Ben Simmons continues to reintegrate, but his status for the Sixers season opener remains unclear
Sixers coach Doc Rivers said Simmons “played more, for sure” Monday, primarily mixing in with the second group. Whether he plays Wednesday or not, the Sixers will still be shorthanded at point guard.
Ben Simmons took another step in reintegrating with the Sixers on Monday afternoon.
One day after the All-Star guard left the 76ers practice floor — his first team activity since returning from his two-week holdout following a trade demand — before the mandatory media viewing period, Simmons was seen Monday rotating into drills near the end of the session.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers said Simmons “played more, for sure” Monday, primarily mixing in with the second group. But it remains unclear if Simmons will be available to play in the Sixers’ season opener Wednesday night in New Orleans.
“We’re just gonna take our time and keep building,” Rivers said. “… Honestly, I haven’t even thought about [if he will play Wednesday] much. When it comes, I’ll make the decision. But I’m just gonna wait and see and watch. The spirit has been so good, and so we’re just gonna keep going.”
» READ MORE: Ben Simmons returns to practicing with Sixers as a full participant
On the court, Rivers said he will be monitoring Simmons’ conditioning, timing, and rhythm after the Sixers “tweaked a lot of stuff” offensively during the last three weeks. During the viewing period, Simmons ran a defensive drill alongside Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris, and Georges Niang. When they moved to five-on-five offensive work, Simmons was not part of the projected first unit, which included Maxey, Harris, Seth Curry, Danny Green, and Joel Embiid.
The second unit — Niang, Isaiah Joe, Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, and Andre Drummond — was wearing blue jerseys during practice. Some non-rotation players such as rookies Jaden Springer and Aaron Henry put on red pinnies for that drill. Simmons, who dribbled the ball on the baseline for much of the viewing period, wore a white cutoff sweatshirt — the same attire Harris wore while running with the rest of the first-unit players, who all wore gray practice jerseys.
Simmons again declined to speak to the media Monday, leaving Rivers and teammates to field a bevy of questions about Simmons’ on-court performance and team vibe since he returned. Simmons left the court immediately after the end-of-practice huddle breakdown, while many of his teammates hung around for individual work as normal.
When asked about Simmons’ return potentially disrupting chemistry, Rivers said, “I’m not that concerned right now with it.” Niang, a newcomer this season, added, “We’ve welcomed him in. … I don’t think anything has really changed.” Maxey, who is also represented by Klutch Sports and has known Simmons since before he was drafted, said, “Friendships are bigger than basketball, bigger than the profession.”
“Chemistry’s huge, and I think overall our chemistry is phenomenal right now,” Rivers said. “And we want to keep it growing. … You see a little bit at a time, and way more today than yesterday. It’s just gonna keep getting better. I’ve been in these situations before. This is how it works.”
Thin at point guard
Whether Simmons plays Wednesday or not, the Sixers will be shorthanded at point guard.
Shake Milton continues to nurse a sprained ankle suffered when he stepped on Drummond’s foot during practice last week and is “nowhere near playing yet,” Rivers said. Milton did some light individual shooting work following Monday’s practice.
That makes Maxey the projected starter for the opener. The options behind him include Korkmaz, who started the third preseason game against Brooklyn when Milton and Maxey were injured and plays point guard with his national team in Turkey, and Joe. Rivers liked the way Korkmaz and Joe read the pressure defense when they were on the floor together against the Nets, especially when on-ball pest Jevon Carter entered the game.
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Harris is also a solid ballhandler and offense-initiator. And off a rebound, Rivers trusts nearly every player to bring the ball up the floor off.
“In our starting lineup, Joel can bring it up,” Rivers said. “So that’s not a concern.”
Point guard Shaquille Harrison, who was with the Sixers on a training-camp contract, was waived Saturday and is expected to join the team’s G League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats.
When asked if he is excited for the opener, Maxey exclaimed: “Man, let’s do it! Extremely excited. Ready to play against somebody else. Tired of Andre Drummond screening me and Joel screening me!”
The Sixers have started focusing on New Orleans-specific game planning. But after an uneven preseason during which the Sixers navigated the Simmons saga and a barrage of injuries, the last two days of practice have been centered on “dominating the details,” Niang said.
That has included transition defense, when to go over and under ball screens, being in the right spots on offense, and down-the-stretch execution.