76ers

What Al Horford's unique development as a shooter can tell us about Ben Simmons

What Al Horford's unique development as a shooter can tell us about Ben Simmons

Al Horford hasn’t always been good at everything.

As a 33-year-old with 12 seasons of NBA experience and five All-Star appearances, Horford is skilled in most aspects of the game. Interior defense? He’s excellent at it and was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2017-18. Passing? The big man averaged 4.6 assists per game in his three seasons with the Celtics. Setting good screens, marshalling the defense and generally making smart, winning plays? It’s his trademark.

But it took a while before Horford added outside shooting to his long list of tools. Looking back at the early history of Horford’s career, his stats give you no indication that he’d eventually be a “stretch five” type of player, someone who’s shot 37.1 percent from three-point range on 927 attempts over the last four years.

He made no three-point shots in his three college seasons at Florida and was 0 for 6 from long range in his first two NBA seasons. Horford was named to his first All-Star Game in 2009-10, a season in which he made his one and only three-point shot, and he hit 9 of 22 over the next four years. He took a small step forward in 2014-15 for the 60-win Atlanta Hawks, converting 11 of 36 threes.

It wasn’t until the 2015-16 season, at 29 years old, when Horford started to let it fly with regularity, attempting 256 threes — 220 more than the season prior — and making 88.

Ben Simmons, like Horford, had no three-point makes in his first two professional seasons. According to Tobias Harris — a player who also has improved remarkably as a shooter over his career — Simmons was knocking them down from the perimeter during a recent workout in Los Angeles. 

 … He's in the gym religiously every day — grinding, getting better," Harris said at a press conference Friday. "He's in great shape. Everyone was trying to figure out why I was guarding him at the three-point line. It was really because he hit two of them. I dared him to hit two of them and he hit two in a row — that's why I was there. He's made big improvements on his game. His jump shot is looking really good. He has confidence to shoot it. I just kept telling him there, even in these workouts when you’re playing, have the confidence to shoot them and don't get discouraged when you miss …

The Sixers have committed $170 million to Simmons over the next five years in spite of his lack of a reliable shot and because, as was the case with Horford, he didn’t need one to be a deserving All-Star. Horford’s development as a jump shooter is unique, but it helps provide context for Simmons’ situation.

Perhaps the most important takeaway is that there’s no shared path — jump shots don’t all evolve at the same pace. Improvement is contingent on factors like fixing flawed form, natural touch and, as Harris alluded to, the confidence to take jumpers in games and the go-ahead to do so from teammates and coaches.

It’s also not blindly optimistic to review Horford’s past, consider Simmons’ future and conclude that the 22-year-old All-Star is likely only going to get better as a shooter. After hitting 25 of 99 shots from 10 feet and out last season (25.3 percent), it would be very surprising to see Simmons regress.

It would be stunning if Simmons followed Horford’s trajectory, too. You’d imagine his form will have to undergo significant remediation before he’s a good three-point shooter — players with flared elbows and inconsistent mechanics don’t typically fit that description.

However, two seasons is far too small of a sample size to judge Simmons’ shot a lost cause.

As we noted on the night he agreed to join the Sixers, Horford shared that same opinion a little over a year ago. 

“He’s already difficult to guard,” Horford told NBC Sports Philadelphia during the Sixers’ 2018 playoff series against the Celtics. “Like all players, we all make progressions. When I came in the league, I wasn’t shooting much outside the paint. And over the years, I’ve expanded my game — you can say that about a lot of guys. And I feel like with him, it’ll just be another weapon in his arsenal, that he will continue to develop that [jumper].”

His perspective is one worth listening to. 

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Philly sports holiday gift guide with the iron throne, Gritty galore and more!

Philly sports holiday gift guide with the iron throne, Gritty galore and more!

The holiday season is officially in full swing and with the season of giving just a few weeks away, I’m sure you’ve completely finished your shopping right? Ha, I kid, I kid — there’s always a few who wait until the last minute to finish their shopping … or even start for that matter.

Buying anything for those die-hard Philadelphia sports fans in your life seems simple … typically the go-to gifts are jerseys, tickets to an upcoming game and signed memorabilia.

But what do you do if you already crossed those off the list previously and want to get a little creative? It’s time to step outside of the box and go the more non-traditional approach.

Luckily for you, I’ve gathered a few of those non-traditional options for each Philly team to speed up your shopping process.

Let’s get to it!

Sixers

• This optical illusion light seems like the perfect add-on gift for any Sixers fan and the price is pretty reasonable.

• Well, who wouldn’t want a stuffed Joel Embiid? The pictures showcasing the item alone may be enough for you to add it to the cart.

• An absolute classic that any Sixes fan would love to rep:

• Still looking for that big gift for that certain someone? Well, if they’re a Sixers fan and music lover, this may be the way to go.

• Know anyone big on tailgating? Maybe even hosting barbecues in the warmer weather? Well, they’re going to need some form of entertainment, right?

Eagles

• Go birds? Go birds.

• There’s honestly no better way to start your morning … maybe just wait a few more weeks before busting this mug out and the NFC East has been decided.

• A perfect addition to your desk at work. A phone charger and a way to rep your favorite team!

• For that special someone who just loves to grill on game days. This apron is going to be a win in just about every scenario because there’s a pocket specified to hold your beverage of choice.

• Put the biggest Eagles fan you know to the test with this book, filled with 500 questions of Eagles history.

