Brett Brown on Ben Simmons: 'It's happening'

Dave Uram
November 21, 2019 - 8:22 am
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Disregard the fact the Knicks have only four wins. They’re NBA players who are paid to perform on a nightly basis, and to their credit, tested the Sixers in the first of 14 games at the Wells Fargo Center between Wednesday night and Christmas. 

This was well worth the price of admission, as the 76ers survived a pesky New York squad 109-104, overcoming a 17-point third quarter deficit, almost single-handedly by the elite All-Star talents of 6-foot-10 point guard Ben Simmons, who hit his first NBA three-pointer well before showing the maturity and leadership to anchor this type of comeback. 

Simmons was the best player on the floor, by far. 

Period. 

Ben Simmons’ Bell Ringing Performance

Through Simmons’ first 11 games this season, he showed no apparent desire to attempt even a mid-range jumper, leaving fans uneasy and frustrated. 

Well, mark down the date—November 20, 2019—Simmons’ first NBA three-pointer. 

It came in the first quarter as both teams were still getting into the rhythm of the game. Simmons stood in the corner in front of the 76ers bench and took a pass from Furkan Korkmaz. Without hesitation, as Mitchell Robinson foolishly played off, Simmons let it fly. 

The best part, other than the epic make and crowd reaction, was he didn’t hesitate. Simmons took the pass from Furkan Korkmaz, Mitchell Robinson was playing off and Simmons let it fly. 

“YES, HE DID IT” Marc Zumoff screamed on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“It feels good,” Simmons said. “You put work into something, and it pays off.” 

Wells Fargo Center exploded. 

“Honestly, when I’m on the floor I don’t hear anything.” 

That’s the type of focus that Simmons showed while anchoring the 76ers third quarter comeback. The Knicks went on a 17-0 run from the end of the first half through most of the third quarter. They built their lead to 17, and it felt like Simmons’ first three would be spoiled by another uninspiring performance from a rather underwhelming Sixers team so far this season. But, talent trumped everything this time, which Simmons has more than enough. 

He was all over the place—dunking, drawing fouls of both the defensive and offensive variety, finding teammates, deflecting balls, tipping balls. He was a machine. 

“He’s a 6-foot-10, strong, he’s a tank” Brett Brown said. “He sits down and he moves his feet. He can chest people and level them off so they don’t turn corners. He was the bell ringer tonight, and it didn’t take much to determine that for me.” 

If Simmons starts shooting jumpers regularly—watch out. 

“It’s happening,” Brown said. “He’s 23-years-old. He’s gone from a college ‘four-man,’ to an NBA point guard, to an NBA All-Star and was rewarded with a significant contract. His progression has been pretty good. So, this is a small step, but  a step towards the other pieces of his growth.” 

‘The Big 3’ From The Bench

The Sixers bench is exponentially better this season—that’s not debatable. Three reserves who stepped up big time Wednesday were Mike Scott (12 points on four-of-six from three land), James Ennis (11 points and team high plus-15) and Trey Burke (nine points). 

Scott made huge three’s down the stretch, Ennis teamed up with Simmons in the 17-point rally and Trey Burke provided an offensive spark, being used by a Brown as a ‘two,’ reminding him of an iconic 76er.

“You end up going to a point guard, and a scoring point guard like Trey is, and treating him like A.I. Like letting him just kind of run off the ball and looping him up and giving him the ball and putting him in pick-and-rolls and I thought he was really good,” Brown said. 

One of Scott’s three’s gave the Sixers a 93-90 lead, and another 99-95.

“He is tough. He really is built for this city. There’s  a physicality. There’s an edge that he has.” 

Simmons was the key to victory, but these three bench players were instrumental as well. 

Simmons Aside, Starting 5 Two Thumbs DOWN

While Joel Embiid’s point and rebound totals ended up being more than sufficient, 23 (game high) and 12, his shooting percentages were terrible, on the floor and at the foul line. He needed to be better, as did Al Horford and Tobias Harris. 

Neither Horford nor Harris could buy a bucket. Bad timing on a night when Josh Richardson was out due to a hip injury. 

Embiid Almost Got In Another Fight

Late in the second quarter, former Celtic and fellow Kanas alum, Marcus Morris, pulled Embiid backwards from the around the neck area in a loose ball situation. Both are physical players and it’s not surprising something like that happened, but that doesn’t take away from the fact Morris was totally at fault. 

Still, Embiid got up aggressively, eventually pulled away from potential mess by Simmons.  

“Get away from the whole situation, which I did,” Embiid said. “I backed away. I vowed to never get suspended again.” 

The referees ruled double technicals, and Morris was hit with a flagrant 1 because, let’s be honest, what Morris did was dirty. However, Embiid was still frustrated by the technical. 

“It’s starting to be annoying,” Embiid said. “I mean, it started last year in the playoffs and it keeps going. It’s just annoying, but I feel like we all humans. Referees, they’re great guys. They’re great people, so maybe they see something else, so I guess I trust whatever they feel like they see.” 

That last part of the quote was a nice backtrack by Embiid. 

Building Offensive Chemistry 

Offensively, the Sixers are still figuring things out, and it’s going to take time for the offense to get into form, as Brown has noted multiple times. The head coach is targeting the holidays as a hopeful time to see the chemistry on this roster take shape on the offensive side of the court. 

The problem is, when starters don’t play because of injury, load management or suspensions, that doesn’t help the cause. Richardson’s injury is the latest example of that. How in the world is this team supposed to be a well-tuned offensive machine, bully ball or not, by the New Year? 

“It makes it more difficult,” Brown said pregame. “Like tonight is another one of those, but that’s the deal. You just got to keep going. I think I’ve said until Christmas, and I stand by that. Could be a little bit longer. I feel like we’re all going to come into a room and say, ‘You know, it looks like your’e in pretty good sync.’ I hope that comes before then, but I think realistically it doesn’t feel like it will, or it should. To me, and I scold myself, shame on me for thinking it’s going to happen as quickly as I wished it was. The team is very, what’s the word, the skill sets are different, and I say that in a grateful way. But, it’s a little bit of a jigsaw puzzle to figure out. And I think that the timeline of that, I don’t know—your point about, ‘we haven’t had a bunch of players starters together a lot,’ is true. If you all like looked at raw numbers off our starters on minutes player together, I think we’re the second lowest in the NBA, so that makes it more of a challenge.”

While it’s a challenge, Brown thinks it’s different from last season, when he was trying to jell a third version of this team after the trade deadline. The difference is this is the roster he plans on coaching the rest of the season, and beyond that. In other words, there shouldn’t be two blockbuster trades like there were in 2018-19. And for that reason, when things really start to matter in April, May and June, the plan is for the Sixers to be much more crisp when controlling the basketball.​