PHILADELPHIA — It finally happened.
After more than two seasons and in his 172nd NBA game, Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons made a 3-pointer.
“It feels good to put work in in the summer and it pays off,” Simmons said after Philadelphia’s 109-104 win over the New York Knicks at Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night.
The moment 76ers fans have been waiting for came with 8:20 to go in the first quarter, when 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 turned and calmly ran downcourt while the fans went wild.
Simmons said he didn’t notice the reaction, but he is aware of the attention that has been 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 3s on a regular basis, said it was an important step to knock down a triple in an NBA game.
“Like I’ve said for a while now, other people get more excited about it than I do. But how can that not be a good thing?” Brown said. “And really, if we’re all honest, that’s the first legitimate sort of 3 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, 13 assists and seven rebounds, 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 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 made a 3-pointer in a competitive game. It was the first time this season Simmons had even attempted a 3-pointer after an offseason full of speculation that it could become a bigger part of his game. Video of him taking them in pickup games surfaced this offseason and again after he made his first triple of any kind in a Sixers 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. It was the first time in Simmons’ career that he attempted a corner 3-pointer, as well as the first time he attempted one of a catch-and-shoot variety, according to ESPN Stats & 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. Both of the others came 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 has 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 was an All-Star last season. This summer, the Sixers agreed to a five-year, $170 million maximum contract extension with Simmons 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 4 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 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 sideline 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.”
Asked 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 past two major international tournaments — the 2016 Olympics and this summer’s World Cup — and has never medaled in either competition.