Looks like you can drop “forward” from “point-forward.”
Brett Brown plans to use Ben Simmons as the Sixers' point guard when the 6-foot-10 rookie returns from a right acute Jones fracture which has sidelined him this season.
While there have been no updates on when Simmons will be cleared to play, Brown has seen enough during his rehab to believe he can succeed at the one-spot on both ends of the court.
“I think it is a hundred percent me realizing what we have,” Brown said Thursday after practice. “Understanding that Jerryd Bayless could comfortably play a two, to talking with Ben more, to understanding the opportunity that we have to try this and to grow this. This is something that I’d think would be a mistake if we didn’t try it. I think the more I studied him and studied film and talked with him — I spent a lot of time with him since his injury — the more comfortable I feel, like this is the right path.”
When the Sixers drafted Simmons first overall, the original intention was to start him at power forward and utilize him at various positions on the court, including on the perimeter and at the point. Simmons averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.0 steals in his one season at LSU.
The Sixers inked Bayless to be the starting point guard, thinking that his offensive skillset would be able to complement Simmons when the big was running the floor. That plan didn’t pan out.
Both Simmons and Bayless (left wrist) suffered injuries during training camp. Bayless has played in only three games, missed the last two, and is questionable for Friday against the Magic. Sergio Rodriguez, signed to be a backup, has been starting at the point.
Initially, Brown was reluctant to start Simmons at point guard given the enormity of the role. Simmons was going to be transitioning to a new league, which is challenging enough without having a new position thrown on top. Brown has learned more about the rookie as he progresses through his rehab, which has a multi-faceted focus on health, education and shot improvement, and that caused him to go in a different direction.
“I felt like initially to just say, 'Welcome to the NBA, 19-year-old who’s never played a point guard in your life and here’s the gym, here’s the ball,' was borderline cruel, was not very responsible,” Brown said. “I think as time has unfolded, talking more with him, seeing the team that we have, studying more and more and more what he actually brings to the table, I want to try it.”
Simmons’ size will create matchup problems for the opposing defense. On the flipside, he also will be challenged when guarding smaller point guards. Brown believes Simmons can handle that task and has been addressing it while they study film. Brown also would prefer to keep Simmons at the same position on both ends to avoid potential issues in transition.
“I think he can (defend point guards),” Brown said. “I think when you look at his athleticism and you combine that with his intellect, and part of my discussions when I’m with him is what do you see in relation to guarding, let’s pick the best, Chris Paul, and how would you guard that? He talks all the time about space and touch distance and understanding angles and our pick-and-rolls, the defense behind him, like what would Joel (Embiid) be in and so on.
“He asks the right questions and I steer him sometimes and point him and give him a little bit of hints, but I think that yes, I do feel like he can. And only, like anything, will time prove me right or wrong, but that will be the plan. I intend on making him like what we would know to be a legitimate point guard, and we’re going to try him defending other point guards.”
Moving Simmons to the one spot will have implications on the rest of the roster. If the Sixers shift Bayless to shooting guard, they could move their twos over to small forward and go offense-heavy on the perimeter.
“You would feel like you could start sprinkling some shooters around Ben with the ball and our big guys at the rim and go shooter, shooter, shooter,” Brown said. “That is, to me, sort of you start getting into perfect world on how you want to play.”
One of the next steps in Simmons’ return is having him join the Sixers on the bench for games. His teammates got a small glimpse of his potential and are ready to see more.
“During training camp, I was amazed how he was getting rebounds and just pushing the ball kind of like aggressively, kind of like (Russell) Westbrook,” Embiid said. “You could feel his presence on the floor and just finding guys. ... Now it’s on him to be willing to learn it, especially defensively, getting through screens at a high rate if he really wants to play point guard full time.”