CAMDEN, N.J. — In their limited time together last season, playing Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz together didn’t seem like the best idea. Both players were dangerous in transition and attacking the paint, but both had suspect jumpers. Brett Brown only played the pair together for 51 minutes.
Expect to see a lot more of the former No. 1 picks sharing the court this season.
“We were on the same team most of the time,” Simmons said Saturday after Day 1 of Sixers training camp. “There were a couple plays where you get the ball up the floor to get it started. The first play he’s going to drive down and come off the curl, curl offense, and get to the rim. That’s exactly what I did, got to the rim and scored. Playing with him is easy. He plays the game the right way.”
If the work Simmons and Fultz each did in the offseason to improve their shots paid off, playing the two together isn't such a crazy idea. Fultz’s work with trainer Drew Hanlen is well documented, and he seems confident in his game. Simmons worked on his shot with his brother Liam. Saturday, he went into more detail on the mechanical changes he’s made.
“Just getting the ball to my left side; I was bringing it over to my right a lot,” Simmons said. “And getting underneath it and getting my thumb off the ball.”
When he shot free throws after practice, Simmons’ focus on keeping his elbow locked in and on the left side of his body was evident.
Brown acknowledged Simmons’ shot is still a work in progress, but he’s been encouraged by what he’s seen.
“Eighteen-footers, look at the rim,” Brown said. “Look at the rim. If you’re open, shoot it. The notion that he was going to come back after the summer, like, ‘wow, he’s really shooting a lot of threes …’ The reality of the summer was going to be looking at the rim and if people backed off you, to find a way to feel confident and comfortable punishing that. I think that he’s getting there. I think that his confidence and just body language, eye contact, looking at the target, has improved.”
One creative solution Brown mentioned that could allow Simmons and Fultz to play together more would be occasionally putting Simmons at the power forward spot. That could allow Fultz to run the offense, with Simmons serving as a point forward of sorts out of the post.
The 6-foot-10 Simmons wasn’t very efficient in the post last season, recording 0.69 points per possession, 17th percentile in the NBA. But he was working on his game in the mid and low-post after practice in a spirited one-on-one session with Robert Covington.
With that kind of athleticism and explosiveness, Simmons is clearly capable of being a better post player than he showed his rookie season.
Ultimately, if the progress Simmons and Fultz appear to have made with their jumpers translates to the regular season, it may not take a ton of innovation for Brown to play the two together.
Just put two dynamic offensive players with improved jumpers on the floor and let them do their thing.
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