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October 02, 2019

Training camp notes: Ben Simmons taking vocal ownership of Sixers

Ben Simmons' place on Philadelphia's leadership totem pole has been hard to figure out the last couple of seasons. He has been surrounded by dominant personalities at basically all times, sharing a locker room with the trash-talking Joel Embiid, the force of nature Jimmy Butler, and even a perfectionist in JJ Redick who was never shy about voicing his opinion when he had something to say.

That made it easy to assume Simmons was happy to settle into the "lead by example" role without raising his voice much. But we have seen a different version of him early in training camp, as assertive as he's always been as a player with an added layer of vocal leadership added on top.

Brett Brown made note of this during Tuesday's opening practice, and he expanded on why he believes Simmons has emerged as a more confident, commanding figure on Philadelphia's practice court.

"The familiarity I think with me and his teammates and the system expedites a level of confidence, born out of he knows what to do," Brown said. "To grow those words and familiarity is everything because it sets a base of not overthinking. What's he saying? What's it mean? Ben's playing with more of a freedom because I think he just knows the system more intimately."

The new Sixers in camp have explained they're not super concerned about the speed with which they can immerse themselves in the offense. While terminology changes from team-to-team, Philadelphia's overarching philosophy is about sharing the basketball and weaponizing the pass above all else, and that simplifies the initiation for guys who are getting up to speed.

Simmons, as Tobias Harris explained Tuesday, is part of the reason it's easy for new guys to get acclimated. Though Simmons is working on adding new things to his game and living up to his claim of wanting to be the best defender on the team, it's the point guard approach that has stood out for his teammates.

"Ben is really locked in defensively, and locked in offensively understanding everybody's spots," Harris said. "You're seeing a young guy who, not for nothing, can go out there and get his own shot when he wants. He's been out here trying to find guys in their spots where they want to play, and he's doing a very good job of just reading the defense."

Much to the chagrin of those of you sitting at home, no, we still have not seen Simmons take jumpers within Philadelphia's practice setting. The one free throw we saw him take, which was documented elsewhere, did not exactly look pretty:

But I would caution against reading into this on any level. The media has seen roughly 10-15 minutes of total basketball over the first two days of camp, and as the point guard, Simmons' primary objective is not just to waltz down the court and let it fly during a drill while they're trying to build offensive familiarity.

We're not going to know much about his progress as a shooter (provided there is any) until we see him in a real game setting. What training camp is good for figuring out is who is coming back from a long offseason break prepared for a long season, and that's especially relevant for a player who just got handed a massive contract extension this offseason. No one wants to see complacency from a group with high expectations, or from a player the team has invested in as a pillar of the future.

In that sense, Simmons has been an integral part of setting the tone to open camp. Brown has been happy with where the team is at with their conditioning and their approach to open camp, and the key will be sustaining that right up until the season opener on October 23.

Other notes

Hearing the words "Joel Embiid" and "did not participate" in the same sentence is enough to send chills down the spine of most Sixers fans, but fear not. The big man only missed the final part of practice today, and a Sixers spokesman told reporters it was previously built into his preseason plan, not any sort of blip.

Even better news — his head coach is impressed with where he's at on the conditioning front, which provides the big man with a great starting point for the season.

"I think it was excellent," Brown said. "He obviously has done a lot of work to lose that amount of weight and come in, because we all can go on a diet. But to all of a sudden apply your weight with your cardio and have a base with wind, that's the holy grail. And he did it, he obviously did it."

Matisse Thybulle continues to live up to his reputation as an impact player on the defensive end, zone defense or no zone defense. In the brief action we saw on Tuesday, Thybulle was disruptive and active during drills.

Josh Richardson, who had to break into the league as a defensive specialist before turning into the player he is today, has some knowledge about what it takes to deal with the ups and downs of being a young wing in the NBA. He said Tuesday that he likes what he has seen from Philadelphia's young wing duo of Thybulle and Zhaire Smith, and that his message is to stay confident even if results don't come early.

"I've just been trying to keep 'em confident, honestly," Richardson said. "Matisse made some good moves today, a couple of them didn't drop, couple of them did, I just tried to stay in his ear about keep attacking, stay positive. Zhaire did a great job on defense, he had one block over here where it was like, he came out of nowhere, he can do a lot of things a lot of guys in the NBA can't do. I'm excited about both of them." 

How intense is a Sixers training camp compared to those that are held elsewhere around the NBA? It probably depends on who you ask.

"It's not super different [from Miami] honestly, the intensity is great here so I appreciate that," Richardson said. "There's a lot of great guys on the team in the locker room. When you get traded, you never know how you're going to fit with the guys off the court, but Ben and all those guys have been great in helping that transition."

On the subject of team bonding, it sometimes comes in ways that'll sound familiar if you played sports growing up. Richardson and Harris spent the day together at Harris' home after practice on Tuesday, and Richardson said it only started because Harris simply needed a ride home after camp. But after eating together and "chillin," Richardson said they ended up finding each other on the court quite frequently on Wednesday, so maybe that stuff matters after all.

As for Harris' take on camp in Philly vs. what it was like in other spots, he had a good laugh about what the NBA was like when he arrived on the scene vs. how things are managed now.

"Today's game with load management and technology, it's a little different, I had Stan Van Gundy two-a-days, and Scott Skiles two-a-days when I came into the league," Harris said. "So I was telling some of the young guys, listen, we do one-a-day here, but when I came in it was a two-a-day workload."

He may not be telling these kids to get off of his lawn, but Harris has morphed into one of the elder statesmen in Philadelphia despite not being all that old, which he had a laugh about on Wednesday.

"I was out to eat with [Matisse Thybulle] and [Marial Shayok] and I was just like dang, I really just took the rooks out to dinner," Harris said. "I had very good vets that took me under their wing, so I just want to make sure I give the same thing back." 

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