Sixers

Simmons’ Superb Defense Screens Perceived Lack of Offense

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Ben Simmons has been in a neck-and-neck battle with Utah’s Rudy Gobert for Defensive Player of the Year.

Simmons is a poster child of “position-less basketball”, as he has proved the ability to guard one through five.

For starters, Simmons’ skills as a facilitator blend into his defensive ability thanks in large part to his court vision. Being able to read an offense assists Simmons on the defensive end as he can read an opposing passer and use his athletic gifts to disrupt or steal passes.

Furthermore, the 6’11”, 240-pound point guard is able to cause so many disruptions due to his frame alone. His lateral quickness and terrific north-south speed allows the former rookie of the year to capitalize on opposition distress.

Below is a compilation of Simmons’ defensive highlights which showcase his prowess from the first few weeks of the season.

Assists Continue to Stack for the Aussie

Simmons’ second-best basketball ability is playmaking. Since draft night in 2016, the No. 1 overall pick has been compared to all-time greats like Earvin ‘Magic” Johnson and LeBron James. Phenomenal athletes with historic court vision are simple ways to describe these players and Simmons seemingly fit the bill.

In fact, it was apparent Simmons knew how to find the open man upon arriving to the league. He has a career average of 7.7 assists per contest. The point general is constantly trying to set up teammates, as he averaged close to 65 passes a game to ten different players.

Simmons creates a great deal of his assists from the “drive-and-kick” method. Diving into the paint with the ball and firing it back out to an open shooter is a staple in today’s NBA offenses. The Australian’s aforementioned court-vision and athleticism create a dangerous combination that allow Simmons to be a threat to make any pass on the floor.

Head coach Doc Rivers and assistant coach Sam Cassell have worked into developing Simmons into a “multifaceted playmaker“, per The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey. The piece goes on to quote Rivers on Simmons in saying, “He is not a point, not a two, not a three, he is a ballplayer. We put him in every spot on the floor, literally every spot on the floor…”

Indeed, focusing on Simmons’ defense and playmaking has been the clear objective for the Sixers’ coaching staff this season.

To Pass or Not to Pass?

The video above provides footage of Simmons’ offensive plays and different sets run this year. This should put to bed the misnomer that Ben is “useless on offense”. That opinion gains far too much traction from the most brutal of fans (many of them Sixer fans).

With that said, Simmons’ half-court offense is something that is worthy of concern. It is well documented and discussed that Simmons has absolutely no jump shot. A handful of attempts beyond the paint a season still garner excitement from fans upon their occurrence.

As depressing as that sentence was to write, anyone following the NBA knows that reality as it has not changed since Simmons entered the league. Simmons is averaging the fewest points per game in his career. His lack of offensive improvement has many concerned.

A Perplexing Peer List

Ben Simmons is a point guard on paper. In practice, his offensive game is more comparable to a power forward or center from the 90s– leaving comparisons to other point guards difficult to find. It is not to say that a jump shot is necessary to survive in this league.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Zion Williamson are two of the most dominant players in the league who struggle with their outside shooting. However, it is their aggressiveness and willingness to attack the basket that separates them from their peers. Simmons’ name could very well be in the same conversation as these offensive juggernauts.

Unfortunately, Simmons has a history of being inconsistent in driving to the rack. While some point to his superior facilitating as the reason he does not attack as often, that point can only go so far. Many of the best playmakers, guards or otherwise, use their scoring capabilities to threaten defenses into guarding them. Thus, allowing the other four teammates sharing the court a better opportunity to score when the ball finds them.

Simmons’ drive-and-kick effectiveness can be taken up a notch with more offensive aggressiveness. Just a few more buckets from the “point-forward” would open up things even more for his teammates. Even if the assist numbers decrease marginally, production would remain the same if not improve! Other teams have already proven the success of dynamic playmakers and former great floor generals such as Rajon Rondo have had to evolve to best suit their teams.

Postseason Problems

No player is immune to poor performances, but Simmons does not have many playoff series’ to write home about. He was unfortunately absent from the Sixers’ brief bubble matchup with Boston in 2020.

Against the same Celtics in 2018, Simmons had an infamous Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 2 where he only scored a single point. The performance was only highlighted more so because of the five turnovers in 30 minutes of action.

