76ers

Smirking Ben Simmons knows he's in a different class than Jared Dudley and is happy to show it in Sixers' Game 3 win over Nets

Smirking Ben Simmons knows he's in a different class than Jared Dudley and is happy to show it in Sixers' Game 3 win over Nets

NEW YORK — The crowd at Barclays Center on Thursday night gave Jared Dudley warm cheers when he first checked into Game 3 of the Sixers’ first-round series against the Nets, aware of the unpleasantries recently exchanged between Dudley and Ben Simmons.

By the time Dudley took his first shot of the night — an air ball with 1:48 left in the third quarter and the Sixers leading by 15 — there was a meek scattering of boos as Simmons raised his arms and stared at the veteran. Dudley finished scoreless in his 16 minutes, while Simmons had 31 points on 11 for 13 shooting and nine assists. The gaping disparity between the two players was never more obvious than during the Sixers’ 131-115 win over the Nets (see observations). 

Simmons, for his part, brushed aside a question about whether he’d proven he was more than the “average” half-court player Dudley said he was. 

“I don’t know,” he said.” I’m not worried about it.”

“I try not to pay too much attention to what’s going on social media or what people say just because they’re going to say what they want to say. I’m not going to let that affect me on the floor. I’m going to do my job when I step on the floor and play the point guard position the best I can.”

Brett Brown gushed about a second straight excellent performance from Simmons, who helped split the offensive load with Joel Embiid out because of left knee soreness. Simmons responded to the Nets’ heightened physicality with him by making 9 of 11 free throws and became the first Sixer to ever score 31 or more points and shoot 80 percent or better from the floor in a playoff game, per Basketball-Reference.

Whether he’s getting booed or there’s something else going on as it relates to scrutinizing Ben, he is tremendously confident in himself. He has put in a tremendous amount of work to earn that privilege. I’m so happy for him to play like he played tonight. … I think he feeds off that but it’s not like he’s beating his chest out there. I think internally, he’s got tremendous inner confidence.

Simmons’ inner confidence often manifests as arrogance. He knows he’s in a different class than Dudley and was happy to show the world. The 22-year-old plays with a smirk that suggests he savors dominating inferior opponents.

Though the Sixers still need two wins to advance to the second round and diminish Dudley’s place in the national spotlight, Simmons already wants to move on. In his mind, Dudley isn’t worth worrying about.

The questions about how Simmons will fare against the Eastern Conference’s elite teams or his ideal role in the Sixers’ half-court offense — largely off the ball since the return of James Ennis and corresponding increase in Jimmy Butler’s time at point guard — are still present. 

For now, though, he says the questions posed by and about Jared Dudley are far from his mind.

“I don’t really have energy for it,” Simmons said. “It’s done. People are going to say what they want to say. Just gotta play.”

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The Sixers should not trade Ben Simmons

The Sixers should not trade Ben Simmons

It seems like some people have a hard time quantifying just how good Ben Simmons has been in his young NBA career.

For comparison sake, let’s look at the two stars of the Eastern Conference Finals. Through the first two seasons of Kawhi Leonard’s career, he put up modest numbers, averaging 9.8 points per game. Giannis Antetokounmpo, this year’s likely MVP, averaged the identical number of points through his first two seasons.

Leonard was surrounded by Hall of Famers so he was just in a supporting role. In Antetokounmpo’s case, the Bucks just weren’t very good so not much was asked of him.

Simmons has outperformed both players through two years and has at times carried a team that’s won 50 games in back-to-back seasons. Yet as we enter the offseason, there are people who actually want to trade him.

He’s 22. He’s an All-Star. He has NBA All-Defensive team potential. He possesses skills that few have ever had at his size. So the next logical step is … trade him?

Yeah, totally.

Some of this speculation began because of an article our good friend Tom Haberstroh wrote. A Western Conference executive told our NBC Sports NBA Insider that the Sixers “very well might explore” the idea of trading Simmons for LeBron James. Sure, if there’s a chance to land the greatest player maybe ever, you “explore” it. But the idea just doesn’t add up, as Haberstroh ultimately alluded to.

