Dwight Howard is no stretch five, a fact head coach Doc Rivers playfully reminded reporters of after the Sixers' practice Thursday.
“That got me nervous,” Rivers quipped, “that Dwight was his shooting coach last night. I’m going to reassess my staff.”
For the very little it’s worth, Howard has made nine NBA three-pointers, compared to Simmons’ two.
Of course, Howard is not solely responsible for Simmons’ jumper. The assistant coach assigned to Simmons is Sam Cassell, a head coaching candidate this offseason who ultimately followed Rivers from the Clippers to Sixers. Cassell is the one running Simmons through his pregame shooting routine.
“Sam’s done wonderful work with a lot of guards throughout his career,” Rivers said. “I think he excels in that area. I think his knowledge is great for Ben — what to run, when to run it, where to go, where to space, where to attack. I just think Sam’s terrific. I think he’s one of the better skill development guys in the league, and I don’t think it’s close.”
If you ask Simmons, Howard is already an important influence, too. At this early stage, the veteran big man seems to be a much taller supplement to Cassell, albeit without offering the same wisdom of a former NBA point guard.
“Something I need to do,” Simmons said Wednesday night of his postgame shooting. "Just get back on the floor. Dwight’s been pushing me to get better, so he came out to the floor with me, got some shots up. He’s just pushing me.
"He wants me to be great, and I really appreciate that and respect him a lot, especially with the career he’s had. He’s somebody that’s come into this organization and pushed me, and believes in me. To have that and have somebody do that, it makes you feel good, makes you want to work, makes you hungrier. To have that is great.”
As things stand, Simmons remains an excellent all-around player with the significant exception of his shooting. Though he made his first professional three-pointers last season, Simmons was 4 for 30 on two-point shots from 10 feet and out. Attacking the rim and drawing more free throws are non-shooting focuses this year for Simmons. He racked up 16 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, three blocks and two steals against the Wizards, with his longest field goal attempt a missed 13-foot pull-up in the game’s first minute.
Once the Sixers had sealed a victory, he then worked next to Howard. All jokes aside, Rivers thought that was meaningful.
“I thought it was great,” Rivers said. “I thought it was great, No. 1, that he was not out there by himself, but with another player. I thought it was great that it was Dwight. We look at Dwight in a lot of ways in his career. He was a dominant player when he first came in, and then he kind of got lost for a little while.
“Then last year was a resurrection for Dwight Howard. He couldn’t get signed, and then he goes to the Lakers and wins a ring. That Denver series, they don’t get to the Finals without Dwight Howard. That’s changed Dwight, too. Now he knows what winning looks like. The fact that he can give some of that knowledge to Ben and to Joel (Embiid) is invaluable. Same thing with Danny Green.”