With Simmons practicing, Milton hurt, who will handle ball for Sixers?


CAMDEN, N.J. — With their regular-season opener in two days, it is not yet clear which Sixers will handle the ball.

Ben Simmons practiced for a second time Monday, though head coach Doc Rivers provided little information on what’s next.

“I have no idea,” Rivers said of whether Simmons would play Wednesday against the Pelicans. “Honestly, I haven’t even thought about it much. When it comes, I’ll make the decision. But I’m just going to wait and see and watch. The spirit has been so good, and so we’re just going to keep going.”

Simmons played more than on Sunday, according to Rivers, and has been “mixing in with the second unit.” With his teammates, he ran through defensive drills at the end of practice.

Shake Milton is “nowhere near” returning from a preseason right ankle sprain, Rivers said Sunday, although the fourth-year guard was well enough to shoot after practice with skill development coach Tyler Lashbrook.

Tyrese Maxey is healthy and characteristically excited to play.

“I’m tired of Andre Drummond screening me and Joel (Embiid) screening me,” he joked.

Beyond Maxey, the Sixers’ options are slim in a literal and figurative sense. Rivers named Furkan Korkmaz and Isaiah Joe as two potential ball handlers. Both looked good a week ago in the Sixers’ exhibition win over the Nets. Korkmaz scored 27 points in that game and Joe averaged 16.8 in a standout preseason.

Seth Curry, Georges Niang and even Embiid are among the others who could initiate offense. The Sixers found success last season using Embiid in “Delay” actions at the top of the arc. They’re determined to cut more around the franchise center in the post this year, too.

“It’s tough when you have one ball handler,” Rivers said. “When you have two and three ball handlers, just throw it to the other guy. Most of the time, teams that pressure have one guy that pressures. You rarely see two guys pressuring, and you never see three guys pressuring.

“The great part about our team is our one can bring it up, the two can bring it up, the three can bring it up, the four — in our starting lineup, Joel can bring it up at times. So that’s not a concern.”

While Niang is not in Simmons’ class as an athlete, the Sixers seem hopeful the 28-year-old can provide a smidge of his versatility. Niang is humble, commenting that his main job is “make sure my guy doesn’t get in Joel’s way,” but his teammates view him as a gap-filler.

At the moment, one of the Sixers’ on-paper deficiencies is ball handling.

“He’s like the Army Swiss Knife for us,” Danny Green said of Niang. “He does a little bit of everything. I like that nickname for him. Some guys call him the Minivan … some call him the Army Swiss Knife. 

“He’s a great shooter, high-IQ player, can handle the ball a little bit for a four. … He does all the little things we need him to do, a blue-collar guy. But ultimately, a team player. He’s going to fit right in and have that second group moving the ball a lot.”

Of course, all of the ball handling hypotheticals fade in relevance if Simmons happens to suit up and is similar to the All-Star player he’s been for three consecutive seasons. 

For the past two days, his teammates have tried their best to answer questions on how he’s looked at practice. Maxey, a fellow Klutch Sports client who worked out with Simmons before the 2020 NBA draft, isn’t only concerned with that.

“Friendships are bigger than basketball — bigger than basketball, bigger than the profession,” he said. “So at the end of the day, a friend is a friend. Ben’s been a friend since before I got drafted.”

A Sixers public relations official said Simmons will speak with reporters Tuesday. The Sixers have one final practice scheduled before they'll head to New Orleans.

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