SACRAMENTO, Calif. – 76ers point guard Ben Simmons plays like a four-year veteran – not the rookie he is. That same could be said last season about his teammate, Joel Embiid.
Brett Brown has an idea why.
“I think the fact that they sat out and got older and bigger and stronger and I think smarter, how could that had not helped them?” the coach said of his cornerstones both sitting out their initial professional season. “Could they had jumped into the league and done what they are doing? I think they are better off for it.”
Brown doesn’t know how much better it made Simmons and Embiid. However, he does feel the “redshirt” tag is the best way he can explain the maturity in their games compared to traditional rookie Markelle Fultz, who the Sixers took first overall in June’s NBA draft.
Embiid actually missed his first two seasons due to two foot surgeries after being selected third overall in the 2014 draft. Meanwhile, Simmons, the 2016 first-overall pick, was sidelined all of last season with a frustrated right foot.
However, he’s averaging 17.8 points, 10.1 rebounds and eight assists. Simmons is the first player to record at least seven double-doubles in his first 10 games since Shaquille O’Neal opened his career with 11 consecutive double-doubles for the Orlando Magic during the 1992-93 season.
Last season, Simmons spent a lot of time studying video of point guards with Brown. The coach also quizzed him on what to do in certain in-game situations.
“I think it definitely helped,” he said. “But you cannot compare it to actually playing. I think I’ve learned more actually being on the court and playing and seeing different teams and sets and watching.
“But it did pay off being able to watch and learn the game.”
Embiid finished third in last season rookie-of-the-year voting. He probably would have been the runaway winner if not for suffering a season-ending tear of the meniscus in his left knee. He played in only 31 games because of rest or injuries.
The center was playing at an all-star level when he was healthy. He averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, and 2.1 assists last season. He was the Eastern Conference rookie of the month for October/November, December, and January. He was also the conference player of the week for the week of Jan. 16-22.
“I think Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have a chance to be great,” said Brown, who was around future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan during his tenure as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs.
“I don’t kick those words around irresponsibly,” he added. “I’ve had a chance to see in my San Antonio life what great looks like. I think those two have a chance.”