For all the attention Ben Simmons received for making a three-pointer and attempting two threes in Friday’s 90-83 exhibition-opening win over the Memphis Grizzlies, what he really showed is how fast the 76ers play when he has the ball in his hands.
This is not a revelation.
The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Simmons is among the fastest players with the ball in the NBA. And that is the case whether he is playing point guard, point forward, center or any position.
With nine assists in the opener, Simmons also showed no ill effects from a lower-back injury that sidelined him for the final eight games before the NBA suspended its season on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Throughout training camp, as the Sixers prepare for the NBA’s restart in Florida, two items have dominated the conversation: Shake Milton’s being inserted as a starter, and Simmons’ moving to power forward, shifting Al Horford to a reserve role.
Another story that gained plenty of attention was coach Brett Brown’s saying more than once that Simmons had become a willing and successful three-point shooter in practice.
Simmons’ two attempts on Friday, which is one-third the total he has fired up all season, might be an indication that Brown is onto something.
And while adding a perimeter game will make him more dangerous, Simmons’ bread and butter is still the way he can handle the ball and get the Sixers going in transition.
He was the point guard when Milton went to the bench against Memphis.
Brown had also said that when Simmons was the point guard in practice with Horford, Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz, that it made that group a major threat in transition.
That was certainly the case on Friday. One could even substitute Alec Burks for Korkmaz and the Sixers were still off and running.
A perfect example was a play late in the second quarter when Simmons was at his facilitating best.
The play began when Thybulle stripped Jonas Valanciunas, picked up the loose ball and passed to Simmons. After several dribbles, Simmons threw a no-look pass from beyond the three-point line that Harris finished with an alley-oop dunk.
One reason the Sixers can get in transition, especially when Simmons and Thybulle are paired together, is because both can pick the pockets of the best NBA players. Those steals often lead to fast-break opportunities.
Later in the second quarter, that is exactly what happened when Simmons made a steal, dribbled past half court, made a behind-the-back pass to Horford, who then made a one-touch pass to Thybulle. In the corner, Thybulle then hit a wide open three-pointer.
Even the 34-year-old Horford, not known as a gazelle, prospers when grouped with Simmons because if he gets open, Simmons will find him.
The Sixers have the ability to be effective in transition with their new starting lineup of Simmons, Milton, Harris, Joel Embiid and Josh Richardson, especially if Simmons grabs a rebound and takes off.
There are, however, plenty of times where it is advantageous to slow it down because of Embiid’s dominance in the low post.
With Embiid out of the lineup, the Sixers will be running more and that suits players like Thybulle and Harris. Then again, it helps anybody because Simmons is so fast that he can create a numbers disadvantage and that leaves open shooters.
After having off from practice on Saturday, the Sixers meet the Oklahoma City Thunder in Sunday’s noon game at HP Fieldhouse in the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla. It is the second of three scrimmages before the Aug. 1 opener against the Indiana Pacers.