76ers

Why we shouldn't expect Ben Simmons to be a 'crunch-time scorer' yet

Why we shouldn't expect Ben Simmons to be a 'crunch-time scorer' yet

In the first few minutes of a game, Ben Simmons so frequently looks like the best player on the floor. He sometimes is for the duration of the game, too, but especially so during that opening burst when he tends to barrel at the rim and make a loud, early imprint.

Over the Sixers’ last three contests, he’s scored six of the team’s first nine points, eight of its first 17, and 10 of its first 18, respectively. 

However, as NBC Sports national NBA insider Tom Haberstroh notes, Simmons’ usage has plummeted in fourth quarters. He has just a 15.4 usage rate in the fourth this season.

Haberstroh posits that, during the time Joel Embiid is sidelined after having surgery for a torn ligament in his left hand, the Sixers should “make Simmons a crunch-time scorer.”

The idea that Simmons should sustain his early aggressive mindset is certainly fair, and it seems hard to dispute.

The belief that he has the ability to be quite as effective late in fourth quarters, though, is a bit optimistic. His obvious limitations as a shooter allow defenses to play off him in the half court. The Sixers have been employing Simmons more as a screener when Josh Richardson or Tobias Harris are handling the ball, which has been promising. On Wednesday vs. the Nets, Brett Brown also encouraged Simmons to drive and quickly evaporate the open space the Nets were giving him. He called plenty of “12,” an action that begins with a wing coming up from the baseline to either set a ball screen for Simmons or take a handoff. Furkan Korkmaz got several good looks out of the action and scored nine points in the fourth quarter.

Though Simmons only had five of his 20 points against Brooklyn after halftime, the Sixers were at least able to put him in some impactful positions. It helped that Harris was tremendous in the fourth, too, hitting a string of tough, game-clinching shots and finishing with 34 points.

Brown admitted he had some regrets when asked before Wednesday's game about Simmons’ following up a 20-point first half Monday against the Pacers with a four-point second half. 

If you got to the fourth period — because I will own the large majority of it in the third period — we played through J-Rich and he had it rolling. … I think in the third period I could have posted him more. I could have gotten him the ball more. Did I think that he shied away from anything? I did not. He was running some play calls that I asked him to run and in the light of day, probably I could have gotten him the ball more. 

Another clear reason why Simmons might be limited late in games even if he adopts an attacking mentality is his poor free throw shooting. After a 2-for-7 performance Wednesday, he’s hitting 58.2 percent of his foul shots this year. He also hasn’t increased his free throw volume the way Brown said he hoped he would on Dec. 7.

On that night — on which Brown famously proclaimed that he wanted “a three-point shot a game, minimum" — he also said he wanted Simmons attempting eight free throws per game. He’s averaging 4.6 this year, 5.1 since that statement. 

The bright spot for Simmons is that he’s made 10 of 13 “clutch” free throws this season, generally responding well when teams have turned to a “Hack-a-Simmons” strategy. 

Like any team, the Sixers would love to have a diverse, dangerous array of late-game scoring options. But, if we’re being realistic, their fourth-quarter offense will likely run through Embiid when he returns, as it did before his injury. Richardson and Harris have also shown that they can create and make shots in crunch time.

Simmons should be be a more prominent figure than he is currently, but his value will likely stem more from his passing, screening and rolling, and ability to spark offense in the open floor as a result of elite defense than from his scoring.

As Haberstroh writes, the Sixers can find ways to develop while their All-Star big man is out. Maybe Simmons’ confidence in late-game situations will improve while Embiid is away, but he likely won’t be who the team centers its late-game offense around in the playoffs. He shouldn’t be, either. 

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Ben Simmons not-so-subtly hinted at a Sixers trade target over the weekend

Ben Simmons not-so-subtly hinted at a Sixers trade target over the weekend

We've reached the second calendar month of the NBA's hiatus, and Sixers star Ben Simmons is still chatting basketball while streaming his Call of Duty matches on Twitch.

In March, Simmons talked about his views on the best defenders in the league - a list, I'll note, which should include Simmons himself. Over the first weekend of April, Simmons was reading the chat on his stream when he decided to choose a very... interesting comment to read aloud:

Hmm. 

I wonder why Simmons decided to read that comment, out of the hundreds he sees during a stream, and then remind us that he's just reading the comments.

At least one commenter in the chat called out "tampering!", but it's not tampering if you're just reading ideas from other people!

In reality, of course, this is just Simmons joking around with the basketball world. He knows fans (and writers) are glued to things like Twitch streams and Instagram feeds without actual basketball to talk about, so he peppered in a little wink-wink, nudge-nudge joke for us to get fired up about.

Still, it makes you wonder...

Booker would probably be a great fit on today's Sixers team. He's a two-guard who can shoot from anywhere on the floor and create his own shot at will, and he's played point guard in the past, which would help keep the offense running when Simmons checks out. Booker's defense being an afterthought isn't much a problem, considering the Sixers are loaded with great defenders.

