After years of coaches making excuses for the obvious limitations of Sixers All-Star Ben Simmons, it is time to accept the reality that Simmons is not the answer for this team at point guard. This is not a call for the 76ers to trade Ben Simmons, that is for Daryl Morey to decide; rather it is an acknowledgement that it is time for to stop wishing that he would become “LeBron 2.0”, and accept who is actually is. It’s time to stop fantasizing about realities that will never happen and start trying to help Ben become the best possible version of himself. So who is that?
The Golden State Warriors often run their halfcourt offense through Draymond Green, a defensive-minded power forward with remarkable passing vision. Sound familiar? Many have called for Philadelphia to utilize Simmons in a similar fashion, but while they do possess similar skills they are actually very different players.
Like Ben, Draymond is not a gifted offensive player or shooter, but Dray has never been reluctant to shoot open jumpers and understands how much he can help the floor spacing by shooting 3-pointers. He is only a career 31 percent shooter from deep, but he takes almost three per game, which keeps the defense honest. He is also not a terrific free throw shooter, but he is a career 71 percent free throw shooter who has improved over time and was a healthy 79.5 percent last season. Ben has never shown any indication that he can become that guy, and he is bigger, stronger, faster, and a significantly better athlete than Green.
Ben Simmons has reached his ceiling as the Sixers’ point guard. It’s time for him to become the next Dennis Rodman.
Simmons has always come across as a very unusual personality, simultaneously struggling with both crippling insecurities that seem to make him tighten up and avoid the spotlight when it burns brightest, but also thinking so highly of himself and his abilities that he seems to believe that he does not need to change his game. Perhaps his glaring struggles this postseason will make it easier for him to accept a move back to power forward.
Brett Brown always had a vision of Ben as a new age Magic Johnson but looking back that move to point guard was the beginning of all of the struggles and issues that finally boiled over with the refusal to dunk for fear that he might get fouled. Simmons made his name in high school and college as an uber-talented power forward with the handle and vision of a point guard, so all of the natural instincts that he developed as a young player learning the game stem from playing a different position.
When he played the point guard you could actually see him thinking out there instead of just playing loose and relaxed. At the four spot he can be free to stop thinking, let the game come to him, and drive or shoot the short jumper as the defense adjusts, just the same way that he used to do in high school, college, and in his first summer league for the Sixers.
Step one in bringing out the best in Ben Simmons is not giving him the ball more, but less. This will free him up to be his best when he does have the ball and take all of the pressure that seems to smother him off his shoulders. Step two is finally admitting that what Ben does best does not involve the basketball at all, and leaning hard into that role. The best version of Ben is the best defender in the league, one of the best rebounders in the league, and a quick decision maker once he does get the ball. A player like Dennis Rodman.
Critics of this comparison will howl that Simmons was a number one pick for a reason and is infinitely more talented than Rodman. This might be true if Ben didn’t tighten up and freeze in big moments or if Rodman had not wildly outplayed his draft position to become a highly respected Hall of Fame power forward. As of now Ben is not close to sniffing the Hall, so it’s time we stepped away from the “Simmons is too good to settle for that” angle and began living with the truth about who Ben Simmons really is.
Ben is a freak, elite athlete, standing out in a league filled with them. Few players are as strong, few are as fast, and there can’t be more than a handful of players who are both. He has a remarkably high motor, meaning he never stops moving and rarely seems to tire. He can run, jump, and move for days. He has the best “nose for the ball” in the NBA, which serves him well both as a rebounder following the ball or as a defender, anticipating his man’s next move or pass. This ability to simply “go get the ball”, be it by playing disruptive D or by cleaning the glass, is his real gift and where he stands out from everyone else in the league. The last person to share similar gifts was Rodman.
Dennis Rodman is often remembered in negative terms for all of the attention that he seemed to enjoy heaping upon himself, sometimes at the expense of his team, but the fact of the matter is that he was an intense competitor, feared defender, and tireless jumping jack rebounder. It is no accident that he won five rings. He understood his offensive limitations and simply decided to be the best role player in NBA history. Yes, obviously it was a much different game then but there has never again been anyone with that combination of intelligence and freak physical gifts, capable of changing the game without having the ball. And he was even a much better passer than many remember.
Ben has averaged eight rebounds a game from the guard spot, primarily gobbling up long rebounds from missed jumpers. If he was playing power forward he would be closer to the basket, able to muscle inside for additional rebounds and still use his speed to sneak out for long run-outs and start the fast break on his own, Charles Barkley-style. If he was merely the fourth or fifth option on offense, he could keep his focus on defense and rebounding, and probably average 12- 13 rebounds per game, making him one of the top 3-4 players in the NBA at two different categories, defense and rebounding. Assuming he still gets a few looks in the halfcourt and on the break he should be able to average 4-5 assists per game standing on his head. Without the ball and with significantly fewer touches, Simmons still has the potential to be second or third team All-NBA and a difference-maker on championship squads.
This role takes a lot of the mental pressure off of Ben and allows him to rely almost solely on his amazing instincts and physical gifts. This would be the absolute best version of Ben Simmons. If he wants to continue making All-Star teams and have a shot at the Hall of Fame, here or elsewhere, this is the key to unlocking the full potential of Ben Simmons. As Dennis Rodman 2.0 in 2021, dominating games without needing the ball.