Film Study: What Could The Sixers Look Like With Ben Simmons At The Four?

(Image by Tomek Kordylewski)

By Matt Esposito

I wish I had an audio clip of Diddy saying “the saga continues” because we have yet another chapter to add to the Ben Simmons narrative. Actually, there is probably an audio clip I could have hyperlinked but I’m over it. In substitution, here’s a tweet that shows Philadelphia’s intent to switch Simmons’ position.

Simple and straight to the point, wasn’t it? What is less simple, however, is deciphering what Brett Brown’s offense will look like with Ben running at the four next to Joel Embiid. Additionally, this lineup was rearranged to provide Philly with more spacing, as Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson and Shake Milton will surround Simmons.

For now, let’s ignore the fact that Embiid (34.8 percent), Harris (36.2 percent), and Richardson (32.7 percent) are average or below average 3-point shooters. Teams still need to close out on those dudes, anyways. Let’s also ignore the fact that a Milton-Richardson-Harris-Simmons-Embiid lineup has yet to play a single possession together. Instead, we must focus on what plays we could see happen.

Short Roll & Big-to-Big

The Miami Heat gave Philadelphia problems when they unleashed their 2-3 zone on them earlier this year. But the Sixers found a successful play that they can use against man or zone schemes.

Simmons has been used as a pick and roll roller for only 3.5 percent of possessions this year and is in the 44th percentile for that position. Yet, is passing skills are obvious and when coupled with his height they provide big-to-big opportunities.

Specifically, Simmons struck gold during the short roll. The short roll comes in an area that surrenders low value 2-pointers, which defenses often live with, especially when bigs are the ones attempting them. Yet, when Simmons operates there he is able to safely dump the ball off to Embiid; a beastly Tolkien character who seals off defenders with ease.

Simply put, Coach Brown cannot sacrifice Simmons’ passing. Using him in the short roll is elementary but could prove effective. With three shooters providing spacing, this could leave Simmons and Embiid with single man coverage and they surely will pick apart opposing defenses.

Big-to-Big Scoring Part Two

This big-to-big concept that Brett Brown wants to deploy is better explained in his words. Check out an explanatory quote from the Sixers head coach:

” …you could see sort of like that big-big relationship, high-low duck-ins, Joel would be posted, Ben would play peekaboo at a low zone on the other side of the floor, come down and trail, we throw it to Jo and a rim run guy would duck in. And I felt the partnership, the relationship. The big-big mentality of finding each other was crazily obvious.”

He should also consider using Embiid – a gifted passer in his own right – in the midrange/short roll area. Simmons is strong enough to seal defenders and receive entry passes from Embiid. They did it multiple times against the Bucks this year and hit pay dirt.

With Simmons moving to the four, there will be less of a chance that smaller point guards find themselves matched up onto him. Even with bigger players defending him, however, these sets could work. Imagine him being defended by Duncan Robinson during a possible playoff match up. This is when that play should be called.

Post Up Kickouts & Shot Attempts

The premise of moving Simmons to the four is to insert Shake Milton as a starting guard. In other words, the Sixers wanted to add more floor spacing. One could assume that they could take Simmons, the non-shooters, and move him to the post. With four shooters and on the perimeter, Simmons would have the space needed to score.

With Simmons getting the attention of help defenders, he then could opt out of a shot attempt. Instead, he could rifle a pass to an open spacer and also be in good position for an offensive rebound. Let’s see how this looks.

Still, I’m dubious of this scheme. Color me doubtful. Simmons takes about 1.5 post up shots per game this season and historically he has never taken those attempts with any significant volume. It just isn’t a major part of his game, let alone one you want to rely on in the postseason.

Plus, Simmons will likely be guarded by stockier players now; ones who are more physically equipped to thwart his post attempts. If the Sixers want to depend on Simmons to create points for them out of the block, opposing coaches may live with those results and be happy to do so. What’s more, bright coaches will find ways to send doubles. Indiana threatened to do so and still managed to defend four Sixers with essentially three players.

A Better Way To Kickout

Operating from the block may do more to freeze up Philly’s offense than unlock fruitful movement. Yet, Simmons can still draw gravity and find ways to take advantage of the help. For example, he does this while driving on the short roll (common theme) or even popping after the screen.

Keep your eyes glued to Vince “Four Decades” Carter in the first clip. He stays in the paint a second too long because Simmons’ demands it. After that, watch how he suctions in the bodies of three Boston defenders only to pass back out.

This is more encouraging stuff although it is far from perfect basketball. If help defenders commit to Ben, then he can create for others. If they stay home, then Simmons could be forced to put up a shot that he does not want to.

Final Thoughts

For all of the sexy talk we’ve heard, do not expect Simmons to function much differently from a point guard. Here’s why. Being a screener, Simmons cannot pop and shoot. He cannot shoot from the short roll midrange. He is not a rim running lob threat. Sure, he can succeed as a short roll passer. But, being a screener puts Simmons in more positions to fail than succeed.

He has also yet to prove himself a dependable post scorer. As noted earlier, he will have less chances to post smaller players, negating the opportunities to easily score. This also turns Embiid into almost nothing more than a catch and shoot player during these sets.

Furthermore, it won’t take long for Brown to realize that taking the ball out of Ben’s hands makes defenses happy. It literally limits his chances to do what he does best. And on the short roll, teams could switch and bump Simmons early to throw him off balance. The Sixers may explore this position change during scrimmages but I’m skeptical that it will last as the real season continues.

BONUS!

To hear a more in-depth conversation of this topic, visit our podcast! Zach Wilson and I provide advanced stats and discuss specific sets the Sixers could use. Skip to the 37:00 mark to dive right into it!

Published by Matt Esposito

Founder/Writer for Theplaygrounder.com and contributor to Red’s Army Twitter: @Mattesposito_

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