In the age of positionless basketball, Ben Simmons has been deployed as a point guard, point forward, and even a small-ball center, but for 76ers' new head coach Doc Rivers, one thing is clear - the Aussie will be the team's "facilitator" this season.
"He's our facilitator, for sure," Rivers said. "Unless I have a true, true point guard, like a Chris Paul or Rajon Rondo, I rarely ... I don't think I called anybody a point guard the entire year last year [on the Clippers].
"But Ben is clearly our facilitator, and Ben is special, man. When he gets the ball in the open floor, there's very few like him. And we want to get him the ball in the open floor to let him be special."
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Prior to his season-ending knee injury in the bubble, the 76ers experimented with Simmons at power forward to put him closer to the rim, but with the 76ers bolstering their perimeter shooting options in the off-season, setting Simmons loose in the open court is set to open up more looks from three for his teammates as they look to push the ball up the floor with the ball in Simmons' hands.
"Just being a terror," Rivers said. "Playing. Going downhill. Making guys guard you. Being aggressive. Being a facilitator. In transition, we want to open the floor and get the ball to Ben. Tell him to go make something happen."
MEDIA AVAILABILITY | 12.07.20- Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) December 8, 2020
💭 @BenSimmons25 on the variety of options he can make tough on teams to guard. pic.twitter.com/UpirFcQR4E
At 6-foot-10, Simmons' size and versatility has allowed the 76ers to try different looks with him on the floor, but with the ball in his hands, the 24-year-old is one of the most destructive players in transition, welcoming a return to being the team's primary playmaker.
"Yeah, if you want to put me in that position," Simmons said when asked if he would be back playing point guard this season. "But yeah, facilitator. Just a playmaker. Coach wants me to make plays....There's numerous ways to do that. There's scoring, getting to the rim, drawing defenders, there's setting picks, and just creating options.
"So just me having the ball and being able to create different varieties of options is going to be tough for teams to guard, whether it's me kicking it ahead and setting a pick and setting a back screen for [Joel Embiid], it's going to be tough for guys to guard, especially when we have guys running around knocking down 3s."
While Simmons noted he has been working on expanding his mid-range game and corner 3-point shot with new assistant coach Sam Cassell, his ability to create 3-point shots for others is among the league's best.
Only LeBron James and Luka Doncic assisted on more threes last season and with the addition of snipers Danny Green, Seth Curry, and Ryan Broekhoff in the off-season, Philly has no shortage of reliable shooters on the perimeter.
NBA 2019-20 regular season 3-point assist leaders (via PBP Stats)
|Total assists||3P Assists||% of total assists 3P|
"The spacing is huge, but it also comes down to us knowing where to be and in the right spots and following our guidelines," Simmons added. "Somebody is in a certain position and we know the other man needs to cut, that's just going to make it easier. We're just going to read and play off each other, and just continue to make the right plays."
For Rivers, building the chemistry between Simmons and Joel Embiid has been a big focus in training camp as he looks to utilise his young stars in tandem, running more pick-and-rolls between the pair - something the 76ers have rarely done in the past.
"One thing I think we're really trying to get them to do is to play more two-man games with each other," Rivers said.
"They had a great one today that was just a distinctive action, that Dave Joerger and I were laughing like, 'You're not stopping that.' But they have to do it instinctively more than us always having to call it. And, if they can do that, they're going to be tough to stop."
With Simmons and Embiid leading the charge and a host of shooters spacing the floor for the duo, the 76ers could well have all the ingredients on paper to make a leap in the Eastern Conference this season.
The 2020-21 NBA season is set to tip-off on Dec. 22.
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