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Averaging a triple-double through 2 playoff games, Ben Simmons is a mythological chimera

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Washington Wizards v Philadelphia 76ers - Game Two Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

“The Chimera also Chimaera (Chimæra); Greek: Χίμαιρα, Chímaira ”she-goat”), according to Greek mythology,[1] was a monstrous fire-breathing hybrid creature of Lycia in Asia Minor, composed of the parts of more than one animal....

The term “chimera” has come to describe any mythical or fictional creature with parts taken from various animals, to describe anything composed of very disparate parts, or perceived as wildly imaginative, implausible, or dazzling.”

-Wikipedia

Ben Simmons appears to be just the type of size-speed-agility-vision-and power hybrid that causes confusion in so many of us mere mortals, looking to place him in our tidy little buckets. He’s a point guard, he's a power forward. He’s yet to develop. He won’t shoot. What’s his best talent?

Simmons has yet to find himself properly understood in large part because he’s unique. He’s a mythological beast whose kryptonite right now isn’t so much the willingness to shoot. We have enough evidence that may not go so well for his team if he started launching 8 corner 3s today, even if it were some tremendous developmental step that might benefit them in the long run. But today, the more relevant kryptonite is claustrophobia.

Surround him with flame-throwing archers and he may well terrorize a landscape. Confine him to tiny caves known as the Dunkerspots of Wester Ross, forced to share painted crevices with aging giants, and he’s simply not the same weapon.

The Sixers know this now. Their quest to win the seven kingdoms and defeat the Walkers who migrate endlessly towards bigger market-places or warmer beaches depends on their execution.

Two games into the Eastern Conference’s first round, Simmons has averaged a triple-double while playing some stifling and disruptive defense.

Washington Wizards v Philadelphia 76ers - Game Two Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The Sixers will head to the nation’s capital to battle the Washington Wizards on Saturday at 7:00 PM where they’ll look to take a 3-0 strange hold in their best of seven-game first-round series.

In two contests so far, Simmons is averaging 14 points, 11.5 assists, and 12 rebounds in just 33.3 minutes of action. His assist to turnover ratio is nearly 6:1 having dished out 23 total dimes, to go with just 4 turnovers. Doc Rivers and company have been able to apply pressure on the opposing offense. This comes in no small part because of their fire-breathing menace, whose defensive versatility would seem to become more vital during this time of year when other player archetypes, find their skillsets diminishing in value as the regular season ends.

The ability to switch and avoid being the target of an opposing offense becomes a seismic boon now.

And non-wartime consigliere’s find themselves deposed or publicly shamed:

And while Simmons’ defense should theoretically improve now, his offense has suffered at the hands of Celtic Warriors or Dragons who built walls around our Chimera during battles of yore. That has to change for the Sixers to reach their potential. So far (albeit in just two games against the only team with a losing record in the playoffs) it has.

Sometimes the dude who is bigger than the quick guys is also more agile than the big guys:

As Walt “Clyde” Frazier might say “feline quickness, canine attitude.”

The prerequisite to pretty much everything that will come next includes floor spacing and claustrophobia. I know it’s trite to say “player x with a spread floor would be better.” It’s usually true so it loses meaning, but most players aren’t true stars. It’s worth accommodating a dude this good. Here, a look at something that has not always been helpful for Philly this season:

The challenge of recreating what makes Ben so unstoppable in transition, but during halfcourt sets

Washington Wizards v Philadelphia 76ers - Game One Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

I wrote not long ago that Ben Simmons might just be the lone “x-factor” star in the playoffs. Generally, an X factor is someone who we don’t think of as a truly reliable superstar. It’s a player who has a high ceiling but a low floor and may introduce some variance into a series. Think not Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum but Robert Covington. And for the Sixers to help their All-Star maintain his star-level consistency, they’ll need to get production out of him in the half-court setting when the playoffs slow to a grind.

Recently, they found some success doing this, you’ll notice pretty much every teammate of his spotting up far from the hoop, clearing out and giving him the ball.

Development as a floor general, waving away help in order to target his prey

My favorite moment from that clip above is at the 4-second mark when Simmons probes the defense. He feels a crowd developing as both Seth Curry, and Joel Embiid come towards the ball. In the past, he may have picked up his dribble and handed it off to Seth or looked to post up Embiid, causing a muddied jumble.

Here, Simmons scans the floor. He backs up, keeps his dribble alive, and decisively waves everyone off, which causes Curry and Embiid to retreat beyond the arc, leaving Russell Westbrook isolated in Simmons’ cross-hairs. The result, a Russ fricassée.

This type of floor-generalship is crucial. It’s seemed at times this year Ben would allow long stretches of games to go by where he’d defer to a set offense, one that all too often didn’t really include him, perhaps learning or deferring to a new offense.

