Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons could be the best backup PG in the NBA

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Ben Simmons does a lot in any given game, but could his most effective role for the Philadelphia 76ers actually be as the team’s second unit point guard?

For most NBA teams, especially the Philadelphia 76ers, the amount of time a starting lineup spends on the court together is surprisingly low.

Sure, the team will start out a game with their starters – that is why they are called starters after all – but in some cases, that lineup may only spend a few minutes on the court together before substitutions start to occur.

I remember fondly the days when J.J. Redick would play 90 odd seconds to start a game only to return to the bench moments later for another forward – good times, good times.

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Why do I bring this up? Easy, the Sixers’ starting lineup is kind of a mess on the offensive end of the court when at full strength.

Granted, that feels like a distant memory now, as the team is currently deep into the weeds of a post-Joel Embiid world as he recovers from a gruesome finger injury against Chris Paul and the OKC Thunder, but with me, it’s still relevant even if it’s not applicable for the rest of January.

When operating at full strength with Ben Simmons at the one, Josh Richardson at the two, Tobias Harris at the three, Al Horford at the four, and Embiid in the paint (sometimes), the Sixers are heavy on switchable defenders, but incredibly light when it comes to shot creators capable of running the offense. Sure, the team has Simmons, who is unguardable in the full-court and a matchup nightmare, but his unwillingness to even attempt shots outside of the paint can stagnate an offense’s flow.

Josh Richardson can fill a secondary playmaking role in-theory, but he’s been inconsistently used in such a role for a reason: He’s much better suited off the ball than on it.

To really optimize the pieces the team already has in place, the Sixers could really use a top-5 backup point guard like Fred VanVleet, Spencer Dinwiddie, or Brett Brown‘s former Spurs compadre George Hill, but with Trey Burke soaking up the reserve minutes at the moment that hasn’t been the case.

But, hear me out here, what if the Sixers didn’t deploy a conventional backup point guard? What if, instead, Ben Simmons was the team’s backup point guard?

I mean think about it, how often do fans, writers, and pundits alike complain that the 76ers aren’t built to win with Embiid and Simmons on the court at the same time? How often do we collectively hear that this team should be broken up when Simmons shines in a game without his 7-foot-tall foil? It’s constant, right?

Well, what if they are right – at least partially.

What if the Sixers shouldn’t try to forge a scheme that compromises what makes each player great individually, and instead treat the duo like two separate entities that should be relied upon to share the court as infrequently as possible?

Have you seen Simmons running the show as of late? He’s crushing it as the leader of a fast-paced, Ben+shooters lineup. He’s pulling off coast-to-coast steals, posting up on smaller guards, and driving to the basket through a less congested paint.

It’s impressive All-Star stuff.

So instead of relying on Simmons to run the show with the starters at the start – and usually end – of games, why not start the game with the 6-foot-10 point guard in the frontcourt between Harris and Embiid and deploy a legitimate point guard next to Richardson at the one? It would allow the team to have a full-on lead guard to run the show at the start and end of games – the role no Sixer has been able to fill since Jimmy Butler peace’d out for Miami – but give Simmons a chance to take a load off between periods of on-ball activity.

The Sixers kind of already do this now, as Simmons and Burke have shared the court with increasing frequency since the latter won the backup point guard job from Raul Neto late last year, this would simply run with that idea and supercharge it with a legitimate starting point guard-sized point guard.

A point guard like Chris Paul for instance, who has been lighting it up as of late and would be a perfect mentor for Simmons in the same way Elton Brand the player was for Embiid.

Adding a guard like Paul would also unlock the best part of Embiid’s game, as he operates best in a slowed-down offense built around his otherworldly ability to get two-plus-one with ease in the painted area. If paired up with a decisive passer solely focused on getting the big man the ball, when coupled with a trio of off-ball wings perched beyond the arc, Embiid may also take a step forward as a player, and ascend from the best center in the NBA right now, to a legitimate MVP candidate.

Really, the only roadblock that could prevent this sort of transition may come from Simmons himself, as for whatever reason, he’s been beyond reluctant to be listed as a forward despite possessing every discernible trait of a modern-day big man. Heck, I remember when the Sixers would list 6-foot-4 J.J. Redick as a forward to accommodate Simmons’ singular positional specifications and I don’t think Jonathan Clay has guarded a forward one day in his life.

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While it may damage his ‘brand’ – and I say may with a heavy dose of skepticism – the Philadelphia 76ers can’t get complacent and expect to earn a place in the NBA finals based solely on their starting fives’ average 2K rating. Right now, 41 games into the regular season, the Sixers are a deeply flawed but great team, who need to figure things out to ascend to legitimate championship contenders. For as much as it may sting to admit defeat, trading Al Horford could not only fix the team’s late-game lack of a floor general but also unlock the most dangerous aspect of Ben Simmons’ game: The ability to take over games as a supersized backup point guard.