When Ben Simmons Returns, Get Ready For The Sixer Shuffle

The Philadelphia 76ers are banged up, young, and struggling to find success. When Ben Simmons returns to health, look for the team to shuffle it’s lineup.

On one night, the Philadelphia 76ers starting line up was named as point guard Sergio Rodriguez, shooting guard Gerald Henderson, small forward Hollis Thompson, power forward Dario Saric, and center Joel Embiid

Several days later, the team had a new lineup, this time Robert Covington started at small forward.

On another night, due to load restrictions, Jahlil Okafor starts at center. In fact, in just nine games so far this season, the team has already had seven different starters.  While that doesn’t seem so outlandish compared to recent years, this was the year where “basketball minds” prevailed.

So the team is a revolving door. Does that change with Ben Simmons return? Well, hopefully not.

Sep 26, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Ben Simmons (25) dribbles the ball during media day at the Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

He’s Got The Look

The current pace of roster changes will look very consistent when Ben Simmons arrives.

The reason?

The team is stacked with versatile basketball players.  Ben Simmons could play each position in the lineup.  So far, the challenge for head coach Brett Brown has been trying to find enough healthy players to fill the lineup with compatible players.  The strain of the roster injuries truly shows up when the team sends the bench onto the court.

But the arrival of Ben Simmons acts like a domino effect. Placing him into the line will either give Robert Covington or Sergio Rodriguez the opportunity to come into the game off the bench. While he acclimates to playing with his team, he will simply ease into the roster with limited minutes.

But Joel Embiid has been turning heads with managed minutes and Ben Simmons is just as poised athletically to do so.

But what happens to the team as players take the bench?  Covington can play power forward, small forward, and shooting guard.  Rodriguez can play point guard or shooting guard.

Why does that matter?

Nov 9, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; From left to right Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor (8), guard Gerald Henderson (10) and coach Brett Brown watch from the sidelines during a against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Philadelphia in overtime 122-115. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Diamond Facets

Brett Brown has been the target of misdirected fan unrest this year.  His starting line up is comprised of players who had never played together before this season.  In fact, if you ignore Sergio Rodriguez’s previous NFL stint, the team is sending out three players who are in their first NBA season.

How can you expect more than the 76ers have shown so far?

Minutes restrictions on both semi-healthy centers has forced him to ration playing minutes to Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, and Richaun Holmes (the center who picks up leftover minutes).

He’s also been forced to manage minutes at point guard, as Sergio Rodriguez and T.J. McConnell are the only two healthy bodies at that position.

The other “thin” position is small forward, where Robert Covington and Hollis Thompson have been sharing the load.

Ben Simmons changes all that. He can play at point guard, giving both Rodriguez or McConnell some rest. He can play at small forward, giving either Covington or Thompson needed rest. But even more than that. Simmons gives the team the option to run a Tall Ball option.   He can slide to the power forward or center position and give Brown a small ball option.

But there is much more available to Brown when Simmons returns.

Nov 1, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Dario Saric (9) and guard Sergio Rodriguez (14) react to a score against the Orlando Magic during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Pass Happy Brown

Ben Simmons is a circus pass athlete. But he is not the only player on the roster who can pass well, however. Sergio Rodriguez is seventh in the NBA with 7.1 assists per game. But the team has been getting some assists from Dario Saric (1.8 APG), Joel Embiid (1.3 APG) and Gerald Henderson (1.2 APG).

Simmons arrival should deliver a Rodriguez like passing/assists.  But does the team have enough shooters?

Even injured, the team has been showing a steadily improving three-point accuracy.   And while the team began the season at an abysmal offensive paced, the team has improved in the past week. Rising from dead last at 92.8 points per game a week ago, the 76ers are up to 96.4 points per game, good enough for 28th in the NBA.

To be fair, in just nine games this season, the 76ers have faced a top ten NBA defense five times .   But in two games against the Atlanta Hawks, the 76ers were never really close. Atlanta has an incredibly fast moving offense with lots of passing and assists, and great spacing.  At 7-2, the Atlanta Hawks have assembled a team much like that which Brown is fashioning the 76ers.

Ben Simmons will lead the team in that direction.  Joel Embiid can do a lot of damage from the post, but ultimately, the team surrounding him must either score or get him the ball. Many games find the team struggling to do one or the other.

Simmons sliding into the lineup with Embiid, Saric, Henderson, and Rodriguez instantly rivals the top passing teams in the league.  That dictates lots of ball movement, and that opens up shots for “The Process”.

Nov 11, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Sergio Rodriguez (14) moves the ball upcourt during the third quarter of the game against the Indiana Pacers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Philadelphia 76ers won 109-105 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Another Day, Another Lineup

Ultimately, Brown wants the team to play solid defense and outscore their opponents. With the young and inconsistent play of the lineups so far this season, Simmons will likely find himself moved around in the lineup. Brown will continue to investigate with player combo results as the best five players on the court at the same time.

While moving players around and in and out of starting roles won’t help earn the playoffs this season, the team should be seeking long-term answers.

With the team likely to be selecting four times in the 2017 NBA draft, combining different lineups truly helps to focus the team’s selections.

It’s clear so far in this young season that the team is vastly different with Joel Embiid in the lineup than without.  There is reason to expect the team to act the same way with Simmons.

So two players who clearly can anchor the franchise for the foreseeable future can give the answer to the team about the other three players. It will be up to Brown to discover who takes the court, and who comes off the bench, going forward.

While there is a great deal of restlessness in the Philadelphia 76ers fanbase right now to see more immediate results, the fans will need to remain patient for just a little longer.  Simmons return marks the start to something special in Philadelphia.  It will be up to Brown to ensure something special happens. Fans must give Brown the time, and the support, to see that it happens.

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