Ben Simmons typically makes sure his presence is felt on the defensive end of the floor, and that was certainly the case Friday night. In the 76ers’ 127-111 win over the Hawks, Simmons hounded Trae Young, who scored 28 points and dished out eight assists but had to work for everything.
That part didn’t come as a shock, though. Simmons will likely be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate throughout his career, and he may even win the award one day.
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The surprise was how Philadelphia featured Simmons in their half-court offense for an extended stretch and built a lead Atlanta could not overcome. After Simmons scored just four points in the first half, Sixers coach Doc Rivers emphasized the importance of getting him going, especially in the post.
“We just thought he passed up too many opportunities, in the fast break, in the post,” Rivers said after Game 3 (via The Athletic’s Derek Bodner). “So we told him we’re going to come out and feature him on the post, and be aggressive, with the pass first.”
It was easy to understand why Rivers wanted to see more of Simmons in the post. The 76ers got multiple clean looks in the first half when Simmons operated with his back to the basket and Philly ran off-ball actions.
That continued in the third quarter with Simmons finding open teammates all over the court. His height (6-11) and elite passing ability allowed him to survey the floor and pick the perfect target. Those traits also give the Sixers more room for creativity, such as using Seth Curry as a screener for Joel Embiid, leading to an easy alley-oop.
Simmons also hunted for his own scoring opportunities, a welcome sight considering he had just 21 total points through first two games of the series.
“I always think when you start him out passing in the post, then he gets aggressive in the game,” Rivers said. “He was great for us. It’s exactly what we need, with his pace and power, it was great.”
Oh, Gallinari is not the answer! This has been a great quarter from him and maddening because it is like, why can’t this be the norm? pic.twitter.com/YmsMuL1TdO
— Mo Dakhil (@MoDakhil_NBA) June 12, 2021
The increased level of aggression was a major reason why the 76ers won the third quarter 34-19. Simmons totaled 11 points and three assists in that frame. He finished with 18 points, seven assists and four rebounds in 34 minutes.
Some of the criticism surrounding Simmons’ willingness to shoot can be overstated and ignores his impact in other areas. He doesn’t need to suddenly start firing up 25 field goal attempts per game.
However, if Philadelphia wants to make it through the Eastern Conference semifinals (and beyond), it will need the version of Simmons who doesn’t just linger along the baseline in the dunker spot. Pushing him into the post more often is a good place to start.