Ben Simmons is an All-Star point guard. Jimmy Butler is a four-time All-Star as a forward.
But sometimes, change is good.
Simmons struggled in the first half of the Sixers’ win Thursday, but had a huge second half that helped lead the team to a win. He was just 2 of 6 before halftime, but went 7 of 13 after and finished with 21 points.
The difference? Simmons saw way more touches in the post.
If you’re looking for an area of Simmons’ game that’s improved drastically, it’s his post play. Last season, he shot just 30 percent and took just 70 shots in the post. In 2018-19, he’s hitting 51 percent — sixth in the league among players with at least 250 post ups — and has already taken 104 attempts.
When push came to shove, Simmons knew where he could score. And the Heat didn’t have an answer, allowing Simmons to score eight straight points for the Sixers in the third.
“Rarely when the game is unfolding do you look out on the floor and don’t think, ‘Oh, he’s got a mismatch,’” Brett Brown said. “He’s 6-foot-10 and there’s a physicality to him that’s more potent and powerful than others may see on a stat sheet. He’s physical and he’s big. I thought what stood out was that he wanted the ball. He sensed we needed a bucket.”
Everyone knows Simmons’ biggest flaw. He’s a point guard that can’t shoot.
Just look at what the Celtics did to him last season in the playoffs — and what they’ve done to him this season. They sag way off him, daring him to shoot. They’re disciplined and get back on defense, hindering Simmons’ ability to utilize his strength in transition.
The Sixers’ solution may already be in the works. Before the game in Los Angeles against the Lakers back on Jan.29, Brown mentioned that he was going to experiment with Butler at point guard. At first, that was kind of eyebrow raising, but when you break it down, it actually makes a ton of sense.
Butler is an underrated playmaker and doesn’t the turn ball over much for a high-usage player. Among players that average at least 25 minutes a game, Butler ranks seventh in turnover percentage (the number of turnovers a player commits per 100 possessions).
As far as the eye test goes, Butler appears more than comfortable in the role. With how much firepower the Sixers have, Butler has a tendency to just sort of blend in offensively at times. Playing the one, he gets the ball in his hands early and initiates the offense.
It begs the question: Why didn’t any other coach ever think of putting Butler at point guard? Perhaps it was his size at 6-foot-8 that gave coaches pause.
With what they’ve been willing to do with Simmons, clearly that’s not a concern for Brown and the Sixers.
“Every time I see Jimmy play and he gets into these situations, you’re just reminded, he has so much sort of brute force on the game,” Brown said. “I think that when he can get a shoulder by people, it’s over. It’s hard to recover on that. When he can’t get a shoulder by somebody and he just sort of initiates shoulder on chest, he’s still able to create space.
“He’s big enough with his size to see over things and deliver balls to the rim out of pick-and-rolls.”
Playing Simmons at a traditional four and Butler at the one allows Simmons to play more out of the post and Butler to be involved in more pick-and-rolls, where’s he’s comfortable. And even with Butler as the point guard, Simmons can still grab the ball off the rim and push it up the floor when the opportunity arises.
With the playoffs looming, this may no longer be an experiment. This may be a solution.
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