There are a certain number of post-up touches and face-ups they want to get Joel Embiid. Jo may well be worthy of the league MVP on a per-game basis. He’s got to get his. Tobias Harris has also been a consistent scorer and even bailed them out in tough game one. They’re both vital here too.

But they need all three of their dragons in order to take down the Seven Kingdoms or whatever this metaphor has devolved to. Besides, they were just an average (13th ranked offense this year, it’s not like there isn’t room to grow).

Post ups

Another way the team has tried to benefit from Simmons’ size is via the post. Here, a few examples. Simmons has handled about 5 of these per NBA.com, in the playoffs and only delivered .8 ppp, on 40 percent shooting. Take a look at a few and see what you think:

You may have noticed by this point in his career a few trends with a Simmons’ post up.

  • The more you space the floor for him the better
  • never post up Ben with two teammates also in the paint (something that happens more than you’d guess)
  • when he’s straight on (not exactly on the right or left block) he may appear hesitant on whether or not to utilize the backboard or not on a jump or skyhook
  • the more dribbles and spins he can get away with the better (again back to spacing)
  • some of my favorites come when he shoots a very short right-handed banker, basically, a layup from a little further out, using his left shoulder to shield the D

But between the first two sets we’ve looked at, I’d certainly opt for more top of the key isos than post-ups if I had to choose.

Passing and the “Draymond Green screen assist”

Notice here how he can carve up a set d with pin-point passes, as well as administer those famous Draymond Green style “OK so you’re not going to guard me, then S. Curry knows to sprint over for a handoff and shoot before the help can arrive.”

Starting at the 25-second mark below, notice Simmons and Seth Curry execute it, followed by the classic Warriors’ version of the play for that other Curry dude:

Ben as the roll man

In all of Ben’s best career games, he’s been utilized at times as a roll-man who can swoop to the hoop:

The Sixers often have him “roll” following a hand-off, but it comes at a time someone is already fighting for post positioning and they can rarely make the pass to him.

I’d like to see some of this also, perhaps with George Hill running the point and everyone else spotting up.

Dunker spot

Last but not least, we have the infamous dunker spot. If Simmons had “his own team,” had he been traded for James Harden, he might never spend time here. But here he has to do his part to share. At the very least, we know he’s capable of performing well there too, some recent success in that clip above from the dunker.

Bringing it together

If the Sixers want to tap everything that Ben Simmons has already proven capable of doing in a half-court setting, there’s a bit of a recipe:

-Get him a handful of looks per half looks facing a fully spread floor and let him attack. This can be with Joel Embiid on the floor or this can be some of the “up tempo” small ball looks Daryl Morey has discussed throughout the year Rivers has been reluctant to trot out. These always seem to work the best when Ben gets a big on him and everyone else clears out.

In games against Anthony Davis and Rudy Gobert earlier in the year, Simmons demonstrated this works out well for Phlily when his teammates can all reasonably shoot.

-Get Ben some post-ups with a spread floor, ideally on the right block where he can get to his right-handed baby bank shot. These tend to work best when there’s a small on him.

-get him some chances to work as a dive/roll man with a spread floor. These tend to look best when they play small and have someone who can thread a pass into the lane or lob (George Hill perhaps). In the past, we have seen Raul Neto make these passes.

-ok fine, get him some chances to work in the dunker spot and let Embiid roast someone as long as you can get back on D, a risk with so much size 94’ feet away from the opposite goal

-and as always, find him early and often in transition before a defense can get set

That’s still where he reaps the most damage across the countryside:

A version of the Sixers that sprinkles in all of that becomes not only unpredictable but might maximize all three of their stars.

Per Cookies Hoops’ Ben Detrick recently:

“At times, Philly has shown the ability to get buckets at an exceptionally high level. In the first half of the season, the starting lineup had an offensive rating of 120.1 (as a comparison, the Nets set an NBA record with an offensive rating of 117.3 this year)....

Yet in the 268 minutes that starting group has shared the floor since the All-Star intermission, the Sixers have posted an offensive rating of 114.1. The unit’s net rating remains fantastic due to spectacular defense, but the scoring hiccup dovetails with the eye test. In halfcourt sets, Simmons spends more time rotting in the dunker spot and Embiid is hovering more around the perimeter—as a consequence, both players have scored less efficiently and drawn fewer fouls in the second half. With more possessions funneled into the hands of perimeter players who are not snappy decision-makers, the Sixers have resurrected some of the stinky phantoms from last year’s constipated offense.”

As Detrick alludes to, the defense is still rather stellar. But something was off for a long time down the stretch.

It will be interesting to see if the team continues to do more of what’s worked against Washington today. Because if they go up 3-0 and eventually advance, the challenges will only get exponentially more difficult and they’ll need even more of their flame-throwing chimera to find his groove in halfcourt sets.