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Brett Brown on Ben Simmons: When I say “point guard,” I mean “point guard”

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Brett Brown hops on The Vertical Podcast with Woj to expound on his plans with Ben Simmons, his relationship with Bryan Colangelo, and more.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers-Press Conference Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Another Sixers season has come and gone, and once again fans are left with lingering personnel questions leading into the summer. Chief among our wonders is whether Ben Simmons — who could plausibly be asked to play any position save for shooting guard — will be used in a lead ball-handler role following his return from injury. Luckily Brett Brown hopped on Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast today and provided some clarity on the situation:

So let’s pretend that the draft isn’t gonna happen, and let’s pretend that we’re not gonna seek a high-level free agent as it relates to point guards. So when you look at the flexibility we have, we’ve never been more in a position of strength as it relates to truly chasing a legit free agent. Because we’re not poor, we have money that we can use. We’re now gonna be learning a lot more in May when the ping-pong balls drop of where we fall into the lottery order. But if you just sorta zoom in on Ben — and I’ve known his mom and dad before they were married, I’ve known all of his coaches in very close ways that coached him when he was 8 years old and 12 years old and 14 — I’m in a very sort of unusual position given my history with Australian basketball where you can really study it. Then you go back and you study him in high school in Miami and really study his rent-a-year at LSU, he just comes in, he plays for a season, then boom, straight to the NBA.

It is undeniable that — and I see it with my own son — when the ball goes in a basket or whatever, you know, when you look at young players, there’s always two or three people who come back who want to be the point guard. He’s done that his whole life. He wants the ball, and he has a complete passion to pass. So if you just take those two qualities, and forget how big he is, then you say well the starting point is interesting if you wanna try to say, “well, you’re a point guard.” Because all of a sudden somebody else comes in and says, “well now he’s 6’10”.” It gives people pause. If we said he had those qualities and he’s 6’4”, you might not think too much about if he’s a point guard or not. So that I feel that it would be not wise if we don’t consider him to be that, and I’m committed to trying this. I think we could all walk back out of this, led by me, and say, “you know what, it’s a challenge, but I’m not gonna backpedal quickly.”

When I say “point guard,” I mean “point guard.” You know, who takes the ball out of bounds, who receives the ball when the ball goes in the basket, who brings it up the floor after a free throw. I’m not talking about Draymond, I’m not talking about LeBron, you know, I’m talking about a point guard. And so I intend on trying this. You always get into conversations, “well that’s fine, who does he guard?” I don’t see him guarding the opposition’s point guard. It could end up he guards who guards him, so you’re not cross-matched in transition defense. Having said that, I expect that other teams aren’t gonna go put Chris Paul on Ben Simmons, or Isaiah Thomas on Ben Simmons. And so I feel like it’s gonna be interesting, it is a challenge, it is ambitious. But my starting point is where I end up, he’s got a quality that he wants the ball and he loves to pass. And so we’re gonna persevere, and see where this plays out.

So, okay, we’re still not really sure. As Brown alludes to early on, nothing will likely be set in stone before the major dominoes of free agency fall. Brown seems certain that Simmons would act as the lead guard with the roster as-is, but everything could change in a summer with money to spend and a looming draft featuring Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball. We can take solace however in the fact that the team seems dedicated to trying this out in some capacity, even if some of the logistics will need to be learned via trial and error: while it’d seem silly to ask Extremely Tall Man Ben Simmons to guard point guards full-time, defensive assignments (like in transition, as Brett points out) don’t always work out as cleanly as planned. But Simmons will likely slot nicely into the switch-friendly roster crafted by the team, and as Brown mentions, opposing squads may regret requesting a traditional point guard to defend Simmons more than the other way around. The conversation as a whole highlights Simmons’ uniqueness as a basketball talent, and serves a friendly reminder that, even if we may find it a tad difficult to build around a 6’10” point guard without a jumper, those obstacles could be tenfold for the opposition.

Woj immediately transitions into Brown’s thoughts on the regime switch from Sam Hinkie to Bryan Colangelo, to which Brown had this to say about:

I mean it’s been much easier than I thought it would be. You know I did not know Bryan Colangelo — we really have never even met in my 16 years in the NBA — I don’t even think we were introduced in that time.

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But what has played out has been seamless. You know he’s been fantastic. I think the thing that has impressed me the most, and I appreciate the most, is that he’s let me coach. He’s allowed me to form the staff the way I want to form the staff — I’ve now been with these guys for four years — is probably the thing I feel the most secure about in relation to how we coexist and how we work. He’s embraced the way I want to play, you know I see very clearly we have to build this thing through defense. And we will need to play with speed and embrace the 3-point line, and it’s defense, pace, and space. And you go back to the people that fill those boxes, do you tick those three tenets, and if you can’t, then maybe you’re not the player for us. And when you start selecting players, you start designing staffs, he just has been, you know, he’s walked that line of allowing me to do it, challenging me on things. He just — it’s been easy. In many ways it’s been enjoyable. I think this next phase that we’re going through is gonna be a challenge and we’ll continue to cast conviction of how do we want to play — what type of people do we want in this program. But to date, Adrian, it’s been just fine.

Such is certainly encouraging to hear from Brown, who — despite having his own questions even as recently as November 2016 — has solidified his position as the team leader for the foreseeable future. This blog has pulled no punches in assessing Colangelo’s tenure thus far, but sometimes good relations on the surface level is all you can ask for.

The whole podcast is certainly worth a listen as Brown is one of the more interesting figures in basketball through the decades. You can listen to it here, where Brown discusses a preseason goal to be a top-15 defense, his request to be interviewed last by the team in its hiring process, his thoughts on development and Philadelphia as a basketball city, and more.