WASHINGTON: Australia’s Ben Simmons, last June’s NBA Draft top pick now sidelined by a fractured right foot, is part of a global initiative aimed at reviving the NBA’s woeful Philadelphia 76ers.
Alongside fellow NBA newcomers Joel Embiid of Cameroon and Dario Saric of Croatia, Simmons will be called upon to help advance the fortunes of a club that went an NBA-worst 10-72 last season, barely beating the all-time worst full-season record of 9-73 set by Philadelphia’s 1972-73 squad.
Just four seasons after winning just nine games, the 76ers made a run to the 1977 NBA Finals. A decade after the NBA’s worst-ever season, they were league champions. It’s that magic the Sixers seek to repeat as new young talent matures.
In the 33 seasons since the 1983 crown, the 76ers reached the finals only in 2001, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers. Over the past 13 seasons, they have won only one playoff series. They haven’t reached the playoffs since the labor-dispute shortened 2012 campaign. They haven’t had a winning 82-game season since 2004-05.
So it’s no wonder that Simmons, who broke his right small toe September 30 in the 76ers’ last training camp scrimmage, had a update posted on Instagram that sounds like the same sort of message the team needs.
“Turning a negative into a positive is never easy,” Simmons wrote. “Thanks to everyone for the support and love. Looking forward to coming back stronger and better.”
Sixers coach Brett Brown said that Simmons is in a walking boot and conducts his rehabilitation work in the team’s training complex, emphasizing learning about the NBA, improving his health and working on his shooting.
“There’s a portion that is education, where we will sit and show him different things on tape and educate him in the league. It’s classroom stuff,” Brown said.
“And then there’s stuff where he will sit in a chair and get his elbow under the ball until he can actually stand, where we have a chance to help grow his shot.”
In an NBA general managers poll, 70 percent said that in five years, Simmons will be regarded as the top player from this year’s NBA rookie class.
Embiid, Saric adjust to NBA
The 76ers have barely said hello to Embiid, the 22-year-old, 7-foot (2.13m) center they selected third in the 2014 draft, but he has scored 10.3 points and grabbed 5.5 rebounds a game in pre-season play.
“As far as game shape wise, I’m not 100 percent,” Embiid said. “I still get tired. In practice, we’ve got to work on that.”
Embiid says he is quickly adjusting to the NBA’s speed and physical style.
“When I look out on the floor, I don’t see him take plays off,” Brown said. “He’s really trying to push himself. I feel like he is on path to arrive on opening night in a really good place.”
Saric, 22, was taken 12th by Orlando in the 2014 NBA Draft but played in Turkey the past two seasons before signing with the 76ers in July. He is averaging 8.4 points and 4.0 rebounds in NBA pre-season games.
Saric seeks consistency after shooting 9-of-13 in two pre-season games, then going 2-for-19 until making his last three in a row.
“I rush the last couple games,” Saric said. “Maybe because I’m still young, I tried to maybe show the people I can shoot, I can play maybe because I’m a little so excited to show everything. Maybe I need to slow down, step-by-step, and if I do that, I think everything will be fine.”