The Sixers had just eight games remaining on their 2017-2018 regular season schedule when Joel Embiid went down with an orbital fracture. Despite taking the court minus an All-Star, Brett Brown’s crew finished the campaign 8-0 in those Embiid-less games, thanks in large part to Ben Simmons’ stellar play. The soon-to-be Rookie of the Year nearly averaged a triple-double in that time frame (15.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 9.3 apg). Perhaps Simmons’ most impressive statistical outing came against the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 6th (boxscore here), when he tied his 3rd highest single-game point total of the season to go along with 15 rebounds and 13 assists. The most notable aspect of Simmons’ night was the efficiency with which Ben scored, shooting over 70% on his 17 attempts from the floor. With that being said, we’ll focus on some of the ways Simmons was able to put the ball through the hoop.
I’ve already noted the significant context of this game and the others surrounding it on the schedule: Joel Embiid wasn’t able to offer his services to the Sixers due to injury. But to add a bit more framing, consider that in Embiid’s 8-game regular season finale absence, Ben Simmons shot 61.1% (and that even includes a 1-6 stinker versus ATL), which is 6.6 percentage points higher than his ‘17-’18 season conversion rate. This isn’t to say that the Sixers are better off staggering the two superstars — the pair’s 16.1 net rating ranked 4th best in the league amongst two-man lineups playing at least 1000 minutes. However, what it might mean is that when Embiid’s presence isn’t clogging the paint, Simmons has a much easier time converting close to the rim. Which makes sense, right? Simmons and four shooters forces opponents to play small or out of position, leaving the opponents without a rim protector in the paint. That is a big factor into why Ben was able to score at such a high frequency with such a high efficiency against Cleveland. In this particular game, Richaun Holmes and Amir Johnson combined for just about 34 minutes, so there was over a quarter’s worth of gameplay in which the Sixers didn’t have a center on the floor.
Ben’s night started without any flash. His first bucket came via a putback of his own miss:
Simmons’ has shown an ability to use his quickness, nose for the ball and offensive rebounding (Ben ranked in the 100th percentile amongst his position in offensive rebounding rate, per Cleaning the Glass) to turn garbage into gold. Last season, Ben averaged 1.208 points per play when engaging in putbacks, a rate good enough to land him in the 71st percentile amongst the entire league, per Synergy. When shrinking the sample size to players with at least 50 possessions resulting in a putback attempt, the 24 players ahead of Ben in PPP were all bigs outside of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Andrew Wiggins and Otto Porter. It’s fair to assume this trait of Ben’s contributed to the Sixers’ 13.7 2nd chance points per game last season (5th in the NBA). It’s notable because with Simmons propensity to push the ball, he’s often the closest, longest and quickest player around the rim.
Simmons’ next bucket will make any Sixers fan salivate. In the following play, Ben establishes himself in the post with his back to the basket, and converts a turnaround hookshot with perfect touch:
Simmons has much to prove before teams are game planning against his post scoring, but this is the type of play that makes one imagine the endless possibilities of a Ben Simmons-Markelle Fultz lineup rounded out by cutters and shooters. Notice how Ben doesn’t so much as glance at the rim until he motions into his scoring move. He’s scanning the floor the whole possession as he gets to his spot, leaving multiple options available. If Simmons is able to consistently find that hook touch, he will destroy defenses as they send double teams only to see Ben kick out to JJ Redick for a wide open 3PT or find a curling Dario for an uncontested layup (similar to the way you see Dario cut along the baseline and then wrap back inside in the above clip). We’ve already seen Simmons performing some post duck-ins during this preseason in an attempt to get more comfortable playing alongside Markelle Fultz.
I really don’t have much to say about the next play, but it’s worth a watch:
A play we’ve seen in this game as well as others, which is a joy to watch, comes from the duo of Simmons and Redick. Redick’s gravity as a shooter and his frequent off-ball movement paired with Brett Brown’s emphasis on handoffs makes it possible. I’m talking of course about the fake handoff:
Simmons was able to get away with a pretty half-assed fake, with Cedi Osman biting hard. But it was really Redick’s cut toward Simmons that brings Osman off of Simmons just long enough for Ben to use his explosiveness to get to the rim. We see the pair go to a similar play later in the game, but sort of in reverse, with Redick cutting in front of Simmons this time:
These sorts of plays are what makes fans question how wise of a move it would actually be to remove JJ Redick from the starting lineup in favor of Fultz. Redick and Simmons just have such chemistry and fit so well together, you’d like to see the two maximize their time together.
The last thing that popped from Simmons as a scorer in this game was a bit of a killer instinct in the 2nd half. In the following two clips, Ben draws Kyle Korver (first clip) and then Jordan Clarkson (2nd clip). Simmons knows he has a mismatch of strength in his favor, and rather than finesse his way toward the rim, he finishes through both of them (even drawing a foul from Korver):
While Simmons had an efficient scoring night, he did have five misses from the floor. One of those misses was particularly frustrating. On the following possession, Ben gains the inside track to the rim on JR Smith. Simmons insists on going up right handed, which negates the advantage he had on Smith:
Simmons almost always attempts a right-handed finish when close to the rim, but instances like the one above demand a left-handed layup. Simmons wasted the work he put in. Also of note, Ben probably picked his dribble up just a step too early; you’d like to see him be just a bit more patient and use crafty footwork to turn that play into a dunk. Finishing left-handed is an aspect of Simmons game he needs to improve upon. We’ll find out soon enough is he has.
Let me know in the comments which game from last season you’d like to see next!