The big takeaway from the Philadelphia 76ers’ practice on Monday was the lineup changes that Brett Brown has made. During the team’s practices in Orlando over the last few days, Shake Milton has been playing as starting point guard and Ben Simmons has shifted “exclusively” to power forward.
By all accounts, it sounded like Simmons was both buying in to his altered role and performing well.
Brown said that Simmons has responded to playing power forward and spending more time off-ball, “like a star. Just a mature, ‘whatever it’s going to take to get this team to be the best that it can be’ [attitude], with the pieces that we have that can be, I don’t know, just designed into a smooth thing, something that’s not clunky. That is one of the pieces that he has to offer, and I think he’s been great accepting that and really killing it in practice.”
Simmons spoke at today’s practice and addressed these changes himself.
“It’s basketball, you’ve gotta get the ball,” Simmons said when asked about buying into the role of power forward and having the ball in his hands less. “I’m a basketball player at the end of the day. You know me, if you put me on the floor, I’ll make anything happen. Whether it’s plays, buckets, stops, I’ll guard anybody 1 through 5, I run the floor, I can get to the rim, I can score the ball, and I make plays happen. So, wherever you put me — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 — it’s gonna happen. I don’t really look at it as, like, a title or position. That’s mainly for you guys to put down in your articles.”
Simmons was also asked about his thoughts on Milton’s performance at point guard and their two-man game together, and continued to speak incredibly highly of him.
“[Milton] plays really well. He can shoot the ball, he has a high IQ, can get to the rim, he can finish. He’s just somebody you can play with, and you can say something to him and he’ll put it into play and try it out. And that’s what you need in somebody like Shake or players like that. He’s developing still and he’s come a long way since the first day I’ve seen him play. He’s only getting better.”
Simmons clearly doesn’t care about positional titles. He wants to focus on the wealth of things he can do on the floor, not get lost in labels or how much people think he’s going to have the ball.
He’s going to keep handling the ball a fair amount at any position, anyway — as he should. And while you wouldn’t necessarily expect Simmons to voice any issues he might have with a move to power forward at the moment, he seems happy to experiment and play more off the ball. He didn’t need to be so positive when discussing his adjusted role. He emphasized repeatedly that he’s comfortable making an impact wherever he is on the floor.
“You’ve just got to work with different things, try different things out, see if they work,” Simmons added when asked whether he or Brown suggested the change. “Because we’re not at a stage where we can be comfortable yet. I’m still trying to figure it out myself, to where, you know, what feels comfortable, what’s right for this team, how we’re going to win. And if it’s this way, then I’m all for it. I mean, I’ve been having fun in that position — whatever you guys say, the 4 or whatever it is. But at the end of the day, once you see me on the floor, I’m just making plays.”
Even though Milton may be stepping into the starting lineup at point guard, he’ll still be sharing some of those responsibilities with Simmons. As valuable as increased off-ball activity is for Simmons, he won’t just be screening, rim rolling, cutting, and nothing else. He can still get his opportunities to push the pace in transition, handle the ball, and attack as necessary in half-court settings with his driving ability.
Based on everything we’ve heard so far, from Brown, to Joel Embiid saying on Monday that he thinks this role will be even better for Simmons and the team, to Simmons himself, it sounds like the Sixers’ new lineup experiment is off to a good start.
It also helps that Simmons was able to benefit from a few months off to get back in top physical condition.
“I feel really good. I feel strong, I feel explosive, fast — probably the fastest I’ve been since I’ve been on the floor.”
It’s early days. The Sixers have still only had a few practices in Orlando and Brown will continue to experiment. The possible new starting five of Milton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Simmons, and Embiid hasn’t even played together in a game yet, either.
It’s time for the Sixers to get more creative, though, and see how they can embrace the full skillsets of both Ben Simmons and his young, rising teammate Shake Milton. Simmons has more to offer as a screener, short-roll passer and finisher with his unique blend of physicality and skill, and Milton’s quick-trigger shooting and complementary playmaking will be a welcome addition alongside him.
If this change works, it could make a real difference moving forward.