Seltzer's Notebook: Simmons Helps Out in Boston, Holmes' Status

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

Simmons' Day Ends With One Final “First”
The latest encouraging bits of news regarding Ben Simmons’ rehab progress came in waves Friday. First, when morning shootaround opened up to the media, there was the 2016 number one pick in plain sight, talking with fellow players, and doing some basic, informal, non-strenuous court work.

Why was this development noteworthy? Most of all, because it was happening while the Sixers were away from their Camden, New Jersey headquarters. Prior to this weekend, Simmons had never previously joined the team for a road trip.

Then, later in the day, another “first” occurred. About two hours before tip-off at T.D. Garden, Simmons, decked out in some Sixers warm-up gear, emerged from the visitor’s locker room, and, amidst some stretching and weight lifting excercises, proceeded to take part in helping his club get loose for its match-up with the Boston Celtics.

 Pregame vs Celtics (1.6.17)

 Pregame vs Celtics (1.6.17)

The extent of Simmons’ basketball-related activities wasn’t very intensive. His involvement, to the naked eye, appeared to be limited strictly to passing to teammates, and simulating pick-and-roll sets. He didn’t do any shooting or hard driving. 

 Pregame vs Celtics (1.6.17)

Still, the sight of Simmons on the floor, on a game night, simply smiling and engaging with teammates and coaches, was another new layer to the return-to-play program that the Sixers’ have meticulously designed for the LSU product. He shared a few laughs with Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, had a chat with assistant coach Billy Lange, and spoke briefly with Brett Brown’s father, Bob. 

“I feel like the things that we’re doing now are all pointed to return to play,” said the younger Brown, referring to Simmons. “His diet, his health, the progression of his fitness, his condition base is well-planned. The education of what we are doing offensively and defensively has been moving along since early November in a classroom type format with me. I think that when it does come time to actually play, the foundation on both sides, physically, mentally, structurally, I think that it’s being drip-fed at a rate that will let him do that comfortably.”

In all, Simmons’ stayed on the court Friday for about an hour and fifteen minutes, sporadically feeding just about every teammate who was out there with him. 

Simmons fractured his right foot on September 30th, the final day of training camp.

Keeping an Eye on Bigs
The Sixers, for the just the fourth time this season, had all four of their young five-men available. Brett Brown, however, opted to only use two, Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel, in Friday’s four-point loss to Boston.

Jahlil Okafor, for the first time this year, received a “Did Not Play - Coach’s Decision” designation in the box score. Richaun Holmes, meanwhile, wasn’t really part of the equation, as he still is looking to recapture NBA game form on the heels of a weeklong absence caused by a concussion.

Brown believes that by streamlining the frontcourt rotation in certain situations or games, the Sixers might be able to get a clearer view of what they have. 

“What we’re learning because we experiment a lot on purpose, and we’re very much still in our development stages, and we’re very much trying to judge pairings,” he said Friday. 

Brown made clear he doesn’t want to end up in a situation in which he feels forced to “cram” playing time.

“Let’s say you’ve got 48 [minutes] kind of unfair to the players,” he said. “We will figure it out as time unfolds, and the game unfolds, and go from there.”

And so it was that Embiid and Noel emerged as the primary centers whom the Sixers rolled with Friday. Separately, and together, they had an impact.

Embiid set team-highs in scoring, with 23 points, and rebounds, with eight. Noel provided what was arguably his top effort to-date, producing 13 points (6-8 fg), eight rebounds, two assists, two steals, and three blocked shots in 24 minutes.

Embiid and Noel were used as a tandem for only one segment of Friday’s contest. The pairing was deployed for the final two minutes, 47 seconds of the first quarter. Amidst this stretch, the Sixers outscored the Celtics by one, 6-5, with the following sequence emerging as the leading highlight:

On top of the dunk shown above, Noel also had a rebound and a steal in his time with Embiid. Embiid, for his part, knocked down a floater. 

“Sometimes, it’s difficult to pair up two bigs,” Brown said afterwards. “[Friday] wasn’t one of those nights. We decided to rotate the group because of that.” 

No Off Day for Holmes
Saturday morning, the Sixers announced their decision to send Richaun Holmes back to the Delaware 87ers, the franchise’s NBA Development League affiliate, in order for him to continue his rehab assignment. The Sevens are scheduled to take on the Westchester Knicks later in the evening, and the expectation is that second-year big man will be in uniform.

The transaction comes with a convenient twist, as the key Atlantic Division clash will actually be held in Westchester, the suburban New York City town located about 45 minutes north of the Manhattan hotel Holmes and the Sixers arrived at in the wee hours of Saturday morning. The Sixers visit Brooklyn Sunday afternoon. 

In the Sixers’ narrow 110-106 defeat at Boston Friday, Holmes was on the Sixers’ active roster for the first time in six games. He sustained a concussion during a practice session December 22nd, just before the Sixers set out on their holiday Western Conference road trip.

Before Friday’s tip at T.D. Garden, Brett Brown indicated that Holmes, a 2015 second-round pick, might not be ready yet to jump back into full-fledged NBA action. That the Sixers already boast a frontcourt rotation featuring Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor has further convinced Brown not to rush Holmes’ return.

“I think it’s too early,” Brown said. “I think with the situation with all of the bigs, you really don’t think about that as much. I’m more of the mindset of trying to figure out with Joel and Jahlil, as much as I am anything. I think Richaun will get there. I think at this stage, it’s just the situation makes it a little bit difficult to think of it immediately.”

Holmes also suited up for the 87ers Wednesday, in their 95-91 loss to the division-leading Maine Red Claws. He last appeared for the Sixers on December 14th versus Toronto - nine games ago - and is averaging 6.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, and nearly 1.0 block in 16.0 minutes per game.


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