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From now until NBA training camps open, we'll be asking questions about the league and its upcoming season. Today: How will No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons do with the Philadelphia 76ers?
BOSTON – If you spent any time watching Ben Simmons beyond the 10-15 second highlights late at night, you would have seen a player whose potential as an NBA star is kind of scary.
There’s having size as a playmaker, and then there’s the 6-foot-10 Ben Simmons, who is as close to being a Magic Johnson clone, from a playmaking standpoint, as we’ve seen since the original 30-plus years ago.
Still, the Sixers of today will never, ever be confused with the 1980 Lakers.
The supporting cast was in place to help facilitate Johnson’s transition from college stud to NBA superstar.
In the case of Simmons, his success will be heavily predicated on two specific circumstances being created by the Sixers in order to fully take advantage of his strengths as a player.
WHERE DOES HE PLAY?
As tempting as it might be to have a 6-10 point guard on the floor, the Sixers know they can’t do that.
And the reason is pretty simple.
The reason you don’t see 6-10 (or 6-9 or 6-8 for that matter) point guards is because in order to play the position they have to be able to defend it, too.
Can you imagine Simmons trying to guard Isaiah Thomas with regularity for a game?
And if you get into the habit of cross-matching up all game long, it just opens a Pandora’s box of potential defensive gaffes with players either trying too hard to compensate for one another, or not recognizing when to help.
Simmons’ court vision is too great to not at least position him to be something of a point-forward. The Milwaukee Bucks are trying to do that with Giannis Antetokounmpo which thus far, has produced mixed results.
Regardless, the Sixers have to get the ball in Simmons’ hands and position him to make plays for his teammates. For all of his strengths, playmaking is what makes him a special talent. To not play to that strength and help him develop that even more so, would be stupid.
WHO DOES HE PLAY WITH?
Philadelphia will once again lose a lot of games this season and that can certainly wear on the psyche of a young player like Simmons. It becomes even tougher when he’s making the right plays, getting the ball to guys where they can be most effective and the results are missed shot after missed shot.
It is absolutely imperative that the Sixers surround him with nice mix of guys who can shoot and/or finish at the rim.
Because with Simmons’ size and court vision, players with those skills as strengths will get opportunities to do what they do best.
Last season, the Sixers were in the bottom-10 in 3-point shooting (33.9 percent, 24th in the NBA) and field goal percentage (43.1 percent, 29th).
But here’s one of the dilemmas Philadelphia is facing.
They want to play faster which they were able to do last season as their PACE (number of possessions per 48 minutes) of 100.23 was the sixth-best in the NBA.
But this roster isn’t built to run a lot AND be effective offensively.
Look at last season.
They ran as much as any team in the NBA, and yet the Sixers had a league-worst offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) of 96.6.
And all that running seemed to wear them down more than their foes.
Their defensive rating was 106.7 which ranked 25th in the league.
With Simmons likely to start at small forward, he’ll be joined by Nerlens Noel and either Jahlil Okafor or Joel Embiid in the frontcourt. Jerryd Bayless, T.J. McConnell and Sergio Rodriguez are fighting to be the starting point guard.
There are a number of directions Philadelphia can go at shooting guard (Hollis Thompson, Nik Stauskas, Robert Covington, rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot), none of which are great choices frankly.
And while there’s no lineup that will fit perfectly with Simmons’ game, there are several that could make his rookie experience a horrible one not only in terms of wins and losses, but also in his overall growth and development as a player.
And let’s be clear about something.
If the Sixers are going to ever become relevant in the NBA other than being a punching bag for other teams and an easy punchline for late-night comedians, Simmons is going to have to be that game-changer.
Indeed, he is the best hope to be the unifying force for a Sixers franchise that has lots of quality pieces that, for now at least, don’t have a natural fit.