Sixers coach Brett Brown reiterated Wednesday that he plans to use Ben Simmons as his point guard this season, while adding that Markelle Fultz will not be excluded from “decision-making and point guard-type of responsibilities” on occasion.
Brown also didn’t rule out using the 6-10 Simmons as a small-ball center.
Simmons and Fultz have been the top picks in each of the last two drafts, but Simmons missed last season while his broken right foot healed.
Simmons, who played a single season at LSU, is “an elite passer,” in Brown’s estimation, as well as a guy who has “jaw-dropping” speed.
Brown has also found that the 6-4 Fultz, selected after the Sixers engineered a trade with Boston for the most recent No. 1 choice, is very coachable. And his skill set is as advertised.
There will be times, as a result, when each runs the point.
“Once the ball is missed and you have sort of jailbreak, Markelle’s going to be in (the) open court with the ball,” Brown said. “He will be at that point one of the primary ballcarriers. When it’s a static situation and you’ve got to run a play at the start of the year, Ben Simmons will have the ball. … At the start of the game and it’s a dead ball, we’re going to give Ben the ball.”
Defensively, Brown envisions Fultz playing opposing point guards and Simmons guarding power forwards. The matchups with the other projected starters are also conventional. Joel Embiid will play centers, Robert Covington will guard the other team’s best wing and JJ Redick will check the other wing.
Brown also said Simmons “has a chance to be an elite defender,” though his reputation in college was otherwise. Fultz also played a lot of zone in his lone year at Washington.
The Simmons-at-center discussion was an interesting one. Brown said it is “possible” he will use Simmons – or possibly 6-10 Dario Saric – in that capacity at times, noting that the Warriors closed games with no one bigger than 6-7 Draymond Green (and more recently, 6-10 Kevin Durant) on the court.
“When you get down to the last six minutes, inevitably it ends up a smaller game,” Brown said.
As for Simmons’ health, president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said that hasn’t been a concern for a while.
“He’s playing 5-on-5,” Colangelo said, “and dominating the gym.”
Much is still to be determined about the rotation, given the presence of veterans like Amir Johnson, Jerryd Bayless, Richaun Holmes, Nik Stauskas and (possibly) a slimmed-down Jahlil Okafor.
And what of Saric? He averaged 12.8 points and 6.3 rebounds as a rookie last season, while appearing in all but one game. There is speculation that he might wind up the sixth man, but Brown is not yet certain about that.
“His gift of basketball intellect is high, and so when you say where does he fit in, I’m saying anywhere we want,” he said. “Where does he fit in to start games, end games, I don’t know. I just know that in my opinion, that’s probably the Rookie of the Year (last season), and his skill package and his toughness and his intellect will be fit in where it’s needed most -- in a timely fashion, we believe.”
Milwaukee guard Malcolm Brogdon was chosen Rookie of the Year, while Saric and Embiid made the All-Rookie team. Now Saric is one of many players for whom Brown must find time.
“The gym’s going to tell us a lot,” he said.
And, he added, “I feel the first third of the season is going to be a lot of learning for all of us.”
Playoff talk has been rampant for a while, and when asked by Ian Thomsen of NBA.com about that, Colangelo said, “Forecasting that would definitely, I believe, be unrealistic. But hoping for that? It’s on everybody’s mind.”
Colangelo revisited that on Wednesday.
“I don’t think it’s unrealistic to want to be in the playoffs, or have a goal to be in the playoffs,” he said. “That is our goal, but (there are) things you have to look at with respect to the situation we find ourselves in.”
He pointed out the difficulty of making the postseason with two rookie guards. According to the Sixers’ research, it hasn’t happened since Houston did so in 1998-99, with a backcourt of Cuttino Mobley and Michael Dickerson.
Then there is the matter of incorporating the other new pieces, like Redick and Johnson.
“I think it’s premature to throw anything out with respect to a number (of victories) or any goal,” Colangelo said, “but I would say our objective is to make the playoffs.”
Brown, 75-253 in his first four years on the job (including last year’s 28-54), knows the team is “in a different phase,” as he put it, and understands how difficult it can be to take the next step. At the same time, he too is caught up in the excitement of the playoff talk, which has in part emanated from the players.
“I really don’t say anything to them about tempering expectations,” he said. “I like them saying stuff. Then you’ve got to own it. … Words are one thing, actions are another.”
But certainly he likes how hard they have worked in the offseason, and sees the potential.
“Years ago,” he said, “I heard a phrase: ‘If they show you who they are, believe them.’ That’s over a period of time. … On first glance, when I check some of our guys, I think they have a real chance for greatness. We aspire to win a championship in the city. Then you want another one, and then another one.”