Before the 76ers’ 115-104 win over the visiting San Antonio Spurs on Friday, coach Brett Brown made a matter-of-fact comment that turned out to be much more.
Just casually, Brown praised point guard Ben Simmons for his performance in Wednesday’s 109-104 win over the New York Knicks.
“That was as fine a game as he has played in a 76ers uniform,” Brown said. “Starting with the fact that he was unbelievable defensively.”
Simmons played 41 minutes and 46 seconds, and had 18 points (on 7 for 9 shooting), seven rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover.
A great effort for sure, but his best?
Now in his third season, Simmons has recorded 23 triple-doubles, but Brown insisted that was his best game.
It was also the game in which Simmons made his first three-point field goal of his career, but that wasn’t why Brown singled out his effort.
“I think he tested a place defensively for a sustained period of time that was unparalleled since I have been coaching him,” Brown said.
Brown feels that the 23-year-old Simmons can take his game up another gear, after making his first all-star team last season.
“At 23 years old, I think he is on the upswing. How can he not be?” Brown stated. “I feel confident that his days are well and truly going to be better.”
Few standout athletes in Philadelphia come under more scrutiny than Simmons. This stems from his reluctance to shoot or inconsistent results when he does pull the trigger, as seldom as it happens.
The three-pointer aside, don’t expect Simmons to turn into Stephen Curry, Dell Curry, or any other sharpshooter.
The question always is whether Simmons can be a major factor not shooting when opponents pack it in defensively and clog the inside.
Entering Saturday’s game with the Miami Heat, Simmons had made 76 field goals and 65 of them were from less than five feet, according to NBA.com stats. That’s not from somebody who likes to chuck it from distance.
Simmons does have the ability to take over a game while not shooting. Against the Knicks, he dominated while only taking nine shots.
In Friday’s 115-104 win over the San Antonio Spurs, Simmons shot just 3 for 10 but ended up with a triple-double – 10 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists.
So on a so-called off-night (which included five turnovers), he still was able to be a catalyst to the win.
While his shooting remains a major work in progress, including at the foul line where he entered the Miami game hitting just 56.5%, the one area where he has improved the most this season is his leadership and ability to run the offense.
When he is leading the fast break or going to the basket with authority, it raises the team’s energy, whether he feels that is his role or not.
“I wouldn’t say (it is) my role, it’s just how I am as a player,” he said after the Knicks win. “I hate losing, hearing our fans boo. That annoys me also, that fuels the fire. For me, I’m all about winning. However, I’ve got to get it done, I’m going to get it done.”
Still, it will be easier done with the threat of a shot.
The Sixers are an Eastern Conference title contender with Simmons, despite the shooting flaws, leading them. It plays well in the regular season, but can it work in the playoffs?
By then, Brown and the players have to be hoping that Simmons is more comfortable shooting.
“As he continues to gain confidence in his shooting, that will open up another element to his game,” Sixers forward Tobias Harris said.
The 6-foot-10 Simmons is so talented that he will always have long stretches of dominance without a shot.
With it, he can achieve that extra gear that Brown thinks is so attainable.