PHILADELPHIA — It finally happened.
“It feels good to put work in in the summer and it pays off,” Simmons said following Philadelphia’s 109-104 win over the New York Knicks at Wells Fargo Center Wednesday night.
The moment fans here have been waiting for came with 8:20 to go in the first quarter, where Simmons caught a swing pass from forward Furkan Korkmaz in the corner in front of Philadelphia’s bench, squared up to the basket, and knocked down the shot. He then turned and calmly ran back down court, while the fans went wild.
Simmons said he didn’t notice, but he is more than aware of the attention that’s paid to his shooting — as is his coach, Brett Brown. But even Brown, who has tried to tamp down the speculation about when — or if — Simmons will start taking and making 3’s on a regular basis, admitted it was an important step for him to knock down a triple in an NBA game.
“It is,” Brown said. “Like I’ve said for awhile now, other people get more excited about it than I do. But how can that not be a good thing? And, really, if we’re all honest, that’s the first legitimate sort of three he’s taken. A lot of them have been heaves at the end of periods, and stuff like that. But I think his footwork, his confidence, he rose up and he didn’t blink.
“He looked great.”
Simmons finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and 13 assists, with his defense and increasing of the tempo in the second half helping the Sixers (9-5) recover from a 17-point third quarter deficit to come back to both beat New York (4-11) and remain undefeated at home. But for as well as Simmons played, it was his shot that was the biggest topic of postgame discussion.
It had been almost four years — since Nov. 30, 2015, when Simmons was a freshman at LSU playing against the College of Charleston — since he’d made a 3-pointer in a competitive game. And it was the first time this season Simmons had even attempted to take a 3-pointer after an offseason full of speculation it could become a bigger part of his game. Video of him taking them in pickup games surfaced this offseason, and after he made his first triple of any kind in a Sixer uniform during a preseason game last month against the Guangzhou Long-Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association.
“It’s not that I don’t need to do it,” Simmons said during the preseason, when asked if he needs to add a 3-point shot to his game. “I’m confident in saying I’m not a great shooter. I’m getting better, though.”
Besides the act of actually making a 3, the shot stood out for several other reasons, too. It was the first time in Simmons’ career that he even attempted a corner 3-pointer, as well as the first time he’d attempted one of a catch-and-shoot variety, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
It also was just the third of Simmons’ 17 3-point attempts in regular season games (he also missed one during the playoffs) that came within the flow of regular offense, with both of the others coming last season — on Feb. 10 against the visiting Los Angeles Lakers and Feb. 25 against the New Orleans Pelicans.
“We need him to shoot,” Sixers center Joel Embiid said. “It’s great to see him make it, take it, most importantly make it. That’s great. He’s going to keep getting better and make it happen. But it was nothing special. We see it in practice. We’ve seen it a lot so it’s not surprising to me.”
Simmons’ shooting has become such a topic of discussion thanks to the amount he’s already accomplished in his time in the NBA. The No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Simmons was the 2018 Rookie of the Year (he missed his first full season with a broken foot), and then was an All-Star last season. This summer, the Sixers agreed to a five-year, $170 million max contract extension with him to keep him paired with Embiid for years to come.
“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, toward the other pieces of his growth.”
Simmons also made an additional piece of news after the game, when he said he plans to play for Australia in next summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Tuesday that the Australian national team is finalizing an agreement with Brown to be on the sidelines as its coach next summer, a role he previously held for the 2012 Olympics in London.
“I’m excited,” Simmons said. “I’m looking forward to it. He’s coaching me now, so we have a great relationship. I’ve known him my whole life. I’m excited to put together a great team.”
When asked afterward to clarify if that was a full commitment to play for Australia next summer, Simmons said that if he’s healthy, he wants to take part.
Australia has finished in fourth place in the last two major international tournaments — the 2016 Olympics and this summer’s World Cup — and has never medaled in either competition.