In the Sixers’ first scrimmage run, we got a glimpse of how the new starting lineup performed. Amidst the team’s first game in four months all eyes pointed at Ben Simmons. With Shake Milton now entrenched as the team’s point guard, curious minds wondered how Brett Brown would utilize Simmons. In the Sixers stellar 90-83 win over Memphis, we got a strong taste of what is to come. So let’s dive in!
CHARTING THE SIMMONS-MILTON PARTNERSHIP
In the 14 Simmons-Milton possessions to open the game, Brown deployed Ben in a variety of ways. Philadelphia struggled early to generate offensive cohesion. But as the quarter progressed, the message was clear. Move Simmons EVERYWHERE. Just take a look at how the Sixers integrated their newly minted power forward.
Versatility and unpredictability is the name of the game. In the 14 possessions, Simmons ended an offensive possession primarily in the corner (28%), dunker’s spot (21%) or at the elbow (21%). But this hardly tells the complete story. Deploying is one thing. Driving productive offense is another. In the first quarter, Philadelphia seemed to have found that balance utilizing Simmons from the elbow. Where he assisted on 8 of the team’s points to open the game. The idea is simple- Play off Simmons’ size and vision. Just take a look.
In this instance, Jaren Jackson Jr. hedges towards Simmons to anticipate the clear mismatch. With another capable shooter on the court, the decision is swift. Find Shake. While this action appears straightforward, it puts Jackson Jr in a conflicting position. Double Simmons and leave Milton open? Or attack Shake and allow Ben to spot Joel Embiid under the rim?
But it was not just at the elbow where Simmons thrived. As the game progressed, we got to see what makes Simmons such an enticing off ball weapon. Understanding how is significant as we project what this team is heading into the playoffs.
THE LOW BLOCK
Leveraging Simmons’ strength and athleticism will be a key element moving forward for the Sixers. Not many teams can match Philadelphia’s size and length across the floor. Again, we see Kyle Anderson giving up two clear inches to Simmons. A simple entry pass is enough to generate an easy scoring opportunity under the rim.
We often see this relationship play out in New Orleans. Where Lonzo Ball and Zion Williamson have developed a special partnership. It is critical that Simmons be paired with capable passers as well. In this instance, Al Horford’s supreme passing touch is the catalyst for an easy scoring opportunity.
THE CORNER (THREE)
Yes, my friends. The era of Ben Simmons as a floor spacer (may) have finally arrived. Much noise has been made about his refusal to shoot from distance. But in Orlando there has been a clear shift in how the team (and Simmons) have approached the topic. On Friday, Brett Brown did not hesitate to spot him in the corner. Simmons accepted the challenge and did not drift back into the paint.
Whether this is another scrimmage outburst or not remains to be seen. We can also debate how viable a Simmons corner three is during the heat of playoff basketball. However, one thing is clear. There is absolutely zero evidence as to how the offense looks with Simmons as a stretch 4, which can be a scary thought for teams now scouting the Sixers.
SCREENER AND ROLLER
Philadelphia also found cohesion with Simmons in the pick-and-roll. This season we saw those opportunities nearly double with Ben as the roll man. On Friday, it was much of the same. This time with Alec Burks commanding point guard duties.
It will be interesting to follow how this relationship plays out moving forward. The Sixers don’t have a traditional pick-and-roll guard. But the attention Simmons draws as a roller opens significant passing lanes. Follow how the defense collapses inside. This gives Philadelphia tremendous passing outlets to capable three point shooters in Furkan Korkmaz and Tobias Harris.
Utilizing Simmons as a cutter is another tool in Brett Brown’s toolbox. Simmons ranked in the 88th percentile as a cutter during his rookie season. Why is this relevant? This was the year when Philadelphia briefly paired him with a traditional point guard (and shooters). With the added space, we see how Ben’s athleticism plays out.
Shake Milton’s ability to break the Grizzlies defense off the dribble is significant. This puts Memphis defense in complete scramble mode. Simmons utilizes the added space and attacks the rim with authority. Growing Ben into a willing and efficient cutter adds another critical element to Philadelphia evolving offense.
Amidst the many half court wrinkles, it is important to not lose sight of what makes Ben Simmons a special NBA talent. We understandably get stuck in labels and often miss the film right in front of us. For Ben Simmons, that films starts in transition.
One dribble from the NBA logo and Ben Simmons is at the rim. Uncontested. Philadelphia possesses one of the elite transition players in the game today. Whether labeled as a point guard or power forward, it is critical for Simmons to be a point of emphasis in the open court.
With one scrimmage in the books, there is a sense that Philadelphia’s offense will be significantly different from the one we saw most of the season. The intrigue now builds into Sunday’s game against Oklahoma City. Where we will have another chance to decipher what else is in store for Simmons and the rest of the group.
Click below to see our reaction and players grades from the Sixers scrimmage vs the Memphis Grizzlies