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Philadelphia 76ers

One Possession: This is how the Philadelphia 76ers can unleash Ben Simmons

Welcome to "One Possession!" Throughout the 2019-20 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.

Today, Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons takes the spotlight.

Context: Earlier this month, 76ers head coach Brett Brown said that he'll continue to experiment with using Simmons as a screen setter in pick-and-rolls. We got a taste of its effectiveness in the team's loss to the Houston Rockets recently, when Simmons scored four of his team-high 13 baskets as the roll man.

The possession: Here is one of those four baskets:

Breakdown: The five 76ers on the court are Simmons, Josh Richardson, Furkan Korkmaz, Tobias Harris and Al Horford. The Rockets are small themselves with James Harden, Ben McLemore, Danuel House, P.J. Tucker and Isaiah Hartenstein.

With Richardson, Korkmaz, Harris and Horford each being capable 3-point shooters, they park themselves along the perimeter to maximize spacing.

Operating as Philadelphia's centre, Simmons then sets a screen on Richardson, who has the ball at the top of the 3-point line.

According to NBA.com, Richardson has been the team's primary creator in pick-and-rolls this season. He has scored on those plays at an above average rate, ranking in the 58th percentile with a 0.86 points per possession. He was in similar territory last season.

That's important because Richardson is enough of a scoring threat with the ball in his hands to draw Harden away from Simmons when he begins to roll to the basket.

With Horford standing on the wing as opposed to the baseline, it's harder for Hartenstein - Houston's only big man on the court - to provide help at the rim. He inches closer and closer to the basket as the possession unfolds, but Hartenstein recovers when Richardson jumps in the air to make a pass to prevent Horford from getting an open 3-pointer.

House and Tucker aren't in much of a position to provide help either, as they're guarding Philadelphia's two-best 3-point shooters, Korkmaz and Harris, in the corners.

The result: Simmons catches an alley-oop from Richardson for an uncontested dunk.

Why it matters: This is one of the ways the 76ers can overcome Simmons' limitations as a shooter. It becomes slightly more complicated when Horford and Joel Embiid are on the court at the same time - teams will generally live with one of them settling for 3-pointers if it means they or Simmons aren't getting to the basket - but it still forces teams to account for Simmons when he doesn't have the ball in his hands.

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The alternative is to have Simmons spot-up on the perimeter or camp out in the dunker spot. The former isn't an option until he becomes a more willing 3-point shooter, whereas the latter creates even more spacing issues when he's playing alongside Horford and Embiid because the three of them occupy similar real estate on the court.

With his size and athleticism, Simmons has always had the tools to be a dynamic roll man. It's just not something the 76ers have ever gone to much. According to NBA.com, he scored a total of 20 points as the roll man all of last season. While it's still making up a tiny portion of his offence, he's almost surpassed that total through 36 games this season with most of that scoring coming over the last couple of weeks.

Ben Simmons scoring as the roll man
Season Games Frequency Total points Points Per Possession Percentile
2017-18 81 N/A N/A N/A N/A
2018-19 79 1.2% 20 1.18 67.8
2019-20 36 2.5% 16 1.07 45.8

The efficiency obviously isn't great relative to the rest of the league, but there's only so much you can take away from that with it being such a small sample size. As Brown told the media, Simmons has the potential to thrive in that role, both as a scorer and passer, almost serving as their version of Draymond Green. His passing in particular can make up for some of the spacing issues when Simmons is on the court with Embiid and Horford because he has the vision to find them or whoever else is open when teams collapse on his rolls.

MORE: Will Simmons or Embiid start in the All-Star Game?

"Ben is a really good screen-setter," Brown said. "He's physical, he embraces that side of it and he's a dynamic roller. He's a lob guy, he's a catch-go guy and he can facilitate picking off corners as a passer."

Not that using Simmons more as a screener completely makes up for his inability to score outside of the paint - that is and always will be the biggest question with his game - but it's a step towards the 76ers finding a solution to one of the obstacles standing between them and the title this season.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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