BIG BEN CLOCKS UP THE HOURS
Ben Simmons and 76ers coach work hard to get more from Aussie superstar in second year in NBA, writes MATT LOGUE
WATCHING Ben Simmons strut his stuff from a front-row seat is basketball beauty.
It’s the pre-season opener in Philadelphia and Simmons is putting on a show against his hometown team Melbourne.
The close vantage point gives you a true appreciation of the 22-year-old’s God-given assets.
Big, strong and fast, impeccable vision and passing ability, Simmons has most basketball boxes ticked.
For a rival coach, it’s a potent package that gives you sleepless nights wading over the scouting report and game footage.
Just ask Melbourne United mentor Dean Vickerman, who was handed the formidable task of formulating a plan to contain Simmons in the historic NBL versus NBA pre-season clash.
“Ben’s speed is just phenomenal,” Vickerman said.
“He has also got a bit of his old man Dave’s strength. But he is an absolute handful with his speed and ball handling ability – it is just so elite right now.
“He draws in three or four people every time he handles the ball. In some ways it is a little bit like a D-Mac (Darryl McDonald) in the NBL back in the day.
“He doesn’t necessarily shoot it that well but the way he just keeps going by people and drawing people is amazing.
“Ben is so good at being able to see where help comes from to distribute the basketball.
“The Sixers have done a really good thing to put together a roster with a lot of shooting that is going to allow Ben to find lanes and open up the floor.”
Seeing Simmons execute coach Brett Brown’s plan is poetry in motion. It’s seamless, effective and damn entertaining.
Philadelphia’s play may look effortless and slick but it has taken weeks of work and experiment behind the scenes.
This toil was on show at the Sixers’ training facility on game eve.
Simmons could be seen doing extras on his shooting and free-throws, while he also contributed heavily to the team’s new-look scrimmages.
Coach Brown revealed he had devoted endless hours to “gasifying” training in a bid to create competition and replicate game-day scenarios.
One play he wants to emphasise is getting a piece of the paint in the drive-and-kick game to spread the floor and create space for Simmons and fellow Sixers star Joel Embiid.
To achieve this, the corners on the court at the Sixers’ practice facility were painted red.
Brown wants his wings to fill them in the first three to five seconds of the shot clock to allow Simmons and Embiid space in the early offence.
In a scrimmage, those plays are worth four points.
“We need to keep the corners filled, let Ben be a racehorse, let the corners open up space for Joel on the rim runs,” Brown explained.
“Everything that matters most is best achieved through competition.
“If the loser has some level of penalty, that is how athletes respond best.
“So when we ‘gamify’ stuff it enhances the competition and it drills down on an area that we really want to ‘gamify’.
“For instance, if we want to get to the paint and a kick-out three is now worth four, that is ‘gasifying’ part of the scrimmage.
“It is one of those things you either are there or you’re not. If you’re not, you better be.”
Brown also has high expectations for Simmons following the point guard’s recordbreaking first season.
He has two clear goals for the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year for the 2018/19 campaign.
“I want Ben to feature on an All-Defensive team and I want him shooting more than four free-throws a game,” he said.
“How he does that we’ve talked about within our structure and within his mentality.
“I believe with his improved shooting he will shoot better than 58 per cent from the line.
“If he does that and he gets to the line more, just a single point I’m told by my analysts can equal two to four more wins.
“I think those two goals are really achievable.”
Simmons is rapt with his rookie NBA season but says he is determined not to let his standards slip in his sophomore year.
He has been working hard on his biggest flaw – his jump shot – in a bid to take his game to another level.
The Sixers star acknowledged his outside shot needed attention but he also stressed his focus was producing a strong overall game.
I KNOW I CAN BE ONE OF THE BEST DEFENDERS IN THE LEAGUE - BEN SIMMONS
“It is just little things that can improve my game and it may not need to be a threepoint shot,” he said.
“It might be making four more free-throws, which gets me to 20 points.
“Then you are looking at a triple-double almost, which is funny because the other stats like rebounds will probably go up.
“But I text Brett (Brown) frequently and he wants to see me get better at one thing and if I get better at freethrows or whatever it is that might add six more points.”
We all know Simmons has no problem stuffing the stats sheet with his scoring, assists and rebounds.
But Brown believes he can also become better on the defensive end. Simmons agrees.
“I know I can be one of the best defenders in the league,” he said.
“I think just being more alert and holding myself more accountable on the defensive side of things.
“I think it is just being more of a threat, besides passing and scoring a lot more.”
HARD WORK: Ben Simmons has put in extra work to improve on last season. INSET: In action against Melbourne United.