Markelle Fultz is a completely different player than the version with the injured shoulder and broken shot we saw as a rookie — it’s impossible to imagine Fultz making four jumpers (including a three-pointer) last season, as he did in Monday’s 120-114 preseason win over the Orlando Magic (see story), pulling the trigger with no hesitation.
Ben Simmons? The change isn’t as radical.
Simmons has attempted only one jumper in the Sixers’ first two preseason games, a blocked turnaround from 14 feet out against the Magic. In the wake of Fultz’s milestone night, a reporter asked Simmons whether we’ll see any long-range shots from him this preseason.
He smiled and shook his head.
“No. I’m not going to come out and shoot threes,” Simmons said. “But getting to the line and making free throws is something I’ve been working on, too. It’s little steps like those that get you to where you want to be. I’m not close to where I want to be right now in terms of my offensive game, but I’m getting closer and closer.”
At the end of each practice, Simmons has been shooting free throws with new lead assistant coach Monty Williams. After a summer working on his shot with his brother Liam (see story), Simmons is focused on keeping his elbow under the ball, holding his follow-through, and preventing the ball from drifting to the right side of his body, like it did last season.
Those changes were evident Monday night, as Simmons attempted his first free throws of the preseason, making 3 of 4.
Head coach Brett Brown isn’t worried that Simmons has yet to expand his range like Fultz.
“I don’t care. It’s not like I want him to (shoot jumpers) or I don’t,” Brown said. “If it’s available, then he should shoot it. I think Markelle’s shots were there, so he shot them. There really wouldn’t be any (shots) that I said Ben turned down. It doesn’t worry me. If it’s there, in preseason I’d like for him to shoot it, but I don’t think he avoided it.”
Brown is pleased that using Simmons more as a power forward seems like it will create more opportunities for him to use his strength on the interior, and hopefully to show off that improved free-throw form a little more.
Simmons attempted only 4.2 free throws per game last season, making 56 percent.
If the Sixers stick with the starting lineup they’ve used in the first two preseason games, as it seems like they plan to, with Fultz filling JJ Redick’s spot from last season, Simmons thinks he can dominate in the post.
“I’m able to come down and duck in, and not many guys are able to stop me,” he said. “I think I got to the line a couple times and drew a couple fouls doing that. In terms of my strength and my ability to do that, that’s pretty high. Off the ball is going to be good for me.”
So yes, Simmons will be a different player this season. He’s probably going to be spending a fair amount of time at a different position, after all.
But unlike Fultz, he’s not going to suddenly start draining long-range jumpers.