Phillies

• The perfect addition to any fan cave:

• This may be the coolest bottle opener I’ve ever seen.

• Even though I’ve never seen Game of Thrones ... and with the comments on how poor the final season was, I’m not jumping to start it anytime soon. Sue me. Anyways, this Rhys Hoskins bobble head on the iron throne would be perfect for anyone who’s a fan of both!

• Know anyone out of town that may be a little homesick? This may be the perfect gift for them.

• Why buy a plain boring blanket when you can gift this one? Much more fun.

Flyers

• These hoody blankets are perfect for the hockey season and cold winter months. Wear it on the couch to watch the game — heck — bring it to the game and stay warm by the rink. No judging here.

• The older you get, the more exciting it is to get new office supplies. This is a real thing, I swear. And these Travis Konecny chirp pencils? These could be the perfect stocking stuffers!

• Nothing says an unusual gift like a soda can mini-fridge to store your … well, soda cans.

• I mean, who wouldn’t want a Hulk-like looking foam fist that holds a drink?

• The LegendarySportsPrint shop has some great gifts for teams across the four major league sports, but this one of Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent would be the perfect addition in an office, fan cave or really any room in the house.

(Bonus) Gritty gifts!

It only seemed fair to put these in their own category simply because there are so very many options.

• These prayer candles created for famous icons are absolutely hysterical. But a Gritty one? A must have.

• Who wouldn’t want a streaking Gritty bobble head for their work desk? If anyone’s buying, I’ll take 12.

• And I saved the best gift for last but certainly not least. This one speaks for itself.

Joel Embiid returns to dominant form in Sixers' win over Celtics

Joel Embiid returns to dominant form in Sixers' win over Celtics

After Tuesday night’s win over the Nuggets, Joel Embiid had an odd press conference.

The Sixers had just held a pretty good NBA team to 92 points and Embiid outdueled All-NBA First Team center Nikola Jokic. But the All-Star big man wasn’t quite himself. He mentioned that he hadn’t been having fun so far this season.

While that was going on, Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal were critical of Embiid’s performance and questioning his effort.

Whether it was Embiid deciding to bring the joy back to his game or the comments made about him, the Joel Embiid we’ve all come to know was out in full force in the Sixers’ 115-109 win over the Celtics Thursday at TD Garden (see observations).

“I think all the stuff that he has been through recently, to me, the way he handled it, personally, I'm proud of him,” Brett Brown said to reporters postgame. “He handled it like an adult. He handled it with a humility and owned some of it and then came out and responded in a very dramatic way. 

“The numbers speak pretty much for themselves. But there was other stuff internally going on with like leadership and instruction to his teammates and stuff being said at halftime that flipped him over the top to, for me, one of his better games since he has been a Philadelphia 76er. He was dominant and he was a leader.”

Those numbers were 38 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. The only other player to put up those numbers against the Celtics in franchise history is Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes. 

Much is often made about Embiid’s body language and energy level. You couldn’t question any of that Thursday. Embiid was engaged on both ends and lifted his team all night.

One of the things Embiid admitted is that he’s had a hard time adjusting to new pieces in the starting five. With the lack of a JJ Redick-type shooter, teams have been more aggressive than ever in doubling Embiid. He’s had to make adjustments and, for the most part, has done well with his decision making.

Against the Celtics, his teammates made his job much easier. Led by Mike Scott (5 of 7), who got the start in place of Al Horford, the Sixers shot 14 of 28 from three. Even with his outstanding effort, Embiid was effusive in his praise for his teammates.

“That performance was because of them,” Embiid said. “I was double teamed all night, I passed it and they knocked down shots. They kept us in the game. Whenever I was guarded with single coverage, I took advantage of it. If they don’t make shots, it’s easier to double team me. If they do, you got to make a decision — do you want to give up a three or just hope that your big man can try and stop me?”

It was certainly a pick-your-poison scenario for head coach Brad Stevens and the Celtics all night. 

Early on, Embiid saw doubles. When Enes Kanter was in the game, Stevens allowed to him to go 1-on-1 at times. When they doubled, Scott and the Sixers made them pay. When Embiid had Kanter in single coverage, he punished him on the block.

Embiid was incredibly efficient, taking just 21 shots from the floor to get his 38. So, is there room for more?

“I think I can be more aggressive,” Embiid said. “There were times where I was still floating on the perimeter. Coach is always talking about the amount of post-ups that I get and it’s the most in the league and it’s still not enough. ... I average 10 and he’s always talking about I got to get 20, 25. And it’s also on me. I got to go down there. We’ve got a lot of guys that can post up so it’s about finding that balance and just giving them that space. I just got to be aggressive.”

As for the comments made by Barkley and O’Neal, Embiid took them to heart, but wasn’t offended. For a guy who talked about maturity an awful lot Tuesday, it seems like he showed plenty in this instance.

“I actually called Shaq yesterday,” Embiid said. “He thought I was mad at him, I was like, ‘nah.’ I understood what he was saying. I’ve had a down year so far. I just wanted to talk to him. I’ve been kind of frustrated just because you’re not playing the same way and you’re just trying to fit in with your new teammates and he was just telling me, be aggressive, you’re the guy. Just go out there and dominate.”

Was it the comments from two Hall of Famers that led to this outburst? That makes for a nice story.

Really, it was just Joel Embiid being Joel Embiid.

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