We don’t need to spend much time explaining how and why Ben Simmons is very valuable for the Sixers.
The two-time All-Star leads the NBA in steals and, before irritating a lower back injury Saturday night in Milwaukee, was averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 assists and 7.9 rebounds.
Of course, the Sixers will hope the injury doesn’t keep Simmons out for long. The question of how the Sixers will manage if Simmons’ injury does sideline him for an extended period of time, however, deserves attention.
Who’d be in the starting lineup?
Though Raul Neto started in Simmons’ place Thursday against the Nets, he didn’t play against the Bucks until the game was well out of hand.
Shake Milton handled much of the point guard duties after Simmons left and was solid, making 5 of 7 three-point shots and scoring 17 points.
Josh Richardson and Alec Burks are other ball handling options, with Brett Brown seeming to prefer Burks’ “scoring punch” off the bench.
In his second NBA season, Milton has posted 6.7 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game, shooting 36.9 percent from three. The 23-year-old was on a two-way contract with the Sixers as a rookie and starred with the Delaware Blue Coats, scoring 24.9 points per game in the G League.
Who else would be impacted?
Between Jan. 25 and Feb. 9, Milton started eight straight games for the Sixers because of Richardson’s hamstring injury. Brown didn’t play him as much as a typical starter during that stretch, giving him 25.4 minutes per game. He only exceeded 30 minutes once, when he scored a career-high 27 points on Jan. 30 in Atlanta.
Milton again would not likely be assuming full-on starters minutes. Perhaps Richardson and Burks would combine for a greater sum of backup point guard minutes than usual. If Richardson were to handle backup point guard duties, that would presumably mean Glenn Robinson III, Furkan Korkmaz and Matisse Thybulle would have more minutes to take on the wing.
Simmons was averaging a team-high 36.3 minutes entering Saturday’s game, so there is simply a lot of playing time that would need to be allocated among multiple players.
Where would the Sixers suffer the most?
The defense would take a big hit. The on-off stats mysteriously indicate that the Sixers have been a better defensive team with Simmons not on the floor, but they’d clearly be losing one of the best defenders in the game.
Along with being first in steals, Simmons has the most total deflections and the most defensive loose balls recovered. He can defend opposing stars and, in general, most point guards, wings and power forwards. The Sixers would not be able to replace that defensive versatility or overall quality.
They’d obviously gain something in terms of outside shooting but would lose a lot in other offensive areas. Simmons has assisted on more threes than any player this season.
How much would it hurt overall?
Because Simmons has played in 214 of a possible 221 regular-season games over the last three seasons, we don’t have any meaningful track record of how the Sixers tend to fare without him.
Joel Embiid would be the focus of a Simmons-less team, and it would make sense for the offense to involve more Embiid post-ups than ever.
The most basic formula for success without Simmons would be an elite Embiid on both ends of the floor, Milton and other guards succeeding in expanded roles, and Tobias Harris and Al Horford being better across the board, especially as three-point shooters. It’s not impossible that all those pieces would come together, but it would be a lot to ask.
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