CAMDEN, NJ – Prior to Ben Simmons’ year-ending exit interview media availability, it had been a while since the 2016 number one pick addressed reporters. In fact, the last time he did so was, notably, October 26th, the same night the 76ers started what ended up being an entire season without him.
But there Simmons was Thursday at the Sixers’ training complex, looking relaxed, and speaking the part as well. As much as he seemed to be at peace with the series of events that cost him his true rookie year, his comments contained a sense of excitement for an important summer ahead.
“I finally got some good news the other day with my scan,” said Simmons, who Tuesday learned that he could begin progressing towards a return to full-fledged basketball activities. “Just got to keep moving forward.”
Simmons’ highly-anticipated debut season suffered a setback September 30th, when he fractured his right foot during the final practice of the final day of Sixers’ training camp. Shortly thereafter, the Australian began his rehab, while also receiving scans on his foot on a regular basis.
On February 24th, the collaborative decision to hold Simmons out for the remainder of the year was announced. He acknowledged the development was frustrating, a reaction that certainly couldn’t be begrudged.
Rather than allow a challenging situation to negatively seep into his psyche, Simmons instead did his best to make the most out of an adverse set of circumstances.
“I always want to be on the court, but at the same time, I couldn’t,” he said. “I was just trying to do what I could to help my team, and that was just try and get better.”
So how does a potentially game-changing, 6-foot-10, 240-pound, grab-and-go, downhill threat with rare ball-handling skills, court vision, and facilitating prowess stay busy, if he can’t do much on the court? Be a sponge, and soak everything in.
With his physical abilities limited, Simmons’ mental reps were at a premium. He and Brett Brown met on a regular basis, spit-balling strategy, and studying film. Simmons also attended practice and shootaround sessions while the Sixers were both at home, and on the road.
“It gave me a great opportunity to learn the game, and so I had a whole season where I could just learn,” said Simmons, who rarely lets the chance to pick up a basketball pass by. “I can’t sit still, but it gave me a chance. My patience is a lot better now. I think going into next season, I’m just going to be excited.”
There were practical, hands-on components to Simmons’ three-pronged rehab program as well. In addition to his classroom-style chats with Brown, he was in the weight room regularly, working with members of the Sixers’ strength and conditioning staff. Simmons also spent a good deal of time working on form shooting with John Townsend, a veteran NBA shooting coach with a strong pedigree.
“The whole time I was out, I was working it,” Simmons said of his shot.
As a freshman at LSU, Simmons connected on 56.0 percent of his field goal tries, while converting 67.0 percent of his free throw attempts. In six summer league outings for the Sixers, he shot 36.1 percent from the field, and 63.6 percent from the stripe.
“Me and J.T., every day we’re coming in and working.”
Among Simmons’ long-term goals is becoming one of the Sixers’ leaders. He found it beneficial to be surrounded this season by an influx of veterans, citing Jerryd Bayless (who he described as a “big brother”), Robert Covington, and Gerald Henderson as particularly positive influences.
Assuming a leadership role, Simmons realizes, comes with the territory of being a point guard, an assignment that Brown believes the 20-year old is ultimately cut out to handle, given his skill set and aptitude.
“I’m with that,” said Simmons, when asked about his fit at the point guard spot. “It’s going to be tough, but I definitely want to learn it.”
To facilitate his education at the position, Simmons has been reviewing plenty of tape, watching different teams and different point guards from across the league. He said he’s also studied Magic Johnson, a Hall of Famer to whom Simmons has been compared.
“You can learn from anything you watch. Watching him, the way he drove the ball, shoulders lower than the other players, things like that.”
Now on a gradual path towards being cleared for full-court, five-on-five drills, Simmons said he plans to start ramping up his floor work as soon as Tuesday.
“I’m starting straight away,” he said Thursday, “trying not to waste time, and get back.”
The words were good to hear, much like it was simply good to hear once again from Simmons himself.
Simmons Side Dishes
Here are a couple leftover Ben Simmons-related quotes of note from Thursday…
• Even though he wasn’t in uniform this season, Simmons took in plenty of home games at The Center . A seat on the bench provided him with a good introduction to the Philadelphia sports scene.
“The fans are unreal. It’s just exciting to have the fans there, even if we’re not having the best season. I think that just makes you want to play here and be here.”
• Having missed his entire rookie year, Simmons now shares common ground with Joel Embiid. The latter lottery pick logged 31 outings with the Sixers this season, exhibiting considerable promise along the way. Simmons liked what he saw.
“I can’t wait to play with him. I’m excited to play with him for sure. What I learned, he’s a fun guy, but at the same time he wants to win and compete no matter what.”
• Starting in January, Simmons began accompanying the Sixers on select road trips. His travels became more regular in March, during a stretch in which the club played 11 of 14 games outside of Philadelphia.
“It was good. It’s going to be easy for me next season, just because I’ve been through it now, and I know what to expect. I’m not going to be uncertain of certain things.”
• Jerryd Bayless, the veteran combo guard signed by the Sixers last summer, thinks that he and Simmons will be able to form a productive backcourt tandem, should Simmons take on lead guard duties.
“I think probably [my] shooting will complement him, helping him with ball handling responsibilities, and just showing him,” Bayless said Thursday. “I think that’s the biggest thing. Have someone out there who can help him move forward faster, quicker, not only for himself, but for the team standpoint will be beneficial.”