Philadelphia 76ers cannot survive a Ben Simmons injury

Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons | Sixers (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons | Sixers (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers need Ben Simmons. A lot.

The other day, I watched The Shining — an intense, disorienting look at a man’s descent into madness after watching the 2019-20 Sixers years of alcohol abuse and supressed rage. Anyway, the Philadelphia 76ers find themselves in a potentially difficult situation. Ben Simmons could miss extended time due to a lower back injury.

This is — shocker! — not the best news. If Simmons is to miss significant time, the Sixers will be without their point guard. While some will debate the merits of Simmons as a “point guard,” it won’t take long without him to end such discourse.

Whether you view Simmons as a lead guard or not, the Sixers use him as such. He is the primary facilitator — he brings the ball up, he controls the tempo, and he is the Sixers’ primary source of gravity inside the three-point line, save for Joel Embiid.

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Simmons is the key that cranks Philadelphia’s engine. The open looks he generates in transition are enough to sustain the offense at times . He’s a 6-foot-10 bullet train, and defenses are quick to collapse when he gallops into the open court. When the Sixers are hitting shots and Simmons is out on the fast break, Philadelphia becomes nearly impossible to contain.

In the halfcourt, Simmons still harbors immense gravity as a dribble-driver and a post-up threat. Defenses are quick to leave him be on the perimeter, but Simmons still has little issue pummeling his way inside and making things difficult, even when Embiid is on the floor. It’s not always pretty, nor seamless, but in the end, he carries a heavy burden for the Sixers.

While Simmons does not carry the mantle of best player in Philadelphia, it’s difficult to envision a successful Sixers campaign in his absence. There is a chance this injury is nothing and Simmons is back later in the week. However, if it is a significant injury — if he’s forced to miss extended time — things will not get better. More room for Embiid will not solve all the problems his absence creates. Things will get much, much worse.

The most glaring problem is the Sixers’ lack of a true replacement. Raul Neto is a fine, even useful NBA player. He does not replace the pressure Simmons puts on the rim, whether it’s posting up or gunning full-speed in transition. Josh Richardson, Alec Burks, and Shake Milton are fine, but they are not point guards. Especially not full-time.

Without Simmons, the Sixers’ transition offense sputters. The halfcourt offense will have a bit more wiggle room, as Simmons’ defender cannot blindly double in the post, but it is not as though Simmons is a zero in the halfcourt. He’s not who Kevin O’Connor would have you think he is.

The Sixers may potentially lose a primary catalyst on offense, not to mention a first team All-Defense candidate. Simmons can aptly guard five positions, and he’s Philadelphia’s most viable perimeter stopper. As good as Richardson is, and as much ground as Embiid can cover, there is not a comparable defensive force in lieu of Simmons.

Philadelphia needs Simmons to maintain a rhythm on offense. Embiid is great, but he’s not a playmaker in the traditional sense, and he can’t slug it out as a post-up threat on every possession. A snail-paced offense that asks Embiid to create every time down the floor is doomed for failure.

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As the Sixers wait further testing on Simmons’ lower back, it is important to remember his immense value.