The Philadelphia 76ers are built to win with Ben Simmons

(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

Ben Simmons is quite possibly the weirdest player in the NBA.

He’s not really a point guard, not a traditional one at least, but he’s also not really a shooting guard, small forward, power forward, or center either. No, Simmons is quite literally the textbook definition of an NBA unicorn, as if someone maxed out their 2K ‘Build your own player’ points on size, speed, and defense but forgot to invest even a point into outside shooting.

Sure, he has his detractors, but there isn’t a team in the NBA right now who wouldn’t like to have a player like Simmons on their roster for his defensive abilities alone. However, to truly optimize otherworldly talents, a good organization pretty much has to play to his strengths and build a roster around the way he likes to play.

While some will quibble that the Philadelphia 76ers have never truly bought into that philosophy, as their other best player, Joel Embiid, also needs to occupy the paint to let his otherworldly talents shine, it’s inarguable that the team can’t win consistently with Simmons on the court.

The Philadelphia 76ers need Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to be successful.

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When the Philadelphia 76ers took the court against a severely undermanned Portland Trail Blazers squad on the hallowed court of the Wells Fargo Center, it felt like the makings of an easy win.

Sure, the Sixers were without a few players too, especially Ben Simmons, Mike Scott, and Terrance Ferguson, but when you have a contest against the Blazers sans Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Zach Collins, Derrick Jones, and Jusuf Nurkic, it shouldn’t be too hard to secure a W. I mean, come on, who was going to stop Embiid from scoring 30, Enes Kanter? Harry Giles? Our old pal Robert Covington, who has gone from playing at the top of the key as a small forward wing defender to a stretch four/small ball five?

As it turns out, Embiid was able to drop 30 points, 37 actually, but unfortunately, no one was really able to rise to his level.

Trotting out a lineup without a traditional point guard, the first of many head-scratching decisions by Doc Rivers, the Sixers got 28 points from their starting five sans Embiid and only had five players score in double-digits.

Obviously, that doesn’t look good, but what really didn’t look good was the Sixers as a whole, as they turned in one of the least watchable contests of the year in what should have been an easy win.

Now sure, if you just look at the stat sheet, one would assume that Tyrese Maxey and Shake Milton had a pretty decent outing. The duo combined for 27 points in 45 minutes and made 9-17 shots from the field, including a pair of made 3 from Maxey.

That, unfortunately, was not the case.

Much like in the NBA Bubble last summer in Orlando, the Sixers offense looked lost without Simmons running the show, and the team’s defense struggled mightly too. While Embiid still got his, the offense ran notably clunkier without Simmons running the show, and the team’s 18 turnovers certainly didn’t help the process out either.

But, like, what gives? Isn’t an offense with Simmons – especially an offense with Embiid plus four shooters – supposed to be the ideal way to deploy the generationally talented bigman? Shouldn’t he thrive running pick and rolls with Maxey or in a two-man game with Milton a la J.J. Redick a few years back?

Maybe that could still happen, but it’s clear the Sixers aren’t built to do so now; not with the players they have under contract right now, at least.

Assuming the Sixers aren’t able to land a premier-level ball-handler to pair up with Embiid in an elite two-man game, Simmons is unquestionably the best ball handler the Sixers have on their roster right now and has the most advanced knowledge of how to run an offense. While Maxey could certainly get there eventually, filling out the Sixers’ homegrown Big 3 in a way Bryan Colangelo could have only dreamed of, he’s clearly more of a bench sparkplug than the sort of player capable of logging 34 minutes a game with a usage rating in the high 20s.

And that’s not even getting into what the Sixers do at power forward in games without Simmons, as he’s been forced to serve as the team’s primary backup without Scott available to go. Without the “Peacemaker” on the court, the Sixers were forced to play 6-foot-5 Matisse Thybulle as a super small-ball power forward, which is an option that didn’t go over horribly but is certainly more of a ‘use when necessary’ look than a bread and butter, every night offering.

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No, in games without Simmons, the Sixers don’t have to just find a way to replace his 13.4 points, eight assists, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.7 steals; they also have to replace their primary offensive facilitator, their effective fast-break option, their best passer, and their best wing defenders in addition to his statistical offerings.

Even in the modern day of fantasy basketball, where numbers on a stat sheet get prioritized above seemingly all else, those intangibles can be the difference between a good and a great player or an easy win over an undermanned Blazers squad and a 16 point loss.

Next. Shake Milton’s Sixth Man of the Year case explained. dark

For better or worse, the Philadelphia 76ers are built to win with their starting five fully intact. Said lineup has logged the seventh-most minutes ( 245) of any in the NBA despite having only played together in 12 games and account for roughly 74 percent of the Sixers points (83.9) in any given game. While some will squabble over ways to make that lineup all the more potent or ways to better disperse points scorers across the team’s various sets, it’s clear Ben Simmons is the key to keeps Doc Rivers’ offense running, even if Joel Embiid is the engine that powers the team forward.