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Do Sixers need a more aggressive Simmons on offense?

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Do Sixers need a more aggressive Simmons on offense?

Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Marshall Harris and NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporter Matt Haughton.

In this edition, we examine whether the Sixers need Ben Simmons to be more aggressive offensively.

Harris
The Sixers need a lot of things. They need Joel Embiid to stay healthy, they need Robert Covington and Jerryd Bayless to hit open threes and they need to stop turning the ball over at such a high rate (18.3 turnovers per game). 

However, do they really need Ben Simmons to be more aggressive? I guess it depends on what "aggressive" means.

Are there games when it seems peculiar that Simmons isn't taking more shots, especially when he's hitting a high percentage of them? Yes. But Simmons doesn't have to necessarily take more shots for the team to be successful. 

Take the Sixers’ Christmas win over the Knicks for example. Simmons was 4 of 8 from the field on the way to an eight-point, eight-rebound day. He had only three assists but also turned it over only twice in 33 minutes.

The Sixers won the game because Simmons didn't have to be the best player on the floor. Embiid and JJ Redick combined for 49 points and were each a plus-25 for the game. While Simmons was 0 for 2 from the charity stripe, Embiid and Redick were 15 for 16. 

But here's the real thing: The turnovers were way down. The Sixers’ 15 turnovers were well below their season average, and the fact Simmons had only two is evidence he wasn’t trying to do too much.

So, no, I don't think the Sixers simply need Simmons to be more aggressive. They need him to be selectively aggressive, to attack the basket more in games when Embiid is out of the lineup and slowly but surely get more comfortable taking short jumpers. They need to make sure he is surrounded by the complementary parts needed for any rookie point guard to excel. To ask him to carry a team as a first-year player isn't anything we ask any other rookie whose team has playoff expectations. 

If you're expecting a more aggressive Simmons to be the answer to get the Sixers to the playoffs, you're really not accepting what the young man's skill set and limitations are at the moment.

Haughton
Yes … but only slightly.

Simmons walks a delicate line as a point guard with balancing his own offensive opportunities and setting up teammates. While the rookie is likely never going to being a scoring machine at the PG spot like Russell Westbrook or Kyrie Irving, there is still room for Simmons to eye his own shot more.

Simmons’ field goal attempts are down to 12.0 per game in December compared to 15.6 in November and 14.1 in October. He’s had four games in December in which he’s attempted single-digit shots, which occurred only once prior to this month (6 of 8 from the field Nov. 11 in Sacramento). The free throw attempts are also down to 3.3 nightly after getting 5.8 in November and 5.9 in October.

While those numbers seem like a slight dropoff, the dip is still important. Simmons’ scoring in December is down to 13.9 points per game and 16.8 overall. That’s after going for above 18.0 the first two months of the season. 

More importantly, Simmons’ all-around game benefits when he brings a high level of activity on the offensive end. He put up 9.5 rebounds a night during that strong month of December and a robust 2.7 steals.

Whether he’s hit an early rookie wall or teams are starting to get a better idea on how to handle Simmons, it’s clear he’s hit a bit of a lull on the court. 

Even if the shots aren’t falling, the Sixers have proven to be a better team so far this season when Simmons is on the attack. More of that, and he can regain that early-season rhythm he enjoyed during the first two months of the season.

Sloppy Sixers drop 10th straight road game to Wizards

Sloppy Sixers drop 10th straight road game to Wizards

BOX SCORE

Something about Washington, D.C., that causes the Sixers to play bad basketball.

They dropped their 10th straight in the nation’s capital, falling to the Wizards, 119-113, at Capital One Arena Thursday.

The combination of turnovers (21) and a red-hot, 19-point second quarter from Davis Bertans sunk the Sixers as they played Washington’s up-tempo style and not the "bully ball" we’ve seen.

Josh Richardson (right hamstring tightness) missed his sixth game of the season while the Wizards were without starting center Thomas Bryant (right foot stress reaction).

The loss drops the Sixers to 15-7 and 5-7 on the road. They return to the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night against the Cavaliers.

Here are observations from the loss.

Simmons shines on D but struggles on O

If it wasn’t for Bertans going absolutely nuts from three in the first half — 6 of 6 — this game would’ve looked a lot different early. Bertans cooled off in the second half, but rookie Rui Hachimura picked up the slack (27 points).

Ben Simmons' defense on All-Star Bradley Beal was excellent. Simmons chased Beal around and continued to play at an All-NBA level on defense. Before Bertans erupted, Washington’s offense looked stagnant with its focal point kept in check. For the game, Beal was held to 7 of 24 from the field.

Offensively, Simmons did not have a banner night. He had seven turnovers, far too many against a team in the Wizards who have the lowest-rated defense in the NBA. His unwillingness to shoot and stopping drives short without a plan continues to be issues. He had 17 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and three steals.

