76ers

Ben Simmons as physically impressive as ever

Ben Simmons as physically impressive as ever

BOX SCORE

Ben Simmons set out to attack. 

A cutting layup just 27 seconds into the game followed by a driving layup 32 seconds later led to six points and a rebound in the first two minutes of one of his most aggressive performances.

“Physically, he was as impressive as I’ve seen him,” Brett Brown said. 

Simmons posted 19 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks in the Sixers’ 114-78 win over the Pistons Friday at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations). The stats could have been higher but Simmons (23 minutes) sat the entire fourth quarter because of the Sixers’ sizeable lead.

His 9 of 13 field goal shooting consisted of six layups, two fastbreak dunks and a hook shot. The Pistons didn’t have an answer for the speed and physicality of the 6-foot-10, 250-pound point guard (see highlights)

“I think I’m at the point where I know where I can score,” Simmons said. “I know how to attack different defenders.”

Brown sees a correlation between Simmons’ aggressiveness and his growing confidence at the line. Even though Simmons attempted only one free throw (he made it), he has been improving his once-struggling shot there. Simmons, who is shooting 55.4 percent on the season, is 21 for 30 (70 percent) in his last four games in which he attempted free throws.

“I think some of it needs to be associated with his confidence going to the line,” Brown said. “I think that when people aren’t confident shooting free throws, it can’t help but drip feed into your aggression on trying to get there. I think the better he feels about his free throws, the more physical he’s going to play.”

Simmons, who shot 10 of 15 in the previous game against the Spurs, agreed with his coach.

“I think he’s right,” Simmons said. “I’m very comfortable at the free throw line. I think I’ve been shooting the ball pretty well of late. I think the better that gets, the more aggressive I am.”

The Sixers are working their way back from the December skid and reached .500 (19-19) with Friday’s win. They have a different offensive punch when Simmons plays at this level. 

“I was excited,” Joel Embiid said. “When he plays like that, that’s good. That’s how we want him to play. We want him to be aggressive and keep attacking. I was happy that he did that and that just set the tone.”

What should Sixers' rotation be for playoffs?

usa_jonathon_simmons_james_ennis_mike_scott_zhaire_smith_sixers.jpg
USA Today/AP Images

What should Sixers' rotation be for playoffs?

After Sunday night's All-Star Game, we still have three days to kill before the Sixers are back in action. 

Today, NBC Sports Philadelphia's Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick discuss who should be part of the Sixers' playoff rotation. 

Tuesday, they'll look at how the Sixers can overcome the Celtics, and Wednesday they'll review their expectations for the rest of the season.

Hudrick

Brett Brown has said that his rotation will be at 10 players for now and will go down to nine when the playoffs come. You could make the argument that number should perhaps be eight given how elite the starting five is.

Looking at the five bench guys now, Brown has mentioned that veteran Mike Scott is a lock as the backup four. You figure T.J. McConnell will also be in as the backup point guard. Brown also seems determined to see how much he can use Boban Marjanovic. The other two guys off the bench should be James Ennis and Jonathon Simmons, without a doubt.

Jonah Bolden has been the odd man out, but that may not continue into the postseason. He lost his job as Joel Embiid’s backup really by no fault of his own. He’d been doing a nice job as the backup five and makes a ton of sense as a rim protector that is capable of switching onto guards and can hit the occasional open three.

As we saw in the game against the Celtics, Marjanovic is a liability against bigs like Al Horford and Daniel Theis with the ability to hit shots from the perimeter. Marjanovic was exposed big time in the pick-and-roll, already a sore spot for the Sixers.

With McConnell, he seems more like a matchup-type player as he can be exposed by bigger guards. That’s where the Jimmy Butler point guard experiment comes into play. If I were Brown, my playoff bench would be Scott at the four, Bolden at the five and then either Ennis or Simmons as a backup wing while Butler runs the point. The nice thing about having useful, versatile pieces is you can match up against other teams and also swap players that maybe don't have it on a given night.

If the starters all play around 40 minutes, that leaves about 40 minutes — 13 apiece — for three players. That should be manageable given the strength of the starting unit.

Levick

The playoff rotation is going to have to be largely matchup-dependent. That’s a good thing.

The Sixers now have the personnel to adapt off the bench to most situations. For instance, if you’re playing the Bucks and have to deal with the threat of Brook Lopez as a three-point shooter, you’d likely prefer Jonah Bolden’s quickness and ability to defend away from the rim over Boban Marjanovic. If you’re playing the Hornets, Jonathon Simmons could get more minutes as a physical defensive option against Kemba Walker. T.J. McConnell might play a more prominent role against the Celtics, a team he thrived against last postseason.

Furkan Korkmaz should not be part of the equation; Simmons, Ennis, McConnell and Mike Scott all offer more reliable value. Korkmaz is dependent on hitting three-point shots, and he hasn’t done that consistently. And unlike Korkmaz, Simmons, Ennis, McConnell and Scott all have playoff experience.

We also shouldn’t forget about Zhaire Smith. According to general manager Elton Brand, the expectation is still that he’ll play this season. If Smith gets back on the court and his stint with the Blue Coats goes well, he deserves a shot to show what he can do this year at the NBA level. And if Brett Brown likes what he sees, Smith’s perimeter defense and athleticism could be an intriguing playoff option. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

All-Star night is more than Ben Simmons could have hoped for

All-Star night is more than Ben Simmons could have hoped for

There aren't a ton of things that faze Ben Simmons. At least, that’s how it usually seems.

Until you’re being announced as an NBA All-Star for the first time in your career and waiting to sub in on Team LeBron.

“Here we go, don’t mess up,” Simmons thought to himself as he took the court.

Next to him was Dwyane Wade. Across from him was Dirk Nowitzki.

“I’m playing with legends, D-Wade … [Nowitzki] hit a three on me” Simmons said with a smile, before going on to talk about the influence that Nowitzki had on him as an international basketball player.

For playing just 16 minutes, Simmons sure had an impact, finishing with 10 points on 5 for 5 shooting, seven assists, six rebounds and zero turnovers.

He also had a little something in him that not everyone else had. While the majority of players said they started to feel the game get competitive midway through the fourth quarter, Simmons had a different answer.

“That first second I stepped on the court, just stepping in with the mentality of trying to get a win," he said.

Simmons, alongside Team LeBron got that win Sunday night, but it was clear from his demeanor there was something bigger he took away.

“I had a great time," he said. "Nothing was what I expected, but it was just fun to be out there, something new, something I hadn’t done before.”

Simmons walked out of the arena with a little extra pep in his step, which got me thinking about the day he was announced as an All-Star.

“I grew up thinking about championships, honestly," he said then. "I didn’t really think about All-Star appearances.”

But now, I’d think Simmons would admit that tonight was a little bit more special than even he imagined.  

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers