Can Ben Simmons Lead Philadelphia 76ers In Four Month Season?

He was the top draft pick of the 2016 NBA Draft. After rehabbing his fractured foot over several months, can Ben Simmons truly lead this Philadelphia 76ers team?

Karma has a way of flirting with the fans of the Philadelphia 76ers. For two years the Philadelphia 76ers failed to score the top draft pick of an NBA draft, despite hovering at the bottom of the NBA standings.  But when the team dropped to 10-72, the team also dropped president Sam Hinkie.  Then, the team won the NBA lottery for the top draft choice of the 2016 NBA Draft, and selected Ben Simmons.

The hope is that Ben Simmons can lead this team.   But can he?

In the vacuum of starting an NBA season without Simmons, the Philadelphia 76ers must “make do”.  That means the team was forced to trust someone to run the team’s plays.  It also means that the team would naturally rally around a player or players who perform at or above expectations.

So far, the team has found a field general in point guard Sergio Rodriguez.

But more importantly, the team has placed all of it’s spotlights on center Joel Embiid.  In fact, the fanbase may have beaten the team to the punch on that one.

Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; NBA commissioner Adam Silver holds a basketball while posing for a photo with draft prospects from left Buddy Hield (Oklahoma) , Ben Simmons (LSU), Brandon Ingram (Duke) and Kris Dunn (Providence) before the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

No Regrets

Some have suggested that the injury to Simmons is an indication that the team would have been better off to select Brandon Ingram.  While that makes a great narrative catalyst for discussion, it really doesn’t hold much water.

Changing history only changes events. If the Philadelphia 76ers chose Brandon Ingram, it would have been his foot that was fractured in practice.  So far, the rookie shooting guard is averaging 6.0 points per game while shooting just 35.9 percent from the floor, and a pedestrian 20 percent from three point range.  That is behind all of the team’s shooting guards save one, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. Converserly, Ingram averages nearly 20 minutes per game to TLC’s 4 minutes.

While Ingram may have a very bright future ahead of him, he’s shown nothing so far this season to suggest that he is skyrocketing to the top of the NBA.

But the Philadelphia 76ers have another top prospect in rehab?  Well yes, but not only rehab. The two years time invested in Joel Embiid allowed him to perfect a wide array of shots, even from the perimeter.  Now it’s Simmons’ turn.  He can use this time to improve his shooting mechanics.  Shooting was the one downside to a player who boasted excellence in virtually every other basketball skill.

In summer league, Simmons displayed a very well rounded basketball acumen.  He played an average of 30.3 minutes, scored 12.3, rebounded 7.8, assisted 5.5, steals 1.5 and blocked .8 times per game. All the while, he shot 40.9 percent from the floor.

Jul 12, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Ben Simmons (25) directs teammates during an NBA Summer League game against the Golden State Warriors at Thomas & Mack Center. Golden State won the game 85-77. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Lead By Example

Do not expect Ben Simmons to simply arrive one day, make a public announcement “This is my team now!” and just start leading the team on the basketball court. Leadership doesn’t work that way. It requires integrity, trust, and performance. Recently we have been diagnosing struggles facing the Philadelphia 76ers in the early stage of the 2016-2017 NBA season. So far, the team is dead last in the NBA in scoring, and near the bottom of the NBA in rebounds.

That has to change for the team to have any hope of even modest success this year.  Those changes won’t happen without some form of catalyst.  Ben Simmons could be that catalyst.

It starts with the boards.  Right now Philadelphia is averaging just 41.2 rebounds per game.   If his summer league stats hold up, Ben Simmons would be the team leader in rebounds at 7.8 per game.  Since he would likely slide into a small forward role, he would likely bump minutes from either Robert Covington or Hollis Thompson, both averaging four rebounds per game. That difference would place the 76ers at 44.6 rebounds per game, or at the average for the NBA.

Similarly, his 12.8 points per game would boost the production of either Covington or Thompson, Where Hollis Thompson chips in 8.2 points per game and Covington is contributing 4.0.  Plus 7 points per game (diffence) would place the Philadelphia 76ers at 23rd in the league. Not great, but a far better cry than dead last.

