The 76ers welcomed a day off Sunday after back-to-back games, winning 101-95 on Friday at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks and 119-116 on Saturday at home against the Indiana Pacers.
It’s still too early to say the Sixers are rounding into form, but there obviously have been positives in the 14-6 start. One of those positives is the defensive play of Ben Simmons, who had another stellar effort in Saturday’s game, which had sort of a playoff feel to it.
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Simmons becoming a shutdown defender
Sixers coach Brett Brown is already in campaign mode when it comes to Simmons’ defense. After Friday’s win in New York, where Simmons played 37 minutes and 41 seconds and had 15 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals, Brown was effusive in his praise for Simmons’ D.
“Ben is whatever Ben wants to be defensively,” Brown said outside the Sixers’ locker room at Madison Square Garden. “We are trying to help him grow his offensive game. I think he is making strides defensively. His effort has been exceptional.”
The 6-foot-10 Simmons has incredible stamina and never takes a play off on either end of the court.
“He is just so physical and is such an athlete,” Brown said. “You take those qualities and put it into an NBA game and let him guard some of the best players and he just shines.”
Then came the campaigning.
“As I have said and I say it again, we have to look at him as an all-league defensive player, and lately he has sure delivered," Brown said.
Keep in mind those comments came before Simmons had three steals in the final 13.9 seconds in the Sixers’ win over Indiana.
Afterwards, Brown was again in campaign mode.
“The plays that he can make from an athletic standpoint and the plays he can make from a physical standpoint [late] in the game, are just elite," Brown said. “You hear me cheerlead the cause of him being on an NBA all-defensive team and it’s examples like that [the late steals] that make it a no-brainer.”
Last year the Sixers’ Joel Embiid was a second-team all-NBA defensive choice. Simmons received two second-place votes, good for two points, which tied him for 20th.
Entering Sunday, Simmons was second in the NBA in steals per game, averaging 2.3, behind only his former teammate Jimmy Butler, who was averaging 2.6 for Miami.
This statistic might even be a better campaign tool for Simmons than what his coach says, although those comments surely won’t hurt.
Keith Pompey had his best and worst awards for the Indiana game and he admitted that “best performance” was a tough call.
I write that despite a 14-6 record, the Sixers have yet to play their best basketball.
Pompey writes how current Pacers point guard and T.J. McConnell misses his former Sixers team.
When Embiid hit all 15 of his free throws in Saturday’s win over Indiana, it was the most free throws in a game without a miss in his career.
Here are his other games when he hit all of his free throws while taking double-figure attempts.
Oct. 28, 2019: 105-103 win at Atlanta (10-10)
Dec. 25, 2018: 121-114 OT loss at Boston (12-12)
March 16, 2018: 120-116 win at Brooklyn (11-11)
Jan. 6, 2017: 110-106 loss at Boston (10-10)
Somewhat overshadowed is that Simmons made all seven of his free throws in Saturday’s win. That was the most free throws in a game without a miss in his career.
His previous best was Oct. 29, 2018, when Simmons hit all five free throws in a 113-92 home win over the Atlanta Hawks.
Important dates: Next Five Flow
Monday: Utah at Sixers, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia and NBA TV
Thursday: Sixers at Washington, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia
Saturday: Cleveland at Sixers, 7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia/NBA TV
Sunday: Toronto at Sixers, 6 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia
Dec. 10: Denver at Sixers, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia
Passing the rock
Question: (James) Ennis needs more quality minutes and (Furkan) Korkmaz less. Korkmaz cannot be in the game at the end where you need defensive stops. — @Fiospartan56.
Answer: Thank you for the comment. There is no question that lately Ennis has been the team’s best player off the bench. Because of injuries, Korkmaz has started seven games this season. While you make an excellent point about Ennis’ defense, which is his calling card, there are times the Sixers may need Korkmaz for his long-range shooting.
At this stage, Ennis is shooting 43.9% from beyond the arc, and Korkmaz is at 36.3%. If those stats hold up all season, you will be right, but a bigger sample size will be needed.
Still, the way he is playing, Ennis has earned late-game minutes. But if the Sixers need a three-pointer, there is no problem with Korkmaz on the court. He proved in Portland he could win a game with a three.
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