The real problem for the Sixers would be acquiring, and affording, Booker. He's in the first year of a five-year max contract with the Suns, so waiting for his contract to end isn't viable. And his deal brings a cap hit of $27 million this year, and climbs each year, all the way up to $36 million by the last year of his contract in 2023-24, when Joel Embiid turns 30.

If the Sixers were somehow able to convince the Suns to take one of Al Horford or Tobias Harris off their hands in exchange for Booker - along with other valuable assets headed to Phoenix, of course - it might be possible to balance a payroll with minimum contract players and young, affordable talent around a core of Embiid, Simmons, and Booker.

But I can't imagine the Suns would jettison their only superstar, who is somehow still just 23 years old, unless they decide to blow it up in the next year or two. So instead we're left dreaming, and making trades in NBA 2K20, and waiting for Simmons' next dispatch.

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2020 NBA draft profile: Tre Jones is a stellar defender who could fit well on the Sixers

2020 NBA draft profile: Tre Jones is a stellar defender who could fit well on the Sixers

Tre Jones

Position: Point guard
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 185 pounds 
School: Duke

Looking at the 2020 NBA draft prospects, there might not be a player that has been more closely scrutinized than Tre Jones. Such is life when you’re the point guard at Duke.

A look at Jones’ two years in Durham is a study in contrasts. In his first season, he played Ringo in a Fab Four freshman class that included Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish. (Apologies to Joey Baker for not being included in that group.) Oftentimes, Jones would defer to his more prominent teammates to the point of disappearing offensively in games.

Jones was the lone member of that unit to return to school for a sophomore season. The Minnesota native emerged as the team’s leader and most complete player en route to earning ACC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors. Only Shane Battier and Malcolm Brogdon have accomplished that double this century.

But how does Jones’ game translate to the NBA? Let’s examine his strengths and weaknesses:

Strengths 

Excellent defender: Jones earned that Defensive Player of the Tear award on merit. The best example of his prowess on defense came in his last college game, a 13-point win over rival North Carolina. In that contest, Jones placed the clamps on likely lottery pick Cole Anthony. The UNC star scored just 9 points on 4 of 14 shooting while adding only three assists in 39 minutes. 

You can count the number of on-ball defenders who were better than Jones in the NCAA last season on one hand. That said, the 6-foot-3 guard will have to continue to develop strength if he’s going to disrupt NBA-caliber point guards on a consistent basis.

Embraces the moment: As mentioned above, the affable Jones willingly played facilitator in his freshman season. But in his second season, Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils counted on Jones to take the team’s big shots. Obviously, one could point to the game-tying buzzer beater in Duke’s other game with North Carolina last season as evidence of that. But there were countless times in 2020 when Jones read the moment and made a play when his team needed it.

Jones will not be a primary offensive option in the NBA, but his defense has the opportunity to keep him on the floor at the end of games. He won’t be afraid to take and make big shots in those instances.

Weaknesses 

Shooting: Tre is actually the second Jones to make his way through Duke in recent years. His brother Tyus, you may recall, starred for the 2015 national champions alongside Jahlil Okafor. Tyus displayed a great deal of offensive weapons in his lone season at Duke. The younger Jones is slightly more limited on the offensive side of the ball, specifically when comparing the two as shooters.

Tre shot over 42 percent from the field as a sophomore, a tick up from his freshman campaign. But where he really improved was as a three-point shooter, going from 26.2 point to 36.1 percent. Jones will need to continue to improve that part of his game, because NBA coaches are going to help off him initially and force him to hit open shots.

To his credit, Jones is a good free throw shooter (over 75 percent from the foul line in both seasons at Duke), and he gets better in that department late in games.

Ball handling:  A willing passer and good decision maker, Jones is the type of player you want to play alongside. But he’s not a point guard that can get anywhere he wants off the dribble. He’ll need screens in order to consistently get into the paint as an NBA player. 

His handle is also a little loose for a player of his size. That didn’t cost him much in college, but it will be a different story next season.

Fit 

Chances are that Jones will likely fall to the bottom part of the draft’s first round, and that might be a blessing in disguise for the 20-year old. He’ll never be the type of player that can change a franchise. But Jones has the potential to be a fit for a good team like the Sixers, initially as an eighth or ninth man. One could see Jones providing capable defense while taking some minutes as a lead ball handler when Ben Simmons needs a rest. He’d also provide the potential for giving the Sixers a ridiculous shutdown lineup of Jones, Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, Joel Embiid and any other player you’d like.

In a best-case scenario, the Duke star becomes Kyle Lowry, a tenacious defender that runs his team and does enough offensively to be a factor. But if he doesn’t become a better offensive player, he might be relegated to NBA journeyman. I’d bet Jones ends up as a solid contributor to playoff teams for the better part of the next decade.

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