The year after, the 76ers faced the Kawhi Leonard-led Toronto Raptors in a memorable, yet miserable seven-game series. There were many variables at play in this series like Embiid’s illness that restricted his play, the Raptors’ elite defense had created fits for teams all year, and there were some questionable coaching decisions at times.

Regardless, averaging 11.6 points for the series and not making a single free throw until Game 5 is unacceptable from an All-Star slasher.

Game 1 Brings a Win

The 76ers defeated the Washington Wizards 125-118 in Sunday’s 2021 playoff opener. The Sixers were led by a tremendous performance from Tobias Harris who came out of gate firing and finished with 37 points in 37 minutes. Considered an All-Star snub in the eyes of many this season, Harris put on a tour-de-force. Embiid quietly had 30 points of his own and combined with Harris, the pair accounted for over half of the team’s points.

The title player of this article, Ben Simmons had quite a performance himself. adding 15 rebounds and 15 assists in the contest. He also provided great defense on Washington’s most potent scorer, Bradley Beal.

The three time All-Star had a tough time against the DPOY candidate.

Plugging Holes

For all of his positives, Simmons did not have a perfect game. The lead guard went 3-9 from the field and most frustratingly went 0-6 from the free-throw line. The first game against the eighth-seeded Wizards from highlighted all of the topics discussed above. Simmons brought his elite defense and stacked up assists, but left many wanting more in the scoring department.

The Sixers still picked up the win most importantly. With that said, concerns remain. Do the Sixers still get this win if Harris does not have his heroic game? The Wizards remained in striking distance well into the fourth quarter while enduring a poor shooting performance from Russell Westbrook.

Does an improved game from the bench put these worries to bed? The Sixers’ bench only combined for 26 points on Sunday, down from their average of 37.3 in the regular season. It should be noted, however, that they fluctuated in production all season.

There is also the option of Simmons increasing his scoring volume instead of putting that pressure on younger, and more inexperienced players. Tyrese Maxey, Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz all played less than ten minutes of action on Sunday. While those minutes have flexibility, it is unlikely one of these players will see a large increase in playing-time barring an injury.

In the NBA playoffs, your best players have to produce to the best of their abilities. Simply put, Simmons did not produce to the best of his ability on the offensive end in Game 1. If Simmons can bring his scoring average back towards his career average (15.9), then the Sixers will have to worry far less about their bench’s inconsistencies.

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The Difference Maker

It must be reiterated: Simmons was still crucial to the Sixers’ win on Sunday and this analysis is by no means attempting to discredit that. The point of emphasis is meant to illustrate how these small faults can leave an enormous impact on a series. The best teams in the NBA have very few weaknesses. The objective of each team is to find and exploit any weaknesses of their opponents to ensure the best chance at winning.

This singular Simmons’ flaw could be fatal to the Sixers.

Looking Towards the Future

Simmons’ lack of an offensive “bag” shall remain a point of conversation in Philadelphia for some time far beyond this series with the Wizards.

There is an enormous amount of pressure to succeed because of Joel Embiid. Making the most of his prime should be the Sixers’ top priority. Simmons receives a great deal of criticism in part due to his on-paper fit next to Embiid. Historically, shooters around dominant centers tend to do well. Examples include Shaquille O’Neal in Orlando and Los Angeles, Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston, and Tim Duncan in San Antonio. Embiid is establishing himself to the point he is among these “Giants” of NBA past.

Simmons does not fit this bill and there is worry that he will hold this team back.

While it does not look pretty at times, Embiid and Simmons have blended well this regular season in the chunk of games they played together. Perhaps this pair could break the perception of how “bigs” and guards must play together in today’s game.

The Sixers earned the top seed in the Eastern Conference this season. Ben Simmons has been a major contributor to the team’s success from his playmaking and defense as mentioned prior. Despite that, the media overlooks the Sixers a great deal due to previous postseason woes.

The fact remains– this team has the potential to go all the way. A true MVP candidate in Joel Embiid, a complimentary All-Star caliber player in Tobias Harris, a well-rounded starting group and serviceable bench unit. Ben Simmons holds the key for this roster to push through and be part of NBA history.

One must hope that those brutal prior experiences are lessons learned for this current team. The fruit of the “Process” Sixers are ripe, and the City of Philadelphia is ready to harvest a championship.

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About Derek Stein

Contributor for TheLeadSM.com- Sixers Fan but cover all things NBA- Co-Host of The Three Man Weave Podcast

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