"The safe money is that the Sixers brings the Philadelphia Phive back for redemption," Haberstroh writes. "The opinion here is that Simmons is too good and too young to bail on now."

Plus, Simmons will be eligible to sign his rookie max extension. If the Sixers are able to do so, it’ll keep Simmons in Philadelphia for the next six seasons. So what’s better, continuing to build around Joel Embiid AND Ben Simmons for the next half decade — at least — or go all-in on LeBron, who may not be thrilled to be traded here, for the next two years?

You can look at his numbers from a historical perspective compared to guys like James or Magic Johnson, but that doesn’t even properly enumerate what Simmons has done. This was his second year ever playing point guard. Not in the NBA, but of his entire basketball life. What he can do at 6-foot-10 doesn’t even make sense. 

He’s also used that length and freakish athleticism to become an improved and imposing defender. It’s not crazy to think that Simmons has Defensive Player of the Year potential. How many people were saying that about Leonard, who’s won the award, or Antetokounmpo after Year 2?

Simmons has one fatal flaw in his shot. It’s no secret that it’s the one thing likely keeping him from ascending from All-Star to All-NBA. Simmons was his usual reticent self when asked about how he’d work on his shot this offseason during exit interviews last week. 

Brett Brown provided the most insight.

If I’m sitting in front of you and he’s 26, I think the conversation would probably be a little bit more disingenuous,” Brown said last week. “It’s going to be this discussion for probably a few years where none of you are going to be happy if he’s not cranking out 10 15-footers a game. … And Ben knows this, too. But I stand by that this isn’t going to be the thing that defines him immediately. It will, at some point, for sure. And I feel like this year with Jimmy [Butler] having the ball and us putting him in different floor spots, he’s shown the versatility that we should all be thrilled with at age 22 and 6-foot-10, that I can use him in different areas.

That playoff loss to Toronto stung. Offensively, Simmons gave the Sixers very little outside of a virtuoso performance in Game 6 to keep his team alive. As much as the shot is an issue, that Game 6 win also showed that Simmons still has more to give outside of that. Because of his physical gifts, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Simmons is still a kid trying to figure out NBA playoff basketball.

So do you look for the best offer for Simmons this offseason or bank on the 22-year-old All-Star figuring things out and developing a shot in the next six years?

Playing the long game paid off for the teams that drafted Leonard and Antetokounmpo.

And both of their current teams are where the Sixers want to be.

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James Ennis will decline his player option but could very well still return to Sixers

James Ennis will decline his player option but could very well still return to Sixers

James Ennis will decline his player option and become a free agent, his agent, Scott Nichols from Rize Management, confirmed Monday morning.

The news was first reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. Ennis’ player option was for $1.85 million.

According to Nichols, Ennis is seeking a more lucrative, multi-year deal. Nichols said Ennis, after being acquired by the Sixers in February in a trade with the Houston Rockets, enjoyed his stint in Philadelphia, and it’s possible he could return to the Sixers. 

“He’s built good relationships within his short time there with his teammates like Ben [Simmons] and Joel [Embiid] and has found a quiet leadership role there, too,” Nichols told NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Ennis talked at his exit interview last Monday about the close friendship he’s developed with Simmons, mentioning that Simmons talked him into getting a Cane Corso dog, the same type of dog Simmons has. 

Ennis boosted his stock during the postseason as a key member of the Sixers’ bench, averaging 7.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 11 playoff games. During the regular season, Ennis won the “tournament” for wing minutes off the bench in a landslide, beating out Jonathon Simmons and Furkan Kokrmaz.

“It was tough at first because it was unsure if I was going to play,” Ennis said. “Me and Jonathon were play one game, sit one game, so it was kind of rocky at first. But I got more games under my belt, got more comfortable, and it just took off like that. I appreciate the staff believing in me, Elton Brand bringing me here and Coach [Brett] Brown allowing me to play.”

At 28 years old, Ennis has already played for six teams. The Sixers, if they’re willing to offer a deal that Ennis and Nichols like, may offer the stability that’s been lacking during his career.

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