The Philadelphia 76ers have a lot riding on Ben Simmons, their prize for winning the 2016 NBA draft lottery. Uncertainty surrounding Joel Embiid’s durability and Jahlil Okafor’s defense makes Simmons’ development that much more crucial.
Despite all of the hope, hype and unparalleled college production, questions about his superstar upside emerged during his one-and-done year at LSU.
With the Tigers having failed to reach the NCAA tournament, lack of competitiveness suddenly emerged as a talking point and a potentially concerning character flaw. The fact he made one three-pointer all year and consistently passed up open jumpers was also unsettling.
Apparently, none of this alarmed Sixers’ management, which opted for yet another big man over Duke wing Brandon Ingram, the better on-paper fit based on Philadelphia’s roster. Now the big question is how Simmons will fit in a lineup alongside the team’s previous four lottery selections—Embiid, Okafor, Nerlens Noel and Dario Saric—who all stand at least 6’10”.
One of the biggest storylines heading into camp will focus on Simmons’ projected usage. Though a big man, he’s already the team’s most effective distributor.
During summer league, head coach Brett Brown spoke with NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper about possibly playing Simmons at the point. But will it be as a member of a two-guard backcourt, which he’d share with Gerald Henderson or Jerryd Bayless? That would mean the Sixers could have three bigs on the floor simultaneously, a strategy that contradicts the NBA’s small-ball movement.
Conversely, will Simmons mirror Draymond Green in a playmaking 4 role? That lineup would likely feature a Bayless-Henderson backcourt with Simmons up front, meaning fewer minutes to go around for Okafor, Embiid, Noel and/or Saric.
Brown is likely to move Simmons all over during his rookie campaign. But this much is already clear: Simmons will have the ball in his hands often.
Don’t expect him to throw any outlet passes off of defensive rebounds. With an exceptional handle and vision, he’ll take those up the floor himself and look to get transition and secondary-break buckets before defenses set. In the half court, when guarded by traditional, slower-footed bigs, Simmons may often isolate in space. The 6’10” forward can face up, blow by, draw help and either find the open man or finish off one foot.
In a lineup with Bayless, Henderson and Robert Covington, we should even see Simmons get touches out of the high post. From the elbows, he’s a capable shooter and a threatening scorer with sharp back-to-the-basket footwork. It’s also a dangerous spot for him to facilitate from, given his size to see over traffic and the attention he’ll draw from the four off-ball defenders.
Simmons’ versatility should naturally translate to dazzling assists and points in the paint, regardless of how he’s used. However, there are some issues concerning the coaching staff’s ability to maximize talent on the roster with him playing heavy minutes.
With such an unusual game, Simmons won’t be as easy to build around as his talent suggests. Given his particular weaknesses, the shapes of Philadelphia’s supporting puzzle pieces must be more precise, and Okafor, Embiid and Noel aren’t known for their shooting range.
What kind of spacing will the Sixers get with three of those four players on the floor at once? Playing just two of them together would be ideal, but that would relegate three of the franchise’s most valuable assets to the bench.
It’s tough to imagine a Simmons-Okafor 4-5 duo working, given the likelihood that they’d struggle in rim protection. If Brown plays Simmons at the 4, that means Okafor and either Noel or Embiid have to sit, which doesn’t help them build trade value.
Playing Simmons with Embiid and Noel would require Bayless or Henderson to play the other guard spot and Covington to play small forward. But how well will a Simmons-Bayless-Covington trio defend the perimeter?
From an individual standpoint, Simmons’ challenge will be scoring in the half court when defenders are sagging off him. Opposing teams will take away the drive and pack the paint in an attempt to force a Simmons jumper, a shot he’s shown little confidence hitting over the past year.
He averaged just 10.8 points in 28.8 minutes on 32.2 percent shooting across six summer-league games in Utah and Las Vegas, and it’s difficult to envision Simmons justifying No. 1 overall value if he isn’t a major scoring threat. Though Green emerged as an All-Star with the Golden State Warriors while averaging just 14.0 points per game last season, he’s also one of the league’s premier defenders.
Simmons isn’t. Even if he flashed glimpses of two-way potential in Las Vegas, the Sixers shouldn’t count on him for difference-making defense anytime soon.
Assuming he plays 30-plus minutes a game as a rookie, Simmons will have the chance to fill up box scores. He’s bound to pick up occasional easy baskets and dimes in transition every night. There’s no reason why he can’t average around eight rebounds after pulling in 11.8 per game at LSU. A few triple-doubles could even be in his immediate future.
However, don’t count on too many 20-point lines during his rookie year—he isn’t ready to consistently burn defenses with mid-range shooting and fadeaway jumpers out of the post. He can only lean on transition play, line drives and putbacks so much.
Simmons will immediately amaze with his ball-handling, fantastic passing, open-floor athleticism and off-balance finishing ability in the paint. Just don’t bank on too much efficiency or volume scoring right away.
Complete Stat Predictions
- Minutes: 32.0
- Points: 13.5
- Rebounds: 8.0
- Assists: 5.0
- Field-goal percentage: .450
- Three-point percentage: .240
- Free-throw percentage: .680
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Realistic Expectations for Philadelphia 76ers Rookie Ben Simmons in 2016-17
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