Prior to the stoppage of play due to the pandemic, the Sixers were on pace to finish the season in the sixth seed. Ben Simmons was out for the foreseeable future with what was being referred to as a back sprain. They were limping to the end of the up and down 2019-2020 season and seemed destined for another early playoff exit, something that would have spelled the demise for one Brett Brown.
I can’t speak for all fans, but as a full season ticket holder and someone who remembers the days of Alexey Shved and Henry Sims, I was almost checked out. I don’t think I was the only fan who was either.
Boy, what a difference a four month lockdown makes.
It seems that every season in the last few has started the same: someone leaks a video montage of Ben Simmons stroking three pointers and the entirety of the fan base goes nuts. The season restart hasn’t been an exception to that rule. On Sunday, a video of Simmons was released shooting a fade-away corner three, reminiscent of the one-leg fade-away that Dirk Nowitzki made popular. Surely, we wouldn’t feed into the hype train that seems to always follow a video like this from Simmons. Right?
Wrong. I, being the eternally optimistic Philadelphia fan (yes, they exist!), have already bought stock in it. I am not just blindly putting my faith in this opinion. This isn’t the same Ben Simmons prior to his injury. This time feels different.
The new look lineup, featuring Shake Milton at the point and Simmons at the four seems to be the talk of the town down at the bubble. NBA teams are definitely fearful of this change. We have been calling for Simmons to play power forward for what feels like his entire career. Kurt Helin, writer at ProBasketballTalk, said this move “has the league saying, ‘but if it works…'”. This could be the move to unlock the full potential of this team.
Not only could this move help make this team more well rounded, this should help the team improve in one of the areas it has heavily struggled: the pick and roll.
Prior to the shutdown, the Sixers were second to last in pick and roll frequency at 13.2%. The only team that had a lower frequency was the Houston Rockets at 10.3%, and we know how they fully embraced small ball this season. The problem with running the pick and roll with Simmons at the point is there was hardly any threat from Ben to shoot the open jumper. They became predictable plays, as nine times out of 10, they were trying to get the ball to the roll guy.
Now, with Shake running the point, teams will no longer be able to play the roller so aggressively. During the nine games the Sixers played without Simmons, Milton averaged 17.8 points. More amazingly, he shot 60.4% from three-point range (29-for-48) and averaged 4.1 assists to 1.6 turnovers in 29.9 minutes.
The shooting numbers are definitely going to take a dip, but the fact remains the same. Milton has the ability and the confidence to take this team to another level. The willingness he showed to take the open shots in his nine game run as the point guard is exactly what this team was lacking.
All of this brings us back to Simmons. Will we finally see him shoot the ball now? I believe so.
Simmons’ first step is too fast to have power forwards playing up on him, so he will be getting ample room to take open shots. The shots are going to be there, just like they have been. It has always been a confidence issue with Ben. The removal of the fans should make it much easier for him to just play basketball.
This lineup switch can go one of two ways for the Sixers: either they are still the all defense, no offense juggernaut and are displaced quickly from the playoffs or they become the team we have all envisioned. As good as Joel Embiid is, it’s clear that this team’s destiny is really in the hands of one player. And his name is Benjamin David Simmons.