October 04, 2016
With Ben Simmons likely out for an extended period of time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown has to replace much more than 30 minutes per game at power forward. To steal a term from the great Reggie Jackson, Simmons was going to be “the straw that stirs the drink.”
Maybe he still will at some point this season, but for now, the Sixers are looking at quite the course change. When the rookie point forward was on the floor, the ball was primarily going to be in his hands. The Sixers aren’t the tricked out Lexus that you used to see on “My Super Sweet 16,” but Simmons got the keys to the car immediately.
So how do they change the identity on the fly? If you ask Brown, that was going to be the case with Simmons anyway.
“I feel like how you make this group this work, the challenges as we’ve talked about, it was always going to be stuff that you learned on the fly,” Brown said. “Like you think you know, but you never really do.”
Listening to Brown, you get the feeling that he thought Simmons would initially struggle in halfcourt offense. He isn’t the only one. With a shaky jumper, more sophisticated defenses, and NBA length to deal with, it certainly isn’t a crazy assumption.
The Sixers have played fast since Brown took over, and with Simmons, the plan was to get him in transition as much as possible.
“When it’s static, somebody shoots a free throw and we have the ball, he’s good,” Brown said. “But when he’s going against a set defense, he’s not as dynamic. Him in open court with that kind of breakneck speed that he has at 6-foot-10, 240 pounds, that’s intimidating, it’s powerful.”
Brown suggested a few ways that the Sixers might try to soak up Simmons’ minutes. Let’s briefly touch on them one by one:
“Move Dario up and Jerami over”: To be clear, that means to move Dario Saric up from the bench to the starting lineup and Jerami Grant over from small forward to power forward.
For Grant, Simmons’ injury could make a huge difference. A man without a country at small forward, he was better in almost every statistical category at the 4 last season, where his defensive strengths (shot blocking, specifically) can best be utilized. At the 3, Grant’s poor three-point shooting becomes even more of a liability.
Likewise, Saric’s natural position is the 4. A better shooter but worse athlete than Simmons, Saric still offers some of what the top overall pick brings to the table at power forward.
“In some ways we are similar players, but he’s faster and stronger than me,” Saric said. “He pushes the ball on the fastbreak, I can do that too but maybe not to the same level.”
Saric is a better shooter and less ball dominant than Simmons, which could mean big things for his frontcourt partner in the preseason opener.
“I think Dario is going to fit in perfectly,” Joel Embiid said.
Playing the bigs together: I think we all saw enough of the Noel-Okafor combo last season, but nobody has had the opportunity to see how each player functions with Embiid.
“You start thinking, do you go back and look at playing some of your bigs together?” Brown said at one point.
I still think all three bigs are centers, but if Embiid can form a semi-successful partnership with either player, maybe the Sixers will be able to find minutes for all three and quiet some of the friction there would be with an odd man out.
“There is nobody, sadly, that has had more experience dealing with injured draft picks than we have. And so over the course of time, you know how to best deal with it.”
Play Covington at the 4: Brown didn’t mention this in the last few days, but he has experimented with Robert Covington playing power forward in small ball lineups before. In the pace and space era, the 6’9” Covington’s skill set is perfect to play against teams with two traditional bigs.
Last season, the 10-win Sixers were pretty much an average NBA team with RoCo at the 4. That’s significant.
What will the Sixers do? We’ll just have to wait and see. One thing is for sure, though: They have certainly been here before.
“There is nobody, sadly, that has had more experience dealing with injured draft picks than we have,” Brown said. “And so over the course of time, you know how to best deal with it.”
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann