The 2019-20 Sixers have, after much anticipation, transformed from an alluring idea to a reality. In this new reality, Ben Simmons makes three-point shots.
They opened the preseason Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center with a 144-86 win over the Guangzhou Loong-Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association. Guangzhou was, if you could not tell from the final score, severely overmatched.
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Simmons, 0 for 17 for his career from three-point range, hit a three from the right wing with 1.2 seconds left in the first half. Naturally, we'll start with that shot in our observations:
• Simmons' jumper might not mean much in the big picture. It was, after all, a shot in a preseason game that gave his team a 41-point lead.
Finally, though, he did it, and the crowd at Wells Fargo Center acted like he'd just hit the game-winner to seal a playoff series
Simmons has made similar shots often in non-game situations - his pregame warmup actually ended with a jumper from close to that exact spot.
The difference between that and a real game, however, is significant. If you question whether it was an important moment, observe his teammates' ecstatic reaction.
Now, we'll see where that shot leads. Simmons said at media day that he'll take three-pointers this season when open. If those words were genuine, him taking three-point shots could eventually become a somewhat normal occurrence. At the present moment, it's still a thrilling novelty to fans.
• The starting five took a while to find a rhythm - Guangzhou actually capitalized on a sleepy start to take a 7-5 lead.
There weren't any startling revelations. Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid are indeed very big and very difficult to score against. Each player had some good moments, and they seemed to be on the same wavelength as a unit more often than not. They'll learn much more about each other and how to play together when they face better competition - the Hornets, on Friday at 7:30 p.m., are up next.
• Brett Brown said pregame that he'd play a "semblance of a rotation in the first half," with a shift to a mentality of getting most of his players minutes in the second half.
His first two substitutions were Matisse Thybulle and James Ennis, in for Richardson and Embiid, with Horford moving to center. Trey Burke was the next sub about two minutes later, replacing Simmons, and Mike Scott came off the bench late in the first quarter.
Plenty can - and likely will - change before the opener on Oct. 23 vs. the Celtics, but those substitution patterns are worth tracking throughout the preseason. Expect to see the Horford-Simmons pairing more as Brown hones in on his best groupings. He mentioned Monday that he thinks that duo has potential.
The Embiid-Richardson pairing is another one Brown seems determined to grow, with those two working to develop their own version of the Embiid-JJ Redick dribble handoff chemistry, which was such a fundamental part of the Sixers' offense the last two seasons.
• He wasn't quite as much of a defensive pest as during Saturday's Blue x White Scrimmage, but Thybulle had another strong game and further staked his claim for a significant regular-season role.
Thybulle is well suited to playing in a defense that hunts the ball. He's constantly swarming opponents, flying into passing lanes and sparking transition offense.
He finished with 10 points on 4 for 6 shooting (2 for 4 from three-point range), three steals and two blocks.
• Neither Burke nor Raul Neto seemed to take a sizable advantage in the backup point guard battle, though Burke was the one who got to play with the regulars. Burke had 11 points on 4 for 7 shooting and four assists in 14 minutes, while Neto had two points on 1 for 2 shooting and five assists in 10 minutes. Shake Milton hit two threes soon after entering the game in the third quarter.
It will be difficult in general for Brown to glean much from a game in which his team had such a gaping talent advantage - he likely won't read much into any stats from this one.
• The Sixers trapped and picked up full court with some regularity. Though there wasn't much risk in doing so against an inferior opponent, it wouldn't be surprising to see more of that aggression during the regular season.
Ime Udoka, the team's new de facto defensive coordinator, wants the Sixers to "make them feel you" and force more turnovers. The Sixers, 27th in turnovers forced last season at 12.7 per game, turned Guangzhou over 23 times.
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