Not enough from Embiid

With the Wizards missing their starting center, it made sense for the Sixers to feed Embiid early and often. And that’s exactly what they did early on. Washington doubled frequently but Embiid had a double-double in the first half, putting up 17 points and 10 rebounds.

One knock on Embiid has been him not running rim to rim. To close out the first quarter, there were two sequences where Raul Neto knocked corner threes. On both plays, the attention that Embiid drew led to good ball movement and space.

In the second half, Embiid looked sluggish at times. He also had issues with turnovers, committing eight. On a night when Embiid should've dominated, he put up 26 points on 7 of 12 shooting. Part of that is on the Sixers and Brett Brown for not getting it into Embiid enough. He did have 21 rebounds.

Tobias the scorer

We’ve heard Brown talk a ton about Tobias Harris needing to have a “scorer’s mentality.” Even after practice Wednesday, Brown again said that he felt like Harris was passing up a couple looks a game that he should be taking.

Harris was feeling it early and looking awfully confident with 16 points in the first half (2 of 4 from three, 7 of 14 overall).

And another example of Harris attacking.

Harris did all he could, putting up 33 points on 13 of 28 (3 of 8 from three). He just didn’t get much help. 

Thybulle looking comfortable

We all understand what Matisse Thybulle brings on the defensive end of the floor. He continued to be his usual disruptive self and helped cool off Bertans when nobody else on the Sixers could. As the Sixers made a run in the fourth quarter, it was Thybulle who had a series of impressive plays — including a couple on Beal. He had a pair of steals and blocks.

Thybulle has shot the ball well lately, but on Thursday, his driving and passing were on display. He dished a season-high six assists.

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Sixers at Wizards: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers at Wizards: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

The Sixers (15-6), winners of four in a row and eight of their last nine, will look to get to the .500 mark on the road when they visit the Wizards (6-13) Thursday night.

Josh Richardson (right hamstring tightness) remains out. He did individualized workouts the last two days at practice, but the team is being cautious as Richardson will miss his fourth straight game. Shake Milton (right hip discomfort) will be available.

Washington will be without starting center Thomas Bryant (right foot stress reaction) and veteran wing C.J. Miles (left wrist). Backup bigs Ian Mahinmi (right Achilles strain) and Moritz Wagner (left ankle sprain) are available. 

Here are tonight's essentials:

When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Capital One Arena
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia+
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch:

The competition

Rookie Matisse Thybulle has wreaked havoc on the defensive end in almost every one of his appearances this season. He leads all rookies with 29 steals and is third among them in deflections — despite playing far less minutes than the other first-year players at the top of the list.

But it hasn’t just been Thybulle that’s been so disruptive. Ben Simmons, who looks well on his way to earning some type of All-Defensive team honors, leads the NBA in steals and is second in deflections.

A competition has formed.

“I’d say it’s me, him and J-Rich when it comes to steals, trying to see who can get the most, within reason, without trying to put guys in tough positions,” Thybulle said after practice Tuesday. “I think it’s cool that we have that competitiveness. You’ve seen it with Ben, he’s changed games — he’s won games — with steals down the stretch. I think it’s cool to have that little competition within ourselves.”

The caveat of not “trying to put guys in tough positions” is important here. Thybulle has been walking the fine line all season of being disruptive and not leaving his teammates out to dry. To Thybulle’s credit, you can see the improvement. And to Brett Brown’s credit, he admitted before the Jazz game that he needs to be more tolerant with Thybulle.

Despite playing at the fastest pace in the NBA, the Wizards are one of the better teams in the league at taking care of the basketball. Something will have to give Thursday night.

Feed Embiid

Joel Embiid is the focal point of the Sixers’ offense and that shouldn’t change against Washington. He’ll likely see plenty of rookie Rui Hachimura playing the five with the Wizards’ frontcourt so banged up. With that, Embiid is likely to see plenty of double teams and possibly even some zone.

It’ll be on the other Sixers to make plays and shots around Embiid, who has improved greatly in navigating double teams. They should be able to expose Washington’s defense. The Wizards have the worst-rated defense in the NBA and give up the third-most points per game.

Beal is the real deal

News flash: Bradley Beal is really freaking good. And he’s having one of his best seasons. He’s averaging 28.7 points and 7.2 assists a game — both marks would be career highs. He’s taking the most threes he ever has so his percentage is down, but he’s getting to the line just a little under seven times a game. 

And Beal’s supporting cast is no joke on the offensive end. The Sixers will have their hands full with how Davis Bertans (44.6 percent) and Isaiah Thomas (41 percent) are shooting from three. With that said, both players can be exposed on the defensive end.

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