Production like that would be remarkable for the team directly. But even moreso? A triad of front court pairings of Embiid/Okafor, Saric/Ilyasova, and Simmons/Covington would finally settle the roster once and for all. If Richaun Holmes continues to progress this year, he would simply slide into the roster in the space occupied by Ilyasova this season.  With a young and talented front court FINALLy established, the team can focus on the back court for next season.

Nov 1, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Sergio Rodriguez (14) dribbles up court against the Orlando Magic during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Sixers Starting Sergio

The Philadelphia 76ers were shooting in the dark in free agency this past summer. With so many unknowns, the team cast a wide net to bring diverse talents to the roster, both in terms of skill-sets and in terms of international backgrounds.

Knowing that Ben Simmons would eventually be groomed to run the team from the point guard, the team had very specific needs for the back court. In short, the team sought short term contracts for guards who could run an offense, play without the ball, and could score from the perimet.  Defense was a huge plus.

In the end, the team settled on Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, and Sergio Rodriguez. While Gerald Henderson brings solid defense and offense to the shooting guard role, both Bayless and Rodriguez are point guards.

Bayless was the clear odds on favorite to start in the pre-season.

But when the season began, he was unable to resolve his wrist injury. And so, the ball fell to the hands of Sergio Rodriguez. Fortunately for the Philadelphia 76ers, “El Chacho” delivered:

With each passing game, Brown will be more and more inclined to retain Rodriguez at point guard.

Jul 10, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Ben Simmons (25) protects the ball during an NBA Summer League game against the Chicago Bulls at Thomas & Mack Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Seamless Switch From Sergio

Sergio Rodriguez can flip a pass to an open shooter and make it seem easy. Ben Simmons can flip a pass to an open shooter and make it seem easy. Sergio Rodriguez will talk over plays with his teammates, instructing them where they need to be for the pass, and learning where they are most comfortable. Ben Simmons will talk over plays with his teammates, instructing them where they need to be for the pass, and learning where they are most comfortable. Sergio Rodriguez loves to pass off assists, but is a true threat to drive to the basket and score. Ben Simmons loves to pass off assists, but is a true threat to drive to the basket and score. Sergio Rodriguez has an unmistakable beard…

Okay, that’s where the comparison stops.

Sergio Rodriguez is delivering.  Right now he is sixth in the league with assists with 8.2 per game. That number could easily be over ten per game if he was passing the ball off to more accurate shooters.  At an average of 30 minutes per game, he is seeing less playing time than all but two of the leagues top ten assists.  Curiously, he is essentially a rookie to the NBA this year and has delivered that so far.

Transitioning to Simmons will be seamless. Like Rodriguez, Simmons is an excellent point of origin, finding the open shooter with the ball with a variety of circus passes. Their similarities will be crucial to getting Simmons actively running the team.  With similar styles, Brown can continue to run familiar plays for the team, while gradually personalizing plays to use Simmons skills.

Sep 25, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers Ben Simmons watches on during the second quarter of a game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field. The Philadelphia Eagles won 34-3. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

More Than Healing A Foot

Ben Simmons is on the mend. And he hangs in elite circles in the NBA.

But Philly does not hand out awards for who you know, or even what you know. The blue collar show-me fans of Philadelphia want to be wowed.   Something like Joel Embiid going four out of four from the three-point range against the defending champs Cleveland Cavaliers.

To do so, he needs to be working hard. Not just on the basketball court, but in the analytics room, sitting next to the coaches. Simmons needs to be doing more than healing himself.  He needs to be diagnosing the team right now, and preparing to deliver the cure.

Isn’t that a pretty tall order for a one-and-done rookie?

Why yes, yes it is.

But from the moment a hopeful prospect is selected as the top NBA draft choice in the NBA draft, that is the legacy. Ben Simmons must know the Philadelphia 76ers as well as head coach Brett Brown.  He must understand what the team is doing right, and what the team is doing wrong.

Ultimately, he must cure the ailments of this team. His work ethic must become the team’s work ethic. He must acquire and deliver all of these skills before he returns to the basketball court in early 2017. Some think that the time awaiting Ben Simmons arrival is far too long. Me?  I’m not certain it will be long enough.

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