Remarkably, Simmons’s first career three-pointer did not come until his 172nd NBA game and his 18th career attempt. The top pick in 2016 draft went 0-11 from outside during his 2018 rookie of the year campaign and 0-6 in 2018-19, when he earned his first all-star nod. He has attempted only one three-pointer — a miss — over 22 career playoff games, but he did connect from outside during an Oct. 8 preseason exhibition against the Guangzhou Loong Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association.
“Like I’ve said for a while now, other people get more excited than I do,” Sixers Coach Brett Brown said afterward. “How can that [three] not be a good thing? If we’re all honest, that’s the first legitimate three that he’s taken. There’s been a lot of heaves at the ends of periods. His footwork, his confidence. He rose up, he didn’t blink, he looked great. It’s happening. This is a small step, but a step toward the other pieces of his growth.”
Despite extraordinary vision and a rare combination of size, speed and skill, the 23-year-old Simmons has been defined by his extreme aversion to outside shooting in the minds of some critics. He took just three three-pointers and made only one during his freshman season at LSU, and had not attempted a single long two-pointer — let alone a three — during the 2019-20 season before Wednesday.
Floor-spacing is no laughing matter for the Sixers, who entered Wednesday tied for the NBA’s 19th-ranked offense despite a star-studded starting lineup that includes Simmons, Joel Embiid, Al Horford and Tobias Harris. After losing J.J. Redick and Jimmy Butler in the offseason, Philadelphia ranked 28th in the league with 9.7 made three-pointers per game entering Wednesday.
Simmons posted 18 points, 7 rebounds and 13 assists while shooting 7-for-9 from the field. He did resist the temptation to indulge in a heat check, though, finishing a spotless 1-for-1 from beyond the arc.