one of those parts of my game that’ll really separate me.

The reality is that Simmons still has a long way to go. One of the jumpers he took Saturday night was rough, missing the rim completely and hitting off the backboard. It’s one thing to take them and another to make them.

But Simmons merely attempting them should help. Even if the idea that Simmons might shoot is in the defender’s head, it could open more options. Simmons could then incorporate a believable pump fake. 

It may also dissuade Simmons’ man from doubling Joel Embiid so easily.

“He hasn’t been making it, but he’s been taking it. That’s what matters,” Embiid said. “I shoot 30 percent from three, but guys still jump when I shot fake — I don’t know why, especially because I say that I hate shooting threes. But just because you take them, people are compelled to guard that. He’s got to keep on taking them. Eventually, it’s going to go in.”

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Sixers Talk podcast: Matisse Thybulle might already be the sixth man

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NBC Sports Philadelphia/NBC Sports Philadelphia

Sixers Talk podcast: Matisse Thybulle might already be the sixth man

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss the amount of games they expect Joel Embiid to play, Ben Simmons' self-awareness and Matisse Thybulle already surpassing expectations.

• Will Embiid set a career high in games played with his new load management plan? The guys make a friendly wager.

• Simmons gave arguably the most thoughtful quote he's ever given.

• Is Thybulle already the Sixers' sixth best player?

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Sixers pick up Zhaire Smith's third-year option, make clear call to bank on his further development

Sixers pick up Zhaire Smith's third-year option, make clear call to bank on his further development

Zhaire Smith's role with the Sixers isn't yet clear for this season, but the 20-year-old guard has a future with the team.

General manager Elton Brand confirmed that Wednesday. The team announced it has exercised Smith's third-year option for the 2020-21 season, worth $3.2 million

The Sixers acquired Smith and the Miami Heat's 2021 first-round pick last year in a draft-night trade with the Phoenix Suns, who received Mikal Bridges. Smith played in six regular-season games his rookie year, averaging 6.7 points and and 2.2 rebounds per game, but that's far from the whole story. Smith broke his foot in August, then suffered a severe allergic reaction and subsequent complications that led to him losing over 35 pounds. Over time, Smith regained his standout athleticism and rebuilt his jump shot after changing his form to compensate for his loss of strength (see story).

Head coach Brett Brown described Smith during training camp as a "pogo stick" and has praised his talent for on-ball defense, comparing him on multiple occasions to Avery Bradley. However, Smith has not been part of the Sixers' rotation during the preseason. Brown has acknowledged that development is a great priority for the Sixers with Smith than immediate contribution, especially after everything he went through as a rookie. The emergence of rookie Matisse Thybulle and solid play of Shake Milton during the preseason are further reasons why Smith hasn't been playing with the Sixers' regulars. Smith played the entire fourth quarter Tuesday night of the Sixers' 106-86 win over the Pistons and had seven points and three rebounds.

"It's just a process, so I'm not worried about it," he said. "As long as we get the win, it doesn't matter."

Given the potential the Sixers saw in Smith — and continue to see — it never seemed plausible that they would decline his third-year option.

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