When the Sixers drafted Ben Simmons first overall in 2016, Brett Brown told the assembled media that night that asking the Australian to play point guard with no previous experience was “borderline cruel.”
Brown didn’t rule it out but wasn’t 100 percent sure where Simmons would play. We ultimately know what happened. Simmons has been a two-time All-Star as a point guard but has limitations in the half court.
As the team continues its training camp at Disney World, the ultimate solution for Brown and the Sixers may be to take the ball out of Simmons’ hands.
The last few days I played him exclusively as a four man,” Brown said in a video conference with reporters Monday. “He’s so dynamic. … Let’s just talk about running: There’s nobody faster in the NBA. And so to always have Ben have to have the ball and dribble it up against five guys … I think dilutes some of his potent weapons.
The decision for Brown is multi-faceted. The “clunky” fit of Al Horford and the emergence of second-year guard Shake Milton — who Joel Embiid revealed has been running the point with the starters — were factors.
But the main purpose is to make the most out of Simmons’ skill set. His unwillingness to shoot is well documented, but there is little Simmons can’t do outside of that. We’ve seen Brown deploy Simmons as a screen and roller plenty this season. Though the results have been mixed from an analytics standpoint, Simmons’ physical traits lend themselves to that role.
Brown at one point compared Simmons to Blake Griffin, one of the more dangerous rollers in the league in his prime. It’s not hard to imagine Simmons playing that role in the half court while still being elite in transition with the ball in his hands.
So, why did it take Brown so long into Simmons’ career to make the change? The answer is simple: Necessity. Brown made Simmons the Sixers’ point guard initially because he was best suited for the role at the time.
With a player like Milton emerging and Simmons’ limitations continuing to be exposed, now is the right time to make this move.
We were young and really not that good so it was my decision, ‘You take the ball. We’re going to make you the point guard,’” Brown said. “It’s not like he came in and there was an established point guard that you had to bump out. And so there are zero regrets on doing that.
“But it’s important to understand the segue into where he was and where he is. And so now you fast forward it and it’s not like you’re looking over your shoulder and there’s Damian Lillard or Chris Paul. That isn’t true, that’s not where I’m going, but you realize the value that he has in many other areas.
The other way Simmons can be utilized in the half court is by putting him in a “snug” pick-and-roll in the post with Joel Embiid. While the action hasn’t always produced great results, Brown has continued to use it. The best example Brown has pointed to is the home win against the Clippers before the All-Star break.
It’s an action that both players have needed time to get a feel for, but if they can execute it, the duo’s combination of size and skill could be difficult to defend.
I feel like this role is actually going to be even better than being the starting point guard,” Embiid said, “because he’s so great defensively, and offensively, when he has a chance, he’s probably one of the fastest guys in the league, so just getting the rebound and pushing it in transition and find the shooters. And then in half-court play, we can use him in a lot of ways. He can roll or he and me, we can play out of that pick-and-roll out of the post. So I think we’re going to be great.
While it might be the end of Simmons as a point guard, you won’t hear the soon-to-be 24-year-old sulk about it. Simmons said last week that he’s comfortable in any role and that he “love(s)” playing in the pick-and-roll.
After all, this move isn’t just right for the Sixers and their chances to go on a deep playoff run. It’s also about the evolution of Simmons and the best way to use his dynamic skill set going forward.
Watching him fly up the floor, watching Joel and him play off each other has been a really good look. I think they’ve been fantastic together,” Brown said. “And most importantly, how has he responded to [not being the point guard]? Like a star. Just a mature, whatever it’s going to take to get this team to be the best that it can be with the pieces that we have that can be designed into a smooth thing, something that’s not clunky. That is one of the pieces he has to offer, and I think he’s been great at accepting that and really killing it in practice in the environment that I just said.
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