As expected, very little, if anything, changed.
The 76ers’ move of Ben Simmons to power forward has been one of the most talked-about stories during the NBA restart. But it was as if he never had moved during Friday’s 90-83 win over the Memphis Grizzlies in the restart exhibition opener.
Simmons still made a major impact as a ballhandler in the game at The Arena in the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla.
The two-time All-Star finished with 9 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, and 3 steals in 22 minutes after missing the final eight games before the league shutdown in March with a pinched nerve in his lower back. Simmons had 9 assists, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals in 16 first-half minutes.
“It was great just to be back out there, especially since I was out since that Milwaukee game” on Feb. 22, Simmons said. “So I’m blessed to be here with my teammates.”
Perhaps his most-notable statistic was going 1-for-2 on three-pointers. The 6-foot-10, 250-pounder showed no hesitation to shoot while being left open on corner three attempts. He missed his first attempt with 6 minutes, 30 seconds left in the first quarter. Simmons then made a 24-foot corner three to put the Sixers up 57-28 with 8:49 left in the third.
“Just play,” he said of his focus. “We’ve been practicing. We’ve been working in the corner. I’m very comfortable over there. ... I’m glad my teammates found me.”
Brown repeated what said two days ago about there being a paradigm shift in Simmons in regard to shooting perimeter shots.
“It’s the spirit,” the coach said. “He doesn’t flinch.”
In the past, Simmons would pass out of wide-open opportunities in the perimeter. As a result, teams would sag off him, knowing he wasn’t a threat. That could change if continues to do what he did Friday.
“The sport told him ‘I’m open,‘ ” Brown said. “ ‘Nobody is guarding me, shoot it,' and he did. ... There wasn’t any hesitation on, ‘What decision do I have to make now?‘ ”
Simmons was more of a point forward than anything else by design.
Brown wants the ball in his hands after opponents’ missed shots. Simmons’s role is to get to the rim and dunk or find another shooter. Meanwhile, he wants Simmons taking off without the ball following opponents’ made baskets during a more slowed-down pace, with Joel Embiid inbounding the ball.
“Let him maybe get something cheap over the top or circling back and playing at that elbow area,” Brown said.
They are the roles Brown envisioned for Simmons when he switched him to power forward. He also played a couple of possessions at point guard.
Tobias Harris had a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds in 22 minutes. Embiid had 10 points on 3-for-10 shooting to go with six rebounds in 13 minutes. The three-time All-Star did not play in the second half. Al Horford (five points, five assists in 18 minutes) started in his place at center after intermission.
The Sixers went to a lineup featuring the two centers late in the first quarter after Brown said the two had not been paired together during the practice leading up to the game.
Reserve center Norvel Pelle made his first career three-pointer, albeit in an exhibition game. The rookie finished with nine points on 4-for-4 shooting with three rebounds and two blocks in 9 minutes.
All 15 Sixers in Florida received playing time in the exhibition opener.