Dwight Howard is far from five, a fact that coach Doc Rivers happily reminded reporters after training the Sixers on Thursday.
Rivers was asked about the 35-year-old Sixers backup center putting jumpers with Ben Simmons after the team’s victory on the opening night by 113 to 107 over the Wizards.
“It made me nervous,” Rivers joked, “that Dwight was his shooting trainer last night. I will reassess my team. “
For what little it is worth, Howard scored nine three NBA points, compared to Simmons’ two.
Of course, Howard is not solely responsible for Simmons’ jump. The assistant coach assigned to Simmons is Sam Cassell, candidate for head coach in this off-season, who ended up following Rivers from the Clippers to the Sixers. Cassell is the only one running Simmons in his pre-game shooting routine.
“Sam did a wonderful job with many guards throughout his career,” said Rivers. “I think he stands out in this area. I think his knowledge is great for Ben – what to run, when to run, where to go, where to go, where to attack. I just think Sam is great. I think he is one of the best skill development players in the league, and I don’t think that comes close. “
If you ask Simmons, Howard is also an important influence. At this early stage, the veteran big man appears to be a much higher supplement for Cassell, although without offering the same wisdom as a former NBA playmaker.
“Something I need to do,” Simmons said Wednesday night of his shootout after the game. “Just go back to the floor. Dwight is pushing me to get better, so he came to the floor with me, took a few shots. He’s just pushing me.
“He wants me to be great, and I really appreciate that and I respect him a lot, especially with the career he has had. He is someone who joined this organization and encouraged me and believes in me. Having this and having someone to do this, makes you feel good, makes you want to work, makes you more hungry. Having that is great. ”
As it stands, Simmons remains an excellent versatile player, with the significant exception of his kick. Although Simmons made his first professional three-point shot last season, he made it 4 to 30 in two-point shots from 3 meters and out. Attacking the hoop and shooting more free throws are non-shooting focuses this year for Simmons. He accumulated 16 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, three blocks and two steals against the Wizards, with his longest field goal attempt lost 13 feet in the first minute of the game.
As soon as the Sixers sealed the victory, he worked alongside Howard. Jokes aside, Rivers found this significant.
“I thought it was great,” said Rivers. “I thought it was great, nº 1, that he was not alone, but with another player. I thought it was great that it was Dwight. We see Dwight in many ways in his career. He was a dominant player when he first joined, and then he kind of got lost for a while.
“So, last year was a resurrection for Dwight Howard. He failed to sign, and then he goes to the Lakers and wins a ring. That Denver series, they don’t make it to the finals without Dwight Howard. That changed Dwight too. Now he knows what it’s like to win. The fact that he can give some of that knowledge to Ben and Joel (Embiid) is priceless. The same thing with Danny Green. “