The Sixers’ new head coach shares his 24-year-old All-Star's anti-label stance.
In response to a question Tuesday about Ben Simmons' leadership responsibilities, Doc Rivers indicated that he hasn’t decided upon a single, conventional position for Simmons, and he doesn’t think that’s a problem.
“The leadership thing I don’t worry about right now,” Rivers said. “I kind of let that manifest itself through his play, through his practice habits and his example. But because he’s going to have the ball in his hands so much, he has to have an understanding every night of what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to get. And he has to be able to convey that to everybody on the floor. He has to become a great studier of our offense, of the opponent’s defense. He has to know every single position on the floor and understand where everybody should be, and he has to vocalize that. So he will do that.
“Ben is a great decision-maker. Is Ben a point guard? Honestly, I don’t care. I don’t even know that yet. But I know one thing, if you can get him in space going downhill, the ball gets to the right place, and so we want to do that as much as we can.”
If the Sixers’ offense revolves around Simmons handling the ball and putting pressure on the defense, it’s true an official position doesn’t matter much. The bigger questions would be how often Simmons is stationed off the ball and which guard (or guards) are on the court with him. Simmons’ pairing with Seth Curry is promising, and Rivers suggested Tuesday that he likes Shake Milton as a second-unit ball handler, but there’s still plenty for him to determine.
The fact that Simmons suffered a season-ending left knee injury just three games into the Sixers’ bubble stay means Rivers doesn’t have a ton of tape to review with him in a “point forward” role. Simmons’ improved efficiency on elbow and paint touches in the second half of the season is another factor that might be seen as pertinent.
Instead of juggling everything that could conceivably be relevant to Simmons’ offensive role, Rivers wants to keep things relatively simple and accentuate Simmons’ strengths. The Australian’s jumper is a well-known weakness, and Rivers reiterated that he doesn’t find it concerning and doesn’t intend on setting any quotas.
“… I don’t care about Ben’s shooting as much as so many other people seem to care about it,” he said. “I care that he’s a great player, and I’m going to let him play. I’m going to give him the keys and let him be free and play. If he takes no shots, I’m fine. If he takes 10 threes, I’m fine. If he gets to the line 15 times, I’m fine.
“Ben is brilliant enough for me to allow him to play and not get in his way and cloud his head up with a bunch of crap, you know. It’s about winning, and that’s what I want Ben to focus on — how to make each other better and win.”
Rivers noted that he plans to run more pick-and-rolls than the Sixers did under Brett Brown, including with Simmons and Joel Embiid. The way defenses have sagged off Simmons has limited possibilities as a pick-and-roll ball handler in the past for him and the team.
Simmons has flashed intriguing potential as a roll man, and Brown also had occasional success with Simmons-Embiid snug pick-and-rolls. However, pick-and-rolls with Simmons as a traditional ball handler might not be very productive until opponents recognize him as a threat to shoot.