Ben Simmons is at Las Vegas Summer League, but he’s not in Las Vegas Summer League. All signs point to 2016’s No. 1 overall pick being on track to take the court at the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, but the Philadelphia 76ers are taking their time with his rehabilitation from complications stemming from surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his right foot, an injury that made him the latest Sixers lottery pick to miss the entirety of what would’ve been his rookie season. And so, the former LSU standout hangs out in the desert to watch the action, rather than participating in it.
While doing so, Simmons chatted with reporters about his expectations heading into his second attempt at a first pro campaign — including what he expects it’ll be like when he takes the floor with the Sixers’ new No. 1 pick, former University of Washington star Markelle Fultz. Simmons sees the partnership working seamlessly, though he did make a point of noting the role and position he sees himself inhabiting, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadephia Inquirer:
“For me, I think you can move me anywhere,” Simmons said. “But I’m a starting point guard.” […]
The Sixers believe Fultz, a solid shooter and another point guard, is the perfect backcourt complement to Simmons.
“I have no problem sharing the ball,” Simmons said. “He doesn’t, either. Watching him play, he can share the ball.”
That Simmons continues to view himself as the Sixers’ starting point guard isn’t particularly surprising. After all, that’s exactly what Philly coach Brett Brown has been saying as much since December, insisting that his intention for a 6-foot-10 playmaker that the team believes is capable of all-time greatness was to “give him the ball and let him be the point guard.” Asked after June’s draft how the import of Fultz changes that plan, Brown told reporters, “It really doesn’t,” according to Matt Lombardo of NJ.com:
“I think the thing you realize when you study Markelle’s game, is that he too has the ability to be a significant ball-carrier. The more that we see Ben [Simmons] play … We’ve had a fantastic month of June, we’re excited to use him as the primary ball-carrier. I think with Markelle, when you study what he did in college, you recognize very quickly that he has the ability to play that position and be one of the main ball distributors, as well.”
It appears Brown has remained steadfast on that point — to hear Simmons tell it, at least.
“I think Coach wants to start me at the point,” Simmons told ESPN in an interview conducted during the Sixers’ Summer League matchup with the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday. “But I think once we get into the flow of things, whoever gets the rebound, we’re just going. I think we’ll be a quick-paced team.”
On that score, Simmons is almost surely right; the Sixers have finished in the top seven in pace factor, which measures how many possessions a team averages per 48 minutes of game time, in each of Brown’s four seasons on the bench. More possessions means more opportunities to handle the ball and make plays, which means more chances for both Simmons and Fultz to act as primary initiators.
From there, the hope is that once the Sixers can get their top guns together for enough court time to develop chemistry and continuity, Philly will be able to leverage each player’s talents — Simmons’ size and passing vision, Fultz’s pick-and-roll prowess and perimeter-shooting accuracy, Joel Embiid’s mix of low-post dominance and threatening floor-spacing — on the same plays. One bends the defense through initial action, then swings the rock to give the other an opportunity to attack a compromised and shifting defense that now has to account for the always-dangerous J.J. Redick spotting up on the weak side. It feels like a pretty good recipe for juicing a Sixers attack that has ranked dead-last in the NBA in offensive efficiency in each of the last four years.
Mike O’Connor of The Sixer Sense has some neat ideas about how Brown might go about maximizing those opportunities, drawing from the Big Three-era Miami Heat, the latter-day LeBron James/Kyrie Irving Cleveland Cavaliers and the work of Brown’s old boss, Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs. It’s a safe bet the coach has had visions of offensive sets dancing in his head, too.
“It’s a real exciting challenge to have, trying to grow those two outstanding players,” Brown said after the draft. “Let them co-exist and learn more about each other. I think that the start of the season and training camp in the month of September is going to be really important to use to allow those guys to feel each other out and the coaching staff to truly see it on the court.”
Brown could run into some thorny issues on the other end of the floor. In the NBA, what you are is what you can guard, and it remains to be seen how exactly Simmons slots into Philly’s plans on that score, with Fultz and Redick likely to get the nod in the nominal backcourt and Embiid and one of Robert Covington or Dario Saric probably penciled into the other two spots. On the offensive end, though, the combination of passing acumen, pick-and-roll savvy and scoring touch means that the Fultz-Simmons combination should work well. Besides, in a league where positional designations matter less and less with each passing year, it doesn’t really matter which position you assign them on the depth chart.
Except, of course, when it matters to the player. The only way it becomes an issue that Simmons wants to be seen as Philly’s starting point guard is if that moniker matters to Fultz, too. Such hypotheticals, though, are tomorrow’s problem. Brown will happily cross that bridge when he comes to it if it means he’s got two more Rookie of the Year candidates on the floor making plays and giving the 76ers the playmaking jolt they’ve sorely needed to return to NBA relevance after a long stay in the league’s hinterlands.
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