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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Will Joel Embiid live in the paint? How Brett Brown wants to help his ‘unicorn’ build a legacy

Will Joel Embiid live in the paint? How Brett Brown wants to help his ‘unicorn’ build a legacy

Two days before the Sixers’ regular-season opener vs. the Boston Celtics, Brett Brown was thinking big.

The Sixers' head coach reflected after practice Monday afternoon on his “huge” team, his All-Star big man, Joel Embiid, and the big picture of Embiid’s career.

I think he’s going to have a year that puts us in a position to win a championship. … I feel a tremendous responsibility to help him define his legacy. And legacies start with championships. And I didn’t take an ‘s’ off that word on purpose — it’s championships.

“I feel a role and a responsibility to help him. Him owning the paint is as good a place to start as any. It’s where my mind has been centered all summer. It’s the messaging that we’ve discussed as a team and with him. We’ve admitted we’re huge; what does that look like? What can we do to exploit our team? And with Joel especially, I think he’s going to have a fantastic season. … I’m really excited to help him improve and grow.

Brown has spoken on both Embiid’s legacy and the desire for him to “live in the paint” more this season multiple times over the past few weeks. He’s determined to get more out of Embiid beyond the fundamental tenets of conditioning and health

Embiid was second in the NBA with 8.1 post ups per game last season, per NBA.com/Stats, and it sounds like Brown wants that number to increase. 

For his part, Embiid has said he wants to be the “greatest to ever do it.” And he was clear during training camp that his preference is to be stationed more down low and less outside of the three-point line. 

“Like I’ve always said before, I don’t like shooting threes,” Embiid said on Oct. 4. “But this year since we’re going to have Ben [Simmons] willing to take those threes, maybe it’s going to put my game more inside. I’m hoping that he will shoot them, so I do my job, what I do inside.”

Brown had no doubt Monday when asked if Embiid will be more of a low-post force this season.

I don’t think it, I know it. When you look at him, he is a unicorn. When we say who is Joel Embiid like, or who is like Joel Embiid — Joel can score in a variety of ways. Is he [Shaquille O’Neal]? He’s got a little bit of that in him. Is he Arvydas Sabonis? That was a pretty multi-dimensional player. Is he Hakeem [Olajuwon]? [Tim] Duncan was a good low-post player and could step out at the elbow or foul line and make a jump shot. 

“When you start trying to put him in a box and say, ‘This is all you are,’ it’s a huge, naïve mistake. It’s a really naïve mistake. Where is he at his best? We get where it is, and we have to center our gravity more in that area of where it is. I think it’s going to equal free throws and kick outs and all of that. But to think that’s the only floor spot where he lives is really recklessly naïve. You go Shaq, Shaq, Shaq — it’s deeper than that. It’s on me as his coach, and on him, to better understand how do I best impact the game, help this team win championships, take off like I want to take off at the start of the year.

Sabonis, Olajuwon and O’Neal are all enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Duncan, who Brown knows well from his time as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, will surely be inducted in 2020. Brown told NBC Sports Philadelphia last March that the Sixers’ post offense around Embiid “replicates what we did with Duncan for 12 years in San Antonio.” 

While assistant coach Kevin Young said at Brown’s coaches clinic on Sept. 23 that the Sixers plan to run more “Explosion” this season, the free-flowing, improvisational movement off a player in the post that often enabled Simmons to find cutters in 2018-19, the emphasis with Embiid has generally been on having players set at specific starting spots, surrounding the 25-year-old with outlets. 

Embiid said at media day that decision-making out of double teams was one of his focuses during the offseason. He did improve in that area last year, turning the ball over on 13.1 percent of his post-up possessions, the lowest rate of his career. 

Brown and Embiid’s larger ambitions of championships, legacies and the like might sound outlandish to some in isolation. In context, though, there are tangible steps they can take toward those goals.

Both Brown and his big man hope many take place in the paint.

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2019-20 NBA Tipoff Show: How to watch on MyTeams app

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NBC Sports Philadelphia

2019-20 NBA Tipoff Show: How to watch on MyTeams app

Ready for a big Sixers season?

While the 2019-20 NBA season begins Tuesday night, the Sixers kick off a year with great expectations on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET against the Celtics at the Wells Fargo Center.

There is plenty to discuss regarding the Sixers, from the new starting five, whether this team is the Eastern Conference favorite, the number of games for Joel Embiid and, yes, Ben Simmons' jumper.

Our experts across the NBC Sports Regional Networks will analyze that and more Tuesday. You can watch the 2019-20 NBA Tipoff Show live on the MyTeams app at 4 p.m. ET. You can also stream the show right here on NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com.

Download the MyTeams app here.

Here are the essentials:

Date: Tuesday, Oct. 22
Time: 4 p.m. ET
Where: MyTeams App and NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com
Who:

Marc Jackson (Sixers)

Brian Scalabrine (Celtics)

Kelli Johnson, Grant Liffmann, Monte Poole (Warriors)

K.C. Johnson (Bulls)

Chase Hughes (Wizards)

James Ham (Kings)

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