Philadelphia fans may have started a petition to ban rumoured Ben Simmons love interest and bad luck charm Kendall Jenner from games, but it’s on-court relationships that have caused the most headaches for the 76ers this year.
First it was his partnership with Markelle Fultz, then it was Simmons’ ability to share the floor with new recruit Jimmy Butler that sparked concerns among NBA pundits about how the Aussie star and the Sixers were going to manage a new-look line-up.
Butler joined Philly in a blockbuster trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves almost three weeks ago and has already lived up to the hype that comes with being a four-time NBA All-Star.
During the week he drained a three-pointer on the buzzer to give the 76ers a two-point win over Brooklyn and before that he hit a game-winning three against the Hornets.
But some suggested last season’s Rookie of the Year Simmons was struggling to adapt to sharing the court with his newest high-profile teammate. Philadelphia coach Brett Brown admitted his team faced an “uncomfortable” time learning to gel with Butler and highlighted Simmons as the player who faced the “biggest adjustment”, while some NBA commentators criticised the 22-year-old for looking “lost” when on the court with Butler and big man Joel Embiid.
But while Simmons admits there were some teething problems, he hit back at critics questioning his output since Butler’s arrival.
“So far it’s been pretty easy,” Simmons told news.com.au about the Sixers’ new life with Butler. “I figure it’s just been everyone finding their spot and where they can be most effective on the court at times.
“First two games, everyone struggled to figure it out. Then the next five or six games I think I was averaging 19 (points), eight (rebounds) and nine (assists a game).
“So, I mean, there’s nothing (critics can) really say about that.”
After 22 matches this season Simmons is averaging 15.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 7.9 assists a game, so he’s having a much better time of it than fellow No. 1 draft pick Fultz, who remains a mystery the 76ers can’t solve.
Fultz was taken with the first pick in the 2017 NBA draft but hardly played in his debut season as his awkward shooting woes were attributed to a shoulder injury that was hampering his technique.
His second coming as an NBA player hasn’t fared much better as he and Simmons struggled when both part of the starting five. Philly’s offensive output suffered with both men on the court and it looked like there wasn’t enough room on the floor for two weak outside shooters who both need the ball in hand to make an impact.
Fultz has now been withdrawn from action indefinitely by his agent to see a raft of medical specialists even though no one is entirely sure whether the recurrence of his shooting foibles are the result of an injury that can’t be pinpointed or a simple case of the yips.
There have been rumours the Fultz-76ers relationship will come to an ugly end as reports emerge the franchise is looking to trade him, possibly to the Cleveland Cavaliers. But Simmons said he has his teammate’s back and questioned whether the Fultz naysayers were really in a position to judge if they didn’t know the full story.
“He’s a very positive person. In terms of what he’s dealing with, everyone thinks it’s just easy to come in here (the NBA) and have a great year,” Simmons said. “People don’t understand.
“People have personal things they go through and things like that which, maybe, it’s one of the things where you just don’t know what’s going on.
“But from a teammate’s point of view, all you can really do is be positive with him and have his back and I’ve always had his back, no matter who’s talking about him. I’m always going to have my teammate’s back.”
Simmons is in the perfect place to advise Fultz. Faced with incredible hype coming out of college, he was forced to sit out what should have been his debut NBA season with a foot injury, then entered the league and dominated like few rookies ever have when he finally got his chance.
Fultz is under immense scrutiny and Simmons knows all about life in the spotlight — but few in the Sixers line-up court attention like All-Star centre Embiid.
An outspoken extrovert with a strong social media game who has no trouble partying with fans of a Super Bowl winning team or destroying strangers in a pick-up game, Embiid is very much his own man.
Like a couple of years ago when, attending music festival Made in America with Simmons and Simmons’ brother, Embiid went rogue and created a stampede.
“Joel just starts sprinting across this field and literally thousands of people just started chasing him. Thousands of people were chasing us through a field during the festival,” Simmons said.
“Security’s trying to keep up, we’re knocking people out of the way, my brother’s hip and shouldering people trying to make sure we’re safe and healthy.
“But that’s the kind of person he (Embiid) is.”
An AFL fan who played a bit of footy as a kid, Simmons has signed up as an ambassador for Kayo Sports, a brand new streaming service described as the “Netflix of sport”.
Kayo was officially launched during the week to rave reviews from sports-mad Aussies who will be able to choose from more than 50 sports offered on the app.
“Kayo is a great opportunity for Australian viewers who love sports — not only basketball and footy, but there are a ton of sports on there,” Simmons said.
“It’s kind of like the Netflix version for sports and it’s really going to take off for people who love to watch sports at any time all over the world. It’s going to be a great opportunity for Australians.”
Kayo Sports, at kayosports.com.au, will cost $25 per month to stream sports to two devices at once, or $35 for access to the service on three screens. It’s currently available on Apple and Telstra TV, for Apple and Google Android smartphones, on web browsers and via Google Chromecast Ultra devices. Click here to trial it free for 14 days.
A full list of sports streamed through service is available here.