In the most literal of senses, Ben Simmons has taken important strides on the journey to an NBA debut.
The number one overall draft pick returned to the practice court this week, shooting free throws without the aid of a walking boot. While this may sound like a mundane achievement, it represents a giant step forward for Simmons.
The Australian has not played this season after suffering a Jones fracture in his right foot during the final days of training camp. Simmons was held out of all basketball activities since the injury, making a return to the practice floor a necessary accomplishment on a path back to full health.
Sixers coach Brett Brown continues to reinforce that there is no official timetable for Simmons' NBA debut, but the former Boomers mentor is encouraged by Simmons' progress.
“He walked out on the court in sneakers and he shot free throws,” Brown told CSN Philadelphia. “That is significant to me. Then he walked over to my office and sat down looking like he was healthy. There was no boot, there was nothing earlier that he was wheeling.”
Simmons remains limited in his on court actions, restricted to shooting drills which require zero movement. “He’s still doing some spot shooting,” Brown said. “But as far as moving around, that has not happened yet.”
Returning to basketball should allow Simmons to focus on his new career in the NBA, not the myriad of issues raised during his documentary One & Done.
While Simmons is yet to grace an NBA floor, his time in the association has already facilitated improved basketball intelligence.
Since commencing rehab in October, Simmons has been receiving intensive one-on-one tutoring sessions with Brown. In addition to reviewing video footage, the pair discuss NBA trends, with Brown routinely testing his rookie with questions. On Tuesday, Brown gave Simmons his first formal exam.
“We took him through, Here, you got the ball, you’re the point guard,” Brown commented in a piece on the Sixers' official website. “What do you see? What do you do? What do I call this? What are the reads? What can he do?
“We went through that for a half an hour [Tuesday] morning.”
By all accounts, Simmons passed with flying colours.
“From a non-medical standpoint and just his coach, the evolution that he and I have been able to have in a classroom and on a court, in talking things through over the past few months, is fantastic,” Brown said.
Everything is trending upwards for Simmons, just don't expect him to suddenly appear in the NBA anytime soon. Brown was lavish with praise for Simmons, but offered no indication that the Philadelphia franchise was getting carried away.
"We’re all going to be just extremely careful - everybody needs to hear that, and we know that. We’re going to be extremely careful with how his progression into the team goes.”
Brown previously stated that he was hoping to have Simmons back in January. However, he has since backtracked from this sentiment, making a post All-Star break debut the most likely timeframe for Simmons.