Ben Simmons finally does it, and more observations from Sixers' preseason opener

Ben Simmons finally does it, and more observations from Sixers' preseason opener

The 2019-20 Sixers have, after much anticipation, transformed from an alluring idea to a reality. In this new reality, Ben Simmons makes three-point shots. 

They opened the preseason Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center with a 144-86 win over the Guangzhou Loong-Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association. Guangzhou was, if you could not tell from the final score, severely overmatched.

Simmons, 0 for 17 for his career from three-point range, hit a three from the right wing with 1.2 seconds left in the first half. Naturally, we’ll start with that shot in our observations:

• Simmons’ jumper might not mean much in the big picture. It was, after all, a shot in a preseason game that gave his team a 41-point lead.

Finally, though, he did it, and the crowd at Wells Fargo Center acted like he’d just hit the game-winner to seal a playoff series 

Simmons has made similar shots often in non-game situations — his pregame warmup actually ended with a jumper from close to that exact spot.

The difference between that and a real game, however, is significant. If you question whether it was an important moment, observe his teammates’ ecstatic reaction. 

Now, we’ll see where that shot leads. Simmons said at media day that he’ll take three-pointers this season when open. If those words were genuine, him taking three-point shots could eventually become a somewhat normal occurrence. At the present moment, it’s still a thrilling novelty to fans.

• The starting five took a while to find a rhythm — Guangzhou actually capitalized on a sleepy start to take a 7-5 lead.

There weren’t any startling revelations. Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid are indeed very big and very difficult to score against. Each player had some good moments, and they seemed to be on the same wavelength as a unit more often than not. They’ll learn much more about each other and how to play together when they face better competition — the Hornets, on Friday at 7:30 p.m., are up next.

• Brett Brown said pregame that he’d play a “semblance of a rotation in the first half,” with a shift to a mentality of getting most of his players minutes in the second half.

His first two substitutions were Matisse Thybulle and James Ennis, in for Richardson and Embiid, with Horford moving to center. Trey Burke was the next sub about two minutes later, replacing Simmons, and Mike Scott came off the bench late in the first quarter. 

Plenty can — and likely will — change before the opener on Oct. 23 vs. the Celtics, but those substitution patterns are worth tracking throughout the preseason. Expect to see the Horford-Simmons pairing more as Brown hones in on his best groupings. He mentioned Monday that he thinks that duo has potential. 

The Embiid-Richardson pairing is another one Brown seems determined to grow, with those two working to develop their own version of the Embiid-JJ Redick dribble handoff chemistry, which was such a fundamental part of the Sixers’ offense the last two seasons. 

• He wasn’t quite as much of a defensive pest as during Saturday’s Blue x White Scrimmage, but Thybulle had another strong game and further staked his claim for a significant regular-season role.

Thybulle is well suited to playing in a defense that hunts the ball. He’s constantly swarming opponents, flying into passing lanes and sparking transition offense. 

He finished with 10 points on 4 for 6 shooting (2 for 4 from three-point range), three steals and two blocks. 

• Neither Burke nor Raul Neto seemed to take a sizable advantage in the backup point guard battle, though Burke was the one who got to play with the regulars. Burke had 11 points on 4 for 7 shooting and four assists in 14 minutes, while Neto had two points on 1 for 2 shooting and five assists in 10 minutes. Shake Milton hit two threes soon after entering the game in the third quarter. 

It will be difficult in general for Brown to glean much from a game in which his team had such a gaping talent advantage — he likely won't read much into any stats from this one.

• The Sixers trapped and picked up full court with some regularity. Though there wasn’t much risk in doing so against an inferior opponent, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more of that aggression during the regular season.

Ime Udoka, the team’s new de facto defensive coordinator, wants the Sixers to “make them feel you” and force more turnovers. The Sixers, 27th in turnovers forced last season at 12.7 per game, turned Guangzhou over 23 times. 

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Sixers vs. Guangzhou Loong-Lions preseason: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Guangzhou Loong-Lions preseason: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

For the first time since May, the Sixers will play Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center.

Here are the essentials for their preseason opener against the Guangzhou Loong-Lions, a Chinese Basketball Association team:

• When: 7 p.m. ET 
• Where: Wells Fargo Center 
• Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
• Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

A lot of faces, new and old 

Though Brett Brown has said he expects he'll begin the regular season with a rotation of 10 or 11 players, the Sixers currently have 20 players on their roster. All 20 are healthy, and it sounds possible that every one will play Monday.

"I'm going to rotate the team and there's not a ton of method to madness, except to get people some minutes," Brown said after practice Monday. "I'll pull out of some stuff, probably halfway through the third period, and look at some bench guys. But on the weekend, it'll go back to like, let's start to get some stuff right and how we sub and play this."

Al Horford, Josh Richardson, veteran big man Kyle O'Quinn, point guards Raul Neto and Trey Burke and rookie wing Matisse Thybulle are expected to be the notable new names on display.

Competitions

The competition between Neto and Burke for the backup point guard job has already been compelling to follow, and there's no obvious leader at the moment. Shake Milton, who starred for the Delaware Blue Coats last season and earned a full NBA contract in the summer, is also part of that discussion.  

Thybulle couldn't have been much better defensively at Saturday's Blue x White Scrimmage, and he's impressed his teammates with his ball-hawk skills at practice (see story). Zhaire Smith and Furkan Korkmaz are the two other main contenders for wing minutes off the bench.

How's this going to work?

The Sixers aren't constructed like the typical NBA team in 2019. They're huge, defensively imposing and determined to play a physical style.

Training camp and Saturday's scrimmage have given us the odd hint, but the questions of whether the Sixers will have sufficient outside shooting, who will take over Jimmy Butler's role as the commander of the offense late in games and how Brown will stagger his stars' minutes are all open.

And, of course, there's Ben Simmons' jump shot. He said at media day that he will take three-pointers this season if he's open

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