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

The Coffs Coast Advocate - - CAREERS -

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.”

Pho­tos: Mitchell Leff/Getty

HARD WORK: Ben Sim­mons has put in ex­tra work to im­prove on last sea­son. IN­SET: In ac­tion against Mel­bourne United.

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