Simmons shines early, but Sixers drop preseason opener

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Memphis 110, Philadelphia 89 – Box Score

With Joel Embiid sitting out, the Sixers introduced Ben Simmons last in pregame introductions, a spot known as the hammer and reserved for the team’s top attraction. After having to sit out more than a year due to injury, Simmons finally got the chance to prove why he’s worthy of that position and of being a focal point of the team (and the league as a whole).

The 2016 1st overall pick wasted no time announcing his presence, scoring the first four points of the game, then finding J.J. Redick for a triple and nonchalantly delivering a half court lob to Richaun Holmes.

In all, Simmons scored or assisted on the team’s first 14 points, finishing the night with a final of line of 6 points on 2-8 shooting, 7 rebounds, and 9 assists against just 1 turnover. As expected, the outside shot wasn’t falling, but it was encouraging that Simmons was able to get where he wanted to on the court seemingly at will. Having Simmons run the pick-and-roll as the ball-handler also created some mismatches where Simmons found himself guarded by a much smaller guard, something he’ll be able to exploit easily as he gets more comfortable.

Simmons also created a ton of wide open looks for his teammates simply by drawing the attention of the Memphis defense. Robert Covington particularly benefited from some Simmons feeds, ending the night 4-10 from behind the arc. Covington has always been a bit below average percentage-wise from downtown because so many of his shots were heavily contested; I don’t think that will be as much of an issue this season.

On the other end of the spectrum, Markelle Fultz did not look great, shooting just 2-13 from the field for 4 points. The jumper that has been a contentious issue lately in training camp, after Fultz reportedly tinkered with it on his own, did not look smooth at all. Fultz also seemed to get off-balance any time he felt contact in the lane, rather than powering through and finishing strong. Let’s reserve the hot takes on Fultz until after he’s played more than 23 professional minutes. Unlike Simmons, who was at least around NBA competition for a year even if he couldn’t take the floor, this was Markelle’s initial first-hand look at this level.

Other Notes:

J.J. Redick shot the ball as advertised, nailing both of his three point attempts, including the below shot that turned into a 4-point play.

It’s incredibly nice to have a professional shooter who can calmly set himself and knock down a jumper. That was probably what I missed the most during the deep Process years. Also of note on that 4-point play, T.J. McConnell gave an emphatic fist pump, which is such an on-brand T.J. move for a preseason game. Respect the gritness.

Vegan Jah…not terrible! Jahlil Okafor looked spry in tallying 13 points on 5-6 shooting, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 19 minutes.

There was the usual ball-stopping from Jahlil, particularly one instance where he was surrounded by three Grizzlies defenders, but still tried to put the ball on the floor, getting bailed out by a foul call. Still, as far as third-string centers go, it was a solid performance. You would hope for more than solid, third-string center from a third overall pick, but baby steps.

Sixers fans took an immediate dislike to Kris Humphries, who looked awful in his 7 minutes, missing both of his shot attempts, turning the ball over a couple times, and generally just looking uncoordinated and out of sync. The crowd began booing Humphries when he checked into the game or whenever he touched the ball; it was probably the quickest they’ve ever turned on a player. We won’t be seeing Humphries around past the next couple weeks.

The defense needs to be better, especially considering Philadelphia was facing a Grizzlies team playing without Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. If only there was a 7-foot-forever behemoth capable of quarantining the painted area and hounding smaller guards on the perimeter waiting to take the floor at some point. Such a force of nature would certainly help.


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