Rookie Simmons on the defensive for 76ers
Head Coach Brown wants to see prized No. 1 pick focus on defensive side of ball
Brett Brown welcomed the No. 1 overall pick in the last NBA draft to training camp Tuesday at Stockton University, aware that he may have to begin with a certain level of tact.
POMONA, N.J. >> Brett Brown welcomed the No. 1 overall pick in the last NBA draft to training camp Tuesday at Stockton University, aware that he may have to begin with a certain level of tact.
For that, the Sixers’ coach gave himself a place in coach-speak history with this initial analysis of Ben Simmons’ first official professional basketball practice.
“The world is going to be easier for him,” Brown said, “if he locks into NBA defense.”
Since 95 percent of the Sixers’ camp practices are closed to the press, even though they are open to dozens of spectators, there can be no real analysis of the way Simmons defended during Training Camp Day 1.
That hint from Brown, however, was a cool blast of pure basketball poetry.
“It’s always a struggle when new guys come into the NBA on offense,” Brown said. “It is a well-defended league. It is a well-scouted league. He is playing for the first time against men. And where I think he can control his own destiny the soonest and the easiest is by locking into defense.
“He is physically gifted. He is 6-foot-10, 245 pounds with a real bounce to his game. And I try to sell that to Ben. And he embraces that. We’re going to turn him loose in open court. He’s going to rebound and lead breaks. We’ll give him the ball in some situations. But for him to drive his own car and control his own destiny, the simplest way is through the defensive end. And that’s my message to Ben this week.”
In the brief chunk of a controlled scrimmage open to the media Tuesday, Simmons seemed comfortable handling the ball, but was playing on a wing, despite his point-guard skills. Such was the loose way Brown outlined his plan on Draft Night, declaring Simmons a four-man, reminding that it is the ability to guard an opposing player that often dictates a player’s position.
Simmons is 20. He has time. Just the same, that was his first morning Tuesday in what Elton Brand had declared to be a “blood bath” for frontcourt playing time. A summer league, it was not.
“The competition is a lot higher,” the rookie observed. “So that means I have to pick up my game a lot more. I am looking forward to that.”
Brown’s challenge to dig in and guard somebody did come through without garble.
“That’s the thing that we are going to work on the most,” Simmons said. “We are going to be a defensive team, coming in with that mindset, defense first.”
While celebrated for his court vision and ability to score inside with both hands, Simmons had been criticized in his one season at LSU for his outside shooting. The Australian took three three-pointers in his abbreviated college career, made one, and shot 67 percent from the line. A day after insisting that he was not worried about his shooting, there Simmons was after practice Tuesday, working alone on his foul shots.
“It was just repetition,” the left-handed shooter said. “It was just staying focused and keep what I have to do in the back of my mind.”
He will have to score, inside and from the line. He has that ability. But Brown’s quick emphasis on what happens at the other end made it clear what will likely keep Simmons on the floor. Fortunately for the Sixers, Simmons had at least one reason Tuesday not to be overwhelmed by the challenge.
“A lot of it is similar,” he said, when asked if the responsibilities and calls at the defensive end were new to him. “Because Brett coached in Australia, a lot of the terms were what I grew up knowing. So once I heard them, it kind of clicked.”
That will help him adjust to that new level of play.
“As soon as guys lose on this court, you see how frustrated they get,” he said. “So that’s a good sign. I think everyone is willing to put in that work and get to the next level. And I think we have a great team.”
Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons poses for a photographer during media day at the NBA basketball team’s practice facility, Monday.